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Monday 16 April 2012
Letters: Politicians and tax
Boris's earnings demean democracy
Owen Jones (Opinion, 13 April) is quite right to highlight the bias of the right-wing media concerning Ken Livingstone. But he fails to mention the utter hypocrisy of the media when it comes to Boris Johnson earning a quarter of a million pounds on top of his generous publicly funded salary. If, when Livingstone was Mayor, he had been paid a six-figure sum, perhaps by The Guardian, the media would have been apoplectic with rage and the campaign against him would have been vociferously led by The Daily Telegraph, the very paper now paying Johnson an obscene amount of money for a weekly column.
Why is it that no one seems to think that it is utterly undemocratic for someone like Johnson, in public office, to be paid more than 10 times the national average wage for promulgating his propaganda, while taking public funds in salary? When he is allowed to carry on preaching his gospel during the Mayoral election, it just adds insult to injury and demeans democracy.
East Horsley, Surrey
Owen Jones attempts to split off London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party he is representing. But Livingstone is standing on the platform of the Labour Party and the record of that party in office, both in Whitehall and City Hall, was the key reason that he haemorrhaged votes at his last outing.
The housing crisis in the capital that Owen highlights is one example. The Labour policy of the Livingstone years was to defer to the big budget, "prestige" projects of big business and to tag on a minuscule proportion of so called "affordable" housing within it. Rocketing rents, even in the charitable housing sector, are just one consequence of Labour and Livingstone's deference to the rich.
Similarly, Labour and Livingstone defer to powerful institutions like the police. Livingstone shrugged off the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes as little more than unavoidable collateral damage. His relationship to Sir Ian Blair was even more deferential than the Blair/Brown fawning on the secret services, and Labour's councillors on the Police Authority were the same.
It is this link between candidate and party that is going to mean that Brian Paddick, who has the best policies on police accountability, will get virtually no votes since he has the misfortune to be carrying the banner for the justly hated Liberal Democrats.
Mary Pimm & Nik Wood
Babar Ahmad would be better off if he were French
Babar Ahmad, Gary McKinnon, Abu Hamza and other British citizens wanted by the US would be a lot better off if they were French (report, 10 April). If there's one thing France does well, it's keeping the hands of other jurisdictions off its own citizens. France doesn't extradite its citizens to the US.
When Dominique Strauss-Kahn was facing charges of sexual assault in New York last year, the possibility that he might flee beyond reach to France so alarmed prosecutors that he was able to obtain bail only by waiving the traditional French protection from extradition.
This doesn't mean that French citizens are above the law. It just means that if overseas prosecutors have evidence against a French citizen living in France, they have to send the evidence there and let the French courts do the job. It's a piece of straightforward Gallic common sense that we would do well to emulate in Britain. Unless, of course, we actually like the idea that our police forces can arrange to have us tried in either Britain or the US, just as they please.
Abu Hamza, Christopher Tappin, Gary McKinnon, Ian Norris, Wojciech Chodan, Jeffrey Tesler, Richard O'Dwyer, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan are all victims of the same problem: the US-UK Extradition Treaty. British citizens accused of a crime allegedly committed on British soil should be tried in Britain. Instead of the British authorities looking at the evidence in order to decide whether to prosecute at all, a spurious connection to US servers suffices to send Britons to the US (as in the case of O'Dwyer and Ahmad). That's US universal jurisdiction by the back door.
Most free email or cheap domain providers are based in the US. Tomorrow it could be you who unknowingly commits an offence in the US for an act that is lawful in the UK, as was the case with Ian Norris.
This is how far British sovereignty has been eroded. We are all unknowingly subject to a foreign law. Even worse, Ahmad and Ahsan have now been in jail for eight years without charge, and thus have already served a substantial sentence. Had they been found guilty by British courts they would now be free. Instead of being tried, Ahsan become mentally ill in detention, and Ahmad is likely to end up in 23-hour US solitary confinement – considered tantamount to torture by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights. The Extradition Treaty must be torn apart, and Britons put on trial in the UK.
A-level reforms beset by problems
You report (4 April) that A-level examination syllabuses and papers are to be provided predominantly by the research-intensive Russell Group universities. I wonder if their "dons" would like to mark the scripts as well? They could always delegate such tasks to their post-graduate students as they do most of their teaching responsibilities.
The deification by both the media and government of the Russell Group is unwarranted. They are a self-selected cartel which circled their wagons in 1994, alarmed at the threat to their cosy existence posed by the new competition. Those universities formed two years before, the "former polytechnics" as they are still sniffily described 20 years on, have long since helped to close the graduate gap between the UK and more successful nations.
The differences between old and new have narrowed over that time and the latter have always paid more attention to their teaching duties. The notion that it is better to study at a research-intensive pile translates in practice to being tutored by postgraduate students. The reality is that both lecturers and students at "good" universities know that mere graduation will be perceived as innately superior, irrespective of the quality of the teaching and studying involved.
Professor Chris Barton
(Former external examiner)
Having recently given evidence to the Education Select Committee inquiry into the administration of examinations for students aged 15 to 19 in England, I read with great interest the news of the Education Secretary's new A-level reforms (report, 4 April).
As a department of the University of Oxford, Oxford University Press welcomes discussion of how best to achieve educational excellence. But there remains a concern from many of the teachers that I speak to over the close proximity in relationship between awarding bodies and publishers.
What teachers tell us is that it must be clear that schools have the freedom of not only which exam boards they choose, but also which textbooks and course materials they select. Separate to any reform of who controls the syllabuses, this type of choice for teachers is also central to academic excellence.
Managing Director, Education and Children's Division, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Big family strains world's resources
Viv Groskop praises a couple who have had 12 children and are now emigrating because of the lack of job prospects in this country (Opinion, 11 April). It takes more than hard work to support 12 children; it takes land to grow food, raw materials to manufacture the clothing, housing and other goods they need. Water is required for washing, cooking and manufacturing. If you have more than two children, you are in effect appropriating for your family all the extra material resources and goods they need, and taking them away from someone else, and their children. You will also be taking them away from the few remaining wild spaces of the world, eating further into the wild forest, and exhausting further the oceans.
It is particularly ironic that the family intends going to Australia, where water shortage is reaching a crisis, and in the largest state the taking of a bath has become a luxury society can no longer afford.
Dangers of raw food for pets
The report that 18 per cent of chicken meat is infected by Campylobacter (13 April) is dismissed by the director of the British Retail Consortium, who says that there is no risk provided chicken is properly cooked. Among pet owners there is a minority of highly vocal evangelists who advocate that pet dogs and cats be fed on a raw meat, especially chicken wings. There is a significant body of scientific evidence that this can lead to infection of pets with Salmonella, Campylobacter and E.Coli. Some of these pets become symptomless shedders of micro-organisms which pose a health risk to their owners.
John Burns BVMS MRCVS
Woeful inaction over horse deaths
The response of the horseracing authorities to the deaths of horses at Aintree seems to be that they will have to take a long look at yesterday's events before any changes are made. The death of a proven champion belies the notion that controlling the quality of the entrants will have an effect. There have now been four deaths (of horses) in two years. I guess we are waiting for the (unlikely) death of a jockey before any real action is taken. The difference between a horse and a jockey is that the latter takes part voluntarily.
UK tourists boost Scottish economy
The tourism figures this week showing a huge increase in tourists from the rest of the UK are to be warmly welcomed. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that we share the same currency. The call over the past 10 years from the SNP to join the euro would have meant disaster for Scottish tourism as the over-valued euro would have kept people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland away. The fact that an independent Scotland could be forced to join the euro is not worth thinking about.
Poetry in motion
For the information of David Lister (14 April), "streetcar" is American for "tram", not "bus". I would accept, however, that "A Tram Named Desire" is no more mellifluous than "A Bus Named Desire".
'Cure' for gays
If there is a cure for homosexuality (report, 13 April), perhaps it could be adapted to cure those who wish to be cured of religious inclinations?
Lunching thoughtfully in the beautiful Tiled Hall Café in Leeds City Art Gallery, I pondered the notice on the table warning me to beware thieves and keep my bag "out of site". Which ubiquity should I most mourn – the thieving or the spelling?
Keighley, West Yorkshire
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