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Tuesday 28 April 2009
Letters: Marathon hypocrisy
Disabled spectators unfairly treated at marathon
The treatment of disabled spectators at the London Marathon was hypocritical at best, and in violation of equal access laws at worst.
The attitude of the organisers to spectators in wheelchairs can be seen from the first page of the spectators' guide: "If you find yourself at one of the busier areas it can be frustrating . . . especially if you have to deal with pushchairs or wheelchairs."'
Disabled spectators were kept away from the busier areas, which also happened to be the places where, like everyone else, they would most like to be, for example near the finish. The disabled spectators' guide suggested a spot between Miles 21 and 22. "At Glamis Road there is a subway under The Highway with ramps on both sides, which enables good viewing on both sides of the Marathon route." How would normal people feel if they were recommended to watch four miles from the finish, especially those supporting their friends in the disabled minimarathon (which is only the last three miles).
At all the busy spots (including within miles of the finish) the coverage of the railings with Flora banners was continuous. People in wheelchairs could not see through these banners. I watched in horror near the finish where security refused to move just one of these thousands of Flora banners for 10 minutes so a little boy in a wheelchair could see his friends go by in the minimarathon, an hour before the main race. Surely equal access rights imply the right to a decent view in a decent spot, just like everyone else. Surely one railing in every 20 in busy areas could be left banner-free with a disabled priority sticker.
New economy, or more of the same?
While Vince Cable's analysis of Britain's economic predicament (24 April) is fine as far as it goes, I feel he does not appreciate the full extent of the economic model envisaged around a quarter of a century ago.
The basic idea was to reverse the decline of London by turning it into the financial capital of the EU, and thus into a global financial centre. This was the process started in 1986, known as the "Big Bang".
The City was effectively taken over by Wall Street as a US platform in Europe, joined by Continental, Japanese and one or two remaining British banks operating along the lines of the Wall Street banks and finance houses. Hence the need for light-touch regulation and low taxes for non-doms. This proved very successful, until the credit crunch.
However, the economy of London thus created was a global one, and bore little relation to the size of the local British economy. The latter differed from the economy of Flanders, or of Bavaria, or even of Colorado, only insofar as the effects of London could be felt that much more directly in a contiguous area under (almost) the same jurisdiction. So the local British economy should not be confused with the London financial economy.
One result was that wealth transfer out of London happened increasingly via the property market, rather than via taxation, leading to the property boom. A similar scenario developed between New York City and the rest of the USA, hence the global nature of the boom and current bust.
Where do we go from here? It may seem odd to suggest it, but surely this system will simply be resurrected? That, after all, is what all the rescue packages and G20 discussions are ultimately about. There doesn't seem to be any other model capable of fitting the bill, and the alternatives, which probably amount to another Great Depression or International Socialism, are either unconscionable or deemed undesirable.
Deborah Orr (25 April) is absolutely right to say: "This is not a recession. It is a necessary and long-term adjustment." However, it is far from clear how reform could be achieved.
An essential precursor is that we British acknowledge, first, that we are no longer a world power; second, that we are living beyond our means; third, that our economy is dysfunctional and ecologically unhealthy; fourth, that our society is inequitable and in many respects broken; and, fifth, that our constitution is not fit for purpose.
To address all these urgent problems we need a government of all the talents that is internationalist, humane, egalitarian, scientifically literate and transparent. Where New Labour is discredited, the Tories scarcely inspire confidence. At a time when we need our European friends more than ever, most Tories are chauvinist little Englanders, who support illegal wars and will renew Trident on borrowed money.
That is why I agree with Justin Brodie (letters 25 April) that the Liberal Democrats' time has come, with Vince Cable by some way the best qualified to steer the economy through these difficult times.
What we really owe the Gurkhas
I disagree with claims by Joanna Lumley and others that immigration rules for Gurkha soldiers are somehow "unfair" or that Britain owe a "special debt of gratitude" to them (report, 25 April).
First, Gurkhas knew and accepted Britain's immigration rules when they enlisted. Britain has not subsequently changed the rules to their detriment. Why can a party to a contract demand changes for his benefit long after he has accepted a contract?
Second, almost none of the conflicts in which the British Army has fought since the Second World War have been to defend British people. Instead, the British Army has defended the people of Korea, Cyprus, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan. I am sure that Gurkhas fought bravely in many of those conflicts, but the beneficiaries of their bravery have been foreigners, not British people. It is those foreigners who owe any debt of gratitude to the British Army and the Gurkhas.
Third, the main reason why Gurkhas have enlisted in the British Army is that alternative well-paid work is hard to find in Nepal. According to the International Monetary Fund, the per capita income in Nepal for 2007 was only $377, making it the 12th poorest country in the world. The British Army offers a career that is far more financially rewarding than other possibilities in Nepal. Realistically, the main reason why Gurkhas have enlisted in the British Army is love of money, not love of Britain.
James G Fluss
Having fought alongside the Gurkhas and witnessed their bravery, I have always been full of admiration and respect for them. I am filled with shame and disgust at the treatment they are now being given by our government.
New Labour, none of whose members have any personal experience of the horrors or warfare, are very good at sending off young soldiers to die, even in illegal wars such as Blair's Iraq disaster. The Gurkhas are certain to be included in such adventures. When it comes to dealing with the consequences however, this is another matter. The statement by Mr Woolas just fills me with disgust.
Please continue to give publicity to the Gurkhas in your splendid "Fight for our Veterans" campaign.
A fiddle-proof way to pay MPs
Trust MPs to come up with a replacement for a dubious, system like the second home "allowance" that is just as bad. As an internal audit manager for 10 years, I know that all expense systems become a way of increasing salary tax-free.
We should decide what our MPs are worth and pay them it. Index-link MPs' salaries to outside roles requiring relevant skills and create a simple graded structure from PM to constituency member. Salaries would increase automatically each year as a function of maths not politics.
Provide MPs with all they need to do their job – not as income but as facilities. Buy or build a first-class hotel near the House of Commons for MPs needing to stay overnight, and equip it with meeting rooms, and 24-hour administration services.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Ban dangerous anorexia websites
Is it not time the Government followed the lead of the French and considered legislation to ban pro-anorexia websites?
"Pro-ana" websites, offering tips on extreme dieting, are not new, but their growth on social networking sites is worrying. Eating disorders are a mental-health issue, not a lifestyle choice. What is glamorous about inducing vomiting? What is glamorous about rotten teeth or osteoporosis?
We are treating an increasing number of impressionable young girls and women, who are playing Russian roulette with their health and fertility. A visit to one of our eating-disorder units would change the minds of many people advocating choice.
Dr Alex Yellowlees
Medical Director & Consultant Psychiatrist
The Priory Hospital, Glasgow
Plight of families in detention
The Independent Monitoring Board's report (15 April) highlights the degrading treatment that families encounter in detention at Heathrow when arriving or leaving the UK, often after having claimed asylum.
The detention centre at Heathrow is far from alone in holding children and parents in highly stressful circumstances. Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire detains thousands of children and parents each year. They can be held there for weeks or even months. We are working with these families and we see daily the distress and harm caused by their detention. Detaining children and their parents is inhumane and unnecessary.
The Children's Society
Bail for Immigration Detainees
Boris as an austere Roman general
Boris Johnson's choice of Cincinnatus as a role model is not obscure, it is dangerous (Andy McSmith, 27 April).
Cincinnatus was a general and politician renowned for austerity of life and morals. He was called from the plough to rescue Rome in war and went on to become dictator twice, before returning to his farm. He became the metaphor for George Washington in the US, who won a war before serving as president twice and returning to his plantation. Boris appears to have delusions of grandeur rather than obscurity. As for his illusions of austerity, enough said. Or verb sap, as Boris would say.
Hampton Hill, Middlesex
Bar the flu virus
Because of the threat of rabies, the UK bans importation of animals unless they have been quarantined or have a health certificate. Why than are we not restricting the movement of humans in any way when we have a known outbreak overseas of a deadly flu virus ?
Name of the year
Before it's too late I would like to explain why we must not say the name of the coming year as "Twenty ten" instead of "Two thousand and ten". In Britain we count in hundreds up to two thousand, whereas in the United States they continue up to ten thousand. This is why you hear, "Thirty-five hundred" in American usage. But we're not American, we're British. I know it has become fashionable to constantly adopt Americanisms in to our language, but a line has to be drawn somewhere.
David A Harvey
Doncaster south yorkshire
Robert MacLachlan (letter, 23 April) says he "would far rather work in a nuclear power station than on a North Sea oil rig". He is judging the safety of various forms of energy supply on workplace safety. Unfortunately, in the event of a nuclear accident, people within an area of hundreds of square miles share the same risks as those employed on the site. An accident in a coal mine or on an oil rig doesn't have the potential to kill thousands who live 20 or 30 miles away.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
It was wonderful to see so many St George Crosses flying proudly on our national day. For far too long, we English have been instructed by the twittering classes that our flag is a racist symbol and small-minded town hall bigots have been only too quick in zealously enforcing its suppression. Congratulations are due to the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, for funding the celebrations in the capital this year and to the inspirational Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, for his wise words on the nature of Englishness.
Stapleford Tawney, Essex
Not out of the wood
Have the green shoots of recovery become the Darling buds of maybe?
German conservatives are destroying Europe with austerity, says economist Thomas Piketty
Man dies instantly after shooting firework from top of his head
Florida teacher sentenced to 22 years in prison for sexually abusing three pupils
Children are being segregated in British schools, report warns
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state
Tsipras to come up with new plan to save Greece within 24 hours – as Germany admits embattled nation now needs humanitarian aid
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