Letters: Revolution in parenting

At last, men take the lead in a parenting debate
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Your piece on Nick Clegg's criticism of Gina Ford (12 January) marks a new step in a social revolution in parenting.

Not only has a prominent man, Nick Clegg, entered headlong into a debate about parenting, but you ask two men to respond, Jimmy Leach and James Moore. This is the first high-profile debate about parenting in which men are taking an active, even a leading, role. Millions of mothers debate these issues in public every day; fathers only discuss the issues in private, with the mothers of their children or with close friends and family.

Your article will enter the history of 21st-century parenting, which is seeing the emergence of fatherhood into the public domain.

Duncan Fisher

Director, Family Info, Crickhowell, Powys

Gina Ford has criticised Nick Clegg for "insult[ing] the parenting choice of more than two million British voters". If it were true, a controversial move on his part. I appreciate her framing this debate in the language of politics, as opposed to parenting, and would like to see it extended.

I therefore would appreciate it if the next time some NHS killjoy bores on about the perils of "binge drinking", you point out in balance that they are "insulting the lifestyle choice of more than 33 per cent of British voters"; and the next time some policeman or judge criticises murder you note that they are "insulting the conflict resolution choices of 800 British voters every year".

Samuel J Gisoad

Twickenham, Middlesex

From military precision to go-with-the-flow flexi-time, most parents will end up doing what suits them. Give it 25 years, and then we shall see what sort of adults and parents Ms Ford's system produces.

S Lawton

Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Mrs Robinson's biblical morality

Your editorial (19 January) on Iris Robinson, says that "in her frequent condemnations of homosexuality she points to the book of Leviticus, where the practice was roundly condemned". You go on to say that "she omits to mention, however, that the same book also denounces adultery".

I can't help wondering how she feels about keeping slaves, as this is sanctioned in Leviticus (25:44). And I notice that her young lover has had his hair trimmed fairly recently, which is expressly forbidden (Lev. 19:27). So too, is the wearing of garments made of two different kinds of thread. Perhaps Iris should check her wardrobe, and if she finds any poly/cotton mixes, she should gather together the local population and insist that they stone her to death, which is the prescribed remedy (Lev. 24:10-16).

Anyone who believes we should live our lives according to such doctrines should never have been let near a position of responsibility.

Graham Wright

Buxton, Derbyshire

My first reaction to Iris and her liaison with a man 40 years her junior was to think, "Go for it!" However, I reflected further in the knowledge of her homophobic rant during an interview on Irish radio, where she described her loathing and physical disgust of homosexual love as a vile aberration. I was reminded of a scene in the delightful cult movie, Harold and Maude.

It centres on a romance between a young man, played by Bud Cort, and a 79-year-old woman, touchingly portrayed by Ruth Gordon. Towards the end of the film, Harold is confronted by a priest with the following statement: "Harold, the idea of your firm young limbs co-mingling with those sagging breasts and flabby buttocks makes me want to vomit."

Touché, Mrs Robinson.

Tony Tugnutt

London WC1

When politics really mattered

Tony Williams (letter, 11 January) laments the waning of public interest in politics, compared with 1950. Doesn't he realise that in the 1950 general election 84 per cent of the electorate voted because there were fundamental issues to vote about? Now there aren't.

In 1950 the Labour Party had completed its 1945 manifesto promises of nationalisation and was promising further state control of the cement and other industries. The Tories were promising to bring nationalisation to a full stop and save industries such as sugar, chemicals, water and insurance. Tate and Lyle had spent vast sums of money – does anyone still remember Mr Cube? – to protect themselves from state control. The Conservatives would repeal the Iron and Steel Act, halt further state control of buses and trams and drastically reorganise the coal industry.

This was real political warfare. In a country with a much larger working-class element than we have now, passions were roused and nobody doubted the gulf between the two main parties. Tories knew that Labour was ruining the country; Labour supporters dreaded a Tory victory – what would happen to pensions, other social benefits and, most of all, the National Health Service?

Now, if one were to ask any randomly chosen group of people if they could mention, say, five really vital political issues on which Gordon Brown differs from David Cameron, they would find it almost impossible. The real issues now are who is the bigger liar, who is the least inefficient and whom can we trust not to dig his snout too deeply into the trough.

Alan Golding

Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire

Anthony Pick (letter, 6 January) makes plenty of assertions about what he believes "the electorate" think about a change to the voting system, but "the electorate" has never been asked, so no one knows what it thinks (despite Labour having a manifesto promise to do just that since 1997).

All of his claims can be rebutted. Voters cannot "vote out a government"; they may, if they are lucky enough to live in the roughly 20 per cent of seats that are marginal, have a chance of changing their MP. Most voters do not, of course, and indeed a quarter of seats have not changed hands at all since 1945.

Secondly, the multi-member STV form of PR, which he fails to mention, maintains the constituency link.

Finally, listing candidates in order of preference is hardly a difficult concept to grasp. It already operates successfully in many democracies. Is he trying to argue that the United Kingdom electorate is particularly stupid?

The first-past-the-post voting system was designed in the 18th century when there were only two parties and a limited, wealthy electorate numbering a few tens of thousands. In the 21st century we need something better, and soon.

Steve Travis


A gentle grilling for Alastair Campbell

At the end of his questioning by the Iraq Inquiry panel, Alastair Campbell must have felt as if he had been, in Denis Healey's immortal phrase, "savaged by a dead sheep". Arriving at the Chilcot inquiry, the bags under his eyes suggested that he might have suffered a few sleepless nights. But by the end of his "grilling" he seemed relaxed and was clearly enjoying himself.

He was only responsible for communications and not for policy. "I defend every part of the dossier and every part of the process in which it was created", he said, and any changes to the "sexed-up dossier" were nothing to do with him but entirely down to John Scarlett.

Tony Blair had been forced to engage in an illegal war only after the French "pulled the plug" on a legal route by stating that they would not support a second UN resolution under any circumstances. None of the panel pointed out that other security council members would not have backed a second resolution, and that President Chirac had actually only said that France would "vote no because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war". Perhaps such clarifications were outside the Chilcot inquiry's remit.

Stefan Simanowitz

London NW3

Rubbish piles up in the icy streets

The lack of rock salt is the cause of far more than poor road conditions – it has virtually paralysed local government services outside the M25.

Because councils failed to plan for a harsh winter, few rural roads are readily passable to vehicles or pedestrians. Buses run on main roads only and many local people, including council employees, cannot get to work. Councils have cancelled refuse collections from outlying villages because their trucks and operatives are not allowed to work on the ice-covered roads and footpaths that are a direct result of the councils' own inefficiencies.

The Royal Mail and private delivery services are now fighting their way through to the remoter villages, but not council contractors. With refuse collections now fortnightly, this means that many communities have a build-up of uncollected rubbish that stretches back to Christmas, and no clue as to when services will start again.

Adequate salt is a necessity to good health for more than just dietary reasons in the UK.

Alex Morris

Wonersh, Surrey

Richard Evans (letter, 12 January) poses the question: "No criticisms of four-wheel-drive owners this week then?" Well, yes, actually, since you ask.

Some of them – not all, but a significant minority – seem to think that because they have sufficient grip in poor road conditions, so does everyone else (all of a piece, I would say, with their self-regarding mindset).

Their ignorance of basic physics and simple courtesy means that they drive without a care for the rest of us, two feet from our tailpipes, in what I can only assume is an attempt to persuade us to drive at their chosen speed.

When it's been safe to do so, I've pulled over to allow them to pass; after all, we all know that no one is as important as a four-wheel driver.

Edward Collier

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Imagine my surprise this morning: children in school sitting examinations, and what was the first A- level Mathematics question?

How long does it take to work out that 32 secondary school staff from the headteacher down (daily salary bill £4,611) working for two days, under daily criticism from politicians and council leaders, having to manually shovel an area of snow twice the size of a football pitch, is more expensive that a non-existent snow plough and gritter driver (£400 per day) spending 11 minutes to do the same area?

Mike Spinks

Headteacher, Urmston Grammar School, Manchester


Feral mink

Your article "Escaped: captives who now run wild" (11 January) states that the feral mink population is due to releases by animal rights activists. Mink in fact became established from the 1950s through accidental release from fur farms, leading to some changes in the law.

Tom Kilner

Penallt, Monmouth

Incompetent plotters

As a Lib Dem voter, it is astonishing to me that these Blairite nonentities (Clarke, Purnell (who?), Hewitt and Hoon) seem to think that by disloyalty to their party they are somehow bolstering their electoral fortunes. The ineptitude of their coup attempts makes me relieved that they are all ex-ministers. Brown appears to have done his best in very trying circumstances (admittedly, some of his own making), against a backdrop of embittered twerps who enjoy stabbing him in the back every time there appears to be a glimmer of improvement in his fortunes.

Andrew Whyte


Unfair to women

I heartily agreed with Dr David Smith's letter about primary education (7 January), but it is a great pity that he spoilt this by unnecessarily airing his old-fashioned misogyny about the (undoubted) lack of women's professional achievement compared with men. Does he really need reminding that men have in all places and at all times denied most women education and the opportunity for meaningful, gainful work until very recently indeed?

Julie Harrison


Historic eagle

In relation to the new film of The Eagle of the Ninth (Arts and Books, 8 January), there should be some mention of the late great Rosemary Sutcliffe, who, crippled in her wheelchair, produced this and other amazing books for the young. I remember The Eagle of the Ninth as a terrific Children's Hour serial on the Home Service, each episode introduced by the sound of the legionaries marching into the distance whistling and singing "I kissed a girl at Clusium" as they faded away – never to return. Time for a Rosemary Sutcliffe revival?

Anthea Maybury

Ely, cambridgeshire

Wrong message

I share Lesley Docksey's views (letter, 9 January) on the Government's proposal to change the law to protect those accused of war crimes, a proposal driven by a wish to appease Israel. This sends a strong message to the rest of the world that Britain condones the Israeli attacks on Gaza, the continuing dispossession and aggression against Palestinians, and the long-running refusal to abide by UN resolutions.

John Edwards

Linlithgow, West Lothian