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Wednesday 6 July 2011
Letters: Latest twist in phone-hacking scandal turns the stomach
In the light of today's allegations of the stomach-turning News of the World hacking of Milly Dowler's mobile phone (report, 5 July), it's almost impossible to get one's head round the idea that – as this scandal rumbles relentlessly on – our Government is apparently happy to preside over a further vast increase in the media power of the organisation at the very centre of the scandal.
While much remains to be proven, it does seem that there is something systemically suspect with large parts of News International – manifested by a ruthless disregard for the rights of our citizens in the pursuit of "news". Their status as a fit and proper organisation to control a massive chunk of our media must be in doubt to anyone with half a brain.
Against this fetid background surely the Government must find a way to show some backbone, exercise its responsibility, and put a brake on the whole BSkyB acquisition process until the facts are known.
East Molesey, Surrey
Yet another allegation against the NOTW, this one suggesting a regime willing to do anything to get a story; recognising no barriers imposed by either law or decency. Still Rebekah Brooks attempts to distance herself from any culpability. And her employers continue to protect her and accept that she knew nothing about the newspaper she was editing. What is even harder to understand is why this Government persists in assuming that News International is a fit company to take over more of our media when it appears to cultivate such amoral attitudes internally.
Rebekah Brooks refuses to resign from her position as the chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's UK operations despite the fact that she was the editor of the NOTW in 2002 when the voicemails on Milly Dowler's mobile phone were allegedly intercepted by a private investigator working for the paper.
Brooks's refusal to accept responsibility for this outrage reminds me of those media executives of the 1930s characterised by Stanley Baldwin as exercising: "Power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages."
I find News International's comment that they were all appalled and shocked by the allegation that the NOTW may have been involved in hacking into Milly Dowler's mobile phone as hollow as Gordon Brown's comments in 2009 that he was "was horrified... shocked and... very angry indeed" when he heard about Damian McBride's activities in smearing politicians and others.
Individuals are most likely to behave in the way that those involved with the NOTW are alleged to have done – and McBride is known to have done – if the culture of the organisation appears to condone such behaviour, or if they believe that their employers would approve of it.
We will only see an end to this type of behaviour if government and other bodies make it absolutely clear that they will not condone practices of this kind, that no "blind eyes" will be turned.
In 1994, shortly before he died, the renowned playwright Dennis Potter gave a TV interview with Melvyn Bragg in which he referred to his pancreatic cancer as "Rupert", because: "I blame that man for doing more than anybody else to destroy the political and social fabric of British society". He poured scorn on the journalists at that time who worked for NOTW .
Seventeen years down the line, I think he would be horrified at what has been going on and would feel his remarks have been well and truly vindicated.
School Aycliffe, Co. Durham
In his book about the NOTW, Peter Burden quotes the paper's former assistant editor, Greg Miskiw – the man who signed a £105,000-a-year contract with private investigator Glen Mulcaire for "research and information services" – as saying: "This is what we do; we go out and destroy other people's lives."
The irony of the potential destruction of the lives and reputations of some of his former colleagues in the fall-out from the phone-hacking scandal must be a bitter one for Mr Miskiw.
The care system is collapsing
For all practical purposes the Dilnot report is dead on arrival (report, 5 July). There is no money to fund the care of the elderly and surely Osborne will veto it. Although politicians from all parties acknowledge the huge problem, there is as yet insufficient commitment to comprehensive reforms.
The entire care system is collapsing. Decades of under-investment need to be addressed, but instead councils are faced with severe spending restraints that are causing them to withdraw services rather than build on them. Means tests are becoming tighter. In the face of burgeoning demand, many are ramping up charges to those they say can afford to pay. A recent Age UK report highlights that of the 2 million older people who have care-related needs, 800,000 receive no formal support at all.
In the past six years, public spending on care for the elderly has increased by just 0.1 per cent a year in real terms. Over that same period, the number of people aged above 85 has jumped by 23 per cent.
We need to solve the funding problems once and for all. Care for the elderly could be met from central taxation – no more than a 1p rise in income tax would suffice.
Without a bold and radical tax solution, the public sector will not be able to look after our senior citizens and there is a danger that the enormous pressures that are facing social care will spill over into the NHS.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE
Chair Tameside and Glossop NHS
You have reported that George Osborne may reject Andrew Dilnot's proposal that a cap of £35,000 be placed on the cost of care for the elderly. Like many of your readers, I deplore the short termism of government, and also that our economy is so dependent on our buying unnecessary "stuff", but if the Chancellor does agree to these reforms, he may find that the economy suddenly receives the boost that so far has failed to arrive.
I am retired. I have more than £35,000, but I am reluctant to spend too much of it because if I do require care when I am older, then these savings may act as a buffer until the time that I die, which may prevent my house being sold (I hope that my children will eventually be able to inherit a proportion of the proceeds from its sale.)
If, however, Mr Osborne does agree to the reform, I will be far more likely to spend much of it in the near future. There must be many more people in my situation with cash to be unlocked. For me I think a new bicycle might be the first item – that's £1,000 into the economy straight away.
Hearing what Andrew Dilnot had to say about the report of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support on Monday's BBC Today Programme was a breath of fresh air, not just for what he said but for how he said it: not once did he say that the cost of the Commission's recommendations would be paid for by "the taxpayer", though his interviewer did so repeatedly – and Nick Robinson summed up by indicating that "the voter" would not vote for it either.
I remember the days when the government of the day presented its budget to Parliament, where it was debated, voted upon and approved. Thereupon the money so raised in taxes became part of state funds. The money ceased to be mine when I had paid my taxes to the government. It was no longer this taxpayer's money.
The process has not changed since then, but it has become misleadingly personal, as if each one of us has an individual stake in what the Government spends our money on.
The taxman has never been popular, but it's not up to us to get into arguments over how the boss spends the money. Let's remember that we have a parliamentary democracy within which we, the electorate, have delegated authority to our representatives and the state pays with its own money.
Milnathort, Perth & Kinross
No reverse on electric cars
Your report "Coalition scraps national network of charging points for electric cars" (2 July), claims that the Plugged-In Places programme to install recharging infrastructure in eight pilot areas has been scrapped. This is simply not true. The programme is fully funded and is going ahead in all eight areas as planned.
The recently announced strategy sets out how we think recharging will work in the future and how we will work with the private sector to harness funding and innovation. Be in no doubt – the Government remains fully committed to stimulating the necessary infrastructure to support plug-in vehicles.
Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, is right when he says that most charging of electric vehicles will be at home or at work. However, this is not an argument to stop the roll-out of public charging points. Like public toilets, people need the assurance they are there though they may not want to use them.
Only when public charging points become common will electric-vehicle owners shed their range anxiety, venture out further and buy the things in the first place.
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Anti-Semitism is not anti-Zionism
Sheikh Raed Salah was detained following an appeal by the Conservative MP Mike Freer that he should be banned from Britain for virulent anti-Semitism (29 June). It is a bit rich to make a charge of anti-Semitism against a Palestinian, when Palestinians (and all Arabs) are Semites too. Sheik Raed Salah is not anti-Semitic, he is anti-Zionist.
This is important. One of the most subtle and successful pieces of Israeli spin has been the confusion of the terms anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Anti-Semitism is a form of racism. It is wrong, as all racism is wrong, and that fact is widely accepted. Anti-Zionism in contrast is distaste for a political movement, and is a legitimate difference of opinion.
As long as people like Mike Freer are allowed to get away with applying a charge of racism to those - especially Palestinians - who speak out strongly against the Israeli state, they get quick wins for the repression of legitimate opposition. How disappointing that the British Government should fall for it.
Circus animal success story
I would like to thank all the editorial staff at The Independent for having campaigned so vigorously, and successfully, to end the use of wild animals in circuses in England. I hope that the Government will fully recognise the will of the House of Commons and will stand aside and allow an outright ban. I also hope The Independent will monitor closely the Government's actions, not just its words.
Again, thank you for proving once again that there is room in a democracy for an accurate, truthful and campaigning media.
Mark Pritchard MP
(Con, The wrekin) House of Commons
Manners aren't everything
Your correspondent Michael Baldwin (Letters, 5 July) advocates a return to the world of Jane Austen. But isn't there something slightly creepy about exquisite manners anyway? They are not the sine qua non of civilised existence that some would have us believe.
I suspect Mrs Bourne has not immersed herself nearly enough in the world of her son and prospective daughter-in-law. They're what's called "young". They'll grow and learn. Show some understanding and toleration – clearer signs of civilisation.
Michael Baldwin advises Carolyn Bourne to plant her flag in the ground to be a beacon. Isn't it rather bad form to set flags alight?
Please don't bring the correspondence on clichés to an end before ridding us of the neologistic use of verbs as nouns. Is that a big ask?
A "word" that makes me cringe whenever I hear it is "proactive". What exactly does it mean? There is a perfectly good word – active – which means that one is taking action. Could it mean that one is in favour of others taking that action? So, for example, if a police force says it is being proactive is it standing back and encouraging vigilantes?
This seems to be a perfect example of the American obsession with taking a simple word and adding more letters. Proactive, as I understand it, is merely active with three more letters. Much as no American home is ever burgled, houses in the United States being "burglarized" instead.
Perspectives on sports
Schools starved of space for games
With the Olympics looming, I find it alarming that many schools across the country no longer have space for their children to enjoy annual sporting events. Instead, many have to pay a hefty fee to a local facility.
I recently attended my child's sports day at a local arena. The "day" was actually a morning; it was too expensive to hire the venue for the afternoon as well. By midday, things had overrun a little, and several distance events had still to take place. No other schools were queuing to use the facility, but no leeway was given. The children had to get off the track and leave, or the school would have to pay the afternoon fee as well. The children were extremely disappointed, likewise parents like myself who had taken time off work to attend.
What kind of a lesson is this for the children – and the future athletes – of this country? Will we increasingly see former public-school pupils, who continue to have untrammelled access to facilities too often denied state schools, rising to the top of the sporting pile, much as they did in the days when Britain still had an Empire, and ordinary people "knew their place"?
Isn't it time that the sports minister stepped in and insisted that local councils provide schools with at least one free day in a sporting arena per year?
If we can afford billions for a beanfeast like the Olympics, we can surely afford that, at least?
Britain's new pole-vaulting talent
Holly Bleasdale has just vaulted a new British pole-vault record of 4.7m. This makes her the world's best-ever female teenage pole vaulter (ahead of what the world record holder Isinbayeva achieved at Holly's age), and ranks her equal third in the world. One would think that, in the year before we are due to host the Olympics, such an inspirational achievement would be widely reported. In reality, The Independent hid the story at the bottom of "Sport In Brief". Still, you did better than your competitors!
Now that Miss Kvitova has arrived on the scene, correctly pronounced with the stress on the syllable before the "ova", perhaps tennis commentators will at last extend this rule to the other lady "ova" players. It's too late for Miss NavraTILova (long-maligned as "Nav-ratty-loaver"), but they can start with Miss ShaRAPova (not "Shara-poaver"). She told an interviewer how to say it some years ago, but nobody has had the courtesy to take any notice.
(Don't get me started on "Bee-orn Bawg")
Underwhelmed by emotion
While marvelling at the extraordinary athletes in Sunday's men's final at Wimbledon, I noticed a couple of comments by "Tiger" Tim Henman. Referring to the players' emotional states as "disappointed with that shot" or "a little bit anxious", I couldn't help but reflect that this is exactly the Tunbridge Wells school of English emotional anaesthesia that makes it so sadly obvious why a player like him could never hope to win Wimbledon.
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