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Friday 8 June 2012
Letters: No more reprieves for the euro
To criticise George Soros for stating the obvious, as The Independent did (leading article, 5 June), is absurd, and it really is clutching at straws to suppose the referendum result in Ireland, the mood music of Mr Hollande and the "hint" of greater German flexibility will make any difference.
The euro is a federal currency but without a federal government or federal financial institutions. It was bound sooner or later to encounter problems, particularly as even French and German politicians ignored its budget rules when it suited them, and turned a blind eye to the economic position of Greece when it was admitted to the euro under a fraudulent prospectus. There was no way the euro could withstand an international banking crisis coupled with the growing economic dominance of Far Eastern economies.
The euro part of Europe has now to choose from five difficult options: implement a federal and fiscal union; prevail on Germany to underwrite debtor countries; abandon the euro; restrict the euro to countries with similar economic profiles such as those of northern Europe; or persuade Germany to leave the euro.
What other choices are there? To suggest it only needs "greater flexibility from Germany" is whistling in the dark. With different currencies, Greece or Spain could have devalued. Now they can't. That is the nub of the problem: there is no mechanism for devaluation between countries sharing the same currency. Even if Greece votes for pro-austerity parties that inherent problem remains.
Either the European politicians must agree quickly on policies they find distasteful or the markets will decide for them.
What's this I read? "With the credit default swap rate on five-year Spanish debt hitting a record high..." ("Spain told to get a grip of bank crisis as bailout looms large", 1 June.)
I can't believe my eyes. The "credit default swap rate"? That's simply a gambling indicator, just as William Hill might give you odds on this or that horse winning the Grand National. And what makes it worse is that those holding these gambling chits have an inherent incentive for wanting Spain to go down the tubes. It is then that they will cash in – and the rest of us will have to cough up in order to save both the banks and, this time round, governments too.
What I can't understand is why these and other corrosive financial products still exist. It has been almost four years since the financial world almost blew up in our faces, and we recognised that such products played a major part in the crisis. So why haven't governments (and the EU in Brussels and the IMF in Washington) legislated against them? What have the regulators been doing for the past four years?
Regulating authorities could be excused for not seeing the original crisis coming. But this time round we all know the score, so why have they been sitting on their hands for so long? The answer must surely be that it is not the regulatory authorities that are in control but rather the speculators. This is an unparalleled case of poachers, rather than gamekeepers, running the show.
Scotland leads the way in cutting the harm of drink
The British Society of Gastroenterology is delighted that the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Bill has been passed by Scottish Parliament. This is a tremendous day for those in the healthcare professions who have long fought for minimum unit pricing as one of the fairest and most targeted ways of addressing alcohol-related harm.
We congratulate the Scottish Government. The 50p minimum unit price they have adopted will impact on the heaviest drinkers and those who drink underage, and those who have a binge-drink behaviour, thus saving thousands of lives and improving the overall health of the nation.
It is now important that the Government in Westminster follows Scotland's excellent example and pushes forward with its own plans for minimum unit pricing in England, and has the courage to set the minimum price at 50p rather than the suggested 40p. As well as preventing cross-border trafficking, the health benefits of a minimum 50p are clear. Modelling by the University of Sheffield has shown that it could lead to a 6.7 per cent decrease in alcohol consumption, rather than 2.4 per cent decrease for the 40p level, in turn reducing hospital admissions by about 20,000 in the first year.
The problem of alcohol-related harm has been growing in the UK since 1980 and as clinicians we see the terrible impact that excess alcohol has on our patients and their families. We hope the decisive action taken in Scotland to deal with this devastating problem is replicated across the UK.
Professor Jon Rhodes
Sir Ian Gilmore
Professor Chris Hawkey
Professor Andrew Burroughs
Dr Nick Sheron
British Society of Gastroenterology, London NW1
First it was the French paradox, which suggested that French people lived longer because they drank more wine. Then came the Copenhagen study, which found that people drinking three to five glasses of wine a day had only 51 per cent of the risk of dying prematurely experienced by people who drank no wine at all.
As recently as last year, you reported that the Government were thinking of raising the "safe drinking limits" recommended to the public to bring the UK more into line with countries such as France and Italy.
But now (31 May) you report that "Cutting average daily intake to the equivalent of a half a small glass of wine would prevent almost 4,600 premature deaths a year in England alone, according to a study carried out by University College London."
How could so many people have got it so wrong for so long? And why are the French still living longer than we are?
Comprehensives really can work
In the current grammar school debate I can only state that my children received a broader, deeper education at their comprehensive school than I did at my well-regarded grammar school. Both went on to high-ranking universities.
Looking back on my primary education I often wonder what happened to the children who either weren't allowed to take the 11-plus or failed it, and how much they could have benefited from a truly comprehensive education.
If more parents supported their child's school and inculcated a desire for learning in their children that would see a greater rise in the standards of education than any of the half-baked schemes dreamt up by our political leaders.
If the Labour Party is looking for a radical alternative to secondary education and to resolve the argument about grammar schools, they might consider putting a terminal examination at 14 instead of 16 and then streaming pupils into academic or vocational courses.
As a secondary head, I always felt that the most academic pupils needed a four-year course leading to university entrance uninterrupted by GCSE. This would enable the A-level to be taken in April of the final year and so provide results before application to university. Vocational courses could themselves vary from part academic to purely skills-based, allowing some to cross the divide easily.
Separate schools after 14 would still be divisive. The fundamental problem of parents and society seeing the academic as "superior" to the vocational would still have to be tackled, but I think it would be easier where there is a clear career objective. I think most pupils and parents would eagerly embrace the vocational courses.
Anthony D Wood
Beginning of a historic TV show
I was pleased that your reporter called Seven Up! "the most remarkable documentary series in television history" (28 April). It is gratifying for me as the original creator and director that this film served the purpose for which I conceived it: documenting the lives of children, and thereby pointing up some of the class differences, which Australian Tim Hewatt, then head of World in Action, and I, as a Canadian, found in the England of 1963. But several misstatements in your article regarding Michael Apted's role in the first film in the series need to be addressed.
Your reporter says that Mr Apted "only wishes he had taken a more female-friendly approach when going about the project". But he had no role in "going about the project" other than, as stated later, being a first-time researcher. I chose children for the film. And for the record, I did in fact feature girls in quite a few scenes.
"Apted had originally found his 14 children in three weeks." Gordon McDougall (whose name was unfortunately excised from the credits after I left England) was a researcher on an equal footing with Mr Apted. They both found children for me to make my selection.
But I do I think it's wonderful that Mr Apted has done these follow-up films so that we can see what's happened over the years.
Shigawake, Quebec, Canada
The Queen is safer
Kevin Ellard suggests selecting a president by eliminating all politicians from any ballot (letter, 6 June). His raising the possibility of "President Attenborough" will not frighten many, but has he considered to possibility of "President Clarkson"? I remain pro-monarchy.
Like Elizabeth Oakley (letter, 7 June), I am intrigued to know how the LSO will manage to mime successfully at the Olympic opening ceremony. I will be keeping a close eye on the timpani, who will have to perform miracles to play silently and convincingly. I wish them luck, but it is hard to see how their peerless reputation will not be severely damaged by this inane charade.
West Wittering, West Sussex
The Chancellor hopes to persuade savers to invest in government growth bonds. Your report (6 June) noted the bonds would be used to fund major government infrastructure projects such as toll roads, green energy and house-building. No reference was made to high-speed rail, which must be the biggest such project of all. Surely this is not to suggest that HS2 might not actually be a sound investment?
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire
If Sam Akaki (letter, 4 June) is correct that Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech of 1968 was in response to the arrival of the Ugandan Asians in this country, expelled by the dictator Idi Amin, then Mr Powell was far better at predicting the future than his detractors would have us believe. Amin came to power in 1971.
Bore for England
Dull in Perthshire would like to link up with the US town of Boring (report, 6 June). The Norfolk villages of Little Snoring and Great Snoring would complete an illustrious quartet.
Rise to the issue
To answer John Krispinussen (letter, 6 June), there are indeed a few problems left other than "issues". They are called "challenges".
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