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Thursday 4 June 2009
Letters: Reforming cabinet reshuffles
Next target for reform: cabinet reshuffles
Now that we have, we hope, got the message through to MPs regarding how the real world addresses allowances and expenses, might I question the practice of cabinet reshuffles? No business would move the director of training to be the finance director, or the overseas director to be the security director.
It must take six months, and more, for a Foreign Secretary to meet all the people he needs to know before he is able to do any useful work for our country. Where is the logic in shuffling? Is it because they weren't suitable for their roles in the first place? Is it because they need to be shuffled so they "get a go of everything" in readiness to be PM?
Well, we are not running GB Training Ltd; we are trying to run a country, a great country. We need proven professionals in the right roles for them, just as in business. We need them to get into their roles and build on them and do what they are paid to do. As far as I can remember, all governments and parties have reshuffled. As far as I can remember all governments and parties have been dishonest with their allowances and expenses. It doesn't make it right.
Can the party leaders please get some business training on how to run GB Ltd, so they get it right first time? How about, before getting a cabinet position, the candidates are interviewed by Alan Sugar's selected interviewers, who then advise Alan Sugar and the PM whom to appoint to what post and what training they need?
Can't be bothered to go and vote?
The current mob outrage over MPs' expenses makes me uneasy. The Daily Telegraph has drip-fed stories of MPs over three weeks and given the impression that all of them are corrupt. It gives strength to the bar-room pundit who boasts, "That's why I don't bother to vote, they are all the same, in it for themselves." It will almost certainly mean that UKIP and the BNP, with their appeals to emotion rather then reason, will gain seats in the council and European elections.
At a time when we need more involved government, locally and nationally, and more communication between voters and their representatives, more voters will be encouraged to say: "I can't be bovvered".
When we see how people in African countries queue for hours in the heat to vote, we should be ashamed that only 40 per cent of us can get to the polling booths. Generations ago people campaigned for universal suffrage; now about 60 per cent cannot get interested.
The only two things that might help are to copy Australia and make voting compulsory, but have a box labelled "None of the above"; and to introduce proportional representation, though that would break the direct link between the MPs and their constituents.
Even then, the 60 per cent will moan that "they've made it too complicated."
Lisa Markwell (Opinion, 30 May) seems to think there is nothing untoward in MP Bill Cash preferring to pay rent to his daughter rather than a stranger, which may well be the case; what is untoward is why Cash should have deliberately put himself in the position where he had to make that decision. Why didn't he live in his own flat and let his son rent his daughter's flat instead?
Keighley, West Yorkshire
Matt Rosseinsky (letters, 27 May) refers to MPs having a "real need" to buy two homes and meet the associated running costs. Many MPs themselves claimed they are "obliged" to own a home in London. That is simply not the case. They need accommodation, but they do not need to buy property. Where they have bought over the past few years, they should not be entitled to keep any of the profit made. That belongs to the state.
Natascha Engel says: "I take full responsibility for the claims made." Does the use of the locution "I take full responsibility" ever make any difference? Could we not set up a controlled experiment where half of all MPs caught out in the expenses scandal utter this formulation and the other half say: "I take no responsibility"?
I have followed our MPs' expenses saga assiduously. Am I alone in wondering why all these "inadvertent administrative errors" seem – without exception – to have benefited the culprits' bank balances?
West Wittering, West Sussex
In defence of US 'political' envoys
The article "Welcome to the Court of St James's" (29 May) contains several errors of fact. If confirmed, Mr Susman's deputy upon his arrival will be the current chargé, Richard LeBaron. Acting deputy chief of mission Mark Tokola is departing London in July to become deputy chief of mission in Seoul. The two previous ambassadors were Robert H Tuttle and William S Farish.
The article also unfairly suggests that political-appointee ambassadors are not up to the job. On the contrary, as someone who worked closely with our previous appointee Ambassador Tuttle, I can assure you that in 23 years of diplomatic service, I have never come across a more hard-working and successful US ambassador. In his time as the envoy to the United Kingdom, Ambassador Tuttle made over 60 trips around the country, gave hundreds of interviews and speeches, and welcomed over 25,000 people to the ambassadorial residence. Ambassador Tuttle hosted a successful investment conference for US firms in Northern Ireland, helped to negotiate the purchase of a site for a new US Embassy, and consistently and respectfully presented US foreign policy on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East to sometimes difficult audiences across the United Kingdom.
While politically appointed ambassadors may not be career diplomats, they are selected from top positions in public service or the private sector. They bring a wealth of experience, a fresh perspective, and very often, a personal relationship with the President that is highly valued by the host country's government.
To insinuate that ambassadorships are doled out as sumptuous rewards is wrong. Private-sector appointees who join an administration often incur significant reductions in their personal earnings. They accept these positions for the same reasons that career diplomats choose to enter the US Foreign Service: they are deeply interested in public service and public policy.
Philip Breeden, Press Counselor
US Embassy, London W1
EU not to blame for 'tyranny'
Bruce Anderson's attack (1 June) on the voting system used in Great Britain for the European elections is directed at the wrong target; for it was the U K government that determined the voting system currently in use.
The European Union did ordain that countries had to employ a form of proportional representation, as opposed to "first past the post". The latter system, used in the UK before 1999, led to significant shifts in the overall balance in the European Parliament, as small swings between the British political parties exaggerated changes in the number of seats held by the parties.
The UK Labour Government decided to adopt the least good form of proportional representation – the party list. This leaves voters with no choice over particular candidates. There is nothing in the European rule book that would preclude a proportional system that would empower the voter, such as that currently employed in Ireland which permits voters to indicate preferences within a party. The party list system is tyrannical, as Anderson proclaims, but it is a tyranny imposed by a British government.
Kevin J Rowles
Meltham, West Yorkshire
Grave crisis at a piano recital
I write in reference to Michael Church's review (2 June) of Ingrid Fliter's piano recital at Wigmore Hall, in which the piano was replaced. Mr Church mentions that the house manager and an assistant with a "face like an undertaker" came on to effect the change.
I admit that there is a certain finality to the closing of a grand piano, especially one at which 500 people are staring intently, but when it comes to the raising of another – a rather physically taxing operation, usually executed out of the public eye, and on a much more relaxed timescale – I can assure Mr Church that while an undertaker might be concerned with thoughts of other people's death, my own worries of mortality were more self-interested.
During the short time I was on stage, I hoped I was projecting an air of calm authority and decorum, similar, now I come to think of it, to that of an undertaker. Perhaps it is not such a pejorative comment after all.
Why TV viewers struggle to hear
Like other readers whose letters you have published, I was happy to see that there is to be a review of television sound quality, if not too optimistic about the outcome.
When, in the 1960s and 70s, I was professionally involved in making television documentaries for Granada TV and others, a great deal of time, effort and argument went into trying to achieve the best pictures with the best sound. The camera operator and sound recordist were often at odds on location, where the needs of one often made life difficult for the other.
The arguments went on in the dubbing suite, where picture, voices, ambient sound and music were blended together. The sound was played through very hi-fi amplifiers and speakers to achieve the best results – but then played back through domestic speakers to see what the sound would be like when it arrived in the living room.
My guess would be that today, when the camera operator and sound recordist are often the same person and when production budgets are pared to the bone, there's neither the time nor the money to be bothered with all that stuff. The result is that the overload of the soundtrack's volume and frequencies overwhelms the less expensive TV set, with its squeaky speakers, so that programmes often sound as if they were recorded underwater, somewhere near Niagara Falls.
The viewer can have it good or can have it cheap; having both won't be an option.
It is not only the older viewer (Letters, 2 June) who finds the use of music supposedly to enhance the spoken word objectionable. To the musically trained ear there is no such thing as "background" music: all music, regardless of its quality, nature or volume, demands the listener's attention and hence detracts from the experience of listening to speech (which deserves similar respect) in any form.
D-Day at the races?
We now learn that Prince Charles is to attend the D-Day anniversary on Saturday. The hiccup over the Queen not going there might have been avoided had the authorities' attention been drawn to the fact that this Saturday is Epsom Derby day, an event which the Queen rarely misses.
Army chiefs say that unless we send more troops to Afghanistan, "Britain will lose credibility with its American allies" (report, 1 June). But that is not the point. We are not fighting the war in Afghanistan in order to maintain credibility with our American allies. We are fighting it in order to . . . Er . . . .
While I have every sympathy with Susan Boyle and the shattering of her dream, please may we hear it for Diversity, the winners of Britain's Got Talent? All I have heard of their success is a brief couple of sentences on the news bulletins, and a photo consigned to your inside pages. Please let's celebrate the success of this group, however brief, and stop this peculiarly English "Eddie the Eagle" syndrome where we give more credit to the losers than those who come out on top.
Far from being a justification for the introduction of tuition fees, your education editor's survey of graduate earnings (1 June) indicates that a graduate will repay the cost of their education many times over in the form of higher income tax receipts – suggesting that the state should be encouraging students to attend university by scrapping fees, not increasing obstacles to access.
Why are shows about people in unreal situations called "reality" shows? Perhaps if we refer to them as "unreality"' shows from now on it would give us all a better sense of perspective.
Garland shooting: Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest organisers condemn attack as 'war on free speech' after police kill two gunmen
General election live: Russell Brand endorses Labour (except in Scotland and Brighton)
Prophet Mohamed cartoon exhibition shooting: Two armed men shot dead after opening fire on 'free speech' event in Garland, Texas
The Tories could raise student tuition fees again past £9,000 a year, William Hague indicates
Royal baby girl: Moving down line of succession is 'great' Prince Harry says, as he welcomes 'beautiful' Princess of Cambridge
The SNP winning every seat in Scotland would not be a mandate for another independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon says
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