Letters: Now split off the casino banks


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Steve Richards writes (5 July) that change is the air for the Labour Party. May I suggest that Ed Miliband announce that as Prime Minister he would at once bring in a British version of the Glass-Steagall Act, that prohibited market speculation by commercial banks in the US. This would be seen a proper response to the Vickers report, rather than the reluctant, watered-down and delayed proposals put forward by the Coalition.

When I lived in and worked in the US in the 1960s I could forget about runs on the bank, because the 1933 Roosevelt legislation ensured that the local bank where my salary resided could not speculate with my dollars. It also ensured that my local bank would have funds available to offer me a mortgage; it also had funds to support local industry.

Wall Street bankers did not enjoy these restrictions on their freedom to make money using the deposits of their small investors. Already in the 1960s a campaign to repeal the Act was starting. It took more than 25 years and 12 attempts for a right-wing Congress finally to repeal Glass-Steagall in October 1999. I am a scientist, not an economist, but I think there is a strong prima facie case that this repeal led to the spectacular collapse of Lehman Brothers a decade or so later, beginning our current financial woes.

To go for a new version, Miliband would need to admit that Gordon Brown, with his "light touch" approach, may have got it wrong. I think, though, that the electors prefer politicians who learn from their mistakes. The prestige of Roosevelt is palpable, and the history of the 70-plus years of financial stability after the Depression is compelling.

The City bankers would not like this, and we should probably hear the usual noises from Cameron and Osborne and their rich friends about "loss of business". But who, any more, cares very much what the City bankers think?

Professor Gerald Elliott


MPs need to bear in mind that the only way to clean out a cesspit is to dig out all the rubbish and cart it away. You can't clean a cesspit with a packet of wet wipes.

Freda Earl

Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Why is it acceptable for the Government to rig the gilts market through yet more quantitative easing, beggaring thousands of pensioners in the process, and at the same time pillory Bob Diamond for the fact his traders shaved basis points off the price at which they said that Barclays could borrow money? Who has done more damage? Surely time for a judicial enquiry!

Robin J Bulow

London EC4

If Bob Diamond loved Barclays so very much there was no need to ramp up his compensation so much to stop him leaving.

Carol Wilcox

Christchurch, Hampshire

Looking for the elusive Higgs boson

In his article on the Higgs boson and the Cern Large Hadron Collider (5 July), your science editor, Steve Connor, says "massive magnets accelerate two opposing beams of protons". This is a common mistake. The purpose of the magnet system in such a machine is not to accelerate anything.

The main magnets bend the motion of the protons to an approximately circular track around the ring of the machine, and others keep the bunch of particles compact, as they would otherwise diverge and become lost in striking the wall of the vacuum tube in which they travel.

In the 300/400 gev accelerator on whose magnet system I worked many years ago, the vacuum tube was not much bigger than a human hand in cross-section, and since the protons travelled at almost the speed of light during their passage, they would circulate around the 7km ring over 20,000 times in half a second of acceleration, so the margins for error in their path were quite small.

Since the particle velocity changes very little in these "accelerators", the name is a misnomer. The particle energy is increased mainly because their mass increases, in line with Einstein's well-known statement.

Tim Burrett

Wendlebury, Oxfordshire

The hunt for the elusive Higgs boson could have been greatly simplified had they first looked in that drawer in the kitchen cupboard, the one that contains several half-squeezed tubes of glue; a wooden ball about 1cm in diameter; three single shoelaces of different colours; assorted elastic bands and pieces of string; an old army cap badge; various spare bulbs for Christmas tree lights; a Christmas card from Marjorie and John with their new address; odd buttons that have fallen off long-discarded garments; some vaguely key-shaped pieces of metal and various installation instructions for electrical appliances.

The particle would have been in there somewhere, although probably not in its original packaging.

Terry Nixon

Wetherby, West Yorkshire

Too old for the IT industry

I read with wry amusement the article (30 June) bemoaning lack of computing expertise. I note the emphasis on being unable to recruit sufficient graduates. What about older workers? It is probably the most ageist profession there is. I fell out of IT after 22 years at the age of 48 and could not find further work in spite of having, among other responsible tasks, managed databases holding assets of £15bn.

In all those years, in some 18 different organisations, I have known only one person over 50 in IT doing roughly the same sort of work – cutting code, not management. Are we oldies too slow or expensive or is it because we have seen it all and no longer put up with the bullshit?

I have been out of IT for 10 years now, retrained as an electrician, but would be willing to give it another go if either of your two whingeing case studies would give me a job.

Mike Joseph

Chipperfield, Hertfordshire

How can Susan Alexander (letter, 5 July) say that we do not recognise the value of age and experience? It is true that our political masters lack gravitas, but, where it is a matter of real consequence, we know what is good for us.

Both Roy Hodgson and Harry Redknapp are senior citizens and have a reasonably good idea of what is required of an English football manager; we certainly would not tolerate infantilisation there!

David Hindmarsh


Bombing with little precision

Chris Hunt (letter, 4 July) peddles many of the myths about area and precision bombing during the Second World War.

The RAF discovered in 1940 that daylight bombing raids produced a casualty rate of about one-third and made the obvious decision to attack at night. Even so, casualty rates of 5 per cent meant that a crew was unlikely to survive an operational tour of 30 missions. When the Americans started daylight bombing in 1942 their casualty rates were equally unacceptable, and became feasible only once air superiority was gained in 1944.

In 1941 the RAF commissioned the Butt report, which examined target photographs and found that only one in five bombs dropped on Germany fell within five miles of the aiming point. With the technology available in the 1940s no air force was capable of precision bombing.

Steve Travis


Pilots need a reality check

The Air France crash was a fully recoverable situation, and the pilots' inability to deal with it shows how bad pilot training has become ("Final verdict on Air France 447: sensors left pilots helpless", 6 July).

These pilots failed to diagnose what the problem was. For three full minutes, they had the nose pointing at the stars like some crazed fighter aircraft. This was well beyond the design capability of any passenger aircraft, and utterly beyond any normal flight procedures – and yet they still failed to recognise that this was incorrect, and pulled back on the stick some more.

More new-generation pilots need to do a three-week glider course, where they will learn some stick and rudder skills, rather than playing around with computers.

Capt Rod Elliot

Northwich, Cheshire

Fragments of the left

I remember the founding conference of the Communist Party of Britain in 1988 (letter, 5 July). The CPB was a breakaway party from the old Communist Party of Great Britain, which changed its name to Democratic Left in 1991 and sank without trace.

The CPB was far from being the first breakaway . The hardline Stalinist New Communist Party broken away in 1977 – and still exists.

I would suggest that the lack of media coverage for the CPB by comparison with the BNP is due to the BNP being more exciting "copy" and contesting and even winning elections, something the CPB very seldom does. The ball is therefore in their court to some extent.

Mark Taha

London SE26

In brief...

The harm caused by our drug laws

If Kenneth Clarke thinks that the drug laws have a deterrent effect on drug use, he must surely wonder why "Britain is losing the war on drugs" (report, 4 July). That he thinks it is a good thing to criminalise "youngsters who start experimenting" is simply horrifying. Young people like doing dangerous things, especially if they are forbidden and fun. To disable them for the whole of their life, which is what a criminal record does, is one of the greatest harms caused by our drug laws.

Hope Humphreys

Creech St Michael, Somerset

Wet summer, warm winter

Jo Frith suggests the need for a summer fuel allowance (letter, 5 July). Please be careful. Politicians are more likely to say that if there is no difference between summer and winter we no longer need the winter allowance.

Pat Johnston

Fourstones, Northumberland

Further to your Sidmouth reader's enquiry about the summer fuel allowance, we in the North-west are wondering when the Government will issue us with raincoats, wellington boots and extra large umbrellas.

Ann Booth

Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire

UK and Europe

The first section of Ben Chu's article (3 July) misses a fundamental point. The economies of Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are very different from the UK's. Our industries would pose a far greater competitive threat to the other EU members. That being so, the other EU members would be ill-advised to grant to the UK the same privileges as those granted to those three countries.

We cannot expect to have our cake and eat it. Out of the EU should mean out – no half measures. That might give the eurosceptics pause for thought.

Christopher Yaxley


Painful doubts

Julie Harrison (letters, 5 July) raises an excellent point that both males and females enjoy masochistic bed-play. Feminists such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Opinion, 2 July, commenting on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey) frequently wring their hands and furrow their brows over the question, "Why is this the case?". One wonders why "Because it's fun" is not a sufficient answer.

Bethany George-Brown