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Tuesday 29 November 2011
Letters: Lessons of the strike
Strikes, a lesson in citizenship
David Cameron thinks that parents whose children are off school because his government has provoked the largest strike in decades should be permitted by their employers to take them to work (report, 23 November).
That'll work. Tesco checkouts can easily accommodate a bored seven-year-old. A railway station ticket-office would be a happy home for an irritated 10-year-old. A bus-driver could easily and safely sit alongside a hungry five-year-old. And the nuclear power stations will be jumping for joy at the thought that they could double up as a crèche for the day. Cameron seems to want to flaunt his lack of experience of real life as it is lived by the millions who are not millionaires.
In reality, parents who cannot go to work as their children are off school on Wednesday could see to it that their kids enjoyed extra citizenship lessons by joining picket lines and rallies in support of the strikers.
David Cameron argues that the public sector feeds off the wealth created by the private sector. The reverse is true. The public sector underpins the private sector. If you can read thank a teacher; if you are fit thank the NHS. The inevitable disruption of 30 November from the partial absence of public services should be a warning that, without them, societal function is seriously impaired.
Perhaps in the early stages of the impasse the unions will be blamed but the longer this dispute drags on the greater the blame that will fall on the Government. Ministers undervalue the public sector at their peril; they should think back to the Winter of Discontent of 1978/79 and beware of hubris.
Etchingham, East Sussex
There must be a euro referendum
Your article, "Leaders' united front fails to hide key splits on the euro debt crisis" (25 November), asserts that "Britain expects a 'limited treaty change' that will affect only the 17 eurozone countries, a move which would reduce the pressure on the UK Government from Conservative MPs to put the issue to a referendum."
As for treaty change, under the European Union Act passed this year, where an EU treaty is brought forward and appears to apply only to the eurozone, then a referendum is explicitly excluded under Section 4 of that Act. The Government will attempt to use this to bypass a referendum.
However, the advocacy by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of a eurozone fiscal union would amount to a two–tier Europe. This proposes fundamental political, economic and constitutional change. This would be damaging to British national interests by reason of the block majority vote within the eurozone fiscal union (and with it, the likelihood of other member states voting with Germany), which would undermine the single market and the City of London. Quite apart from this, there would be a fundamental change in our relationship with the EU. This is why a referendum is required.
Bill Cash MP
House of Commons
Following Mr Cameron's difficult trip to Germany, with the German press now questioning the UK's involvement with the EU, I believe we will leave. De Gaulle was right that we were more likely to owe our loyalty to the US than Europe.
As a committed European, I would welcome our withdrawal. We have been the brake on the EU ever since the end of Ted Heath's government. The sooner we allow the Europeans to get on and set up a United States of Europe so that the corrupt Greek government and the other spendthrifts have some central fiscal control the sooner the euro will be the currency the world requires. And politically the EU will be able punch its weight with the US, China, India and the BRICs.
However as a committed European, this leaves me with a problem: I have a European passport, which I want to keep.
Speed shows why men need to talk
The fact that Gary Speed so calmly appeared on Football Focus on Saturday and by Sunday was dead, a suspected suicide, was greeted by bewilderment by football fans. "How could he have appeared on TV and be dead the next day?" my next-door neighbour asked.
We still hold to a stereotype that you can tell someone who is mentally unwell just by how they look. The press present dangerous psychotics as regularly wielding samurai swords in local high streets. The majority of people who are mentally unwell look like you and me.
What was going on in Gary Speed's head? And why could he not talk to anyone about how he was feeling? A British man may express his feelings down the footie and after a few drinks on a Saturday night (and I know that's a stereotype) but how good are we at admitting when things are going wrong? Admitting anxiety, unhappiness or depression is often not acceptable in a culture which demands we grin and bear it.
I hope that this weekend's sad event allows footballers and fans alike to be able to focus on mental health and wellbeing, to enable men (and women) to talk about their feelings, the good, the bad and the ugly.
And in an age of austerity, psychiatric services, often the Cinderella of the NHS, should be fully funded to prevent such suffering and death.
Prison cannot work like this
Your leading article of 24 November highlights why the prison system is baulked in its often valiant attempts to offer short-term prisoners alternatives to reoffending, and one can only sympathise with Kenneth Clarke in his mission to convince the Tory right that prison certainly does not work for these people. But alongside overcrowding and enforced inactivity we should list the "churn".
When placements are as tight as they now are, governors are constrained to move prisoners in unpredictable ways around the system. This has serious detrimental effects on prisoners and their families, reducing the possibility of visits and adversely affecting the morale of young, vulnerable prisoners. Educational continuity also suffers.
It is to be hoped that Mr Clarke will lose none of his tenacity in trying to convince his party that alternative sentencing strategies are preferable to the current dysfunctional arrangements.
Kington Langley, Wiltshire
Our great tradition of tax avoidance
As a former inspector of taxes I find it astonishing that Andreas Whittam Smith (23 November) can refer to tax dodging by the very rich as a "hidden truth".
Within a year of Lloyd George's 1909 Budget introducing a supertax for the super-rich, to pay for a pittance of a state pension for the nation's paupers, Chambers Magazine was offering its readers an article on income tax avoidance.
For the past century, Tory and Labour governments have avoided any real crackdown on tax dodgers. In 1959, a speaker in the Commons was bemoaning the "humiliating and rather disgraceful experience year after year of trying to stop the ingenious types of tax avoidance".
To which, when I was still a novice investigator, my old, experienced District Inspector responded: "What likelihood of a solution when our masters, the very people framing the legislation, their friends and families, or their financial supporters, or the vested interests they represent, have infinitely more to gain from preserving the status quo which serves them all so well?"
There has been no end to the inventiveness of the specialist, and avoidance has evolved with a Darwinian elegance, as with predator and prey. Measure evokes counter-measure, check produces counter-check, and as fast as one loophole is closed another is found, often by the very men the Revenue has spent so much time and money training. It would be naive to expect the present Cabinet of millionaires to do anything effective.
There is another reason for the increasing inequality in our society apart from those already mentioned by Andreas Whittam Smith, and the trade unions must accept some responsibility for this. I refer to our obsession with the percentage pay rise.
Every time such a pay rise is agreed , the gap between the poorly paid and the well-paid widens. People earning £200,000 and more justify a 5 per cent pay rise on the grounds that those earning £20,000 had 5 per cent. This is clearly unconscionable.
As the rich pay the same as the poor for essential services, it is difficult to argue that, if the low-paid need an extra £80 per month to keep pace with the cost of living, the higher paid need so much more. It would help to stop the inequality gap widening if pay negotiations were based on, say, the average salary in a company or organisation and the agreed increase paid as a fixed sum to all employees.
Ben Chu reports CBI president saying, "Britons need to shed their sense of entitlement". Does this also apply to company executives?
On your bike across Europe
On the eve of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Autumn Statement update on the economy and employment, I was driving through Bridlington and spotted a group of young people washing cars. For a fiver they did a tremendous job and when it came to pay time I asked whether they were local.
In fact all of the team of washers, young men and women, in St Johns Street, Bridlington, were from Hungary. Is that not a lesson to youngsters in this country to get off their backsides and create work?
Bridlington, East Yorkshire
Tough to swallow
In response to my mild rebuke (letter, 26 November) on your newspaper's description of "eating soup", Jean Elliott offers a contrary stance (letter, 28 November), citing the use of a spoon as evidence, and advancing some strange notion of "etiquette". Nothing can mask the absolute fact that soup is a liquid, and so it must be drunk – or do they do things differently "dahn sarf"?
P J HILL
Should I eat or drink an ice cream cone?
Don't read it, just write it
When Tom Sutcliffe writes (25 November), "The point of criticism is that you say it even if nobody wants to hear it, even if nobody is going to listen," he is coming perilously close to a journalist of the 20th century, Malcolm Muggeridge, who thought it was a preposterous idea that critics actually read the books they were reviewing. The line between satire and reality is not as obvious as Sutcliffe might like.
What the nation is waiting for
Reading the Monday Interview this week, I ended up agreeing that Jonathan King should be on television again, because what I think our culture really needs at the moment is one more white, middle-aged, public-school Cambridge University graduate who lunches at Le Gavroche with Stephen Fry.
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