Each day I become more flabbergasted by the ineptitude and ignorance of our current political leaders. I can only assume it is their privileged backgrounds and comfortable insulation from the pressures of everyday life that put them so completely out of touch (“Middle-class children will be worse off than their parents”, 14 October).
Ask any middle-class parent about their prime concerns and you will get the same reply. Children emerging from university with massive debts, little chance of getting a decent job (certainly not one that will enable the debts to be cleared before they are middle-aged) and virtually zero chance of getting on to the bottom rung of the housing ladder. How can our political leaders be so blind that they need a government commission to spell this out ?
And what will be the reaction? Discussion (already ongoing) about possibly even higher fees for the better universities; Osborne creating another housing bubble (a cynical attempt to buy votes on the back of increased house values?) despite empirical evidence that this is likely to end in disaster; and more measures to penalise young adults for not finding work (even though the jobs don’t exist).
No wonder on the same page you report that almost half of adults suffer from anxiety. Most of us can see the country is going to hell in a hand-cart – why can’t the politicians see this too?
Alex Taylor, London
Should we trust the MI5 spooks?
Chris Blackhurst asks who is he to disbelieve the security services (14 October). The answer is simple: he is a journalist who knows that governments and their security agencies have a long and ignominious record of using “national security” as a way to cover up incompetence, malfeasance and downright criminal behaviour.
He asks where the story is in the Snowden revelations. The story is that the US National Security Agency has conspired with the designers and manufacturers of encryption and telecommunication products, software and hardware, to have secret “back doors” inserted into them so that they can read people’s communications.
This has weakened these products to the extent that they cannot now be trusted, and the public have the right to know what risks they face because their security systems have been secretly compromised.
It would be naive to believe that there is no chance that criminals or hostile governments could ever find out how to exploit the weaknesses which the NSA have designed into encryption software, mobile phones, telephone switches etc.
We know that government agencies indulge in industrial espionage for the benefit of commercial companies; we know that at least one prime minister has had his mobile phone hacked (but not by whom), and we know that there is not one surveillance technology which has not at some time been misused by governments to infringe civil rights.
Maybe a public debate on all of this would result in people being quite happy with a situation analogous to security organisations having door lock makers provide them with skeleton keys so that they could let themselves into any house whenever they liked. And maybe it would not.
Mike Perry, Ickenham, Middlesex
Andrew Parker, head of MI5, may well be correct in stating that the damage from Edward Snowden’s revelations is great, but he would say that, wouldn’t he? The public has no way of knowing.
MI5 occupies a prominent position in the demonology of the left and centre precisely because there has never been any clarity about its operations, Peter Wright, Clockwork Orange and Cathy Massiter’s revelations being only some of the available material. Its lack of scrutiny has resulted in operations in Ulster about which there is still considerable turbidity, and a general view of the agency being populated by Cold Warriors, Young Turks “blind in the right eye” and an unsavoury collection of ex-Army and ex-police “burgling and bugging their way across London”.
There has never been worthwhile Parliamentary scrutiny of its operations, the Commons committee being either derelict in their duties of oversight or infatuated with the idea of being in possession of secret knowledge.
What Mr Parker and other spy chiefs are complaining about is being caught doing something about which there has never been a public debate. Until he starts to be more open he can never be trusted, and it is naive of him to expect otherwise.
Adam Walker, Durham
Not just a school for the rich
I am writing in response to articles in national newspapers on 1 October, concerning a presentation made by Dr Tim Hands, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference.
I have been a headmaster at two independent boys’ schools in Australia, so I am aware of the unique difficulties that exist in leading a private independent school. I am concerned however as to the merits of attacking publicly a good state school such as The London Oratory School as a means of defence of private schooling.
To suggest that the school’s population derives from neighbouring “houses reportedly on sale for millions of pounds” is misleading. The school is situated in Fulham; but its pan-London catchment means that only 7 per cent of local residents attend the school, with a number of those from neighbouring Peabody and Guinness estates.
Similarly, whilst the school is comprehensive in regard to ability, it is not comprehensive in regard to Catholic practice, as priority is given to those families with established practice. In that respect the proportion of pupils eligible for free lunches is representative of the population it draws from and not of its local authority.
David McFadden, Headmaster, The London Oratory School, London SW6
Why pick on badgers?
Reports about bovine TB usually note that cattle share this disease with “wild animals” and not just “badgers”. This led me to do some brief research of vets’ sites on the web. This showed that the organism has been isolated in a wide range of farmed and wild species, including: deer, pigs, sheep, bison, cameloids (llama), horses, dogs, cats, rats and rabbits. Cats drink milk and share farmyards with cattle and there are more than 7 million in UK. Rats do the same and there are more than 60 million. Rabbits can also carry the disease. My garden in Somerset hosts at least 20 every night. Why are we just culling badgers?
Mick Humphreys, Taunton, Somerset
The badgers have been moving the goal posts. Oh no! The cunning devils, helped no doubt by Mole and Ratty. Is Owen Paterson aspiring to the mantle of Kenneth Grahame?
Michael Watson, Norwich
Crime Agency comes to call
Am I naive, or is the photograph of the new National Crime Agency in action on its opening day somewhat alarming (8 October). It shows four masked NCA operatives wearing goggled balaclavas, and toting machine guns and pistols, about to enter the house of a suspect.
What was this heinous crime? Armed robbery, murder, a bomb factory? No, the targets of this “Thunderbirds Swat Team” were suspected of having applied for passports and driving licences using stolen identities. I remember a time when such activities would have been met with a knock at the door and a polite “Ello, ello, ello, who’s been a naughty boy then?”
And they still say the innocent have nothing to fear. Let’s hope they’ve got the right address.
Alan Collinson, Rhos on Sea, North Wales
Public taste for prurience
Ian Richards (letter, 14 October) is right to “differentiate between the investigative journalism that is required to hold those in high office to account, and the prurient and intrusive coverage of the high-profile bereaved, such as the Dowlers, or the lazy vilification of unconventional murder suspects like Christopher Jefferies”.
Trouble is, while the public buys those titles that publish the “prurient and intrusive” stuff – linked to readers’ obsession with “celebrities” – one can hardly blame the papers. It’s a great circulation booster. The public needs to change. But it won’t.
Garry Humphreys, London N13
The Bard on the BBC
Like David Lister (The Week in Arts, 12 October), I believe that classic drama should be on BBC TV; but I am not convinced that the right way to do this is to broadcast live stage performances, which are created to be seen in theatres.
When Laurence Olivier directed three Shakespeare films, he did not simply film stage performances, he thought through the plays in cinematic terms. In 1981, Antony and Cleopatra was directed for the BBC by Jonathan Miller; this was part of a project known in the press as the Bardathon: every single play of Shakespeare was produced on TV in special productions. It is that kind of boldness which is needed now.
John Dakinm, Dunstable, Bedfordshire
Heritage in peril
The project to survey all heritage buildings at risk is commendable (10 October), and it is good to see a resumption of an initiative that began as long ago as 1986; but who will then act to stop the rot in the properties identified?
English Heritage is shortly to be split up, and the local authorities with the necessary legal powers have lost one-third of their heritage experts in the past seven years. Survey is all very well, but useless without, where necessary, the appropriately resourced statutory action.
Bob Kindred, Ipswich, Suffolk
Now, at last, we know what it is to be English: it’s just a matter of residence and how you feel (Sports, Comment, 10 October). Any hint of genetics, linguistics or culture is to be deemed both unforgivably racist and xenophobic.
Now that’s sorted out perhaps we can move on to the further problem of whether there is in fact such an entity as “England”, other than as a simulacrum or extension of the international travel hub which is Heathrow.
Dominic Kirkham, Manchester
Professor Peter Higgs: the Swedes give him the Nobel. We give him the CBE (Leading article, 8 October).
Robert Davies, London SE3