Letters: Student protests

Democracy and thuggery at the Millbank protest
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The Independent Online

In finding herself “reassured” and “invigorated” by the violent events at Millbank last week, Amy Jenkins (Opinion, 13 November) puts herself clearly on the side of the mob and beyond the bounds of rational debate.

Democratic principles are indivisible. That these include the freedoms of speech and assembly is beyond dispute. That they also include the rule of law and acceptance of legitimate electoral outcomes seems to have escaped Amy Jenkins. Indeed, the whole concept of legitimacy is bound up with elections. Democracy is not the same as getting your own way – it involves making compromises that may often be painful. But then, that’s grown-up politics, not the juvenile foot stamping advocated by Ms Jenkins.

The students may well have a case, although the jury is out on that. But that case should be made by reasoned argument, not by violence, which has always been the method of persuasion of the fascist thug. Democratic decision-making belongs properly in the ballot box and the debating chamber, not on the street.

Those 10.5 million votes, the largest share of the vote of any of the parties, do give the Government a mandate to make policy which, though painful, may be necessary to deal with the cripplingly difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves.

David Burgess

Little Bardfield, Essex

Of course, it was a small gang of trouble makers; it always is – this is a systemic risk with any crowd that is angry enough. That risk should have been covered by the police. In this case, they underestimated the size and anger of the crowd. This is clearly the fault of the last Labour government, who, by listening to what people had to say, ensured there were not enough angry crowds for the police to train on.

But what was it that made enough people angry enough to band together, such that a small group of provocateurs could break through the police presence? Was it the sight of the Bullingdon Club of Westminster trashing the social compact built up over the past 60 years? The crowd have seen the university system under attack, the social safety net under attack, as well as covert attacks on health, on pensions and on jobs.

What did the rioters aim to achieve? I doubt they had a goal, just an unfocused anger that found an opportunity to flare up. Yet, if this government continues on its current path, that anger will grow and will spread, and there will be groups who will try to use that anger for their own ends.

Historically, governments have defused such threats by picking one small fight at a time. This administration seems to have forgotten that lesson. Unless they learn to listen and act on what they hear, I fear we will be cleaning up the riot debris for a generation.

Sean Barker


In his moving and inspiring letter, headed “Student protest looks like the first of many” (11 November), Tony Greenstein identifies the burgeoning resistance to the huge increase in tuition fees being inflicted on higher education students.

The march and demonstration last Wednesday was a clear message to this wretched Coalition that they have created a mood of anger, in which students and workers across the public and private sectors are prepared to resist these cuts on the streets and also through strike action.

Fair play to Mr Greenstein’s daughter and all who are prepared to “stand up and be counted” against the millionaires of Downing Street and their brutal and cynical attacks on the rest of us, whilst at the same time their banker friends continue to speculate and coin in their bonuses. The students have given a clear lead.

Dave Clinch

Torrington, Devon

Johann Hari’s question as to whether he would have attended Cambridge if he had to face the tuition fees being proposed by the Coalition Government is a good question (“Clegg – the man who betrayed us all”, 12 November). But an equally good question is whether the average British taxpayer, who would not have attended university, let alone Cambridge, wants to pay for this.

While Mr Hari is also correct that 60 per cent of the voters opposed the “swingeing” cuts proposed by the Conservatives during the election, 65 per cent of the voters opposed the prolifigacy and appalling economic management of Labour.

Many businesses, including The Independent, have undergone cuts to their organisations far more swingeing than are being proposed by the Coalition – and still been able to provide services that people want. Is Mr Hari really saying that the British Government, after 13 years of Labour wastefulness, is more efficient than British business?

Jon Burden

London W14

Watching the television footage of the student demonstration last week, I felt extremely grateful that the present cohort of students took action, as it will not affect many of them personally.

I have a 22-year-old son at university, paying about £3,000 per year in fees, and a 15-year-old son who hopes to go to university and will pay in the region of three times that much. I have tried to explain this to him, but he is simply too young to understand the long-term implications of this debt, or the potential for sibling strife which will follow.

None of the main political parties has an answer to this problem. If council tax was trebled overnight, I think we would all take to the streets, so why blame students?

Mary Breeze

Whitchurch, Shropshire

It is fortunate that the disturbances at Tory party HQ happened now, rather than a couple of years hence, when the cuts in the police service have started to bite.

Andrew Lane

Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire

Why Bush is guilty of torture

It is a well-established principle of criminal law, including international criminal law, that a belief on the part of the perpetrator that what he did was not illegal is no defence to a crime.

The former US President George W Bush’s explicit admission that he authorised the use of waterboarding, which follows similar explicit acknowledgments by the former Vice-President Dick Cheney, is damning, and hopefully will one day see them condemned as criminals and torturers in a court of law.

The fact that these two men still do not accept that waterboarding constitutes torture in international (and US) law (“Bush says waterboarding saved UK lives”, 9 November) is in that respect irrelevant: that is for the relevant trial court to determine.

From the case-law of international human rights courts and international criminal courts, and the reports from such eminent experts as the UN Rapporteur on Torture and the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture, it is clear that those would all find that waterboarding constitutes torture.

There can therefore in my opinion be no doubt that these two former officials are seriously suspected (to put it mildly) of direct responsibility for the commissioning of torture: they are condemned out of their own mouths. This in turn means that all states that are party to the UN Convention against Torture have a legal duty to arrest them if they enter their territory.

Douwe Korff

Professor of International Law,

London Metropolitan University

Tomorrow’s slums in the sky

John Kennet’s proposed tax on land (Letter, 12 November) is a very dangerous idea.

Forget £2 an acre and country landowners; most people occupy land without ever benefiting financially from it, mainly because their home is built on it.

Unless you sell your home and downsize or downgrade, you can derive no benefit at all from rising land values, over which you have no control whatsoever. Only property speculators and developers can make money in this way.

It is much fairer to tax property on its sale or transfer, because then the value is actually realised by the incumbent.

There are also serious social issues. Taxing the perceived value of land means the old and the poor can be forcibly evicted from their “too large” family homes for non-payment.

This has indeed already been put forward as a positive side-effect of such taxation by liberal think-tanks who see it as a means of “freeing up space” for upwardly mobile families unable to find “nice” houses in this so-called “housing crisis”. This will result in the ghettoisation of both rich and poor. The lowest non-rural land tax will be paid by multiple-occupancy high-rise tenants in run-down urban areas, and so we are back with the totalitarian ideas of the 1960s and future slums in the sky for the underclass.

The tax which really should be introduced immediately is a hefty “planning gain” tax on greenfield sites. This would seriously curtail high-end property speculation, restrict local government corruption and help to conserve a strategic agricultural land reserve, which we will soon be in desperate need of in order to feed ourselves.

Rob Brownell

Colchester, Essex

Harriet Walker raises the immensely important question of the maldistribution of land in Britain (Opinion, 11 November). Three members of the present Cabinet – Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne – were (and presumably still are) honorary officers of Action for Land Taxing and Economic Reform, the Lib Dem organisation which presses for land value taxation. LVT is the only device which will ensure that the value of land is shared equitably throughout the community. Will they stick by their principles and impress them on their Tory colleagues?

Roy Douglas

Chairman, Land Value Taxation Campaign,

Polegate, East Sussex

Whose history will we teach?

There was surprisingly little reaction to Michael Gove’s announcement at the Tory conference that all pupils will learn the “island story”. Even more surprisingly, Simon Schama has been appointed to advise the Government on how it can “put British history at the heart of a revived national curriculum”.

It is clear that the hard-line little Englanders in the Tory party have won the power to impose their narrow nationalism on children in state schools, with dire implications unless countered.

But the issue is not a left-right one. It is in principle unacceptable for any political faction to impose its views on school history. Once it becomes a political football, the subject faces a crisis. Only in totalitarian societies do governments tell schools what history to teach.

It is surprising Schama accepted this poisoned chalice, and the time has come for him to refuse to take on a role which will inevitably be partisan.

Trevor Fisher


Seize Britain’s chance in China

The media coverage of the Prime Minister’s tour to Asia has been a woeful lament of comparison between the rise of China and the fall of Britain.

Apparently our manufacturing industry is a dodo, our financial sector a cancer and our workers feckless benefit addicts. To top it off, our national debt is inescapable and will surely sink us beneath waves of imported Asian TVs.

Instead of this whingeing why can’t we see the rise of the East for what it is – the biggest UK marketing opportunity in history. Stop moaning, start a business and make something to sell to one billion Chinese consumers. Get it right just once and you’ll never give a second thought to your dwindling pension.

Jim Watson

London SW19

How apt that while students were rightly expressing anger over draconian tuition fees, Cameron was in China, where they run students over with tanks.

Collin Rossini

Bradwell, Essex

Wrong race

Your mini article “Record-setting races” (12 November) states that the four-minute mile was “immortalised” in Chariots of Fire. Obviously you have never seen this film. It featured, in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, the 100m and 400m. Well, I suppose the link to athletics was correct.

Mike Bone

Saxtead, Suffolk

Poppy peril

On Thursday, my bright four-year-old nephew went to playgroup wearing a plastic red poppy, having been told about Remembrance Day. He was promptly told that he could not wear it during the playgroup session on the grounds of “health and safety”. One wonders what the “men of the trenches” would have thought.

Robert A Dodd

Ruddington, Nottinghamshire

Perspectives on welfare reform

Not worth it for British workers

Mary Dejevsky is right to point out that “low pay is as much a scourge as over-generous benefits”. (Opinion, 12 November). The comparison is often made between the industrious foreign workers willing to take low-paid jobs and the British who are seen as too idle or too picky to do them.

What is rarely made clear is that to a foreign worker, the job is worth doing because the hardship of the work and the discomfort of the living conditions are probably temporary, and the money they earn, when taken back to their country of origin, has enough buying power to make a difference to their quality of life. For a British worker doing the same back-breaking or soul-destroying job for the same money, this is barely a living wage in this expensive country.

It is indeed, as Mary Dejevsky points out, an informed and intelligent calculation that the security and relative ease of living on benefits is preferable to a life of poverty and great discomfort in the kind of work that foreigners have calculated is worthwhile to them.

Sierra Hutton-Wilson

Evercreech, Somerset

‘Work’ schemes that lead nowhere

Iain Duncan Smith, like sadly his predecessors, doesn’t seem to understand that there just isn’t the work for people to go to. This is especially true in towns such as Grimsby, where I live, a place that has never really recovered from the days when there were 5,000 deep-sea trawlermen bringing home what was then a good wage for a working man.

Thus, however many applications a person may write, their efforts might well be unfruitful. So the unemployed go round a seemingly never-ending circle of make-work schemes: my last one (the sixth!) didn’t offer anything more in payment, nor provide any training to make me more employable.

Not surprisingly, I do look at what IDS is doing as a kind of punishment akin to that doled out to young offenders. But we are not criminals, rather victims of a society which doesn’t want our labour.

Unless of course that labour is voluntary, which I like many other jobless are happy to carry out so we can hold our heads up. Yet it would be nice to have the opportunity to receive the fruit of our endeavours, especially as we often find ourselves working alongside those who are on a proper salary.

Tim Mickleburgh

Grimsby, Lincolnshire

Victorian answers to poverty

In 19th-century Britain, as today, the benefit system (poor relief) was on the verge of collapse because of the large number of unemployed. The system was reformed by bringing in a single universal benefit – the workhouse.

As today, the purpose of welfare reform was to reduce government spending and to lower the standard of living on benefit to such a level that any type of work was better.

In Victorian Britain there was an alternative to the workhouse for the long-term unemployed: emigration to Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the USA. Today these options are not available to Britain’s jobless.

Of course the EU offers another solution, as the citizens of all states have the right to live in other member states. The Government should review the welfare benefits provided by the other members of the EU to see if the large numbers of long-term UK unemployed could be reduced by encouraging them to leave the UK and live on the superior social benefits provided by other EU members.

This proposal would not only reduce the welfare budget, but prove to even the most critical Eurosceptic that EU membership was advantageous to the UK.

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northamptonshire