Letters: Government that looks outwards

These letters appear in the 28th July issue of The Independent

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As a respected commentator, Mary Dejevsky is always welcome at the Institute for Government, not as she describes us (18 July) the “Institution of Government”. The distinction is important, since we are an independent organisation trying to improve how the country is governed.

We know that the Civil Service can be very inward-looking. That is partly why the Institute exists – to bring fresh thinking into Whitehall. It would be wrong to draw the conclusion that our events don’t help build bridges between those on the outside of government and those on the inside. We hosted Iain Rennie, the State Service Commissioner of New Zealand, precisely because he can provide some of that fresh thinking. We have a broad range of event series that bring outsiders in to challenge how government works, such as our women leaders and big thinkers series.

We are very concerned with the impact of public services on the people who use them. Our new report on policy implementation showed why politicians and civil servants need to focus on how policies are to be delivered. We will continue to challenge leaders in politics and the Civil Service to look outwards to improve their internal processes.

Peter Riddell, Director, Institute for Government, London SW1

Great hotel in the great war

I was delighted to read the article about the newly refurbished Majestic Hotel in Paris (26 July), since I have recently been looking into the history of this building myself.

My husband is the keeper of First World War medals awarded to his great uncle, Thomas Ashby. While trying to find out more about the history of this gentleman, I discovered a document signed by the mayor of the 16th arrondissement. The mayor records the death of Thomas Ashby of the King’s Royal Rifles on 25 September 1914, giving the place of his death as 19 Avenue Kléber.

Your article mentions the use of the hotel at 19 Avenue Kléber by the British delegation who negotiated the Versailles Treaty in 1919, but I wonder if there is any record of this building being used by the British Army for casualties during the first few weeks of the war? If this was the case this hotel may be of interest to others in this year of the 100th anniversary of the war.

Gail Chandler, Kirklevington, North Yorkshire

Gaza atrocities traduce Judaism

Well said Mira Bar-Hillel for having the courage to challenge Jewish leadership and communities for their shameful silence on the Gaza atrocities (26 July). One of the most disturbing aspects of the current offensive is the way that belligerent Zionism has traduced Judaism in the eyes of the world.

The essence of this great prophetic religion, with its belief in a benign ethical monotheism and demand for universal justice, was summed up by the greatest of the teachers of Israel, Rabbi Hillel, in the words “Do to others as you would have them do to you” – a far cry from the earlier savagery of “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth”.

Even the founding fathers of Israel, such as Martin Buber, envisaged a different sort of state, characterised by peace and co-operation. How this ideal has been betrayed by the new fundamentalist zealots! After the Six Day War Rabbi Blue rather sadly opined to me: “The Jews always wanted  to be a nation like other nations; now they have shown they are!” 

As we now watch artillery being fired into civilian areas, we see a nation acting worse than other nations. 

Dominic Kirkham, Manchester

Mira Bar-Hillel  informs us that she will “not go Israel again while this regime is in place”. The word regime being defined as “method of government” and Israel being a democracy, one hopes that she may be imposing a lifetime ban. Perhaps she prefers the regimes like those in Iraq, Iran or even Syria (200,000  mostly civilian, deaths there in the last two years). But perhaps, on reflection, they too must face up to life without a visit from her.

David Isenberg, London N12

Christopher Sterling highlights the Gaza “kill ratio” as “hundreds to one” and therefore not finely balanced (letter, 26 July).

Of course Israel could have altered this ratio by simply opting not to shoot down some of the thousands of rockets being fired into Israeli communities. Alternatively, Hamas could have altered the ratio by building bomb shelters for Palestinians, by not firing missiles from civilian areas, or by not attacking Israeli towns in the first place.

To end the blockade put in place to prevent – or at least limit – all this would be to invite yet more of the same from Hamas. This is a terrorist organisation committed to the abolition of the Middle East’s only Jewish state – an ambition they share with many of the undemocratic nations that routinely vote against Israel at the UN.

Keith Gilmour, Glasgow

Does anyone with a modicum of knowledge on Palestine believe Hamas can destroy mighty Israel? Hamas’s rockets largely fall on waste ground or are destroyed mid-air. Yet Israel does not waste a moment to remind the world that Hamas are hell-bent on Israel’s destruction.

Mustafa Haqqani, Lymm, Cheshire

On the day before Professor John Newsinger’s letter (26 July) was published, deploring Ed Miliband’s failure to speak out on the crisis in Gaza, Mr Miliband made a speech which opened with a very clear statement of his views.

This part of his speech has not been widely reported, because the media concentrated on his remarks about not being from central casting, but the text can be read on Labour’s website. Professor Newsinger could not have known that the Labour leader was going to make this speech, but I wanted him to know that he can now congratulate him.

David Bell, Standon, Hertfordshire

Whitehall goes political

You report (25 July) that a Department of Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: “Spending on council tax benefit doubled under Labour. Welfare reform is vital to tackle Labour’s budget deficit.” Has the Civil Service now given up entirely the principle of being non-political?

Gyles Cooper, London N10

Saltires in the sky

During this current spell of hot weather, I would be interested to know how much Alex Salmond is paying the airlines to use their vapour trails to portray the image of the Saltire in the skies over Great Britain. Surely this is giving the “Yes” campaign an unfair advantage?

Grant Serpell, Maidenhead, Berkshire

No thanks to Cameron and his Big Society

“If it wasn’t for the churches in this city, homeless people would be dead on the streets from cold and hunger.” I quote 53-year-old Albert, a chronic alcoholic and street drinker.

I have clocked up 28 hours’ voluntary work this week. I’m 65 and should be sitting knitting, but I can’t because of David Cameron. I came home this morning after two hours of hot, exhausting work on our allotments, where my group grows food to cook one night a week to feed up to 100 people.

We work in partnership with other churches in our city to try to provide a free meal somewhere each day, and last winter we managed to raise enough funds to keep a night shelter open from March to September, providing a bed, warmth, a meal and breakfast.

We advocate for our guests, we work with them to gain the help they need to get out of their pits of despair. Not a penny comes from Cameron’s Big Society, and no, we didn’t do it in response to Mr Cameron’s “brilliant” idea. We’ve always done this, in some cases for decades. Don’t let Mr Cameron dare to take the credit!

Our guests are alcoholics, addicts of gambling and drugs, the mentally ill, street girls who can’t break from their pimps because of their addictions, sufferers of prolonged abuse, people evicted because of the bedroom tax. When you are gripped by these problems there is no longer anywhere to go, because Mr Cameron’s spending cuts have taken the help away, and this is so in every town across the country. This isn’t down to poor financial decision-making by councils, it’s down to David Cameron.

He and his colleagues from the Big Society should feel ashamed and disgusted  with themselves at the way public money has been squandered and not gone where it should have gone: to hard-working Brits doing what they should be funding (“Cameron’s Big Society in tatters”, 26 July). The next time those responsible meet to go through their valueless agenda, while sipping expensive mineral waters, someone should remind them that the value of the chair each is sitting on would probably fund my group for a week.

Judith Flack, Derby

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