Letters: Perspectives on cats, human rights and Theresa May

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The Independent Online

Don't let the facts ruin an entertaining tale

Anyone with any common sense could have guessed that Theresa May's story about an immigrant winning an appeal against deportation "because he had a cat" was a load of rubbish. Even the most vehement opponent of the Human Rights Act couldn't be stupid enough to believe that, could they?

Well, Theresa May did – apparently.

Assuming Mrs May genuinely believed what she was telling the Conservative Party conference, the lesson for her and her advisers is that they should not believe everything they read in the Daily Mail.

The appellant won his case because the Home Office had failed to follow its own policy on unmarried partners. This policy gives credit to couples who have been together more than two years – the Bolivian immigrant in question had been with his partner for four years. The joint ownership of a cat was raised in court merely as one indication of the stability of the couple's relationship, among many other indications noted.

But Theresa May is so keen to rubbish the Human Rights Act that she is willing to descend to the level of the worst in tabloid journalism.

The fact that her case against the Act is based largely upon criticisms of how it is interpreted by UK judges, not upon the provisions of the Act itself, seems to have slipped by with little comment from politicians or the media, probably because Mrs May is not keen to make clear this distinction herself.

And in any case, who wants to hear the facts when "you couldn't make it up" stories about pussy cats (which have been largely made up) are so much more entertaining?

Francis Kirkham, Crediton, Devon

The Act played no part

I really am not making this up. The day you publish my letter about the Rt Hon Mrs May ("A nasty Home Secretary?" 4 October), she tells a story about an illegal immigrant, the Human Rights Act and a pet cat.

In fact the immigrant was an overstayer, the cat was irrelevant, and the decision was based entirely upon Home Office policy that her predecessor had overlooked, so that the Human Rights Act played no part in it.

Do we have to give her a half-mark because an overstayer is not dissimilar to an illegal immigrant?

Robin Levett, Beckenham, Kent

A lie or a gross error?

Theresa May tells the Conservative Party conference of the criminal who could not be deported because of his attachment to his cat. Only trouble is, it's not true. So she either lied to the conference (and by extension the country) or she neglected to make basic checks as to the veracity of the story.

In either case, is this a fit and proper person to hold high public office?

William Roberts, Bristol

Rights neglected

I was glad to read some timely exposure of a scandal that has recently been dogging (if that is the word) the feline community.

I refer of course to the recent spate of deportation orders involving cat "owners", thus depriving innocent companion animals of their rightful share of due care and attention as regards living conditions such as food, water, housing and winter heating.

Forget human rights – a Feline Rights Act is surely long overdue.

Piers Burton-Page, Buriton, Hampshire

Pickles bins localism

Like the idea or not, wasn't one of the central themes of the Conservative Party at the last election to return as much power as possible to local communities? Can Eric Pickles or one of your readers kindly explain how centrally enforced weekly rubbish collection is consistent with this objective?

If the Conservatives can't trust local authorities to design their own rubbish and recycling collection, will they do so over more controversial issues such as education, health or crime?

In Oxford, like many places, many of us think our city council is rubbish much of the time. But over some years the council have made kerb-side recycling much easier, to the benefit of the planet and the reduction of our taxes through lower landfill fees. This includes weekly food waste collection, so Mr Pickles need not worry himself about the basic human right not to have a smelly neighbourhood.

In terms of cost, landfill volume, alleged public health risk, personal inconvenience or any other relevant criteria, where is the Government's evidence base for reversing so much effective local work? Why are we spending money on undoing local successes and why does Mr Pickles and his party think this is a vote winner?

Andrew Shacknove, Oxford

Why was Eric Pickles allowed to push through such a stupid and retrograde measure as spending money on weekly rubbish collections? At a time when councils' money is restricted, they could use the funds to provide essential services they are cutting back.

Every other week is – just about – enough for the recyclables, and surely for non-recyclables we should be encouraging householders to think carefully and put less into that bin. Once a month would be ample for us. What piffle to say we have a right to a weekly collection.

V Gregory, Woodbridge, Suffolk

The value of a life

It would seem that our national media is engrossed with trying to tease out the guilt or otherwise of a defendant in a murder trail in Italy. One young woman was horribly murdered and any person of feeling would feel revulsion and a sense of justice needing to be done.

If only the same journalists asked such probing questions of the uncalculated deaths as a result of Nato's air strikes in Libya. Few in the media seem at all interested in asking who has died or how they have died, or whether such killings were either legal or morally justifiable.

In brings to mind Stalin's cynical dictum: one death is a tragedy – a thousand are a statistic.

Chris Hare, Worthing, West Sussex

Perugia is a beautiful part of Italy, but their legal system is rubbish and I'm staying away.

Steven Calrow, Liverpool

Standards in public life

Be it parliamentary expenses, the banking crisis or phone-tapping, public confidence in our national institutions has been undermined of late. The actions of a few have brought the reputations of many into question.

Politicians and public servants, both in central and local government, need to work together to play a central role in rebuilding confidence. While an approach to governance that places decision-making in the hands of local communities and their representatives will restore the link between decision-makers and their communities, now doesn't seem the right time to take a laissez-faire approach to standards in public life.

The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) calls on the Government to amend the Localism Bill, and its plan to abolish a national code of conduct, and the requirement on councils to have standards committees with independent members and powers to maintain local discipline.

At a time when local government is taking on more power through elected mayors, changes to the planning regime and a new role in public health, high and consistent standards are only more important. A sceptical public need to have confidence in those people taking on responsibility for these extended powers.

In general local government sets an excellent example to the rest of the public sector, but at SOLACE we do not believe we should be complacent. It is important that all public bodies have explicit standards of conduct and we hope the Government addresses this as the Bill continues its path through Parliament.

Derek Myers, Chair, The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, London SW1

What happens to student fees?

I find myself in broad agreement with those students surveyed who question whether their university course is worth £9,000 a year (report, 4 October). This is despite (or perhaps because of) having taught in universities for more than 30 years.

I leave to others the discussion of whether university teaching and feedback on essays are of a proper standard or not, or the (usually very ill-informed) discussion about whether certain kinds of university courses have serious academic worth at all. My puzzlement at the level of fees is based solely on some rough-and-ready maths which leaves me wondering what students are paying for, and where the money is going.

If I add up the hours of teaching and assessment that a student taking one of my modules receives from me, and multiply this by the four modules usually taken in a year, each individual £9,000 fee-paying student can legitimately see themselves as paying something like £92 to attend a seminar – which compared to £84 to see Rihanna at the 02 Arena, £80 for a seat at a Premier League football match, or £45 for the best seats at the National Theatre, does make me understand (without false modesty) why students might feel overcharged.

To put it another way, if this is seen in crude terms as an hourly rate paid by students for teaching and assessment, even as a part-time lecturer I will in future be netting my university something like £86,000 a year. I see about 20 per cent of this in salary, which naturally makes me wonder where the other 80 per cent goes.

It is this part of the calculation that the universities need to explain far more openly and convincingly, if people like me aren't going to have students in future years looking across the seminar tables with that "rather be watching Rihanna" look in their eyes.

Roger Moss, Brighton

British cult of the amateur

Mary Ann Sieghart's belief that "a handful of energetic parents" could run a Big Society school (Opinion, 3 October) reflects a quaint British belief that a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs will trump the specialists any day.

The British, especially the English, seem suspicious of expertise and learning; could any other nation have invented the "too clever by half" sneer? Some British sportsmen still struggle to shake off governing bodies whose members seem to believe that heroic amateurism is far nobler than sordid professionalism.

This bizarre outlook was satirised by Michael Flanders half a century ago, who imagined the English complaining that foreign teams "practice beforehand, which ruins the fun".

But perhaps Ms Sieghart is right, maybe a bunch of busybodies with time on their hands (alas, that eliminates most parents) and heads full of "common sense" really would do a far better job than the professionals employed by education authorities. But it's hard to avoid the thought that their focus might be short-term – just until their own children leave.

This anti-professional dogma seems to be again in the ascendant. Ms Sieghart apparently looks forward to a Utopia in which, for example, we'll all commission our own health care. It's a shame that so few of us really comprehend the range of options that might be available for our particular circumstances. But choice, we're told, is the magic elixir; just look at how good we all are at choosing the healthiest foods to eat.

Brian Hughes, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Tech hubs revive cities

David Cameron is backing Britain's technology hub as the answer to economic growth ("Tech titans of Silicon Roundabout", 1 October). Despite the Government committing enormous resources, it would be foolish to think that the flow of incoming internet businesses will save us from recession by themselves.

Even the lure of Google opening up an engineering division on the site of the Olympic Village would only provide a few hundred jobs. In fact, many would argue that in the short term this could be a bad thing, as they would scoop up all the local developer talent and snuff out many prospective start-ups. With so few good designers and developers in the capital, the industry can't really afford to lose its talent to a few big companies.

However, while the emergence of technology hubs won't save us from recession on its own, that doesn't mean we should dismiss them. Tech clusters have the habit of gentrifying areas and providing an ecosystem for hundreds of cafés, restaurants and fashion boutiques to emerge. This in turn drives tourism, necessitates infrastructure projects and pushes up house prices.

It's a slow and organic process, but the London tech start-up scene is heavily responsible for the regeneration of much of the East End, and the creation of thousands of new jobs in the area. We'd be foolish to ignore the impact these companies can have on the health and culture of our cities.

Andy Budd, Managing director, Clearleft, Brighton

Rugby team under attack

The media attacks on our World Cup rugby team need to be brought under control.

Are we to believe that all the other teams in the competition trudge back to their dormitories every evening for a cup of cocoa and, perhaps, a game of Scrabble before their bedtime bible reading?

The media on that side of the world has always attacked our teams of whatever sport. Their relentless hounding and scrutiny of our Ashes cricketers over the years have been designed to unsettle and soften up our youngest and most inexperienced players in preparation for the abusive heckling of the local spectators.

Let us not join in their present campaign against our rugby players. Unfortunately they have spotted a prime target in Mike Tindall and will exploit this until they get our team on to a plane home.

David Morris, Consett, Co Durham

Right to buy has no logic

The recent announcement from David Cameron on council house sales defied belief. To offer any discount to council house tenants to buy what was built as accommodation for people on lower incomes has no commercial logic, particularly if the Government then intends to use the resulting funds to build more social housing.

The new affordable houses would be built at today's construction cost, which together with the land would offer little discount to market value on the resulting properties.

There should be no right to buy social housing, which should remain as a safety net for those unable to buy. The Government should raise money against existing housing stock and use it to build more affordable homes. If anyone has a counter-argument I would be interested to hear it.

Stephen Wicks, Chief Executive Officer, Inland Homes plc, Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Accountants not to blame

Most accountants and standard-setters don't share Malcolm Howard's astonishment (letter, 30 September) that economists have not yet discovered that the global financial crisis was caused by International Financial Reporting Standards.

The subject has now been extensively researched and investigated and the answer that comes back is almost always the same. The crisis was primarily caused by wildly optimistic property-based lending and its securitisation. If accounting played a significant role, compelling evidence has yet to be uncovered.

There are good reasons to doubt that it ever will be.

Dr Nigel Sleigh-Johnson, Head of Financial Reporting Faculty, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, London, EC2

Colours and lights

Whilst it is understandable that David Green may have seen red over cyan while completing your concise crossword (letter, 5 October), it must have confused his colour vision. Red, green and blue are primary lights most commonly experienced in their additive form as the picture on television screens. Red, yellow and blue are the primary colours used by print media, artists, designers etc in creating works on paper, canvas and other substrates. Mr Green is, however, quite correct in identifying cyan as a pigment used in printing along of course with magenta and yellow.

Graeme Massey, Stamford, Lincolnshire

The power of ridicule

Up here in the North-East we don't have a good track record, having re-elected as mayors a robo-cop and a monkey. However, one can fervently hope that Matthew Norman's comment "You can get away with being loathed, but not ridiculed," (5 October) accurately reflects Boris Johnson's chances of becoming leader of the Conservatives of – God forbid – Prime Minister.

Alan Pearson, Great Ayton, North Yorkshire

Braced for disaster

Like Donna McDonald (letter, 5 October), I've never fathomed the aircraft brace position. I struggle with the logic of placing my unrestrained skull against the very restrained seat-back in front, when the forward momentum of both items is likely to go from 200mph to zero very quickly.

Gerard Bell, Sunninghill, Berkshire