The Tories are relishing swinging the axe on the public services everyone depends on. But how honest can they be when they refuse to admit that the budget deficit was caused by the recession? For party political reasons, they say the problem is government spending, but this is patently untrue.
The budget deficit increase has mainly been caused by a £50bn drop in revenue from taxes and a rise of £26bn in social security costs, not to mention the sums needed to prop up the banks. Virtually all of this is related to the recession. The US government has just said that its budget deficit has tripled. Are they really saying that this is down to the Labour government too?
The way to get out of this mess is not to cut public spending to the bone but get our economy growing. Yes, we do need some spending cuts too; Alistair Darling will be setting out detailed proposals to halve the deficit over the next four years in his November budget announcement, but the actions he has taken to date seem to be getting us out of the recession earlier than had been expected.
The recession was caused by banks miscalculating risk and selling products to people who could not afford them. Because the Tories blame government spending, they need to find billions of cuts and will not be able to do so without destroying the fabric of society.
We are all in this together, but the resolution of the problem is not helped by the basic dishonesty of the Tories.
Cameron has already made it clear that no nurse, teacher, hospital porter, etc need fear for their job. I should have thought that anyone of sense would unreservedly welcome an axe taken to the stupendous superstructure of bureaucracy – bean-counters, box-tickers, paper shufflers, everyone checking up on everyone else – that for far too long has been leeching upon the education and health budgets.
Hope at last for ME sufferers
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your report headlined "Has science found the cause of ME?" (9 October). This is the news that thousands of ME sufferers and their families have been awaiting for so long.
I was trying to summon up the energy to make some breakfast when my eye caught the headline, and I felt hope, almost euphoria. After 17 years of ME, with its attendant stripping away of what we could call a normal life, I hope this research will lead to a cure, or at least maybe the cynics, sceptics, and downright hostile, not least of these the medical profession, will start to treat sufferers seriously. Graded exercise therapy and cognitive behaviour therapy need to be re-evaluated.
How good it was, also, to read an enlightened editorial on the subject of ME, which said it like it is.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
The news of a possible scientific breakthrough in understanding ME is most welcome, though it needs to be treated with caution until replicated. If the research does prove to be a breakthrough, it will not be before time. As your leader so rightly points out, people with ME have suffered the most shameful neglect for far too long.
Action for ME has been calling for research into this disabling condition for over 25 years. The barrier has always been the prevalent but unproven theory that ME was psychosomatic. Now, with the publication of the US data, it is time to cast off the past and tackle research with the whole-heartedness such a debilitating and life-destroying illness deserves. It is not just money that is needed, but a new mindset on the part of doctors, researchers and government alike.
President, Action for ME
What happens now that 95 per cent of the study group of myalgic encephalomyelitis sufferers have been found to have antibodies to the highly contagious retrovirus XMRV, and 65 per cent tested positively for it?
Will the UK medical authorities take this seriously enough to move quickly and test and where appropriate give currently available antiretrovirals to the quarter of a million ME sufferers, as they now do with HIV and Aids sufferers? Will they at last acknowledge just how very ill and at risk of premature death many ME sufferers are? Will they advise health workers on how to avoid contamination from retrovirus XMRV?
Or will they, as seems more likely, continue to give all research and treatment funding to the psychiatrists who have taken all ME research and treatment funding for over two decades, while pretending that ME is imaginary? Will they continue to mix ME sufferers up with sufferers of mental disorders in their ridiculously named "chronic fatigue" clinics? Will they continue the daft practice of offering only graded exercise, which makes sufferers worse, and cognitive behaviour therapy, which does nothing?
This 58-year-old sufferer of severe ME for the past 21 years would like some answers. It seems there is an epidemic of a serious contagious physical illness in the UK that the medical authorities have been ignoring for far too long.
Fire sale loads the future with debt
In 1998 the Swiss electorate voted in favour of rail modernisation and shifting alpine transit traffic from road to rail. The cost, of 31.6bn Swiss francs, was to be met by a 0.1 per cent hike in VAT and from mileage-related heavy vehicle tax – a tax which tends to be reflected in shop prices. A small amount of money was to be raised on the capital markets.
The recently opened Lötschberg Base Tunnel is one of the projects resulting from this decision. At a cost of 3.24bn Swiss francs, the 36-kilometre tunnel takes freight trains – some carrying lorries – at up to 160kph and passenger trains at up to 250kph. It has opened virtually debt-free and will be an asset to Switzerland for many years to come.
The Queensway Tunnel, under the Mersey, was opened in 1934 at a cost of £7.5m. The money was borrowed. The debt on the Queensway Tunnel and the Kingsway Tunnel stood recently at £106m. The tolls have been a brake on the economy of the region ever since the tunnel was opened.
Now the Prime Minister is proposing that we sell the high-speed link to the Channel Tunnel. This, with private finance initiatives for schools and hospitals, loads debt on to future generations and damages economic growth. Making the Channel Tunnel link more expensive for future generations to use is hardly a green policy either.
The Swiss do not do what they cannot afford. They knew what the tax-hike was for and were consulted democratically about it. They trusted their government not to misapply the tax raised. Our first-past-the-post electoral system and confrontation politics means that, unlike the Swiss, we do not do deferred gratification very well. We want it now.
The difference is clear to see. The Swiss are not only democratic and prosperous but have a country with excellent infrastructure.
Thornton Hough, Wirral
Selling off public assets is just mortgaging our future. Whatever we sell off today, we end up renting back again tomorrow, and have to carry on paying rent on, year after year after year, for decades to come.
The curious thing is that MPs seem to understand the value and economic benefits of owning and acquiring assets when it's their own money, but when it's our money it's a different story.
Regarding the Government's fire sale, I think we should look on the bright side. In 25 years' time our children's children will never again have to suffer feckless, incompetent and lazy governments who, bereft of moral compass and courage, have taken us into the financial badlands while failing to provide a fair and evenly balanced society.
In 2035 voters, politicians and commentators will look back on the period 1979-2010 as one of the most shameful in British history, and be doubly buttressed against allowing it to repeat itself.
'Influential friends' woo the parties
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (12 October) claims that "all three parties were lavishly entertained by the over-influential Friends of Israel" at the recent party conferences.
At the Liberal Democrat Conference, the Friends of Israel's sole gathering was a fringe meeting about President Obama's efforts towards Middle East peace. As at most fringe meetings, drinks and sandwiches were available, but nobody was "lavishly entertained"; had Yasmin attended what was essentially a symposium on the peace process, she might well have enjoyed it.
There are also groupings of Liberal Democrat Friends of India, Palestine and Pakistan – are they also to be described as "overly-influential"? I drank a glass of wine at the Friends of Palestine's meeting before asking some critical questions, but I don't consider myself to have been "lavishly entertained" or "over-influenced". The Friends of India's reception was at what sounds like an excellent Indian restaurant, but I don't hear Yasmin complaining that guests were "lavishly entertained" at this event.
Why can Friends of Israel not make a normal contribution to the foreign policy debate without being labelled "over-influential" by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown?
New Barnet, Hertfordshire
Spoiling for new Olympic sports
So we can look forward to golf at the Olympic Games. If golf can be an Olympic sport what else might we see? As Mark Twain called golf "a good walk spoilt", maybe we should lose the golf bag and go for a good walk.
Rambling would be a great Olympic sport. We could have extreme rambling, speed rambling, downhill rambling, sprint rambling. There could be rambling for the old and the young, perhaps three-legged rambling, or three-day event rambling.
There would be grandstands at the start and finish and people could sit out in the countryside with a picnic encouraging their favourite participants on the long uphill stretches, or watch as they struggle with the difficult scree slopes or slippery rocks. Stream crossings would be a great place to watch as ramblers tried to cross without getting wet. Tussles might break out at stiles or other bottlenecks.
The excitement would be electric as the speed ramblers dashed to the finish line; the extreme rambler came in bloodied from fighting through brambles and hawthorn hedges, crowds screaming for their favourites. What a spectacle!
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Pace Prize, apparently for not being George W Bush. Can I nominate myself for next year's prize, as I also am not George W Bush?
Brown eye blues
What is it with the media that they have to highlight that our Prime Minister has a couple of tears in the retina of his remaining good eye? Winston Churchill wore glasses to read, but nobody mentioned that he could not read important government papers without them. Lay off repeating stories about Gordon Brown's eye problem, and get down to criticising him for all the blunders he has made as leader of the Labour Government.
Bridlington, East Yorkshire
Now that racism, sexism and ageism are generally on the wane in the UK, they seem to have been overtaken by discrimination on the grounds of where someone went to school (letter, 12 October). But, since I had a very similar education to David Cameron's, I guess that my opinions are of no value, and the social conscience I thought I had is almost certainly phoney. Still, I am grateful to Rob Webb for allowing me to be "likeable".
I do not have a negative stereotype of teenage mothers like Mr Woodard (letter, 12 October). What I do have are statistics that say young mums have higher rates of poverty and of needing government assistance. So yes, they are entitled to benefits. And for every teenage mother there is a father, usually also a teenager, who finds himself treated as an outsider. If the parental relationship does not work and the father doesn't wish to be involved then that is the fault of unforeseen circumstances. Not all teenage mums are single by choice.
Rupert Goold has set his Turandot in a Chinese restaurant. Next it will be Tristan und Isolde in a Bavarian beer cellar, Lucia di Lammermoor in a Glaswegian fish-and-chip shop and Carmen in a Spanish tapas bar. Hang on. Carmen is set in a Spanish tapas bar. That would never do for Mr Goold.