Letters: Perspectives on spending cuts

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Prisons at risk of breakdown

The calls for the prison population to be reduced will soon be answered. The prison service budget will be subject to cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent. The number of prison places will have to be reduced, as prisons will be closed and thousands of prison officers will be made redundant.

Will the probation service and community service programmes be protected from budget cuts? There will be large number of newly released prisoners and convicted criminals with no prison place available.

In the past, at times of high unemployment, welfare benefits were either maintained or increased. The Government is promising to reduce benefits by £11bn. Historically hard economic times have brought an increase in crime. Will Kenneth Clarke be able to keep his part of the criminal justice system working? If crime increases and the budget cuts make it impossible for the criminal justice system to cope, look for a new justice minister at the first reshuffle next year.

George D Lewis, Brackley, Northamptonshire

Can we still afford the Lottery?

With the Coalition seeking relatively painless ways of shrinking the state and reducing public spending, I wonder if they will be brave enough to swing the axe in one obvious area of national excess, the National Lottery?

As an instrument of Conservative Party policy in the early 1990s, the lottery was a perfect product of its time, redistributing money largely from the lower socio-economic groups (addicted players) to the middle (arts and sports beneficiaries from the so-called good causes). But it is time to ask awkward questions: can it be right for there to be a state gambling monopoly, the only form of gambling made available in shopping centres, newsagents and supermarkets, and legally available to children over 15?

The National Lottery can be abolished as easily at it was introduced. This would put millions of pounds a week back in the pockets of ordinary citizens, now freed from the fear of "their" numbers being drawn on a day when they had forgotten to buy a ticket. Adults who want to gamble can choose to do so in a properly regulated environment designed for people over 18. Their stakes will still benefit "good causes": gambling companies are fairly taxed on their profits.

Steve Hickman, Eye, Suffolk

Politics without compassion

Oh dear, another example of clever thinking that overlooks the heart, and from a female journalist too. Has Mary Ann Sieghart (Opinion, 27 September) any experience of what it is like to be on incapacity benefit for genuine reasons, or someone (the vast majority of whom are single parents) struggling to raise their family with the assistance of housing benefit, threatened with moving away from family and friends or the terrifying prospect of becoming homeless?

I have experience through friends and family of people in both these situations, which the Coalition is so breezily set on attacking.

Take compassion out of politics and you have a pretty ugly result. And that is where we are heading.

Mora McIntyre, Hove

Make the poor pay

I judge politicians by their actions rather than their promises. Making cuts to public services and freezing pay while failing to garner the extra revenue that would come from a revaluation of council tax tells me what the Conservative-Liberal government is really about: not sharing the pain but protecting the better-off at the expense of the poor.

Quentin Deakin, Bingley, West Yorkshire

Beware strikes

I think the Government is cutting the deficit too fast and risks putting our economy back into recession. However, I have just been caught up in the chaos caused by people desperately getting on to flights to avoid an imminent general strike in Spain. If our public sector unions call such strikes to oppose government cuts, then support for those unions will evaporate.

Valerie Crews, Beckenham, Kent

Labour under Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband's conference speech stressed the importance of "this generation" – his generation – on 15 occasions, no less.

This sadly can be construed as the politics of exclusion rather than inclusion. Those who teach know that within every generation there are those who are alive to new ideas and those who are not.

There is most certainly a need for new focus in Labour's strategies, but also the need for a "family" made up of the dynamic, creative members of all generations.

Professor Doug Clelland, Liverpool

Although I agree with Ed Miliband that the Iraq war was wrong, it is easy for him to score political points on this. If he had been in Parliament at the time does he expect us to believe that he would have defied his party and voted against the war, and ended his career before it began?

On the deficit, at the election Labour were calling for cuts of £73bn. Yet they disparage the Coalition for cuts of £113bn. It seems likely now that Labour will row back from its election promises of cutting the deficit for something far more cautious – at a time when the IMF says the Coalition's plans are on the right track. The Labour Party needs to have a credible alternative to the Coalition Government's planned spending cuts.

John Boylan, Hatfield, Hertfordshire

Andrew Grice's report "Caught unawares, David Miliband finally makes true feelings known" (29 September) reminds me of my first-class colonial education in Uganda where I was grilled in the works of William Shakespeare, who wrote in Julius Caesar: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."

David Miliband omitted to take the high tide under Gordon Brown in June 2009 when his friend James Purnell resigned from the Cabinet and called on Mr Brown to step aside because his leadership made a Tory victory "more, not less likely". Mr Miliband should have taken the flood, resigned and forced Mr Brown to step down, making way for his own ride to fortune as the new Labour leader.

Sam Akaki, London W3

I wholeheartedly agree with Chris Lilley (letter, 29 September). I, too, left the Labour Party: after 30 years of support and a short period of euphoria (1997), I found the move to the right unbearable. Many of my friends (teachers, doctors – the middle-England chattering classes) did likewise.

I would love to vote Labour again and would do so if they demonstrate that they are motivated by principle. Let's hope that Ed Miliband will do it.

Christina Jones, Retford, Nottinghamshire

Ed Miliband won because of the union vote in his favour, it is said.

Well, that is part of the explanation; but the full explanation is that he won because of the votes of the MPs, party members and union members – compared with the votes for David Miliband. Had David secured a few more votes from any of the sections, he would have won because of the combination of votes from the three sections.

To focus on one section, when all three were vital for the win, manifests a political agenda.

Peter Cave, London W1

The selection of Miliband Minor opens up some interesting possibilities in five years if he keeps to his stated intentions.

At that time we could have a progressive left-of-centre government in Britain while in the US there could be a regime of right-wing extremists led by Sarah Palin. Such a coincidence should lead to the ending of this idiotic "special relationship" so loved by some sections of the media. This relationship has brought Britain a string of disasters: two wars, the deaths of too many British soldiers, banks collapsing, the credit crunch, economic disaster and now savage austerity to get us out of this mess. Has this relationship brought us any benefits?

Jim Wright, Calne, Wiltshire

In Tuesday's Viewspaper we read that "Gossiping glossies are rot off the press", while, on a news page, your man in Manchester gossips on why Louise Shackleton, partner of David Miliband, "may have been crying". I think what's important is that we now have a Labour leader speaking about the injustice of the massive income gap and the role of trade unions in reducing it.

Jane Thomas, Lewes CLP delegate, Manchester

Ed Miliband considers the Iraq war to have been a mistake. This is not enough – he must tell the people of this country whether or not he considers the attack on Iraq a crime.

If he thinks that it was not a crime, he must explain how, despite being a mistake, it was nevertheless legal, and if he thinks that it was a crime, then he must make a commitment to bring to justice those who were responsible.

Nick Wray, Derby

After seeing Britain dragged in the wrong direction for so many years, I suppose it is gratifying to hear Ed Miliband admitting that the Labour government fouled up in so many key areas, including Iraq and civil liberties.

But this prompts a number of questions. If they were so wrong so often – and God knows we told them at the time – why did they do it? Why did their MPs, and the rest of the party, support them? What guarantee is there that they won't go off the rails again?

Tony Cantlay, London SE1

The language of youth

Emma Thompson told pupils at her old school, Camden School for Girls, that using "teen speak" made them sound stupid (report, 28 September). Some time ago I could not help but overhear a conversation among a group of teenage boys about football.

Their grammar was appalling and the narrowness of their vocabulary was stunning. Take away "like" and "fucking" and there was little else left. I was just beginning to conclude that the special needs department at their school had not done a great job when the topic of conversation turned to what they were going to study at "uni" the following year.

Ms Thompson comments on the need of modern teenagers to have two types of English, one for use among themselves and one for more official occasions. The pupils at Camden School will have that ability to switch languages. Many teenagers do not. If the boys on the bus cannot make the switch I fear that they will be at a disadvantage in later life whether or not they have been to "uni".

"When like Derby and Disraeli formed their minority government they must have been like oh my god we must pass a reform bill or like we'll lose the next election."

Am I right to be irritated by this sort of language, or would you advise me, as you advised Ms Thompson in your leading article, to "chill"?

Stephen Shaw, Nottingham

Could someone quietly explain to Glottal-Stop Ed Miliband that Hampstead Mockney sounds as phoney to those of us who live outside the M25 as the mid-Atlantic "regular guy" from Fettes did five years ago?

David Burton, Wellington, Telford

Bright students who miss out

Anecdotal evidence from friends and relations off to university this year (or not) suggests that one of the reasons why some "high fliers" have been usurped by less well qualified candidates is that they are not receiving very good advice about their second-choice offers.

Under the current system of Ucas applications, students apply to up to five institutions and, regardless of how many conditional offers they are made, may accept only two. Common sense dictates that to apply only to universities and courses demanding the highest grades and then to accept two offers very close together such as three As and two As and a B is to tempt fate.

Unfortunately some high-achieving schools and parents, and their equally ambitious offspring, failing to entertain the idea that they might not obtain the grades predicted, refuse to consider anything other than Russell Group universities. Where this happens, the pupil who "narrowly misses" their predicted three As will suffer. The judicious student, perhaps from a less well known school, who has hedged their bets and accepted one lower offer from somewhere out of the top 30 is probably strolling down to the student union as I write.

Kathy Moyse, Cobham, Surrey

Ammunition for bigots

Joe Grice's letter (28 September) implies that the methodology adopted by the Office for National Statistics sidesteps the problem of under-reporting among gay and lesbian people, even while admitting that the survey "asks a question on a respondent's self-perceived sexual identity rather than looking to measure the wider concept of sexual orientation".

Given that this survey relies on self-reporting, any related headlines should read not "Just 1.5 per cent of Britons are gay, says pioneering survey" (24 September), but rather "Just 1.5 per cent of Britons admit to being gay to a complete stranger".

Can Joe Grice explain the apparent correlation between youth, higher education and homosexuality revealed by his organisation's research? If this research is to be trusted, non-homophobic parents the length and breadth of the country must be praying for their offspring to be homosexual, since this apparently will increase their chances of being not only well-educated, but permanently youthful.

Bitter experience tells me that bigots and imbeciles throughout the nation will seize on this meaningless statistic as grounds for discrimination. I would welcome some intelligent research on the subject – the ONS has produced nothing resembling it. Frankly, Gaydar is a better indicator. And unless it is attracting approximately 1.5 million non-gay members, I think the ONS has some explaining to do.

Mark McInnes, London SW2

Failure to stop child abuse

I fully endorse all the points made by Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 28 September) about our attitudes to paedophilia. Yes, "society is to blame", including the breakdown of family life. However, with my previous extensive professional experience of all forms of child abuse, including those inflicted by paedophiles, I feel that there is one further essential factor to widen the debate: communication, both inter-professional and inter-agency.

If "society" really wants to avoid future cases like Baby P, then a good start would be to look at the recommendations listed after every long report generated by previous similar fatal cases of child abuse over many years. A common factor in all these tragic cases was recognition of a failure to communicate often serious concerns about the child, especially between health professionals and social workers. Often this resulted in blame shifting from one person to another.

How many more cases like Baby P will it take before we start putting noble words into proper action?

Dr Michael A Reynolds, retired consultant paediatrician, Buxton, Derbyshire

Civil war epic

Willem Mesdag's panorama makes a breathtaking Picture of the Day (29 September) but I do recommend to your many readers who fly to Atlanta, Georgia, that they take time out to visit the city-centre cyclorama that details the destruction of the city in 1865 by the advancing Union army. This cyclorama is amazingly engaging but, sadly, overlooked by both tourists and residents and in danger of being lost for ever. It is not only a work of art but a more than fitting contrast to the sadly soulless steel and glass that now characterises downtown Atlanta.

Mike Abbott, London W4

Save the forests

Your leading article of 22 September claims that the Coalition Government has "walked away" from a pledge to ban the sale of non-sustainable rainforest timber. It has not. Ministers are just dovetailing their plans with the agreement recently secured to introduce EU-wide legislation from 2012. Incidentally, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas was the European Parliament's rapporteur and can claim credit for building cross-party agreement on the subject. I wonder if she will ever again play such a role in shaping important environment legislation now that she has moved to the Commons.

Chris Davies MEP (Lib Dem, North-west), Brussels