Letters: Racism in Britain

Government must challenge resurgent racism
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right about the possible return of casual racism (Opinion, 10 March) and like her Jewish friend I can feel it too. Initially Poles had a warm press and sympathy from the political elites, the employers and the trade unions, and their positive input into the British economy was rightfully stressed.

But now Migration Watch spokesmen are dictating the agenda because there is such an appalling lack of nationally recognised statistics. There was always an undercurrent of the less successful elements in British society who saw the massive sudden Polish influx as the cause of their own misfortunes, particularly in the rural areas and small provincial towns where the Polish presence was very visible and there was little experience of a multiethnic society.

Initially these voices remained silent, but a virulent campaign in certain newspapers, Polonophobic in effect if not in intention, has now given these malcontents a voice. The traditional Polish community's successful practice of integration without assimilation was also unlikely to work with the sheer numbers. There is a growing volume of hate crimes now against Poles throughout the countryside and the Government needs to take steps to challenge this.

Wiktor Moszczynski

London W5

Energy and climate: the coal dilemma

Sir: Your leader "This foolish rush into the arms of the dirtiest fuel" (10 March) fails to acknowledge the huge energy and social challenges which a responsible energy policy must address.

Coal is the world's most abundant fuel source. It generates the cheapest electricity on the grid, it can be stored in huge quantities, it is indigenous to Britain, it provides baseload electricity and new technologies allow us to use the fuel in a much cleaner and environmentally friendly way.

Baseload is the provision of electricity to the national grid at any one time to meet peaks and troughs in demand. Only gas, nuclear and coal stations can meet this task. As many older coal and nuclear stations come offline we must urgently encourage new build of both nuclear and clean coal so as not to become too dependent on gas-fired plants, which will increasingly rely on increasingly expensive gas imports.

The social issues at stake are huge. Fuel poverty in the UK has doubled in the last four years to 4.5 million households. This is when a household has to spend 10 per cent or more of household income on energy bills. We must generate cheaper electricity both for the industrial and domestic customer. Electricity from coal can help in this important battle.

The mining cutbacks of the last 20 years have left us increasingly dependent on coal imports. The UK coal market stands at 60 million tonnes. A staggering 40 million tonnes is now imported, while domestic producers, both deep and opencast, account for around 20 million tonnes. We should be encouraging the private mining companies to look at expanding their indigenous mining operations. The Government's Coal Forum must do more to encourage new mining projects so we can access our own significant coal reserves to help meet our energy demands.

Tony Lodge

Centre for Policy Studies, London SW1

Sir: Headlines about the Government's stampede to approve a new generation of coal-burning power stations do not get anywhere near the whole truth. Conventional wisdom states that each ton of coal burnt will contain 746Kg of carbon and release 2.7T of CO2. If only that were the case.

Almost all of the coal this new generation of power stations will burn will be produced from opencast workings. Those workings will release vast quantities of coal-bed methane. As the seams are relieved of their overburden, the reduction in pressure will allow the gas to escape, along with significant quantities of carbon monoxide and CO2. The monoxide will quickly oxidise to form yet more CO2. Deep mining at least allowed some of these gases to be captured and used; one British coalfield (South Wales) had a methane gas pipeline grid in the 20th century.

Worse still, with a coal to overburden ratio of typically 2 per cent, a good proportion of the other 98 per cent of the planet that is smashed in the extractive process is also carbon, but cannot be used because it is contaminated with other impurities. This material, with typically 50 per cent carbon content, or more, is tipped on site and proceeds to oxidise to form yet more CO2. The total CO2 output from one ton of opencast coal is at least three times that headline figure of 2.7T. To add to that is the methane emissions, which will vary from seam to seam, but are not likely to be less in overall effect than the CO2 emissions, since methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas.

Even with carbon capture and storage, which is of course a theory, not a reality, most of the emissions from the process of mining and burning coal are going to occur anyway.

Owen Jordan


Sir: The Government has decided to build a new generation of coal-fired power stations. It is also expanding the number of incinerators burning rubbish to generate electricity, which it encourages through tax subsidies and other means. My county council, Oxfordshire, which is ruled by Conservatives, is proposing to build an incinerator.

Rubbish incinerators like these are a third more polluting in terms of greenhouse gases, per unit of electricity, than a gas-fired power station. Renewable power technologies and energy efficiency are better for reducing our climate impacts.

Andrew Wood


Sir: Thatcher must be delighted after her wholehearted, far-sighted support of Britain's industrial heart.

Bryn Roberts


Ladettes' lesson for youth policy

Sir: Perhaps, as a Christian, I am a lot more credulous than Christina Patterson, but I feel that in her slightly cryptic comments (Opinion, 29 February) about "irony" in ITV's recent Ladette to Lady, she missed a more important point.

For all its artifice, Ladette was an opportunity for some fascinating sociological insights. The three finalists ended up as fairytale princesses for a few hours, which is presumably every little girl's dream, but they had to work very hard to get there. All three had been challenged in ways that caused them to reassess their "unladylike" behaviour, to develop new skills and to live beyond themselves, and all three claimed they were leaving with a new sense of purpose in life – or at least a more socially acceptable set of behavioural standards. Even a girl who was evicted from Eggleston Hall after just two weeks reported that she had been inspired to reform her drinking habits, which had previously made her intolerable to her family.

In an age in which many of our teens wind up on the Neet (not in education, employment or training) scrapheap or as part of yob culture, we should be grateful to Ladette for showing us that, given an opportunity and a suitable challenge, disadvantaged young people are capable of acquiring a new sense of purpose and direction. It is to be hoped that the Government, which so often seems to allow the provision of youth facilities, outdoor activity centres and the like to fall into neglect, was watching and has drawn the appropriate conclusions.

Jeremy Legg


Honour for Gandhi in Leicester

Sir: Your report of our supposed indecision over matters of public art is quite inaccurate ("Gandhi or Gary? Why Leicester can't decide who should sit on plinth", 4 March). Leicester is a city that is proud of both its multicultural achievements and of its sporting heroes, but there is no huge public debate over which is more important.

The facts are these. A charity has formally proposed that we have a statue of Gandhi in the city and has offered to pay for this. No one has formally asked for a statue of Gary Lineker and no one has offered to pay for one. Thus, there is no debate over which one to have.

However, if someone wants to stump up the cash for Gary, or one of Leicester's many other fine sportsmen and women, we would be quite happy to consider the proposition.

Cllr Ross Willmott

Leader, Leicester City Council

Sir With regard to "Gandhi or Gary?", I was appalled by the ignorance shown by the petition organiser, Lee Ingram, a local Leicester resident. Gandhi has many ties to both England and English culture, most notably the fact that for the first 77 years of his life he was a citizen of the British Empire and as such governed by Westminster. Second, he studied at the London School of Economics.

All this, however, is quite irrelevant in our global society, and any man or woman of Gandhi's level of achievement and greatness deserves respect in every country, regardless of whether he was born there. I cannot personally think of a man more worthy of having a statue erected in his honour in any or all countries around the world.

Mind you, for all his greatness, he didn't have the privilege of being part of a team that never went further than the semi-finals of the World Cup. It should also be remembered that Mr Lineker decided at the age of 25 that Leicester wasn't for him, and moved on to Everton.

The people of Leicester should be proud to pay tribute to a great man, rather than a mediocre footballer. I don't have anything against Mr Lineker, I just don't believe there is any comparison between a sportsman and a man who helped free a nation without violence or bloodshed.

Greg Jarvis

Enfield, Middlesex

Lives lost to report the world to itself

Sir: I was very moved to see a photo, in your Media section (10 March), of my daughter Kate Peyton, in the article on journalists killed in the course of their work. I had no idea about the memorial at Bayeux.

I feel very strongly that news journalists going to dangerous places get lumped together in the public mind with those covering more trivial subjects, and do not get sufficient credit for the service they give to us all by reporting the world to itself. Through their work we are able to see some of the darker corners of our globe – and often they are corners that despots and tyrants would prefer that we did not see. Sometimes, as in the cases of my daughter and others mentioned in your article, at the cost of their lives.

Angela Peyton

Beyton, Suffolk

Passengers don't deserve this railway

Sir: My fairly frequent journeys from mid-Wales to Kent involve the Swansea-Paddington service of First Great Western and I have never found any of the problems described by your recent correspondents (Letters, 5, 6 March).

I am able to travel off-peak and always book my ticket, but often only a day or two in advance. Fares have been very much lower than those described, always less than £30 for the single journey (including the connecting journey and the London Underground) and sometimes less than £20.

The seat is reserved for me, and the carriages are new, clean and comfortable. Trains are rarely significantly late, I have never known one cancelled, and FGW staff have without exception been courteous and helpful.

The only rudeness I have witnessed has been the (frequent) abuse of staff by passengers. I have no complaints, other than about the state in which some of my fellow passengers leave the toilets.

Katharine Jones


Social death in a glass of beer

Sir: Tim Brook's letter (10 March) on "vertical drinking" struck a chord with me. His explanation may well be right, but in my experience there was also a fashion change among the young.

Shortly before I retired in the mid-1990s, I took staff from my own and a neighbouring department for a lunchtime drink on Christmas Eve before we all went our separate ways for the holidays. A girl in her early twenties from Marketing asked for a bottled beer, which I naturally delivered to her with a clean, fresh glass.

"Oh, I don't want a glass," she said. "I wouldn't be seen dead drinking from a glass!"

John Crossland

Petts Wood, Kent

Not missing William

Sir: Pandora claims (10 March) that Welsh rugby fans will be upset if "Prince" William does not bestow upon us the glorious honour of his royal presence next Saturday. Not, by any stretch of the imagination, all of us.

Huw Roberts

Creigiau, Caerdydd

Europe goes to war

Sir: John Hamilton (Letters, 8 March) contends that if "defence policy had been under European control, we would not have been involved in the invasion of Iraq". How can he be so sure? The EU was divided on the eve of the war, with three of its major countries – Spain, Britain and Italy – supporting it in word and deed. With the accession of the Eastern European states, most of whom have displayed uncritical adulation of US foreign policy, the balance of policy at the EU level is now very much in favour of the war.

Walter Cairns


Bikes for life

Sir: I'm sorry, but who on earth are you hoping to inform – or put off – by listing bikes such as those in the so-called "50 Best" last Saturday (8 March)? Not everyone wants an off-road clone – some of us would like to browse bikes than can be used in everyday life. Something practical with mudguards, carrier, suspension, and comfort. That was such a one-dimensional, Lycra-wearer's list you published.

Amanda Lee

Whitstable, Kent

Yobs of the planet

Sir: I presume that Christopher Hughes ("Elephants, the yobs of the game reserve", Letters, 3 March) would apply the same principles to the human species. Homo sapiens is fast exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet and, in doing so, is pushing other forms of wildlife to the brink. Apart from China, why is no one tackling the biggest problem of all – the unmentionable, unrestrained growth of the human population? Would we rather die from famine, disease and disaster in the future than tackle the problem now?

Dr Pat Hill-Cottingham

Bridgwater, Somerset

Pulpit plagiarists

Sir: Father Przyczyna is unhappy about the plagiarising of sermons (report, 8 March). Maybe it's a case of "Spread the word – but not my word". I wonder, did St Paul receive a syndication fee for his letters?

Mark Ogilvie

Malpas, Cheshire