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Saturday 16 June 2012
Letters: Ridicule could be fatal for Cameron
Death by a thousand texts could prove to be David Cameron's political fate. Ridicule is far more damaging to a prime minister's future than outright hatred, as another of the week's star turns at the Leveson political theatre, John Major, knows only too well.
If anything, being threatened with a disputed metaphorical "bucket of shit" poured over your head by Kelvin MacKenzie was substantially less damaging than David Cameron's cringe-making textual relationship with Rebekah Brooks. Cosy invites to "country suppers", and the gushing reference to the "charm personified" of Etonians, and that pass-the-sickbag message from Ms Brooks – "I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a proud friend but because professionally we're definitely in this together! Speech of your life? Yes he Cam!" It's lucky for the Prime Minister that Downing Street's text-recording systems meant that we can't be treated to Dave's own texts to Rebekah.
The danger for David Cameron is that, with the opinion polls in freefall, U-turns galore and a deepening double-dip disaster on his plate, an increasingly cynical electorate is laughing at him, not with with him.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
When David Cameron and Nick Clegg stood in the rose garden they promised "a new era of politics". How right they were! Incompetent, inept, lacking in foresight and prone to slipping on their own banana skins.
One would presume that before decisions are made, policies announced, White and Green Papers written, the Government would explore the consequences of its decisions. Week after week we are seeing they do not think things through and consider the impact on businesses, individuals, communities and the country at large.
It is hard to think of any government in recent times who have managed to alienate teachers, the police, nurses and doctors, the prison service and most public services in such a short time.
The parliamentary toleration of mental illness can only be applauded as a rare sign of enlightenment (Alastair Campbell, 15 June).
However, we should be far more concerned with the terrifying amnesia displayed by David Cameron and his senior colleagues, for this can only indicate a level of intellectual debility such as must disqualify them from high office. The decent thing for Mr Cameron and his chums to do would be to resign.
There's an interesting asymmetry in the answers given by Cameron, Osborne, Hunt and others to the Leveson inquiry.
Despite the fact that they often cannot remember what was said, there is always a caveat: they certainly can always remember that they did not discuss the BSkyB bid and similar matters "inappropriately". Curious how memory works.
Gove takes on the challenge of languages
Michael Gove is consulting on whether primary children should recite poetry, master grammar and learn a foreign language. As anyone with any knowledge of primary education could tell him, the first two have been staples of the curriculum since state education began. The last has been tried and failed on a number of occasions. Something to do with a shortage of qualified language teachers, I believe. No doubt the Secretary of State has a cunning plan that no-one else has tried.
Our children deserve a better preparation for modern life than a curriculum rooted in the previous two centuries, which Matthew Arnold would be comfortable with. Here is a poem that everyone who cares about primary education and is fed up with the raw deal our children are receiving may like to learn, and maybe even send to the Secretary of State. It is by Adrian Henri: " 'I've just about reached breaking point,' he snapped."
I was pleased to hear that Michael Gove is planning to introduce foreign languages to primary school children. I wish him well. In the late 1960s ATV, afterwards Central, now ITV, as part of its "public service" remit, made a series of programmes called Primary French, which Mary Glasgow wrote, Donald Carter produced and I directed.
We had a French cast; no written French appeared on the screen, and no English in any form. The children learnt by listening, understanding from the context, and repeating. It was successful. By the end of the first series, children we visited with the cast were speaking their limited French with excellent accents, understanding and enjoying the games and stories. Working on that series did wonders for my French as well.
The follow-on series did not happen, because it was thought that schools did not have teachers capable of doing the continuation work that was needed.
That is why I wish Michael Gove luck. It makes for a better working relationship with other countries when we speak their language. As one businessman put it, "If I am selling to you I am happy to speak English, but if you are selling to me I would prefer it if you do so in my language."
Our reluctance to bother with other languages is likely to leave us on the periphery of the EU, and less and less able to affect things that affect us in many countries. Even if most "foreigners" do speak English, our lack of languages suggests a lack of willingness to engage.
"Well miss," said my year-10 pupil after a French lesson some years ago, when a modern language was taken by all pupils to age 16, "I reckon I've learnt more English off of you than what I have off my English teacher."
I think she meant that studying a modern language had given her a better understanding of language structure and an objective view of her own language, with a greater facility in using language clearly in the standard form, both orally and in writing.
Oh, and she was gaining a useful and usable skill as well, not something you get from the study of Latin. She'd cope well on a visit to France, having knowledge not only of the language but also of a different living culture.
I hope Mr Gove's initiative for primary schools will reverse the decline in modern languages in our schools. I hope it will be done properly, but I can't help thinking that some children might spend half an hour drawing a snowman and labelling it janvier.
As a former teacher who worked when 12 pence was a shilling, I wonder why we need in these days of decimal coinage to ask children to learn tables that go up to 12?
Speak up for an Art Deco treasure
Philip Hensher rightly celebrates the iconic cultural and historical status of Battersea Power Station and dares to admit to the admiration "that dare not speak its name" (8 June). In the face of calls to flatten the site, more academics, politicians and celebrities need to speak up and sing the praises of our most important Art Deco industrial building. It needs a groundswell of support from both above and below to avoid the bulldozers.
A restored Battersea Power Station could become a more much potent symbol of British pride than any of the Towers of Babel sprouting up in the City of London. It is only a "white elephant" because its regeneration has been left to the vagaries of the failed free-market philosophy of the 1980s.
The building itself has huge potential as a major art gallery, museum or performance space of stunning quality. This long-held dream will only bear fruit once government and responsible public bodies such as English Heritage step forward and rescue the site from decay at the hands of the speculators.
Don't damn BBC for a single error
Spoilt indeed we are! Anyone who has not suffered the frustration of public service broadcasting in, for instance, the USA may not have realised what a precious and unique institution we have.
Sebastian Faulks (9 June ) has written with fairness and eloquence in support of the BBC, our "greatest cultural present to ourselves, and the BBC World Service to the rest of the world". It is up to the silent minority to support him with a passion equivalent to the unswerving but seldom articulated loyalty which many of us feel towards the best and often understated things in our society.
Of course the BBC doesn't always get it right. The river pageant coverage was one example, but for those who put access to all BBC services, especially Radio 4 and the World Service, firmly alongside family, security and the rule of law, as life's more important constants, the mere thought of dismantling it would indeed provoke a "collective nervous breakdown" never previously experienced in this country.
Share the cost of energy
Out of sight is out of mind? Because they can afford it, people in affluent areas use more than their share of energy and yet they seem not to want to be inconvenienced by its generation.
If they don't want to look at wind turbines (letters, 15 June), perhaps they could volunteer to host a little nuclear power station or maybe they'd be prepared to have nuclear waste buried under their fields and gardens? Or would they rather bribe people in much less fortunate areas such as West Cumbria to put up with the eyesores, the mess and the long-term health hazards?
We need to share the cost and the pain of our demand for energy.
Long exposure to food hazards
I read with interest Natalie Haynes's article (12 June) citing research that more of us are now eating less-than-fresh food. My mother has experienced times of hardship and consequently abhors waste of any kind, but particularly of food.
On my visits to her I regularly discover blue-flecked bread, brown and wilting salad leaves, milk of a dubious nature and items in the fridge well past their sell-by dates. These she resolutely consumes. I am now concerned that this long-term and persistent eating pattern might shorten her life so that she will not reach her 100th birthday in three years' time.
Sorry, but I just don't get it. Can someone explain how handing over the Falkland Islanders to Argentina is decolonisation, whereas the continued occupation of Argentina and all the other counties in North and South America by European settlers (originally involving frequent massacres of the indigenous populations) is no problem?
It seems to me that since we started measuring rain in millimetres downpours are very much bigger than when they were measured in inches. Perhaps we should ask the Office of Fair Weather Trading to take a look at this.
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