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Thursday 23 October 2008
Letters: Murder of Gayle Williams
What if Afghans don't want our values?
While my heart goes out to the family of Gayle Williams, the murdered aid worker in Kabul, I find myself asking whether she and others performing similar aid roles should be there at all.
Britain is engaged in an armed conflict in Afghanistan, a traditional Islamic country, with a patriarchal culture where women play a mainly home-centred supportive role to their menfolk. Female aid workers (particularly Christian female aid workers) will be perceived as a threat to Afghan traditions.
As one who has travelled extensively in the Middle East, I fear that there is a real disconnect in our understanding of fundamental differences between our culture and belief system and those of the Muslim world. For most people I have met from Damascus to Oman to Lebanon, their beliefs are a constant presence, guiding even the simplest tasks. Prayer five times a day is the norm, unlike Britain, where a minority attend church. It shouldn't be our role to try to export our traditions or beliefs, however laudable the reason.
It's too easy for us in a wealthy, comfortable country to find ways to improve, help or impose our values on others who might not welcome us. I suggest first formally disconnecting the link between aid efforts and the church, otherwise this accusation is too easy to make. The uncomfortable truth is that many nations don't want (or aren't ready for) democracy, or don't have (or don't want) internet access. We in the West still cannot comprehend why this should be. In Afghanistan, the promotion of schooling for girls, whilst perfectly normal to us, will be a radical step and one best carried out from within.
We can learn much from other countries if only we could learn to stop thinking that we have solutions to their problems just because we have the resources and people who are prepared to do it.
The crony clique that runs Britain
Is it just me or do others also find that British politics is best summed up by Nathaniel Rothschild (rich financier from the well-known banking dynasty, and member of Oxford's notorious Bullingdon Club) meeting his good friends George Osborne (Shadow Chancellor, member of Bullingdon Club and son of a baronet) and Lord Mandelson (Labour cabinet minister, alumnus of Oxford, and grandson of Baron Morrison) on the luxury yacht of Russia's richest man off Corfu?
Why do we bother having democratic elections when we are ruled, as we always have been, by a sleazy clique of privileged public school/Oxbridge money-grabbers? The reek of cronyism and nepotism that surrounds British politics is overpowering. The obscenely greedy credit-crunch bankers (still demanding their vast bonuses despite their spectacular failures, and which the taxpayer suckers will have to pay) were green-lighted all the way by our venal political class, always with one eye on their next yachting excursion.
I for one won't be voting for any of these people. Isn't it time we were offered a new political dispensation? Can government of the people, by the people, for the people ever be advanced on the yachts of the super-rich of foreign powers? Just how gullible are we, the dumb electorate, the ultimate confederacy of dunces, being fleeced every day by our "betters"?
Newcastle upon Tyne
For repeating what Peter Mandelson had said off-the-record, George Osborne was accused of bad manners by Nathaniel Rothschild. He broke a confidence for political gain. It matters little now whether or not he tried to solicit a donation from Deripaska, or was set up, because whatever the outcome the electorate will see him as untrustworthy and no match for Labour's "Prince of Darkness".
David Cameron has given Osborne his full backing. I take that to mean that the Shadow Chancellor's "resignation" is imminent – some time in the next few days, or about 10 minutes after the first unfavourable opinion poll is announced.
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Here we go again. I do not care whether George Osborne did or did not try to get money out of a Russian billionaire. The real problem is that political parties should be funded by the state and the state alone, apart from subscriptions from members, which should have an upper ceiling.
The trouble is that the electorate in Britain want their government on the cheap. That is a recipe for corruption of one kind or another. At the very least it gives too much power to rich individuals to influence policy. Parliament must act to sort this mess out once and for all; if they do not it will go on happening.
Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire
The media, including this newspaper, are referring to the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska's boat as a yacht. Where are the sails? Wouldn't "gin-palace motorcruiser" be a more apposite appellation?
Time for a hard look at pensions
I must take issue with Chris Payne (20 October) about public sector pensions. I was a chartered civil engineer who left a well-paid local government appointment in my thirties to enter the private sector.
I can assure him that the salaries paid to my people did not exceed those in similar appointments in the public sector and often were far less. Share options were only available to senior staff and expenses were paid to recompense out-of-pocket expenditure and not to bolster one's salary.
Many of the colleagues I left behind in local government went on to earn substantial salaries in senior appointments and are now retired on attractive index-linked pensions.
For me the job satisfaction in the private sector at the time far outweighed the long-term benefits that I could have had by remaining in the public sector, but as we enter another recession and investments are struggling, we are seeing a privileged sector of society wrongly hiding behind the illusion that the private sector is made up of "fat cats".
We have all worked hard for our pensions and also paid into pension schemes for decades, but as the day of final-pay schemes in the private sector is over, it is time that the public sector also looked hard at a benefit that can only be supported by the taxpayer.
Neither David Bailey nor Gail Cartmail (letters, 21 October) seems willing to consider the opposite point of view.
Gail Cartmail's point, regarding the "self-funding" of pensions, is disingenuous. Both the employee and employer contributions ultimately derive from payments made by the taxpayer. Therefore the taxpayer has a legitimate concern about the level and the terms of public-sector pensioners.
David Bailey sneers at the economic knowledge of your previous correspondent Chris Payne. Unfortunately he then reveals his own lack of economic understanding, concerning the nature of "funded" pensions. All pensions, whether funded or not, have to be paid for out of current production. The only difference is that "funded" pensions are a claim on the stream of income going to profits and interest payments, while public-sector pensions stem from the stream going into taxes.
The key point is that we need a sensible public discussion on both the level of public pensions – in particular, in my view, on whether the current full indexation terms should be limited to, say, the first £100-200 per week, with more discretion over increases to those with higher pensions – and on the age at which entitlements earned from now on should become available for all public-sector employees, not just the new entrants to public service.
No need to rebuild problem estate
You report that the Aylesbury estate in south London is to be given a £2.4bn redevelopment for 7,500 residents (20 October). Might I suggest an alternative?
The cost per person of that is £320,000 or £480,000 per house being erected instead. I live in a two-bedroom terrace in Bath valued at roughly £170,000. Why not give me and those like me the money to buy myself a place closer to work in Bristol but in a picturesque Cotswold village. A resident of Aylesbury estate could then move into my home in Bath, which does not feature in your other article of the day on unemployment blackspots.
Thus I would be more than happy with my life and those moved under this scheme would find themselves with a home of their own and high prospects of employment.
For the past 35 years I have painted pictures of the Aylesbury estate, among others in south -east London. It is not the architecture as such but the organisation surrounding these estates that always struggles.
Lack of any sort of concierge system, insufficient maintenance, under-funded support structures, coupled with social problems such as unemployment, bored children bunking off school etc are the root cause. Many, many families living on these estates fight a valiant battle against the odds; you can tell that by looking, as I do when I am out drawing or making notes, at the careful personal tending of individual flats, the elaborate curtains, the plants on the balconies, the energetic window cleaning.
Pulling that all down and rebuilding, at vast public expense, won't change anything unless the basic problems mentioned above are addressed.
Pryce's Ghost still stalks the stage
I played Marcellus to Jonathan Pryce's Hamlet (Royal Court, 1980), referred to by Tom Sutcliffe (21 October). Both I and Horatio (Jarlath Conroy) listened to the entire ghost scene at every performance. At no time did we ever hear the slightest giggle from the audience
Ralph Fiennes will, no doubt, master his Oedipus scream effect, but such things take time. In the meantime I'm sure we all wish him well. Perhaps it might help not to think of Olivier's famous scream in the same role (of which he may have heard) – an exercise analogous to thinking of football at certain moments during sex.
Why Hamilton wins
James Lawton neglected an important point when questioning the achievements of Lewis Hamilton (21 October). If his superiority is attributable largely to a faster car, why was his McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen averaging roughly a second per lap slower over the first half of the Shanghai Formula 1? And why does Heikki have little more than half as many championship points? Has he opted for diesel?
St Ives, Cornwall
Danger in the dark
In rejecting Julian Hall's argument against the move to GMT, Pat Gibson (letter, 22 October) makes the common mistake of focusing upon the safety of children going to school in the dark. UK time should be organised so that the limited winter daylight available gives light to the latter part of the day, when people (children and adults) are fatigued and therefore prone to errors and accidents. Studies estimate that remaining on BST over the winter months would save 100 lives a year.
Return to prudence
No doubt because of the banking crisis, my bank has just halved my (rarely used) overdraft limit to "help protect us and our customers from overcommitment". However, they had also recently written to me to advise that I was pre-approved for their gold credit card, with a limit in excess of double my revised overdraft limit. The card arrived today, so with overdraft and credit card added together, my credit limit is now over 50 per cent higher than it was. Good, this credit crunch, isn't it?
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Human rights denied
The Law Lords' ruling against the Chagos Islanders, fighting for the right to return to the islands from which they were evicted, is deeply disappointing. Although one is no longer surprised by a Labour government trampling on human rights (Harold Wilson's regime started the eviction process, after all), it is still quite sickening to listen to David Miliband and Gordon Brown condemning the acts of other regimes while they continue to deny the Chagossians their basic human rights. The struggle to obtain justice for the Chagossians will continue, and justice will eventually be done.
Not nearly enough
The Government plans to keep records of our phone calls, emails, internet sites visited and text messages because it is vital, according the Home Secretary, to prevent "further terrorist atrocities". This obviously does not go far enough. I think all the letters that we post should be opened, scrutinised and censored if necessary; later on we should be all made to carry documents proving who we are, where we are going and permission to be out after dark. After all, if it saves lives it has got to worth it.
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