Letters: Perspectives on the census

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Question 17

Susie Rushton, who lives in England, comments (Notebook, 8 March) on the blank Question 17 on her census form. Having now received our copy of the form, I am disappointed to realise that unlike us in Wales, she will not have the opportunity to impress the Office of National Statistics with her level of ability in the use of the Welsh language.

Peter English, Ruthin, Denbighshire

Tough choices

I have received three separate census forms. What shall I do with the superfluous two? Bin them or return to sender? In either case the Faceless Ones will be confronted by two unfilled or unreturned forms. I shall be prosecuted (twice) and sentenced to jail (twice). Should I perhaps temporarily adopt two new personae? Or just hastily emigrate?

Allan Friswell, Cowling, North Yorkshire

Religious protest

Receipt of my census form has left me both angry and delighted. I am angry that the law is forcing me to give personal information to a unit of Lockheed Martin, an armaments corporation that profits from death and destruction. I am delighted that Question 20 provides me and any co-religionists with exactly the right number of spaces to tell them that my religion is Stop Selling Arms.

Philip Gilligan, Littleborough, Greater Manchester


If Peter Forster (letter, 9 March) reads question H1 he will see that the census caters for far more than a ménage à trios, as the second option is "Family members including partners...", apparently an unlimited number of them.

Gordon Whitehead, Scalby, North Yorkshire

A Gaddafi victory would teach a terrible lesson

You headline your front-page story "Why won't the world help us? – Libyan rebels plead for intervention" (10 March). I couldn't agree more.

Ben Ali and Mubarak went because they or their minions or their armies were not prepared to murder their own populations en masse. Gaddafi, however, is. If we now fail to act in ways that help the free Libyans to beat him, and he triumphs, with unimaginably terrible consequences for the Libyans who dared with desperate bravery to oppose him, every dictator in the world will learn the lesson.

Every dictator will ask themselves: "Am I being violent enough? Am I going as far as Gaddafi did? For, if not, then I'll probably lose; whereas, if yes, then I'll probably win."

Is that really the lesson we want the world to learn from the Arab Spring?

Councillor Rupert Read (Green Party), Norwich

Is the free world once again going to stand around talking while a people struggle to gain their freedom?

I remember with tears the last broadcast from Hungary as the rebellion of 1956 was being crushed by Soviet tanks. I was born as the Spanish republic was being betrayed by the liberal democracies. The Libyan people have proved their bravery and no one – from Cameron and Clinton down – doubts the justice of their cause.

It cannot be beyond the wit of our leaders to get anti-tank weapons – and tanks – to them now, not in days or weeks. If the rebellion fails, our leaders will stand in the dock with the statesmen who have stood idly by so many times before, washing their hands as the people's blood flows.

Richard Frost, Whitehaven, Cumbria

Your front-page headline (10 March) reads: " 'Why won't the world help us?' ", and explains: "Libyan rebels plead for intervention".

There is, sadly, a simple answer to their question. It is that, over the past few years, organs like yours relentlessly fostered a climate of opinion hostile to intervention against another brutal tyrant, Saddam, who was not only terrorising his own people but flouting the terms of the 1991 Gulf War ceasefire and the UN Security Council resolutions established to enforce it.

You maintained that any intervention against Saddam, despite his brutality to his people and his flouting of international law, was both immoral and illegal – at least in the absence of further express UN Security Council approval.

In this climate of opinion an American President was elected (with your full-throated approval) who shared this world view. So now we have a US administration which, despite Gaddafi's brutality, refuses to lift a finger without UNSC approval (in effect handing over moral responsibility to Russia and China, those models of respect for human rights).

Why won't the world help the Libyans against their ruthless dictator? Go figure.

Michael Grenfell, London NW11

Policies come and go, as do politicians, but what is important is that Britain continues to exert a great influence in world affairs. I disagree with those who ask, "What business it of ours?" when human rights and world security are threatened. We need to continue to "hit big"", and it is here that I have greatest concern. How can we hit big when we don't have any big hitters?

The current performance of the Foreign Office and 10 Downing Street in response to the Libyan crisis is not what I expect from the top of British government. The performance of the incumbents may very well persuade the other major powers that we belong in the second division, from which there may be no future means of promotion back to the top flight.

Robert Stewart, Wilmslow, Cheshire

If we believe our leaders in the West, the war in Iraq was an attempt to solve the death and violence in Iraq by throwing more death and violence at the problem. Considering solving the problems in Libya by military means seems to be just as irrational.

There is an old saw about "If you want to go there, then you do not start from here." Having supplied arms to Libya and all manner of other autocracies, we in the West are starting from the wrong place.

David Partridge, Bridport, Dorset

If the Libyan protesters are abandoned and left to the mercy of a despot while the rest of the so-called United Nations remain passive spectators, what lessons do we learn about the morality and ethics of international co-operation and the status of human rights on this planet?

Who will step forward and lead?

Brian Woollard, London W5

Why Hague is a big asset

Your front-page quote "William Hague is becoming a liability to his party" (10 March) will be challenged by many actually in the Conservative party – and to be fair does not really summarise Steve Richards's balanced article.

Taking on the leadership of the Conservative party after the 1997 defeat was always going to be a hiding to nothing. For two years I was a member of Hague's shadow cabinet. The public did not want to know about new policies or new ideas. And after 18 years in power who can blame them ?

The years leading up to the 1997 debacle had been dominated by internal strife inside the Conservative parliamentary party. Hague's most important job was to try to restore some collective self-belief – which he did not least by a series of brilliant speeches from the front bench. His achievement deserves to be better recognised.

He brings experience and skill to the Government and the prospect of a more independent foreign policy than simply trailing behind the United States. Far from him being a liability, William Hague is essential for the future of the Coalition.

Norman Fowler, House of Lords

Public service pensions cut

Having taken on a job with the Coalition, the former Labour minister John Hutton seems to have also taken up Tory principles.

His recommendation means that public-service workers will in future have to accept that the agreement that they entered into at the beginning of their careers as regards the extent of their pension entitlement should be broken – in the name of fairness.

Bankers, faced with the prospect of huge bonuses while many of the rest of us are pushed into financial misery, also spout fairness as a reason for their insistence on the contractual rights they hold with respect to their remuneration.

The Coalition has seen fit to address this latter issue by having a quiet word with the banks but not to showing any willingness to claw back any of these ill-gotten gains through, for example, specifically targeted personal tax measures.

Barry Butler, Birmingham

In your coverage of the Hutton pensions report Lord Hutton is quoted as saying: "These proposals aim to strike a balanced deal between public-service workers and the taxpayer."

Presumably he assumes that public-service workers are not taxpayers, and thus do not contribute to their pensions by way of taxation as well as through their personal direct contributions to their pension scheme. It doesn't stop there either, as they also pay tax on their pensions when they get them.

Mike Ingham, Lincoln

If the Government really thinks its trades union "problem" is politically motivated militants, it needs to think again.

The executive committee of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has voted to prepare to ballot members for industrial action. This is a highly significant decision – the last time ATL voted to recommend national action was in 1979. This alone should give the Government cause for thought. It reflects a profound anger on the part of teachers against this government's persistent attacks on the public sector through its toxic mix of cuts and reductions in public-sector pensions.

It is time to nail a few lies peddled by the Coalition: public-sector pensions are not gold-plated – the average teachers' pension is £10,000 per year, hardly the stuff of which luxury retirements are made. Public-sector pensions are not unaffordable – the changes already made, including the move from RPI to CPI and the rise in the retirement age from 60 to 65 for new entrants, have reduced the liabilities on schemes by over 30 per cent.

ATL is prepared to negotiate reasonable changes in order to maintain the viability of the teachers' pension scheme – but only when we have the facts, including the valuation of the scheme which has now been delayed by over two years. Without an up-to-date valuation we have no basis on which to judge whether the scheme needs further reform.

As government ministers meet in their war room and prepare their attack on unions, they should reflect that there is huge opposition among reasonable and moderate people, and the unions which represent them, to the Government's proposals.

Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary, ATL, London WC2

Most public-sector pensions are neither "gold-plated" nor "generous". They are about the same as pensions that used to be quite common in the private sector until Gordon Brown and greedy employers took a hand.

The most gold-plated and generous pensions in the public sector are the ones paid to ex-members of the House of Commons, so it would be enlightening if Lord Hutton were to disclose his own pension arrangements.

B Emmerson, Selby, North Yorkshire

Bankers, the new aristocrats

RBS boss Stephen Hester has "justified" their "restraint" in bonuses by saying that a 1p increase in the share price will benefit our 83 per cent holding by £900m. But he admitted two years ago that the share price would depend much more on a general economic recovery than on the board's actions.

The whole sector's profitable operations (both those making overall profits and RBS, which is not) are to a large extent due to continuing taxpayer support, well beyond the original bail-outs, in the form of so-called quantitative easing (printing money) which our children and grandchildren will be financing for decades to come.

Such bankers are to us what dukes were to Lloyd George: "A fully-equipped duke costs as much to keep up as two Dreadnoughts ... and dukes last longer." They are not entrepreneurs risking their own money; they are functionaries. Hester's 2010 pay of £7.7m would pay for a senior NHS consultant back to 1939, or for an average earner to 1690.

Mervyn King has at last begun to query why the global banking sector, unique among global industries equally dependent on recruiting and retaining the best worldwide talent in their industries, needs to pay such massive sums.

John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife

Speed means more jams

Simon Gray (letter, 10 March) is certainly right that people routinely drive at 80mph on the motorway as it is. But what is the logic behind raising the speed limit? Surely not fuel economy – everyone knows that the faster your engine runs the more fuel you use, and trying to maintain a faster speed usually requires more braking and acceleration on a busy motorway.

Faster speeds mean more road accidents (and thus more disruption and more cost to the public purse) and, even without accidents, actually contribute to congestion. Some years ago John Redwood, the then transport minister, suggested increasing the speed limit to 80mph to reduce hold-ups, demonstrating a complete misunderstanding of how traffic-flow works. The faster traffic is moving, the quicker it builds up when flow is restricted, with most cars in the queue eventually having to stop and wait even when traffic is still flowing at the head of it.

What could be worse for fuel economy than tearing along at 80mph for half of your journey time and stopping and starting and moving along at snail's pace for the other half?

Francis Kirkham, Crediton, Devon

Do climate models work?

I must have read a different exchange of emails between Steve Connor and Freeman Dyson from those of your correspondents (letters, 28 February). To summarise the emails, there was substantial agreement about the observational facts. And in his first email Dyson acknowledged that climate change had occurred. The disagreement was about computer models of the global climate, and what could be made of them.

Dyson suggested that the models were poor at handling the land (soil, biosphere etc)/atmosphere exchange of carbon dioxide and the effects of global cloud cover. Connor ignored the comments though towards the end he mentioned the recent finding that the Amazon rainforest could make annual emissions of CO2 comparable to human activities.

Connor didn't seem to recognise that if some processes are neglected in the models which are then found to "work", it doesn't guarantee that the neglected processes really are negligible. That has to be proved by understanding them well enough to show that they are small, and that the main effect (here, human agency) has been identified correctly. That hasn't happened yet.

Garth Groombridge (letter, 28 February) reminds us of Dyson's suggestion of artificial planets from 50 years ago – a wacky idea indeed, but we are told this only as an ad hominem argument. I remember Freeman Dyson speaking on the occasion of the opening of the Science Centre at the restored George Green mill in Nottingham (mid-1980s); he gave an inspiring lecture but was quite modest about his own (considerable) achievements in physics. Take your pick as to which picture of Dyson you prefer, but neither is relevant to discussion of climate change modelling.

Professor Guy Woolley, Nottingham

Drunken 'genius'

Deborah Ross (10 March) asks whether being "a genius" offers any excuse for John Galliano's drunken outbursts. I have on a number of occasions drunk too much alcohol. As I am naturally a peaceful person, I do not become violent. Violent people become more violent under the influence of alcohol. I suggest that an anti-Semite becomes even more overtly anti-Semitic when drunk.

Neil Nevitt, Liverpool

Broken vows

The Hollywood stars who paid to hear Vladimir Putin sing "Blueberry Hill" cannot be too surprised that the designated charity has not received any money (report 10 March.) They would all have heard the Russian prime minister sing in the third verse: "But all of those vows you made were never to be."

Ivor Morgan, Lincoln

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