Letters: Perspectives on the memory of riots

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Ackroyd's 'harsh' city can be tolerant

Peter Ackroyd, in relation to the recent riots in London, describes London as "a harsh city, a dark city based upon money and upon power" (The Monday interview, 22 August)

While I understand the context of the comments, which can apply to many cities, particularly financial centres, London is also unique.

London has been a place of sanctuary and until recently never imposed any dictum to its citizens to become "British" or even learn English. This has changed with the introduction of citizenships tests. People arrived as immigrants and could replicate their life in their home countries.

London's strange mix of architecture makes it different from other cities, with minimal planning as the villages step on to each other. London might seem harsh, yet can be gentle and tolerant. The picture painted by Ackroyd is over-simplistic.

Alexandra Murrell, London SE17

Beatrix Potter and the 1886 anarchy

The speed at which riots in London are forgotten, as Peter Ackroyd says, is illustrated in The Journal of Beatrix Potter, published by Frederick Warne & Co in 1966. It is a fantastic read and I urge anyone who hasn't bought or read it to storm all second-hand book dealers until they find a copy.

She gives vivid, if mostly second-hand, descriptions, of the "mob" violence after 29,000 working men attended a Social Democratic Federation meeting in Trafalgar Square in February 1886. Shops and clubs were attacked, a huge stone hurled through a woman's carriage. There were fears and rumours and sporadic attacks for days, a jeweller feared dead, the Government allegedly doing nothing and reports of copycat riots in Leicester, Nottingham and Birmingham.

Yet only two months later, when trials ended in acquittals, she says memory of the riots has disappeared because people are absorbed in the Home Rule issue.

Tina Rowe, Ilchester, Somerset

Keeping order in India

India has a population of one billion people. All the problems of poverty and unemployment we face here in the UK are magnified many times over in India, yet you rarely see the kind of riots we witnessed this month.

The reason is that at the first sign of trouble a curfew is imposed and a severe beating with long sticks awaits anyone who dares to break the curfew. The police would not hesitate to shoot if the need arose.

The second reason is that the family unit remains strong and children are brought up to believe that nothing is going to come easily. A strong work ethic is imbued in children and bringing shame to the family is considered the ultimate disgrace. We have lost the values which once made this country great, such as discipline, courage, compassion and the determination to do the right thing. It sounds old-fashioned but the sanctity of marriage and curbing individual desires for the greater good of society need to be made the norm again.

Nitin Mehta, Croydon, Surrey

Victory in Libya, and now Cameron must make a good peace

Politics aside, David Cameron, President Obama, their Nato allies and our armed services deserve due recognition and honour for helping to rid Libya and the world of a malignant dictator.

The Prime Minister and his colleagues have shown considerable resolution, determination and courage in facilitating the birth of the Libyan Big Society out of the ashes of the Gaddafi compound. Mr Cameron dared and looks to be on the verge of scoring a considerable win.

If Libya is spared the years of civil war, mass bloodshed and chaos that afflicted post-war Iraq, Mr Cameron will be judged very favourably both by history and lovers of freedom.

Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex

It is a pity that among the euphoria of the Libyan rebels capturing Tripoli and the fall of Gaddafi, we have forgotten that the original UN resolution was about "protecting civilians" and certainly nothing about regime change whatsoever.

Mission creep has already occurred on a monumental scale. Nato was the air force for the rebels, and "protecting civilians" was just an effective smokescreen while regime change was the only goal that Nato sought.

For some commentators to compare this Boy's Own adventure to the operation in Bosnia and Kosovo is to undermine the seriousness of those crises, especially in relation to Bosnia and the documented ethnic cleansing that took place before Nato's just intervention.

This unjust war may yet have sown the seeds for future conflicts that we may live to regret.

Derek Pickard, Cambridge

Like most people in the West, I rejoice as the people of North Africa appear to be becoming free. My concern is that sometimes revolution in the Middle East world only makes matters worse, as in Iran. I am holding my breath.

D Sawtell, Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire

The claim by the head of BBC newsgathering that the corporation has been providing comprehensive coverage from Libya since February (letter, 25 August) cannot go unchallenged.

Despite the fact that more than 2,000 bombing sorties have been flown by the Nato air force, I cannot recall seeing any film of these attacks on any TV news channel.

If journalism is the first rough draft of history, the current reports do us all a disservice, suggesting as they do that this whole war has been won by gangs of civilians in leather jackets with nothing more than Kalashnikovs and Toyota trucks, rather than by the lethal intervention of billions of pounds worth of military aircraft and their deadly weaponry.

Colin Burke, Manchester

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said that there were "absolutely no plans to have any British boots on the ground" in Libya. Is that why the soldiers from the elite 22SAS Regiment who "have been hunting for Gaddafi on the ground" are "dressed in Arab civilian clothing"?

Jenny Backwell, Hove

How the rich avoid taxes

Most tax havens used by UK nationals are the creation of the UK Parliament, which licenses the peculiar status of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the Cayman Islands and so on.

If there was serious intent to prevent tax avoidance ("UK to tax secret Swiss bank accounts", 25 August), then not only would the status of these bogus statelets be unilaterally altered by Parliament but at the same time it would become illegal for UK nationals, without prior declaration to HMRC, to hold offshore any part of their income generated in the UK.

While any action taken falls short of this, we know that doing cosy deals with Switzerland is window dressing.

Trevor Pateman, Brighton

Nigel Wilkins (letter, 18 August) asks how come the highest earners manage to pay so little tax?

One of the ways in which those earning more than £150,000 can reduce their tax bill is by taking advantage of generous pension contribution tax reliefs. A 50 per cent tax break makes it attractive for individuals and companies to implement "salary sacrifice" arrangements whereby an element of salary is handed back to the employer in return for a larger pension contribution from the employer, which also happens to save the employer National Insurance of 13.8 per cent.

Accordingly, while "salary sacrifices" are legal, the problem lies in granting tax reliefs at the individual's marginal rate. Capping pension tax reliefs to 20 per cent would soon generate significantly more tax revenues and be genuinely redistributive.

Italy has recently introduced higher tax rates and is badging them as "solidarity contributions"; so perhaps our Prime Minister should rebrand the 50 per cent tax rate as a membership fee towards the Big Society.

D P McLauchlan, Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Deaths no one is prosecuted for

Deaths associated with police use of "non-fatal" weapons are a regular occurrence, from those involving blunt instruments, such as Blair Peach, to the recent deaths that occurred after the use of Tasers and sprays. They don't always get the prominent reporting of deaths caused by police firearms, but what follows is usually the same.

First, information discreditable to the victim is spread though the media. It needn't be relevant to the case, as the purpose is to undermine support for the victim's family.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission will then take ages to produce a thin dossier, which will enable the Crown Prosecution Service to say there isn't enough evidence to prosecute anybody. The police force and the police authority will close ranks and exonerate everybody involved.

The final act, probably two years down the line, is the inquest, which will struggle with its antiquated procedures to unearth what happened, while all the coroner can do is to write a stiff letter to some minister or other asking for action.

This repeated pattern gives rise to the police's presumption of impunity that campaigning groups such as Inquest and Amnesty rightly challenge. Much more must be done to ensure that the accountability of any agency that is empowered to use violence against citizens is effective and has the confidence of the citizenry.

Nik Wood, London E9

Old-fashioned lack of discipline

As a teacher of "post-war baby boomers" I would have had an enormous rocket from my tutors in 1950 had I taught in the way Mike Stroud asserts was normal in his day (letter, 23 August). Perhaps he meant the first baby boom in 1919.

My father-in-law was an "old-fashioned teacher" from those times. Were any of his colleagues attacked by angry parents? They most certainly were, to the extent that there were those who had to take early retirement. Life became easier with the abolition of corporal punishment – you called in the parents instead; we were then a team that worked out a strategy.

Mike Stroud illustrates the common fallacy that everybody who went to school is an expert in education.

Ellis Berg, Selsey, West Sussex

Confrontation on the towpath

It should be possible for pedestrians and cyclists to share paths (letters, 24 August). It involves everyone being aware of the fact that others share the same path, and keeping to one side.

When I'm on my bike and I encounter pedestrians who blatantly spread themselves out across the whole path, I cycle as near them as is safe in order to shock them into awareness. When I encounter people taking care, I give them as wide a berth as possible and often call out a cheery "Thank you" as I go by.

Jenny Macmillan, Cambridge

According to Peter Randell's sweeping generalisation (letter, 24 August) I'm a lycra-clad lunatic by default.

I always signal my approach with a bell. I always slow down. If there is a pushchair or group of walkers I get off and walk my bike around them. I always say "Thank you."

I rarely get such consideration from people with dogs on long leads or the most arrogant walkers, who think they own towpaths.

Matthew Hisbent, Oxford

Your conscience or your job

John Wainwright (letter, 23 August) complains about Christians "of good character and with exemplary work records" being forced to choose between their job and their conscience, as in the case of the registrar who objected to civil partnerships, arguing that it is contrary to the spirit of any fair-minded society.

What about gay people of good character with exemplary work records in that fair-minded society? Why should they be forced to endure the prejudice of a decreasing number of people wedded to belief in Bronze Age man's sky god? The requirements of any job are clearly stated. If you can't meet the requirements because of your "conscience", whether in the public or private sector, then you are ruling yourself out of doing the job.

Alistair McBay, Methven, Perth

It seems to be the current trend for "faith groups" to shout discrimination and expect secular institutions to accommodate their beliefs. This isn't only insulting to those who have suffered genuine discrimination but seems to suggest that those with beliefs should be exempt from laws everyone else has to follow.

The most absurd of the four recent cases is the registrar who refused to carry out civil ceremonies on conscience grounds. Why then did she work in a register office which is for those who have no religious beliefs?

Steve Lustig, London NW2

What Jan Moir wrote

Charles Garside (letter, 25 August) leaps to the defence of his columnist Jan Moir over an article in the Daily Mail shortly after the death of Stephen Gately back in 2009.

Ms Moir stated that healthy and fit young men do not go to sleep, never to awaken. Cardiac arrest does occur in young adults, even children, whether they are awake or resting. Perhaps she would benefit from a visit to the British Heart Foundation website.

Furthermore, the fact that there was a third individual within the property at the time of Stephen Gately's death does not justify her to term the events as "more than a little sleazy". Would she have used the same offensive terminology had it been a heterosexual couple?

Finally, she makes the profound, bizarre jump from writing about the untimely death of an individual to attack the basis of civil partnerships and even cites cases where they have been troubled. Since we are now being told by Mr Garside that it was never an article on "gay lifestyle", but one surrounding drink and drugs, why mention same-sex relationships at all, especially in such a judgmental tone.

Richard Quinlan, London. SW2

It is true that that Jan Moir did not use the word "deviant" in her 2009 article, as John Kampfner implied she did in his article of 22 August, and Charles Garside is right to point this out. But to claim that she connected Stephen Gately's death purely with drink and drugs and not a "gay lifestyle" is to insult readers' intelligence.

Moir wrote; "If we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his [Gately's] death are more than a little sleazy", citing as evidence that Gately and his partner had returned home that night with a Bulgarian student.

Moir was explicit about homosexuality and Gately's demise, claiming that a "real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships".

Sean Cordell, Manchester

Dark day for lightbulbs

Steve Halden (letter, 22 August) mourns, on economic and environmental grounds, the imminent EU banning of the traditional 60-watt light bulb. Here are two further reasons to grieve.

The heavier replacement bulbs unbalance angled or flexible floor, table or desk lamps, requiring their premature replacement, and – worst of all – the bulbs give off less light than their predecessors and are a disaster for failing eyesight, whatever the official reports may claim. Who on earth foisted them on us?

Yvonne Ruge, London N20

The likelihood of earthquakes

Your leader writer's grasp of statistics is appalling ("Not many dead", 25 August). The fact that a terrorist attack on the eastern seaboard of the US has happened more recently than the last earthquake there does not mean of itself that it is more likely. The confusion of important events with likely events is the exact mental tendency which statistics combats.

Jonathan Laventhol, London EC2

PM back from holiday again

Over the past month or so I have often heard and read that David Cameron has "cut short his holiday to return to return to Downing Street". Given that he has taken four holidays in the past five months, wouldn't it be more accurate to say that Mr Cameron has "'cut short his work to return to holiday"?

Henry Page, Newhaven, East Sussex

An absolute disaster

John Wells (letter, 25 August) is underestimating the irritation caused by politicians being "clear" about almost anything; they are always absolutely clear, which leaves me absolutely exasperated.

Jill Lindemere, Lymington, Hampshire