Letters: Miliband’s curbs on capitalism

These letters appear in the Friday 7th March edition of the Independent

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I am not sure that Chris Blackhurst “gets” capitalism any more than Labour does (“Labour’s hysterical anti-big business stance”, 5 March).

Since acts against “forestalling, regrossing and engrating” in Elizabethan times, through anti-trust acts in early 20th century America, to modern competition laws, there has been a broad acceptance that free markets are not always benign. Labour’s pronouncements against market failure in energy falls squarely within this tradition.

As for Waitrose offering free coffee and newspapers, this may strike their strategists as a good competitive wheeze, but to those who make their living from selling those products, it smacks of predation. Given the broad cross-party support for the reinvigoration of the high street, I would have thought the promotion of free and fair competition was a laudable aim.

As for the banks, just speak to the many small businesses that have been refused loans and sold dodgy products and you will find broad support from this sturdy class of capitalists for the idea that “something ought to be done”.

Labour is simply reflecting the concerns of both producers and consumers, hardly a hysterical or opportunistic response to current failings of the capitalist system. And by the way, Chris, the next time you are in Costa’s, ask them if you can have your two-shot latte for nothing.

S R H Jones, Malvern, Worcestershire

Your spokesman for big business, Chris Blackhurst, is at it again. This time he’s criticising Labour. He says that Miliband is “rounding on the energy companies”, “lashing out at the banks” and “pledging to restore the 50p top rate tax”. What’s not to like about these policies? 

Stuart Gregson, Alton, Hampshire

James Moore’s proposal (5 March) for a collective noun for bankers – “a whinge of bankers” – gives rise to a most vulgar but appropriate spoonerism.

D J Walker, Macclesfield, Cheshire

Climate change: it really is us

The Geological Society supports the Royal Society’s position on climate change (report, 27 February). The geological record of climate change shows that most of the warming of the 20th century was not natural.

The solar energy driving our climate varies through long-term periodic changes in the Earth’s orbit, and short-term changes in the Sun’s output. The amount of solar radiation from orbital changes declined steadily in the northern hemisphere through the past 10,000 years, and will decline further over the next 1000 years. In response, our climate cooled into the Little Ice Age between AD1400  and 1850.

A solar cycle of roughly 210 years is superimposed on that decline. It led to the temporary warming of the Medieval Warm Period, and to the warming between 1900 and 1950. We should now be cooling back towards the average of the Little Ice Age. We are not headed in that direction because the CO2 in the atmosphere has risen far enough to override the 210-year solar cycle, creating man-made global warming.

Geologists know that CO2 made temperature rise in the past, for example at the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary 55 million years ago. As CO2 then declined, the Earth gradually cooled into the Ice Age of the past 2.6 million years. Within the Ice Age, orbital changes periodically caused the oceans to warm and at the same time to emit CO2, which boosted the rise in temperature. It was once thought that temperature led CO2 in the Ice Age, but we now know that CO2  and temperature rose together then.

The positive link between CO2 and temperature in the geological record tells us that we should be wary about adding yet more CO2 to the atmosphere. For more information see www.geolsoc.org.uk/climaterecord.

Dr Colin Summerhayes, (Vice President,  Geological Society of London,  2010-2013), Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University

Careers teachers need business help

The furore around Vince Cable’s comments on teachers and careers advice has obscured a vital point – that teachers have been given the responsibility for careers guidance without the means to deliver (“Teachers ‘have zero knowledge about world of work’ ”, 6 March).

In our recent survey of teachers, over half said that previous experience of business is important to delivering careers advice – yet a majority have little or no experience of business and industry. Indeed, three quarters stated they would like more support from businesses.

The only way to tackle the current crisis in careers advice is for business to engage in their local communities and work with schools more directly, through placements and workshops, to provide the much-needed insight into the skills that young people need. Why should we expect teachers alone to handle this? Their expertise is the classroom, business people’s expertise is in business, and the two need to come together to help our young people find their way.

Roxanne Stockwell, Principal, Pearson College, London WC2

Vince Cable is right that teachers know little about the world of work. I have no idea how I advise a pupil to become a member of a minority political party which ends up in power, via Cambridge, a university lectureship and a stint as a corporate economist for big oil, as Cable did.

Is it possible to capture that essence of privilege and share it with the children in careers lessons, or would that remove the exclusivity of Oxbridge and the professional middle-class networking that leads to jobs in big companies and the lifestyle that allows you to make comfortable decisions such as plumping for a career in politics?

It’s time our MPs had some real-world work experience.

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln

Ukraine: security  is for everyone

Owen Jones’s attempt (6 March) to offer an anti-war argument over Ukraine comes unstuck when he becomes an advocate of Russia’s security needs, which he says are “informed by the fact that it has been repeatedly – and catastrophically – attacked from the West”.

This is special pleading for Russian to have an opt-out from international law. I wonder if Jones – and other anti-war campaigners – will raise “security needs” the next time that Israel takes military action.

John Strawson, Reader in Law, University of East London

Time to put a tax on meat

Given the finding that diets rich in animal protein may be as harmful to health as smoking, it’s time for the Chancellor to give serious consideration to PETA’s suggestion of a deficit-correcting tax on meat, eggs and dairy products in the Budget later this month.

At the very least, the Government should require cigarette-style labelling: “Warning: Consumption of this product can cause cancer, heart disease, strokes and other diseases that can lead to premature death”.

We can get all the nutrients that we need (without the saturated fat and cholesterol) from healthy vegan foods. The Government can prolong the lives of millions of people, not to mention save those of animals, by treating the animal-agriculture industry in the same way that it treats the tobacco industry – with suspicion and contempt.

Ben Williamson, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, London N1

 

Helping creative genius along a bit

Robert Duncan Martin (letter, 6 March) seeks to decry creative writing courses by pointing out that great writers such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen succeeded by sheer force of genius.

By the same token, one could say that Brunel had no engineering degree and David Garrick did not go to drama school, and question the need for any higher education at all. But we are not all natural, intuitive geniuses. Who knows how many “mute inglorious Miltons” might have blossomed into great writers if a helping hand had been available?

John Smurthwaite, Leeds

Holidays in term-time

Vicki Mangan got her cheap(er) holiday (letter, 3 March) because travel operators and the airlines and hotels they use have to balance year-round income and expenditure. If we had staggered school holidays and a five-term school year – which I wholeheartedly support – peak costs would probably come down, but off-peak costs would almost certainly rise accordingly. What was that about a free lunch?

Stephen Mullin, London EC1

Climactic moment?

Your article on developments in the female condom (6 March) is headlined on the front page as a “breakthrough moment”. I’m no expert but I would have thought that a breakthrough in a barrier contraceptive was the last thing one would want.

Mark Thomas, Histon, Cambridgeshire

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