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Wednesday 9 May 2012
Letters: Hurrah for Francois Hollande, scourge of the europhobes
Your editorial on the likely consequences of the French election ("Europe's new dynamic", 8 May) is a refreshing counterpoint to most British media comment. Hollande could be bad news for British europhobes – oops, eurosceptics. His Socialist predecessor Mitterrand and (German Christian Democrat) Kohl forged one of the strongest bonds in recent Franco-German history and consolidated European integration.
And Hollande's avowed expansionist economic policy could make him a European ally of Obama, who favours expansion rather than austerity as a way out of the crisis – a point studiously ignored by many British commentators.
Though it may be alien to our tweeting, twittering age, let's give Hollande a chance before we judge his presidency. He's a formerly scooter-riding socialist, but a consensual and pragmatic one – who doesn't even take over until next week.
Now that France has said "oui" to Mr Hollande and his sensible Keynesian growth policies it opens up an opportunity to the left-of-centre to challenge the right-of-centre's obsession with austerity measures throughout Europe.
On Thursday Ed Miliband received a clear mandate from British electors to be radical, bold and positive in challenging this Coalition Government to focus on growth and creating jobs for young people.
The Labour Party's mission from now on is to take the fight to the ConDems all the way to the next General Election in 2015; David Cameron and Nick Clegg cannot be allowed to characterise last Thursday's results as merely "mid-term blues", as opposed to a fundamental rejection of free-market ideology.
The left must now assert an entirely different agenda which balances fiscal prudence with positive intervention in the markets where required – including curbing the unfettered greed of the City.
The victory by Mr Hollande in the French presidential election is excellent news. His proposal for a rise in corporation tax to 35 per cent shows that the current UK policy of slashing taxes for multinationals is utter nonsense in a time of large deficits.
Will French companies leave France on mass? No they won't, as they will see the deficit reducing and the economy growing.
If only the current governments in the UK and Scotland would stop this ridiculous race to the bottom because Rupert Murdoch demands it, we might all be better off.
The new French president François Hollande is referred to on the front page of The Independent (7 May) as "moderate". Inside, we learn that he "does not like the rich", that "my real enemy is the world of finance", and that he plans to tax the wealthy by up to 75 per cent. Would that a British politician with such views might be described as moderate.
Local government is a shambles
More than anything else last week's elections show how English local government is unfit for purpose. How can we possibly have this mixture of unitary authorities, two-tier councils, annual elections, single member wards, multi-member wards, parish councils, area committees, and that's all before we tackle London?
Surely there can now be few rational arguments against sensibly sized, geographically coherent unitary authorities? City regions would be a more sensible and democratic way of running conurbations than a mayor in one place, a council leader next door and a plethora of opaque and expensive joint boards. If one wants both localism and efficiency, why not have urban parishes so that unitary councils don't spend their time on bus shelters and flower beds and instead spend their time on housing need, social care and the wider environment.
Water firms profit during drought
We have just been told by a government minister that, if we have another dry winter, our water supply will be cut off. This is at a time that water company shareholders are being paid out millions in dividends.
If I purchased a car for later delivery and was informed that there were plenty in Scotland but they can't be transferred down to me, and I can't have my money back, I might be a bit annoyed.
If water companies were in the same situation as car companies, they would stop paying dividends until they had sorted their product out. Ofwat, who should be representing our interests, is about as much use as a wet weekend in August.
The floods that arrived in the past 10 days are already running into drains and rivers, and will be on their way to join the sea. The rain left on the soil will soon evaporate, because the days are warm.
The past two winters have been dry, and we have not had any of that continuous depressing drizzle that gently tops up the aquifers in the usual British way. So we would need about six months of the sort of rain we have had in the last few days to make a noticeable difference to our reservoirs.
When the water tables get back to normal will be the right time to relax the drought orders. It would seem that it is Mr Ives (letter, 3 May) who is "jumping the gun" asking for their immediate end.
Bright future for solar subsidies
It is no wonder solar-deployment levels have dropped so dramatically if the public think the subsidy has been "abandoned," as suggested by the headline "Thousands of jobs at risk after David Cameron abandons solar subsidies" (7 May). The Government does not plan to "abandon" solar subsidies. The current 21p subsidy can actually give a return up to 10 per cent, tax-free, index-linked, for 25 years, making it one of the most attractive investments around.
The Solar Trade Association (STA) is concerned about the proposed July cuts – which is why we've asked DECC to delay them – but as subsidies are coming down, costs are coming down too. Homeowners can now purchase a 4KW system for £9,000 – half the price from a year ago, and 25 per cent off the figure quoted in the article. There was a time when the Feed-in Tariff was under threat of abandonment, before a successful campaign by the STA last autumn persuaded DECC of solar's true value.
Chief Executive, Solar Trade Association, London SE1
If the Department for Energy and Climate Change is right that solar subsidies are a "generous subsidy for prosperous people... funded by less well-off consumers", why do they not ask the Chancellor to forgo cutting the 50p income-tax rate for some of these prosperous people and use the tax to pay these desirable subsidies instead?
Leave luxuriant locks to the young
The one slightly dubious thing about adults with long hair is that it has to indicate high maintenance – unless, the owner is content to look totally off-putting (letters, 7 May). This applies to both genders.
Once when girls became women they put their hair up only to let it down for their husbands, lovers or general abandonment. I do really think Mary Beard would look charming with a beautiful shiny grey chignon or French plait. But maybe this would detract from her beguiling air of girlish enthusiasm for her subject. However one cannot imagine Christine Lagarde fulfilling her role as head of the IMF quite as convincingly if she allowed her snowy locks to fall around her shoulders.
I, for one, cut my hair off short when I reached 65 and let it grow into a tasteful shade of darkish grey which will become white if I am lucky to live that long. It is vastly liberating and not that unbecoming.
Cardinal in the spotlight
It is interesting to note just how many senior figures are calling for the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady on the grounds that, as a junior priest in 1975, he failed to make a stance against his bosses when they failed to deal appropriately with the paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth (report, 2 May).
One wonders how many of these critics had the moral fibre to stand up during their own junior-ranking days to proven malpractice by their seniors? It is a harsh fact of life that those who rock the boat in any organisation usually find their careers grinding to a halt.
Tory MPs must learn to share
I am perplexed that we voters keep hearing how Conservatives MPs to the right of the party want the Government to "lurch farther right". Do they not realise that this is a coalition government? We did not give them the mandate they seem to feel they have; they rely on support from the Lib Dems, whose policies they seem to despise.
Margaret Mead was no feminist
I very much enjoyed Owen Jones's article (4 May) about the possible male contribution to the feminist movement. However, to describe Margaret Mead, as he does, as a "feminist anthropologist" is to misrepresent what she thought. Although Mead was a woman making her way in a man's world and was in many ways an icon of first wave feminism, in much of her later work (eg Male and Female, 1949) she supported the idea of inherent gender differences and throughout her life rejected the label of "feminist".
I am a bit surprised at the hand-wringing about delays incurred at Heathrow. How about the USA? It was my experience on many visits to the USA via Washington (Dulles) and New York (JFK) that waits of this length were, and I understand remain, commonplace. At least our border police are polite and professional unlike the surly devils that face us at the desks in the US.
The Coalition might have had a bad week, but as, Juvenal said in ancient Rome, to get public approval just give the people "bread and circuses". Well, the biggest circus in the world is coming to town, so they just need to work out modern-day "bread".
What a pathetic picture that was: little Mr Putin being driven through the empty streets of Moscow to his inauguration, surrounded by security forces, but still too scared to allow his electors to see him (7 May). Russia deserves something better.
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