Letters: Swept up in the game of boardroom pay


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Excessive boardroom pay, as Andreas Whittam Smith points out, is a worldwide phenomenon (Opinion, 3 November). The controls he hopes might fix the problem would have to be applied globally to be effective.

But regulation has been out of fashion since the Reagan/ Thatcher era and too many shares are held by institutions swept up in the same game of executive pay and bonuses as the directors whose salaries they might moderate.

Even the Lib Dems, who were so critical of Labour's failure to act on this issue, seem to be slowly coming to realise that there's little that the UK can do about the issue, especially given our high reliance on the financial services industry, the awe in which our government holds the US, and our reluctance to engage fully in Europe.

Nick Clegg may hope that his calling excessive pay increases a "slap in the face" for millions who are struggling will generate positive headlines, but it's likely to be as ineffective as David Cameron's call for "more boardroom responsibility".

Brian Hughes

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Andreas Whittam Smith rightly calls for the present advisory annual vote on directors' pay to be made binding .

That alone, however, will achieve little if institutional shareholders continue to be so reluctant to vote against corporate management. Indeed, they might even be less disposed to do so if the result of the vote were mandatory.

This change, therefore, should be part of wider reforms which would impose much clearer fiduciary duties on asset managers to use their powers in the long-term interests of their end-beneficiaries, such as pension fund members and other long-term savers.

Charles Scanlan

London NW8


It is time for our politicians to demonstrate some leadership and some courage.

We belatedly introduced a minimum wage, despite cries that it was anti-competition, anti-free market and anti-business. Even that arch-capitalist Tony Blair described it as "the right thing to do". Why not now introduce a maximum wage (half a million pounds a year?) and put two non-managers, as they do in most western European countries, on all remuneration committees, in order to break up the old boys' – and girls' – network?

And if the fat cats threaten to emigrate? Call their bluff. We may just find that some of them do have a social conscience and stay. Of course, the greedy ones will leave, but our country will be the better for it, and will be seen as having leaders who are not morally bankrupt, and who do the right thing.

Who knows, this new style of politics may catch on and encourage others? True leadership is having the courage to lead rather than to follow.

Alistair Wood

Four Crosses, Powys


Clever kids, in affluent environments, escalate their pocket-money. Kid A highlights how his is lower than kid B's, so A's gullible parents, no cheapskates they, raise A's above B's; and then B argues similarly. Likewise, directors keep escalators rolling of ever increasing remuneration, courtesy of gullible shareholders and other directors on remuneration committees – an old kids' network, if ever there was one.

Wise parents resist the escalator – as should shareholders.

Peter Cave

London W1


How we laughed when, on the first screening of that comedy classic Dad's Army, that bombastic buffoon Captain Mainwaring forecast that after the war bank managers like him would be "running the country". When the episode was televised again last month, the joke seemed to be on the rest of us.

Bob Heys

Ripponden, West Yorkshire

Global warming is no joke


There is nothing remotely funny about Mark Steel's attempt to belittle overpopulation ("Seven Billion? That's not a problem", 2 November). The potentially disastrous effects of climate change depend upon world population and carbon emissions per head of population.

Our attempts to limit the rise in emissions of carbon dioxide have been spectacularly unsuccessful, as emissions have risen 40 per cent since 1990, the base-line year for the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

Atmospheric levels of CO2 are roughly 380 parts per million (ppm) and are likely to reach 550 or even 600 ppm by the end of this century. This will produce catastrophic and irreversible climate change.

When the Greenland ice-sheet melts, world sea levels will rise by six metres, and if the Antarctic ice sheets melt then sea levels will rise by 60 metres. That is goodbye to human civilisation as we know it.

Robin Russell-Jones

Help Rescue the Planet

Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire


East Anglia has just basked its way through October while New York has frozen and Bangkok drowned. Weather events seem to be breaking records ever more often. It must be time for researchers to analyse the fall of these records and the duration of the new ones, offering a rough but worthwhile guide to the progress of climate change.

B J fearnley

Debenham, Suffolk


Afghan women unjustly jailed


Your article "The death row widows of Kabul" (20 October) was a valuable illustration of a very real problem faced by women in Afghanistan – the lack of access to justice. The three cases highlighted are obviously, because of the death sentences they face, worst-case scenarios. However, 10 years after Nato used "liberating women" as one of the justifications for invading Afghanistan, women there are still routinely imprisoned in questionable circumstances.

Christian Aid and its partners have experienced frequent cases of women and girls incarcerated for "crimes" such as running away from home, which can mean fleeing an abusive partner in a forced marriage. Others have been imprisoned for more serious offences such as murder, despite the absence of evidence linking them to the crime. Women prisoners in Afghanistan are particularly vulnerable as they are frequently rejected by their families and society at large.

Christian Aid works with the Afghan Women's Education Centre to provide legal support and education inside the jails, and run income-generating schemes to help the women support themselves. It is essential that the voice of women's and civil society organisations are heard in an inclusive and comprehensive peace process so that agreement can be reached that protects the rights of all Afghans, including women.

Serena Di Matteo

Afghanistan Country Manager, Christian Aid

London SE1


Charity shops on the high street


Mary Dejevsky's article "Now, Mary Portas, what about betting shops?" (2 November) puts charity shops on a par with betting shops for bringing down the tone of an area. This we would vigorously dispute. There is no no evidence that "the tax breaks, rate rebates and the like, enjoyed by charity shops distort the local business landscape".

Charity shops do not cause high street decline, nor are they "parasites feeding off small businesses". In many cases, charity shops are working with small local traders to increase footfall on the high street. Far greater threats to independent retailers come from out-of-town shopping centres (32 per cent of UK sales) and internet selling (10 per cent of UK sales), which dwarf competition from charity shops (0.3 per cent of UK sales).

Charity shops do get business rate relief, in recognition of their social benefit – they raise over £200m every year for a huge range of charitable causes across the UK. In her consultation on the High Street Review Mary Portas has made other suggestions, such as offering rate relief to smaller commercial traders; we think this could help the high street. However, penalising charity shops is unfair and will not support local traders.

Warren Alexander

Chief Executive, Charity Retail Association

London WC1


How to protect whistleblowers


You report that health service whistleblowers are not legally protected from bullying by colleagues (31 October). The reason for such bullying is often guilt. If you have been too frightened to speak out and watched people die or suffer needlessly and someone else speaks out, then you may feel anger tinged with foolishness.

You and all the others who did not speak out then offer mutual support, which ends up in turning on whistleblowers.

The answer is simple and could have a radical affect on management culture across the entire NHS and beyond. Whistleblowing should be obligatory, not optional. Write it into every contract of employment.

Charles Cawley

Leominster, Herefordshire

In brief...

Giant birds of the past


While the giant moas of New Zealand were the tallest birds known on Earth (up to 12ft), your Environment Correspondent is wrong to describe them as "the biggest birds that ever lived" ("The dodo flies again", 2 November). The giant elephant birds of Madagascar, which appear to have died out around the 17th or 18th century, were a good deal more massive; Aepyornis maximus, the largest, stood 10ft tall and is estimated to have weighed around 1,000lb.

Sebastian Robinson



Red and white

Yes, Richard Walker (letter, 2 November) should buy a red poppy, in memory of all those whose lives were taken from them in two world wars, and in wars since. But let him also buy a white poppy from the Peace Pledge Union. His contribution will go towards finding ways of solving conflicts other than by killing people. Red for remembrance, white for peace.

Dorothy Spence

Long Marton, Cumbria


Commons farce

I suggest that the comment on the BBC politics website about "all the action from Prime Minister's Question Time" is symptomatic of what is wrong with politics. At a time of unprecedented risk, when one would expect all-party focus on getting the country through to more stable times, do we need this farce every Wednesday?

David Loader

Esher, Surrey


Sporting chance

I wonder why law-breaking fox-hunters don't come and hunt on Wimbledon Common. We have plenty of foxes here and the common has a long tradition as the home of highwaymen, thieves, cut-throats, robbers, murderers and other criminals. It once had a line of gibbets for hanging them at its northern end.

Paul Miall

London SW18


Nothing wrong?

Joan Smith (3 November) reports Scarlett Johansson commenting on nude photographs she sent her then husband: "It's not like I was shooting a porno. Although there's nothing wrong with that either." Of course there's nothing wrong with pornographic films, except that they degrade the actors, production teams, distributors, and audience.

William Roberts