Letters: Prince Harry

On the streets, Harry's jibe offers comfort to racists
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The Independent Online

The words "little Paki" might mean little to Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 13 January), but in the world outside they have a truly unpleasant ring. Think of the BNP, active in the area I live in, having their attitudes backed by someone they admire; someone living an exciting life of adventure that many kids would swap an arm and a leg for (and some do, sadly, when they join up). Harry has unwittingly supported racism on the streets.

I McCann

Ilford, Essex

The fuss over Prince Harry calling an army friend a "Paki" is quite ridiculous. A well-trained army unit is a family. Both the platoon and the officers' mess are families, in which family rules apply. Words that are unacceptable when used by outsiders can be used in a friendly way within the unit without an insult being meant or felt.

I ran a workshop for the disabled for 25 years and was surprised by the language they used between themselves. I still remember a conversation I heard when I first joined. A blind man was joking with a physically disabled man. One was being called a "one-eyed git" and the other a "peg-legged prat". Friendly insults within close families and similar groups cement relationships and give them strength in time of stress.

A L Soper

Congleton, Cheshire

Pete Parkins (letter, 13 January) asks the difference between "Paki" and "Brit" as an insult. The difference is that no one has ever been on the receiving end of a kicking by a bunch of skinheads yelling "Brit bastard!" Having said that, let's give Harry a break. Both he and the cadet concerned were training for the opportunity to get much worse than their feelings hurt.

Richard Bicknell

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

When I was growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1970s the regular greeting from the British Army was, " . . . you f***king Irish c**t!" Women were greeted with the imaginative variant, ". . . you f***king Irish wh**e!"

We are all still waiting for an apology.

Peter Cunningham


Charities have to 'dabble in politics'

Mary Dejevsky's suggestion that Oxfam, along with other charities, has "managed to confuse its role as a fundraiser with lobbying", ignores the traditional role that charities have played ("Oxfam is there to help people – not to dabble in politics", 9 January). From 19th-century lobbying to outlaw slavery, to campaigning against global poverty and child abuse today, it is not only the role of charities to deal with front-line crises, but also to tackle the effects of bad political decisions.

Charities need to be able to campaign. Successfully pursuing traditional charitable causes, supporting the unemployed for example, should be as much about influencing social policy as providing services. Why should charities not be allowed to pursue their mission of improving the lives of their beneficiaries through every channel available to them? Tackling injustice requires political engagement. Charities are not there to silently administer aid or put sticking plasters on but to also tackle injustice.

Stephen Bubb

Chief Executive, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, London WC1

Mary Dejevsky fails to see the inevitable connection between charity and politics that Dom Helda Camara pinpointed: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist". No one who continually has to apply a bandage fails in the end to ask what has to happen to stop bandages being needed.

Canon Mark Oakley

London W1

Unfortunately, the root causes of poverty and injustice are not tackled by emergency food distribution or the provision of white sticks for blind people; these merely help to alleviate the awful symptoms, vital though that help is.

As for the money spent on the Financial Times advert: if as a result UN aid convoys in Gaza can resume without being fired upon, even a narrow cost-benefit analysis of food, medicines and other supplies saved might show this is money well spent.

Graham Bennett

Director, One World Action

London N1

Mary Dejevsky asks, "What business is it of Oxfam's whether and when the fighting stops?" The answer is that a ceasefire will allow Oxfam and other aid agencies to do their work – saving lives. While the fighting continues, they can't do their work, and people are suffering.

As an Oxfam supporter, I would feel they were wasting my money if they ignored the causes of emergencies. In the same way that it lobbies on climate change, it should use its influence in other situations if humanitarian crises can be prevented.

Ben Beaumont

Swindon, Wiltshire

No such thing as risk-free savings

Like George Wilson (Letters, 10 January), I too am a saver on a modest income. My savings are too small to live off; they are there for a rainy day, so my enemy is not the decline in interest rate but inflation. Or more accurately, it is the disparity between the rate of inflation and the rate of interest I receive on my savings.

At present National Savings is offering Savings Bonds index-linked to the rate of inflation to protect the purchasing power of the capital, and paying an additional tax-free rate of interest of 1 per cent. If I want a greater rate of interest I can accept a greater level of risk by purchasing equities or by seeking a greater headline rate of interest with a bank or building society and accepting the risk that inflation will decrease the purchasing power of the capital.

Savers need to understand that even in boom times higher rates of interest carry higher risks, including the risk of banks, building societies and credit unions defaulting because they are badly run. At present savings up to about £50,000 are protected, but there is a good case for extending this to encompass all deposits and funding this with a very small levy on savers rather than just the financial institutions as at present. I doubt that this would be a popular with savers, but as the recent disastrous end to a long period of financial excess has shown us, the universe does not provide free lunches.

Dr Les May

Rochdale, Lancashire

It seems many of your correspondents are hard-working and virtuous savers who are suffering because of the Government's bungling of the current crisis. We should not confuse these savers with the chancers who recklessly lent their money to the banks in search of high interest, without asking how that return would be achieved.

Nor should we ask just whose money it is that the Government has attempted to safeguard – at the expense of every hard-working taxpayer – by preventing the collapse of the entire banking system. (Pause to shudder as we remember those unseemly queues of borrowers desperate to get their mortgages away from Northern Rock.)

It would surely be tactless to ask such questions while savers alone are suffering, without an iota of help from the evil Mr Brown.

David Woods


Police lose count of marchers

If Paul Donovan imagines he could have stood at the start of Saturday's demonstration and counted those who walked past, he's a better man than me. (Letter, 13 January)

I am a former teacher, so I am well used to seeing large groups of up to 1,000 people gathered together for fire drills. I was also at the march and can say categorically that the police estimate of 20,000 was ludicrously low. My own informed guess was at least 50,000, and quite probably nearly the 100,000 claimed by the Stop the War coalition.

What puzzles me is why the police always give these underestimates. I would have thought it would be in their own interest to give truer figures. Could politics have something to do with it?

Fred Litten

Croydon, Surrey

Grey squirrels are here to stay

The suggestion that the public can help preserve red squirrels by eating grey squirrels is, well, just nuts! (8 January).

Red squirrels have always struggled in England's lowland, predominately oak and beech woodlands, as they are more suited to the huge coniferous forests of Scandinavia, whereas the grey squirrel (imported from North America by the aristocracy in the late 1800s) is perfectly suited to the habitat of the lower two thirds of the UK. Apart possibly from one small colony of reds in the north of England, our few remaining red squirrels are no more native to Britain than the grey, as they are the descendants of foreign red squirrels imported following previous extinctions.

Red squirrels were ruthlessly slaughtered by British foresters and gamekeepers up until the 1930s, with one Scottish club alone killing more than 80,000 in the first three decades of the 20th century.

For most of us, the grey squirrel, with its fascinating acrobatics, is the only squirrel we will ever have the opportunity and joy to see. They are here to stay, despite tax-payer funded and useless attempts in the 1950s to exterminate them. Anyone tucking into a grey squirrel might also like to reflect on the fact that as they chew the meat, the babies of that squirrel may be slowly starving to death in their drey.

John Bryant

Tonbridge, Kent

Who decides how to fix the planet?

As we talked over the merits of the various "Plan B" scenarios for saving the world from the effects of climate change, my 15-year-old son cut to the chase with the most serious question of all, which your article (2 January) neglects to consider: who gets to decide which plan to implement? With the UN reduced post-Iraq to the status of a latter-day League of Nations, and no longer representative of the geopolitical realities, there is no international body with power to authorise such a momentous step.

And yet this action cannot be taken unilaterally. It would be the first time in history that mankind has deliberately attempted to change the environment on a global scale, and as we cannot be sure that any of the proposed solutions will actually work, we had better be sure that we take the fullest responsibility we can as a species to take the right decision, because its consequences will affect every one of us. The case for a world government has never been stronger.

Simon Prentis

London NW3


Winslet's drama

Am I the only person to remember that Kate Winslet is an actress? And one quite capable of putting on a performance to make the headlines? Or are everyone's critical faculties, including Brian Viner's (Opinion, 13 January) suspended when it comes to Hollywood?

Hugh Closs

London SE16

No worries

Of course "we accept statements of faith for what they are" (Philip Hensher, 12 January). St Paul puts it as follows: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." However, with regard to the atheists' exhortation to "stop worrying and enjoy your life", in my experience it is always the people with faith who don't worry and who do enjoy life.

David Williams

Southport, Merseyside

Urban cars

The perks for electric-car owners (letters, 12 January) enumerated by Westminster Council provide an interesting contrast to the policies of Southwark Council, just across the Thames; it has none. Or rather its policy is not to respond to inquiries about electric-car concessions. Wise policy, considering it is one of the most polluted boroughs in London.

Fabian Acker

London SE22

Lost skills

With Gordon Brown and his cabinet so keen to get more people into training and off benefits, they could do worse than recreate the former government-sponsored Skillcentre scheme that the Thatcher government washed its hands of in the mid-1980s. The scheme allowed thousands of people who'd been thrown out of work to retrain in a variety of skills and find alternative employment. I attended a Skillcentre course in 1983 and as a result, was gainfully employed for the next 25 years.

Terence Roy Smith

Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

Light bulb ban

Government diktat is that conventional 100w incandescent light bulbs are no longer available. However, government and commercial premises remain grossly over-heated and over-lit. No energy saving ethos exists. So what difference will this diktat make to man-made global-warming?

Antony Clayton

Beverley, East Yorkshire