Letters: HS2 will boost the regions

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 11 July, 2013

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The opening paragraph of Chris Blackhurst’s article stating that HS2 is a “waste of billions” (5 July) shows that he doesn’t understand what the project is about.

He assumes it’s about getting from London to points north quicker. No, it’s really about getting more capacity on the railway, and making room for more freight trains. He’s forgotten that the railway carries an increasing amount of freight.

He says he is in favour of getting some more investment “up North”. I agree, but HS2 will actually do something about that. If Blackhurst wants to scrap a project to save billions, why not yet another expensive London project – “Crossrail 2”, even before “Crossrail 1” is finished?

The real question is why HS2 is so expensive. The high-speed line in Germany from Cologne to Frankfurt, with its dozens of viaducts and tunnels, took only seven years to build and was opened in 2002 at a cost of €6bn.

Ian K Watson, Carlisle


Anthony Hilton (6 July) says it is a mistake that HS2 will not go to the centre of Birmingham. It will however go to Birmingham airport, which is far more significant in developing the regions outside London. When HS2 is complete there will be millions of people within one hour of Birmingham airport who now take three  hours to reach the London airports.

He need not worry about the remote siting of the new stations. There will be plenty of time for cities to make the necessary transport connections. In Nottingham work is already under way to build a tram line to within one stop of the proposed Toton station.

Outside London people are used to making indirect journeys. I am reminded of the poster proclaiming “Christ is coming to Middlesbrough” on which was scrawled “but first he must change at Darlington like everyone else.”

Vaughan Clarke, Colchester, Essex


This is the end of the Labour Party

Any trade unionist watching Ed Miliband declare that “working people belong at the heart of the Labour Party” might be tempted to add “but not at the heart of the parliamentary Party”. Unions must realise the party they nurtured no longer exists: it’s now part of the establishment; the most elite parliament of modern times.

Only 7 per cent of the population attend private schools, yet 60 per cent of the Coalition cabinet did so. Even the “people’s party” is not immune to elitism: 20 per cent of its present MPs went to Oxford or Cambridge.

Worse yet, the country is in the grasp of professional politicians, most of whom rose up through the ranks of councillors (now salaried), political researchers and the like. Labour participates fully in this inversion of democracy: only 30 or so years ago, 40 per cent of its MPs had a background in manual and clerical work; now it’s a miserly 9 per cent.

I’m at a loss to understand unions indulging in dodgy tactics to increase the membership of a party which has turned its back on them. Miliband has already said they won’t undo the savage measures inflicted by the Tories.

To counter this imbalance, we need more butchers, bakers and candlestick makers in Parliament – in other words typical trade unionists! They should form their own party and contest every constituency; they can afford it better than Labour. I’ve no affection for unions, but I’d be willing to vote for them.

Robert Dow, Tranent, East Lothian


The real problem facing the Labour Party, not yet faced, is that there are fewer Labour MPs now than at any time in the history of the Labour Party. What so many so-called Labour members actually are is difficult to pin down. One answer might be that they are followers of the Vicar of Bray.

Very few seem to have the courage to speak the language which real Labour supporters want to hear, and their eyes seem to be on the House of Lords and a comfortable retirement. Socialism has apparently been banished from their vocabulary.

Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire


I assume that the furore the Tories are having regarding trades union funding of the Labour Party will result in a rapid change in company law as regards shareholder opt-in to donations to the Tory party.

Adam Holmes, London SE13


Formal learning starts too early

The new research on the “schoolification” of early childhood merely confirms what professionals and academics have been telling the DfE for many years (“Under-fives need more time to play, say carers”, 9 July).

A mountain of research evidence and professional opinion favours a later start to quasi-formal learning and the privileging of play at the heart of early childhood. Yet hyperactive education ministers intent on slithering up the greasy pole commonly treat education as a staging-post where they can demonstrate their machismo and “strong leadership” by adopting quasi-authoritarian procedures for “driving up” standards. They fail to understand that more is almost invariably less in the subtle realm of early childhood.

The DfE spokeswoman states that “A third of children start school without basic language and communication skills. In poorer areas, this rises to more than a half.” But this is to miss the point. The problem is England’s absurdly early school starting age. Nine out of 10 of the world’s countries have a starting age of six or seven.

Until this issue is addressed, the DfE’s and Ofsted’s blunderings into the early childhood realm to “make children ready for school” (at four) are destined to do more harm than good, and will inevitably compromise our hapless children’s well-being still further.

Dr Richard House, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood, University of Winchester


Michael Gove’s wish to allow schools to be run for profit invokes in me a sense of horror rarely felt before. The present Government seems intent on destroying the social fabric by selling off everything that is not nailed down, including parts of the NHS (prior to complete privatisation), the prison service, the Post Office and now the schools.

Your rather wishy-washy editorial (2 July) on the matter (maybe yes, maybe no, but don’t rush) doesn’t help matters.

The fact is that our most cherished values – education of a reasonable standard for all, access to health provision – are being taken from us in the name of obedience to market forces.

A hundred years ago, a movement known as municipal socialism (oh, horrid word!) came into existence: utilities were made public, urban transport was run publicly, letters were delivered several times a day, more schools were opened and classes made available to people who could never have dreamt of having access to them previously.

Fifty years later, a Labour government continued in the same direction, adding nationalisations and public planning.

Now, a hundred years on, we are witnessing the most thoroughgoing overthrow of what should by now have become sacred. The latest initiative of the new Thatcherite model in regard to schools is to create a  technically proficient citizenry, but one that is unthinking, uncritical and incapable of defending its own interests.

It is a criminal project which needs to be resisted to the utmost.

Jeffry Kaplow, London SE3


Nation celebrates without me

Is there something wrong with me? Although I’m basically a positive and cheerful person, I find myself completely unable to get excited about someone winning a game of tennis. In fact, I had to suspend my newspaper purchase for the past few days, feeling somehow excluded from the celebrating nation. I suppose I can be thankful I am not a celebrity, or then, apparently, I would have to feign interest in order to be seen at Wimbledon on TV.

I believe the “nation” is going to be celebrating a woman having a baby shortly, and for that I think I shall have to go on holiday to some remote place which, I hope, is media free.

Keith Barlow, Eastbourne


James Lawton (9 July) writing of the 77 years between Fred Perry’s third Wimbledon victory and Andy Murray’s first, says there was “not a sniff of a Brit until Murray came thrashing into view”. This is a travesty of the facts and dismisses the achievements of both Roger Taylor, who reached three Wimbledon semi-finals, and Tim Henman, who reached four.

Charles Becker, Plymouth


European justice

In your leading article (10 June), commenting on the European court judgment on life sentences, you write: “It is surely right that no prisoner is seen as beyond rehabilitation.” Perhaps, but that should be for Parliament to decide.

I cannot see that whole-life sentences constitute inhuman and degrading punishment; that cannot be what the drafters of the European Convention had in mind; after all, the UK still had the death penalty at that time. I have always supported the ECHR, but it now seems to be a threat to sovereignty.

John Dakin, Toddington, Bedfordshire


State sell-off

Even Margaret Thatcher drew the line at selling off the Post Office. It was , she observed, the “Royal Mail”. In his statement Vince Cable seemed ignorant of the monarchy’s close connection with the organisation, above all in its creation. Given that RBS too is soon to be sold, the question has to be asked:  are we on a return route to the night-watchman state, where government is concerned only with defence and all else is left to the tender mercies of the market?

Andrew McLuskey, Staines, Middlesex


A polite ‘Hello’

Isaac Atwal complains (Letters, 10 July) about supermarket customers who don’t respond to a “Hello, how are you?” from the checkout operator. I could easily be one of the guilty ones. This is not because I think I am “too important to reply”, but because being asked how I am by someone I’ve never met feels like an intrusion. Just stick to “Hello.”

Dr Robin Orton, London SE26



You report (10 July) on the plan to give MPs with English seats a veto on legislation affecting only England. On the front page you quote the Labour Party as calling it a “hare-brained” scheme. On page four it’s “hair-brained”. Only one of these spellings is right, but witch is neither hear nor their.

Martin Kyrle, Eastleigh, Hampshire


Cost of school

Aviva says state schooling costs parents £1,600 a year. This includes breakfast clubs, transport, uniform and shoes. So if school were not compulsory, parents could economise by keeping their children indoors, naked and starving?

Bernard O’Sullivan, London SW8