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Wednesday 13 July 2011
Letters: Hacking - Brown should have spoken up sooner
Gordon Brown's revelation that journalists from News International employed private investigators to obtain confidential information about his family, causing great distress, would find sympathy with any decent person.
But one does have to question why, if he felt so strongly about this intrusion into his privacy, did he then accept an invitation to attend the wedding of Rebekah Wade (now Brooks)?
The answer is simple. Gordon Brown was content to put up with the indignity being heaped on him and his family by the bullying executive and journalists from News International because he hoped they would back him in a future general election.
Bullies aided and abetted by investigators using deception were OK when they were on his side, but now that they cannot help him become prime minister, he condemns them.
If Gordon Brown had spoken out publicly against News International and the bully Brooks when she threatened to run the story on his son's medical condition there wouldn't have been a person in this country who would not have backed him.
If he had done so he would have demonstrated the prime ministerial qualities that the people would have voted for. He didn't, and we didn't.
When does honour kick in? The whole Murdoch debacle reminds me of Paul Gray. He had been appointed deputy chairman of the Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise to oversee their merger. Six months later, when his feet were barely under the table, two highly sensitive tapes were lost containing details of 25 million people receiving child benefit. A minor civil servant hadn't encrypted them.
Was Paul Gray culpable? In no possible way except the disaster happened on his watch. He felt he had no choice but to resign. Letters and articles in the press spoke of him as a man of high capability, honour and integrity. Rebekah Brooks and her employer may like to ponder.
Dr Jean Burton
It is not only the police and the papers' managers who failed us so lamentably in the News of the World conspiracy. Which accountant and/or auditor hid the payments to police? And as what?
Why did the Inland Revenue not question the huge slush-fund payments?
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
By referring to "the poodle of a French press", Ian Burrell (11 July) perpetuates the pervasive myth that of all European countries, only Britain enjoys a press willing to hold its government to account. When a supine European example is cited, it is usually France. This is arrant nonsense.
French national newspapers have smaller circulations than British ones, and they tend to have less prurient interest in sexual shenanigans, but several of them are at least as willing to attack right-wing governments as anything on this side of the Channel. Le Monde is notably independent, Libération is somewhat to the left of The Guardian, L'Humanité is the organ of the French Communist Party, and Le Canard enchainé is a satirical weekly with an unparalleled network of whistle-blowers that constantly infuriates right-wing governments, and makes our very own Private Eye look like, well, a poodle.
Andreas Whittam-Smith's excellent article (7 July) points out that the law clearly states that the directors or managers of a corporate body which is guilty of a criminal offence, are themselves also guilty of that offence. It would seem therefore that the Metropolitan police have a second chance to redeem the force after the mishandled 2006 investigation into phone-hacking at the NOTW, which Yates of the Yard himself described as "pretty crap".
But the initial signals do not look promising: Scotland Yard announced that Rebekah Brooks would be interviewed as a witness rather than a suspect, and Rupert Murdoch was widely reported as wining and dining around London apparently without even being questioned.
It is hard not to compare the above situation with events several weeks ago when we saw the "kettling" of schoolchildren for hours in inclement conditions, without access to food, water or toilets, merely for exercising their right to peaceful legal protest.
The gross inequality in the Met's treatment in the two cases illustrates that there really is one law for the rich, famous and powerful and another for the rest, especially the young and powerless.
The latest revelation that News International journalists allegedly hacked into or bought information relating to senior members of the Royal Family must be considered "a betrayal of the reigning Sovereign" and therefore could be treated as an act of treason.
If I were Mr Murdoch, I'd be on my private jet before I could say "Albert Pierrepoint."
Feigning disgust at the latest News International shenanigans, Nick Clegg jolly sternly asks Murdoch to "do the decent thing" by withdrawing his BSkyB bid. Continuing the theme of apt Shakespearean snippets (Letters, 13 July), surely Macbeth's words sum up this kind of pathetic PR move by politicians now eager to wag the finger or pretend they were never in the Digger's pocket: "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".
For some time I have been becoming increasingly irritated by your use of an all-embracing "we" when you comment on something that affects large numbers of people.
No, Dominic Lawson (12 July), I did not get the phone hacking I wanted. Some decades ago, as a student teacher, I bought a copy of the News of The World and one of The Sun, so that I could check their reading ages.
The reading age of my learning-disabled daughter was already higher and, not wishing to introduce her to the sort of drivel that she was capable of reading, I have not bought a copy of either paper since.
Famine victims have no choices
I was very angry indeed to read Mr Kirkham's ignorant, useless and patronising comment that "a mother who turns up at an aid camp with six or eight starving children should have given some thought to whether she could provide for them before bringing them into the world" (Letters, 11 July).
The low status of many African women, as Mr Kirkham should know, deprives them of any choices whatsoever, including when and whether to have sex and even whom to have it with, let alone the use of contraception or abortion. Illiteracy, ignorance and superstition condemn millions of women to a life of endless childbearing, sexual violence and virtual slavery.
The education and empowerment of women is the only viable solution to this and many other of the world's urgent problems.
I share many of Dominic Kirkham's sentiments, and like him see little prospect of an improving situation. To put it brutally, I worry that if my monthly subscription to an aid agency helps save the life of a child, that child is likely in the coming decades to produce perhaps half a dozen more in the same miserable condition.
The World Bank reported last year that in parts of Africa contraception was practised by only 22 per cent of the fertile population. So, paraphrasing JS Mill, should I aim to minimise the collective misery by diverting my subscription to an agency, if one exists, which will promise to concentrate its efforts on population control?
Energy pricing is perverse
The latest increase in the price of gas and electricity prices must surely come as no surprise to anyone; the laws of supply and demand of a dwindling natural asset are easily predicted in the longer term.
The current domestic pricing structure for gas and electricity is perverse, with the most careful users paying much more proportionately than the profligate.
Far better to agree a reasonable annual household allowance for all which meets environmental objectives and is adequate for reasonable comfort. Consumption up to this level would be charged at cost price or less, benefiting those on low incomes and ensuring everyone's right to a minimum amount of fuel.
Those who insist on a greater level of comfort (eg have bigger homes, or because they like to wear shorts in the middle of winter) will pay a punitive price for units above this allocation.
Given this simple uniform pricing structure, competition among energy companies (always more illusory than actual) would be unnecessary and is, anyway, inappropriate when dealing with a natural wasting resource which needs to be preserved for future generations.
Establishing such a clear dividing line between reasonable and excessive domestic energy consumption will also boost interest in energy-efficiency measures and renewables.
British Gas trots out the standard excuse that raw material (gas) prices have gone up by 30 per cent as a justification for increasing fuel tariffs by 20 per cent. This is the usual mirrors and smoke approach to fooling customers, because the raw material price is a very small component of the tariff charged to customers. In no way can such huge increases be justified year on year, and it is high time that the regulator took a serious view of such behaviour.
Regarding incentives to go green, if WR Haines (letters, 12 July)had opted for photo-voltaic panels – which generate electricity – he'd be receiving 43.3p for every unit he generates, plus a further 3.1p for every unit fed into the national grid. These payments are guaranteed for 25 years, they are index-linked to the RPI, and they are tax-free. We think this is a pretty good incentive to go green.
Tony & Lorna Verso
Kingswood, South Gloucestershire
Don't demolish these buildings
Congratulations to Jack Watkins for highlighting the threat to the Broadgate complex in the City (4 July). The Swiss bank UBS with the co-operation of British Land have been given the OK to demolish part of this attractive and imaginative set of buildings – which have yet to reach their 30th birthday – in order to create more space.
Many perfectly good and attractive buildings in the City fall to the demolition hammers before their time is due. This may be good for the construction industry and property developers, but in the end the replacement cost falls upon the tenants and ultimately the their clients and customers.
We all know that the City's first priority is making money, but other factors such as history and beauty should be taken into account.
East Bergholt, Suffolk
CRB is source of confusion
I was surprised that a 14-year-old would be asked by a care-home manager to obtain a CRB check to come in to chat to residents in the open areas of the home (letters, 9 July).
As a leader of a youth club, we are allowed to have young helpers (some of whom are on the Duke of Edinburgh scheme) and have been told that they do not need and in fact cannot get CRB checks done until they are 18.
My teenage sons have volunteered at care homes, helped with Scouts and have had work experience in hospitals. The organisations are happy to have them and their fellow sixth formers as long as they are under 18 and so do not have to wait months for CRB checks to be processed after endless form-filling and identity checks.
My youngest son's primary school insists on having only parents who have been CRB-checked through the school to walk the children in a group along a public route to the local secondary school for sports.
The system is veiled with confusion. HR departments, many school heads and others insist on a full check when not necessary, usually through ignorance of the system. List 99 checks are usually adequate for volunteers who would never be alone or in close personal contact with a child or vulnerable adult.
Ministry of ...
Following on from Jeremy Braund's suggestion that the MoD should be renamed Ministry of Offence (letters , 5 July), why not revert back to the original War Office which covers both defence and offence. I assume the name was changed because it sounded too belligerent.
Presumably, the Beckhams' baby daughter was born at Harper Seven in the morning? (Report, 12 July)
Apropos the cliché debate; what do rocket scientists say when considering an easy-to-make decision?
Perspectives on Scotland's independence
The Scots pay their way, and more
Dominic Lawson writes that Scots "get favourable treatment from the so-called Barnett Formula, which governs the scale of the allocation of block grants to the regions (sic) from the Treasury in London" ("Scottish pride and English money", 5 July).
In fact, Barnett is a population-based formula, in terms of changes to public expenditure.
Last month, the Scottish Government published the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (Gers) analysis for 2009-10 which shows that, including a geographical share of UK North Sea oil and gas revenues, Scotland contributed 9.4 per cent of UK public-sector revenue and received 9.3 per cent of total UK public-sector expenditure, including a per capita share of UK debt interest payments.
In terms of Gers reports, Scotland has been in a stronger financial position than the UK as a whole for each of the past five years.
Despite the fall in North Sea revenues to £6.5bn in 2009-10 – less than half the level for this year – Scotland still contributed far more to the UK exchequer than our share of population, which underlines the breadth and strength of Scotland's finances, and the opportunities of financial responsibility and independence. Scotland's 9.4 per cent of UK tax revenue compares with our 8.4 per cent of the population, the equivalent of £1,000 extra for every man, woman and child in Scotland.
Kevin J Pringle
Senior Special Adviser, First Minister of Scotland
Why is this teacher barred from work?
Is it not about time we sorted all this England-Scotland nonsense (letters, 2 July)? My daughter was born and schooled in London. She has just completed four terrifically happy, productive and successful years at the University of St Andrews and now faces the kind of loan repayments unknown to her Irish partner, who was able to study there without having to pay.
During those four years, I moved from London to north-west Scotland where the General Teaching Council (of Scotland) refuses to admit me to their register, and therefore prevents me from teaching in public-sector schools here.
This is despite my having taught in the UK and around the world for 40 years with four good academic qualifications in education, two of which (Cert Ed and BEd) qualify me to teach in England and Wales but not, evidently, in Scotland.
We must escape the dominance
If I was not already convinced of the necessity of Scotland coming out from under the dominance of England, Dominic Lawson's biased article would be enough to convert me to the cause of independence. And I write as someone who loves England. Some of my best friends, as the saying goes ...
Nae difference? Listen, pal
Dominic Lawson asserts that the "peoples' (read English and Scots)... ethnic and cultural differences are minimal". I expect fellow Scots will be apt to pen examples from a lengthy stored list to contradict this remark, and the English will agree with Mr Lawson.
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I'm taking my Jewish kids to a vile neo-Nazi rally in London this weekend because I want them to learn about free speech
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