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Letters: Listen to the firefighters as they strike on Christmas Eve

These letters were published on the 24th December edition of the Independent

On Christmas Eve, as most of the population are preparing for Christmas, firefighters will be on picket lines up and down the country, with another strike planned for New Year’s Eve.

It might seem odd to the public that firefighters are striking on such significant dates, but the Coalition Government has been doggedly refusing to negotiate throughout the dispute. In contrast, the Scottish government has shown some willingness to compromise and meet the firefighters’ demands part-way.

Speaking with firefighters about their job, about their reluctant industrial action and about the feasibility of them working until 60, you can’t help but be struck by their sense of commitment to the community they serve. Firefighters need to be fit to do their job. In London, with the recent theatre collapse, we have seen how reliant we are on this commitment and physical fitness when we need it.

The Government knows this. Their own review found that two-thirds of firefighters would not be capable of doing the job at 60. They should acknowledge this and recognise that firefighters should not be forced to potentially lose a significant part of their pension if they are not fit enough to serve in their jobs after the age of 55.

With the Government failing to meet for substantive talks, at Monday’s London Fire Authority meeting we agreed to take a cross-party delegation to see the Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis MP, to discuss the resolution of the dispute and the financial cost to the London Fire Brigade. This dispute is being caused by national government, but the costs are being picked up by us at a local level.

It is time the Government listened and negotiated in good faith.

Fiona Twycross AM, Leader Labour Group , London Assembly London SE1

Will arms makers help the syrians?

In 1961, at the end of his second term, President Dwight Eisenhower warned: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.” Of all statesmen he was surely the best informed in this area.

After the disaster of Iraq, and indeed Libya, the US and UK have wisely resisted the temptation to pour arms into Syria. There are already far too many weapons in that country. I would like to suggest that the arms manufacturers donate some of their ill-gotten gains for the welfare of Syrian refugees.

As an unthinking young man I joined the RAF, where I learnt to fly and, as a V bomber captain, possibly drop a nuclear weapon on USSR. I am grateful that this military training helped me to get a good peaceful job flying as an airline pilot.

As an indirect beneficiary of the military industrial complex, I have asked that my Christmas present from my wife be a donation to Unicef’s appeal for Syria. I am glad the UK Government is currently doubling such individual donations.

Michael Melville, Northwich, Cheshire

Of course the NHS must be open all hours

Of course the NHS should operate uniformly 24/7 for unscheduled care, as Sir Bruce Keogh has proposed (report, 16 December). Scheduled care could usefully be distributed over seven days of normal daytime hours too, obviating the need for midnight out-patient appointments for day-time workers.

The clinical staff – all functions – need the full spread of support services to run continuously. That means sterile supplies, pharmacy, imaging, blood product supplies, catering, laboratories, transport, portering, laundry and management – even them.

We know it can be done because it used to be done. When I was a houseman  in the late 1970s, on a 104- hours-per-week contract, I had access to freshly cooked meals at any hour of the night and a decent quiet room in which to rest if the opportunity arose – as  did those providing the support services.

Steve Ford, Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

Belated justice for Stephen Ward

Whether Geoffrey Robertson QC’s book on Stephen Ward will enhance the fortunes of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical on the same subject, or vice versa, is intriguing but irrelevant. What matters  is that the combined  force of two high-powered takes on the disgraced osteopath, unveiled simultaneously, may lead  to a retrial of his case.

Geoffrey Robertson, no stranger to miscarriages of justice, makes an unassailable argument for a re-hearing, citing the “moral panic” induced by the Profumo affair, which focused on a viciously demonised Ward and led ultimately to his suicide.

The backstage pressure of the Macmillan government at the time, not to mention the hiding of evidence, police malpractice and the perjury of a witness, required a scapegoat to take the pressure off the establishment. Ward, publicly vilified in the lynch-mob hysteria, was the ideal candidate. His forlorn suicide note – “I’ve given up all hope” – received a stony silence from his accusers.

Showbusiness is not noted for its campaigning zeal, so it’s refreshing to see the worlds of entertainment and the law joined in the pursuit of justice. Too late for Ward. But not for putting right a blatant wrong.

Donald Zec, London W14

A game for the festive season

In the festive season, parlour games are popular.  I have a twist to an old favourite. Readers may recall the silly game played by employees to raise their spirits while having to listen to tedious cliché-filled management presentations. Points would be scored when the speaker repeated overused expressions such as those extolling teamwork and embracing change. “Our employees are our greatest asset”, was the most overused.

Recently, I have been playing the game by spotting the incidence of “the mess left by Labour” and “hard-working families”.  However, the game has stopped being fun, since every – and I do mean every – Tory speaker reprises these two themes on all occasions, whatever the topic being discussed. Are they all issued with the same repetitive material?

Readers should try it; they’ll soon get bored counting.

Tim Brook


Wrong-footed at the national theatre

If the safety curtain had safely made it (Letters, 20 December, “Unscripted drama at the NT”) the feet Andrew Jackson saw (though not in slippers) were not Sir Ralph’s. They were Sir John’s. It is not even as if the two theatrical knights were principally famous for the similarity of their ankles.

Peter Forster, London N4

Christmas lockdown

As Carol Wood (Letters, 23 December) wants a lockdown on Christmas day “to stop, think and enjoy life”, I presume she would be quite happy for electricity supply workers to take the day off in addition to those operating our public-transport services?

Dr Clive Mowforth, Dursley, Gloucestershire

Christmas 1914 – a beacon in the darkness

As readers will be aware, 2014 will mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

By the end of 1914 a number of battles had been fought with significant losses on all sides, and as the year’s end approached it slowly dawned on the various participants that this war would most probably not be over by Christmas after all. The set-piece battles of past conflicts were consigned to the history books and were replaced with the horrors of trench warfare. Though few could have guessed it at the time, the scene was set for a slaughter of Europe’s youth on an industrial scale that would shape the rest of the century.

Yet as Christmas Day in 1914 approached, the guns increasingly fell silent. In many sectors, troops from opposing sides offered one another a hand  of friendship. Soldiers erected makeshift Christmas trees, sang carols together, and exchanged cigarettes and chocolate and other gifts. Some played football.

I find it heartening and yet heart-breaking that such a spontaneous truce was possible. Heartening in that for this short time the youth of Europe could put aside their artificially imposed enmity and join together in the celebration of a common custom, and heart-breaking in that a short time later these young men who had been happily socialising with one another would be killing each other on a colossal scale once again.

I regard the Christmas Truce of 1914 as a beacon of humanity among the unimaginable pain and suffering of the Great War and think that this is a story worth reflecting on as we celebrate the festive season and see in a new year which will mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of this tragic conflict.

I wish all your staff and readers a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Chris Beverley, Wakefield, West Yorkshire