Letters: No British vote in election of a new pope


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These letters are published in the Thursday 14 March 2013 edition of The Independent

No British vote in papal election

Am I the only Catholic in Britain to be puzzled and slighted by the fact that the conclave in Rome did not include any British representative? Admittedly, Cardinal O’Brien was to have attended until his resignation, but his authority was based in Scotland. No English or Welsh cardinals have been appointed.

Archbishop Nichols of Westminster has now been in post for a number of years, but there is no sign of him being made a cardinal, unlike all his predecessors in my lifetime.

This is all the more galling when looking at the number of cardinals from other European countries: Belgium 1, Germany 4, Bosnia Herzegovina 1, Spain 3, Austria 1, Italy 9, Portugal 1, France 3,  Croatia 1, Hungary 1, Poland 2, Ireland 1, Czech Republic 1, Netherlands 1. These figures are misleading in themselves, as quite a large number of Cardinals appointed represent organisations within the church rather than specific geographical locations, and many of their names look as though they come from European countries, often Italy.

The rights and wrongs of this situation should be a matter for debate within the church after the new Pope’s election. I am sure that many good and faithful Catholics share my puzzlement and disappointment that our church could not participate in this important process.

Ronald Coia, Wynyard, Stockton-on-Tees

Cap pay-day  loan interest

Discussion of the pay-day loan scandal seems to assume that the main issue is that companies are being “irresponsible” in their lending, as if it were somehow responsible to charge ruinous rates of interest as long as those borrowing can be shown to “afford” it.

But people who turn to such services will never be able to afford it, which is why they are using them in the first place.

Loan companies target people who are desperate. That’s how they can get away with charging such high rates; it’s the free market in operation. It’s not irresponsible for companies to want to earn as much money as they can, but when the victims of such operations are inevitably the most vulnerable, it is irresponsible to allow them to get away with routinely charging several thousand per cent APR on short-term loans.

Wonga’s website, for example, openly admits that their “representative APR” is 4,214 per cent. That’s 42 times the amount loaned.

Just as with the rest of the financial industry, pay-day loan companies have clearly demonstrated that they cannot be expected to behave “responsibly”.

Regulation is what is required, and that is the responsibility of government. In the Middle Ages, when usury was frowned on, the Church declared that interest charged on money lent out should not exceed 1 per cent per month (or 12.7 per cent APR). That still seems like a reasonable yardstick for a cap on short-term loans, even now.

Simon Prentis, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Honour this medical pioneer

Friday 15 March will be the bicentenary of the birth of John Snow, MD.

He was born in York in humble circumstances but before his untimely death in 1858 he had become the world’s first specialist anaesthetist. Within the first three months of 1847, following the introduction of general anaesthesia, he researched the pharmacology and physical chemistry of ether, and established the practice of general anaesthesia on scientific principles.

He is perhaps better known to the public for his intervention in the outbreak of cholera linked to the Broad Street pump in Soho. He showed cholera was a preventable waterborne disease, though his ideas were not accepted in his lifetime. For his contributions towards mankind’s welfare he is revered by anaesthetists and by epidemiologists.

He is recognised worldwide for these efforts in furthering human wellbeing. Would it be too much to suggest that he should occupy the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square?

Dr Adrian Padfield, Sheffield

Let teenagers take the train

I couldn’t agree more with your anonymous correspondent of 12 March about parents who keep their teenage children off public transport.

Living in London I find it ridiculous to hear that children are driven to university open days or interviews at Liverpool, York, Southampton or Exeter by parents.  When I have suggested that all these destinations are easily reached by train I hear that “yes but it’s good for him to have someone to chat with afterwards”, or “yes but he doesn’t know how to get to the university from the station.”

I much prefer the experience of my neighbour’s son who, on his way home from a trip to Cambridge by train mistook King’s Lynn for King’s Cross. When he realised what had happened he simply asked someone and was redirected on to the right train.

Do universities ask potential undergraduates how they travelled to their interviews? If so I would immediately mark down anyone who got a lift from their parents.  

Shirley Pritchard, London SW19

The fame of the Falklands

John Scase (letters, 12 March) doubts if “one in 10,000 Britons had even heard” of the Falkland Islands in 1981. If he was one of the 9,999 ignoramuses, he was obviously not a stamp collector. Among schoolboy philatelists 30 or more years ago, Falkland stamps bearing the head of the UK monarch were attractive and highly collectable.

Alan Bunting, Harpenden, Hertfordshire

I see that your reporter Cahal Milmo is searching for the three Falkland Islanders who voted to leave the UK. My guess is that it was three dissident local penguins.

Ivor Yeloff, Norwich

If anything positive is to emerge from the media attention that has accompanied Chris Huhne’s and Vicky Pryce’s fall from grace, it must surely be a wider recognition that prison – except where necessary for the protection of society – remains an anachronistic, expensive, wasteful and frequently counterproductive option for which radical reform is long overdue.

The four supposed purposes of prison – retribution, incapacitation, rehabilitation and deterrence – are, in most cases, far better served in other ways. If, at a time of unprecedented social, economic and environmental crises, incarceration is the best society can come up with to utilise the exceptional talents of Huhne and Pryce, then it is small wonder that our predicament is steadily worsening.

With climate change an existential threat to civilisation, and a growing number of countries joining the ranks of failed states, surely a year’s service in any of the leading charitable organisations working on these fronts would have been a far more beneficial outcome than their containment in Victorian-era prisons, answering to similarly historic deficiencies in our correctional system.

Nigel Tuersley, Tisbury, Wiltshire

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown makes some fair comments in her defence of Vicky Pryce when she says men still want to “have it all” (Voices, 11 March), but she misses half of the story: the half when married women go off with a new man and expect to “have it all”, in particular the house and kids.

My wife left me for a younger man, and said she wanted to remain living with our child in our family home. I judged that it was in the child’s best interests to stay in the home with me, so told my wife that if she wanted to leave a largely well functioning marriage to have a new relationship, I couldn’t stop her, but that she would have to let me provide our child’s stable home.

My ex has plenty of access, but the child lives with me. The shock and horror I get when I tell people this is disconcerting, and many enlightened folk are clearly suppressing an inner instinct to believe children should be more with their mum than their dad. Yet why? I can meet all the child’s central needs, and it was my ex who walked out with no reason other than middle-aged boredom. Why should it be different because it was the woman who walked out?

It’s when Yasmin can recognise this part of the problem that her words will really ring true.

Name and Address supplied

Names for the middle class

Alan Bellis requests a suitable descriptor for the impoverished “middle classes” (letter, 13 March). I am reminded of attending a cheese and wine party (do they still exist?) when I was a young, recently appointed university lecturer, and the wife of a similar appointee described us as the “nouveau poor” – all the aspirations but none of the money to sustain them.

Tom Simpson, Bristol

May I suggest to Alan Bellis that he give up on his effort to find a precise sociological definition of “middle class”. It has come to be nothing more than a catch-all phrase used by lazy journalists to describe anyone whose political views or lifestyle they disapprove of. It is usually accompanied by a sneer, even though the users, in terms of income and social status, would probably be defined as middle class themselves.

Reg Sheppard, Nanstallon, Cornwall

Still tugging their forelocks

Further to Les Graham’s “disillusioned” letter (13 March), the royal edition of Countryfile brought to my mind the book published in 1977 by Howard (now Sir Howard) Newby. In The Deferential Worker he indicated that changes in the rural way of life were destroying the forelock-tugging stereotype of the English farm labourer.

However, deference continues to run right through rural society, as shown by the forelock tugging in Sunday’s programme. I am not a republican but this display pushed me further in that direction. Perhaps it is time for a new book: The Deferential Television Presenter.

Roger Smith, Ipswich

Local blizzard

“Snow brings UK to a standstill” (headline, 13 March). Really? Nothing moving in Belfast, Edinburgh or Cardiff? And this part of England is moving normally. I presume that UK once again means London and the South-east for you lot down there in that small corner of the UK.

Ian K Watson, Carlisle

Keep lurching

“Lurching” (Letters 13 March)? “Presenting different views” would be better – keep it up! That’s why I read The Independent.

Christina Jones, Retford, Nottinghamshire