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Friday 26 June 2009
Letters: MPs' expenses
MPs guilty of little more than being human
Now that the "fury" is subsiding, perhaps it is the time to take a more balanced look at the subject of MPs' expenses. My own view is that the Conservative Party and the Daily Telegraph conspired to create the whole thing. Apart from one or two notable exceptions where claims have been made for things which didn't exist, and which could be described as fraudulent, the rest are guilty of little more than being human. They worked within a regime which was very generous indeed and which hasn't stood up to too much examination, but everything within those rules has been deemed to be allowable.
It has been a wonderful story for all the media, but the media has not taken a balanced view.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Prior to the last election we in Windsor had an MP who suffered from amnesia as to where he lived and claimed incorrect expenses as a result. When the story broke the local Tories picked a new candidate and we now have an extremely good constituency MP whose expenses are eighth lowest in the country.
Adam Afriyie is a likeable chap. He once refused to attend an event on a Sunday because he said that is a day he keeps to spend with his family. After a few weeks in office he did not turn up to a surgery in west Windsor. Instead of the usual bull about important business at Westminster he said, "I'm sorry, I forgot". Honest man.
You report (22 June) that he is a multimillionaire. Instead of denying it he says "No, I am worth more than that."
What was he supposed to do? Close his firm and make everybody redundant? Sell it and give away the money? He is the founder of a hi-tech firm and opposition spokesman on hi-tech education. An MP who knows what he is talking about. Rare. No duck houses or porn.
Pick on the real villains, not the few honest ones.
Harriet Harman has announced that MPs will be subject to a new offence of "knowingly providing false or misleading information in allowance claims" for which the maximum penalty will be one year in jail. If any of the rest of us knowingly provide false or misleading information in our expenses claims, we can be prosecuted under Section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006, for which the maximum is 10 years. Thank you, Harriet, but please do not bother with this new offence; we will be perfectly happy for fraudulent MPs to be prosecuted on the same basis as everyone else.
Roma reveal ugly truths in Belfast
As I watched Roma families in Belfast begin their journey to Romania, I was struck by two things.
The first is that, as anyone involved in equality law work would agree, Northern Ireland has been a success story: and yet, it is striking how superficial this success has been. Despite the progress that has been made, Northern Ireland apparently remains a deeply intolerant society. Indeed, a 24 June survey by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland reveals that negative social attitudes towards minorities, particularly Travellers and gay, lesbian and bisexual people, are hardening.
The second is the very fact that a large group of Roma families are leaving a western city in which they had sought refuge. This is something new. In over 15 years of experience of working with Roma communities across Europe, I have never witnessed a community willingly returning to Eastern Europe, even in the face of sustained prejudice, violence and discrimination.
As Amnesty International has pointed out, discrimination against the Roma in Romania is widespread; only last year, the Romanian President described a journalist as "stinking gypsy".
For centuries, Roma have been surviving persecution, absorbing and adapting to unbelievable levels of hostility, everywhere in Europe. One is forced to question what has made them leave this time. Is it a sense of bitterness and offence caused by an exceptionally bad situation, or are we witnessing the beginning of something new in the Roma movements across Europe, or perhaps in the evolving Roma movement for equal rights?
But it appears that the focus on reconciliation in Northern Ireland has come at a price – increasing prejudice against marginal groups. This latest development should be a wake-up call for the government: action to promote equal rights for all is now urgently required.
Executive Director, the Equal Rights Trust, London W6
It is shameful that more than 100 Romanian migrants – including a five-day-old baby girl – have been driven from their homes in Northern Ireland by racist thugs. The persecution of the Romanians represents everything that is loathsome in the human spirit.
But the responsibility for the attacks doesn't rest exclusively with the racist monsters that carried them out. It also lies with the proprietors, editors, and journalists of the popular press and mainstream media who have prepared the way for these attacks.
For decades now the media have waged a relentless campaign against migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, who are reported in an almost totally negative manner. This has helped build a poisonous political atmosphere which has given the BNP electoral success and has given violent racists the confidence to terrorise the migrant community in Northern Ireland.
What is most repugnant about the BNP is not the ill-disguised racism, but the misconceived notion of nationhood used to incite it. The reality is that immigration is actually one of the chief things which defines Britain.
Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Danes and Norse were all once immigrants who shaped our nation's history. Even the family of our present monarch hails from Germany.
During the days of the British Empire we colonised half the world and in my opinion it is the resulting commitment to multiculturalism which makes our nation and its Commonwealth truly great.
I do not dispute Duncan McFarlane's assertion that many refugees are deported each month (letters, 12 June); but the real problem for those of us living in crowded inner cities is the illegal immigrants
Garages and sheds are reported to have been converted into abodes for the many thousands of illegal immigrants living in Newham, about which the authorities seem powerless to act. The situation has brought emergency services close to breaking point and completely changed the character of the East End.
To win at sport you need good genes
Dominic Lawson has repeated the fashionable myth that sporting success is down almost entirely to who wants it most, and that talent is of minor importance (23 June.)
I agree that any athlete must have high motivation but Andy Murray is not able to return a small ball travelling at well over 100mph because he wills himself to. He is able to do so because he was born with exceptional reflexes and co-ordination. Indeed, one could argue that his drive stems from his talent, as most people would work a lot harder to come first than they would to avoid coming last.
Sebastian Coe has stated that anyone who has run a sub-four-minute mile has got a result in the genetic lottery.
Yes, sport has shown us many talented underachievers, but I've yet to hear of the talentless winner.
My hearing isn't what it used to be, and I'm thousands of miles away from Wimbledon. Yet, after all the hype about Wimbledon stamping down on the grunters and screamers this year, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams screamed at their usual unbearable decibels.
Is the All England Club all talk and no action? Or is it too timid and will make some poor unseeded player the scapegoat? Perhaps all the screaming in recent years has deafened them to the wise words of Martina Navratilova who said that screaming was "cheating, pure and simple".
Daw Park, South Australia
Prince of Wales is excellent bargain
In "A new expenses scandal?" (24 June), you report that the taxpayer funds HRH the Prince of Wales to the tune of £3.03m per year and that he contributes in tax £3.093m; ie, he costs the taxpayer negative £63,000.
From the other figures cited it is clear he funds the vast majority of his staff, travel and gardens from his private income. And for this net gain to the economy of almost three times the average UK wage we get an untold boost to British diplomatic interests, a champion of the environmental and organic movement and one of the hardest working charity workers in the country. Remind me again where the scandal is.
I was amazed to read Matthew Norman declare republicanism dead, following the annual finance report from the Duchy of Cornwall (25 June).
The Independent was just one of many papers and broadcasters to report on Republic's response to the Duchy story. Republic is growing as a movement, and we have an extensive list of high-profile supporters from the law, politics, entertainment, journalism and sport. Questions about the future and the finances of the monarchy continue to be asked regularly. Republicanism is alive and well.
Campaign Manager, Republic
How to decide on bank chief's pay
John Bartholomew (Letters, 24 June) voices anger at the financial package reportedly offered to the new chief executive of the failed RBS.
If share price is to be used as the trigger for his future bonuses, this should cause equal concern. Over a period of years relative share price may well indicate the true underlying worth of a business, but short-term share-price changes mean little.
Nor is share price alone any indicator of a company's value to society. Care for employees, the physical and social environment and observance of human rights should all be criteria on which its performance and that of its chief executive are judged.
Sir Geoffrey Chandler
John Bartholomew asks what strategies and actions Stephen Hester would be prepared to deploy for £9.6m that he wouldn't be willing to do for £1.2m. I don't believe that he would deploy different strategies for less compensation, merely that he would do so for a different company.
No medals for prose
I noted with trepidation the use of "medal" as a verb during the last Olympic Games. Imagine my horror upon reading in The Independent of 24 June, that various "showbiz" luminaries chose to "farewell" Danny la Rue, rather than showing him the respect he was due and bidding him farewell.
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
In praise of Leipzig
Could Tony Paterson explain why he calls Leipzig "drab" (24 June)? Is it thanks to the Thomaskirche from 1496, where Bach was organist for 27 years, or the Renaissance town hall, one of the largest in Germany, or the Gewandhaus concert hall or Opera House or maybe the new Museum of Fine Arts on Sachsenplatz or the many fine historic buildings, arcades and courtyards that have been beautifully restored since reunification?
Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire
Several correspondents have noted the apparent decline of swifts this year. Here's some good news about birds for a change. We've had sparrows and starlings nesting under our eaves for years, apart from the last two summers, when they disappeared. The sparrows are back and are on to their second brood. Ditto the starlings. Perhaps the swifts will do the same?
Dearth of big bills
Where are the £50 notes? On my recent holiday in France and Italy I found that €50 notes were widely circulated, and notes for €100 were not that rare either. Yet here in the UK we are forced by the cash machines to carry thick wads of £20s and £10s. Is this a plot by the banks to make us use their dratted credit and debit cards?
Margam Park Village, West Glamorgan
Brown vs Berlusconi
Mr Brown should be looking at the recent events in Italy regarding the life style of its Prime Minister. If he would chill out and stop being a dull old dog, he could start winning elections.
George D Lewis
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