A smaller but balanced fleet
The childishness of your editorial and readers' letters about the new aircraft carriers (20 October) beggars belief. Britain needs a navy because it is an island nation with over 90 per cent of its trade moved by sea. Moreover, in this globalised world, its most vital interests happen to be located south of the equator.
I am unconvinced that these are the right carriers, but they are by now the only feasible ones, because of 13 years of dithering by a succession of low-quality New Labour ministers of defence. The Navy needs two carriers to guarantee that one will always be available. One set of aircraft is inadequate, but less so than you and your letter-writers think, because squadrons (as opposed to individual machines) are not put out of service for the lengthy periods of refit, upgrade and maintenance which major ships need. Thus they can be transferred between ships.
The new surface Navy will comprise a carrier group, an amphibious warfare group and some patrol craft: a small but adequately balanced fleet.
Like so many people, when "thinking" about defence you suppose that nostalgia for supposed imperial glories (bourgeois self-hatred disguised as irony) is a substitute for clear thought – and you then assume that the military are just as stupid.
By the way, when Britain's nuclear weapons are scrapped, the money should be ring-fenced for national security: the present century will be exceptionally unstable because of climate change.
Bob Tennant, Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway
High cost of an unwinnable war
Purely in pursuit of political kudos at home, our forces are to continue to fight in Afghanistan, where we are deploying conventional forces against an endless supply of guerrilla fighters. And we learn that the funding and supply of this theatre of operations is to take precedence over all others.
So, at great cost, we continue to deploy men and material to fight an unwinnable civil war in a land of no strategic value and possessing no great natural assets. Then we scrap the Ark Royal and abandon for the moment any capability to deploy carrier-borne aircraft.
If I was sitting in Buenos Aires right now I would be licking my lips with eager anticipation, and marshalling my forces for a repeat assault to recover the "Malvinas" and their off-shore oil-fields.
Alan Stedall, Birmingham
Field of battle
It would appear that the Royal Navy's loss is Portsmouth Football Club's gain. By 2020 this once proud club will surely be back in the Premier League. Fratton Park will need to be replaced as their home ground. What could be better than a mothballed aircraft carrier, with plenty of space for the turf on the flight deck. Away games against clubs such as Liverpool could even involve the club bringing its own ground to the match.
Nick Carter, Stoke-on-Trent
May I suggest a use for one of the new aircraft carriers: it could be hired out for the Conservative Party annual conference. The delegates could assemble in the deserted hangar, and David Cameron could make his entrance by lift from the empty flight deck, to the sound of the National Anthem, and announce: "Mission accomplished!"
A De-Keyzer, Hersham, Surrey
In three words, here is a simple way to save billions in military expenditure (as well as hundreds of thousands of human lives): don't start wars.
Steve Briault, East Grinstead, west Sussex
I name this ship
J E S Bradshaw asks what we should call an aircraft carrier that doesn't carry aircraft (letter, 20 October), How about a hotaircarrier?
Derek Heptinstall, Broadstairs, Kent
What about public service?
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s politicians and the business community were constantly telling the public sector that it should be more like the private sector. It should pay salaries which would attract the very best graduates, use incentives such as bonuses linked to achievement of targets, employ management consultants and hold "bonding weekends" for staff. And now, having done all these things, the public sector is told that it is wrong, that it is wasteful and inefficient and carries a major responsibility for the budget deficit.
What hope for the public services in the future to attract staff who will work with a sense of pride and feel valued by society?
Gordon Whitehead, Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Doubtless there will be a chorus of disapproval of the cuts announced in the Spending Review, even from the many who have expressed support for cuts in principle.
Maybe we should remember that Gordon Brown, who as Labour Chancellor used to lecture us about "prudence", departed from something called the Golden Rule of economics in around 2004. I understand this rule states, inter alia, that the Government can only borrow to finance investment, and not to fund day-to-day spending.
We all know now that Brown not only broke the rule, but trampled all over it for several years, despite the protests of commentators. It was not the banking crisis, or even the recession, which damaged Britain. It was the strategy of a foolish Labour Chancellor.
Tony Cantlay, London SE1
Lib Dems took the hard road
Both Elliot Folan and Dave Lienard (letters, 18 October) should think a little harder and deeper before they conclude that the best way forward is to vote for the Green Party.
Like the Lib Dems, that party will, if it ever has a chance of achieving its goals, have to join a coalition with another party, should the electorate provide such an opportunity. The chances of them ever gaining a mandate to govern on their own without first serving as part of a coalition are negligible.
The Lib Dems took their opportunity and used it to help provide a stable government when the danger was that instability could plunge the country into a second recession and lose it its favourable credit rating. Thus they could get at least some of their policies realised, at the same time keeping some of the worst right-wing policies off the agenda.
The price they are paying is that they have to stomach having to condone some policies they don't like (as all coalition partners have to do) and to read unthinking correspondents accusing them of betrayal and treachery and threatening to support minority parties.
These critics forget that the Lib Dems are providing the voters with their first ever (and possibly only) chance to change the voting system which all parties, particularly the smallest, need to get some semblance of democracy into this country. Instead of vilification the Lib Dems deserve praise for choosing, for the public good, the hard road of coalition rather than the permanent cosiness of purist opposition.
Geoff Harris, Warwick
Nick Clegg is anxious to highlight Liberal Democrat achievements in government, including £7bn support to disadvantaged children. Nevertheless, deep cuts in public spending will bring huge increases in unemployment and therefore many thousands more disadvantaged and vulnerable children.
The ideological obsession with reducing the role of the state is a throwback to Thatcherism, and consistent with the infamous 2004 Orange Book. Its authors have achieved a right-wing coup from inside a formerly social democratic and left-of-centre party. It will be hard for Nick Clegg to persuade anyone that Thatcherism plus support for the vulnerable is intellectually coherent or practically possible.
Oddly enough, if anyone is a restraining influence on David Cameron, it is not Nick Clegg, but Iain Duncan Smith. He has at least taken the trouble to study the impact of unemployment and social deprivation.
Simon Sweeney, Sheffield Hallam University
Along with the dismantling of publicly funded higher education, indirect tax hikes, and the "crackdown" on welfare with a return to the Poor Law mentality, these cuts in public services will accelerate the dramatic increase in inequality and reduced social mobility that has occurred since the 1970s.
The scapegoating of many of the poorest for the excesses of some of the wealthiest has long been Tory policy, but it's hard to see how a formerly progressive party like the Lib Dems can survive the tensions such fiscal vandalism must create.
Charles Hopkins, Norwich
Why business likes the cuts
A point barely mentioned in the "Backlash against the big business society" article (19 October), irrespective of the political inclination of the personalities involved, was the positive effect that swingeing cuts have on big business. The effects are twofold: a reduction in staffing coats and a reduction in competition.
If the state sector is purged of its workforce, mass unemployment results. The unemployed then compete for salaries that previously would have been considered too low, in an "any job is better than no job" mentality. A government in the pocket of big business could then put downward pressure on the minimum wage. The result is a cheaper workforce, with increased profits and larger dividends for shareholders.
The second, and more sinister, reason that millionaire executives might benefit from the cuts is the effect on their smaller competitors. As the Federation of Small Businesses has pointed out, state subsidies and small-scale public-private sector trade aids small-business creation. No wonder big business supports public sector cuts.
Dr Tristan Learoyd, Redcar
How repelled I am by the "captains of industry" paraded on the front page of The Independent! Not one of them will suffer one jot personally as a consequence of the Government's spending cuts. How dare they think that those of us who inevitably will suffer will be impressed by their support of the Government's plans?
How much fairer, to use the Government's buzz word, it would be if the Chancellor pursued people such as Sir Philip Green, who last year deprived the Revenue of more than £200m by paying some of his income to his wife, who lives in Monaco. Or how about taxing the banks?
This government takes people for fools.
Patricia Sanderson, Swansea
Sensible protest over pensions
Unlike John Lichfield (comment, 20 October), I am unable to see anything "absurd" in the fact that lycée students "as young as 13" are protesting against the raising of the pension age in France.
Apart from social solidarity, it is a matter of simple arithmetic – well within the grasp of a collégien, let alone a lycéen – that the more older workers are forced to remain in employment, the fewer jobs will be available for school and university leavers.
Consequently, second only to workers approaching retirement themselves, students are the social group most directly disadvantaged by this "reform", and it is entirely in their interest to oppose it.
Peter Norman, Brussels
When Greece, a country where many get away without paying taxes, put up the pension age, the country rioted. In France the workers all strike for a week and there is some violence. In the UK, when we decided to put up women's retirement age, there was a quiet whimper of discontent.
Julian Sutton, Richmond, Surrey
Return of the 'green' menace
Hand in hand with the return of chilly evenings comes the stench of burning wood. The owners of wood-burning appliances appear to be in complete ignorance of the harmful smoke emitted to the atmosphere, exclaiming that they are "carbon-neutral" and "green". This is nonsense.
Whether or not the carbon dioxide released in burning is equal to that released if the wood was left to decompose is irrelevant. We need to consider the other gases and chemicals released when wood is burnt. To name a few: carbon monoxide, methane, benzene, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide – now thought to be the leading culprit of ozone depletion in the upper stratosphere.
Then there are the carcinogenic dioxins and particulate matter found in wood smoke. Burning one kilogram of wood produces up to 160 micrograms of dioxins and asbestos-sized particulate matter.
We clearly need to find a substitute for oil and coal, but burning anything on a stove, wood-burner or open fire without proper filtration is not the answer. The "greenest" fuels available are electricity and gas. Enjoy your open fire and wood-burner occasionally, but do not think that you are helping to save the planet . You are merely adding to the pollution in the air which you, your children and grandchildren are breathing.
Harry Pritchard, Newport, Isle of Wight
A culture of cowardice
The refusal of the emergency services to enter the tube train at Aldgate to save the lives of the those injured by the 7/7 bombers because "protocols" did not permit it for fear of a "secondary explosion" (report, 19 October) was not an isolated occurrence.
A couple of years ago, a woman bled to death on the end of a phone to the emergency services because they refused to believe her assurances that a gunman had left the scene. And officers were refused permission to tackle Jean Charles de Menezes on the street before he entered Stockwell Underground station because of fears – without any evidence – that he just possibly might be armed.
There is a phrase for this refusal of our emergency services to take risk in the discharge of their duty, even to save life. It is "institutional cowardice".
Police, firemen and paramedics are not naturally timid. They are braver than the average. Every Friday night they face situations which I would fear to approach. But they are forced to behave in a cowardly way by the rules and culture of the institutions to which they belong. And some of them will probably be ashamed for the rest of their lives of the inaction that was forced upon them by their authorities.
Chris Woodman, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Morality of palace attack
Tom Minogue's account of the sacking of the Summer Palace in 1860 (letter, 19 October) omits some awkward facts.
The Second Opium War was the result not of "imperialism", but of China's having breached its treaty obligations; and it is odd that the People's Republic is so concerned about a building in which no ordinary Chinese outside the Imperial family ever set foot except as slaves and eunuchs.
The destruction of the Palace was in response to the horrific torture of the party of British and French negotiators and soldiers who had advanced under a flag of truce. The Chinese were careful to agree terms of surrender before returning the bodies, so no direct political retaliation was possible. A sign in Chinese was erected over the ruins, which read, "This is the reward for perfidy and cruelty"; the tactics may have been brutal but the morality of the action was indisputable. Human beings matter more than vases.
Thomas Tallon, Bexleyheath, Kent
Metres or inches
Bill Angus is quite right (letter, 19 October) – it's a great pity that there appears to be little engineering nous in the media. I was surprised when you reported the Chilean mine rescue shaft as being 700 metres deep and 21.5 inches in diameter. One of the things that was drummed into us as engineering students was never to mix units of measurement. Although we can't expect journalists to be experts on everything, surely you ought to know enough of the basic rules and, as Bill Angus says, be able to find someone who does understand these things.
Ian K Watson, Carlisle
Your correspondent can be assured that Christmas stamps with a Christian theme will be on sale this Christmas (letter, 19 October). As well as Royal Mail's stamps featuring Wallace and Gromit – going on sale on 2 November – the popular 1st and 2nd Class Madonna and Child stamps, first issued in 2007, will also be available this year, as they have been every Christmas since 2007.
Philip Parker, Royal Mail Stamps, London EC4