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Saturday 6 October 2012
Letters: Gay in Britain, straight in Africa?
A judge and the UK Border Agency refuse to believe that Olalekan Ayelokun is gay, and condemn him to return to Nigeria, where homosexuality is a harshly punished crime. On what knowledge or experience of the gay milieu was this judgement based? Does a gay man have to wear pink trousers and speak with a lisp to convince a judge that he is gay? Would the same judge only believe that a man is a burglar if he is wearing a striped jersey and carrying a bag labelled "swag"?
It is as hard those days to pick out a gay man in a crowd as it is a burglar – or, indeed, a judge, if he is not wearing his characteristic full-bottomed wig.
Gay is a wide church. There is no stereotype any more. There are those who are straight-acting, those who are camp, those in leather, those in lavender, those who are butch, fem or twink. There are even strange young men who fall for old men in white beards. Some who are "out" and don't care who knows it, some who remain in the closet, taking care to appear as anonymous as your average burglar or judge. Loiter outside a gay sauna, M'lud, and observe the wide variety of men who go inside. Go inside and find dustman and duke, burglar or judge, stripped to their towels, illuminated by the dusky glimmer of wedding rings.
Mr Ayelokun, in this free and tolerant country, says that he is gay. The authorities here decline to believe him. Now he is to be sent back to an intolerant country where he will have to say that he is not gay in order to preserve his liberty. What if the authorities there refuse to believe him after what he has said here?
Now to plan a transport strategy
Steve Richards (Voices, 4 October) advocates appointing a Transport minister with an interest in transport. Why not go further and set up a national transport management group which should run independently irrespective of which political party is in power? Transport has been a joke in this country for years. We have no plan.
As for the West Coast main line franchise debacle, I am surprised that a Tory-led government, with its disdain for the public sector, should so casually accept the calculations provided by public-sector workers (civil servants).
Perhaps some good can emerge from the debacle of the award of the West Coast rail franchise before we make a decision on expanding London air traffic capacity.
Government and company leaders are obsessed with justifying business decisions with numbers. They direct their functionaries to devise formulas that will produce an answer that will pick a winner. These formulas invariably include arbitrary, subjective factors which can be fashioned to achieve any required outcome. Applied without knowledge they are worthless.
Leaders need to have sufficient understanding of their brief to make difficult decisions and take full responsibility for them. They also need to select advisers who are experts, can explain their subject and are trustworthy. In this case that means experts in managing transport systems, not financial engineers. An unhealthy reliance on poorly understood mathematics cannot be used to excuse bad decisions.
Camden Council has had long-standing concerns about the business case and wider evidence for High Speed 2 and of the ability of both HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport to deliver the project in the least damaging way for Camden and the country. The announcement made by the Department for Transport of problems with the tender for the West Coast main line seem to add weight to our concerns about their ability to deliver major projects.
With £32bn of taxpayers money at stake and with hundreds of homes, businesses and lives to be affected in Camden and along the line, now is the time for Government to pause its plans for HS2 and do a complete review. If the mandarins in Whitehall cannot be trusted with their sums, it is only right that an independent body is given the opportunity to review the viability of the project.
Councillor Sarah Hayward
Leader of the Council
London Borough of Camden
It would save a lot of time and money, if we just got on now and awarded the franchise for the West Coast main line to SNCF, the French state-owned rail operator. They really know how to run a railway.
The men who would be PM
I am pleased at least one of your readers was inspired by Ed Miliband's Labour speech (Letters, 4 October). This observer thought it was as a shallow speech lacking in substance, full of bad jokes and tired slogans (such as not trusting the Tories with the NHS), dishonest soundbites with a whiff of class warfare and the usual tribal pieties about the 1945 Attlee government – ignoring the facts that the groundwork for the post-war reforms came out of the wartime coalition and that the Labour Party spent the next 13 years in opposition by way of thanks from a grateful electorate.
The real challenge to the living standards of Britain, and to the western nations in general comes, of course, not from evil Tories or wicked ConDem Coalition cuts, but from the competing economies of China, India, Brazil and so on, with all the profound economic, financial and social ramifications for our future prosperity, security and comfort. Ed Miliband's Kinnock-lite speech didn't seem to have much to say about that. At least Nick Clegg made some effort to acknowledge this fundamental and troubling issue in his conference speech.
Let us hope that the Prime Minister gives us more value for money with his conference speech next week.
It's taken two years for the Lib Dems to start to get to grips with being in government and there is still a way to go. I think Nick Clegg has not been able, up until recently, to understand how to reconcile his role as Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the party, and it has been the party which has suffered the more.
It may be that he had to be reminded what Paddy Ashdown said: "If you want to lead the Lib Dems you have first to find out which direction they want to go." Join the Coalition – the party said yes; support the Coalition agreement – the party said yes; sign a pledge then break it – the party said no.
This is why it was so important for Nick to apologise to the party for breaking his pledge. At the conference it was also important that he took Steve Richards's advice to say what the Lib Dems stand for. What better summary than for the party "to be trusted on the economy and relied upon to deliver a fairer society".
Now it is up to the Lib Dems to campaign as the "third party of government", which will need some radical rethinking at the grass roots. And perhaps the economy will pick up later in the year and we will be in a different ball game!
Salen, Isle of Mull
An obsession with phonics
Those in the Education Department devising these phonic tests with imaginary "words" reveal a very poor appreciation of how to promote fluent readers. As every teacher knows, children require a range of skills to become accomplished readers, and these skills need to be taught alongside phonics and not as an afterthought once phonics have been mastered.
Words with a memorable pattern such as "aeroplane" can be read long before a child has the phonic skills to decode the word. Should the early literary diet be restricted to subjects that accord with phonic simplicity? The use of contextual clues such as pictures and subject content are also significant, and limited phonics are often used as a confirmatory tool apropos of the intelligent guess.
Of course phonics must be taught but not obsessively, and the requirement to read pointless sound combinations reveals just such an obsession. If children are encouraged to ponder on every phoneme in order to decode text, this laborious exercise will be at the expense of fluency. Under this regimen, it is hardly surprising that standards are not improving.
Wot a krazie eyedeer this fonics teetching! Inglish iz knot a foanetick langwidge, sew wye preetend it iz?
Savile charities still need help
Celebrities wanted! There are currently several vacancies for kind-hearted celebrities with real integrity to pick up a baton on behalf of the various charities that would declare any kind of dependency upon the Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust.
There is no reason why the undeniable good that the man did in his life, quite possibly driven by the need for inner salvation from a dark history, should be the end of it. Let's have it all out in the open, both good and bad. The world moves on, thank goodness. Now who will take up a baton?
Victory for women's cricket
Eleven out of ten for your report on the England women's T20 cricket victory over New Zealand (5 October). It is brilliant to see such detailed and serious coverage.
However, only five out of ten for the pictures you chose – and you get that five for printing any at all. Pictures of sportspeople hugging each other in celebration may be charming, and they may be even more charming when young ladies are involved, but I would much rather see them bowling, hitting, chasing, throwing or catching a ball. Keep up the good work!
It was touching to read Howard Jacobson's affectionate portrait (29 September) of two of his former teachers, who clearly helped to change his life years ago. One could not help but wonder how, in today's Fordist climate of line management, testing, performance appraisal, targets, league tables, endless meetings, value-added residuals and Sir Michael Wilshaw, the inspirational Messrs Frith and Hunter might have fared, or, indeed, whether they would have bothered in the first place to become teachers.
K G Banks
Twice the man
It has been announced that Andrew Mitchell of Plebgate fame will not attend the Tory party conference in order not to cause a distraction. Perhaps Grant Shapps could make up the numbers by going both as himself and his alter ego, the two-aircraft-owning online marketer Michael Green.
East Boldon, Tyne & Wear
General election live: Russell Brand endorses Labour (except in Scotland and Brighton)
Garland shooting: Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest organisers condemn attack as 'war on free speech' after police kill two gunmen
Eddie Izzard labels nationalist protesters as 'violent' and 'aggressive' as fights break out on Glasgow trip
Prophet Mohamed cartoon exhibition shooting: Two armed men shot dead after opening fire on 'free speech' event in Garland, Texas
Russell Brand backs Ed Miliband: 'You gotta vote Labour'
In defence of liberal democracy
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