Letters: Postal strike

A cunning way to break the Royal Mail strike
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The Independent Online

A clever twist has been added to the effort to get the unemployed back to work by this "New Labour" government. After 13 weeks of receiving unemployment benefit, if you are still unemployed and wish not to have any benefit docked, then you have to accept a job interview with whoever your Job Centre liaison person recommends.

They may just say to you, "Unfortunately, there just don't seem to be any jobs going at the moment in teaching/ manufacturing/whatever, so I think that you would be well-suited to apply for one of these new jobs opening up at the Royal Mail". If you refuse to take the job offered, you lose the right to be paid unemployment benefit.

This is how the Royal Mail is filling the last of those 30,000 new, casual job-openings. This is the reserve army of the unemployed being wheeled in, through a cunningly designed bureaucratic manoeuvre, to break any strike now, if the management is willing to simply "go for it" and employ a small army of "scabs".

How appalling that there are now going to be several tens of thousands of unemployed people across Britain, worried, insecure, short of money, who are going to be placed into this unpleasant position. The unemployed will be forced to scab for the Royal Mail in their thousands until Christmas or until the CWU industrial action is broken.

And some of these thousands would certainly not want to be scab-labourers and would want to be in solidarity with the posties. For this reason, it is very welcome news that the CWU have begun challenging the legality of the Royal Mail's employment of this scab labour in the courts.

Dr Rupert Read

Philosophy Department, University of East Anglia, Norwich

Temperature tale a Met Office myth

Dominic Lawson (letters, 21 October) tells us that it is "a fact, not an opinion" that the average global temperature has not risen for the past 11 years. But the Met Office lists Mr Lawson's "fact" among its list of climate-change myths, stating, "A simple mathematical calculation of the temperature change over the latest decade (1998-2007) alone shows a continued warming of 0.1 °C per decade".

Mr Lawson would also have us believe that "there are natural cycles now cooling the planet which are more powerful than man-made augmentation of the greenhouse effect". What he neglects to mention is that these natural cycles have periods of only a decade or so; like the other natural cycles of night and winter, their effect has been to mask the underlying warming for a time. As the Met Office has it, "The recent slight slowing of the warming is due to a shift towards more-frequent La Niña conditions in the Pacific since 1998".

When, inevitably, the wheel turns and El Niño replaces La Niña, record-breaking temperatures will be back and, with equal inevitability, we can look forward to articles from Mr Lawson telling us the unprecedented heat is just the product of a natural cycle. "It's only hot because it's noon," he'll say. "You wait till the sun goes down and the myth of global warming will be demolished."

Rob Churchill

Worthing, West Sussex

Dominic Lawson again says the global temperature hasn't risen in the past 11 years. Well, 2005 is the warmest year on record, and 2007 was as warm as 1998. The past five years are averaging about 0.15 degrees warmer than those centred on 1998. So where's the cooling?

He also again raises the possibility that natural cycles are now cooling the planet. In his earlier article (13 October), he referred to one of these, the so-called Pacific Decadal Oscillation and a statement by Professor Don Easterbrook that the "cool mode has replaced the warm mode [of 1978 to 1998], virtually assuring us of about 30 years of global cooling".

The study on which this bold forecast was made used less than a century (1900-93) of data to come to its conclusions. This is hardly sufficient to provide evidence of a 60-year cycle.

The previous PDO cool mode lasted from 1948 to 1977. At the end of this period, global temperatures were no lower than at the start. Given that, how likely is it, even if we were to enter a 30-year cool mode, that we can be assured of global cooling through the period?

Why did temperatures not fall during the last cool mode of the PDO but rose by more than 0.15C per decade during the warm mode? Is it possible that the increasing CO2 had anything to do with it?

Graham P Davis

Bracknell, Berkshire

Dominic Lawson maintains, "The average global recorded temperature has not risen for the past 11 years (a fact, not an opinion)". Really? As climate scientists on the blog Realclimate have pointed out, Nasa-GISS global data for all 11 years 1998-2008 show an undiminished warming trend.

The Met Office Hadley Centre data for this period show only a slight warming trend, but the latter under-represents the Arctic which has shown strong temperature rises, as Met Office scientists acknowledge in a paper this year.

Jim Roland

London NW11

One allowance for each MP

An end could be put to the present disgraceful shambles about MPs' allowances if the cumbersome combination of guidelines, claims and costly auditing was scrapped altogether. Members should receive a single allowance based solely on the distance between their constituency and Westminster.

Within the normal commuting area this would be minimal; the maximum would be for the Highlands and Islands and other remote constituencies. The total sum now paid out should be allotted proportionately and indexed for as long as the MP was in the job.

The MP could spend the allowance on fares, rent, hotels, mortgage or anything else. The concept of "second home" and the cost of monitoring would be eliminated.

David Leighton

Pewsey, Wiltshire

Duke's defence of bonuses a bit rich

It's a bit rich, or very rich, for a member of one privileged family to have the effrontery to defend the hereditary bonus culture of a group of chancers caught with their hands in the till ("Duke of York defends bankers' bonuses", 24 October). Britain becoming a republic would address one of these two glaring manifestations of inequality.

Eddie Dougall

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Census questions are clarified

In response to "Kiss and tell: the 2011 census wants to know your sleeping partner" (26 October), I wish to clarify the reasons for the inclusion of specific questions in the proposals for the 2011 census.

The primary purpose is to produce accurate population estimates. These will underpin a myriad of important funding and planning decisions during the next decade, at national and local level. Proposed questions about the number of bedrooms and the number of people who live in a household will allow local councils to establish whether accommodation in their area is overcrowded.

Quite separately, the proposed questions also include details of visitors on census night to ensure that people away from home are included in the census, even if they are not recorded on their home questionnaire. This will enable more accurate estimates of the whole population to facilitate effective planning.

The personal information that people provide on a census questionnaire is completely confidential and is protected by law. Personal census data is kept confidential for 100 years. No personal census information is shared with other government departments or local authorities. On release after 100 years, census information can then provide a fascinating insight for family historians and social researchers.

Jil Matheson

National Statistician, London SW1

Pointing out the fishy facts

We welcome Charles Clover's film The End of the Line (report, 21 October) for its focus on the plight of bluefin tuna and the scourge of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. As an industry, we have supported these points of the film since it was released. But we regard its claim that "there could be no fish left in the sea by 2048" as being without basis in fact. Professor Boris Worm, who made this claim, retracted it in a later paper in Science in June 2009.

He also now states that 37 per cent of the world's fish stocks are in good shape. He also concurs with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, that in 2007, "19 per cent of stocks were overexploited and 9 per cent depleted or recovering from depletion".

In your article, Mr Clover is quoted as saying we will be able to eat fish responsibly only for five more years. Again, this statement has no factual basis. There are more UK fisheries certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council than any other nation on earth, and 44 per cent of our fleet by tonnage has signed up to the Responsible Fishing Scheme, a world-first project.

Gaynyr Dickson

Seafish, Edinburgh

Happy memories of Halloween

There is much criticism of this import from America, and reading Carola Long (Opinion, 28 October) made me think about the British version compared to the Halloweens I remember as a child in America.

We dressed up as ghosts or witches (in our house, the costumes were usually hand-made) and with a brown paper bag in one hand and a wax-coated Unicef box in the other, we set out to hit as many of the neighbourhood houses as possible.

At each house, there were usually two bowls, one with sweets and one with pennies and nickels. Our choice of houses was motivated by two factors, where could you get the best treats and who put the most money into the Unicef box.

At one house, the man had a trained monkey who would take the treats out of the bowl and put them in your bag and, at another, the lady gave a home-made toffee apple to every child who came to the door. One house we never missed because the man put five dollar bills in the Unicef box.

For ourselves, we tried to get as many sweets as possible, but there was also an unofficial competition to see who could raise the most money for Unicef. The boxes were proudly taken into school the next day.

Cheryl Richards

Hook, Hampshire


Truth about the BNP

Why is the BNP described as an extreme "right-wing" or "far-right" party? The BNP is as statist, anti-individual and anti-free-market as any left-wing political group. The only difference is that instead of just wanting to subordinate the individual to their class, society or state, the BNP want to subordinate the individual to their race and genetic lineage too.

D S A Murray

Dorking, Surrey

Paper chase

Less than five ago, Londoners had a single evening newspaper which many people bought (report, 28 October). Then along came two free news-sheets (oddly, one produced by the very company that produced the original newspaper). These led to a huge reduction in sales for the original paper. Then the two freebies closed, leaving only the original. But that paper is now financially damaged. Entrepreneurs tell us the free market gives customers what they want. How have customers been best served by this ridiculous exercise in capitalistic self-interest?

Michael O'Hare

Northwood, Middlesex

What teaching?

Having recently dropped out of a full-time "taught" MA in creative writing at a university, I welcome Professor Frank Fahy's comments in his letter (28 October). The university department's boast of excellence in research left me asking, "What about the teaching?" The answer came to me in the lecturers' cynical approach to the course: teach yourself, it's a Master's course, and get your fellow students to check out your work.

Kicoula Ross

Totnes, Devon

Just like that...

I was amused to see the term "magic realism" in Nicholas Tucker's review of the book Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett (28 October). Some years ago, I read an interview with Pratchett where he observed that he was called a fantasy author, which was seen as pejorative, whereas the term magic realism was considered OK. He decided that when the term magic realism appeared in a review, it could be decoded as "a fantasy book written by someone I was at university with".

Paul Dormer

Guildford, Surrey

Your choice

In the photographs accompanying your article about AA Gill and the baboon (26 October), you omitted to specify who was on the right and who was on the left.

David Earle

Old Windsor, Berkshire