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Friday 24 June 2011
Letters: Perspectives on the Greek debt crisis
Nation has cause to be angry
Unfortunately, Sean O'Grady's perception of rioting Greeks as "a spoilt child's tantrums" (22 June) is probably widespread beyond Greece's borders. However, it is mistaken. I was in Athens last week visiting some of my wife's friends and relatives (my wife is half-Greek) and I met a large number of taxi drivers, shopkeepers and ordinary working Greeks.
Every one of them was accepting of the fact that the days of early retirement, tax evasion and state handouts were gone and could not return. They acknowledged that Greece had run up huge debts in better times and that the financial chickens were now coming home to roost. The Independent recently pointed out that Greeks work the longest hours in the EU. Greeks are trying to reduce their debt by working even more hours in the day for less pay and by accepting some of the IMF agenda of austerity measures.
What angers "the ordinary Greek" and has led to the occupation of Syntagma Square, is that the ruling political class, regardless of party, is not sharing the economic pain. Furthermore the IMF and European institutions, by insisting on further and harsher austerity measures, are behaving like international loan sharks.
I fear that if Greece is pushed too far it will feel that there is no alternative to defaulting on its debt, and the implications of this will be felt throughout Europe, north and south.
John Krispinussen, Chippenham, Wiltshire
We will have to share the pain
Recent posturings by commentators stating that Greece should simply be allowed to go bust are ill advised. Because of the interconnections of the European economy we would all be hit, the UK included.
Greece effectively has three options – it can either default, deflate or devalue. To default would be the nightmare scenario and would endanger investment in the likes of Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy, the eurozone's other weak economies. It also runs the risk that Greece would not be able to get access to the global credit markets, although this fear proved to be exaggerated for Russia in 1998 and Argentina in 2001. In addition, not only is the UK exposed to these debts, but a Greek default would heavily impact on the balance sheets of British banks, as well as weakening the European Central Bank.
The option of devaluation would mean a Greek exit from the euro, and this would risk a similar withdrawal by some of the fragile European economies, destabilising our largest trading partner.
That leaves deflation, grinding out improvements in competitiveness by cutting wages and keeping the lid on costs. That is precisely what Germany did when it joined the single currency at a rate which made its exports expensive, and it sees no reason why Greece should not do the same.
There is considerable pain ahead for Greece, but we should not be so complacent as to think that what happens in Athens will not have an impact on the UK.
Alex Orr, Edinburgh
Among all the animosity concerning Greek debt there has been a tiny ray of sunshine. Nato has asked all members to contribute 2 per cent of GDP to defence. Only three countries have complied: Britain, France and Greece. Perhaps that is where money has gone or; could it be to selfish, small-minded financiers?
Eric V Evans, Dorchester, Dorset
One way to stop Greek fiscal hubris turning into nemesis would be for each of us to take a holiday in Greece. This would pump much-needed capital into their economy and give us all a sun-drenched break in the cradle of western civilisation. Everybody wins.
Stan Labovitch, Windsor
Disaster for the oceans
Congratulations on your front page on the disaster taking place in the oceans (21 June). But you can be sure that there will be no co-ordinated international action programme to arrest it.
On the contrary, the causes will be further indulged, the mad fishing, the agricultural waste, the fossil fuel addiction, and so on, until the oceans really are dead. Soon after, so are we.
David Halley, Twickenham, Middlesex
Peak oil, yes, and now peak fish. But when will we see peak human?
Rupert Evenett, London SE10
How to cut legal aid bill
If Ken Clarke wants to cut the legal aid budget without upsetting the vast majority of the law-abiding public, thus ensuring their support against the vested interests of the legal profession, I have a suggestion.
Allow anyone entitlement to legal aid on two occasions. This will allow those with a genuine need, such as cases against hospitals or other large organisations for alleged failings, access to the support they need. It would bar persistent criminal offenders, who use the majority of the legal aid budget, from accessing this money repeatedly to defend often spurious cases.
It may also have a positive effect on offending behaviour if they believe their chances of getting off on a technicality or other similar defence are removed.
As a retired police inspector, I have seen individuals and whole families come through the revolving doors of custody tens or hundreds of times, safe in the knowledge they will not have to pay a solicitor to try and defend what are in many instances clear-cut cases.
By all means keep the right to free and independent legal advice at the custody unit stage, but you can be sure that any solicitor will only then insist on "no comment" interviews or opting for trial in cases where there is a genuine case to defend, rather than advising the client to plead not guilty to drag out the process in the hope of muddying the waters or a witness losing interest, while increasing the amount eligible to be claimed by the lawyer.
Nigel Archer, Newport, Shropshire
No fun being old without a drink
Apparently the over-65s who enjoy a glass of wine a day are to be advised to halve their intake. A glass half-full, indeed! One is reminded of Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"
Jane Gregory, Dundee
Being old has its problems, as you come to be accused of being responsible for all sorts of things, including the demise of the state pension scheme and bedblocking problems in the NHS, in addition to a range of questionable items that are wrong with our society.
Now we are being accused of drinking too much, which must be the last straw for those who have worked all their life, paid all their taxes and are now being warned not to have an enjoyable and lavish lifestyle of more than a half pint a day.
I'm off to have a jolly good dram, and couldn't care less about this nonsense. I hope you may print this letter, but don't worry, I will have forgotten about it tomorrow.
Dennis Grattan, Aberdeen
The report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, setting much lower limits on what the elderly may safely drink, reminded me of a wise and pragmatic former GP who used to say: "I wish I could prescribe whisky on the NHS for my elderly patients. It takes away the pain of living more effectively than anything else I have to offer."
Doraine Potts, Cheltenham
The Queen or President Who?
Is it not about time that those republicans whose articles and letters appear so frequently in The Independent gave some thought to the inevitable outcome of their principles being adopted?
It is nice to think that one day some national folk hero, such as Sir Richard Branson or David Beckham, might become President of Britain. Who knows, even the late Spike Milligan might have made it: he got closer to the next head of state than most of us ever will.
In fact, as we saw with the referendum on the alternative vote, where informed debate took second place to considerations of which political grouping might benefit, any presidential election would immediately be hijacked by the existing parties for their own advantage. The question would inevitably become: do you want President Thatcher; President Blair; President Tebbit; President Prescott. Or alternatively: which party does Candidate X support? About the only ostensibly independent contenders who might stand a chance would be those tycoons who could command extensive favourable personal coverage through ownership of media channels.
Sound philosophical arguments can indeed be made against a hereditary head of state, and one can criticise the personalities of the likely incumbents and their entourage, but none of these carry the blood of Iraqis, Afghans or Libyans, not to mention British soldiers, on their hands, or have half bankrupted the nation. There are many faults in the way Britain is governed, but having a constitutional monarchy is not one of them.
M A Timms, Iver, Buckinghamshire
Optimism about renewables
The article about the new report on renewable energy by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contained some inaccurate and misleading claims ("Climate change panel in hot water again over 'biased' energy report", 16 June).
Sven Teske, an engineer who works for Greenpeace International, was not, as your report suggested, the only lead author of the chapter on "Mitigation Potential and Costs" which reviewed published research about different scenarios for the development of renewables up to 2050. In fact there were nine lead authors. All authors of IPCC reports are nominated by national governments, and Dr Teske was put forward by Germany. The other lead authors included Raymond Wright from the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, and all were subject to the IPCC's rules on conflicts of interest.
The report chapter reviewed 164 scenarios for the development of renewable energy over the next 40 years which have been published in the technical literature, and examined four in detail.
The most optimistic of these four scenarios projected that renewables could meet 77 per cent of primary energy supply by 2050, but made some rather dramatic assumptions, such as the complete phasing out of nuclear power and extremely large increases in energy efficiency. This scenario was not given greater prominence in the report than the other three.
It is disappointing that the IPCC chose both to launch the summary without the full report in May, and to issue a press release highlighting the main finding of just one of the many hundreds of published papers that were reviewed. But The Independent should be more wary about repeating unsubstantiated claims made by the IPCC's opponents.
Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science
Welfare, work and taxes
Helen Longworth (letter, 22 June) is being somewhat disingenuous when she seeks to use the fact that poor families pay tax to counter Christina Patterson's criticism of welfare dependency (16 June).
Of course, everyone pays tax – particularly VAT. But it is almost certainly the case that poorer families are net beneficiaries of the tax system, while the employed middle classes are net contributors.
She goes on to blame the problem on the fact that the current labour market is "flexible". By this, she apparently means that persons are not guaranteed the right to a job of their choosing. No doubt it would be wonderful if they were, but let's try and aim at some semblance of realism. The fact that a million or so east Europeans have been able to come to the UK and find work, and provide a level of service within such work which is attractive to employers and consumers alike, is a clear sign that employment is, in principle, available.
The truth – unpalatable as it may be to some – is that such jobs would have been taken by British workers, were social benefits not available, simply because they would have had no other option had they wished to survive. Christina Patterson was doing no less than point out some simple truths. As soon as I read her entirely sensible article, I anticipated with near certainty the onslaught of letters seeking, but failing, to deny its obvious veracity.
Simon Humphries, London SW18
Pretty good for a 'Ponzi' pension
David Culver (letter, 20 June) may know about Ponzi schemes but he appears to know little about public-sector pension funds.
I receive my pension from the Greater Manchester Pension Fund and every year in April it provides me with a summary report based on the legally required Annual Report and Accounts of the previous year.
The figures for the year ending 31 March 2010 showed investment returns for the year of over 36 per cent and in its various investments it beat the market in all but one area, property, and even here it showed a return of nearly 10 per cent. Total income was £187m greater than expenditure, meaning that this amount extra is available for investment this year. Rather better than a Ponzi scheme, I think.
Gordon Whitehead, Scalby, North Yorkshire
Some of the spin about Danny Alexander's proposals for public-sector pensions has been reported so often that it is in danger of becoming accepted fact.
The Coalition has not "guaranteed that no one earning less than £15,000 will be affected" by their plans ("Unions risk becoming as irrelevant in the public sector as in the private", 20 June). It is proposed to exempt this group of public-sector workers from the contribution increase to be imposed, but their pension benefits would be slashed in line with everyone else's.
The proposed new pension age will only be 66 for some but will be 67 and 68, or higher, for millions more.
Neil Walsh, Pension Officer, Prospect, London SE1
That wasn't in the manifesto
Giles Oakley and Stuart Edgar express moral outrage (fashionable in some circles) that coalitions can pursue policies not set out in their manifestos (letters, 21 June). But why target coalitions? I don't remember a Labour manifesto arguing for privatisation of the London Underground or for 90 days' detention without trial, let alone for the suspension of jury trials.
All these were either enacted, or attempted by a Labour Party holding an absolute majority; a party which also promised not to introduce tuition fees (which it did) and which consistently campaigned on a platform of an elected House of Lords (against which it is now, remarkably, campaigning).
Coalitions mean, almost by definition, that parties must compromise their pledges. But if Messrs Oakley and Edgar want an instance of real disillusionment in democracy they should look no further than a million people marching against a war which was shamelessly prosecuted with the assistance of a pliant Commons majority.
Steven Rhodes, London SE11
Ancient wisdom from Stonehenge
I enjoyed your report on the welcoming of the summer solstice at Stonehenge (21 June).
I was interested to see the contribution made by the celebrated Druid protester King Arthur Pendragon. Might he be invited to guest edit the New Statesman? After all, he already has the beard, the frock, the exotic headgear and some curious beliefs. His views on the Big Society and the democratic legitimacy of the Coalition Government must surely be of supreme interest to the wider British public.
Alistair McBay, Perth
Steve Lustig is too hard on "substantive" when he calls it "not a real word" (letter, 22 June). The word has existed since the 16th century in some meanings. Many words acquire new meanings or shades of meaning over the years, and the usage that is equivalent to "substantial" has been attested since the early 19th century. How long does a word have to be in use before it becomes real?
Martin A Smith, Oxford
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