Letters: Rail havoc was a taste of ‘small government’

These letters appear in the 1 January issue of The Independent

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You rightly observe that when disaster strikes our railway system, as during the Finsbury Park fiasco, government ministers “ooze sympathy for the public’s predicament, never forgetting to remind us that, alas, it is no longer the direct concern of the state” (editorial, 29 December). The same pattern is, of course, replicated whenever there is an outcry over the behaviour of privatised utility companies.

One of the issues in the forthcoming general election will be the desirability or not of reducing the size of government, an ambition which the Conservative Party is likely to embrace with enthusiasm. The railway scandal of recent days and the tendency of private gas, electricity and water providers to ill-treat their customers with impunity are a sobering reminder that “small government” in the UK today is another way of saying “You’re on your own.”

David Head

Navenby, Lincolnshire

 

Steve Richards (30 December)  has the wrong end of the stick if he thinks that those caught up in the rail chaos of 27 and 28 December had accepted it. Far from it. They were given no choice.

It was caused by at best lack of planning and at worst incompetence at Network Rail and, probably, acquiescence by the Department of Transport. The DoT’s statement on the 27th that they were “very disappointed” didn’t quite do it for most of the people affected.

You can imagine the conversation that took place before Christmas:

Network Rail: Sorry Minister but we think the engineering works might overrun.

Minister: Oh, never mind – it’s the weekend and only people outside London such as Northerners will be affected, so it’s not important.

Steve Richards shows the same London-centric view when he talks about a “starting point” for a journey in north London. What about those who started in Leeds (not to mention farther north) who eventually got to London after a seven-hour journey (normally three hours at most), re-routing from Peterborough on their own initiative as best they could, without any help from rail companies or Network Rail.

Steve is right that we need proper public debate – about a lot of things – but I don’t think we’ll get it while everyone in the capital thinks London is the UK.

Geoffrey Downs

Wilsden, West Yorkshire

 

The answer to Rob Edwards’s conundrum why passengers were not told to go to St Pancras (letter, 30 December) is simple. Services from St Pancras are run by a different company, which is a rival to those run from King’s Cross.

The same is now becoming increasingly true in the NHS, where neighbouring hospitals are in competition for patients and services, and experienced clinicians spend half their time writing business plans rather than seeing patients.

Such is the fate of once great public services under the last few governments.

Christopher Anton

Birmingham

 

Simon Bryant (letter, 30 December) reminds us that Network Rail is the responsibility of ministers. Unfortunately, someone invented “government agencies” to distance ministers from responsibility and provide much smoke and many mirrors. Who invented the agency, with it’s highly paid people that cannot be questioned in the House of Commons?

Simon Allen

London N2

 

I stood up to the sex pests

As the 22-year-old daughter of Nigel Glover, whose letter you published on 27 December, I felt deeply saddened to read Jennifer Towland’s response (29 December) to his anger in hearing the frequency of unwanted sexual attention I had recently received. I resent the advice to “man up”, take control of my life, and “stop running to daddy”.

In answer to Ms Towland, I did handle each situation myself, and I can assure you that I am more than capable of standing up for myself and my friends. However I feel Ms Towland has missed the point entirely, and I cannot understand why I deserve any criticism.

What I inferred from her letter is that I should have dealt with the situation and then shut up about it. How dare I speak to my father about this? How dare he express an opinion? Ms Towland insists that I should hold some responsibility for the situations I found myself in. Sadly this perpetuates the view that the person who has suffered sexual, physical or verbal harassment is somewhat to blame.

However I chose to act, or whomever I decided to tell, should be of no consequence. When will the blame for sexual harassment finally be landed solely on the perpetrator?

If Ms Towland feels the need to hand out advice in the future, perhaps it would best be aimed at the sexually aggressive instigator, rather than the victim.

Abi Glover

St Albans, Hertfordshire

 

Lord Mayor’s gong for Dame Fiona

It is probably unfair to criticise the award of a damehood to Fiona Woolf (who is clearly not a member of the Establishment) in the aftermath of her resignation as head of the child abuse inquiry. This award had nothing to do with that inquiry. 

A knighthood or damehood is automatically given to every Lord Mayor of London on leaving office.  This happened to her immediate predecessors, Sir David Wootton and Sir Roger Gifford, and no doubt next year will happen to the current Lord Mayor, Alan Yarrow. It is therefore unfair to single out Dame Fiona for this. 

However it does raise a wider question of whether it is right that, when someone achieves a certain office (for example in the Civil Service or the armed forces or as a long-serving backbench MP), an award is automatically handed to them. Surely achieving that position is in itself recognition of their eminence, and no gong or title needs to go with it. 

There is clearly a case that the honours system is so archaic and arbitrary that it is beyond reform and should be swept away. However it will not be, as it is such a useful means of patronage to those who control it.

Gordon Elliot

Burford, Oxfordshire

 

Religious people do good deeds

Your correspondents are correct to assert that ethics are not always derived from religion (letters, 29 December). Atheists can behave in a perfectly ethical way, though often the roots of the ethics may be found in Biblical sources.

However, modern sociological research on British and American society shows us that people belonging to religious groups are more likely to act on their ethics. They are more likely to give charity, to visit the sick or elderly, or do someone a good turn. The data shows that religion, as measured by attendance at a place of worship, is the best indicator of altruism.

Zaki Cooper

Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews

London EC4

 

Gay scene in Doctor Who

Those who complained that scenes in Doctor Who were “promoting homosexuality” were mistaken. No “promotion” was taking place; the BBC was fulfilling its public-service commitment.

One valuable role of children’s television is to teach acceptance of difference. All non-abusive relationships are normal, and free expression of emotion is a human right. By making what was once pushed to the fringes now seem commonplace, we ensure that our children need never lead lives of exclusion, imprisoned by guilt and fear.

It seems that there are still a few dismal individuals who are only content when they see their prejudices being perpetuated down the generations for all time, despite such attitudes truly deserving to be locked firmly in the past.

Julian Self

Milton Keynes

 

Shot dead by a toddler

A two-year-old has killed his mother with her gun while she was shopping at a Walmart store in Idaho.

While it is well known that the gun lobby cowboys have complete power in the US, what they don’t seem to understand is that when the right to bear arms was enshrined in the US Constitution only strong adults would have the strength to fire a gun.

Now that they are making guns so easy to use that a two-year-old can do it, you would think they would get the message that something must be done to control gun ownership.

Malcolm Howard

Banstead, Surrey

 

Artists who weren’t there

Professor Martin Kemp tells me I should not take Tracey Emin’s My Bed too literally, because she may not have slept in it (“Why Tracey Emin’s bed looks too good to be true”, 29 December).

Should I then regard The Raft of the Medusa in the same way simply because Géricault was not actually on board?

Michael Elkin

Halifax, West Yorkshire

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