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- Arts + Ents
Tuesday 9 September 2008
Letters: Protect our pubs
Pubs need protection – or developers will turn them all into flats
Orwell was right in 1950 and so was your leader writer ("Closing time", 6 September) to draw attention to the threat facing pubs across the UK. But by highlighting the "cynical distractions" of sports screens and high-decibel music you miss another key factor which threatens an institution once at the heart of so many of our communities.
My 2005 BBC Storyville documentary Closing Time, the inside story of the loss of our village pub, in Ditchling, East Sussex, points up political skulduggery at the local level; a convoluted (even Orwellian) disregard for their own "action plan" by the district authority and the absurdity of a planning regime that allows developers to appeal (and appeal again), while objectors have no such right.
The most telling lesson to emerge from this sorry tale – echoed in countless communities across the land – is that pubs need protection. The developers have done the simple maths. There is more money in flats and houses than drink and food, especially when the pub on which they have set their sights has a large garden and car park.
Hilaire Belloc anticipated Orwell, when he penned this warning: "When you've lost your inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England." Belloc was born in France.
Ditchling, East Sussex
Socialism rescues the vaunted market
For those of us who have been sceptical during the past 30 years of free-market triumphalism, the present anxieties have been accompanied by some chortling ("Bush bails out US mortgage giants", 8 September). Not least when a US President "takes the commanding heights of the economy into public ownership," as we used to say.
However, I wouldn't mind hearing from some of the arch-defenders of "the market" to know if their save-the-world, solve-everything, self-adjusting view of free-market capitalism remains intact, or if they too have begun to notice that there is an inherent irresponsibility in the system which when it gets out of hand has to be rescued by something that looks suspiciously like socialism.
As a real-estate agent of 40 years' standing, I cannot agree with the comment in your leading article of 3 September that "the best hope for housing is a continued fall in prices". What happens to the economy while house prices are falling? How far should we let them fall? Would the criteria be 100,000 bankruptcies and three million unemployed, or have you some other clever scheme in mind?
This government has foolishly made the property market a main plank of our economy and now it has been hit so hard by the profligacy of the lending institutions that many businesses, both large and small, are being very badly affected.
If your criteria include waiting until we have two or three million unemployed, the Government will be paying billions of pounds in unemployment benefits. Therefore, I suggest that £30-40bn should be injected into the lending market, but with the strictest legislation attached.
In case any one thinks I am concerned about myself, think again. I am 70 years of age and could retire this afternoon. A move I do not intend to make.
In all the furore about stamp duty, one rather important point seems to be getting overlooked. It is a pretty useless tax.
The only purpose it serves is to raise revenue for the Government. But it has singularly failed to discourage people from taking out ever-larger mortgages – sometimes more than the value of their properties – and using equity withdrawal to provide for temporary extra spending of an unsustainable and inflationary nature.
It has failed to encourage anyone to put down a large deposit on their house. It produces distorted house prices around the points where the tax rate changes, and may well have added to house-price inflation as sellers ask higher prices to cover the tax on their next home.
This could all be rectified by making the tax payable on the value of any loan secured on a residential property. A flat rate tax would probably be easiest to administer, as the lenders could be required to exact and remit the tax.
Dr A M Hulme
Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear
Why can't they understand English?
Rod Danton and Megan Keeler (letters, 20 and 29 August) are right in saying that the British need to learn how to speak and write an English which can be understood by non-native English speakers. My company has been teaching such an English to British and American managers for nearly 20 years. We call it Offshore English.
There is only one problem: the clients who ask for this are nearly all based in continental Europe or Japan. They are painfully aware of the cost to their companies of the misunderstandings and confusion caused by British and American staff who cannot speak or write clear and comprehensible English. Sadly, it is very difficult to persuade British and American companies of the need for this, even though my company has plenty of hard evidence of how much this linguistic incompetence is costing them.
But I have been asked to give a speech on the subject to senior management of a major US company next month. Will the British follow suit or will they continue to believe that to "follow suit" can be understood by non-native English-speakers?
The Canning School, London SW6
The news that Germany's first woman Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been named for the third time in a row by Forbes magazine as the world's most powerful woman (29 August) comes soon after reports of the further decline in the number of British schoolchildren studying German.
Yet Chancellor Merkel's top-of-the-league status has much to do with the central importance of Germany in the new Europe and on the world stage, and its status as an industrial powerhouse. In other words, Forbes's accolade underlines the fact that it really makes sense to learn German.
The ability to speak German not only enhances the CV (there is a palpable demand for German speakers out there in the world of work), but is also the key to appreciating the remarkable, exciting and culturally fascinating country that is our biggest European neighbour.
Professor David Head
Dean, Faculty of Business and Law, University of Lincoln
Israeli reaction to extreme threat
In contrasting the British and Israeli reactions to terrorist attacks, Brian Binney (letter; "Ireland wasn't bombed", 3 September) fails to make the crucial distinction between the Israeli perception that their existence is at stake and the possible threat to Britain during the IRA's attempt to force a united Ireland.
Britain had choices in which any option exercised would not have threatened the existence of the state. The last time the British state was seriously threatened, the government had little reservation in giving ample rein to Bomber Harris to make full use of British air superiority in reducing German cities to rubble.
For some in Northern Ireland, who felt the province's position as part of the UK was threatened by the Irish government's policy on IRA terrorism, the no-warning bombs at Monaghan and Dublin were deemed an appropriate response. Again, many innocent people lost their lives.
Remove the threat to Israel's existence and let the real politics take over.
Lisburn, Co Antrim
Teenagers' time wasted in school
As part of a new government initiative, those now beginning secondary school in England will be the first required to stay in full-time education until 17. Two years from now, English pupils starting secondary school will see school-leaving age raised to 18.
This policy is entirely wrong. For many 16-year-olds, much better routes to success exist outside the classroom, in the real world of work. What's more, a new batch of classroom-taught vocational diplomas simply won't give young people the practical on-the-job skills so many businesses need. Get them into work and train them there.
I have no doubt that the policy will disrupt schools, produce fewer skilled people and ultimately prove itself a failure. In the meantime, the Government's real crime will be to have wasted the potential of those 16-year-olds, unsuited to higher education, who would relish the kind of trade apprenticeship I was privileged to take up at 16.
Alas, poor train service at Stratford
I turned to David Lister's article "Alas, poor audiences at the RSC" (6 September) on the train as I finally travelled back to Reading after thoroughly enjoying a wonderful matinee of Hamlet at the RSC.
Our first, and last, available train back from Stratford was scheduled to leave at 19.53. We arrived at the station 20 minutes ahead of departure and checked the passenger information which directed us to a wet and windswept platform – a blasted heath with a bird's-eye view of the Morrisons' car park. The only available waiting room was already locked for the night, so we sheltered under a staircase amid broken bottles and other detritus left by our fellow travellers.
We saw a train arrive, and then depart, from a neighbouring platform, only to discover that this was our train. Apparently there is no functioning public-address system at Stratford to alert passengers to platform alterations. We then had to fork out £22 for a taxi to Warwick, from where trains south depart every half hour.
Maybe the RSC needs to incorporate a multi-storey car park into its development plans – I, for one, would be wary of taking the train again.
Religious conflict over BBC schedules
I have some sympathy with the Sikhs and Hindus who have asked for greater equality in the BBC's religious programming (report, 8 September), but the most glaring omission in the schedules is any programming at all about non-religious beliefs such as Humanism. The BBC does occasionally produce programmes exploring atheists' views on religion, but that is not the same thing at all.
The BBC's general public service remit requires it to reflect society, but there is also a specific requirement in the Communications Act 2003 that it provide programmes about "different religions and other beliefs".
Michael Wakelin, the BBC's Head of Religion and Ethics, justifies the coverage of minority faiths by the demographic make-up of Britain. Applying the same criteria to non-religious beliefs, even the biased question in the 2001 census showed that those with no religion were the second-largest "belief group" at 15.5 per cent (2.5 times more numerous than all non-Christian religions put together), but he would be commissioning even more programmes about Humanism if he based his analysis on the 2006 Mori poll that showed that around 36 per cent of the population live their lives by broadly humanist principles.
Chief Executive, British Humanist Association London WC1
Back to the BBQ
In Errors & Omissions (6 September), Guy Keleny suspects that the unfortunate barbeque (for barbecue) is a genteelism. Is it not more likely that it is a reverse-formation from the even more unfortunate abbreviation BBQ? It doesn't have such a long pedigree as pea from pease but, who knows, in a few hundred years it might catch on.
I found myself in a similar situation to Michael Fabricant (" 'Drug-smuggling' Tory MP", 6 September) some 30 years ago when flying into Bogota. My baggage was searched and police found two large jars of Marmite I was carrying at the request of some British embassy staff. These were viewed with great suspicion, being potential illegal substance or explosive. Fortunately, they didn't insist on me swallowing a mouthful or I would have been in real trouble.
Well done for highlighting Andy Kershaw's story (4 September). It is a pity that there isn't a sensible organised voice to stand up against this kind of cruelty to fathers, and the damage done to children through seeing one parent's aggression towards another given legitimacy by the state. The idea that "families need fathers" is seen as reactionary, but one positive outcome of feminism is that men now fight to play their role as parents, where in the past they simply might have walked away.
An aging population
Chris Padley (letters, 6 September) says that "There is no choice but to adapt to an ageing population. The only useful question is what we need to be doing now to start those adaptations". Setting aside the probability that the much overhyped imbalance in the age structure is a passing phenomenon, the most obvious answer to his question is to introduce legalised voluntary euthanasia. Why on earth should those elderly who wish to call it a day not have the right to arrange to depart with dignity in their own time?
St Ola, Orkney
It seems the apostrophe is beyond redemption. I have received a letter from a local council with the following: "Your response has been considered and will be reported to the Council's Planning Committee at it's meeting in November." And this over the signature of an official who had "BA" after her name.
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