Owen Jones’s piece (1 July) on the failure of the Labour Party to react with alternative policies to the Coalition’s disastrous strategies fails to hit the heart of Labour’s failure. Since the runaway success of Blair’s election victories Labour no longer look to what is best for the country but how best they can get back into power.
Labour sees no votes in challenging the orthodoxy of austerity; so, afraid of alienating floating voters, they forget their radical roots and settle for only token challenges to whatever new cut Mr Osborne comes up with.
The answer? Political bravery instead of mediocrity.
Owen Jones obviously means well, but he does not address the contradiction of running concurrently a fiscal stimulus, a trade deficit and a budget deficit.
New Labour tried this and the country went bust. Doing the same thing again and expecting a different result represents a failure to learn from experience.
Kim Howells, another New Labour has-been, is wheeled out by the leadership to create a panic about trade union members of the Labour Party demanding a voice.
This is designed to obscure the abolition of democracy within the party. Members no longer have a vote to determine party policy or even a free choice on who is put forward to represent them. The New Labour generation of paid representatives have achieved a level of entryist stitch-up that Militant could never have fantasised about.
Without accountability, the party has become fractured between a majority Old Labour social base, and a undemocratic New Toff Labour leadership. The result is that party membership is down by three-quarters from its 405,000 peak and 5 million Labour voters are on electoral strike. Tellingly, Miliband’s first response as leader was to abolish Shadow Cabinet elections.
We need a campaign to force political parties to return to internal democracy. To have in the 21st century a mainstream organisation with less party democracy than 1930s German National Socialism is a disgrace. Differences about party policy should be resolved by voting. The alternative is for the taxpayer to fund parties whose own supporters don’t approve of them.
Tax breaks don’t make stable families
The reasoning behind Tory plans for a tax break for married couples almost certainly puts the cart before the horse. The logic runs as follows: children need a stable home environment; statistics show that married couples stay together longer than unmarried ones; therefore we need to persuade more couples to get married.
The most likely explanation for the statistics is that those couples who choose to marry are, on average, more committed than those who do not. Some evidence for this is provided by the increasing number of couples who decide to get married after cohabiting for several years, often after having one or more children.
But this does not mean that providing financial incentives for people to get married who would otherwise not have done so will significantly increase the stability of their relationship. There is even a danger that, in a number of cases, such incentives might simply prolong a turbulent relationship, to the detriment of all concerned.
One wonders how many of those in favour of this measure have, consciously or otherwise, viewed the statistics through ideologically tinted spectacles. The phrase “living in sin” is hardly ever used today, but the concept no doubt still lingers in the minds of many of the more conservative members of the Conservative Party.
The announcement of tax breaks for the married proves that singlism – prejudice and discrimination against singles – is alive and well in the UK.
The horrors of mutilation
John Beck (letter, 29 June) is right that, medically speaking, one cannot equate female genital mutilation (FGM) with male circumcision.
The type of FGM commonly practised by Somali diaspora families in the UK is known as Type III, or infibulation, which involves stitching the vaginal opening shut, allowing only a matchstick-sized hole for the passing of urine and menstrual blood. The husband will cut through the scar tissue in order to penetrate his wife.
This procedure leads to a multitude of severe lifelong mental and physical health problems for the woman concerned.
Another point that anti-circumcision campaigners should bear in mind when they try to ride piggyback on the anti-FGM campaign is that, unlike FGM, circumcision is not illegal. Activists need only engage with members of the Muslim and Jewish communities as they emerge, respectively, from their mosques and synagogues.
John Beck states that “there is no comparison between male circumcision and female genital mutilation”; then himself makes the comparison of “the very rare procedure of removing the skin covering the clitoris, as described by David Hamilton” with “the commonly performed mutilation of female genitalia ...” that can “only be compared to partial or complete penile amputation”.
My point was and is that all these practices, of whatever degree of extremity, are unequivocally repellent. Sometimes “circumcision” does result in partial or complete penile amputation. The lead needs to be followed of the eminently brave Dr Nawaal el-Saadawi in emphasising that all genital mutilation, especially if it is of unconsenting young girls and boys, is plain wrong. All surgical interference with a healthy child’s genitals is an assault on human rights of the grossest kind.
Of course passing legislation on this will do no good, whether here or in Egypt, unless politicians have the guts to enforce it.
Teaching for each student
Frances Lothian (Letters, 21 June) seriously misrepresents the concept of “differentiation”. She refers to the need to “teach the different streams exclusively … [to] focus on the abilities and needs of the particular stream...”
Differentiation is meeting the needs of individuals, and that will be true regardless of how the class is organised. While the range will be smaller in a class set by ability, all classes will include students with diverse needs, and the smaller the school the wider the range of needs in each class will be.
Outstanding teachers recognise this and cater for those needs with resources, classroom tasks and teacher feedback all differentiated to encourage widespread progress and participation. Weak teachers see the class as homogeneous and offer all students the same diet regardless of their needs or aptitude.
In my experience of working with hundreds of schools, “teaching to the middle” is as common in setted classes as those organised in wide ability groups. Setting is not the panacea that Frances Lothian would have readers believe. Students can be bored or flounder even in top set classes.
Nothing new on the Web
Ray Howes (Letters, 1 July) mentions having predicted tablet computers in 1976 but didn’t document it, while observing that Dr James Martin’s prediction of the internet in 1978 wasn’t as prescient as his own.
The rock star Pete Townshend predicted the internet as the Grid in 1971, but he was anticipated by Ted Nelson, who predicted the internet, as Xanadu, in 1960 and documented it in Computer Lib, published in 1974. Tablet computers, as the DynaBook, were predicted by Alan Kay in 1972. All documented on Wikipedia, which itself was, arguably, “predicted” by Denis Diderot in 1750 as he proposed to codify the 17th century “Republic of Letters”, which has been characterised as “Calvet’s Web”.
Hope this helps.
Mandela’s lesson for Obama
Obama, pictured in Nelson Mandela’s former cell, declares: “No shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit.” Did he at the time reflect on the United States’ violation of human rights with the unjust incarceration and force-feeding of those suffering appalling conditions in Guantanamo Bay?
Might it just possibly have occurred to him that such mistreatment could well strengthen the human spirit of those across the world whose spirit we might reasonably not want strengthened?
Dr John Doherty asks: “Why is genetic modification acceptable in people but not in rice?” (Letters, 29 June).
If indeed it is acceptable in people, perhaps it’s because each individual person must be in full agreement to undergo the experiment, whereas with GM food we aren’t going to be asked, and may well have it forced on us, unlabelled.
Walsham le Willows, Suffolk
The decision to allow embryos to be produced from DNA from three people is a slippery slope. Before you know it we will be using genetic manipulations to cure even more diseases and improving the lives of people. Where will it all end?
Two questions arise following Alastair Campbell’s assertion that Tony Blair had a greater commitment to “wartime truth” than Winston Churchill. Since when did Mr Campbell believe that Tony Blair was anything other than entirely truthful in what he told us in the lead-up to the Iraq war? More importantly, what did Blair tell us that wasn’t true?
I wonder if, in 50 years time, One Direction will be emulating the performance of the Rolling Stones at Glastonbury on Saturday night. Sadly, Mr Jagger won’t be around to witness such an event – and, alas, neither will I.
Seaford, East Sussex