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Saturday 25 October 2008
Letters: The former East Germany
Unjust vilification of the former East Germany
Many young Germans born after the country was reunified "know little or nothing about life under communism," your correspondent Tony Paterson writes ("A harsh lesson for Germany, courtesy of its socialist past" 22 October). They wouldn't be much the wiser from reading his article.
There's no argument that much was wrong and indefensible in the old German Democratic Republic, and that most people who experienced it wouldn't want a return to that form of state socialism. But Paterson's piece, which seeks to convey a picture of GDR education by describing a bizarre propaganda stunt in Leipzig's Stasi museum, is an absolute travesty.
The "po-faced teacher, in a drab, grey, synthetic" outfit "barks" at pupils who respond "like robots" – cliché is piled on cliché. One of us was born in Chemnitz (then Karl-Marx-Stadt) and spent the first 24 years of her life there and in Leipzig; the other taught English at Leipzig University from 1978 to 1984. For both of us, this portrayal of both teachers and pupils in the GDR is unrecognisable.
The systematic denial since 1990 that anything good or positive was done in the former East German state is deplorable. School education there had many good qualities and the young people who emerged from it compared more than favourably with some of the products of British schools now. We fail to see why a slogan about peace and socialism at the start of the day is considered more propagandistic than the religious rituals practised in many schools here in the UK.
True, subjects such as civics and history were ideologically one-eyed (though far from worthless), but curricula for geography, maths, chemistry, biology and physics were more coherent and dovetailed better with one another than is sometimes the case in Germany today.
Paterson writes of the "disturbing statistics" about the recent rise in support for the Left Party. The Left Party includes, of course, a good many people who used to be members of the GDR's ruling Socialist Unity Party. One might argue, as the shipwreck of Anglo-American-style financial capitalism puts at risk the jobs and wellbeing of millions, that Germany is fortunate to have a party offering a radical alternative based on a conception of collective action, social security and the common good.
Alan and Anne Purkiss
The real dangers posed by the Tories
Far more disturbing than who George Osborne liaises with is the news that a Conservative government would guarantee a full debate on reforming the law on abortion (report, 23 October). Whatever David Cameron's liberal guise, riding on his coattails into the new Parliament will be Tory MPs with a highly reactionary moral agenda, ready to roll back the achievements of the Labour government in the field of abortion law, fertility treatment and gay rights.
Despite my resignation from the Labour Party over the illegal invasion of Iraq, and my disillusionment on many other issues, on these ones there has been genuine progress.
While there is widespread resignation that the Conservatives will win the next election, and perhaps that we won't be sorry to see the back of a tired and disappointing Labour administration, here lies the painful dilemma.
Perhaps, though, here also lies hope – that the progressive left can mobilise around these issues when the inevitable attacks come, and rediscover its voice and its soul. It would be better, of course, to rediscover those now: that may be beyond us, but we should, at least, start preparing our resources so that we are ready for resistance, rather than allowing these achievements to be swept aside.
To answer Mike Hockney (letters, 23 October) regarding "the crony clique that runs Britain": no, you are not alone. Now, can anyone suggest what we (and I suspect we are, after all, the majority here) do about it?
The solution to Mike Hockney's many questions is immediately to hand. He should stand at the next general election as an independent. I am.
In order to sanitise and reform our nation's politics we will have to prise the "establishment" off the levers of power entirely. Switching ruling parties at intervals merely perpetuates the problems.
The "confederacy of dunces" of which Mr Hockney writes can be transformed into the "confederacy of independents".
Haydon Bridge, Northumberland
Whether or not the Conservative Party received or solicitated donations the issue is really of no consequence in respect of far more important economic problems that currently face the UK.
It's obvious from all past sleaze scandals that have engulfed both Tory and New Labour governments that both the major political parties, rather than rely on individual donations determined by a committed belief in what the party ideologically stands for, need to solicit donations from big business and leading industrialists as a guarantee that neither party, if elected, will take an anti-business stance towards the running of the economy.
This is exactly why we are plummeting into recession with no viable solution: because both Government and Opposition are solely committed to finding a "free-market" solution to a crisis created by the free-market system they both endorse.
Car makers block green targets
Andrew Adonis, Minister at the Department of Transport, writes supporting the motor industry's position over reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions (letters, 21 October). No one reading this letter would guess how successful the motor industry has been, over more than a decade, in diluting the EU strategy to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from passenger cars.
As long ago as 1996, the EU aim was to reduce the average emissions from new cars sold in the EU to 120g/km CO2 (a 35 per cent reduction) by 2010 at the latest. In 1998 the motor industry succeeded in avoiding mandatory targets by entering into a voluntary agreement to cut emissions, albeit significantly more slowly. In the meantime, it continued to promote high-performance and high-emission vehicles, the industry claiming that there is "weak demand for energy efficiency".
It is because of the industry's failure to honour its voluntary agreement that mandatory targets are now being discussed. At present the industry is vigorously lobbying against a proposal for a new car-emission target of 130g/km CO2 for 2012. Like Adonis, it would rather discuss "tougher targets from 2020".
There was a 35 per cent increase in transport carbon emissions in the EU between 1990 and 2006; cars were responsible for half of these.
Referendum on an English parliament
Stewart Arnold (letter 15 October) sees a regional assembly for Yorkshire and the Humber as an alternative to an English parliament, but surely this is a false dichotomy. It is perfectly possible to both devolve power down from the UK Government to an English parliament and, at the same time, devolve further powers down to local and regional levels.
I am sure that the majority of people in England would prefer to see England-wide issues dealt with by an English parliament and regional issues dealt with by our familiar and ancient shires, rather than New Labour's preferred option of destroying England by carving it up into nine separate EU regions.
No doubt Stewart Arnold is aware of several recent opinion polls showing over 60 per cent support for an English parliament (ICM, November 2006; BBC, January 2007). On the other hand the referendum for a North-East regional assembly in 2004 resulted in an overwhelming 78 per cent rejection.
There really is only one way to settle this debate. It is time the people of England were offered a fair referendum on whether we want an English parliament, regional assemblies, both or neither.
Oil-price cuts don't reach consumers
The other day I decided to top up our home-heating oil tank for the winter. The best price quoted for 2,000 litres of home-heating oil was £848.60, including 5 per cent VAT. Crude oil was trading at $67.31 per barrel in New York at the time of the quote.
Last year, on the day I bought 2,000 litres of oil at a price of £879 inclusive, crude oil was trading at $91.46 per barrel.
The Government has firmly asked energy producers to pass price reductions on to consumers. Yet when the price of crude oil has reduced 26.4 per cent, the price of home-heating oil has merely reduced by 3.46 per cent.
Could one expect some rational excuse? Politician or oil major executive will do.
Tivetshall St Mary, NORFOLK
Teen pregnancies and sex education
If it were merely knowledge and skills that our young people lack, the Government would be right to concentrate efforts into sex education in schools (report, 24 October).
However, it is more likely to be helpful societal norms and expectations, personal values and a greater sense of self-worth and significance that will have the greatest influence on reducing the number of teenage pregnancies. These have much wider roots in our society than our teaching staff alone can tackle.
Is the focus on sex education in schools then a tacit admission of our national impotence to address the influences of the media and society – as well as possible endemic failures in our family systems to serve our young people?
Ticket surcharges are unavoidable
I sympathise with Mark Redhead's irritation at being "ripped off" by service charges on the O2 Metallica tickets he has bought in advance (letters, 24 October). We attempted to avoid these charges on top of the £23 price of "general admission" for a Stranglers concert at Bristol Carling Academy last Wednesday by taking the risk on availability and buying at the door on the night. They were available alright, but at £25 each, a £2 surcharge per ticket, because, quote, they "could not make it cheaper than booking in advance". I am left wondering just how you can obtain a ticket at its face value – from a tout maybe?
Oligarch vs plutocrat
I am puzzled at the current use of the word "oligarchs" to describe such men as the wealthy Russians Deripaska and Abramovich. Oligarchs are persons who advocate or practise the rule of the few rather than that of the many (who are democrats), or monarchists (who favour a single ruler). Men who achieve influence or even power through their wealth are plutocrats, the description which literally fits these men and those like them ("plutos" = "wealth", "cratos" = "power").
Egham, Surrey The 1,000mph car
I see those inventive British engineers are going to make a 1,000mph car (report, 23 October). Splendid. Where are they going to drive it? Swindon?
Derry City, Northern Ireland
God help us
The message the Humanists plan for buses – "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy yourself" – is about as vacuous as "Don't worry, be happy", which you hear when you press the button of the plastic talking fish on the pub mantelpiece. I'm a non-believer, but I'd rather give money to any charity, religious or secular, than waste it advocating mindless hedonism.
W M Campbell
Of eggs and kisses
Your "10 best" feature on eggcups (23 October) included one with a built-in salt shaker that apparently "exudes European sophistication". It reminded me of my favourite adage of all time, from Spain: "An egg without salt is like a kiss without a moustache". I'm still to be convinced of the benefits of either.
We have been warned in the past that when the US sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold (if not pneumonia). Now we have the Rio Tinto Chief Executive suggesting that China is "pausing for breath" (Business, 23 October). Should we now fear the prospect of asphyxiation?
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