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Wednesday 4 July 2012
Letters: One by one, pillars of British probity collapse
What a calamitous few years it has been. All the great institutions in this country which gave us a sense of pride have come crashing down.
Westminster, one of the great parliamentary democracies, sullied by self-serving politicians. The press, viewed as a defender of freedoms, has been mired in shabby scandal. The armed forces are being emasculated by ill-informed politicians. Finally, the banking sector, that bastion of propriety, which gave Britain a reputation of being above corruption in business, has been exposed as deeply dishonest.
All these pillars of our society crumbling in such a short time. Where are the statesmen we need to give a restored sense of purpose and national renewal?
There is however one glimmer of light. British manufacturing has kept its head down and nose to the grindstone and, despite having to battle against politicians and a finance sector often unsympathetic to it, has kept going. Although only a rump of its former self, it is this sector that will drag us back.
They need all the support they can get. First up must be a state-owned bank for providing finance to this sector – as is done in Germany.
Walsall, West Midlands
Half a century or more ago I attended a Quaker school. The school's financial affairs were handled by Barclays Bank, a Quaker institution of such solemn and hushed rectitude that it was assumed that God banked there.
How could those worthy Gurneys and Barclays and Rowntrees and their fellow Friends who ran it have ever thought that one day it would be in the hands of a grotesquely overpaid bunch of spivs?
Winchelsea, East Sussex
For a nation where fair play is regarded as a pillar of Britishness the exposure of a culture of graft, greed and corruption at the heart of many of our institutions is having a profound impact on the how we regard ourselves.
George Osborne has called for a new "culture of responsibility" in banking and Lord Justice Leveson may well call for the same in the media, the police force and Parliament. But cultures are not created overnight. They evolve slowly over decades and need to be underpinned by greater transparency, scrutiny and reinvigorated political discourse.
When corporate crimes boost a company's profits, the biggest beneficiaries are the top executives and major shareholders. Hence, along with their proper rewards, they share a vital responsibility to ensure that the law is obeyed.
Whether they have, instead, actively instructed their underlings to flout the law, or merely allowed it to happen, they remain morally culpable – and justice should not depend upon being able to prove that the CEO knew all about it.
The law must be changed to reflect this, so that the likes of the Murdochs and Bob Diamond can face punitive personal fines, permanent disqualification as company directors and, as Joseph Stiglitz suggests, a good few years in prison.
Offenders of a sexual nature, being more compulsive and liable to reoffend than others, may be barred from occupations that expose them to temptation.
Is not money as great a compulsion as sex for many people? Could a similar measure not be devised for those who betray the trust placed in them to handle the finances of corporations? A lifetime ban from working in finance would seem appropriate for the sort of betrayal seen in recent years, and far more to be feared than fines or even custody.
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Miliband minor is so right to say that "the public" demands a judge-led full public inquiry into the Libor-fixing scandal.
And, by the same token, "the public" demands a full public inquiry into the last Labour government's "light-touch approach" to banking, promoted by Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, which has contributed so significantly to the banking sector's culture of irresponsibility.
RAF bombing killed civilians by the thousands
Your readers' comments regarding the memorial to Bomber Command (letters, 2, 3 July) are unfortunately typical of much misinformation and remnants of wartime propaganda.
I too lived in London during the Second World War, and until the advent of the V weapons never experienced any bombing, as I lived in a residential and non-strategic area. Bomber Command, however, specifically targeted residential areas of German towns and cities by blanket bombing.
Unlike Rotterdam, Coventry and the East End of London, all of which were strategically important and in consequence suffered collateral damage and death to civilians, many beautiful German towns were bombed for no other reason than to kill and attempt to terrify the inhabitants. The policy failed, in that far from demoralising the German people it made them even more resolute and determined to fight on to the bitter end.
The Americans always considered the blanket bombing policy to be flawed and counter-productive. This was confirmed by Albert Speer at the end of the war.
Over 400,000 German civilians died during the war, mostly from area bombing. Not only Dresden but also cities like Hamburg and Bremen suffered up to 30.000 civilian casualties in a few nights of bombing, many of whom were women , children and the elderly and refugees from the advancing Red Army.
It is not surprising that it has taken so long for Bomber Command to get a memorial to a period and action that many would rather forget.
Why schools are charities
Roy Mitchell (letter, 23 June) cannot understand why privately funded schools have charitable status and are entitled to claim relief on VAT.
Those that are charities are not businesses and do not make profits for their owners. Their charitable status does not affect the fees that parents pay (fees are not eligible for gift aid relief) and their lack of profits means they would not pay corporation tax even if they were not charities.
They are not able to claim back any VAT they pay on purchases. The only point for discussion is whether they should charge VAT on their fees. However, this is not a special provision for private schools but applies to any not-for-profit education provider, for example universities.
Lack of VAT on school fees is not a "relief" and private education is not a net cost to the state. There are good arguments for parents not removing their children from the state system, but cost is not one of them. If all private schools were closed at the end of this term, taxes for everyone would have to rise hugely to pay for those children to be educated in the state sector.
Who deleted those genitalia?
I must thank the Independent newspapers for your continuing interest in my diaries, the latest volume of which, Burden of Power, is in all good bookshops (at least those which still stock anything not written by E L James).
It is with immense sadness therefore that I find myself needing to rebut your interpretation of the diaries.
Your story (26 June) about the Lords debate on sexual offences where a peer moved an amendment to "delete genitalia and insert penis" – is accurate. The headline however – "When Hansard insisted on 'deleting genitalia, " – is not. Hansard dutifully reported the exchanges and insisted on no such thing. It was a Tory peer who moved the amendment.
David Blunkett was recommending to his Cabinet colleagues that they read the debate for an insight into their Lordships' sexual interests. "They love it," he roared.
Magic words on a train window
Further to recent correspondents' experiences with foreign languages, my interest in learning languages was sparked at the age of six when we travelled by train to visit my mother's family in Austria.
I was so fascinated by the signs above the train windows and the idea that there was more than one way of telling people not to lean out of the window that I memorised what they said and drove the family mad by constantly chanting: "Nicht hinauslehnen. Ne pas se pencher au dehors. E pericoloso sporgersi."
It all stuck with me and am happy to say that I have since gained a decent command of all three languages (and a bit of Spanish too).
Lessons Blair might learn
I am concerned, but not surprised, that Tony Blair has stated that his five-year post-premiership experiences have equipped him better for office. I have found, after reaching 60, that many things become clearer. On reflection one can see the idiocy of some decisions. The phrase "youth is wasted on the young" becomes so true.
The thrust of this observation is that the office of Prime Minister should only be open to MPs who have experience, say 58 and older. Decisions then made in office will be supported by a maturity absent from younger folk. Perhaps the enthusiasm to invade sovereign countries could be quelled with the aid of life's lessons.
The police we need
You report on the likely loss of 6,000 police posts because of spending cuts. There are about 16,000 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) in England and Wales. Recruit the best for the regular force, disband the rest and use the money saved to maintain police numbers.
Halve the number of senior officers of Chief Inspector rank and above after consultation with the rank and file, who know who the good ones are as opposed to those whose only interest is themselves and the next rank. Problem solved.
Unemployment is not a choice
Katherine Scholfield thinks your correspondents have "wilfully misunderstood" the Government's philosophy "that people who are capable of working and supporting themselves and their families should be required to do so" (Letters, 29 June).
What she seems to have wilfully misunderstood is that there are nowhere near as many jobs as there are people looking for work. And that for the vast majority of the unemployed, it is insulting to insinuate that unemployment is "a lifestyle choice".
Difficult as I imagine it is for some even to contemplate an era Before Clarkson, I think Top Gear started in 1977 with William Woollard et al, not in 1997 ("A tale of two media brands", 28 June)
St Erth, Cornwall
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