Letters: Punishment of looters

Poor thieves punished, but what about the conscience of the rich?
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The Independent Online

The commentariat baying for a return to harsh Victorian values after the riots would carry more credibility if the modern-day equivalents of the Victorian captains of industry, the CEOs sitting on personal wealth beyond the dreams of Victorian avarice, would follow the example of their Victorian forebears.

There were many wealthy Victorians with a conscience. They led from the front, endowing public buildings, hospitals, company towns such as Saltaire and Bourneville, decent housing for working people. The Peabody Trust was founded in 1862 by a Victorian banker to provide rented housing for poorer people in London. It still does so.

Today's finance CEO sits behind high brick walls, with electric gates, private security and his money in foreign tax-havens, his ultimate aspiration to remain apart from the rest of us, to enjoy his wealth with his peers, in private. He resents paying tax and will do his utmost to avoid even that small contribution to healing the society from which his company has recently looted billions of pounds.

Mr Cameron is right that parts of British society are sick. The sickness affects those at the top as well as at the bottom of society, but those at the top will continue to escape with the loot, while those at the bottom are rounded up and punished. Until the greed at the top is dealt with, our society, one of the most unequal in the developed world, will go on rotting, from the head down.

John Boulton

Edgware, Middlesex

Many of your readers have written to compare the rioting with the example of bankers. The big difference, of course, is that the banking industry generates billions and billions and billions in tax revenues every year – money spent on schools, hospitals and tax credits for parents.

Xavier Gallagher

Antwerp, Belgium

Oh, come on. Your leading article "Britain's Katrina moment" (10 August) is deluded in swallowing the "excluded underclass" sob-story. The real underclass has just watched in shock, like the rest of us, and in some cases been victims of the riots.

Apart from the family issues and police handling of the shooting of one person, the uprising we have seen is not of the great dispossessed, but mostly of a section of the not-so-great unwashed, who are willing to take a chance at a criminal enterprise, when they think there's little chance of being caught and punished.

Can we expect that our amateur criminals would miss a chance to emulate the get-rich-quick mentality when they had an opportunity? Their role models have been the suits, masquerading as bankers, who have amply demonstrated the enrichment techniques of financial smash-and-grabbery, without any real consequence.

Let's not be naive about what we've just witnessed and its underlying causes; in particular, a society where greed and recklessness have been indulged by pathetically weak governance and regulation. That is where you should be addressing your attention.

Tom S Birch

London WC1

I cannot understand why the term "taking the law into their own hands" has such negative connotations. In the context of these plundering raids we all have the power to make a citizen's arrest; we also have the absolute right to use reasonable force in self-defence and in the defence of others.

The fact that people have organised themselves into groups to defend themselves and their families and businesses when the police have not done so should be welcomed as a positive thing. The groups of people patrolling their communities should have as much right responsibly to wield a baton and a shield and helmet as the police. It is intolerable to expect people to prostrate themselves before such violence and destruction.

These past few days have shown the dangers of hoping we can entirely abdicate our responsibilities to protect ourselves to the police.

Philip Boshier


Fifty years ago as a young soldier I was trained in riot control. Our Major's opening remark was: "Behind every riot there is a real, true and unresolved grievance." Watching the development of the troubles in the North of Ireland, I was struck by the slowness and reluctance with which all politicians acknowledged and dealt with the real genuine grievances (which included more than religious and nationalist prejudice) of the inhabitants. Have things changed?

J P C Bannerman


Lots of shops and businesses attacked and looted; lots of stuff stolen. Did anyone notice whether any duck-houses were appropriated?

Ian Smalley


I've really enjoyed reading the feverish speculation in the Letters page of The Independent as to what caused the recent riots, as well as hearing the different ideas of politicians and other public figures. Can I offer the following brief translation, which conveniently fits them all? "The cause of these riots confirms my prejudices."

Chris Beeley


Credit shock may do US good

A US credit downgrading isn't as frightening as it sounds; it can serve as a call to action (report, 6 August). Canada's credit downgrading some 20 years ago grabbed national headlines and made people very nervous. Federal politicians moved quickly to create comprehensive deficit-cutting measures.

Partly as a result of a reduced deficit, Canada was in a better position to withstand the financial crisis of 2008.

Ideally, a morale-hurting credit downgrading will trigger the US to move faster toward productive political coalitions, including Presidents who are given the power and time to create deficit-cutting measures without unduly shifting the weight of fiscal responsibility on to the shoulders of the most vulnerable Americans.

How much the US needs to be involved in three wars is very debatable – perhaps national-security spending should be defined more broadly. What does it mean to be an American who fears whether she'll have a house to live in come Monday morning?

Mat Copas

Cali, Colombia

It is to be hoped that you have sent a copy of the Trader's View (6 August) to Sir John Vickers. The penultimate paragraph hints strongly that sensibly cautious traders risk being sacked for failing to churn the market. Any such shake-out would merely increase the percentage of incautious risk-takers among those left behind. This can hardly be a desirable outcome.

Alan Hallsworth

Waterlooville, Hampshire

Pick of the potato crop

How old is Guy Keleny (Errors and Omissions, 6 August)? Clearly not a wartime baby. Potatoes are "lifted" by machines, but they are always "picked" when gathered by hand-picking. This is how it was until the advent of the mechanical potato harvester.

The Rev Tony Butler

Laxey, Isle of Man

Guy Keleny is undoubtedly correct in saying, in these days of potato-lifting machinery, that potatoes are not "picked" in the way apples and oranges are.

But I grew up in north Lincolnshire, a prime spud-growing region, when for several years in the 1950s, along with housewives looking for pocket money and gangs of Irish workers who moved from farm to farm, I earned money in the autumn half-term break from school, as a "potato picker"; the activity was known as potato-picking.

What happens now, I'm not sure. But in those days, a machine dug up the plants, and human hands picked up the potatoes, put them into wicker baskets ("skips"), and transferred them to trailers hauled by tractors.

The potatoes were piled and covered in straw and then earth, to make "clamps", then known in that part of England as "pies"'. This would protect them from frost until market conditions were suitable for the sale of potatoes harvested in October.

Professor Ron Hill


When I first came out of the forces at the end of the Second World War I had a very nice job with long holidays but not much pay. So I used to go potato "lifting" in Essex to earn a little extra money.

Perhaps the difference between "picking" and "lifting" is a regional thing.

June D Troy

London NW8

Fine anthem for England

The English already have a fine candidate for a new National Anthem (letter, 4 August), the Agincourt Song.

A rattling fine tune and stirring words that do not, unlike the present dirge, insult the Scotch (sorry, Scots). The words may upset the French a bit but, who cares about that?

David Wheeler


Perspectives on teachers and their degrees

Clever people aren't always brilliant in class

I was incensed to read that the Government has plans "aimed at improving standards in the classroom" by removing funding for teacher training for anyone with less than a 2:2 degree. Such plans show a complete misunderstanding of effective teaching.

Brilliantly clever people often find it difficult to convey their knowledge because the concepts seem so obvious to them, whereas people who have struggled to grasp concepts are more in tune with others who find them difficult. No doubt, exceptionally gifted individuals like to learn from brilliant minds but, being gifted themselves, they are able to ask the right questions .

There is an argument here for insisting on the higher levels of a subject (for example A-level) being taught only by people with very good degrees but someone with a third from a not very prestigious university might well have the street credibility and the empathy that is needed to teach more effectively at lower levels.

As the recent riots might perhaps indicate, many young people are not well motivated or easy to teach. When a teacher enters a classroom, often his first problem is not about how well he knows his subject but how well he can capture the interest of his students and whether or not he can control the behaviour of those who are unwilling to apply themselves. The qualities needed for this are not related to the level of degree he gained .

In my career as a teacher I have known many extremely intelligent people with good degrees who simply couldn't teach in a challenging classroom.

Chris Sanderson


It's all about the children

Teaching in schools is about caring enough about children to teach them well; it's about listening properly so you understand what they don't understand and then explaining it so they do; teaching is about enthusiasm for your subject and good communication and building relationships with children so they are interested in what you say, and will hear and remember it.

Of course teachers need to know their subject, but in schools they will only teach up to A-levels, not up to degree standard.

Jenny Backwell


Hardly qualified

Michael Gove's plan to raise the qualification level required for training as a teacher sits uneasily with the continuing use of unqualified teaching and cover assistants to supervise and teach classes, and with his own proposal to "fast-track" ex-members of the armed forces into the classroom.

Brian Carter

Lowestoft, Suffolk