Letters: On Planet Gove, more means better

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 20th April, 2013

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Once again we are forced to ask “What planet is Michael Gove on?”  Where is his evidence that simply forcing pupils to spend more time in schools will improve their education?

Finland is universally recognised as having one of the best education systems in the world, along with the least contact time for pupils and a very hands-off approach to the testing of students. In addition, although I have no first-hand experience, I have heard that independent schools in the UK have longer holidays than state schools.

David Felton, Crewe


The normal advice to those who find themselves in a hole is to stop digging. However, in the case of our current Education Secretary we find he merely wields his spade with greater vigour.  Teachers are already planning strikes to protest at pay and pension reforms and workloads. Michael Gove’s new call for a major overhaul of working practices is bound to inflame an already tense industrial situation. 

Andrew McLuskey, Staines, Middlesex


Michael Gove is so desperate to don the mantle of “hard man of the right” that he is willing to sacrifice the education of hundreds of thousands of school children on a policy based on anecdote and whimsy. There is no empirical evidence  that longer hours and shorter holidays mean higher standards. It is the quality of the teaching that matters.

With policies like these Mr Gove almost guarantees more industrial action, which is, after all, what he really desires more than anything else, so he can be seen as challenging the “enemies of promise”.

Simon G Gosden, Rayleigh, Essex

Thatcher,  saviour  of the OU

Insofar as comment has been passed on Margaret Thatcher’s time as Education Secretary in the Heath Government of 1970-74, this has usually related to her decisions to abandon free school milk and to shut down large numbers of grammar schools. What has been omitted is that Mrs Thatcher saved the Open University.

When Heath was elected Prime Minister in 1970, Ian Macleod, his Chancellor, was keen to rid the country of what he took to be Wilsonian financial albatrosses. Of all the decisions passed by his government, none was more associated with Harold Wilson than the Open University, and Macleod was keen to do away with it before it came into being, as were other Conservatives, who saw it as a further extension of state provision.

As a junior member of the Cabinet, ambitious and from the right, Thatcher might have been thought likely to support such a view. But after consultation, principally with the Open University’s first Vice-Chancellor, Walter Perry, she was persuaded that it was in fact an inexpensive and effective way of extending opportunity and creating new graduates. Much to Macleod’s chagrin, and with minimal support from her own department, she decided to move forward with the Open University.

John Campbell, in his much-acclaimed two-volume biography of Margaret Thatcher, argues that this was “her most remarkable feat” as Education Secretary, and that while Harold Wilson and Jennie Lee are usually credited with the conception of the OU “Margaret Thatcher deserves equal credit for single-handedly allowing it to be born when her senior colleagues were intent upon aborting it.”

Dr James Carleton Paget

Fellow and Tutor

Peterhouse, Cambridge


I couldn’t help but laugh at Benedict Le Vay’s rather fanciful list of supposedly good things we wouldn’t have without Thatcher (letter, 17 April).

Almost convincing, until you glance across at our Social Democratic neighbours – which is what we were prior to Thatcherism – in western Europe. They have practically all these listed advantages and they got them without having to butcher their manufacturing sector and put millions out of work for a decade or more.

With the help of foreign media ownership, Thatcher parachuted an alien American-style socio-economic model into our society. We are still struggling to get back our West European identity and reclaim its benefits.

Gavin Lewis



On the day of Thatcher’s funeral one of the legacies of her “Tell Sid” privatisation can be found in your story “Npower’s three years of zero corporation tax”.

Nigel Hunt

Harrogate, North Yorkshire


While you say that the ceremony for Mrs Thatcher showed that Britain still knows how to behave at a funeral (leading article, 18 April), the reaction of the crowd lining the streets has left me puzzled. 

When I was a lad I knew that one had to remove one’s cap and stand silently as a mark of respect when a cortege passed. But now there is applause. What does it signify? Support for the deceased or satisfaction that they are deceased?

Mervyn Bryn-Jones

Twickenham, Middlesex


I applaud The Independent’s balanced reporting of the life, death, legacy and funeral of Margaret Thatcher. In comparison, the BBC appears to be Broadcasting on Behalf of Conservatives

Terry Mahoney

Sidlesham, West Sussex


In the early 1980s I was working on a BA 747 shuttle service between Hong Kong and Beijing. One day, after we taxied in, immediately the doors opened, a gentleman from the British embassy boarded and asked if Mrs Thatcher might please have a copy of every British newspaper we had. The purser had to tell him that the newspapers were all on strike in the UK and we had none. Ah, the old days.

Robert Schwartz

Dorney, Buckinghamshire

Blair’s aggression against Iraq

I am surprised that John Strawson (letter, 16 April) claims there is no basis for prosecution of Tony Blair for waging an illegal war in Iraq.

The Rome Statute of 1998, which established the International Criminal Court, contains Article 8 bis (adopted at a review conference in Kampala in 2010) which defines the individual crime of aggression as “the planning, preparation, initiation or execution by a person in a leadership position of an act of aggression,” where aggression is defined as “the use of armed force by one State against another State without the justification of self-defence or authorisation by the Security Council”.

In the Iraq case, despite all the diplomatic efforts, there was no authorisation by the Security Council, which was why the dodgy dossier and all the other exaggerations of supposed weapons of mass destruction had to be  cooked up to try to justify the manifestly false claim of self-defence.

Richard Carter   

London SW15


Religion and good deeds

Of course religions inspire good deeds as well as evil ones (letter, 19 April) but it is at least debatable whether religious good deeds are any more than a means to an end.

The religious admit to being motivated by the need to obey the commands of a god or at least to avoid its displeasure. It would seem that religious good deeds are not so much moral as just prudent.

The non-religious do not have this ulterior motive and are simply motivated by fellow-feeling and the pleasure given and received from helping others. (Those cleverer than I can assess which is the more moral).

It seems that belief in gods is incidental to morality. It is not so much that the religious are especially good people but rather that good people can be religious.

David Hooley, Newmarket, Suffolk


Dangerous waters off coast of Gaza

Israel did not restrict Gazan fishermen’s access to the sea “in response” to rockets being fired into southern Israel during the recent visit of Barack Obama (Magazine, 13 April).

I have lived and worked in Gaza, and was back there in November last year, when the fishermen were already limited to fishing three miles out, unless they were prepared to risk being shot by the Israeli navy. Under the (1993) Oslo Peace Accords, Gazan fishermen are entitled to sail 20 nautical miles out, but this has never been honoured by Israel.

Journalists who report from Gaza need to investigate the complex, cruel realities of life under siege, not merely repeat Israel’s mantra that it only ever “responds” to rockets from Gaza.

Louisa Waugh, London SE1


Silly times in Liverpool

Like many other Liverpudlians of a certain age I read with fascination Derek Hatton’s attempt to rewrite history (Monday Interview, 15 April). His portrait of himself as a Robin Hood figure, championing the people, does not agree with  the memories we all have of the chaos that resulted from his brief spell in power.

He presumably has forgotten the howling rabble in the public gallery of council meetings, and  the rent-a-mob groups in every public meeting, waiting until the end when most people had left to overturn the decisions voted upon.

Or perhaps he has forgotten by now the council’s policy of not allowing any routine building – extensions, garages etc – by the “middle classes”? And of course, running out of money to pay the council workers – not his fault apparently.

The lesson to be learnt is that Derek Hatton and his like are what you get if one allows one’s justified abhorrence of Thatcherite policies to become silly.

Ian Poole, Liverpool


Jane Merrick (Voices, 17 April) revives the old tale about redundancy notices being handed out by Liverpool City Council in the 1980s. Her mother’s job was, she claims, put at risk. Not so. I was a local authority worker at that time, who knew that the threat of redundancy came only from central government, and that the council’s intention was to defend those jobs.

Natalie Seeve , Liverpool


Down the tunnel

You know you’re getting old when you settle down to watch what you hope is a serious programme on the TV (“Brushing up on British Tunnels”) only to become increasing irritated by the seemingly fatuous remarks of the presenter (Danny Baker) masking the informative content, and then the following day The Independent’s TV reviewer (Tom Sutcliffe) describes Baker’s manner as “very engaging”.

Oh well, time for some warm milk and an early night.

Alan Bennett, Loddiswell, Devon


Lobby fodder

In view of the latest failure in the US Congress to curb gun ownership, in which the wishes of ordinary people were ignored, should not American government be re-defined as “of the lobbies, by the lobbies, for the lobbies”?

Christopher Walker, London W14