It's up to the Arabs to help
The publication of your front page story on 7 March by Robert Fisk, a journalist I have a great deal of respect for, was irresponsible under current circumstances ("America's secret plan to arm Libya's rebels").
The Libyan people need support in their struggle against Gaddafi from other Arab nations and indeed anywhere but the UK and USA, so Saudi Arabia is an obvious choice as a source of arms. We all suspect deals are going on, but putting it on the front page plays Gaddafi's game.
This is a struggle of self- defence against tyranny and brutal delusion and one which will be lost if there is any whiff of western support that Gaddafi can twist to his PR advantage. I am only saddened by the lethargy from other Arab countries in calling for a no-fly zone. The Arab League is emasculated and it seems that the only real Arab men are fighting to the death in Benghazi.
I'm no fan of Saudi and look forward to that regime being replaced in the near future by something more democratic, but if they can support eastern Libya in some way now, so much the better. How refreshing it would be to read a headline saying "Arab leaders call for no-fly zone and recall their ambassadors from Tripoli". That really would be news.
Frances Amrani, Teversham, Cambridgeshire
Stop propping up these tyrants
Reading about the arrest of 30 to 50 protesters in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, following a demonstration against poor infrastructure, it seems ridiculous that our government continues its support for this hideously repressive regime. According to The Economist's 2010 Democracy Index, Saudi Arabia is the seventh most authoritarian regime of 167 countries rated. (Political parties are banned and homosexuality is punishable with the death penalty.)
Apparently, the demonstration lasted 15 minutes and was composed of protesters shouting, "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) – hardly the crime of the century.
But our "enlightened" Conservative-Liberal Coalition is bent on selling arms in large quantities to unsavoury Arab countries. On Cameron's arms' sales mission to the Middle East last month, he claimed that Britain has "nothing to be ashamed of" for selling weapons to Arab leaders. Well, speak for yourself then. You can't claim to uphold the virtues of human rights, democracy, and representative government (as Liam Fox, Britain's Defence Secretary, recently did) and continue to prop up these authoritarian regimes.
Louis Shawcross, Hillsborough, Co Down
Boycott the casino banks and their crazy bonuses
Recent bonus awards to Stephen Hester, Bob Diamond and other senior banking executives confirm that restraint has a different meaning in the bankers' lexicon from that understood by the striving millions. They also suggest that bankers are confident that attempts to separate casino banking from public service will not succeed.
Perhaps the silent majority should take action: if we all moved our bank accounts, including savings, to banks without investment arms or to mutual building societies, then, the next time a bank's irresponsible investment decisions put it at risk, it can be allowed to fail, since only speculative money will be involved.
Tim Cattell, Croydon, Surrey
Three full-page advertisements for the same bank appeared in the paper (7 March) extolling its "openness". The bank may be "more open" and "open more" but it seems it is not that open for business.
A couple of young friends of mine are planning to expand their small business on the outskirts of London; I helped them draw up a detailed business plan, and it was apparent that a start-up loan of some £20,000 would be required to take on a small retail unit. Would the open bank be able to help, particularly after the much-vaunted Merlin agreement?
Forget it. My friends would need to match the amount required and obtain guarantors against any default, despite the fact that they have already purchased £15,000 of equipment. If they could match the amount, they would not need the loan on the first place!
As they expanded the business they hoped to employ more staff (with the resultant tax and NI revenues) and earn more themselves (more income tax) but it seems an impossible dream. As Mary Ann Sieghart showed in her article "We've been blackmailed long enough" (7 March), "banks have stuck two fingers up at the taxpayer" and despite having agreed to increase gross lending to small businesses, like my friends', are still calling in loans.
Christopher R Bratt, Arnside, Cumbria
One aspect of the British financial services sector's activities not frequently mentioned is selling off British companies. Japanese and Continental banks seem to take a longer-term view of a company's performance than British banks do.
If a British manufacturing company is deemed to be "under-performing", the answer seems to be a merger with or sale to a Continental competitor. The order book is taken over, the best design ideas absorbed and the shell cast off to die. Redundancy terms on the continent are far better than here in the UK, so that if there are redundancies to be made, it's a no-brainer where they will be.
So the bankers, rather like a cuckoo, have pushed every thing else out of the nest.
Can you imagine Germany selling off Bosch, Siemens, Krupp, Mercedes Benz? In Germany, engineering is well regarded; a charted engineer has status in society. Engineers develop products that people, overseas want to buy.
We need political leadership to guide our country in that direction. We still have some of the best designers, engineers and technicians. Our engineering industry is growing, but it still needs help and support from the money sector, not selling off. We have car assembly plants here, but owned by Japanese, Germans or Americans. They make the decisions and take the profits.
The Germans and the Swiss have their financial sectors, but they also have a strong engineering industry, a balanced economy.
David Carter, Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Geoffrey Downs's experience (letter, 9 March) could be worse – my online bank statements are not only upside down but they are the wrong way round. Since time immemorial the credits have been on the right and the debits on the left, but not now. Moreover, they do not indicate in whose favour the resultant balance is. At first sight the combined effect might be unnerving to those with a weak disposition.
Having created an absurd range of meaningless "products" to trade in, is this change a step in another process, for the banks to alter the principles of double-entry book-keeping to their advantage? Or simply their peculiar idea of better customer service?
Trevor Gidman, Crawley, West Sussex
Shaken by UK visa rules
My niece paid $286 to apply to the UK government for a visa. This cannot not be done in New Zealand; instead we are lumped in with the Australians.
Unfortunately, she failed to sign one document, a bank statement, and has been told that she will have to re-apply, paying another $286.
Each applicant is required to supply biometric data from an approved centre. These data must be less than three weeks old. Our biometric data collection centre is (was) in Cathedral Square – destroyed by the 22 February earthquake.
After getting nowhere with the Australian office she melted in a state of sobbing despair. I offered to take up the cause.
The UK High Commission, Wellington, informed me that her biometric data, that was by now two and a half months old, would not be acceptable and that no consideration would be given for the impact of the earthquake on this matter.
In 1942 her grandfather, a Lancaster pilot, had a much easier job getting to England.
John O'Malley, Christchurch, New Zealand
Put royalty out of their misery
To entrust the role of Trade Ambassador to an unelected, fifty-something "prince" who happens to be at a loose end because he has a rich mum and dad is, frankly, bonkers. Is it any wonder that he attracts the attention of crooks, chancers and other unelected low life? The same would probably be true if Paris Hilton or Pete Doherty were given the role.
Your leader (8 March) suggests that republicans find his role "ridiculous and demeaning". Too right we do, but I suspect that he probably sees the role in the same way, so the quicker that he and the rest of his family are put out of their misery the better for all concerned. We may then be able to drag our country out of the 19th and into the 21st century.
Alistair Wood, Llanymynech, Powys
Sorry, oil crisis is a bit worrying
Once again Dominic Lawson attempts to calm the choppy and somewhat muddied waters of our fears and insecurities about the world we live in by pouring a soothing oil of Panglossian equanimity over them ("They haven't got us over a barrel", 8 March).
Alongside his regularly expressed views on climate change (it doesn't exist, or if it does, it's nothing to do with us), he now opines that the bounteous flow of oil which we've grown accustomed to will not be interrupted by the current "imbroglio" caused by certain pesky Arabs making a stand against their vain, corrupt and largely Western-backed regimes.
Learning that current levels of oil production and use are not going to fall with the ongoing crisis in the Middle East does not fill me with the relief and satisfaction which Mr Lawson seems to think it should. I would have thought that – irrespective of his obvious deep-rooted suspicion of "renewable sources of energy" – Mr Lawson would, as a good Thatcherite champion of free enterprise, accept that a sensible policy for manufacturing now, given that oil supplies are indeed finite, would be to seize the day and invest heavily in becoming a world leader in innovative and ever more efficient alternatives to oil.
It would certainly help with my 15-year-old daughter's asthma (we live in central London).
Gary Chapman, London W9
A new way to value learning
Your editorial (5 March) is right. Universities should avoid letting money skew academic priorities, and beware of involvement with and by governments. But can they? The distinguished economist Thorstein Veblen identified the underlying problem in his 1918 book The Higher Learning in America.
The great US universities had come to be run by a combination of business-dominated governing bodies and business-focused university heads. The "higher learning", where "profit and loss in thinking" can be pursued only through "idle curiosity" plus "the instinct of workmanship", had become a system of doing things "practical, for private gain". "Profit and loss in thinking" was now expressed "via a system of scholastic accountancy" which increasingly operated in tandem with systems of business accountancy. So learning had become "a merchantable commodity, rated, bought and sold by standard units"; and the long term of thinking had become a series of accounting-measured short terms.
A century later, even our government has finally figured out how to work the mix of these two accounting metrics and so to make higher education dance to its short-term tunes. Think the new student loan proposals and the Research Excellence Framework – but think them side by side.
So what happens next? For universities, how they score on the twin accounting metrics will still determine both survival and success. They will still be locked into involvement with government, and the search for supplementary funds from wherever they are available. And the money will continue to come with varying levels of questionability and strings attached.
For a while questions may be asked in the press; and a wave of leaks perhaps will threaten august institutions beyond the LSE. But the long term will still be a series of accounting-measured short terms.
So is everything bleak? Well, it is not beyond our wit to think and implement forms of scholastic and business accountancy which could jointly promote a more authentic "profit and loss in thinking". Are we big and brave enough to try?
Keith Hoskin, Professor of Strategy and Accounting, Warwick Business School, Coventry
Jews recognised as a people
I have received my census form, and am pleased to note that I can at last register my ethnicity as specifically Jewish, rather than "White, other".
Many people argue that the Jews are a faith-group rather than an ethnic one. I would dispute that: I am Jewish by birth, although, as a non-believer, I do not practise the religion. I still feel very much part of the Jewish people: I identify with our often tragic history, and feel deep shame at many of the actions of the Israeli state, her army and the West Bank settlers. I am a signatory of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, along with a large number of Jews who, as far as I know, do not go anywhere near a synagogue.
So, to the Office for National Statistics: "Mazel tov."
Vera Lustig, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey
Chris Beney complains that the "work" section of the census form ignores voluntary work (letter, 9 March). He should know that work is only valuable to society if wages are earned. I am a full-time mum of four young children and have never worked as hard, but my husband asks what I do all day and working friends think I am a "lady of leisure".
Angela Elliott, Hundleby, Lincolnshire
When police are the protesters
It seems that the old line that "the sackings will continue until morale improves" is a management mantra for our government. The police forces that they intend to shred are the same people that they want to work hundreds of hours of overtime to police the Olympics. Maybe we can get the National Union of Students to act as marshals for the police protest marches.
Ian Hall, Portland, Dorset
If the police are going to march in protest at wage cuts, who is going to do the kettling?
Matt Sinclair, Oxford
Wealth in the town hall coffers
The report in the Business pages (24 February) on proposals to allow "wealthy" councils to keep their business rates is worrying. Westminster Council has been arguing for this for years.
The vast bulk of the business rate in Westminster comes from Oxford Street shops and West End entertainment outlets. Most people who use these do not live in Westminster.
Westminster council benefits from this wealth other people bring into its boundaries by revenue from licensing, planning and other regulated fees. The notion that a wealthy council such as Westminster, with its low council tax, will have a beneficial effect on its residents has been exploded by Shelter's figures for child poverty in London, with Westminster matching Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
The idea that they should have even more money will merely encourage this neglect of their most vulnerable residents. You can be sure that extra revenue from this in Westminster will not go towards alleviating the most appalling housing conditions many people live in.
Councillor Guthrie McKie (Lab, Harrow Road Ward) Westminster City Council
Keep to the limit
With regard to the plan to raise motorway speed limits, have none of your correspondents recently travelled on a motorway? Aside from traffic hold-ups the vast majority of non-HGV traffic drives at between 80mph and 100mph anyway. Just try driving at a steady 70mph on a motorway. If the Government were really serious about developing an ethos of fuel efficiency it would enforce the 70mph limit, not only saving fuel but at times of heavy traffic increasing traffic flow.
Simon Gray, St Albans, Hertfordshire
Were I a woman I would find it insulting that The Independent finds it appropriate to celebrate International Women's Day by having a man (Gordon Brown) congratulate three women on their courage ("Three faces of heroism", 8 March). There are many women who could have done it better.
Simon Street, Harrogate, North YorkshireReuse content