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Saturday 12 November 2011
Letters: Motorway speed limit
Can we avoid disaster on our roads?
The Government said it was considering increasing the speed limit on motorways to 80mph. Then we had the tragic, fatal pile-up on the M5.
Now it is being mooted that an MOT test will only be necessary on some cars every two years. May I ask where we are heading at 80mph in a vehicle that is clearly less-safe?
Malcolm Everett's letter (11 November) highlights a solution to the blight of roads clogged by HGVs. I live in Salisbury and frequently use the A36 which seems overrun by HGVs. The A36 runs alongside the railway all the way from Southampton to Bristol.
Salisbury, an old medieval town, is blocked by, and bashed by, HGVs everyday. Yet there is a huge area of unused ground next to the station that would make an ideal freight depot for supplies to be delivered from the railway by small (electric?) trucks to retailers in the town.
The solution for a big road problem is right under our noses provided by our Victorian forebears.
Junction 25 was hopelessly (cheaply?) designed from the outset. This is my opinion based on frequent use.
To join the motorway going north involves a steep slip road making it difficult for lorries to get up to speed. At the motorway level the slip road is rather short because there is a bridge over a river.
The junction takes an inordinate amount of heavy traffic with a fair proportion of overseas lorries. In addition to the lorries coming up from Cornwall there is a massive traffic also coming from the East (London and channel port connections). Most of these roads are single-lane A roads and lines of five or six lorries nose to tail are common and doing more than 40mph. Recently the problems with this junction have been exacerbated by the building of a huge Park & Ride at the village of Henlade, which actually abuts the junction. Who would design a southbound motorway slip road immediately into a little 30mph village?
Dr EV Evans (engineer)
Your correspondents (10 November) are correct to say that vehicle design is always a compromise, and that drivers don't have to drive up to speed limits – but the key point is that we don't place enough emphasis on driver skills and judgement.
Until we have regular retesting, plus qualification and testing based on particular skills (night driving, motorway driving, adverse weather etc), crashes will be frequent. The daily death toll of around 10 per day is never reported, and remains inexcusable. To describe crashes as "accidents" misses the point – there's rarely anything accidental about them. If drivers drove appropriately, most crashes would not occur.
Compare driver testing with flying – for the roads, all we do is require that candidates meet a basic level of knowledge and skills in one set of controlled urban conditions, then let them loose forever on any type of road in any conditions. If flying licences were awarded in a similar manner, none of use would dare set foot inside an airliner.
A driving licence should be seen as a valuable asset that has to be worked for, and not a right.
Heavy-handed police threaten democratic rights
How disheartening it was to see protesters herded through London's streets on Wednesday like cattle (report, 10 November).
Political protest is one of the cornerstones of a healthy democratic culture. Whatever one thinks of the accompanying violence, last year's student demonstrations expressed a passionate engagement with the political life of this country.
On Wednesday, any passion was squeezed out of a protest that was surrounded on all sides by riot police and forced to halt every 10 metres. The Metropolitan Police will consider these tactics a success, given that no splinter groups broke away from the route of the march and Millbank Tower, unlike last year, remained intact.
What a pity, however, if the safety of Conservative party headquarters comes at the expense of a culture of active engagement in politics. The disproportionate policing on show this week runs the risk of damaging more than a protest ever could.
During the 9 November student protest, groups of plain-clothes police were removing protesters from the streets using painful restraints. In one video on YouTube, a policeman lashes out more than once at a man filming a student protester being led away down an alley while being painfully restrained. The cameraman is then refused access to this alley.
What I find sinister is that these policemen are plain-clothed for the same reason Syrian policemen are plain-clothed: insidiously to suppress protest. How much longer can our Prime Minister criticise such methods in Syria while they are currently being replicated on the streets of London?
Canvey Island, Essex
Financial world lacks leaders
Hamish McRae wonders why "no one listens to economists any more" (Opinion, 9 November). I can offer a few suggestions.
First, with regard to the current financial chaos, economists offer a wide spectrum of views, ranging between two contradictory extremes. If expert economists cannot agree on the best course of action, what chance has the average person?
Second, very few economists were apparently aware of the massive inherent risks in our debt-based economies until the balloon went up in 2008. If they had raised the alarm much earlier, we might not now be in such a horrendous mess. To compound this, neither were they apparently aware of these risks being multiplied by the use of increasingly complex and opaque financial instruments. As a result, although unsafe debt was spiralling, it became virtually impossible to quantify it or to see who was holding it.
Thus, it could be argued that the economics profession has badly let down wider society. It is possible that, in becoming too closely involved with the intricacies of their subject, they failed to take notice of the fundamentals.
Ethical gold makes a difference
In Errors and Omissions (5 November), Guy Keleny asks "What on earth is ethically sourced gold leaf?" He is, of course, referring to the extremely special weathervane which was placed on the top of Chichester Cathedral's 277ft spire last week ("The cock of the walk", 3 November). The gold covering the weathervane was responsibly sourced from the Sotrami mine in Peru – one of the first mines in the world to be certified to Fairtrade standards. The Sotrami mine is part of a new – and revolutionary – programme of Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold, the world's first independent ethical certification system for gold launched by the Fairtrade Foundation on Valentine's Day earlier this year.
This certification enables businesses, from designers and retailers to fabricators and distributors, to offer their customers the guarantee of a gold product which has been responsibly mined.
Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold provides a lifeline for thousands of impoverished and exploited miners in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
If every jeweller, and indeed every customer, were to insist on only gold sourced in this way then thousands of small-scale miners, and their communities, would be guaranteed a fair price for gold and a better and more stable future.
The Fairtrade Foundation
The myth about Greek politics
Daniel Howden provides an excellent analysis (10 November) of the current political impasse in Greece.
But intra-party bickering has long been integral to the Greek political scene, since the rival, tribal city states of ancient Greece evolved into villages replete with political rivalries, bigotry and insecurity. In the 1980s at least, whole villages would vote for PASOK, or New Democracy. All villagers were expected to toe the line. The ancient practice of ostracism was practiced on recalcitrants.
When I served in the Australian foreign service in Athens as an economic analyst, from 1983-86, it was clear that the economy was fragile. There were no significant manufacturing industries. Agricultural output had long been in decline. Tourism and repatriated funds were at the core, and by the mid-1980s were declining in volume and value. Inflated public services, political patronage and ultra-nationalism were key features and the basis of political dogma.
A senior Greek politician with whom I spoke in 1985 told me: "The problem with we Greeks is that we pride ourselves on having invented democracy when basically we are all anarchists at heart." Never a truer word.
Property law is the proper law
I am bemused by the fuss over the Jones/Kernott decision regarding their respective shares in a house (report, 10 November). Surely cohabitation is less relevant here than property law, where their joint legal ownership gave each of them certain rights but not an automatic 50/50 split of the value. If there was no agreement then a judge would use the principles of beneficial interest – considering who had paid in what for the purchase, mortgage and improvements – to decide their financial stake in the property.
What does appear to have been perverse, based on the information reported, was the earlier ruling awarding equal shares.
End this violence against women
I will gladly support Tanja Haque and Cafod's 16 days of action against sexual violence, such as rape used as a weapon of war, in any way I can. Provided that is, that the Vatican first renounces its presumed right to further torture victims of such violence by denying them abortions, and forcing them to carry to term the offspring of their abusers, whether they like it or not. As Ms Haque says: "We cannot let this violence continue with impunity".
The taxman had his say
Your story "Taxman stopped short" (11 November) is completely inaccurate. Dave Hartnett did not abandon his speech at the Tax Journal Conference this week. He remained at the podium and completed his address in spite of an interruption by protesters.
Director, Communications and Corporate Affairs, HM Revenue & Customs, London SW1
Corrections & clarifications
We apologise for any distress or confusion caused by our article on 11 November regarding 14 paintings by L.S. Lowry to be sold from the collection of the late Lord Forte, which incorrectly carried a picture of Sir Rocco Forte (b.1945), rather than his father, the late Lord Charles Forte (1908 – 2007).
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