In the run-up to a referendum, who will tell the truth about the EU – and will anyone listen if they do?
As a result of lies and half-truths fed to them over decades, huge numbers of the public believe that British ministers have no say in what “Brussels” decides, that the Commission is an over-inflated bureaucracy staffed by incompetent and lazy time-servers, and that the chief aim is to remove the sovereignty of member states and make them all identical. They think that health and safety rules all come from “Europe” and that the EU is responsible for policing human rights.
They know nothing about the Commission’s work on reducing and simplifying legislation. They have no clue that harmonisation is designed to facilitate global trade and that, in many cases, the US and China voluntarily adopt European norms for this reason. They also do not know that countries like Norway and Switzerland, which are not members, still have to comply with most EU legislation in order to trade with the Union. And if the euro is such a disaster, why has the pound been losing value against it?
A few years ago, I asked the BBC Europe Correspondent in Brussels why he never filed positive stories about the EU. He replied that he had given up trying because they only ever used the negative ones.
Politicians and the media have found it very convenient since we joined the EU to use Brussels as a whipping boy. It will be a hard task now to start telling the real story.
For David Cameron to say, as you reported yesterday, that there will be “no more concessions” to Tory eurosceptics is patently risible. Like Oliver Twist, they will always be back for more until they force us into the status of an island with no say in our natural regional market, and without a special relationship with the US, which is founded in its eyes in being its gateway to the EU.
Your letters in support of the EU seem to me to have three characteristics in common:
Fear – the unproven and indeed unargued assumption that leaving will inevitably do us harm.
Nonsense – the EU “kept the peace” (Nato did that); we have “influenced it” (show me the evidence?).
Abuse of opponents – they are “little englanders” or “xenophobes”.
I personally find such “arguments” neither convincing nor attractive – and certainly no substitute for a democratic vote on the matter.
R S Foster
In response to Robert Edward’s assertion (letters, 14 May) that you either belong to a club and obey the rules, or you leave: I would suggest that a third, and better, option would be to stay in and work with other members to change the rules. We are not alone in Europe in believing that not everything is perfect in the EU.
Mixed schools will fix ‘us and them’ mentality
David McKittrick raises some good points in his article about the continuing problems in Northern Ireland (“Terrorism is the backdrop against which we have to operate”, 14 May). However, both he and the interviewees miss out on an idea that could have a far greater impact than many current plans. Integrated schooling has been shown to reduce inter-community violence by removing, or at least diminishing, the “us and them” aspect, which is the root of sectarian conflicts.
The UK as a whole seems to be reluctant to adopt completely secular schooling, but it may be an important way forward for a part of this country that has been deeply divided for too long.
Your report “Plans for first mixed Catholic and Protestant school in Northern Ireland” (3 May) implies that this is the first initiative of its kind. You fail to mention the Integrated Schools movement that began more than 30 years ago and was resisted strongly by religious institutions and politicians. The first of more than 60 of these genuinely integrated schools was opened in the early 1980s. Social divisions remain in Northern Ireland and the school system is no exception. The new plans for Omagh suggest that the schools will remain segregated by religion but share a campus. It is hypocritical for politicians from sectarian parties to congratulate themselves on a move that will continue to support education divided along religious lines.
The Integrated Schools movement has always struggled to get and maintain government funding and it is one of the few initiatives in Northern Ireland that is truly non-sectarian.
Dr Andrew McGrath
Children are too young for classics
I, too, am a retired English teacher and I agree entirely with Dane Young (Letters, 15 May) about Middlemarch. It would be wrong to spoil the future appreciation of this novel, my favourite, by asking children to read it.
A studious and well-read teenager in the 1950s, I was fortunately not required to do so until I was at university; even then, I didn’t grasp all its subtleties. I re-read it from time to time and I still find more.
There are ways of making “the classics” (particularly Shakespeare and Chaucer) accessible to young people, but reading a novel is a private activity, and, in this case, an intense experience, which I don’t think a child should be subjected to. I do wonder how much the Education Secretary and his advisers know about these things. Has anyone asked an English teacher?
Dr Nuttman (Letters, 15 May) is right to question any correlation between intellect and teaching ability. More than 60 years ago, my late mother-in-law’s mother, who had left school aged about 12, decided when middle-aged to learn some mathematics. She happened to know an Oxbridge PhD of great repute in the subject and persuaded him to initiate her into some basics.
During the first lesson, he said, “and the decimal point goes there”. When asked why, he answered: “Because it does”. He proved incapable of explaining the function of the decimal point. There were no more lessons.
It can be argued that those who have struggled to learn a subject are likely to understand the pitfalls, and thus become better teachers.
Asians are no longer a group
Your report (“Council boss insists she will not resign after seven found guilty of child rape”, 15 May) refers to men accused of sex- grooming of white girls as “Asian men”. This is misleading because “Asian” is no longer the composite identity it once was. Today, British Asians – because of successive governments’ policy of multiculturalism – do not see themselves as members of one racial group, but as Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. It is, therefore, time the media and those who compile crime statistics took cognisance of this social reality.
RANDHIR SINGH BAINS
Gants Hill, Essex
The story about the Oxford paedophile gang (15 May) is leading some parts of the media to stir up trouble by focusing on the ethnicity of the gang members. The same media organisations do not pay attention to the ethnic origin of the paedophiles or rapists when they are whites. Covering the issue with such double standards is wrong, dangerous and more likely to cause racial tension.
Subsidies slashed as commuters rise
Subsidy per passenger journey in London is less than half that in the North-west of England and significantly lower than in the North-east (letters, 14 May). Subsidy on the London bus network has fallen by 40 per cent in the past few years, while passenger numbers have risen to record highs.
London’s population is set to grow by around a million in a decade, and it is vital that we invest in public transport to meet that demand. This will not only deliver greater tax revenues for the UK as a whole, but also directly support more than 40,000 jobs and thousands of apprenticeships outside London and the South-east.
This is not a zero-sum game.
Sir Peter Hendy CBE
London’s Transport Commissioner, London SW1
Never mind the hours...
Owen Jones’s comments on Boris Johnson’s attitude towards British workers are well made (13 May). However, his argument is somewhat undermined by the use of statistics – it is not about how many hours are worked but output. Is it that others in the “developed world” fulfil their obligations more effectively than we in the UK? Are the shortcomings about worker performance, or resource management?
Eleanor Rigby did really exist
Someone should point out to UK Gold (report, 13 May) that Eleanor Rigby did really exist; she is buried in the graveyard at St Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool. Paul McCartney was leaning on the wall reading the gravestones and spotted her name. The church is attached to Bishop Martin Primary School on whose playing field Paul was invited to play with the Quarrymen featuring one J Lennon.
I cannot believe it, the Tories are voting against their own Queen’s speech. Monty Python did a sketch called the “Upper-class twit race”, but that wasn’t as funny or incomprehensible as this.
The way forward
I am a great admirer of Satyajit Das’s writing on economics. He invariably creates light where others sow confusion. However, I would take issue with him on a point he makes in this week’s Midweek View article (Business, 15 May). He says that ‘‘all brands of politics and economics are deeply rooted in the idea of robust economic growth”. This is not strictly accurate. Green politics and economics have long postulated that low- or no-growth economics might be the way forward in a world of increasing population and demand but decreasing resource availability.
A policeman’s life
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, is valuing a police officer’s life more than others if she forces criminals to serve life without parole for killing an officer (Report, 15 May). Will the murder of a chief constable mean solitary confinement for life?