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Thursday 31 May 2012
Letters: Monarchy at the apex of unfairness
Ian Richards (letter, 30 May) overlooks one crucial point in his defence of the monarchy. The acceptance by the British people of privilege by birthright.
This is not confined to those who fawn over the unelected rulers whose sole qualification to rule is whose loins they popped out of, but goes deeper in this society. Too many top opportunities go to those with the right connections or the right schools.
We all talk about a more equal society and opportunities going on the basis of merit; how can this ever be achieved while we cling slavishly to the notion of privilege by birthright?
There is no intelligent argument in favour of hereditary monarchy. It will be a long time, however, before the sentimental British come round to this view. In the meantime, how about introducing a semblance of democracy by allowing us to choose the next monarch from a list of royal candidates – Anne, Harry, William, Charles, Andrew and any family members who would like the job?
The voting need not be by any of the tedious methods used to elect mere politicians. The candidates should instead present themselves on a special X Factor programme, or perhaps Strictly Come Dancing. That way we would ensure maximum coverage. We could also be fairly certain that Charles would not be elected.
Rotherfield, East Sussex
So republicans do not like hereditary privilege. What privilege? Living in nice houses that are really museums? Eating good food but often with strangers? Constrained by protocol and a sense of duty?
Would anyone choose to do a job that consists of combining total self-effacement with complete dignity if they were not born to it? I would feel guilty voting for anyone in case they got the job.
Grammar schools and the hope of social mobility
For too many years, I went along with Labour Party policy on grammar schools.
"Events, dear boy, events," to borrow Macmillan's phrase, have caused me to come out of J S Mill's "deep slumber of a decided opinion". Against this background, I am compelled to say "Amen" to your excellent and timely article "Grammar schools educated people to lead the world; they can do so again" (26 May).
Linlithgow, West Lothian
By all means take another look at grammar schools, and their selection according to "academic ability". But please be ready for disappointment if therein you hope to find the answer to social mobility.
For example, 2 per cent of the English maintained-school pupils aged 15 in 2004-05 who progressed to Cambridge University by 19 in 2008-09 were eligible for free school meals at 15. By coincidence, the latest available information shows that grammar schools also admit 2 per cent of pupils who are free-meal eligible.
If there is a lesson still to be learnt from our remaining grammar schools, it is that reintroducing the 11-plus will provide few opportunities for bright children from modest backgrounds. Perhaps a higher age for selection? How about 16?
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
I read the letter from Dr Ian Walker of King's School, Rochester (26 May) and had a bitter laugh. He describes his school as a "non-selective independent school" and boasts of his school's exam results.
I'm reminded of the day when I had to confront an angry parent in my office, called in to see me following his son's repeated failure to complete homework. "I don't see why my son should have to do homework," said the parent. "I send him to school as I have to by law, but his evenings are his own. You've no right to set him homework".
I wonder when Dr Ian Walker had to face such a parent. I suspect never: no parent paying thousands of pounds per term for an independent school place is going to complain because their child has to do homework. A non-selective independent school? That's a contradiction in terms.
Headteacher, Summerhill School, Dudley, West Midlands
Your correspondent (23 May) is wrong to assert that technical schools were an option for those who did not pass the 11-plus. Secondary technical schools, along with grammar and secondary modern schools, were part of the tripartite system recommended by the Butler Education Act. Very few education authorities implemented this.
Technical schools were an alternative to grammar schools, were attended by pupils who passed the 11-plus and offered a range of science and arts subjects to O and A level. There were fewer language options than traditional grammar schools but a greater choice of science, engineering and workshop subjects such as woodwork and metalwork.
Ultimately, in my own area in Lancashire, they fell foul of middle-class snobbery over the name and were renamed as grammar schools before eventually being absorbed into the comprehensive system.
Successes of aid ignored
Ian Birrell is right to emphasise the role trade and enterprise have played in the rapid development of parts of Africa. But his opposition to the principle of aid – driven by a dislike of Live Aid – appears to have blinded him to its benefits ("Geldof's obsession with aid hurt Africa. But now trade is healing the scars", 28 May)
Parts of Africa are indeed growing quickly, but that does not mean they no longer need our help. In Chad, for example, one of the fastest growing African economies of the past decade, average annual income remains just £400 per person or little more than £1 a day.
Good-quality aid transforms the lives of millions of individuals and helps to remove barriers to economic success. Malaria, for example, costs the African economy £3m a day, and eliminating it would boost economic growth by 1.2 per cent per year.
In order to paint the uniformly negative picture of aid that he does so skilfully, it is necessary for Mr Birrell to ignore the success stories. Just one intervention, mosquito nets paid for by British aid, helps save the lives of 485 children every day. British aid has helped countries like Ghana, which has a vibrant economy and democracy and is rapidly growing to a point where our help is no longer needed.
Oxfam and other agencies long ago rejected the kind of top-down approach that Mr Birrell rightly criticises in favour of working in partnership with local people to bring about change. For example, we support small businesses run by female entrepreneurs with loans, guarantees and expertise that are unavailable in the markets in which they operate.
Of course not all aid is perfect. More can be done to improve it. But this is an argument to improve, not to abolish. Life-saving aid is put at serious risk by this negative anecdotal polemic. We need an objective debate about aid.
Head of Policy, Oxfam, Oxford
Bullying spirit of the Olympics
Thank you to Dominic Lawson for his superb piece on the Olympics (29 May).
As Locog's Stalinist thugs bully small businesses for "degrading" the Olympic branding, a private army throws innocents from the path of the sacred flame, the Home Office turns apartment blocks into missile installations and naysayers are condemned as unpatriotic killjoys, we behold the true spirit of the modern Olympics.
With blanket coverage by the BBC and most other media, this summer's monstrous beanfeast will be as inescapable as malaria in a swamp. If only it were about the sport; but is anyone still kidding themselves that London 2012 is a celebration of the best of human endeavour and not a ruinously expensive exercise in geopolitical self-aggrandisement?
In order to send a further signal in lieu of more direct intervention, is it not time to stop Syria's participation in the Olympics? If apartheid was wrong, then so is what appears to be the systematic murder of their own citizens.
East Molesey, Surrey
English can live with Globish
So, Decibelgian, the traditional language used by the English to communicate with foreigners, is going to be replaced by Globish ("Native English, alas, is degenerating into a global dialect", 30 May).
Having attended international scientific conferences throughout the past almost 70 years, I have been greatly impressed by the progressive replacement, by speakers from all parts of the world, of Brokish by an increasingly sophisticated and subtle use of the English language.
My fear now is that native English speakers may unintentionally offend those for whom English is not their first language by conversing with them, unnecessarily, in a self-imposed, stilted and simplified version of our language.
Why the left hates Blair
The widespread disdain, bordering on hatred, expressed for Tony Blair (letter, 30 May), has little to do with the conflict in Iraq. The truth, I suspect, is that many on the left of the labour movement cannot forgive Blair for winning three elections.
They preferred the Labour Party when it was a debating society for the disaffected, who enjoyed nothing more than moaning about the Tories and perceiving themselves as members of the opposition. A return to Thatcherite economic and social policies is just what they desired, and now they've got it.
Newcastle upon Tyne
No slacking on the lawn
Not one of your Ten Best Lawnmowers (29 May) was a manual push mower. These save energy, are quieter, are often made in Britain in a tradition of craftsmanship, give a better-groomed cut (if looked after), and best of all give the user a good workout.
Am I correct in assuming that the Ten Best Lawnmowers are a cut above the rest? Most are out of my price range unless my turf accountant can assist.
The price of a warm pasty
Is the Government's rethink on the pasty tax such a big retreat? How many pasties are bought hot from the oven? I would think at least nine out of ten are bought from the warming cabinet, for it could not be otherwise for a passing trade, and are therefore still liable for VAT. It's just hype being peddled by some Tory backbenchers and tabloid editors, all showing how out of touch they must be with everyday experience.
Pleasing as it is that Nicholas Gough (letter, 30 May) is enjoying his sporting year so much, the cynical among us might question why someone from Wiltshire is supporting major London teams in football and rugby together with a northern county cricket team. Incidentally, well done to Swindon Town on their promotion to League One.
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