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Tuesday 15 May 2012
Letters: Greece and Europe
Europe has a big problem, but it's not fascism
Matthew Norman's musing that the European electorate could plunge half the European Union into a fascistic abyss is laughable, as is his suggestion that as Italy, Spain and Portugal all have "recent" histories of fascism they will all succumb to its dark allure, given half the chance (Opinion, 9 May).
If Greece does plunge into chaos it will not be because a racist party of middle-aged delusional men (the Golden Dawn) will have come to power. If the Greeks decide to revert to the drachma there will be a run on the banks as Greeks will seek to deposit their money into foreign accounts. There will not be enough money to pay public-sector employees and this will lead to civil unrest that could eventually culminate in the army seizing power to maintain order. This will have nothing to do with a disgruntled Greek electorate voting for Hitler's acolytes, who will remain marginal.
Matthew Norman seems ignorant of the recent election in Italy, where there was indeed an unexpected outcome. Beppe Grillo, a well known comedian won 20 per cent of the vote. A comedian, not a fascist.
It's quite simple really. If borrowing and the cost of borrowing require repayments which exceed the real and prospective values of growth, then both the borrower and investors must lose. It is now probably impossible to avoid social catastrophe throughout much of Europe.
And, if the euro loses value then the UK will become less competitive and the pound will have to follow. The UK desperately needs export growth to the BRIC countries way beyond the euro, dollar and sterling areas, but there is no sign of a serious government initiative to encourage this.
Over the last year or two we have witnessed the politicians of eurozone countries battling to save their pet project. Or have we? They have no weapons and no ideas of substance. Their inability to do anything decisive, a normal condition within the EU, should concern all of us, within or without the euro.
The eurozone is a very expensive aircraft ambling along the runway, never reaching take-off speed, running low on fuel, tyres nearly worn to the rim and nowhere a pilot to apply the brakes. It will not fly. It was misconceived. Give it up.
A M Hoare
Chavey Down, Bracknell Forest
Chris Bryant is quite right that "sometimes you just have to borrow" (12 May), but his analogy of the family borrowing to maintain a car to enable them to continue to work is misguided.
Borrowing money when you have a job gives the lender some comfort that it will at some stage be paid back. Mr Bryant and his party support spending money we don't have to kick-start an economy that will hopefully generate enough tax revenue to pay it back. A more accurate analogy would be that the bank is asked to provide a loan to buy a car so that an unemployed man can attend a job interview.
Such a flaky approach to lending money is what got us into this mess in the first place.
At last someone has asked which financial watchdog was awake before the current economic crisis (David Blanchflower, 8 May). "None" seems to be the answer.
I have for five years been puzzled as to why neither the Bank of England nor the FSA has been called to account for their lack of control over the debt-fuelled bank and property bubble which came to an abrupt halt in 2007.
Did all the "experts" really believe that the massive expansion of RBS was sustainable, or that giving 110 per cent mortgages was clever lending? Either they stupidly did, or they were asleep. Either way they stand discredited. Why do they draw so little criticism? Professor Blanchflower raises highly important issues.
Seamus Mac Dermott
Your leading article of 14 May comments on Germany's "austerity backlash". It may be accepted journalese to talk about austerity. But wouldn't it be useful from time to time to replace "austerity" with "living within our (or Greece's or Germany's) means?" That might help bring the economic growth stimulators to the same table as the budget cutters.
It's Keynes's birthday on 5 June. Could we celebrate it by ditching "austerity" and adopting economic policies that put people rather than Big Money at the heart of policy? Might also stave off a revolution.
South Harrow, Middlesex
Forget wind and turn to water
Terence Blacker is right to say that the public have "bought it" by accepting the "green mantle deception" under which we accept that wind farms should be spread across the country (30 April). There is a far more efficient and far greener option: power generation by marine current turbines.
Water is eight times as dense as air and eight times more mechanically efficient than wind. Marine tidal turbines swing on stanchions 20 to 40 metres below the sea's surface to rotate with both ebbs and flows all day and all night. They need no barrages. They do not need to be hauled up country lanes for installation or repair. This is done by barges and dockyards along the coast. They are silent and invisible. Tides are utterly predictable and so is their power output.
The UK is blessed with the second-highest tidal range in the world. All this has been tried, tested and proved. Why are the vast and powerful power companies not investing?
The term "wind farms" is deceptive – these are large-scale industrial complexes usually built in the middle of previously beautiful countryside. If we add the sub-stations and the miles of pylons, often over 140 metres high, and going through areas of outstanding natural beauty as they join up with the National Grid, the percentage of ruined landmass is considerably higher than 0.2 per cent cited by Maria McCaffrey of Renewable UK (letter, 11 May).
In this part of largely unspoilt mid-Wales we are threatened, in addition to hundreds of turbines, with nearly 100 miles of pylons plus a 17-acre sub-station. When we try to "properly engage with project proposals" by suggesting "undergrounding" of wires and cables, we are told to forget it because it is too expensive. What price the despoliation of our rural landscapes?
Ofsted and the lure of power
The experiences of John Marriott (Letters, 11 May) of the change of attitude of school inspectors over the years is an example of a more general phenomenon.
Fifty years or so ago, those in senior positions in all walks of life – often appointed by invitation after careful inquiries by the appointers – regarded themselves as being in positions of trust, rather than of power. Nowadays, their successors – appointed after impeccably fair and open procedures which seldom select the most appropriate person – have exactly the opposite view.
D W Budworth
Sir Michael Wilshaw's statement that teachers don't know what stress is reminds me of the time that Keith Miller, Australian cricketer and fighter pilot during the Second World War, was commenting on a test match.
When asked what he thought of the stress modern players were under he replied, "Stress? I'll tell you what stress is. It's a Messerschmitt up yer arse." I wonder how many teachers would like to see Sir Michael subject to similar stress.
No magic key to learning to read
I have sympathy with the opposition of teachers to the new phonics tests for six-year-olds and the new English tests for 11-year-olds. It must be questioned whether they will improve learning.
Pilots with the phonics test in 2011 were passed by only one-third of pupils. The high proportion of nonsense words in the test suggests that the same results will be obtained nationally. It would be erroneous to deduce from such results that synthetic phonics (Mr Gove's preferred method) should be enforced on schools.
There is no magic bullet for teaching English spelling to children. The large number of irregularities in the system requires a tremendous feat of memorisation that not every child is capable of.
More testing will not help children cope with these problems. Additional individual support for weak learners helps, but it costs too. Making English spelling more consistent would help most of all.
Literacy researcher for the English Spelling Society, Wareham, Dorset
Windows on the passage of time
I'm sorry to burst William Roberts's engaging bubble (Letters, 12 May), but the reason old window glass is thicker at the bottom is that it was sensibly put in that way, in the days before large sheets of perfect glass were possible. Even geological time is too short for windows to flow significantly – and probably too short for people to stop believing that they do.
In his piece (14 May) on my boyhood hero, D S C Compton, Stephen Brenkley seeks to persuade us that the glorious summer of 1947 in which those dashing exploits took place, occurred 75 years ago. Crikey, that suddenly makes me feel a lot younger than I thought I was.
William D Hall
Benefit for all
Alan Milburn argues that the Coalition should consider further cuts in child benefit for better-off families so that public money "could be switched to affordable universal child care" (7 May). But if such care was universal, surely that'd mean better-off families continuing to receive public subsidies for their children?
On the chin
So Cameron sends a text message to Brooks telling her to "keep her head up". I always thought you either kept your chin up or your head down. I suppose no one has ever told the chinless Mr Cameron to try the former, so he got a little confused.
Talk of Blair's return to British politics (Letters, 10 May) prompts a three-option question for our former Dear Leader: are you (a) returning voluntarily; (b) being extraordinarily rendered; or (c) have you no recollection?
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Down and up
"Down to you" hasn't replaced "up to you" (Letters, 12 May). If it's up to you, it's your choice, but if it's down to you it's your responsibility – which is a lot more chilling.
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