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Monday 28 March 2011
Letters: Protest aimed at an ideology
Saturday's march was a massive protest against the imported American ideology that has infected our political discourse. Every penny spent on public services is begrudged, it's viewed as money frittered away, "wasted", thrown into a bottomless pit, spent on useless jobs for "equality officers".
Public-sector workers are derided and enmeshed in a tangled web of analogies; public-sector conservatives, pen-pushers and town-hall bureaucrats. Then there is the "slaughtering of sacred cows" and talk of "feather-bedding" and "Spanish practices".
Cameron has outlined his haughty disdain for the public sector with his aim to replace it with "any willing provider". Already, large chunks have been devoured by companies such as Serco, Capita and Group 4. Town-hall executives earning more than the Prime Minister are pilloried, but no mention is made of the £5m in share bonuses paid out to the head of Serco.
Then there is the denigration of the professions. One aberrant case such as Baby P is used to brand all social workers as useless incompetents who couldn't spot the simplest case of child abuse. Teachers are so ineffectual that as Dream School demonstrates every week, any old celebrity presenter could replace them in the classroom.
We've had the Budget for petrolheads alongside the cultural nihilism and the closure of libraries, youth and arts centres. The protest's groundswell for change should not be wasted, and unions need to ballot for co-ordinated strike action across the public sector.
Kevin Gulliver's analysis (letter, 25 March) is telling. I spend my professional life testing expert opinion in cross-examination against hard data. As an independently minded reader of this newspaper, I thought I should subject the Coalition's conventional wisdom on the economy to similar scrutiny. Having analysed the primary evidence (of the NAO, ONS and Treasury), I discovered that not only had public-sector net debt fallen significantly as a percentage of GDP between 1997 and 2008 (as Mr Gulliver points out) but so had the current budget deficit, from 2.7 per cent of GDP to 0.3 per cent.
In 1997, spending on interest payments was 3.5 per cent of GDP, and by 2008 it had fallen to 2.2 per cent. In fact, under the Conservative administration of 1979 to 1997, there was an average budget deficit of 2 per cent of GDP; under Labour, between 1997 and 2008, there was an average surplus of 0.1 per cent. I could go on.
It is difficult to know which proposition is the more disingenuous: that the present levels of debt are the result of the previous administration "maxing the credit card" or that "we are all in this together".
Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and the ripple of the drive for democracy still spreads. Where next? Maybe a class-ridden country of great and growing inequalities of wealth, opportunity, health and education where real incomes have been falling for years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future and where unemployment, particularly among the young, is rising rapidly?
This nation possesses a deeply flawed democracy with an antiquated and unfair electoral system where one section of the legislature and the Head of State are completely unelected, where the majority of the political class is drawn from a narrow, unrepresentative socio-economic background and where a fabulously wealthy royal family retains its parasitic demands on the public purse despite being opposed by at least 10 million of its citizens. This country imprisons a larger percentage of its people than almost all of its continental neighbours, being a place where the education and health systems are unreformed and inferior to nearby countries, a place where the press is largely controlled by a few wealthy individuals and where the national broadcaster feeds the population a diet consisting largely of low-brow junk entertainment. So which country is next for reform and freedom? You don't have to look far.
Of course there are several alternatives to the cuts. First, pass a law that no one should earn more than the PM. Second, revise council-tax bands. If, say, Band F pays double what Band B pays, because their property is worth double, fair enough.
But why should someone whose property is worth several millions pay a similar rate as someone whose property is worth less than a million? So the Bands should not stop at H but go on, even to Z if need be.
Then there would be more money for public transport, public housing, public libraries and so on. Ah, the word "public", "public" – with apologies to the Bard – unpleasing to many a Tory ear.
New Malden, Surrey
A strike against first-time buyers
On top of the £250m scheme for using taxpayer money to underwrite first-time buyer mortgages in the Budget, there is also a de facto 80 per cent cut in stamp duty for bulk-buyers of residential properties by allowing the duty to be paid on their average value. This will not only serve to prop up an artificially inflated market but further increase the desperately unfair divide between property haves and have-nots.
Effectively subsidising institutional bulk investors with taxpayer money to ensure that they can out-bid buyers of single properties will further deny the next generation the chance to own their own homes, and consign even more people to a life of renting from the landlords who profit from continued unaffordability.
The most honest, fair and effective way of creating affordable housing is to let prices fall to sustainable levels without government interference. No amount of market manipulation can increase the proportion of people who are housed; this can be done only by changing the number of houses or changing the number of people.
Dr Peter Harvey
Right on Libya but morally feeble
On the one hand, I (we?) profoundly believe that the world is best rid of schoolyard bullies writ large, whether they be Saddam, the Kim dynasty, Gaddafi or whomsoever.
On the other, I (we?) feel that Britain, which does have a historical/political moral compass (despite everything) which should be contributing to a better world, has somehow so abused its place for so long as to render it morally feeble in these matters.
For me, at least, the problem is not simply that the political establishment is failing to address this gap, its belated respect to the UN notwithstanding, but that it seems perversely ignorant that such a gap exists.
So why aren't we exploring – with all our energy, in all our media – what needs to be done to bridge the gap, to give our own people, let alone the rest of the world, let alone the Arab world, the confidence that the government which represents us is honest and honourable?
If we don't sort out this fundamental issue, what we do in Libya, whatever Britain does, is likely to turn to ashes in our mouths.
In answer to Andreas Whittam Smith (25 March): to the grieving family of a British serviceman or woman killed in the allied action in Libya, I would say this: your son/daughter died to save the lives of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of innocent lives from a ruthless dictator who promised them no mercy.
He/she has given hope to thousands that they can have a brighter future, one decided by their own hands, not dictated by a madman. Your son/daughter's sacrifice will not only be remembered here in Britain, but by the free people of Libya.
Empathy, the smallest amount, is all that is needed to understand why we're in Libya. We shouldn't beat Gaddafi ourselves but we should at least protect the free people of Libya from massacre.
A week or so ago, the Libyan dictator's son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi ("the Sword of Islam") was promising the terrified residents of Benghazi that he would be coming like an Arabian Frankenstein's monster to get them one by one in their homes.
Since then, the situation is reversing, and the rebel militias may well be coming to Tripoli to pay him a visit at his father's compound. Would the first person who gets a photograph of Saif trying to cross any of Libya's borders with Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Chad, Algeria or Niger in a burqa please send me a copy?
Burwash, East Sussex
Ancient link with Nature
Michael McCarthy`s challenging article, "Mere science cannot account for beauty" (25 March), relating to the appearance of the brimstone butterfly ("I saw a spirit"), provokes thought.
The Greeks pictureded psyche – soul – as a butterfly, at the same time incorporating, via the preSocratics, a meaning of mind and breath of life. Without having the space in a letter to unpack the multiple meanings of ancient Greek words, it is possible to present their linguistic features as constituting a branch of science when taken in conjunction with natural history.
And indeed in an epoch when science is being assailed by many powerful and determined religions, it has become urgent to continue to promote apparently esoteric subjects to scientific status.
The closed shop of institution-based professional science requires a contemporary Egyptian-style "revolution".
Dr David Spooner
Founder, Butterfly Conservation East Scotland, Dunfermline, Fife
Census does not make sense
We are a family of four; two students living away from home in term-time, one an academic living away from home in termtime (all three in different cities), and one person holding the fort at home. An initial reading of the census questions suggested that we should all complete full details on the home questionnaire, and basic details on the other returns for those of us with second addresses.
But the guidance requires that those employed away from home had to enter their personal details on the home form, although those who were studying away from home had to do so on the return for their secondary address.
Apparently, it is logically impossible for someone working away from home to "usually reside" in two places (or, incidentally, for a child of separated parents to do so), but a student is expected to achieve this feat; perhaps they all should study quantum physics.
I made a start online. I list my partner as Person 1, since she is basically running the household in Wales while the rest of us swan around England. I'm not allowed to enter our sons' full surnames because they are too long, so enter as much as I can and make a note to invite them to go back and amend if they wish.
I complete the household information and move on to my personal questions; but I can't, because my partner's now have to be entered first. So I email the rest of the family to report progress, but first I check that it will be possible for our sons to amend their surnames. It won't. Nothing can be changed once it's entered; no errors corrected, no oversights rectified.
If a household bursting with academic qualifications is confused by these questions and instructions, how many others are going to get it wrong or give up? And if this is the best Lockheed Martin can do with an online questionnaire, why should anyone trust their planes?
Stalin's bloody slavery of Latvia
Oleg Sepelev of the Russian Embassy rightly castigates those who support the "pride parades" of former Waffen SS members in Latvia (letter, 26 March), but serves only to remind some of us of the typical self-righteous arrogance and hypocrisy of Russia towards its own equally appalling crimes in the Soviet era.
Stalin was Hitler's active and supportive ally from his rape of eastern Poland in September 1939 to June 1941, which probably prolonged the war to May 1945 and certainly enabled his USSR to enslave eastern Europe, including Latvia.
For 30 years, he had countless millions murdered or banished to the gulags, including most of his former colleagues. The USSR's baleful legacy will probably outlast this century.
In contrast to (West) Germany, neither the USSR nor Russia has shown remorse for such crimes or has paid reparations to its victims; rallies of former activists are permitted and Stalin himself is semi-rehabilitated, his crimes glossed-over or "justified".
It was the ultimate irony that Churchill of all people had to embrace one Nazi to defeat another; we cannot always chose our allies, let alone our enemies, which those holier-than-thous should remember when objecting to our present support for certain unsavoury regimes in this imperfect world.
St Andrews, Fife
Vikings win again
As the UK Government in the next five years will be increasing its revenue from North Sea oil and gasfields by £10bn, I wonder if the Unionists will keep preaching that Scotland is a poor country. Scotland is to face cuts to public services and loss of jobs, while independent Norway invests the largesse from their oil and gas revenues, ensuring prosperity and security for Norwegians for generations.
Donald J MacLeod
Bridge of Don, Aberdeenshire
Perspectives on fuel costs
What's up, and what's down
I can understand the Chancellor would want to curb inflationary pressures and ease the pain they cause, but his choice of the duty paid for motoring fuel seems bizarre, if not perverse.
The Department of Transport's own statistics state clearly that "the growth in car travel [since 1997] has been accompanied by a reduction in motoring costs and rising bus and rail fares in real terms", and its analysis included 2008, when we last saw today's levels of fuel-price inflation.
Although fuel has become more expensive, it is the overall cost of motoring (including purchase as well as running costs) which matters and this is down about 14 per cent in real terms. Bus and coach fares have risen by about 24 per cent over the same period.
The cost of motoring would have to increase by 44 per cent to rival the inflation of bus fares. And all this before the swingeing planned increases in public transport costs and savage cuts in services.
The more serious "fuel poverty" which prevents people from heating their homes is also being ignored. By slashing the cost of public transport and expanding home-insulation programmes, Osborne could have improved the lot of those suffering the greatest pain, reduced inflationary pressures and curbed emissions.
Dr David Golding
Fiddles on the forecourts
Before being able to revel in boundless joy brought on by smug George Osborne's underwhelming announcement of a 1p cut in fuel duty from 1800 on Wednesday, motorists can hardly have been surprised that not many garages passed it on from the stipulated time.
A survey by Experian Catalyst shows the price of fuel fell only by an average 0.6p from Wednesday to Thursday. The Retail Motor Industry Federation said many garages would not cut prices until stocks of existing, more expensive fuel were gone.
Had George Osborne put 1p on fuel duty, the price in garages would have gone up by at least 1p at precisely 1800 on Wednesday, despite the fact that stocks of "less expensive" fuel would still have been in stock. Who are these people who trundle out the same platitudinous garbage every time something like this happens, treating us as if we only rarely soundcheck reality?
Hove, East Sussex
Fine all these petrol cheats
If any of us was caught cheating on his tax return he would be up before the beak in no time. So, what's delaying the Government in bringing to justice the filling-station owners who raised prices before the official statement?
Let none kid us they were ignorant of the planned decrease. Now it is simply a matter of the Inland Revenue collecting till rolls from every garage – or even receipts from aggrieved customers – and whacking every cheating outlet with a minimum £50,000 fine.
And why was my local supermarket charging 4p more a litre than the company's supermarket in York, 40 miles away, on the same day?
Bridlington, East Yorkshire
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