Letters: The alternative to cash-for-access


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I despair at the arguments against taxpayer funding of political parties deployed by Dominic Lawson in his article and Arthur Percival in his letter (27 March).

Politicians are certainly undeserving of our charity, but it is precisely because they are venal and bereft of ideals that we should deprive them of the opportunity of selling themselves. Fifty pence per ordinary citizen would be a very keen price to pay for a democracy free from the corrupt influence of millionaires on the one hand and unscrupulous trade union barons on the other.

Max Gauna


A question of etiquette. When invited to dine with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, what tip is it "the done thing" to leave for him under one's plate?

Peter Forster

London N4

The Tories represent 1 per cent of the electorate; 33 per cent will still vote for them; 25 per cent believe, if they vote Tory, they will be allowed to join the club. The secrecy of political donations shows how few are actually considered, after an election.

Martin London

Henllan, Denbighshire

How much does one have to earn for a reduction in income tax to fund the donation required by the Tory party to give access to ministers to enable lobbying for a reduction in income tax? We need to know.

Michael Baum

Ilford Essex

Calamity Cruddas may be little more than a mouthy buffoon – but which genius saw fit to appoint him a treasurer of the Conservative Party? Less need of an inquiry than of a collective brain transplant.

Tim Cattell

Croydon, Surrey

The Big Society never made much sense to me. It was my hearing. They meant the Pig Society.

Robert Davies

London SE3

How much does it cost not to have to have dinner with Sam and Dave?

D A Reibel


Regulate roads by price, like everything else

Let us hope that the Coalition defies the road lobby and opts for road-pricing, along with private road operation.

Congestion is nothing more than the queueing which takes place when something is offered at below the market price. That price should vary with value, which, in turn, varies with route and time of day. (Imagine the chaos if rail fares were constant, regardless of travel time.) That value can also be considered to vary with the number already using a road, who may all be slowed by any additional vehicle. All this was worked out many years ago (see, for example, Travel in Towns by the ex-physicist Martin Mogridge).

The claim that road taxes massively exceed the cost of road provision always neglects most of the costs imposed, such as policing, fire and rescue service, medical costs of road accidents (never mind the cost in life and limb), and most of all congestion, the cost of which is enormous, amounting to a dead weight on our economic legs. Furthermore, it is perfectly legitimate for the state to raise taxes on what began as a luxury, and which is now the greatest source of pollution, carbon emission and energy waste (a car is less than 1 per cent efficient).

Why should roads be exempt from market regulation of demand, when everything else is now managed that way?

Ian East

Islip, Oxfordshire

I need to tell Alan Gregory (letter, 22 March) that there is no such thing as "road tax", but there is VED, now commonly called "vehicle tax".

He complains about the punishment when a driver is detected exceeding the speed limit, or running a red light. Too right such drivers are punished – more should be done to keep our roads safe and reduce the casualty rate. If the fine is a tax, it's a voluntary one.

Mr Gregory wants the majority of "road taxes" spent on the roads. He wants, in effect, hypothecation of taxes, but is most unlikely to get it.

Peter Salter

London SE16

The blame for Hillsborough

Once again the sorry subject of the Hillsborough disaster has resurfaced with the claim that the tragedy was caused by drunken supporters (16 March). You quote also the late Sir Kenneth Oxford, the then Chief Constable of Merseyside, as claiming that a key factor was fans turning up without tickets.

On the day, I saw no evidence of drunken behaviour from the Liverpool supporters. The tickets issue was another matter. Arriving at the game early, I took a stroll in the direction from which many Liverpool fans were walking towards the ground. I was stopped several times by people with Liverpool accents and asked whether I had any spare tickets.

On returning to the ground I was caught up in a crush outside the Leppings Lane stand. This was almost half an hour before kick-off. When I reached my seat in another stand I told my father that a dangerous situation was developing. The lower tier of the Leppings Lane stand was divided into three sections. There was still some room in the wing areas but the central area was packed solidly.

Why was the instruction given to open the gates? I can only assume from my own earlier experience that a crush was developing that could have led to a serious situation against the turnstile wall, and that hundreds of Liverpool fans had turned up without tickets and, having failed to obtain them from touts, decided to force their way into the ground.

The decision taken by the police was dreadful. Did not those in the ground warn their colleagues that there was already a dangerous situation in the central block and that the admission of more fans racing in without supervision would lead to disaster? The only reasonable option would have been to delay the kick-off and for the police to clear the area outside the stand.

The police bear a heavy responsibility for the tragedy. However, before the police take all of the blame, every Liverpool fan who rushed through the open gates without a ticket should hold up his hand.

Stephen Shaw


Expulsions in Israel

Dr Jacob Amir (letter, 19 March) dismissed one Ben-Gurion quote as false before quoting another more suited to his argument. However, many Zionists and Israelis have made statements which reveal an intention to expel the indigenous Arab/Palestinian population.

Israel's first Minister of Education wrote in 1954, for example: "In our country there is room only for the Jews. We shall say to the Arabs: Get out! If they don't agree, if they resist, we shall drive them out by force."

Yitzak Rabin was quoted in the New York Times in 1983: "[Israel will] create in the course of the next 10 or 20 years conditions which would attract natural and voluntary migration of the refugees from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to Jordan." That was Rabin's way of explaining the ethnic cleansing of occupied Palestine without provoking a world outcry. As it happens, Israel is able to bomb, kill and displace the local population without such an outcry and without being brought to account.

Ibrahim Hewitt

Senior Editor, Middle East Monitor, London NW10

Wherever David McDowall (letter, 19 March) gets his figures from, I suggest that a fairly trustworthy source might be Chaim Herzog, who fought in the War of Independence and later became Israeli president.

Totting up figures in Herzog's The Arab-Israeli Wars gives a total of 19,800 on the Israeli side, taking the upper strength estimates for Irgun (4,000) and Lehi (800). Herzog makes a total of 38,000 for the opposing Arab forces, including 10,000 from Iraq and 10,000 from the crack, British-led Arab Legion.

David Boggis

Matignon, France

Exams: when the rot began

Your correspondent CJ Morris (Letters, 10 March), laments the decline in educational standards since he sat his O-levels in 1952. I have to tell him that the rot had begun before that.

In 1950 I sat the very last year of the Oxford School Certificate. The following year it was replaced with the less-rigorous O-levels. To obtain a school cert a candidate had to pass, at one attempt, a minimum of five subjects that included English language, mathematics and a foreign language. With O-levels, pupils could take just a single subject. I recall a friend who used to boast of his solitary O-level in woodwork.

At a school reunion a few years ago a contemporary mentioned he had preserved the exam papers we'd sat and lent them to me. For maths there were three papers, but – for a successful candidate – only one pass. I believe the reverse is true with GCSEs today, with some single subjects equal to several GCSEs.

As for the two English-language papers we had to sit; since grammar has not been taught for several decades even teachers would struggle with them today.

Peter Smith

Ingatestone, Essex

Hirst is banal, but it's still art

I find the work of Damien Hirst as banal as the next person. However, for Julian Spalding (Opinion, 27 March) to claim it is not art misses the point completely. And his attempts to airbrush certain artists from the big picture of art history are futile. I never found the work of Beryl Cook to be up to much, but each to their own I suppose.

Dougal McKenzie

Lecturer in Painting

University of Ulster at Belfast

Julian Spalding is spot-on in his dissection of Hirst's work, but for people like Damien Hirst and his adherents art really is just a social currency. It is neither more nor less significant than the printed paper that we circulate as notional wealth, the only difference being the actual craftsmanship and skill employed in the creation of a £10 note. There is also the possibility that the latter may one day prove to be of greater value than the former.

The real damage that Damien and his brood inflict is to be found in the schools and colleges where his output encourages a talentless and uncomprehending pursuit of artistic status akin to the sad 10-second would-be celebrities infesting our TV screens.

Christopher Dawes

London W11

Thank you, Julian Spalding – common sense at last!

Wendy Perrott


Litter law ignored

Thank you for Terence Blacker's thought-provoking article on litter (27 March). We live in the glorious south Oxfordshire countryside, just a Big Mac eating distance from a McDonald's, and know the problem only too well. When I found a credit card receipt in one package, with a clear trail to the culprit, the police informed us that they could do nothing. We do need education to help solve this issue, but some enforcement wouldn't go amiss either.

Steve Ash

Wallingford, Oxfordshire

Brain work

Has the Prime Minister's personal commitment to dementia research anything to do with the Government's intention to extend the working life of adults bit by bit until people born today won't be able to retire on a pension till they are 80?

A D Harvey

London N16

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