Letters: Somali pirates and the Chandlers

Why it is dangerous to pay ransom to pirates
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Peter Popham is quite wrong to believe that the British people do not care about the Chandlers, the couple kidnapped by Somali pirates ("Two people of no monetary value – and so not worth saving", 10 February). It is more that we are hard-headed enough to recognise the obvious truth in Kipling's verse about the dangers of paying danegeld.

We are by inclination a nation of globetrotters – at any given time most of us know someone off on a "big trip", and we mostly have our own memories or plans to cheer us up in a cold and gloomy February. That being the case, we know that if we paid up on demand we would all be that much more at risk, as I suspect those nations that do are.

That said, I also suspect we would be happy to see the Royal Navy take the fight to the pirate coast, as it readily did in previous eras.

R S Foster


The report by Daniel Howden about the Seychelles as a "pirates' paradise" (8 February) is in complete contrast to our recent experience. We have just had a carefree holiday sailing around the inner islands with no sign of any naval presence or of anything different from our last visit five years ago. The new marina at Eden Island is almost complete, the people are friendly and there is no sense of danger – unlike St Vincent in the Grenadines where we sailed last year. The idea of pirates landing on beaches to kidnap hotel residents is quite ludicrous.

The couple kidnapped last year were 60 miles offshore and heading for the African coast; anyone staying in local waters has no need to be concerned.

Harriet Kennett

South Warnborough, Hampshire

Plans laid for a hung parliament

Steve Richards argues (4 February) that getting the Liberal Democrats into a coalition government would be an impossibility because consultation with MPs and party representatives would need to take place. It would all just take too long.

Not so. In 1997 when a Labour/Lib Dem coalition was under discussion the logistics were carefully considered. It is all laid out in a memorandum drafted at the time by Lord McNally which forms an annex to Paddy Ashdown's diaries. The mechanism was agreed and in place. John Major would have remained in office with Labour and Liberal consent (no problem there for the Queen) and the whole process would have taken about two weeks.

Clearly a party entering into a commitment to work with another for a significant period of time should engage in proper democratic processes before it does so. Handover periods after an election in other countries often run into several weeks.

The markets are likely to take a much more positive view of a process which is likely to produce a stable government, than of the uncertainty that follows the formation of a minority government that might be defeated in the House of Commons at any point.

All the more reason to plan in advance for a hung parliament.

Mike Thomas

Moderator, charter2010.co.uk

Iver, Buckinghamshire

There are more reasons to support Nick Clegg than his possible control over a hung parliament. His party was totally opposed to the Iraq war; he is pro-European and against the stifling servitude of Westminster. He is our only true reforming leader, and as such deserves our support.

John Verity

Abenhall, Gloucestershire

If, as David Pollard suggests in his letter (6 February), the Liberal Democrats support the party in a hung parliament with most seats, they will be perpetuating the inequities of the first-past-the-post system which they want to abolish. They should support the party that wins most votes.

David Burton

Wellington, Telford

Childminders don't make a fortune

As a registered childminder I was flabbergasted to read in your paper (10 February) that childcare costs were driving parents out of paid work. My charge for a full-time place, including homemade quality food and outings (of which there are many) from 7am to 6pm is £35 a day.

Cleaners and gardeners are paid considerably more. My income after overheads was £5,000 in the last financial year. After working with the children for around 50 hours a week, registered childminders are required to undertake training up to degree level (at present I am studying for a degree with the Open University in my spare time) and attend meetings run by the local council and the National Childminding Association.

In addition, I have been available throughout the recent snowy spell to look after the older children through the day when the schools and pre-schools were closed. My premises have had an exhaustive Health and Safety check, and I am required to write a risk assessment for every trip I undertake with the children.

There are very high overheads. For example, the Ofsted inspector who inspected me yesterday indicated that I should purchase a new computer for the children's free use in the playroom, in addition to our family one situated in the study, which they use at present. In addition childminders are expected to act as teachers in delivering the Early Years Foundation Stage, or the "nappy curriculum" as it has been dubbed. Assessing, planning, monitoring and developing care on 69 objectives set by Ofsted for children under the age of five.

The reason I child-mind is because I love the children, and can be at home to guide my own through their teenage years, not for any pecuniary advantage.

Liz White

Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire

Financial strategy at 'The Guardian'

David Prosser's article "GMG gambles everything on contrary view" (10 February) fundamentally misunderstands GMG's strategy and presents a simplistic view of our financial position.

He suggests that we have "bet the house on all things digital". The truth is that GMG has a strong and broad portfolio of businesses, assets and investments – including more than £200m in a long-term fund – which gives us a degree of financial security not enjoyed by other media groups.

Furthermore, the total net investment in guardian.co.uk is £20m since 2002 – anything but an unreasonable amount, given its position as one of the world's leading news sites. Our view on charging is that, at present, the commercial return would not be substantial and is not worth the cost to our journalism.

Finally, it is not the case that we have sold a profitable regional media group to subsidise The Guardian. The regional business will make a loss this year. GMG's raison d'être is to ensure the long-term health of The Guardian and provide it with financial security. This is something we can and will continue to do for the foreseeable future.

Carolyn McCall

Chief executive, Guardian Media Group, London N1

Markets carry on ordering us about

Eighteen months ago, the financial markets crashed in the most spectacular fashion, and required a bailout from UK taxpayers of about a third of our annual income. Today (letter, 10 February) Terry Maher writes that it is essential for us to re-assure the financial markets that we are able to repay our borrowings by accepting huge sacrifices.

The best way to appreciate the "financial markets" is to think of them as pirates with our possessions on board. They rob us through a succession of legal and illegal schemes, including private pensions mis-selling, the private finance initiative, insider dealing, phoney accounting, endowment policy mis-selling, "performance related" bonuses and other scams too numerous to mention. Then when they find that their ship has a hole in it, they instruct us to bail them out, otherwise all our belongings will sink along with their boat.

We have rescued all of them in the past couple of years, but they are still shouting instructions at us. It is they, not we, who should be making the sacrifices.

David Williams


Police turn to the power of prayer

It is shocking that the Home Office has donated £10,000 for the Christian Police Association to promote "prayer for policing" (report, 29 January). The suggestion that prayer reduces crime is unfounded and the funding promotes an unscientific approach to policing.

The CPA's head gives specious examples that prayer affects crime, couched as "circumstantial evidence". The Association of Chief Police Officers should have the integrity to ensure the money is returned or used for evidence-based policing.

Graham Farrell

Professor of Criminology

Loughborough University

The grant of £10,000 to Christian police to establish whether prayer can cut crime is not nearly enough. We need to know whether the Union of Burglars and Allied Trades can offset police prayer by prayers of their own.

We need to know whether any prayer effect has a geographic range. If not, the Home Office should establish a Central Prayer Unit to cover the country, which would allow it to cut police funding ever more than it already has.

We need to know whether the effect is greatest for those crimes of which God most disapproves. And of course the comparative effect of prayer by adherents of the major religions must be tested.

I suspect prayer will have an effect if engaged in by officers involved in cases prayed about, simply because (like psychological profiling) prayer will focus minds on hitherto unconsidered possibilities. However, I fear that the Home Office has made this small grant as a nod to Christian sensibilities. As an open-minded agnostic, I have no problems with looking at crime through a religious lens, but £10,000 is a sop, not a serious enterprise.

Ken Pease

Stockport, Greater Manchester

If I use the power of prayer against a burglar, am I taking the Lord into my own hands?

Robert Canning


Toyota lesson for NHS

NHS management has in recent years been greatly enamoured of the Toyota production system, and its concepts of "lean thinking". It now appears that this system was incapable of ensuring quality in the outsourced manufacture of critical components such as accelerator pedals and braking software. What assurances do we have that the current fashion for outsourcing NHS clinical, support, and management functions will not result in similar debacles?

Professor James Lindesay


Lock them in

"How do you make children eat healthily?" (8 February). You lock them in, of course. The response from the National Primary Headteachers' Association, that it would be difficult to enforce and that children's civil rights might be infringed, is pathetic flannel. You merely lock the gates. There can be few primary schools which do not already keep the children on site at midday. For the sake of the children's safety, as well as providing better opportunity to promote healthy eating, all children below sixth form age should have to stay in school at midday.

Colin Yardley

Chislehurst, Kent

Beauty of maths

Richard Ingrams wonders whether he derived any benefit from learning logarithms at school (30 January). Probably not. The use of logarithms as a tool for performing laborious calculations is now happily a thing of the past: electronic calculators do the job faster. But logarithms, especially to the base "e" (one of the great constants of mathematics), are of profound and continuing importance. Were Mr Ingrams to take up the study of mathematics, possibly as a retirement hobby, I would, as a mathematician, be delighted to open his eyes to the ineffable beauty of "e".

Stephen Pimenoff

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Radical theatre

The Royal Court theatre (report, 9 February) in fact opened in 1888 and had a history of radical theatre long before the arrival of John Osborne. In the course of three remarkable seasons at the beginning of the 20th century, under the joint management of J E Vedrenne and Harley Granville-Barker, no fewer than 11 of George Bernard Shaw's plays were performed (six for the first time), as well as important plays by John Galsworthy and Granville-Barker himself.

Adam Rice

Barcombe, East Sussex

Aquinas on sex

Dr Michael Johnson's letter (9 February) points out that St Thomas Aquinas saw bestiality as less sinful than homosexuality. We shouldn't be surprised; for the same reason Thomas taught that "all things being equal (sic), masturbation is a greater sin than naturally performed (sic) rape" (Summa, II-II, 153).

Dr Ross Kessel,