From the obviously heartfelt anguish of colleagues, Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, killed on Thursday by a ramshackle roadside bomb, must have been a soldier of very high quality. But the echo of Kipling's "Arithmetic on the Frontier" is overwhelming:
A scrimmage in a Border Station –
A canter down some dark defile –
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.
Kipling was talking about Afghanistan.
Thormanby, North Yorkshire
The use of the Viking armoured vehicle in Afghanistan is criminal folly. Its bolt-on armour plates only provide protection against 7.62mm ammunition and 0.5kg anti-personnel mines. It doesn't provide protection against heavy machine guns, the RPG , anti-tank mines, or the Taliban weapon of choice, the improvised explosive device. This vehicle is little better than the snatch Land-Rover.
The MOD officials who send the Welsh Guards into battle with these vehicles, when asked why, can only reply with words similar to those of Donald Rumsfeld, who said, when questioned about the unsuitability of the armour of US vehicles in Iraq: "As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time." Our brave soldiers and marines in Afghanistan are lions being led by the donkey officials of the MoD.
George D Lewis
Credit were credit is due; the MoD have finally been browbeaten into giving a symbol of the nation's gratitude to the families of the brave fallen, in the form of the Elizabeth Cross. Decades late, they will properly honour the dead.
Would it be too much to ask if the MoD could also spare a thought for the living, because there but by the grace of luck or God go we? Now is the time to ensure no veteran of any era is cast to the sidelines without any official medal to wear proudly on parade. Now is the time to follow the lead of our Commonwealth cousins and issue a Defence Medal to all.
It dismays me to see The Independent running the unworthy headline "Could Britain's new military medal be made in Germany?" If a British firm fails to win the contract, what exactly would be wrong with the medal being made by this important fellow EU member, military ally and trading partner? The war with the Nazi regime, to which you shamefully allude as though it were still the basis of British relations with Germany, ended before the middle of the last century, after all.
Could you bear to see a Spanish company win the contract, or do memories of the Armada still burn strong with your headline writers? What about a Nordic company – or are you still on the look-out for invading Viking longships?
The efficient way to run a railway
Your leader of 2 July nicely sums up the dilemma facing the Department for Transport as National Express begins the withdrawal from its franchise on the East Coast Main Line. You go on, however, to argue that the privatised management of the railway is much better than the old British Rail, and you point to higher passenger numbers and better rolling stock. Here I have to disagree.
British Rail, underfunded by government in the 1980s and 1990s, ran one of the most efficient railways in the world, given expenditure per passenger mile. The upward trend in passenger numbers started well before privatisation, and the forecasts then were of rapidly growing numbers for the following 15 years, regardless of who owned and ran the railway – forecasts which have been borne out. The much better state of the rolling stock is owed to massive investment of public money by the Labour government since 1998.
British Rail planned its investment in track renewal, rolling stock and station improvements 20 years ahead, to get the maximum benefit for every pound invested. The current system of seven-year franchises undermines long-term planning. It also damages the morale of staff as they face routine transfer from one employer to another, employers with often quite different approaches to leadership – on the East Coast line staff will by the end of this year have experienced four such transfers in five years. Surely no way to run a railway.
St Ives, Cambridgeshire
Your leading article appears to have swallowed the Government spin on the East Coast Main Line franchise.
"Socialisation of losses"? Nonsense. The unelected nonentity currently in charge of transport is not proposing to pay off National Express's substantial losses, and taking the franchise back in public ownership is not a licence to lose money. There seems little chance that even this incompetent government could manage to run the line at a loss now that it doesn't need to generate a surplus of £1.4bn just to break even.
What has sunk National Express is as much the Government's fault as the rail company's. Unrealistically optimistic estimates (no doubt based at least in part on government forecasts) led to them bidding an enormous £1.4bn for the doubtful privilege of making a less than certain profit.
Given the recession (the depth of which is largely the Government's fault) that £1.4bn never was more than pie in the sky and National Express has no option but to give up on the deal.
Keighley, West Yorkshire
The Government should offer the East Coast Main Line franchise to SNCF, the French state-owned operator. Then we'll see what a 21st-century railway really looks like.
Royal Opera in the North
In response to David Lister's comment (25 June), the proposal is about Royal Opera House Manchester being the city's first producing theatre for world-class opera and ballet, adding to the fantastic tradition of music and dance already present in Manchester. It's not about creating a touring venue for companies visiting the area; the North-West has that with The Lowry.
We are already working with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Opera North, the Halle Orchestra and other partners who see the enormous potential in this venture, in particular the opportunities it will provide in back-stage and performance development and training, which will feed the industry as a whole.
It will also make a contribution to the regeneration of Manchester with an innovative employment and skills programme being explored with colleges in the North-West. It's a unique model that has already gained wide support, especially from the people of Manchester. The Lowry need not feel threatened.
Chief Executive, Royal Opera House, London WC2
Save us from a British Sarkozy
Graham Allen MP, in supporting separation of executive and legislature, claims in its support that it is "well tested in many democracies" (letter, 25 June).
Like France, where the power of the presidency has evolved to the stage where Sarkozy now summons both houses to Versailles in the style of Louis XIV, to tell them what policy for the coming year is to be, then leaves them to talk among themselves with no opportunity to question or oppose him; and where, since the introduction of presidential and parliamentary elections within weeks of one another, legislative elections remind one of the role of a little-known group playing at a rock concert behind the band everyone has paid to hear?
Recently Gordon Brown has had his deviousness over spending plans ruthlessly exposed, and has been forced into a U-turn over the proposal to hold an inquiry into the Iraq War in secret – by Parliament.
Maybe Brown wouldn't have been elected President, but Blair, with his immense ability to charm and dissemble, surely would have. A President Blair elected for five years, irremovable and not subject to being knocked about in the Commons? The very thought makes me want to lie down in a darkened room until it goes away.
Biggs deserves to serve out his time
Robert Chesshyre's plea for the release of Ronald Biggs (3 July) should be ignored. Biggs was sentenced to a period of incarceration that he didn't have the cojones to serve. Instead he escaped and cocked a snook at the United Kingdom for 35 years. He returned to the UK not because he was remorseful but because he wanted to use our health services (for which he had paid not a penny in taxes) and get housing for free.
He was sentenced to 30 years, and the penalty for his escape should be that he serves every minute of that 30-year sentence. He is not entitled to parole or remission. If he dies in prison then that is tough, but if he had completed his sentence in 1993 he would now be a free man. He made his choices and must accept the consequences.
As Home Secretary, Jack Straw followed the pattern of New Labour: all Home Secretaries since 1997 have tried to be more tough than their predecessors. Now, as Justice Secretary he has exceeded himself in the tabloid test of toughness over Ronnie Biggs.
New Labour has a one-dimensional policy on law and order, and that policy is punishment. Reluctantly I must conclude that only a New Labour minister could make political capital out of keeping a very ill elderly man in prison so that he learns his lesson. Jack Straw demeans his office with this trivial display of "strength".
No favours from the Queen
Michael Taylor (letter, 1 July) suggests the taxpayer makes a £200m profit each year out of the Queen's surrender of the income from the Crown Estates in exchange for the payment from the Civil List. This is a commonly stated misconception.
The income from the Crown Estates was money for the monarch to use to administer the country. Once this function was taken over by the state in the 18th century the income from the Crown Estates went to the Treasury for the same purpose. The Civil List was created to replace the smaller amount of Crown Estates income which was used to keep the person of the monarch and their family.
The Crown Estates income has never been the personal property of the monarch and so is not theirs to surrender.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Farah Fawcett "loses her three-year battle" with cancer (report, 26 June). When will the media move on from stories about celebrities who "battle" or "fight" cancer. We suffer with cancer. We seek treatment for cancer. We are cured from cancer or we die of cancer. And that's that.
James Edgar ("'US Declaration print found at archives", 3 July) and your sub-editors need to be reminded of that old printed documents are not "manuscripts". A manuscript is literally "written by hand". Admittedly, the term is also used loosely to denote what an author submits to a publisher, regardless of the technical means used in its preparation, but the distinction remains.
Peter Ward Jones
Across the border
I find it hard to believe that there is no one at such a prestigious newspaper as The Independent who can tell the difference between a border collie and a border terrier. Andy Murray's dog, depicted in your front page photograph (early editions, 3 July), is a border terrier, a feisty little dog who probably loves playing with tennis balls, but has no inbred instinct to herd sheep.
Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear
Work for MPs
I completely agree with Dominic Lawson (30 June) and those of your correspondents who say that MPs should be allowed to have second jobs, and I would like to recommend that they undertake posts which are directly relevant to the people they serve. I therefore suggest, for example, that Ed Balls (Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families) become a classroom assistant, Andy Burnham (Secretary of State for Health) become a nurse, and that Douglas Alexander (Secretary of State for International Development) manage a branch of Oxfam.
I always enjoy Tom Lubbock's essays on paintings at the back of The Independent's arts section, but I wonder whether today (3 July) he has for once stopped short of seeing the obvious. Surely Jeremy Moon's painting of five blue discs (or two discs and three half-discs) in Hoop-la is a play on his own surname.