Letters: Self-reliance is no joking matter

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 8 July, 2013

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Mark Steel’s column “You’re not unemployed – you lack self-reliance” (5 July) is a masterclass in misinformation and sanctimonious fury.

If I’d read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, he says, I’d scream: “Why are some idiots giving the unemployed a box of fruit. That’s only teaching them to be reliant.”

Perhaps if Steel spent a day in my Rochdale constituency seeing what we do, he wouldn’t be making wisecracks.

We work with some of the most desperate people. Fighting terrible Atos rulings, helping reinstate people’s benefits after they’ve wrongly been suspended, getting payday-loan companies to stop taking money out of people’s accounts after debts have long been paid, and housing people who are destitute.

At least once a month I sit with someone who breaks down in tears.

Many politicians are grappling with these problems and staring hard into the face of destitution and desperation. That I recognise that state support can’t always solve everything and politicians have a responsibility to promote hard work makes the futile leftists that Clem Attlee warned about positively apoplectic.

They need to realise that the Labour Party of social security is also the party of social empowerment. We shouldn’t just battle the bosses for better rights but also encourage people to become their own boss. I don’t believe in patronising poor people and I’ve no truck with champagne socialists who salve their conscience by leaving people trapped on benefits.

Most people don’t want to be on benefits. They want to be free from the state and they need confidence and encouragement. Self-reliance. “To find yourself, think for yourself,” said Socrates,

Steel wondered if I’d read Steinbeck. I have, thanks. But has he read Tom Wolfe’s The New Journalism? Wolfe’s target is the literary gentlemen with a seat in the grandstand. Essayists, he said, should come down from the grandstand and listen to people.

When Steel descends from his lofty perch, what he hears might shake his world of militant dogma. People want opportunity not facile opposition. The stakes have never been higher for politicians, and the challenges are huge.

It’s time for Steel to stop grandstanding and get real.

Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale


Yes, you can judge a child  by their name

In the wake of Katie Hopkins being branded an “insufferable snob” for her attitude on children’s names, I would like to say that I have been a secondary school teacher for over 20 years and there is no doubt in my mind that there are certain names that are associated with challenging behaviour and attitudes. 

If I see a Kial/Kyle on the register, I know he is likely (not definitely) to be a child who presents a less-than-positive attitude.

Is this prejudice? No. Because of the two dozen boys named Kial/Kyle whom I have taught, only one presented anything approaching a positive, cooperative mindset; the vast majority were difficult and often overtly insolent and calculatedly disruptive.

Other warning signs are common names that do not have the traditional spelling or children named after what I can only assume to be the place where they were conceived.

Of course, children are predominantly a product of the environment in which they are raised, It is not a self-fulfilling prophecy that a child with a certain name turns out to be difficult; their behaviour is merely a manifestation of the values they have absorbed  from parents who gave them  that name.

Having said all that, I was touched recently when a particularly difficult Kyle, now grown up and working in a supermarket, ran up to me when I went to shop there and made a sincere apology for his attitude and behaviour, saying that he now regrets it and realises that I was a good teacher just trying to do my job.

In teaching, the rewards are not always immediate.

Name and address supplied


Kids are hi-tech  – get over it

Those who complain about people using portable phones in their presence do not appreciate our ability and desire to fill our lives interestingly.

If my grandchildren, while visiting and photographing me for their future autobiographies, did not text their friends, watch TV, read a recently downloaded ebook, listen to music on headphones, have a meal and plan their next activity, I should be disappointed that they were not up to date with recent technologies and getting lazy. I adjust to them.

GD Morris, Port Talbot


The critique of boorish mobile phone users has so far focused on individual rudeness, without considering the roots of this in a selfishly atomised, profit-obsessed social climate that affects corporate behaviour as much as it does personal.

It’s this that underlies the tedious – for many, quite unpleasant – artificial exchange that paying at a supermarket till has become, geared as it is to suit the corporation, in that the essential aim, hidden beneath the autocued speech and confected politeness, is usually to get to track customers’ purchases.

Perhaps the best response lies simply in raising awareness. When nagged about a “loyalty” card for the n-hundredth time, it’s no use being rude back – much better a friendly smile along with a simple “I leave data gathering to GCHQ”.

Michael Ayton, Durham


Isn’t it sad that the human being in front of you takes second place to a ringtone?

Angela Elliott, Hundleby, Lincolnshire


Not just bad law but racism too

Against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Theresa May is going to make khat an illegal drug.

Khat is used, almost exclusively, by Somalian, Eritrean and Yemeni communities in the UK, the majority of whom are Muslim. Their religion forbids the use of alcohol, and they choose to use khat, which has been proved scientifically to be less harmful than alcohol, with no link to the aggression associated with the latter. Now they are going to be punished if they continue to do so.

Our drug laws not only ignore science but now target particular races. Isn’t that illegal?

Hope Humphreys, Creech St Michael, Somerset


Maybe the world needs more porn

Hannah Pool and Sara Neill (letter, 5 July) appear to believe that all of the iniquitous treatment that women suffer is caused by pornography.

The countries of the Middle East, central and sub-contintental Asia, and east Africa are home to some of the most vile abuse and oppression of women: women may not drive, may not leave their home without a male relative as chaperone, are subject to acid attacks for spurning male advances, have their genitals mutilated in childhood, and are shot for attempting to get an education. And in all these places, access to pornography is proscribed or very difficult.

If Hannah Pool and Sara Neill are correct, these porn-free lands should be beacons of female emancipation. Perhaps what these countries need is more, not less, pornography. Maybe a liberal attitude to the naked human (both genders) goes hand in hand with a more progressive attitude to equality.

Barry Richards, Cardiff


In the 1970s I used to buy Playgirl, which had a centrefold of a naked man, for the women who worked in my hair salon.

We kept it in the staff room so as not to offend customers. On one occasion it got out into the salon and we had to watch horrified as an elderly, unmarried lady, sitting under a hairdryer, began unfolding the centre page. She held it in front of her for a moment then carefully folded it up again, unaware we had all been watching.

It would seem that pictures of naked men don’t have the same effect on women that pictures of naked women have on men.

Penny Joseph, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex


As a female friend once said to me: “A naked woman is sexy; a naked man is funny.”

David Ridge, London N19


Women players deserve better

You published three articles on 5 July covering the women’s Wimbledon semi-finals. Nick Bollettieri, a non-journalist, wrote about Flipkens the athlete.

Kevin Garside and James Lawton, providing the “real” journalism, introduced their articles with a breathtakingly casual sexism that patronised and condescended, even while pretending to do otherwise.

Please, skip the strange framing of the content (Lawton’s piece intros with how one could be condescending about women’s tennis, and Garside about Marion Bartoli’s being an “unlikely siren”) and get to coverage of the matches and the athletes.

The numerous pieces on the male tennis players start off where they should – with athletes and performance.

Rose-Marie Barbeau, Rothesay, Isle of Bute


Let women tennis players play five sets. This year’s Wimbledon women’s final was about nothing other than nerves. Lisicki reached rock bottom, she flicked the switch in her mind... and I have no doubt that we could have seen an epic five-set match. I feel robbed, and so should Bartoli and Lisicki. I firmly believe no one would have enjoyed it more than them. So come on. Give us the best tennis anyone has never seen.

Tania Payne, London W5


Ancient Stones

I could never see the attraction of the Rolling Stones. Not really rock’n’roll – more establishment.

Watching the almost-embalmed may give youngsters a weird idea of what was actually swinging in the much-hyped Sixties.

Just tell them the Stones were pre-colour TV, pre-computers, pre-mobiles and pre-CDs to give some idea of just how ancient they are – and that the Glastonbury revellers were contributing to Sir Mick’s pension fund.

Mary Hodgson, Coventry


Royal peacocks

It is a little hard of Alexander Fury (“The power dresser”, 6 July) to say the British monarchy has always been “far from the vagaries of style”. Charles II was as much a peacock as his contemporary Louis XIV. Edward VII popularised the dinner jacket and leaving the bottom button of his waistcoat undone – in a nod to his podginess. And Edward VIII was a fashion icon whom we have to thank for the Windsor knot.

Kevin Brown, London W3