Letters: Perspectives on public-service cuts

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The Independent Online

Front line and 'back office'

I read that 11,000 servicemen and women from our already scrawny, overstretched, under-resourced yet magnificently performing armed forces are due to be made redundant – having done nothing other than their own jobs to a superb degree.

I then learned that police officers and staff are due to face austerities and reductions. Friends who work as dispatchers and call-takers – a job similar to air-traffic control, directing limited assets under great pressure while distressed callers and crime victims scream into their earpieces – will lose weekend bonuses, finding themselves lumped in with the equality and diversity department, reprographics and office for sustainability under "back-office functions".

I now see that Stephen Hester, head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, will enjoy a £6m bonus – for doing nothing other than the job he is already paid well to do, to a modest level of competence. However, I am to be reassured by Chancellor Osborne telling me we "are all in this together", making "a fairer Britain".

Is it just me or has Britain very recently gone stark, raving mad?

NS Preisner, Cropwell Butler, Nottinghamshire

What is Stephen Hester actually doing, after he gets into the office at 8am, that merits the getting on for £2,000 an hour that he is paid (Letters 11 March.)? Just interested; would really like to know.

Penelope Finian, London SW8

Don't believe what the rich tell you

The spurious argument that because private-sector pay and benefits have fallen, so public-sector workers' pay and benefits should also fall, will not cut much mustard among public-sector workers.

First, wages as a proportion of GDP have been falling steadily for all workers, while more national wealth is going to those who already award themselves massive share options and bonuses. As Forbes has just reported, the number of billionaires is rising, not falling. The wealth of the general public, however, is falling. There is a connection between the two.

The workforces of the public, private and social economy will benefit from showing solidarity with each other. Rather than buy the spurious arguments put out by politicians and corporate leaders, private-sector workers can watch and learn from public-sector workers how to organise themselves so that they do not get screwed by people in power.

Dr Rory Ridley-Duff, Sheffield Business School

Hope amid Japan's agony

To keep the markets afloat after last week's tsunami, Japan's monetary authorities have injected several billion dollars into the country's financial system. This will have to be followed by vast public and private investments in the reconstruction of the affected areas.

Depending on how the reconstruction projects are financed, and in view of the relative size and place of the Japanese economy in the world, the expenditure may well prove to be the impetus needed to lift that country, and the rest of the world, out of a recession that refuses to go away.

It is a sad irony that a human tragedy should serve an economic purpose, and not for the first time. It is generally held that the Great Depression of 1930s might have been prolonged but for the German rearmament programme, which apparently persuaded the Americans to follow suit.

German rearmament was the evil preamble to a man-made plan to divide, kill and enslave. Reconstruction of Japan is to restore some normality to the life of a grieving people whose dignified forbearance in the face of such a natural calamity has, once again, earned them the sympathy and admiration of the rest of the world.

Hamid Elyassi, London E14

Still just time to rescue Libya

The revolution towards a progressive government in Libya is being lost while the international community procrastinates.

The broad popular consensus in Libya against Gaddafi's ruthless and eccentric regime is being attacked from air and sea. The Interim Transitional National Council in Benghazi has been crying out for help amid diplomatic meetings and expressions of intention by the "international community".

This is giving Gaddafi the window he needs to crush the popular uprising and exact revenge. It is also a signal to other repressive regimes in the region of the West's lack of will to intervene.

Intervention could prevent more casualties by focusing on the material infrastructure: the airbases, jamming Gaddafi's military communications and forming a naval corridor for support and aid to Benghazi for the fledgling Transitional National Council. This would send a signal to Gaddafi's forces that the game was up, and many would capitulate.

If action is taken we still have time to turn this situation around, just.

Peter Offord, Norwich

Why is it that an autocratic government (Bahrain) can invite foreign soldiers across its borders to put down peaceful "rebel" protest and receive no criticism from the UN on the grounds of the act being illegal?

Perhaps all we have to do is ask the new government in Benghazi to invite Britain and France to send in troops, or even just arms and ammunition. This act would then at once be automatically accepted by the UN as legal.

Or do you have to be autocratic for that to be the case? It is plain that the "rebels" in Benghazi are fighting an autocrat, who, in addition, controls a sizeable amount of oil.

Edmond Wright, Cambridge

Rural idyll with no tokenism

You report on the furore over the remarks made by Brian True-May, the producer of the TV series Midsomer Murders, about the absence of ethnic minorities in any of the episodes. It has been reported that he has been suspended. As a member of an ethnic minority who has lived here for 40 years I regard the growing political correctness in our society as both alarming and sickening.

I watch the series not because its storylines are so clever as to set my brain racing to solve the mysteries, nor for any depth of characterisation. I watch them simply for the beautiful, if somewhat romanticised, setting, which is quintessentially English. I have friends of various ethnic minorities in Australia, Canada and other countries who tune in to the series for the same reason.

The programme producer of Midsomer Murders has decided the setting for the series to be idyllic English villages and countryside. There are many such villages and some which are not quite as pretty. It cannot be denied that in most of them there are no members of ethnic minorities as residents. To introduce such characters in order to tick the box of political correctness is now expected. What a sham! If the background of the series was a town or city it would be a different matter.

I do not thank those who insist that the series must feature characters from the ethnic minorities. Indeed, I would be most insulted, as it would smack of tokenism.

Bravo, Mr True-May, for your courage in speaking out against the overwhelming tide of political correctness. I hope that the powers that be will come to their senses and allow him to continue a series that is enjoyed by people the world over.

Rosa Wei-Ling Chang, Thurlstone, South Yorkshire

I always thought that Midsomer Murders was a satire on the hypocrisy and double-standards of the English middle classes.

It portrays well-off, well-to-do, "law-abiding", Tory-voting people living in thatched cottages and country mansions in pretty villages, where it's nearly always summer and where nothing normally happens. Yet behind this idyllic facade lies rage, hatred, envy, infidelilty, fraud, deception and, of course, homicidal maniacs.

Perhaps this explains why the programme is so popular in France – perfidious Albion and all that.

Norman Evans, East Horsley, Surrey

What nonsense we read about the ethnic mix in this "English" drama. The actor who portrays the main character is of course from a deeply oppressed minority. John Nettles is not English; he is Cornish

Tim James, Penzance, Cornwall

The next victim in Midsomer Murders will be the programme itself. The villain: political correctness!

Colin Bower, Nottingham

Bad arguments against AV

As a supporter of a truly proportional electoral system, the Single Transferable Vote using multi-member constituencies, I'm not exactly thrilled by the timid Alternative Vote (AV) option in the forthcoming referendum. But any doubts I have about voting for AV were already being nullified by the tactics of those who support the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system, who, in the last few days, have both over-estimated the costs of shifting to AV and tried to make the referendum into a protest vote on the personal credibility of Nick Clegg.

John Healey's opinion piece ("Vote reform would benefit only BNP, Ukip and Lib Dems", 16 March) has only strengthened my view.

His claim that AV will allow racists and eccentrics "to have more bites of the cherry" than the supporters of larger parties simply misrepresents the mechanics of AV. Likewise, his claim that "more often than not, it would produce a hung House of Commons" ignores the fact that we have just got one under FPTP and, as support for the two large parties declines further, that such a result is more likely to be repeated in the future.

Finally, his claim that AV will lead parties to jettison "firm pledges" also ignores the result of the last election and makes the rather heroic assumption that this did not already happen under FPTP.

There are many good arguments against AV: it's just a pity that Healey et al fail to make them. But what voters need to decide is whether AV is better than the current system, and if, like me, they favour a more radical reform of the electoral system, whether AV is a small first step on the way.

Andrew Meads, Reigate, Surrey

John Healey's article fails to answer key questions on the proposed reform of our electoral system.

What is wrong with having the support of an absolute majority (as opposed to a mere plurality) of voters?

What is wrong with "more votes [or first preferences] going to fringe candidates" if that is what voters actually want? Why would these voters choose these candidates if their concerns had been successfully addressed by mainstream parties?

If AV ought to be rejected – as he implies – because it is only used in three countries, what exactly will his party do in order to introduce proportional representation, which is used (in one form or another) by the vast majority of European countries?

If – as he claims - the current system "works", does this also apply to the huge number of voters who live in constituencies with "safe" seats and, as a consequence, have little chance of affecting election results?

He denounces AV as a system that would "more often than not ... produce a hung House of Commons" and induce parties to scramble to do coalition deals, but fails to acknowledge that this is what happens inside the two main parties, each of which has its own left and right wings. At least AV would enable voters to indicate the range of parties they are willing to support, thus giving a steer to politicians when they conduct these negotiations.

Dr Dionyssis G Dimitrakopoulos, Department of Politics, Birkbeck College, University of London

Labour MP John Healey's objection to lower transfers being counted under the Alternative Vote would be rather more convincing if that was not also the very system used by Labour to elect its leader. Moreover, courtesy of the public data on how MPs voted in that contest, we know that he himself put more than one preference on his ballot paper and his vote transferred between candidates. If it is OK for his vote to transfer in an election, why is it wrong for the rest of us?

Mark Pack, London N19

It is a bit rich for members of the House of Lords to issue a pompous advertisement (12 March) criticising AV when they failed in their farcical proceedings to thwart the relevant Bill passed by the elected Commons. These are unelected people who will not be eligible to vote in Parliamentary elections whatever the system, yet they wish to lecture the rest of us. Perhaps they should be devoting their energies to reforming the disgrace which is their own unrepresentative legislative body.

Terry Bishop, Deal, Kent

Sundered but still Orthodox

David Taylor (letter, 14 March) objects to the the terminology "Coptic Orthodox faith" on the grounds that the Coptic Church is "not one of the Orthodox Churches", and "broke with the main body of Christendom some 500 years before the Great Schism".

This is somewhat misleading. While it is true that the Coptic Church is not one of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and did indeed break away from what would later become the Orthodox and Catholic Churches following the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Coptic Church considers itself to be Orthodox. It refers to itself officially in English as the "Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria".

The more accurate distinction here is not between the Orthodox Church and the Coptic Church, but rather between Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy. The former consists of the Chalcedonian Orthodox churches whose roots were in the Byzantine empire, and these are the churches that most Westerners typically associate with Orthodoxy; they are the second largest Christian denomination internationally. The latter consists of the Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox churches, the largest of which are the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Armenian Orthodox churches (all of which are in communion with each other). The schism of 451 no doubt seems somewhat obscure to modern Western European eyes, but revolves around a dispute regarding the human and divine natures of Christ.

Alasdair Brooks, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire

Helping students to aim high

Moves to support schemes that widen aspiration, not university access programmes the Government judges merely "adequate", are necessary if we are to encourage pupils from deprived areas to see past eyewatering fee levels and enter our leading universities ("Universities try to avoid 'Ratner' tag by insisting on £7,500 tuition fees', 16 March).

The independent charity IntoUniversity assists hundreds of young students from disadvantaged backgrounds in dreaming big and applying to our top academic institutions. It does so by inspiring children as young as seven to work hard and aim high. Backing top-down edicts with little teeth at the expense of grassroots organisations like this as they combat the poverty of ambition only serves to further stifle social mobility.

Patrick Derham, Head Master, Rugby School

Power puzzle

The reason that the UK isn't covered in hydro-electric power stations (letter, 15 March) is that unlike the Highlands of Scotland, most of the country is comparatively flat. Nonetheless, your correspondent believes that the water to turn the hydro-power turbines could be pumped from and returned to the sea. That only leaves the question of where the power to drive the pumps would come from; perhaps the nuclear power station just down the coast at Sizewell would provide the answer.

Graham Leach, Ilford, Essex


Jane Powell's letter (14 March) on how the cost of setting up the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority could have been reduced makes some excellent points. However, a much bigger impact could be achieved by having fewer people. How on earth can it take more than 60 people to handle the expenses of 650 MPs? That means that each MP has someone spending a whole month a year administering the payment of their expenses. Unbelievable.

Pat Johnston, Hexham, Northumberland


If the younger members of the Royal Family are "the soul of our country" (letter, 14 March), then we are certainly damned.

Alison Brackenbury, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire