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Tuesday 28 June 2011
Letters: Gove’s attack on the future of education
So now Michael Gove is concerned that teachers are not respected any more. This comes from a man whose party has followed in the footsteps of their New Labour ideological soulmates by continuing to exploit underpaid classroom assistants as teachers-on-the-cheap. Now they've gone a step further and are asking parents to do the teachers' work for them when the teachers take industrial action on Thursday. And he wonders why there is no respect. Does he really?
As for Gove's concerns at the negative impact on family life of schools being closed for a day, it is not the actions of teachers or public-sector workers, but the policies of successive neo-liberal governments, that have forced both parents in traditional families into the workplace in order to make ends meet, undermining family life.
If some parents are not working on Thursday, surely the family-life-loving Mr Gove would prefer they spent the day with their children rather than go strike-breaking at the local school. Then again, I suppose it's good practice for the Big Society.
I am a teacher who has never been on strike. Many years ago I switched unions in order to avoid industrial action that struck me as unacceptable. I am now approaching retirement and will therefore scarcely be touched by the Government's proposed changes to teachers' pension arrangements; so why will I be withdrawing my labour this Thursday, along with thousands of my colleagues?
Because the Teachers' Pension Scheme is fully self-financing and my profession makes no call on the national pension pot, yet the Government wishes to subsidise the folly of others by imposing an additional, long-term income tax on us. It's a quadruple tax, in fact: a below-inflation pay freeze now, increased pension contributions thereafter, extended working years to come and a reduced pension entitlement at the end of it.
This is not part of some national policy to achieve fairness across the public sector; it is a money-grub into the pockets of those whom the Government sees as soft targets. Longer-term, of course, it means that in years to come we will face a staffing crisis as fewer potential teachers are attracted to the profession.
Contrary to Michael Gove's view, there are many parents who fully support the actions by teachers opposed to attacks on their pensions. We are among them because, unlike him, we are looking to the long term.
It is already clear that it is extremely difficult to attract and, even more so, retain skilled teachers in London. The government's proposals will make this much worse and, if they are imposed, we can all look forward to a situation like that in many American schools where only the most saintly individuals choose a career in teaching.
It is the teachers, not his government, who have the interests of our children and grandchildren at heart.
Professor Martin McKee
Michael Gove seems to be giving me the choice of enjoying the respect of parents or a decent pension. When I become aware that respect will pay my bills in retirement I'll consider it.
Greeks don't play the euro game
Most of the time I agree with Sean O'Grady's take on the euro crises. However, I find his article "How to make the euro work" (27 June) somewhat naive. In a world where the playing field is always level and everyone doffs their cap to the insulated Englishman's notion of fair play, his technocratic solution to the euro's Greek problem might have some logical merit. Unfortunately, this is not how the real world works.
I lived for a while in Greece and attempted to set up my own business there. At every turn I was thwarted because of the same British approach and belief in fairness espoused by Mr O'Grady; I wasn't prepared to pay off the "right"' people.
The truth is that Greece is still a fairly young democracy. Few Greeks recognise a responsibility to anyone beyond their own immediate family. And with good reason, since for most of the last century the Greek national governments have been viewed as little more than the biggest bullies on the block. And certainly not anyone you would pay tax to if you can possibly avoid it.
Mr O'Grady misses the point completely. This is going to take at least a generation to change. In the meantime weak political leadership will ensure the Greeks are never going to meet their debt interest payments. Better for them and everyone else to cut them loose and take the pain on the chin. Then we can all move forward.
Ardbeg, Argyll and Bute
We have heard a lot about stabilising Greece's finances, but not about its economy. How will it get any money to repay the loans if its economy (that is people doing things for each other) is even more depressed than at present?
Or are they going to employ hundreds of bankers instead, to scrounge money from other economies, like the USA and UK have done? Er, didn't that go wrong?
Breeding jihad in Afghanistan
Your leader and Mary Dejevsky are both correct in pointing out the futility of pursuing a military solution in Afghanistan (24 June). The very presence of Nato troops there does much to inflame jihadism all over the world, and to swell the ranks of Taliban sympathisers.
Have our leaders really forgotten that our invasion of Iraq led to a dramatic growth of jihadism there, where before there had been none. It is why Osama Bin Laden prayed for an American invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. Many jihadists want us to stay and will be very disappointed when we leave.
I am at least thankful that our leaders appear to have stopped perpetrating the ludicrous myth that hundreds of our young men and women are dying in Afghanistan in order to keep the streets of Britain safe.
In your leading article of 24 June you say: "The killing of Osama bin Laden last month fulfilled the primary goal of the original invasion of October 2001, and as the president noted, the al-Qa'ida organisation has already been largely crippled."
It is a myth that capturing Bin Laden was ever the major intention of the US in pummelling the world's poorest country into the dust. There are far more plausible reasons for the terrifying obliteration of Afghanistan, not least a giant act of retaliation to demonstrate US power.
The purpose of the war against al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan has been to remove the threat the organisation poses to the "stability" of the Saudi regime and thus ensure that oil remains in the correct hands.
A further plausible strategic reason for attacking Afghanistan and establishing military bases there is the ongoing rivalry with Russia and Iran for control of the region's oil. The country affords the shortest pipeline routes for exporting Central Asia's huge quantities of untapped oil and gas to external markets.
Please don't let yourselves be fooled by US propaganda.
How to cut the harm from drugs
It is true that the rapid emergence of new synthetic drugs presents significant challenges for the authorities ("Growth of 'legal highs' poses new risk to drug users", 24 June). But the effectiveness of the Government's response depends on much more than banning and stopping drugs entering the country. Interdiction and enforcement can interrupt supply and add costs to a trafficker's business. But illicit markets and suppliers consistently prove themselves able to re-establish after such setbacks.
Instead, to reduce the potential harm caused by new drugs, the Government should consider a complementary control system to the 40-year-old Misuse of Drugs Act. As we and Demos concluded in our recent report, Taking Drugs Seriously, existing consumer protection laws could be used to differentiate between some more and less harmful new psychoactive substances. This could include ensuring that some substances are sold with consistent dose levels and without the danger of contaminants: reducing the risk of death from overdose or poisoning and guiding users away from the most harmful substances. The New Zealand Law Commission has similarly called for a new government-enforced regulatory system to set standards and restrictions on the sale of some new drugs.
In the long run, the inconsistencies within the various systems used to control and regulate psychoactive substances, including alcohol, drugs and tobacco, need to be ironed out. Users and wider society are not best protected by the illogical way the authorities react to their relative and absolute harms. A Harmful Substances Control Act, which took a more consistent approach to the control of substances based on the harms caused, could begin to address this.
Chief Executive, UK Drug Policy Commission, London N1
Law firms tipped off after crash
A number of articles recently have attributed the rise in car insurance premiums as being due, in large part, to the cost of personal injury claims.
Last year my wife was involved in an accident which, although resulting in the writing off of both vehicles, fortunately did not cause any personal injury and the police took no details.
We reported the facts immediately to her insurers by telephone and the same afternoon a firm of solicitors, linked to the company handling the claim, telephoned to see if she wished to pursue any claim for personal injuries.
The following morning a second ambulance-chasing company telephoned with the same question. Both were clearly disappointed to receive a firm "No".
Where did these lawyers get the information so quickly? The only answer must be that it is the car insurers of both parties and it is obvious that someone would have received a "rake off" had my wife decided to pursue any claim.
So, any tears from the insurers are surely of the crocodile variety and the consumer suffers yet again from being ripped off.
Reagan no friend to democracy
Ronald Reagan may have been "a staunch friend of Britain" (the Monday Essay, 27 June) but he was considerably less friendly to Latin America, democracy or international law. Under Reagan's leadership the USA backed the military governments in Chile and Argentina despite their appalling records of human rights abuses.
It waged a vicious and illegal proxy war (described even by ex-CIA Director Stansfield Turner as "terrorism") against the popularly based Sandinista government of Nicaragua, claiming 30,000 lives.
It sold arms and provided aid and support for Rios Montt in Guatemala when he was engaged in a policy described later by the UN Commission for Historical Classification as "genocide" against the Maya. The Commission estimated that 200,000 people were killed or disappeared and massacres were carried out in 629 villages.
In El Salvador it rehabilitated and supported Roberto d'Aubisson, the father of the death squad and almost certainly behind the assassination of Archbishop Romero. Americans even participated in training death squads.
Do Rupert Cornwell and Westminster City Council really think this is someone deserving to be honoured with a statue in Grosvenor Square?
Does Labour want me or not?
I received a letter in June 2010 from Ed Miliband, the current leader of the Labour Party, asking me to join his organisation. In particular he was encouraging Liberal Democrats that were disenchanted with the new Coalition to find a home with his party.
I duly filled in the application form and sent off the appropriate fee to the Labour Party membership office and received my card with a personal welcome letter from Mr Miliband.
In January 2011 I received a letter informing me that the local constituency Labour Party had decided to throw me out because I had been a Lib Dem candidate in the May 2010 elections.
I felt somewhat perplexed at these actions when the leader of the party had made such an ado about the reconciliation of disaffected Lib Dems. Anyway, the resultant route of appeal was to go on trial with the National Executive Committee, which seems such a draconian measure for a law-abiding citizen to take for a simple party political membership.
Evidently, Mr Miliband should strive to stop sending out mixed messages.
Drink leads the old astray
The logical consequence of the recent pronouncement on the recommended drinking level for the elderly would be for alcohol retailers to demand proof that would-be purchasers are under the age of 65. Or would that lead to gangs of white-haired wrinklies gathering outside off-licences to bribe or browbeat younger people into buying them a bottle of cider?
The letters about old people and drinking reminded me of something my father told me when he was dying in hospital.
His specialist came to him one day and asked if he still had his bottle of whisky secreted away and if he could have a glass of it for another patient. "Will it help him?" asked my father. "No," said the specialist, "but he will die happy."
Enough, already with the clichés
Cease, desist, enough! I mean, clichés, what's that all about?
East Molesey, Surrey
At the end of the day, in the present situation as it exists in time, clichés are, you know, utterly and completely cool.
As Oscar Wilde surprisingly never said, a cliché is a neologism which has passed its sell-by date.
Perspectives on music festivals
Fond memories of authentic squalor
In 1970 two friends and I hitched a lift in a three-litre Capri from two Dutch journalists on our way to the Isle of Wight Rock Festival. We were dropped off in the middle of the New Forest but were lucky enough to catch a passing bus to Lymington, where we slept on the pavement waiting for the first ferry in the morning.
There followed five days of great music interspersed with trying to find food we could afford and finding somewhere private enough to use as a toilet. The queues for the few loos were so long that one would have had to queue continuously to fit in with one's "natural rhythms".
We slept under the stars until we bumped into some school friends who had a tent. It was all character-building stuff. So you can imagine how my heart bled for Santosh Singh (report, 27 June) when he had to queue for ages to charge his mobile phone at Glastonbury.
Yes, and the sound is terrible too
Tom Sutcliffe ("Enjoy music? Then stay away from the festivals", 21 June) is right, but he does not go far enough. The same might be said of most indoor gigs these days, not because of any boorish behaviour from the crowd, physical discomfort or poor sight lines but because of the dire quality of the sound.
I am partial to loud guitars – but also vocals, harmonies and all the other things that make music. Instead, at most gigs, the kick drum is the loudest single element of the sound. While this part of a band's sound has its place, it's hardly the most interesting element.
To add insult to injury, the bass sub-tones are accentuated, reducing it to a muffled roar. As a bass player myself, I particularly resent not being able to hear bass notes clearly. This selective, Brobdingnagian amplification simply drowns everything else out.
After 40 years of amplified music, it doesn't seem too much to ask that bands and venues take some care over their sound quality, especially given the ever-escalating price of tickets. As to the charge "If it's too loud, you're too old" – this is just a get-out clause for those who are too lazy or too cynical to bother with sound quality.
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