Letters: Full-time motherhood

A society that fails full-time mothers will reap the whirlwind
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Sir: Joan Bakewell (Opinion, 14 December) states that "you are not a member of your natural social group if you are stuck at home with small children". She declares that the natural condition of the adult is to be in paid employment, and that socialisation necessarily involves "knowing the latest things to buy, the latest things to worry about".

For the record, I do not feel "stuck at home". Full-time motherhood has been for me a specific and clear choice; I have an MA from Cambridge and have worked as a care assistant, as a city solicitor and as a mainstream teacher and yet no occupation has been more challenging, stimulating, rewarding or frankly critical to the welfare of individuals in particular and to society as a whole, as my current role as a full-time mother.

I and the other full-time mothers I know, spend very little time talking about nappy rash. Rarely have I ever had more stimulating and fascinating conversations or forged deeper, firmer and more meaningful relationships than those I have had with other mothers who care full-time for their children. Typical topics include how to support our children in whatever currently interests them, how to help them develop their numeracy and literacy skills at a time and in a way which will help them flourish, and how to support their socialisation; how to support other mothers doing the same and how to help build up the local community.

Strangely enough, these seem to be current hot topics with government think tanks, as they face the increasingly pressing problem of what to do with the growing numbers of disaffected teenagers.

If only society supported women in their choice to be full-time mothers and recognised it for the crucial social, political and developmental role that it is, we would in 10 years' time begin to reap the benefits in terms of happy, well-adjusted young people. If we carry on as we are, excluding children from social life and persuading their mothers that they matter not at all unless they are earning money, we will reap the whirlwind.

Karen Rodgers


Sex workers need no moral crusades

Sir: We constitute a large proportion of academics and researchers writing on issues that affect the UK sex industry.

Following the anniversary of the Ipswich murders and Harriet Harman's breathtaking pre-emption of the Criminal Justice and Immigration (CJ&I) Bill Committee, we urge the Government to promote new ways of working that are safer for sex workers and will encourage sex workers to come forward and give evidence where any violence has occurred. We support the removal of clauses 104-106 from the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill 2007, and are against any move to criminalise clients of sex workers.

Academic research demonstrates that enforced treatment/ rehabilitation or criminalisation of sex workers (or their clients) is ineffectual at best, and more often dangerous. The CJ&I's provisions do not take account of the views of those working in the sex industry, whose voices should be a central part of any debate.

Real political concern to support sex workers is being diverted and proper debate about the current proposals is being stifled by some fundamentalist and some radical feminist organisations interested in pursuing a moral crusade against purchasing sex akin to the crusade against the "white slave trade" in late Victorian society. Now, as then, using the criminal law to such an end will only result in more, not less, harm done to sex workers.

Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon

Birkbeck, University of London, Professor Sophie Day, Goldsmiths, University of London, Professor Phil Hubbard, Loughborough University, Dr N T Jeal, Wales College of Medicine, Professor Graham Hart, Professor Graham Scambler, University College London, Professor Don Kulick, New York University, Professor Joyce Outshoorn, Leiden University, Netherlands, Dr Helen Ward, Imperial College NHS Trust, Professor Jeffrey Weekes, London South Bank University, And 13 others

Sir: Harriet Harman says the UK should outlaw paying for sex. Now we know why Jack Straw wants almost 100,000 prison places.

Adrian Marlowe


Sir: Will a ban on prostitution end this trade in the same way the banning of guns ended gun crime?

Ron Baxter

Scarborough, North yorkshire

Environmental cost of Heathrow

Sir: I am not surprised that opponents of Heathrow expansion will use all possible arguments to claim that Government's consultation is biased but their case on carbon emissions is wrong. ("Climate costs 'fiddled' for third runway at Heathrow", 13 December).

In costing the emissions from Heathrow, the Department has used the shadow price of carbon published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This took into account the Stern Review and has been peer-reviewed by academic experts. It represents our best understanding of the costs of carbon.

It is convenient for the argument of Friends of the Earth that they could find a higher figure in the Stern Review. But the 53 per tonne cost which they mention refers to the damage-cost of carbon emissions, assuming we continue to emit in line with "business as usual" and take no action to mitigate emissions. The Government, however, is taking action to address climate change through a range of policies. That 53 damage cost is not therefore relevant in this case.

Jim Fitzpatrick

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Transport, London SW1

Sir: The Government's underestimate of the environmental costs of a third runway at Heathrow are not the only problem about its consultation process (13 December). Individuals responding to the online questionnaire on the DfT website are not asked a clear-cut question about their views on the runway.

The main question asks "To what extent do you agree or disagree that the environmental conditions are still appropriate for the revised BAA proposal for a 2,200m runway?" This could be a question about whether the runway is justified environmentally, or whether the environmental limits being proposed for its operation are the correct ones. Other questions about noise and pollution seem to be asking whether the Government's estimates are correct, not whether they are acceptable.

I defy anyone to fill in the response form and feel that they have properly expressed their opinion, and not have doubts that they might have voted "yes" when they meant "no".

John Perry

Masaya, Nicaragua

There is still some snow in Scotland

Sir: Your report "Lack of snow forces Scottish resort into liquidation" (13 December) is overly alarmist. As I understand it, the company was liquidated in order to allow one of the business's owners to buy out the other, not because they had run out of money.

You state: "[A] report from the United Nations Environment Programme warned that in 30 to 50 years, there might be no sites lower than 1,500m (4,900 feet) where skiers could rely on finding snow. Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest peak, is just over 4,400ft high." I think you will find that this report is referring to the Alps. Scotland has a different climate, so the altitude figure quoted isn't relevant.

Glencoe has often closed early at the end of the season, not because of a lack of snow, but because of a lack of sufficient skiers to make it financially viable to remain open. Furthermore, the top basin at the Cairngorm ski area opened two weeks ago, before many major alpine resorts.

Tim Williams


What happened to prison 'watchdogs'?

Sir: Following the letter from Pauline Campbell (11 December), where are the comments of the Independent Monitoring Boards? Every prison in England has such a board and they are appointed by the Home Secretary to act as "public watchdogs".

Surely, in the case of a women's prison, they could intercede on behalf of young, possibly frightened, prisoners to ask that even when on punishment, they are not deprived of the radio. Many years ago, the Board of Visitors (as it then was) of HMP Gartree asked the governor to allow a man on punishment to be allowed to keep his watch. We felt that to confiscate this article was tantamount to sensory deprivation.

It would be useful and enlightening to have some comments from the independent members.

Yvonne Gunn

Oundle, Northamptonshire

Tories must lead the fair votes debate

Sir: If David Cameron is serious about his alliance of progressives he could do a lot worse than pay heed to Michael Brown (18 December). Both self-interest and principle point towards the Conservatives needing to reform our winner-takes-all elections, which deprive voters of a genuine choice of candidate and have worked to the disadvantage of the Conservatives since 1992. The number crunchers at Conservative Central Office know that, even with glowing poll ratings, it will still take more votes to get one of their own on the green benches than it will for their Labour opponents.

In January, the Government will publish its own review of Britain's electoral systems. Cameron's Conservatives must not shrink from this debate. He has the chance to lead on reform of our democracy.

Dr Ken Ritchie

Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society, London, SE1

Clegg's liberalism lacks definition

Sir: In suggesting that Nick Clegg reverts to calling his party the Liberal Party, Chris Barnes (letter, 21 December) suggests: "We are all Democrats, are we not?' Well, not really. There are plenty of neoliberals who view the democratic process as a brake on capitalist enterprise.

When Nick Clegg boldly states that he is a "liberal", is he a neoliberal, or a New Liberal? Does he advocate laissez-faire or embedded liberalism? Is he a red-in-tooth-and-claw liberal, or a pinko liberal? Does his brand of liberalism hale back to the age of Gladstone, or Keynes and Beveridge? Does he see the action of the state as interfering or enabling? Does he view accelerating inequality and reduced social mobility as a price worth paying for a deregulated market, or a recipe for a breakdown in society?

The term "liberal" in itself no longer has any meaning. What kind of liberal is Nick Clegg? Does he put the emphasis on "liberal" or "democrat"?

Charles Hopkins


Sir: With the election of Nick Clegg to Liberal Democrat leader, not only do all party leaders now sound the same, they look the same too. The only party leader who seems even a little different is Caroline Lucas of the Greens. Perhaps if she gets elected as an MP she might add a little colour to an otherwise monotonous, all-the-same, Parliament.

Tim Gee


Time to look anew at holy books

Sir: I was not surprised to read about the school cook in India whose meals were boycotted by her pupils because she was a Dalit or "Untouchable" (Report 17 December); for India's notorious caste system finds strong support in its most revered scriptures. In the Bhagavad-Gita for example, the Hindu God Krishna proclaims: "The four estates [castes] were created by me. . . . I alone am the one who did this" (4.13) Membership of a particular estate or caste accords with natural law, and anyone who causes an "intermingling of the four estates" will "certainly find a place in hell." (1.41-44)

I was reminded of Dr Stephen Moreton's comment that: "People who base their ethics on ancient texts of dubious provenance, will find their ethical systems strait-jacketed by the mores and superstitions of the past. Once a mistake has been elevated to the status of "word of God" there is no room to admit the error, remedy it, and move on."

It is time to disabuse ourselves of our infatuation with holy books, and to see them for what they are: a rich mixture of wisdom and absurdity, compassion and cruelty, beauty and ugliness.

David Simmonds

Epping, Essex

Snowdrops in flower

Sir: Contrary to your report that snowdrops are blooming early (21 December), the many different species and forms of the snowdrop exhibit a natural flowering period starting in October and continuing into April. Global warming may not be to blame in this instance.

Sue Clayton

Fordwich, Kent

Poor police

Sir: I'm not defending Jaqcui Smith, but why did the Police Federation call for her resignation for not backdating their pay rise, when everyone knows it is Gordon Brown who is blocking it? And I never thought I'd speak up for the police, but I really think that they need a larger pay rise. They stopped and searched my 18-year-old son the other night. He had 80 on him and they asked him why he was carrying so much money.

Philip Moran

London N11

Bali carbon

Sir: The answer to Susan Cooper (Letters, 17 December) is simple. The best estimate of carbon emissions from the Bali conference is 110,000 tonnes. That may sound a lot, but it is just two minutes' worth of global emissions in total. Even a highly unsuccessful conference seems certain to more than cover its own carbon footprint overnight.

Harvey Cole


Driven from teaching

Sir: I was a teacher for 35 years. I enjoyed the teaching side immensely. I couldn't stand the increasing pressures to conform, tabulate, write up, overarch and underpin that governments from the mid 80s imposed on me. Nor could I eventually cope with the ludicrous and insulting limitations put on care for my pupils (letter, 20 December). I miss the classroom, but there's no way I would recommend anyone to do the job today.

Allan Friswell

Cowling, North Yorkshire

Nightmare Christmas

Sir: Lost personal data, Northern Rock, more lost personal data. When you think that things can't get worse, the Radio Times drops through the door. Radio 2 entertainment for Christmas Day: two hours of David Beckham. Has the controller finally gone mad?

Nigel Wardle

Stapleton, Leicestershire