Letters: So, who elected Standard & Poor's?

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Standard & Poor's are warning that 15 EU states could have their credit ratings downgraded following the latest eurozone rescue package. Who elected Standard & Poor to a position of such power? In what way are they accountable to EU citizens? I've certainly never seen "Standard & Poor" on any ballot paper.

Alongside the eurozone crisis, a political crisis seems to be unfolding. Who governs Europe; elected politicians (for all their faults) or unelected international financiers?

Pete Dorey

Bath, Somerset

The leaders of France and Germany are to thrash out the rules they will both seek to impose upon their subordinate eurozone club members in order to bring them into fiscal line – otherwise known as "Euro-political integration by stealth with us in charge".

Errant states will be fined – for that's about the only sanction available – sending them further into financial crisis. This does not make sense

Nations have their own identities, and compelling them to sign away their sovereignty bit by bit should be the last thing to be considered as the remedy for the current malaise. Sovereign states should always retain the right to say "No". On the other hand errant club members who show that they cannot or will not obey the club rules are usually asked to surrender their membership – not compelled to follow more rules, and not compelled to remain against their will.

Rob Burlace


Who seriously believes that, should the current Franco-German plan to bring financial discipline to the eurozone be accepted, an effective method of disciplining nations breaking the rules can be devised? What will be done – imprison the offending president or prime minister, or require him or her to experience restorative justice, litter-picking in Paris or Berlin perhaps?

Tim Cattell

Croydon, Surrey

At the joint press conference held by Sarkozy and Merkel, the French expression which Sarkozy used to reflect the urgency of reaching an agreement was marche forcée. In translation this became "frog-march". Is this not taking things a little too far? To her credit, Angela Merkel did not flinch, fearful perhaps that "goose step" might be next on the interpreters' tongue.

Martin Wallis

Shipdham, Norfolk

Now we knowlobbyists must be regulated by law

The Independent's report of an investigation of lobbying firms shows that a statutory register of professional lobbyists must be brought in without delay.

Lobbying is an important and healthy part of the democratic process, but it is clear that current efforts to self-regulate the industry are insufficient and have failed. Instead, we need new and robust measures in place that ensure fairness and transparency.

A statutory register would help achieve this if accompanied by an enforced code of conduct on all professional lobbyists, a ban on lobbyists holding parliamentary passes and the requirement for politicians and civil servants to declare their meetings with lobbyists. Critics might claim this is bureaucratic, but it would provide absolute clarity and above all ensure a level playing field on which the ability to convey one's concerns would be based on merit rather than on suggestions of patronage.

David Cameron has been proven right: lobbying has been the next big scandal to affect politics. Now it's time to do something about it.

Chris Whitehouse

Managing Director, The Whitehouse Consultancy, London SE1

If you mean by "There is, of course, a valid role for lobbyists" (Leading article, 6 December) individual constituents' representations to government through their MPs, all well and good; but if you mean anyone else, you are seriously mistaken.

Government should represent the interests of ordinary people and seek information and advice from commerce, charities and pressure groups, as and when needed, to develop and fulfil the aims of party manifestos voted in by the public. Government should not be an open door for organisations representing vested interests.

Geoff Naylor


Blame for the pension crisis

I was alarmed to discover recently that of the eight largest public sector pension schemes, only two (the local government and universities schemes) are funded. The remaining six – covering the NHS, teachers, civil servants, the armed forces, police and firefighters – are unfunded, meaning that current pensions are not paid from an underlying investment fund but from current taxation. By attributing the current crisis in public-sector pensions primarily to increased longevity and/or poor investment returns, current debate is absolving governments, past and present, of any blame for inadequate scheme design.

One of the basic principles of real-life economics is the importance of saving during periods of "feast" in order to survive during periods of "famine"'. Accordingly, it is reasonable to ask what governments did with cash surpluses of pension contributions over and above pensions paid during years of "feast". If the answer is that there have never been any years of surplus then what does this say about the scheme design?

I wonder what the FSA would say to a new provider seeking to enter the pension market with such an investment scheme, under which the benefits to be received in four or more decades' time by today's investor-contributors (the newly qualified 25-year-old teacher) will be paid not from any underlying return from the investment of their own contributions but, in large part, from the contributions of future investor-contributors.

If it is possible to grin in one's grave or prison cell, then surely smiles must be crossing the faces of both Charles Ponzi and Bernard Madoff. Recognition of the role of successive governments in the current crisis is long overdue.

David Sapsford

Edward Gonner Professor of Applied Economics (Emeritus)

University of Liverpool

When I left teaching to work for BT, just after it was privatised, the pay and employment terms were better. Over the years this situation changed. The final salary pension scheme was closed to new entrants and later to all employees – replaced by a contribution-based scheme. The extravagant redundancy and early retirement packages gradually disappeared.

The teachers' pension scheme and employment protection are now far better. So while I can sympathise with public-sector workers striking to protect their benefits, the Coalition is acting to deal with a future pension crisis caused by an aging population, longer lives and a long-term reduction in tax revenues – problems that previous governments have ignored or swept under the carpet.

The public sector unions are not fighting the Government. They are fighting the inevitable.

Pete Barrett

Colchester, Essex

I have worked hard in skilled and managerial positions for the past 25 years and my companies and I have constantly paid into pension schemes even when I had little spare cash. I now face retirement and the rewards provided by my various pension funds will provide an average of £210 a month.

Does anyone else find it ironic to see civil servants, who under the last offer would still find a final salary, indexed-linked pension waiting for them before the state retirement age, parading under placards declaring that "everyone deserves a decent pension"?

Ian Hall

Portland, Dorset

Please can we stop all this bickering about who's a little bit better off or worse off? This simply plays into the hands of the 1 per cent who got us into this mess in the first place.

Everyone needs a decent pension when the time comes, and the 99 per cent of us who are "in it together" need to work together to ensure this happens for all.

Valerie Baker

Arkholme, Lancashire

When Labour MP Reg Prentice discovered in 1977 that he was in fact a Tory, he did the decent thing and joined the Tories. Hasn't the time come for Lord Hutton, after so enthusiastically doing the dirty work of a Tory government, to "do a Reg"?

Stephen Roberts

Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

Would you rather be rich or nice?

What a pity that your report ends up suggesting that "success" is a matter of earnings ("I didn't get where I am today by being nice", 5 December). True, that seems to be the ethos of the times whereby, for example, the Government measures university teaching and research success in terms of economic impact and financial leaders cling on to their ill-gotten bonuses.

We need to resist that ethos. After all, would you seriously prefer to earn the cited £4,500 a year more yet be thought of as a nasty piece of work, or receive the lower pay, yet be recognised as caring, honest and basically nice.

Peter Cave

London W1

Church bells for the devil

Your leading article of 28 November errs in calling the Christmas ritual of "ringing the devil's knell" popular once but now forgotten. It is zestfully tolled at Dewsbury Minster every Christmas Eve, "five fives then a stroke on the tenor bell for each year AD", timed to end as the Midnight Mass begins. It dates from the reprieve of a "gentleman" who had murdered a servant, when it was required "to keep him mindful of his sins and the townsfolk of their salvation".

Frank McManus

Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Young veterans

At what age, pray, is one considered a veteran by The Independent? I am 51, a few months older than Kenneth Branagh whom I see listed in your article (5 October) as "veteran actor and director". Surely ageism gone mad.

Nigel Cubbage

Merstham, Surrey

Rotten state

Politicians fiddling expenses; newspapers hacking phones; banks cheating the elderly; supermarkets misleading shoppers and sports officials accused of corruption. Are any people of integrity left to lead us in the 21st century?

Pete Day


More soup?

So if soup is to be supped (letter, 5 December) then must consommé be consumed?

Ian Bartlett

East Molesey, Surrey