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Wednesday 22 September 2010
Letters: Liberal Democrats
Nightmare for the Lib Dems
The Lib Dem leadership will be urged by party members to ensure that spending cuts do not disproportionately hit the poor, after Nick Clegg said planned cuts were the "only choice" for economic recovery.
The only choice? You mean there is no other way out of our economic woes other than to make the poor pay proportionately more than the rich? No way other than the slash-and-burn tactics of George Osborne, which will see homelessness double over the next five years?
The Lib Dems are locked into this Conservative ideological nightmare and, unlike the Conservatives, who are expected to be nasty, will be disproportionately affected by voters' rejection of them at the next election.
Newhaven, East Sussex
George Osborne and the Tories can survive without a Plan B, but not so Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. It's last chance saloon for the Lib Dems at their annual conference.
The coalitionists have sold nearly everything in the Lib Dem locker for seats in government. They have become apologists for an obsessive and doctrinaire Tory party. Even Vince Cable, once the sensible Liberal voice, is now a siren luring the country on to the rocks.
The genuine Lib Dems in Parliament are too few or else too scared to challenge the leadership. But they must find that courage of pre-Coalition days and speak and act for genuine Liberal Democrat values and policies, or the party faces public condemnation and electoral annihilation.
Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex
I've had a letter from the Fawcett Society asking for a donation to support their campaign against public spending cuts that will hit women hardest. I'm happy to donate the money I would have given the Liberal Democrats this year if I had remained in the party.
Now to make aid work better
As world leaders gather in New York to discuss the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), aid experts have questioned whether the MDGs are the right framework for tackling world poverty ("World leaders warned that approach to African aid needs total rethink," 20 September).
Although progress in many areas remains too slow, there have also been many successes in tackling extreme poverty, expanding access to safe water and improving child health and school enrolment, showing that the MDGs are not only achievable with the right combination of policies, investment and external support, but that the framework itself has made a real difference.
Northern leaders need to recognise not only that aid works – and those that have missed their pledges on aid volume need to recommit this week – but that it can also be made to work better: it could be better integrated, be more evidence-based and transparent, focusing on the chronically poor and addressing lagging and critical sectors, such as sanitation.
Far from retreating from the promises made at the beginning of the millennium, world leaders should instead be stepping up their efforts, as ultimately it is the poor in southern countries who will pay the price of failure.
Head of Policy, WaterAid
Cricket chief deserves a ban
Anyone can repeat rumours about alleged cheating in sport, but when a player, or an official of a country's sporting body, makes a similar allegation it can bring that sport into disrepute.
Governing bodies of all sports must make the public reporting of allegations without substantive evidence to support them an offence punishable by the severest possible penalties, including temporary or permanent bans from participation in the sport. Those who have only heard rumours, however widespread, should only report them to a governing body for further investigation.
Pakistan's cricket board chairman, Ijaz Butt, should be suspended immediately, either by the Pakistan cricket board, or by having his credentials withdrawn by the ICC, unless he can justify his allegations against the England cricket team.
The limits of nudging
The Government has set up a "nudge" unit in the Cabinet Office, which aims to make use of new theories in behavioural economics to create incentives for British people to behave in a more socially integrated way (less binge-drinking, save more, eat less fat), or for companies to overcome their short-run focus for long-run gains. The danger is that this powerful "nudge" concept is being used to fudge the much greater governmental role that society needs.
The nudge idea is that market incentives, rather than laws and regulations, should be used to change behaviour. Gordon Brown is seen as the Regulator, Cameron the Nudger.
The risk is that the Coalition Government perverts a legitimate concept for its own ideological ends – the backlash against the State that we are witnessing with the Big Society programme.
While nudging is useful for issues like getting people to urinate inside rather than outside urninals in public toilets (studies have shown that drawing a fly in urinals nudges men towards this socially important result), it is less useful for the major concerns of society.
For example, if the Government wants the UK to lead in the international race around clean/green technology (something it often gives lip service to), this requires very high levels of government investment and serious industrial policy, a word that has unfortunately fallen out of fashion since Thatcher.
Industrial policy means government having a vision about where it wants British industry to go and backing this up with heavy infrastructural investments, strengthening university research, nurturing science parks, facilitating credit for smaller companies.
What is needed is for the UK's aging energy infrastructure to be rebuilt. We need the research base of the best British universities to be strengthened. Instead we are getting major budget cuts (in infrastructure, universities, schools) and trendy talk about nudging. A very dangerous fudge.
Professor Mariana Mazzucato
Chair in the Economics of Innovation, Open University
'Dyke on a bike' was no joke
Richard Ingrams (18 September) and Stephen Glover (20 September) seem to have missed the point of Clare Balding's complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. Ingrams sees only that she has enlarged the audience for A A Gill's comments and Glover thinks that "dyke" is "less offensive than she and the PCC believe", although I doubt he has ever had the word aimed at him.
Once upon a time white people called people with different coloured skin unpleasant names. White people were taught to desist because it caused offence to others and name-calling leads to a climate in which nastier things can happen. Now it seems anyone who is gay is expected to put up with offensive words.
The words were not just "childish and silly" and "a lapse in taste". The PCC's judgement was not "prissy". Clare Balding was right and brave to put her head above the parapet and say "Enough" because attitudes need changing. You don't have to be gay to appreciate that.
South Nutfield, Surrey
The launch of 'Les Misérables'
I always enjoy reading Cameron Mackintosh's account of the "humble" beginnings of Les Mis ("Cuts needn't be bad for creativity", 20 September). Over the past 25 years its history has become a PR fairytale. I was there. As publicity controller for the RSC I was tasked with launching the show at the Barbican prior to its West End transfer. My recollection of the reality is as follows.
Four-hours-plus running time at early performances? Actually three hours 20 minutes. Critics underwhelmed? Actually they were mixed – some good, some, such as The Guardian, questioned the enterprise. Audiences slow to arrive? Actually we sold out the entire six-week run by the first night.
It was an ambitious enterprise but those around the production knew that something special was happening and with Nicholas Nickleby already behind them there was confidence that Trevor Nunn and John Caird had the creative mettle to pull it off. And the rest, as they say, is history; but let's – after all this time – just go back to how it was.
Roots of French anti-Semitism
Andreas Whittam Smith (Opinion, 16 September) confesses that the reasons for France's strain of "virulent anti-Semitism" have never been entirely clear to him.
Traditional Catholic anti-Semitism (Jews crucified Christ) was intensified by Catholics' conviction that the 1789 Revolution – which targeted the church while emancipating the Jews – was a Jewish (and Masonic) plot.
Thereafter the Catholic right could blame the threat from working-class socialism on the "German Jew" Marx, while offering populist sympathy to suffering workers and peasants, exploited by the cosmopolitan/Jewish finance capitalism of Rothschild.
Nationalist paranoia about Germany then questioned the patriotism of French Jews. Alarm at the influx of Yiddish-speaking refugees from Russian pogroms, emerging biological racism – which raised fears of "degeneration" via the "pollution" of "French blood" – together with unemployment and widespread peasant and petty-bourgeois indebtedness during the 1880s depression – created the "perfect storm" for Barrès's embryonic "national socialism".
Dr Roger Magrew
University of Warwick, Coventry
Anarchy on the Isle of Wight
I'd like whatever Terry Eaton was on when he went to the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 and 1971, (letter, 20 September).
Far from being like "a charming amateur gypsy camp atmosphere" in 1970 there were some 500,000 of us there and the anarchists knocked the fence down, as they couldn't comprehend the notion of the cost of putting on a major event and wanted a free festival.
It was £2.50 for the three-day weekend ticket which, if you ever look at the full line-up, was very little for what you got. Facilities, there were a few, but then again too few to mention. But hey, it was an epic event. It actually started on the Wednesday through to the early hours of Monday morning. They kept the ferries going and police stopped most vehicles from coming over as the numbers were so vast.
An island with a population of 100,000 at the time probably didn't know what had hit it and neither did a lot of the attenders, as it just grew and grew. The modern equivalent is probably like Butlin's in comparison.
Vintage prose on the wine bottle
The wine descriptors which puzzle Rufus Isaacs (letter, 21 September) are a popularised version of what is known to food scientists as Quantitative Descriptive Analysis (QDA).
This is carried out with formal blinded tasting panels to describe the flavour of complex foodstuffs, by breaking them down into a composite of simple categories such as the recognisable and distinctive flavours of everyday fruits. Grape does not appear on the list because most wines do not taste of the fresh grape from which they are made.
Used correctly, QDA is a powerful professional sensory tool in areas where flavour chemistry alone is insufficient. However, a few years ago the marketeers got hold of it and sadly their use of it on wine-lists has become a bit of a laughing stock.
Little Wittenham, Oxfordshire
As a way of passing the time while waiting for food to arrive it has long been a habit of mine to seek amusement in restaurants by reading the daft nonsense that gets written on wine lists.
A particular favourite appeared on a list in a pub in South Yorkshire. After reading several descriptions that inexplicably included the shape of the bottle I found a wine that "can be drunk standing up or sitting down".
Unfortunately there was no recommendation for a wine that "can be drunk while lying prone under the table" so I opted for a fruit juice instead.
Thrill of the polls
Rupert Cornwell (Opinion, 18 September) acclaims first-past-the-post for providing "rip-roaring election results". Voting in Australian elections – mostly under AV – ends at 8pm. The progress count for each seat is announced regularly through the evening, so that voters can follow the trend from something like 8.20pm when the first detail is posted. A close contest can be fascinating with the lead changing – and you do not have to wait until the small hours for a reasonably accurate understanding of the result.
Off the track
I enjoy Robert Fisk's lighter-hearted moments, as on Saturday (18 September) when he wrote about his enthusiasm for steam engines. What surprised me was his revelation of a hitherto unknown brother named Ian Allen: "Many were the days when Bill Fisk stood ... while his wretched son, Ian Allen, loco-spotter's book in hand, ...". Is that an errant comma after "Allen", or does Mr Fisk have any other siblings he would like to reveal to us? A sister named Jane, perhaps, who writes about warships?
Perspectives on the Catholic Church
Religion as spectacle
Following the Pope's warning about the dangers of the culture of celebrity, it is interesting to reflect that the Catholic Church may, to date, have been its most effective proponent.
As early as the Renaissance, the Church had established itself as a world leader in the deployment of the power of music and light, costume and imagery in the spectacle of the Mass. In an age before there was a name for public relations or image management, it invested on an impressive scale in art and music to get its message across, establishing the format and controlling production values in franchised weekly and daily performances across Europe.
Last week, five centuries of development culminated in the appearance of Susan Boyle on the same stage as the Holy Father. If Pope Benedict remains in any doubt about the worth of simply being "famous for being famous", a quick review of his own record prior to becoming Pope turns up nothing which would appear to warrant the public adulation we saw during his visit. At least Susan Boyle can sing.
I am grateful to the Pope for speaking out on celebrity. For I too am sick and tired of the rich, out-of-touch and famous swanning around the world dressed in outrageous designer clothes accompanied by a large and expensive entourage, arriving in expensive vehicles to the flashing cameras of the paparazzi obliterating all worthy news from the front pages and, worst of all, pontificating on matters to which they have been ill informed. Oh dear.
Dr Michelle Webb
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
The new inquisition
One wonders if those correspondents (Letters, 18 September) objecting to the Pope's views on the expression of Christianity and atheism in the UK have given any thought to the Defamation of Religions Resolution introduced by the countries of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and due to be debated by the UN Human Rights Council.
The resolution allows for state approval of a particular religion and in doing so allows for active disapproval by the state of opposing opinion. In countries where adoption of or promotion of a "non-approved" religion can already lead to persecution, imprisonment and capital punishment, this hardly seems to aid the cause of human rights. It is more like a return of the Spanish Inquisition.
S E Hand
Your atheist readers, such as Phil Edwards (letter, 20 September), are fond of asserting that "there is not one shred of supporting evidence" for the existence of God. One wonders what kind of evidence would make a difference to them, short of God descending from a cloud and appearing to them personally, bathed in dazzling light.
Crook of Devon, Kinross
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