Letters: Older men

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The Independent Online

Older people out of power

Michael Brown, as is appropriate for someone of his advanced age, misses out several vital points in his vigorous support of older political leaders (Opinion, 28 September).

First, he assumes that with age comes wisdom. This is untrue, as shown by Heath, Thatcher, Foot, Brown and many other elder statesmen who went farther and farther off the rails the older they got. Second, he assumes that age is a mechanism whereby ability finally outstrips ambition. Given the long string of mostly incompetent older ex-party leaders and current MPs, this is also demonstrably untrue.

Finally, he forgets that by and large all three leaders have been chosen by ordinary party members and unionists rather than their blinkered peers in the Commons, and the public mood is for a clear-out of dried-up dead wood.

Politics these days, unlike the Civil Service, is a meritocracy based on competence and electability, not a polite queue where chaps get promoted for years of service and being "sound". As a result, for the first time in a long time, politics is interesting and this has to be a good thing.

Paul Harper (aged 50)

London E15

I enjoyed Michael Bywater's article on older men (27 September). Sadly, being older and wanting to work is a serious matter. Employers, even those charities and organisations created to care for the elderly, do not like hiring people more than 15 years older than the youngest in their workplace.

Older people have not just more experience and knowhow in getting a task completed, they have a better appreciation of the work ethic. Their presence in a young team is therefore seen as potentially disruptive. So, perversely, employers ignore the growing army of older people willing to work and instead hire younger people who lack experience, productivity and tenacity.

Mike Abbott

London W4

Congratulations on Michael Bywater's article in defence of the older man. It is sad that so-called women's writers feel that they have to lash out at various groups of men. I thought that the point of feminism was for everyone to be treated equally and respectfully.

As a 46-year-old woman very happily married to a 72-year-old man, I can confirm Michael's view of older men as being comfortable with themselves, interested in others and the world around them, knowledgeable, self-reliant and, unfailingly witty and amusing. Far from them being surplus to requirements, the only thing redundant is the outdated man-hating.

Ali Davidson

Dalry, North Ayrshire

Further to the varied correspondence regarding the relative nature of time, can someone please explain to me why time speeds up as one gets older – is it simply due to the gravitational effect of being on the downhill side of life ?

Adrian Canale-Parola

Rugby, Warwickshire

Why we need our aircraft carriers

David Applegate (letter, 16 September) is ill-informed on aircraft carriers.

In modern operations, the support required is small and depends on the threat. One escort and supply ship are routinely sufficient.

Compare this investment with the acres of vulnerable infrastructure in the UK's operating bases in Basra, Lashkar Gar, and Sangin. Unlike these exposed bases, carriers are immune to cheap mortars, IEDs, and suicide terrorists. The last serviceman killed as a result of enemy action in a British carrier was in 1945, whereas the death toll on Britain's Iraq and Afghanistan land bases continues to mount, even now.

The modern carrier, properly equipped, has a radius of action that allows it to attack targets many hundreds of miles away. The Americans understand this strategic capability and almost all their close air support operations in Afghanistan are from carriers in the Indian Ocean.

As well as enabling us to project UK power worldwide without getting our hands trapped in strategic mangles, the new carriers will allow us to patrol our territorial waters and exclusive economic zones in depth, defend our overseas territories, and provide cover for the vital supplies of food and energy on which our island's security critically depends.

Before pontificating on carriers, it is as well to refer both to the realities of experience and to the experts, the Royal Navy and its Fleet Air Arm, who are this country's carrier professionals.

Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward

Admiral Sir Michael Layard

Rear Admiral Jeremy Larken

Commodore Neill Thomas

Commodore Steven Jermy

Captain Michael Clapp

Commander Nigel Ward

Commander Tim Gedge

Totnes, Devon

So, who got us into this mess?

Chris Mullin doesn't want Labour tarnished with responsibility for the current catastrophic mess the country is in (Opinion, 25 September).

Thank goodness he wasn't part of the Labour party that began running budget deficits at the top of the boom and then redefined the economic cycle to justify shovelling money into an overheated system. And surely he wasn't associated with a certain Gordon Brown, who bored Europe senseless telling them how wonderful "light touch"" control of the City was.

Gordon has finally had his gnawed fingers wrenched off the doorframe of No 10 but leaves the economy a drifting hulk after a decade of unparalleled mismanagement.

David Hart

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

There seems to be something approaching consensus from your commentators that the middle-class vote lost to the Labour Party can be reclaimed only by tracking right. I left the Labour Party after some 20 years because Blair made it indistinguishable from the Tory Party. Had I wanted to vote Tory, that's how I would have voted.

My middle-class vote will be reclaimed for Labour when they start acting like the Labour Party: internationalist, socialist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist. Those things that Blair disliked so much. Principles.

Chris Lilly

London E14

Ed Miliband is being urged to cleave to the centre, but the centrists are the problem.

They are cheerleaders for the invasion and occupation of Islamic countries, support a sham two-state solution for the Holy Land, tolerate mass immigration, favour Turkish membership of the EU, subscribe to the bonus cult, worship business leaders, indulge in off-the-balance-sheet financing such as PFI, and see nothing wrong with tax-privileged £1.8m pension pots, even though a penurious, means-tested old age awaits too many Britishers.

Ed Miliband would be well advised to widen his political horizon to encompass both the non-Marxist left and traditional conservatism.

Yugo Kovach

Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Oh no, IMF likes the Coalition

For decades now the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been peddling neo-liberal, free-market, mumbo-jumbo across the world.

Like all vendors of snake-oil it promises one solution for all complaints. Its miracle cure is the unrestrained free market. The IMF hates public service and worships private profit. It demands cuts, cuts and more cuts in countries throughout the third world. It leaves behind devastated public services for the majority and high profits for a tiny minority. It creates misery on an industrial scale and not even the calamity of the past two years, not even the blatant failure of the free market, can shake its devotion to the discredited capitalist system.

So when the IMF says the UK economy is "on the mend" and backs the Coalition Government's plans to cut spending it should be clear that the cuts are going to be poison for the vast majority of working people. In securing the IMF' approval the Con-Dems have just got the thumbs-up from the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse.

Sasha Simic

London N16

Did I understand this correctly? The Bank of England wants us, the taxpayer, to stop saving and start spending, while the Government has to stop spending and start saving? Because this way we'll keep ourselves out of a double-dip recession. Sadly, I don't want any cheap plastic tat from China. Does this make me a traitor to my nation?

Manda Scott

Clungunford, Shropshire

Given the internal divisions that characterised so much of Labour's reign (long suspected, always denied but now confirmed in various memoirs), the chances of a successful coalition with the Lib Dems (and Nats, Unionists etc) never looked rosy. As a lifelong Liberal and Lib Dem, I welcome the Coalition and trust our team to handle the cuts in the least worst way possible .

Undoubtedly, the coming cuts will lead to the "unfair" loss of many council seats, but I suspect that, as previous Labour policies are clearly the main cause of the cuts, the losses will be spread across all parties.

Andrew Whyte

Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Cable heralds a new economy

All credit to to Vince Cable for challenging out-of-touch bankers, calling into question the credibility of capitalism, and responding to false claims about Marxism. A new generation of co-operative and social entrepreneurs have been laying the foundations for a new economic system for at least 30 years. These are starting to transform local and regional economies, and it is now only a matter of time before they start to transform national and international economies.

New social and financial institutions are starting to change the social norms for investing and trading, both locally and internationally, and within a generation these will challenge both capitalist and state-socialist forms of socio-economic development.

So, Vince Cable is not alone. Nor does he need to apologise to the CBI. He is among many people entering a brave new world, joining an intellectual alliance in support of a new type of entrepreneurship that develops a social (rather than a private or public) economy. Social and community co-operatives, fair-trade organisations, community-interest companies, venture philanthropists and social investors are working together in a broad alliance to grow enterprises while the private and public sectors decline.

The CBI can whinge all it likes, but it is time for it to accept that capitalist business models are as much in decline as state welfare models.

Dr Rory Ridley-Duff

Sheffield Business School

Halt this new brain drain

The prospect of a "brain drain" of scientific talent from the UK (report, 21 September) should be of concern both to those who want to see Britain retain its place as a world leader in science and to those concerned with fostering a sustainable economic future for our country.

International competition is undoubtedly increasing, with President Obama announcing extended R&D tax credits as a powerful incentive for innovative businesses to locate in the US. The UK Government must now show that it can take similar bold steps by implementing Sir James Dyson's recent report, including extending and refocusing our own R&D tax credit system. Alongside this, measures such as the "patent box" tax incentive are needed to encourage companies to exploit intellectual property in Britain.

The UK has the potential to become a global hub for scientific research in areas such as bioscience, providing we play to our strengths. If we allow gifted scientists to leave now, we will regret it further down the line.

Nigel Gaymond

Chief Executive, BioIndustry Association, London SW1

Reach out to young fathers

The recommendation from Nice that there should be antenatal classes in schools for teenage mothers has been well reported (22 September). But the coverage has failed to pick up on the recommendation that fathers should be present in these classes wherever possible.

Almost all the babies of teenage mothers are conceived in an ongoing relationship, and fathers have enormous influence on young mothers. When the father is supportive – and including him in antenatal care and education will make it far more likely that he is supportive – the mother is less likely to be stressed or depressed and more likely to have a good birth experience and bond well with her baby.

The Government has emphasised the importance of shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy and the importance of supporting couple relationships. The relationships of very young couples are no less important than the relationships of other couples.

The in-school intervention has been criticised for fostering a "baby-club" mentality. This will be far less likely if the men are brought into the equation, when the focus will be on the couple.

Adrienne Burgess

Director of Research, The Fatherhood Institute, London SE1

Democracy in the town hall

Councillor Barrow of Westminster has put forward a bold and interesting vision of what a local authority should be and do (letter, 24 September). Unfortunately, although he has much to say about the powers and independence he feels councils ought to have, he offers not a word about the citizens they must be accountable to.

If we add to his suggestions the principles that members must be elected by proportional representation (preferably single transferable vote, as in Scotland and Ireland), the check of the referendum and the opportunity for voters to propose measures through a popular initiative, then we really would be getting somewhere.

B J Fearnley

Debenham, Suffolk

Easier exams

Dr Homer (letter, 20 September) is both right and wrong. Right, because if candidates for the different exam boards are of equal quality, then "easier" questions can be offset by stiffer marking. But what if they are not, which is what Mr Handy (letter, 18 September) was suggesting? Then equal band results between boards can only mean that weaker candidates are getting the same grades as more able ones. Schools have long shopped around to find the easiest board, so this issue is by no means academic.

Michael Foss

Teddington, Middlesex

Perspectives on North Korea

Poverty amid the victory parades

I was interested to read David McNeill's account of his journey into North Korea (27 September). I visited the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 2007 as part of a small delegation when I worked for World Vision, visiting development programmes, which as an agency we were allowed to establish but not manage in-country. It was one of the most fascinating, but also one of the most bizarre trips I have ever done.

The flight in from Beijing with Air Koryo, with no safety demonstration, the air stewards smoking and one of the engines not working, and having both my phone and laptop confiscated on arrival, set the tone for the journey. Despite, as Mr McNeill describes, Pyongyang's displays of military victory and expensive monuments to Kim Il-sung, the country revealed a tragic cycle of poverty and a crumbling infrastructure.

I also witnessed life in rural North Korea, visiting schools, bakeries, recycling plants and also shockingly basic and filthy health centres. Displayed on the walls were directions on how to prepare for an attack by the US.

I'm not quite sure how I managed this, but I was given relative freedom to take numerous photos and also footage during the week we spent there. For $50 I was also allowed to fax a report back to World Vision.

Like Mr McNeill I also encountered the fear North Koreans have of "westerners", as I was briefly held at gunpoint by a 19-year-old soldier who was as frightened as I was.

The tragedy is that much of North Korea is beautiful and we met some genuinely lovely people in the villages and towns we were allowed to visit, but with the news that Kim Jong-il is planning to hand over power to his youngest son, and with no sign that he will attempt to tackle the issues that face the country, even though I would love to believe there could be hope for change, I am not sure how or when this will ever happen.

Andrea Russell

Milton Keynes

Rivals and friends

Two journalists, Richard Lloyd Parry of The Times and David McNeill of The Independent, slip their minders in Pyongyang, find a street market, and have an uncomfortable time with the army. Congratulations to both for their initiative and vivid reporting. The Times man mentions only a "companion". The Independent reporter has the grace to name his colleague and mentions The Times. Game, set and match to the Indie for honesty.

Clifford Davies

Wadham College, Oxford