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Thursday 4 November 2010
Letters: Perspectives on the French alliance
The Americans won't like this
The Prime Minister has made it clear enough that if the Government had been left with a choice they would have cancelled the two new aircraft carriers ordered to be built by the previous government, leaving the nation with one aged aircraft carrier only.
Now Mr Cameron would have us believe that our defence interests are better served by closer co-operation with France – a nation that has traditionally had little in common with Britain and rarely supports the British view on anything.
The current government's insatiable desire to cut public spending is clearly colouring its strategic defence decisions. The United States, our traditional ally, will justifiably view this new approach to defence with deep suspicion. Once we start sharing defence secrets with France our relationship with the USA will be changed for ever.
I can't help feeling that the current government's actions are making the nation less, rather than more, secure.
Tony Dixon, Chichester, West Sussex
Hysteria strikes Little England
Once more, predictable anti-French hysteria hits Little England, this time in response to a sensible and cost-saving proposal to help offset the savage cuts the Coalition is making to our armed forces. Simon Carr, in particular, lets his dislike for the French overcome historical and geographical fact (Sketch, 3 November).
The French did not "sell Exocets to the enemy". At the time of the sale Argentina was not regarded as an enemy. It was reported at the time that after the invasion the French made all the information about the Exocet available to us. The Argentine navy's aircraft carrier and its two latest destroyers were made in Britain, so we were also "selling to the enemy".
We did not "win all the wars" – otherwise we would still rule large areas of France.
We only "held the line against the Nazis" courtesy of the English Channel, as the German army had already clearly demonstrated its superiority over the British army of the time during the Battle of France.
I can only assume that the anti-French brigade are actually jealous of the French because they do, indeed, stick up for themselves. For example, the French aircraft they will deploy from the carriers is the Rafale, wholly made in France by French workers. The Royal Navy, as you point out, will be flying American aircraft – which just about sums it up.
Yours Terry Hancock, Cherry Willingham, Lincolnshire
How on earth can our government commit us overnight to a 50-year treaty without any prior debate in Parliament, let alone in the country? Why has this not caused outrage among our MPs, whose main purposes are to legislate on our behalf and then to hold the executive to account?
John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife
So the anti-European Tories have done the right thing for the wrong reasons. As a good European I applaud the decision to join with France in a military treaty. Any movement which improves European integration at any level is a step in the right direction. It is clearly for economic motives, but no matter; it is the result that is important.
How the far right of the Tory party must be fuming!
D Sawtell, Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire
This deal with the French, does it mean that, at last, we will be civilised?
Steven Calrow, Liverpool
Death of our universities
Laurie Penny deserves the gratitude of one and all for her piece on the mooted destruction of the British university ("Elitism, Hogwarts-style", 1 November). The fact that she's one of very few people to point out what Lord Browne's proposals mean throws the silence of the vice-chancellors and others into a disconcerting perspective.
The English seem reluctant to notice that private schools, with their small class sizes and splendid resources are founded on the assumption that these are not the right of all pupils. Presumably, intellect resides with the wealthy alone. So far the universities have been immune from this divisiveness. Now it seems likely that the Government will implement it in the tertiary sector, too.
For too long the assumption that the sole function of university education is to equip the individual for the workplace has gone unchallenged. Actually, it's about scholarship, learning, creativity; maintaining the intellectual health of a nation. In no country other than this nation of shopkeepers would it be thinkable that science teaching gets funded, while the humanities do not. And in no other country would Browne's proposals be greeted with anything other than derision and outrage.
British universities have been under the political cosh for decades. The professional competence of the academics who teach within them has been undermined by pernicious bodies such as the Quality Assurance Agency. The Government is now preparing to kill off all the universities, save that rump which will be preserved to service the offspring of the patriciate to which the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members belong. Although it should not, this undoubtedly will go unopposed because, it seems, we simply do not care.
Michael Rosenthal, Banbury, Oxfordshire
As a loyal, active member of the Liberal Democrat party for the past 24 years I am starting to question our policies in government. Our election manifesto clearly stated that university tuition fees for first degrees would be scrapped. This is a policy that most EU countries such as Denmark, Germany and France protect, even with centre-right governments.
Now it seems that the decision has been taken to charge students £8,000 a year to study, surely a remarkable U-turn and to many people a distinct sign of lack of integrity. What is to stop students leaving the UK to study in Europe, where they will receive free tuition in countries that still value education for all? Once upon a time we used to do likewise.
Thomas Eisner, London SW14
If the plan to raise or remove the cap on university tuition fees goes ahead many young people will simply not be able to afford to go to university. Annual fees of £9,000 are astonishingly high. Yet that is the level it is suggested the cap may be raised to.
It is bad for politics in this country that Lib Dem MPs, elected on a promise they would oppose any increase in fees, should be part of a government that makes this change to university tuition fees in England and Wales. The voters will remember in four years' time at the next general election. The voters will remember next year too in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections.
Nigel Boddy, Peterlee, Co Durham
Has anybody bothered to check how the current crop of MPs were financed through university? Have most of them benefited from grants and free tuition but are now refusing to allow those benefits to others?
Saul Gresham, Skewen, West Glamorgan
Alcohol and other drugs
I was pleased to read Professor Nutt's findings on the dangers of alcohol (leading article, 2 November). I was the headmaster of a rural comprehensive school with a Sixth Form of 250-300, for 19 years.
We lost no pupils to drug abuse, although all the main drugs were accessible in the town, but we lost several pupils over those years to the effects of alcohol. Cars, drink and teenagers are a dangerous and sometimes fatal combination.
I arranged parents' evenings on the dangers of drugs and on HIV and well over 100 attended. I arranged such an evening on the dangers of alcohol and fewer than 30 attended. It is accepted that teenagers will drink and parents accept it as normal but, in fact, the dangers are far greater than from drugs.
I do not just refer to the fatalities or injuries but to the wrecking of homes by drunken teenagers gate-crashing a party, to the unexpected pregnancies resulting from the loss of control and to the disturbance of the community by rowdiness and broken glass.
Thank goodness for Professor Nutt. May his warnings be heeded by all.
Anthony D Wood, Liskeard, Cornwall
Your correspondents fail to see the true nature of the recent survey of the comparative harmful effects of drugs.
Alcohol has such horrendous personal and social consequences precisely because it is the only substance on the list which is legal, cheap, freely available and heavily promoted by multinationals. Over the past 10 years the progressive liberalisation of the sale and use of alcohol has been accompanied by an entirely predictable and parallel rise in bad health and antisocial behaviour. It would be absurd to use such figures as an argument for legalisation of other drugs.
Prohibition works in many countries. It didn't work in the USA because it was arbitrarily imposed on a citizenry with a constitutional right to own automatic weapons and to pursue a concept of happiness which no one has ever taken the trouble to define.
Rob Brownell, Colchester
If Terry Hammond's assertions about the dangers of cannabis (letter, 3 November) were able to be backed by evidence, which I think will not be possible, he would have made a very good case for its "legalisation". That would allow its use to be regulated and the health risks, which he claims are damaging "tens of thousands of young men" could be monitored and people who use it could be educated. This would answer his plea for "more accurate figures" rather than wild guesswork.
Professor Pat O'Hare, Prevessin, France
Right on Fry, wrong on Islam
A pity that Julie Burchill could be so right and so wrong on the same page (3 November). Pretty well spot on with Stephen Fry's daft comments about women and sex, but doesn't she know why so many Muslims rushed to Hitler's cause?
Muslim support for Germany was the direct result of British and American support for a Jewish state and the massive influx of Jews from Europe, seen by Palestinian Arabs, not unnaturally, as European colonialism, an "invasion by immigration".
There is never any "excuse for Islamist evil", but neither is there for any other kind. One doesn't have to be an apologist for Islam's "worst excesses"' to know that the Palestinians have suffered a great injustice. and putting that right will be the better way of dealing with radical Islam.
And if Avigdor Lieberman, subject of a report on another page by Donald Macintyre, isn't the nearest thing to an Israeli fascist – a recent immigrant, living on stolen land and telling anyone not Jewish to get lost ... Thank God for Rabbis for Human Rights.
David Carter, Leicester
History lesson for Obama
When Harold Wilson first won an election in the 1960s, partially on the promise of higher pensions, the Governor of the Bank of England, Lord Cromer, called him almost immediately, and told him he couldn't keep his promises, because "there would be a run on the pound".
Wilson said: "Are you saying that incoming Labour governments need to have conservative policies?"
Cromer replied: "I am afraid so."
I often wonder if Wilson had gone on television that night and told his supporters (and the nation) what he was up against, rather than being seen to go back on his words, whether and how his supporters would have rallied.
What happened then is nothing compared with the vast pressures President Obama experiences from a corrupt system in America, where individuals think nothing of spending enormous sums of money to discredit him, and lobbying vested interests routinely make it impossible for him to do what he promised, in spite of his "anti-lobbying" legislation.
Maybe now is the time to be honest and expose the realities of this "God-fearing" American dream, where millions live in abject poverty, where ordinary people die through lack of affordable health care, and the life expectancy of some children in some areas of New York is lower than in Calcutta.
I confess though, that while I advocate courage, I myself am too cowardly to hold my breath.
Jenny Backwell, Hove
Do aliens have a god too?
David Whitehouse asks whether God has saved aliens in other galaxies in the same way as, Christians believe, he has saved us ("Is anybody out there – with a soul?", 3 November).
Surely the prior question is, do those aliens actually need saving? Did they fall into sin, like us, and need to be redeemed from it? If so, were there versions of Adam, Eve, the Garden of Eden and the serpent on other planets, as C S Lewis speculated in his science fiction novel Perelandra?
Otherwise one can only assume that it was our own Fall that somehow contaminated the whole universe. In that case, we've got a lot to answer for.
Dr Robin Orton, London SE26
What a fascinating article regarding the view of Christianity on the religious significance of finding extra-terrestrial life somewhere in the universe. Unfortunately, the whole argument seems redundant, as the Bible struggles to make sense to the present generation of humanity, never mind trying to project how our descendants will see any use for it.
Gene Roddenberry, when devising Star Trek in the 1960s, saw the sense of this when he declined (against studio pressure) to have a chaplain as a member of the Enterprise crew. As he was quoted as saying at the time: "Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all."
Stanley Broadwell, Yate, Gloucestershire
Keep that average up
David Gould (letters, 2 November) writes that "Having a few really clever people in the country means more than half of the rest of us are below average."
He doesn't seem to have considered that the number of really clever people will be balanced by the number of really stupid people. My observations in many walks of life, including The Independent, I regret to say, is that really stupid people far, far outnumber really clever people.
Still, at least that means that most of us are of above average intelligence.
John Hall, Dawley, Telford
David Gould points out how more than half of us can be below average. My late father used to cheer us up by pointing out that, as there were no amputees in the family, we all had above the average number of limbs.
Roger Morgan, Epsom, Surrey
Backing the firefighters
There is a growing assumption that the fire service is on the most extraordinary conditions of service.
Apparently they sleep all night, earn a fortune and add to this by working in second jobs. This sounds remarkably like the lifestyle of the very politicians and journalists who are in the vanguard of the anti-firefighter attack.
Go on then, ask your readers instead of telling them something for once: who do they trust in a jam, politicians, journalists or firefighters?
Vaughan Thomas, Usk, Gwent
J W Wright (Letter, "Don't make us get up in the dark", 3 November) puts his finger on the essence of the dispute about the possible adoption of permanent Summer Time. As was shown in the experiment in the 1960s, such a change would suit those who live in the south-east and start work comparatively late. Unfortunately for the rest of us, this category includes journalists and politicians.
D W Budworth, London W4
How interesting to learn from your picture caption (Notebook, 1 November) that Oliver Cromwell was a little too fond of golf. Was he helped by his 7 ironsides?
Gordon Elliot, Burford, Oxfordshire
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