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Tuesday 19 July 2011
Letters: Hacking scandal
The arrogance at the 'top'
The News International scandal is but one more example of how our public school-educated elite – MPs, Scotland Yard, business, law and the media – believe that the rules don't apply them.
Taxes are something that only "little people" pay; expenses can include renovating duck houses and cleaning moats; freebies include tickets for Wimbledon, the FA Cup Final, Henley, Ascot and the Derby. Talent does not necessarily apply because there is always nepotism or the old school tie.
Sir Paul Stephenson's five-week stay at Champneys, courtesy of a friend, beggars belief. Has he never heard the phrase, "There is no such thing as a free lunch"? The phone-hacking scandal has lifted the lid on the wide-scale graft and corruption that exists at the "top" of our society.
The obscene differences in wealth and income have helped to create a ruling class that has no knowledge of the lives of ordinary people. Like the French aristocrats isolated in Versailles before the French Revolution they don't have any sense of shame and have lost any sense of moral compass.
I agree entirely with Margaret Drabble's article on the influence of the Murdoch press (16 July). Over the past 40 years, Murdoch and his ilk have infected our attitudes towards people in public life to such an extent that I am surprised that any talented, intelligent person would still want to take on a job which puts them in the public eye.
Who would want to be a government minister, or even a local councillor, when the slightest indiscretion in one's private life, however irrelevant to the work one does, becomes an excuse for a campaign of public vilification, leading to the inevitable tearful public apology and resignation. How much real talent has been lost to the nation in this way?
At the same time, space in newspapers which was at one time used to inform people and to discuss important issues has been turned over to endless "celebrity" gossip, scandal-mongering, prying into private grief, and the plots of television "dramas" ( often reported as if they were real-life).
It isn't just the Murdoch papers which are guilty. The once proud, campaigning Daily Mirror has become just another scandal sheet, and what we would once have called the broadsheets, who should know better, and even the BBC News, waste valuable time and column inches on pointless gossip. But it was Murdoch's papers which started the rot, and the others have joined in a race to the bottom.
Even the BBC News has become increasingly shallow and sensationalist, in spite of having a dedicated, 24-hour news channel, with more time spent on speculation and sport than on in-depth reporting.
Politicians need to stop courting the media, to stop talking in soundbites and get back to the intelligent discussion of serious issues. People want to know the why and the how, not who scored the most points at Prime Minister's Questions.
The resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson is a clear example of how fear of the press continues to undermine the democratic process. The former Commissioner is confident, as are many, that his integrity remains intact yet his resignation is unavoidable for one simple reason.
That is the determination of the press to hijack the process of accountability and have a public trial, well before the appropriate authorities have even begun their invariably transparent process of investigation and enquiry.
Fear sells papers and the press deal in fear. Until that issue is confronted how can our society advance?
Sir Paul Stephenson and now Assistant Commissioner John Yates have become the latest victims of a perverse environment that has ensued over many years between the police, media and politicians.
It is no accident that the allegations against the Metropolitan Police and the media are centred around the height of New Labour under the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. No one courted the Murdoch press with more enthusiasm than Mr Blair, massively contributing to their influence and power in British politics.
It is clear that the Murdoch press has infiltrated many establishments of power in Britain. Notwithstanding the outcomes of the police investigations and public inquiries, the surest means of restoring public confidence is to eliminate the influence of the common cause. The Murdoch press in its entirety must be removed from the British media.
Dr Karl Brennan
Remember who was behind the curtain at the end of Wizard of Oz? A little old man who wielded immense power but not always for good. Many red-tops have encouraged our worst instincts to win the ratings war and those who enjoyed the excesses are also complicit.
Let's hope British investigative journalism can function and thrive again without the intrusion, titillation, denigration and falsehood we have seen in recent years.
I was saddened to see Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson's resignation. In all my dealings with him he struck me as a good man, without a dishonest or dishonourable bone in his body. He was and still is a man of great integrity and honour.
Never more than now has the Met Police needed strong and decisive leadership and management. The Met will learn from this but will nevertheless stoically carry on looking after people, the places they live and work, and their property.
I wish him and Lady Stephenson a long and happy retirement together.
Chairman, Metropolitan Police and City of London Police District of the Superintendents Association of England and Wales
I do object to Andrew Grice and others (18 July) referring to Sir Paul Stephenson's honourable act of resignation as "old-fashioned". This implies that it is cool and modern to be dishonourable.
GEORGE MACDONALD ROSS
How short the memory of political commentators is. Commenting on the appearance of Messrs Hayman and Yates before the Select Committee, Steve Richards wrote, "No elected minister would get so far up the Cabinet in the way that unimpressive duo rose up the hierarchy of the police". Has he already forgotten John Prescott?
Follow Dilnot or pay a price later
How much less "affordable" does care have to be when 16 per cent of England's population is aged over 65 and the cost of long-term care is projected at 0.25 per cent of total public expenditure (letters, 6 July)?
Perhaps those who resist Dilnot's recommendations have no notion that one day they too will be old and possibly very frail. I just hope they don't live to regret their failure of imagination along with the rest of us.
Britain's role in the 21st century
Hamish McRae's analysis (Comment, 13 July) of why we'll never have it so good again is, I fear, quite correct, but we need to answer one question: what is the point of Britain in the 21st century?
Like the rest of western Europe, Britain has for decades been riding on the back of the Industrial Revolution and the dominance that brought. Fuelled by cheap commodities from colonial subjugates, we managed to collar a disproportionate share of the value of trade. But no more. The countries we used to look down on as "less developed" will at some point overtake us as generators of wealth. What do we do then to earn our crust?
There are few options. We can try to be cleverer than the rest of the world, but our education and training systems don't seem to be up to that. We can try to be the world's financial engineers, but I think we've blown that one, too. A source of cheap labour, perhaps? A national heritage theme park?
So many commentators talk as though this recession will blow over just like bad weather blows over, without us having to do anything other than wait for things to improve. But there are very real structural changes that we are going to have to adapt to this time.
I think that if we want to keep the security and comfort of good health and welfare provision, we'd better find some answers. The problem with economics is that it seeks those answers in a welter of metrics, while I rather think the problem is simpler and starker than economists might have us believe.
The light behind the lava lamp
In the lava lamp article in Viewspaper (15 July), your writer refers to the inventor of the lamp; his death before 1960 enabled Craven-Walker to patent the lamp as his own.
The inventor was, I believe, a Scot called Donald Dunnett, a motor engineer and colleague of my late father in the London and Lancashire Insurance Company, which was taken over by the Royal Insurance Company, now part of Royal and Sun Alliance. Mr Dunnett lived in Burgh Heath, Surrey and in his spare time interested himself in gadgets.
One I remember was a form of sweeper to clean the bottom of the local swimming pool. This would have been in the late 1940s. He had two daughters, who, if still alive would be in their seventies. Though Mr Dunnett had no formal claim to be the inventor of the lava lamp, it would be a pity if he were entirely lost to posterity.
Newcastle upon Tyne
The reality of feed-in tariiffs
Your correspondent Ian Quayle (letters, 15 July) succinctly highlights the feed-in tariff problem by getting it exactly backwards. Paying people a high fee for feeding excess power from photovoltaic (PV) solar electricity microgeneration into the grid cannot be judged on a simple present value basis against the current costs of electricity from fossil fuels.
There are the looming problems of climate change and peak oil to take into account too, and the objective is to change future behaviour by providing an incentive now. Perhaps the people who insist on keeping their heads firmly in the sand could have a look around and see if we've missed any oil down there.
Ian Quayle grossly underestimates the generation potential of solar PV. We installed a system as he described in February this year, on a less than ideal roof, since when we have generated more than 2,000kWh. Monitoring the generation daily, we also know how long the payback will be. We are also replacing our ancient gas-boiler for an air-source heat-pump for hot water and central heating.
Our motivation was certainly not of the avaricious kind he ascribes, but because we have two young children for whom we wish a sustainable future, not one of dependence on imported gas or other fossil fuels.
We all pay for Prince Charles
Further to Paddy Haverson's sycophantic defence of the indefensible (report, 30 June), I would like to point out that the Duchy of Cornwall is hardly "his own pocket". In fact it is my pocket and everyone else's pocket. Charles has no more right to claim huge of tracts of land than you, I or anyone else.
As for the claim that he acts in a "sustainable fashion", I would beg to differ. He has a bigger carbon footprint than most of the population and, with his six O-levels, he has the temerity to think that the population of the country consists of unquestioning fools who will accept the spin of his "communications secretary".
Life in a climate of violence
The disproportionate jail sentences handed out to student protesters such as Charlie Gilmour (letters, 18 July) tell us much about the present political climate. As your analysis pointed out ("A crackdown that could stifle honest protest", 16 July), those who inflict actual physical harm often receive shorter sentences.
Among those next up in court is Alfie Meadows, the student who suffered a serious brain injury during a police kettling operation. It seems clear that these are political trials, and those imprisoned are political prisoners.
Now, under the radar of popular opinion and electoral mandate, the UK has been inflicting its own actual violence on Libya for four months. Foreign Secretary William Hague promises us that British bombers will "intensify" their bombing ("West prepares to hand rebels Gaddafi's billions", 16 July).
But we are told next to nothing about what actually happens when these colossal quantities of explosives, which we have paid for at huge expense at a time of savage cuts, hit the ground.
Time to dry up
Tim Luckhurst's memory of the drought of 1976 (if he is old enough to have one) is spectacularly inaccurate when he says that Dennis Howell failed to end it (11 July). In fact, the drought was broken within a day or two of his appointment, making him possibly the most successful Minister in post-war history.
D W Budworth
Read all about it
Shane Kelleher of Dublin believes "a newspaper lives or dies by its reputation for accuracy and high journalistic standards" (letters, 1 July). They must do things very differently over there.
Perspectives on education
Wrong road to learning
You state that there is a "case for greater focus on results" and the return of the national literacy and numeracy strategies as the way forward ("The poorest are being failed", 11 July). I beg to differ.
Successive governments since 1989 have followed a singular route to the measurement of "standards" in our schools. That route has been supported by pressure on schools to produce performance data points rather than develop learners. Headteachers and teachers have complied by following a "one size fits all" teaching pedagogy which has lessened the importance of the learner as an individual with learning needs, the agenda of coaching to conform to the demands of the test being paramount.
Learning programmes and learning philosophies aimed at supporting the many different paces of pupil learning have been abandoned because the individual and his/her needs are considered irrelevant to the accounting metric.
A return to the national numeracy and literacy strategies will only reinforce this restricted pedagogy and further constrict opportunities for the disadvantaged and disempowered.
I do agree with Jane Powell (letters, 18 July). My longitudinal research on pupil assessments from 1997, paid for, supplied to and ignored by the Department of Education, conclusively proves the arbitrary nature of the levels of performance used for labelling success and failure of pupils and schools.
The detrimental effects of these flawed "levels" on the future life-chances, motivation and self-esteem of these soon-to-be adults are incalculable.
Professor Bill Boyle
School of Education, University of Manchester
Change English to help pupils
Social deprivation is no doubt one of the causes of the poor reading ability of some children (letters, 14 July). There is another: non-phonetic spelling in the English language, which inhibits progress in literacy for some pupils who struggle to overcome this obstacle.
English has some benefits compared with other languages: nouns have no gender, which means that adjectival endings do not change, and conjugation of verbs is simpler and easier to learn. Word order in constructions is not critical as long as the meaning is clear.
But non-phonetic spelling offsets these advantages. Perhaps spelling reform would help less academically gifted pupils to achieve acceptable levels of literacy. A useful start would be the abolition of the apostrophe and substitution of the six sounds of the "ough" letter group with phonetic alternatives.
You can't just blame society
So society is to blame when pupils fail to achieve in socially deprived communities (letters, 18 July). How do we explain that some schools succeed and others fail to lift standards? Perhaps teachers in some schools don't accept that their pupils are too dim and under-motivated to succeed.
Dr Geoff Lowe
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