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Saturday 17 March 2012
Letters: Life in the City piranha tank
Messrs Welch and Yell (letters, 16 March) are absolutely right about the culture of Goldman Sachs. But the problem sadly goes much wider than merchant banks.
When I entered the world of City solicitors, it was a liberal and learned profession, with a pleasant hallmark of collegiality. By the time I emerged, it was a trade carried on in a piranha tank.
Profits were no longer shared between partners; they were fought over between warring satrapies, on an "eat what you kill" basis, with all the consequences as to unpleasant adaptive behaviour your correspondents recite.
Staff were paid top rates to be treated poorly, so there was no loyalty when boom turned to bust.
And the nature of the business turned from earning money by providing a client service to making money with the service as secondary.
It would be good to think that a generation with better values would change this, but this is difficult when the greedy fat cats at the top set the self-enriching rules.
I was appalled to learn of the language used to describe clients of Goldman Sachs by their senior employees, and I have been consulting with my fellow members of this abused minority to consider what action we should take. I warn you Goldman Sachs, Animal is very angry.
Protest student singled out for punishment
Earlier this month we signed a letter protesting at the University of Cambridge's decision to prosecute a single student for his role in an act of collective protest against the Government's higher education policies. That student has now been suspended by the University until October 2014 for taking part in a peaceful demonstration which disrupted a speech by David Willetts.
This protest was directed at policies which hundreds of our colleagues and students actively oppose. In visiting exemplary punishment on an individual for this collective protest, the University has grossly violated and reduced the very freedoms it claims to defend.
We wish to restate in public our support for the protest against Mr Willetts and stand by the call we made in our earlier letter for the University authorities to try us in a University court for the same offence.
Dr Anne Alexander
Dr Ben Etherington
Dr Lorna Finlayson
Dr Sinéad Garrigan-Mattar
Professor Raymond Geuss
Dr Priyamvada Gopal
Dr David Hillman
Dr Michael Hrebeniak
Professor John Kinsella
Dr Mary Laven
Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley
Dr Clément Mouhot
Dr George Oppitz-Trotman
Professor Jeremy Prynne
Dr James Riley
Dr Jason Scott-Warren
Dr Nicolette Zeeman
Dr Andrew Zurcher
Police force in need of reform
The Government should implement Tom Winsor's proposals for police pay and conditions. It makes sense to have police officers who are physically fit. Direct entry for graduates to higher levels, similar to the Army's "officer class", is also a welcome move.
The biggest change, though, is in pay. It cannot be right that police officers on the same rank are paid according to length of service. You could argue a constable of two years still has drive and ambition whereas one who has been on that rank for 20 years is stuck in a rut.
The Government shouldn't stop at structural and pay reform or indeed with greater accountability via police commissioners. It needs to look seriously at police complaints. In 2010 the Home Affairs Select Committee looked into the effectiveness of the police complaints process and found it very inadequate and institutionally biased.
Lord Trenchard, as Metropolitan Police Commissioner during the 1930s, tried but failed to introduce a Sandhurst-style senior officer recruitment scheme. His guideline for any officers facing allegations of malpractice was: "Tell the truth immediately."
Had the government of the day not cravenly caved in to opposition from the Police Federation, who considered the Trenchard scheme to be unfair to the rank and file, then perhaps we would today have a top-quality senior police officer class with high principles comparable with those of Trenchard, and the image of the service would be much higher than it is currently.
It is right to raise concerns about recently retired senior police officers taking up lucrative positions with private companies bidding for out-sourced services ("The rise of private police", 12 March); there should be a decent cooling-off period.
It is, of course, the drive to make savings that is fuelling this out-sourcing. However, there do not appear to be equal efforts to look at amalgamating police forces to achieve savings.
I believe we have nearly 50 police forces in the UK and many are so small that they simply cannot deal with any significant incidents without seeking the support of other forces. I was an RAF commanding officer in the late 1980s during the Provisional IRA's mainland campaign and it quickly became evident to me that my local (small) police force, despite its professionalism and commitment, simply did not have the resources to deal with a serious terrorist incident.
Amalgamations are needed, not only to achieve savings, but to improve operational effectiveness. I appreciate the need to tailor policing to local circumstances but I believe that, with some intelligent local arrangements, amalgamations could be achieved without loss of local input to policing.
Perhaps Keith Vaz and his Home Affairs Select Committee's investigation into leadership and standards in the police force should examine the serious limitations, and the high costs, of existing police command arrangements.
(Gp Capt RAF Ret'd)
Brize Norton, Oxfordshire
Marriage is for a man and a woman
I am astonished to read Dr Michael Johnson (letter, 9 March) accusing church leaders of arrogance for reminding us that the institution of marriage, in many variations in form in all cultures and at all times in history, has always been between man and woman. Politicians demonstrate a lack understanding when they think this can or should be changed by an Act of Parliament in the UK.
What Parliament can do is agree the terms of civil partnerships that can be as inclusive as this society thinks right, and that confer on homosexual, heterosexual or transsexual couples who are prepared to make a public commitment to each other most of the same benefits in law as married couples enjoy.
What it mustn't try to do is try to redefine marriage, which would create a false disjoint in our society, not only between communities and groups in the UK, but also in relation to nations and societies all over the world that understand in their own terms what "marriage" means – and procreation and care of children is nearly always there among its meanings.
The Rev Dr Andrew Craig
Millions of couples are already married. Marriage provides a primary personal identity for them and their families. They have not asked for their identity to be redefined. So the proposed legislation on gay marriage is retrospective and therefore fundamentally inequitable.
Voting rules: the right balance
Mary Dejevsky is wrong when she says that Unlock Democracy opposes Individual Elector Registration (IER) (7 March). Indeed, we lead the campaign to tighten up Britain's lax voting rules and persuaded the last Labour government to legislate to introduce it in the first place.
Where Mary is right is that we have criticised the Coalition over its proposals to speed up implementation. Their draft proposals involved allowing people to opt out of registering and would have had a huge impact on not only who could vote, but on our jury system and future constituency boundaries. They moved away from the best practice, which had been developed following the introduction of IER in Northern Ireland a decade ago.
There is a delicate trade-off between ballot security and inclusiveness and we welcome the fact that the Government has now concluded that it got the balance wrong in its initial proposals. Unlock Democracy will continue to work to ensure that both objectives form a core part of Britain's electoral registration system.
Director, Unlock Democracy
Lawyers will love the right to die
While I agree with both Primrose Kirkman and Pat Ryan about the right of terminally ill people to choose to die (letters, 14 March), I cannot avoid the conclusion that should the law be changed, older confused people who are deemed a nuisance by their "loving" family will have the skills of clever lawyers bought to bear on their situation.
This would give the legal profession yet another licence to print money. Matters of this kind can only be remotely fair if they are run and funded by a truly independent body; how one organises such a body I am at a loss to decide, human nature being what it is.
No wonder we are slow readers
Surely the biggest problem with the nation's reading (leading article, 16 March) is our ridiculous spelling system. During the 1970s experiment with the Initial Teaching Alphabet pupils gained a two-year advantage over those constrained by orthodox orthography. Unfortunately this was then lost when they had to switch back to conventional spelling.
In many languages, words are written as they are spoken. As long as you know how to say a word, you can write it. Learning the rules for pronouncing the letters is considerably less time-consuming than the contortions our pupils have to go through when learning to write English.
Prior to Athletico Bilbao's match with Manchester United, Will Unwin looks back at the history of the Basque club (Sport, 15 March). He notes that they had an English manager in the 1920s, Fred Pentland, who was in the habit of wearing a bowler hat. We are told that "the players would celebrate each victory by removing Pentland's hat and stamping on it". Makes you wonder what happened following a defeat.
In one very brief exposure to a school classroom ("My hardest job", 15 March), Chris Blackhurst has discovered that teaching is a demanding occupation. Would it be too much to hope that this Damascene revelation might lead to a bit less teacher-bashing in future education editorials?
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