Letters: Perspectives on UK manufacturing

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The Independent Online

Tragedy of our last train factory

It's appalling news that the UK's last train factory, in Derby, may close. However, there are many factors that put it at a severe disadvantage compared with those of our European neighbours (report, 5 July).

Derby is stuck in the middle of the antiquated UK rail system, which has a loading gauge that is too small for transporting any full-sized trains to continental Europe. That makes it just about entirely dependent on the UK market. Its survival is always vulnerable to any lost or delayed order. To compound that problem, the Department for Transport – controller of most train purchasing – has been spending millions of pounds on consultants without placing a single train order for over two years. Their stop-go tactics totally ignore the needs of a viable manufacturing industry.

Bombardier, Derby's owner, has factories in other European countries. Thus it has very little incentive to build trains in Derby for the larger-gauge continental European market when they would need to use road transport and shipping to get them across the Channel.

The DfT had already jeopardised the UK industry by sticking resolutely with a Japanese manufacturer for its Intercity Express Project, despite both the specification changing beyond recognition and the blatantly protectionist antics of Japanese train purchasers.

On top of all that, the successful bidder, Siemens, probably won quite fairly, as it makes high-quality trains, currently in regular use all over Britain.

Stuart Shurlock, Basingstoke

We've slavishly followed the US

In the UK we have followed too slavishly the American "ideal" of private enterprise, capitalism and competition. But the single biggest reason why America became a leader in technology was not because of their much-vaunted private-enterprise system (which had put them behind the Soviets) but because, after being scared silly when Sputnik went up, the US government invested hugely in the area – a very "socialist" idea, and very different from the approach Mr Osborne is now taking. It was all hidden away as defence spending on which no questions are asked in Congress.

If we in Britain had done the same it might really have been "Silicon Fens" instead of "Silicon Valley", because back then we had the talent and we had the education. All we needed was the investment – just as we do now.

John Day, Port Solent, Hampshire

A nation of consultants

Richard Laming writes (Letters, 5 July) that countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and France that joined the euro have not suffered in the financial crash and are growing out of recession faster than the UK. The three examples given each have a huge annual trade surplus, and this is largely because they make things and regard this to be far more important than producing a nation of lawyers and management consultants. Much of their wealth came from the consumer-led purchasing frenzy of their goods by the non-productive EC members which, because of the false value of the currency and low borrowing rates, have racked up historic debts as a result.

Michael R Gordon, Bewdley, Worcestershire

Engineers vs businessmen

Sir Alan Sugar, dismissing a contestant on The Apprentice, said: "I have never yet come across an engineer who can turn his hands to business." Businessmen succeed by selling something for more than it's worth. Engineers succeed by making something that's worth more than it cost.

Which breed knows how to manufacture pharmaceuticals, refrigerate food, generate electricity, build bridges, store water, process sewage, prevent flooding, establish emergency communications or design life-support machines?

Stephen Wearne, Alderley Edge, Cheshire

A depraved culture where phone hacking flourished

The question of whether or not Rebekah Brooks was aware of the specifics of the tapping of Milly Dowler's mobile obscures the wider issue that she presided over an organisation where this form of behaviour was acceptable, even normal.

At the News of the World it appears that celebrities were not regarded as being worthy of any sympathetic consideration or dignity, whether showbusiness people, or those caught up in real-life events.

Last night on Newsnight a former NOTW journalist said that phone tapping was no big deal, everybody did it, whether it was a wife checking up on her husband or a mother checking her child. No, actually, not everybody does it – and to compare a mother checking up on her child with hacking into the phones of murder victims and their families for money shows just how depraved that climate must have been and – who knows – still is.

Diane Hughes, Sidmouth, Devon

"Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" Just as Henry II created a climate in which some of the knights around him concluded that he wanted Thomas à Becket murdered – without ever actually ordering his execution, and afterwards claiming it was not what he had wanted – so, too, senior executives and editors in the News International Group appear guilty of creating a climate in which reporters and private investigators felt pressured into using any means available to them to obtain information about people in the news.

It may be true that senior executives and editors at the NOTW and other newspapers did not personally sanction or know about phone hacking and other illegal methods of information gathering.

However, as one of the private investigators has shown, the relentless pressure that editors put on reporters and investigators, to come up with information on people in the news inevitably created a climate in which the methods by which information was obtained strayed further and further from what was legal.

If they didn't know what was being done they are guilty, at the very least, of turning a blind eye. Now, of course, they deny any knowledge of what was being done, or of sanctioning anything illegal – but whether they knew or not, they created the climate that led to the these crimes.

Julius Marstrand, Cheltenham

The recent revelations concerning the appalling behaviour of private investigators working for the NOTW are beyond horror. However, it is surely only the latest manifestation of the arrogance that lies at the heart of News International.

This incident is indicative of an organisation whose leadership culture has led it to believe that it was untouchable and above any law. Such a culture trickles down, permeates the organisation and this is the inevitable result.

The root cause of this arrogance is the power that the newspaper purchasers give News International. This has created in the UK a situation where a national newspaper editor can admit paying the police in the course of a parliamentary enquiry, and know that she will not be touched. A UK which is manning the barricades against interference from the European Union is allowing an Australian-turned-US- citizen to dictate the agenda of our political and social life.

This can only be resolved in one of two ways. Either News International's operations in the UK are broken up, or the people who buy its papers stop doing so.

John Dowling, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Rebekah Brooks says she knew nothing about illegal phone hacking when she was editor of NOTW and she will not resign from the even bigger job she has been given by Rupert Murdoch.

This is the same woman who, when editor of The Sun, demanded the shaming and sacking of Sharon Shoesmith, head of children's services in Haringey when "Baby P" died.

Ray Jones, Professor of Social Work University of London

I agree with Rebekah Brooks that "the strongest possible action" is required. Such action must surely include Ms Brooks's resignation.

Yet she continues to behave with the same lack of responsibility as she did when the NOTW's revelations concerning "paedophiles" caused disorder that required police intervention. Despite being the ultimate executive authority for what was effectively incitement, often against people who were totally innocent, she kept her job. She has since been promoted, and has yet to be held to account for actions that she allowed to occur.

Simon Jackson, Barnet, Hertfordshire

As we drown in the flood of new revelations concerning the depths to which News International will stoop, I am led to wonder how they accounted for the money they have admitted paying to police officers? And whether a full audit of their accounts might not be in the public interest?

Manda Scott, Clungunford, Shropshire

Last week, on the day after Federer was knocked out of Wimbledon, and Tsonga and Murray progressed to the next round, most quality newspapers printed photographs of one of the three showing their respective emotional response to the situation. What did The Times print? A photograph of Pippa Middleton. And The Times is the best of Murdoch's "news" papers.

If the BSkyB takeover is allowed to progress, we must expect an inevitable lowering of journalistic standards.

Joel Baillie-Lane, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Matthew Norman's intemperate piece (6 July) ignores history. Were it not for Mr Murdoch and Mrs Thatcher's victory over the destructive power of the print unions there would be no Independent today for him to write in.

When I was at The Times in the 1970s and 80s there were over 80 print chapels, at The Times and Sunday Times, all but 17 of which could cripple production and frequently did. Almost every weekend The Sunday Times would lose several hundred thousand copies. The owner then, Lord Thomson, who never interfered with editorial matters, was destroyed by the unions, including that of the journalists. It was impossible to start up a newspaper, so high were their demands.

The Independent was only founded after News International's revolutionary move to Wapping.

Barry Winkleman, London SW3

I'd like to offer my support to Rebekah Brooks. I think she's absolutely right to refuse to resign. She the perfect figurehead for the Murdoch empire in Britain.

What better reminder of the utterly amoral venality of News Corporation than that she remains in a senior position within the organisation? How sweet the moment when Jeremy Hunt has to humiliate himself by writing to News Corp to approve their takeover of BSkyB with Brooks still in post.

Jonathan Kent, Wadhurst, east Sussex

A long wait for Olympics tickets

I read about the disappointed applicants for tickets for the Olympics in 2012. Oh, come on!

I have been waiting 63 years for tickets for the athletics. When I was 13, attending the local grammar school, there was great excitement. Mr Hapgood, a lovely man and a teacher in our school, announced in assembly that he was running a trip to the Olympics athletics in London. I rushed home at dinner time to beg my father for the five shillings deposit. He knew how keen I was on sport especially rugby and athletics. He had been taking me to rugby internationals for two years but this was different.

I raced back to school with my deposit clutched in my hot little hand and knocked on the staffroom door and Mr Hapgood opened it.

"What do you want, Margaret Harris?"

So out of breath I could hardly speak I said:

"I've brought my deposit for the London trip."

"Didn't I say? Boys only."

I was absolutely devastated.

So now, 63 years later, I applied for several sessions for athletics as well as for equestrian events to take my granddaughter and YES! YES! YES! I have been allocated two tickets for the evening session on 10 August. So be patient you lot and roll on 2012.

Margaret E Davies, Port Talbot

Who wants to be a politician?

Christina Patterson says that politics is too important to leave to the politicians (Opinion, 29 June). We all know this, but she seems long on describing the problem but short on suggestions about what we can do about it.

We are, by definition, not the professional politicians she deplores, we are not members of political parties, an increasing number of us are over 50, and we have all sorts of interests and commitments, social, cultural, sporting, intellectual, which don't leave us much time or inclination to participate in the narrow, spiteful, partisan world of politics.

What are we to do? Join our local Conservative/ Labour/ LibDem party, and submerge our doubts in leaflet delivering and dreary commitment to a programme we only half believe in? In any case, the leaders of all the main parties have very effectively cut themselves off from real influence from their so-called grassroots, and retreated into the PR-protected Westminster bunker.

Some of us feel intermittently strongly enough to take to the streets to protest against really obvious examples of political incompetence or deceit, like the Iraq war, or to engage in fairly pathetic demonstrations of anger and frustration like last week's strikes, but it's abundantly clear that the political classes rapidly distance themselves from those of us who do.

The number of us who think it worthwhile to turn out every few years to take part in the election of a small and usually insignificant cog in the political machine is also not as great as it once was.

So what are we, the average-to-mediocre, pretty busy, anxious, not terribly bright, rather doubtful, relatively inarticulate, more-or-less honest, ordinary, normal people to do?

Bob Ruffle, Great Malvern, Worcestershire

The night of Gielgud's arrest

There is no mystery about what happened to John Gielgud in October 1953 after he was charged with persistently importuning for immoral purposes – despite Jonathan Croall's attempts to muddy the waters (Letters, 29 June) in the new edition of his Gielgud biography.

Sheridan Morley's official biography of Gielgud (2001) quoted Sir John as saying that he had been too embarrassed to telephone for help from the influential producer Binkie Beaumont. Croall accepted the Gielgud-Morley account in his own first, 2000 Gielgud biography.

The actor Keith Baxter, who was a friend of both Gielgud and Beaumont, when interviewed by Croall for this new edition – Matinee Idol to Movie star – confirmed the accuracy of what Morley wrote, since more than 40 years earlier he had heard Gielgud saying the same thing.

Croall now puts forward a claim, apparently made by the actor Robert Flemying, who died 17 years ago. Flemying appears to have said that Gielgud was rebuffed in his attempt to speak to Beaumont on the phone. Yet in Matinee Idol to Movie Star Croall quotes not a single word of what Flemying or his other "reliable" but anonymous sources actually said to him. More tellingly still he does not refer at all to the evidence with which Baxter supplied him. But then Baxter's account would have undermined the veracity of what Flemying and those other "sources" alleged.

Nicholas de Jongh, London N1

Commas on the loose

Oxford isn't the only place with a comma problem (1 July). Here we have a shop selling industrial clothing which for many years has advertised "Overalls Logo,s Embroidered Printed". Local pedants are divided as to whether this is a grocer's comma or a lapsed apostrophe.

Anthony Bramley-Harker, Watford


Following Brian Viner's "Adjectives I'd rather not have to read in the shower" (1 July); I am using a shampoo "for hair that has lost its confidence".

Nancy Henshaw, Bournemouth, Dorset

Cliché encore

End the correspondence on clichés? You would say that wouldn't you?

Steve Ash, Warborough, Oxfordshire

Regarding the attempt to kill the cliché debate dead with "enough already", Pete Bellotte (Letters, 5 July) may find that it's not over 'til the fat lady sings.

David McArthur, Glasgow