Letters: Rural communities

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The Independent Online

Aga louts turn our rural communities into ghost villages

Sir: We're not grand enough down here in west Dorset to have posh peasants like Liz Hurley ("Rural idyll", 1 November). We don't even have seagulls, which is what posh incomers are called in Wiltshire because they go around shrieking "Eee-ow" when they see the views. What we do have is Aga louts.

Aga louts are usually townies who are consultants or press officers and can only afford £500,000 for their slice of rural bliss. When the species first arrived here 15 years ago they'd buy a ditzy cottage, slap in an Aga and then boss everyone about by taking over the parish council or forming gangs to stop schemes to build affordable housing for locals in case it spoilt their view.

Then they discovered that country life is really boring because there's nothing to do and you can't get village cleaning ladies or gardeners at less than the minimum wage. So they only visit in their burnished 4x4s twice a year, work up a boundary dispute and go home again.

And that's turned a lot of Dorset communities into ghost villages. Depopulation means rural bus companies have cut back on services, forcing old yeopersons to wobble along the A35 in their cars and crash into each other. Most of us would like to see a 200 per cent council tax on rural holiday homes, but can anyone really see Tony Blair being so rude to the rich?

Rural bliss? Think of Bishop Heber's view of a countryside "where every prospect pleases and only man is vile".



No US veto on British deterrent

Sir: According to Dan Plesch (article, 31 October) the "myth of the independent nuclear force is the last taboo of British politics", as it could not be used - even in retaliation to an attack on the United Kingdom - without the permission of the United States.

Anticipating this argument, I tabled a written question to Defence Secretary John Reid asking "whether the British strategic nuclear deterrent could be (a) targeted and (b) used without United States approval (i) at present and (ii) under plans for a successor system". His answer was published on the same day as Dan's article: "The United Kingdom's independent nuclear deterrent can be targeted and used without the approval of any other country."

Either the Secretary of State is lying or Dan Plesch has got his facts wrong.



Sir: The other side of the Trident replacement debate is the legal obligation, underlined by the International Court of Justice in 1996.

The Court then said that there is an obligation "to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control".

A draft treaty dealing with all the contentious issues such as verification and inspection has been lodged with the United Nations since 1997. But no negotiations are in progress anywhere.

Not wasting billions on a new son of Trident and calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons everywhere should go hand in hand.



Sir: Despite what Paul Flynn MP may say ("Is this a sensible way to spend £20bn?", 31 October), the primary role of Britain's armed forces is not humanitarian relief and peace-keeping. This may be what they spend most of their time doing in peacetime, but their primary role is defence of the UK, its dependants and its allies.

Nuclear weapons have a very long lead time, and we are moving into a very different world. The building blocks of power are shifting. Many economists believe that four emerging economies will make up more than half of the G7 in fifty years time: Brazil, Russia, India and China.

It may be that all these countries change and grow peacefully into their new roles, but are we prepared to stake our security in that possibility? Will their unfamiliar economic strength come without the desire to develop and exercise military power? Extreme nationalism is never far beneath the surface, and three of these countries already possess nuclear weapons.

To think that the US will always be there to throw its nuclear might behind us is mistaken. America will struggle to hold its own place in the international order with these new goliaths, and will use whatever military muscle it has for its own ends. As it always has. If our interests converge with America's we can ride on the coat-tails, but if not we'll be on our own.



Politicians who send soldiers to war

Sir: On Sunday 6 November, I like many other ex-servicemen, will attend the ceremony at the local war memorial to pay homage to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who gave their lives for Queen and country.

When I was in the army, between 1955 and 1967, we soldiers felt that politicians understood what it was like to be in a war because of many of them had served in the armed forces during the Second World War or in later conflicts such as Korea, Malaya or Aden.

In these days it is difficult for soldiers to have the same level of respect for politicians, most of whom have no understanding or personal experience of what it means to be a soldier in a war zone. Yet it is they who make the decision to put soldiers in harm's way. I hope that they will think about that as they stand before a war memorial on Sunday.



Sir: Your splendid article on ethnic types at Trafalgar (19 October) has just been drawn to my attention. In order to give equal treatment you might like to allow your readers to know that there were in fact three Jewish sailors on HMS Victory with Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar: Seaman John Jacobs, aged 25, from Arundel; John Edwards also from Arundel (he had Anglicised his name); and Able Seaman William Abrahams from Amsterdam, aged 22.

These men (except John Edwards) are named on the HMS Victory roll. John Edwards was only 10 years old at the time and later became (1848) a councillor in Plymouth, one of the oldest Jewish communities in Britain. He was also warden of the synagogue. He died on 18 August 1893 aged 98. His great-great-granddaughter lives in Israel and her children serve in the Israeli army.

On other ships in the battle - recorded by the Anglo-Jewish historian Professor Cecil Roth - were Jewish sailors Moses Benjamin, Joseph Moss, Henry Levi, Joseph Manuel, Nathan Manuel, Benjamin Solomon, Philip Emanuel, Benjamin Da Costa, and we know of a rabbi from Plymouth (named Lewis) who is said to have volunteered but we do not know if he served. In addition we know that Seaman Richard Barnett served in the battle of the Nile with Nelson, with Seaman Daniel Levy, who was on board HMS Tamar.

There is a long tradition of British Jewish naval service.



What gold mining does to landscape

Sir: In Daniel Howden' article, "The real price of gold" (26 October ) he states that a 1 ounce gold ring equates to 30 tonnes of toxic waste. One troy ounce of gold weighs just over 31 grammes, which means that the head grade of the producing mine would have to be just over 1 gramme per tonne - marginal at even today's elevated prices of gold. There are a few large tonnage/low grade gold operations around the world but most mines tend to be smaller and higher grade (3-5 grammes per tonne). An underground gold mine would be uneconomical at 1 g/t.

It is also stated that one teaspoon of a 2 per cent cyanide solution is enough to kill a man. I have a friend who was caught in the Baia Mare dam failure that is mentioned in the article, who had to swim through the spill to safety. The last time I saw him he was in fine fettle, which would suggest that the spill was either less than 2 per cent solution, or you have to inject it to die from it.

Cyanide evaporates relatively quickly from solution and breaks down in the atmosphere into its harmless constituent parts: carbon and nitrogen. This is why tailings dams cover a large area, to maximise evaporation. Once the operation is finished and all the cyanide has evaporated, the area can be rehabilitated.

It is stated that the world's remaining gold deposits are "microscopic". The "Golden Mile" in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia is, as you might guess, a gold deposit over a mile long and still in operation.

The subtext of this article is that mining destroys large swathes of the environment, but in fact the affected area is minuscule compared to the amount of land degraded by inappropriate agriculture and urban sprawl. I agree that the mining industry needs to minimise the impact on the environment, and to this end most mining companies employ dedicated environmental engineers.



The global cost of economic growth

Sir: Few rational readers would disagree with any of your proposed measures ("Climate change: 10 ways to save the world", 1 November). But what about the elephant in the room: the corporate-led obsession with "economic growth"?

If we factor in the negative impacts of increasing global poverty, disease and inequality; environmental degradation and climate-related disasters; and imperialistic wars waged for strategic dominance and access to natural resources and markets, the global economy has probably been in free-fall for decades. We need to shift to a new participatory and equitable system of economics that values people and planet.



Sir: Thirty years ago the world population stood at 3 billion. Today the poor benighted planet accommodates 6.47 billion people - and all of us exhaling CO2 (not to mention hot air).

Leaving aside questions of the amount of CO2 produced in the course of manufacturing and selling the vast numbers of ridiculous products which we are told are now essential to our lives, what is the carbon emissions impact of 6.47 billion people merely breathing in and out, and what (if anything) can or should we do about that?



Hens will still be kept in cages

Sir: Unfortunately, not all battery cages for laying hens are to be prohibited in the EU ("Batteries not included?", 31 October). Under the 1999 Welfare of Laying Hens Directive, all "conventional" battery cages will indeed be banned on welfare grounds by 2012. However, the legislation allows for these cages to be replaced by so-called "enriched" battery cages - giving a mere postcard's worth of extra space per bird.

We do not believe that "enriched" battery cages offer any significant welfare advantage over the conventional barren battery cages. The German government has already announced that it is to ban the "enriched" battery cages. Sadly, we are set to fall behind on this important animal welfare issue as it seems that the UK government and Scottish Executive do not presently plan to follow the German example.

Since all shell eggs must now, by EU law, be labelled as to the system in which the hens were kept, consumers can affect the way millions of egg-laying hens are treated by refusing to buy any eggs from caged hens or products containing eggs from caged hens.



Wiped off the map

Sir: In answer to Ken Taylor's question, where is Palestine? (letter, 1 November): Palestine was wiped off the map in 1948 by Jordan, with help from Egypt, Israel and Syria.



All in the past

Sir: While there may have been no actual conflict of interest between Mr Blunkett's position as a minister and his involvement with a private company, he has acknowledged that he ought to have consulted the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. Mr Blunkett and the Prime Minister consider that the matter should end there, but they should realise that hindsight is not the quality we prize the most in those who govern us.



Time for a change

Sir: I couldn't agree more with your editorial of 29 October. This practice of changing the clocks twice a year is a real pain. Many of us take the best part of a week to recover, especially in the spring when we "lose an hour". There is a campaign to have us permanently on European time. Much better to have us one hour ahead of GMT permanently, as tried by the Wilson government in the late 1960s. But as most European countries now have this awkward practice, can we persuade them to go with us?



Women in charge

Sir: Evelyn Knowles (letter, 1 November) wonders how anyone could know that women would be "equally crap at running the world". Two words: Margaret Thatcher.



Sir: A lady once said to Churchill: "Do you know, Winston, that in the year 2000 women will rule the world?" To which he answered: "What, still?" Now that right and left are disappearing in politics, should we let gender gently dissolve as an issue too?



Answer to dissent

Sir: Alexander Dow brings up, once again, the loutish behaviour of players that mars our enjoyment of football (letter, 31 October). He suggests 10-minute sin-binning, signalled by a blue card. No problem with that, but an alternative solution is simpler. Do as other team sports, such as rugby union and hockey, do (though rarely need to) and respond to dissent against a referee's decision by moving the free kick 10 metres up-field.