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Sunday 6 May 2012
Letters: Local elections
Nation's verdict on the Coalition? – Not just yet
Not surprisingly, given the economic conditions and recent mistakes by the Coalition, Labour have made large gains in the local elections – congratulations to them. The issue will be very different at the next general election, particularly if the economy is showing signs of recovery.
Will voters trust a government headed by Mr Miliband and Mr Balls, both members of the Labour government which created a large proportion of the debt we are now repaying? If Britain is ever going to maintain and improve its infrastructure, while consistently supporting those in need, we must get away from cycles of irresponsible spending followed by damaging cuts.
It is one thing to make electoral gains on the back of disenchantment with the current government, it is quite another to have the courage to face up to reality and advocate unpopular decisions while in opposition. Failure to do this will prove to the electorate at the next election that Labour cannot be trusted with the economy.
In the local elections around 17 per cent of the electorate voted against the Coalition and the vote for the parties in the Coalition exceeded the votes for Labour. That's what I call a typically British "Nationwide vote of no confidence that shook the Coalition", as your headline had it.
US debt is climbing, and experts are predicting that their economy will fall off a "fiscal cliff" in November. In Europe, austerity measures, driven by Germany, are so severe that the euro is likely to fall apart and civil unrest will spread. It could be that George Osborne's policy will be seen in retrospect as the "Goldilocks" one. Now is not the time to change.
Salen, Isle of Mull
Your headline on 5 May: "Huge Labour gains leave Coalition with identity crisis". The Coalition's problem is that it already has a strong identity, but as a shambolic, incompetent, dishonest government of by and for the rich.
Barry Lofty's letter (3 May) suggests that Nick Clegg would have been damned whether he joined the Coalition or not. I think this is probably true. I joined the Liberal Democrats after the Coalition was formed – though not because of it – but I would have damned him if he had not taken an opportunity to help govern the country since that is what MPs are meant to do.
Thursday's local elections have been a focus of excited media speculation because the results are seen in as the nation's verdict on the Government. Yet, as is usual, the majority of local councils in England were not involved in this round of elections; the majority of electors in the country were not in a position to take part. We have been mere bystanders in a democratic exercise with real political consequences.
Very few of us, I imagine, understand the rationale for staggered local elections, nor why we cannot all go to the polls at the same time. How can we expect the electorate to be fully engaged with the democratic process if so many are sidelined on polling day?
Carlton le Moorland, Lincolnshire
Could I take this opportunity of praising the system here in Manchester whereby one third of our local councillors stand for re-election each year? This has given us the chance to vent our anger annually at Nick Clegg's party by kicking out a tranche of Lib Dem councillors in each of the last two years. We look forward to the final blood-letting next May, remembering that revenge is a dish best served cold.
It is not difficult to discern why the citizens of provincial cities rejected the chance to elect mayors. The Government simply did not do its homework.
We were expected to vote in favour, merely because in a couple of sentences it told us it would be good for us. There was no serious attempt either by politicians or by the media to explain in any detail the issues involved. So it appeared that we were being asked to vote for yet another highly paid, publicly funded boss, to run an organisation that is not obviously broken, while Birmingham City Council is well known to be more or less broke.
Contrast this with the day-to-day media coverage of the titanic clash between Boris and Ken, not very interesting from 100 miles away. The political class needs to realise that intelligent life exists outside London.
Martin F Lee
Don't you feel sorry for David Cameron? Having to flap round to Boris's place to get a bit of reflected glory? You don't? No, nor do I. Can't we have a leader with some substance?
Phonics isn't the only way
Does Ellen Purton (letter, 30 April) sound out every word she reads rather than reading by "recognising words" she has seen before? If she did she would be unable to read The Independent.
There are many young children who, because they are bright and have a good visual memory, read extremely well at an early age and remember spellings. The fact that they find difficulty sounding out fictitious words at this stage is irrelevant. The fact that these able young readers are not doing well on this phonics test can be treated as an irrelevant anomaly. More concerning are some of the children who may well be passing it.
In the few years since the Government has emphasised phonic teaching to the almost exclusion of other methods, I have come across six-year-olds who can sound out any phonetically regular word, but remember none by sight. "Cat", "went" or "up" have to be sounded out not just on page 1 of a book, but on page 2, 3 and 4, making reading incredibly laborious and comprehension impossible. Meanwhile many of the most common 100 words are inaccessible to them: "one", "said", "where", even "the" and "was" present problems to such learners. Children like this will pass the screening test at six, but be unable to cope with the test at seven (when quite long chunks of independent reading are required) because no concern had been flagged up and no extra help given.
What we need is a government (and teacher training institutions) that stop trying to lurch from one extreme style of teaching to another and accept that different children learn in different ways. A mix of everything is required.
New Malden, Surrey
Football thinker England needs
Long-time readers of The Independent have been taught by James Lawton to idolise England's one and only winner. Alf Ramsay didn't achieve his success by his ability to spot a player and motivate him – Harry Rednapp's proven talent – but by thinking about the game. Ramsay didn't – Lawton has told us this often enough – give a damn for what the journalists thought. He did his own thinking, thank you very much. He was a football thinker.
And that's exactly what the FA have recognised in Roy Hodgson. If the likes of Lawton give him a chance and if the red-tops don't pin a turnip on his head after a couple of defeats, Hodgson may make some real progress in modernising the whole culture of British football. He will be involved at all levels, in a way Harry Rednapp simply wouldn't understand.
Lawton often tells us we are the laughing stock of the world. Harry couldn't change that. Roy Hodgson just might.
Husthwaite, North Yorkshire
Releasing children from limbo
Contrary to what Yasmin Alibhai-Brown suggests in her article of 30 April, I am quite clear that as the Children's Minister, my first priority is to make sure Government supports vulnerable families to stay together. No one benefits if a child is taken into care incorrectly, but if a child's safety is threatened the next step must be to consider care urgently.
This isn't a blame game or a numbers game – there are no targets – it is about taking the right children into the right sort of care at the right time. What is important is that the child's best interests always come first.
I make no apologies for wanting to reduce the time children are living in limbo, and give them what most of us would take for granted – the opportunity to form a loving attachment to a family. That is why we are reforming the care system. Reducing delay and providing stability must be the primary concern of social workers and local authority managers. Part of this is encouraging more adopters and foster carers to come forward, something I would have thought that everyone would support.
Tim Loughton MP
Minister for Children and Families, London SW1
Don't put up with pedantry
Further to the letters of 3 May, the multiple use of the preposition is one of the glories of the English language. No other language (save possibly Russian) uses this part of speech as we do. It is the preposition which can give variety, subtlety and nuance to the meaning of words. Take the simple verb "put". This may be followed by away, back, down, forth, in, off, out, through, to, up, upon, and up with.
So we should cherish the fact that there are many ways of expressing ourselves. Pedantry should be given short shrift.
High price of 'right to buy'
While I share Mehmood Syed's concern about the way the benefits system disincentivises people on benefits to find work (letter, 5 May), he is wrong to conclude that housing benefit is the major factor.
Had successive governments not promoted the privatisation of public housing and now included a market-based rent within the benefits cap, we would have been able to protect the poor from eviction, ensured our cities remain socially and economically diverse, and capped other benefits to encourage people to work, assuming that jobs are available.
Grey hair and wisdom on TV
Maybe Doraine Potts (letter, 1 May) doesn't realise that very well-qualified academics who present very interesting TV series may have reached a time in their lives when they have the confidence to wear their hair exactly as they want. Maybe they don't need to go round impressing men and other women with the way they look.
I bet if a long-grey-haired man had presented the programme, no letters would have appeared in the press about the way he looked. Really, are we in the 21st century or not?
Drought: dig out the truth
I've just planted out my broad beans. Six inches down, the soil was bone dry. Drought-deniers like Paul Ives (letter, 3 May) have clearly never turned a spadeful of earth in their lives.
Government faces fracking setback as MPs call for total ban
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