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Letters: Mansion tax hard to avoid

Dominic Lawson claims that advocates of a mansion tax are interested not in principle but in making a noise (19 February). His reasons for saying this do not bear looking into.

The possibility of a wealth tax may well result in a flight of capital. Suggest taxing jewellery or investments and these assets would quickly disappear. But it is much more difficult to make freehold properties vanish. They can be valued and assessed to tax and the resultant liability can be collected.

The recent tales of tax avoidance show clearly that it is almost impossible to ensure that businesses pay their fair share of tax. A mansion tax would be hard to avoid and if owners feel they cannot afford the amount due, they will have to sell their houses. A side-effect of such a tax is that the ever-rising cost of properties in central London would either slow down or cease.

Alan Golding

Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire

My grandmother bought her house in Cricklewood, north London, early in the 1950s. It was inherited by her son, who has lived in it all his life. He is now nearly 90, and poor (never having had a well-paid job) but his house is worth about three quarters of a million. Its rise in value was out of his control.

I know proponents are only suggesting a "mansion tax" on houses worth £2m and over, but there must be many people whose houses have grown in value to that sum regardless of their income or actions – especially if they live in London, where foreign plutocrats are allowed to drive up the price of housing.

I am astonished at Ed Miliband's sudden support for this tax. Is he saying that the elderly should sell their homes and move away from their friends and familiar surroundings in order to pay it? If so, I see very little difference between that and forcing poor people out of their homes and neighbourhoods by capping benefits and taxing spare rooms.

I think rich people should pay their share of taxes but their riches should be calculated on assets that are realisable humanely. The "mansion tax" is neither sensible nor humane. I don't like the phrase "the politics of envy" but this really seems to be an example of just that – "I can't afford an expensive house so why should you have one?"

Sara Neill

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Dominic Lawson rightly opposes the Lib Dem/Labour mansion tax but for the wrong reasons. The answer, of course, is more bands for the council tax (better still a set percentage of the value of the property) and a long-overdue revaluation. It's been 23 years since properties were valued.

Time for courage from our political class. And please, no more crocodile tears for "asset-rich, income-poor" widows.

Yugo Kovach

Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Let the case for a republic be heard

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown makes a fair case against the monarchy (18 February) but makes one serious error. The British people are not "brainwashed". Indeed, most of the British people are not remotely interested in the monarchy or the royal family.

The challenge for republicans is to make the case more loudly and more clearly than before, to take on the royal PR-machine and challenge the mythology of royalty that permeates the media. Those who do support the monarchy usually do so because they've never been challenged to think twice about the issue.

My experience when debating the monarchy up and down the country is that when we do present a clear case for a republic the British public are very receptive to what we have to say.

Graham Smith

Chief Executive Officer, Republic, London EC1

One doesn't have to be "brainwashed" to believe that reform rather than abolition of the monarchy may be the most rational response. A case in point is the Duchy of Cornwall, created in 1337 for the personal use of the Prince of Wales. The current Prince has transformed this ancient sinecure into a synergy of innovative enterprises benefiting the whole community, such as his Duchy Products, which has generated £3.5m for HRH charities and boosted local farming.

The cult of republicanism would have us believe that more of the self-promoting ambition which is as the heart of our institutional malaise will make us all better off. Any number of republics indicate otherwise.

Dominic Kirkham


In the face of Hilary Mantel's diatribe, at least the Duchess of Cambridge (God bless her) can be safe in the knowledge that the royal sprog she brings into the world will not be a descendant of Henry VIII.

Colin Macbeth


On the train to salvation?

With respect to Deirdre Counihan (letter, 19 February), she did not buy her ticket for the Catholic train; it was bought for her by her Catholic parents. No child is born Catholic, Hindu, Muslim etc, but born to religious parents who choose to indoctrinate their offspring in their faith.

She also takes a very benign view of the guards on her train. Guards who throw people from the speeding train for certain transgressions. Guards who've forced young, vulnerable passengers to disembark at squalid end-of-line stations for back-breaking work.

The senior management are culpable too, transferring abusive station masters from station to station, hoping to conceal rather than eradicate the abuse. There's also their dangerous edict to eschew basic safety procedures during coupling. The health and safety certificate for this train operator surely expired some time ago.

I may not know where I am heading, but I prefer to find my own path – barefoot if necessary – than be told where I must go and how and with whom I must travel.

Barry Richards


Recent revelations call into doubt claims, trundled out again on the resignation of Pope Benedict, that there is something unique in the Catholic Church that leads to paedophile abuse and cover-up.

A recent tragedy ("Violinist found dead after testifying against her abuser", 17 February) suggests that those who moved on perpetrators rather than forcing a criminal trial may have had some genuine kindly intent in thinking it best to let the child move on rather than draw huge attention to the abuse.

Matthew Huntbach

London SE9

Geology courses fly off the shelves

As a geologist who has never knowingly stacked shelves, what can I say? IDS and numerous journalists might do well to remember that if it wasn't for the geologist there'd be nothing to stack on the shelves.

With no energy from the earth, the lights would go out. With no mined fertilisers, there's be no crops for us to eat. With no strategic metals we'd have no iPads or mobile phones, and with no mined iron there'd be no cars. There'd be no materials to build our cities, no one to plan foundations or stabilise slopes, and, especially in the south-east of the country, we'd have no water to drink.

A geology degree gives us a graduate who can contribute to society in so many ways. However, not all geology graduates use their degrees directly, and they find they are valued by employers in other sectors. Geology is one of the most popular subjects at university, according to the Student Satisfaction Survey, and rightly so – because we'd soon miss the geologists if they suddenly disappeared.

Professor David Manning

Morpeth, Northumberland

We can live with urban foxes

Nicky Browne (letter, 12 February) asks how to remove garden foxes without a gun. There are many cheap and effective deterrents, from sprays to machines that produce ultrasonic sounds that foxes detest. This is the only real way to manage urban foxes. Culling was tried by various London boroughs, but abandoned because killing only leaves empty territories to be rapidly adopted by previously non-breeding foxes from other groups.

Urban wildlife is not new, nor is it restricted to London. There are coyotes in many North American cities and leopards in Nairobi and Mumbai. Even tigers and elephants have plenty of neighbouring rural communities. Given that we demand that other countries preserve their wildlife, we should have the good grace to coexist with our own.

Adele Brand

Caterham, Surrey

Anti-food culture reaps its reward

Not being taught to cook, finding cooking a dismal chore and treating food as merely a means to an end are symptoms of a nation in which food and eating are considered secondary to some other business of life (letter, 18 February). And, like anything, value it not and you reap the rewards – in this case horse meat in your beefburger from Romania.

Immigrants from some of the most impoverished parts of the world have improved our cuisine no end, which is the opposite of Martin Taylor's assertion that the only cooks in the country are middle-class southerners.

John Laird


Supermarkets, in their quest for ever greater profits, have screwed suppliers into the ground and hard-working farmers have been driven to the wall because they cannot sell at the prices demanded by the supermarket giants.

Can anybody purchasing a ready-made lasagne meal for two for £1.50 really be surprised that the meat is dodgy? What did they expect, fillet steak? You get what you pay for.

John England

Disley, Cheshire

If horse meat is so much cheaper than beef, can we have more, please sir?

Chris Webster

Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Back to history

Plaintive history teachers describe as "a catastrophe" the proposed teaching of the Reformation and English Civil War to quite young children by people with no immediate background in the subjects (letter, 18 February). The catastrophe is that the sex-and-violence regime of Anne Boleyn and Stalingrad has created that ignorance. The way to mend it is for those called up to explain the Wittenberg theses and Stuart absolutism to find suitable books and read them.

Edward Pearce

Thormanby, York

Ill, not wicked

I was shocked by your arts correspondent's attitude to mental illness, as shown in his piece on Stephen Fry (18 February). He reports Fry as "confessing" to his bipolar illness, and "admitting" that he felt suicidal – treating him as miscreant. Can he accept that Fry was ill, and that this experience was terrible for him as well as bad for the play that he was starring in?

Rob Wood