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Saturday 19 December 2009
Letters: The Independent Christmas Appeal
Christmas appeal holds out hope to the dispossessed
The Independent's appeal is to be congratulated. In particular, the article about the young Palestinians and Lebanese who are negotiating a very complicated milieu in Lebanon gives us hope for the future ("Rappers who speak their mind in the name of peace", 18 December).
Over the past 12 months I have been in Beirut six times working with the Palestinian refugees whose conditions are described so graphically by Katherine Butler, and it is clear that young people there need a voice, an opportunity to express their hopes and aspirations. The refugee camps are stifling in the physical sense, but there is a tremendous amount of creativity just waiting for an outlet.
Earlier this year, the British actor-director David Morrissey led a team of actors holding a five-day drama workshop for Palestinian teenagers from camps across Lebanon. Held at the request of the UN Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA), the workshop saw young people travelling daily (and those who know Beirut's traffic will know that this is no mean feat) to a school adjacent to Shatila refugee camp in south Beirut. It culminated with a performance in front of family, friends, UNRWA officials and, I'm pleased to say, the British ambassador to Lebanon, Frances Guy.
The students were given free rein to develop their own performance topics and some opted for a fantasy on "If Palestine was free, I'd . . ."; others worked on morality plays. All saw the week as an opportunity to break out of what is a very staid and rigid education system (think Britain in the Fifties and Sixties) and learn in an exciting and vibrant way.
Giving such youngsters a voice, and an opportunity to let that voice be heard, is essential if the anger is to dissipate and their undoubted energy is to be channelled towards positive community and inter-community activities. I hope The Independent's appeal is a huge success.
Senior Editor, Middle East Monitor
Dismal lessons of the BA dispute
It is now clear that the BA cabin staff had no idea what they were actually voting for, as even very senior officials of the union were not expecting such a prolonged and (self) destructive strike. It is depressing to read statements such as "I have a horrible feeling they may have got this one wrong. I will strike regardless, of course."
If even a fraction of what Simon Calder has described about their remuneration and conditions of employment are correct, it is very difficult to have any sympathy for them. Both management and employees have a basic duty to care about the health of the company that employs them, regardless of any consideration for the public whose business they depend on. It is tragic to see a major company being destroyed by a shortsighted and intransigent workforce who can only see grievance where most of us would see good fortune.
As for a management that allowed such a situation to develop, the sooner that Branson or O'Leary takes over and gets rid of them, the better for all of us. Can it be coincidence that everything we read and see of British Airways reminds one of the BBC management structure?
Your correspondents (letters, 16 December), in questioning whether BA staff and their trade union have "any compassion or concern" for the population, seem to have forgotten that there are two parties to this dispute. Why did they not criticise BA management for their "holding [travellers] to ransom"? (Ah, the nostalgia induced by coming across that well-worn mantra!)
"There is something wrong with a law that allows an employer to impose change but prevents a union from fighting back," says the Unite union leader Derek Simpson. Surely there is something right with a law that insists that unions check their voting lists before rushing into strikes. As it is, given Unite's apparently casual attitude to voting qualifications, how can we be sure that its leaders have been validly elected?
Your sequence of letters (16 December) attacking British Airways cabin crew for their proposed strike ignores some significant points about strike action in general. The impression is given that strikers are some sort of alien species quite separate from "the rest of us" who live in a different world untainted by the actions of companies or governments.
Why should it be that working people have to put up with the sort of job-cutting treatment that BA have gone in for while top management receive monumental salaries and bonuses? Why should cabin crew sit back and accept a clear union-smashing operation which, if unions were to disappear, would make all our lives even more difficult?
So we now have yet further evidence of just how fractured a society we live in. Apparently the average salary for BA aerial waiters (long-haul cabin crew) is £34,980: this is actually more than a post-threshold teacher gets after four years of higher education and training and then working for six years and submitting him or herself to a rigorous assessment to get on to the Upper Pay Scale!
The only thing more outrageous than the strike was any suggestion that it had anything to do with worker solidarity.
Beginning and end of the Circle line
The extended Circle line service will deliver more regular and reliable services for the vast majority of passengers ("All change please – how new tube line left passengers baffled", 15 December). On the section to and from Hammersmith, where demand has grown in recent years, services will increase from seven to 12 trains per hour.
While the Circle line may be shown as a separate line on the tube map, it actually shares tracks with several other lines – the District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines – and always suffers when there is disruption to those services. By providing a start and end point, the Circle line's reliability should be greatly improved; indeed performance on the first weekday shows significant improvement over the previous timetable.
We appreciate that there will be a little inconvenience for some customers who have to interchange at Edgware Road, but all customers will benefit from more reliable and regular services. An extensive campaign to inform customers through leaflets, posters, maps and announcements on stations and trains has also been implemented.
The extended Circle line is actually the first step in the upgrade of all these lines to significantly increase capacity and reliability, including the introduction of new air-conditioned trains from next year on the Metropolitan line.
Managing Director London Underground
When I arrive from the west at Paddington and want to continue clockwise on the Circle line route around London, Transport for London obliges me to take the Hammersmith & City eastwards rather than the now-interrupted Circle line. But my Oyster Card, recharged by a simple internet transaction, can't be validated by the gates to the Hammersmith & City at Paddington – so I have no choice but to enter the Underground through the Circle line precinct.
I don't know why someone in London Underground conceived the Spiral line, but I suspect it's more for the convenience of train scheduling and maintenance than it is for the convenience of passengers.
Shame drivers who phone
Clifford Evans (letter, 14 December) is right about the stupidity of using mobile phones while driving, and the need for more severe penalties, but his proposed solution (tracking moving callers) is unworkable.
There is neither danger nor illegality in using a phone as a passenger, be it in a car, bus or train, and no system is likely to be able to distinguish between these.
What is needed, along with stiffer penalties, is better education – hard-hitting TV ads designed to embarrass and ridicule anyone who has such little disregard for the lives of others as to even consider using a phone while driving. It worked, to some extent, with drink-driving.
This has to become a crime that is looked down upon by society in general.
'Talented' bankers look stupid
The "bankers" have only themselves to blame for the new tax on bonuses. Most banks in this country have not taken taxpayer's money; whole departments in RBS and HBOS have made profits, but these facts are lost on the general public because banks have allowed the Government to paint them all with the same brush.
Bank staff at all levels who have contributed to profits and worked many hours without overtime deserve a reasonable bonus. Their employers have failed to make the case and instead issue threats about moving abroad, which makes them seem even more detached from the reality of most people's lives.
The current government is one of the most ridiculous ever to hold office but it is still making the supposedly talented "bankers" look stupid.
The threat of overpaid bankers to flee the country if they feel they are being excessively taxed is evocative of the wicked stepmother in a fairy tale, as she is about to meet her end, hissing, "You can't get rid of me. You're nothing without me!"
Of course we need highly skilled, appropriately rewarded people to manage our economy. What we do not need is people with vast financial clout pursuing of a gospel of self-interest with no social responsibility.
We need to see that there is no place in today's world for rapacious economics in which the rich and powerful are able to enrich themselves while the powerless suffer the fallout. Thank God we are not communists. It is clear, however, that our capitalism needs to develop a social conscience if we are to avoid financial meltdowns of the kind we are witnessing.
We need to create a system that sees itself as a steward of wealth with an obligation to society. Such public spirit is more usually found in those who do not demand millions of pounds for their services.
The Royal Bank of Scotland chairman Sir Philip Hampton has insisted that the bank must be allowed to pay "market rates" to staff in its investment bank. I agree with him. We should let them have what they deserve and what the market would have allocated them without any government intervention. Nothing.
Investment bankers extracted huge gains in the boom years, and then when it all went bad we all had to pay. They have privatised their gains and socialised their losses.
MPs don't get it
The number of MPs prepared to challenge Sir Thomas Legg's demands that they repay expense claims has risen to 80. They will never accept that they have betrayed our trust. What will they think of next to restore their self-appointed rights of access to the public purse?
Brian Viner (17 December) repeats the common error of calling an annual "leaflet letter" a round robin. A round robin is a letter that will be unwelcome to the recipient, so the signatories write their names in turn in a circle so that no ringleader can be identified. The letter to which he refers might well be unwelcome, but I doubt if it is signed as a round robin.
The writer of your article "Bonnie Prince Charlie in identity mix-up" (16 December) appears to have a dynasty mix-up of his own. He writes that the Young Pretender of 1745, Charles Stuart, was "the romantic hero of the Tudor claim". The Tudors stopped claiming the throne in 1485 when they won it at Bosworth Field.
Cheque in the post
The banks may well wean us off our long-held habit of using cheques, but how do we find an alternative when sending money to children or grandchildren? Cheques will be difficult to replace.
Port Erin, Isle of Man
I don't like to be picky, but I can't help thinking that the title of your article about George W Bush ("The surreal afterlife of an Ex-President", 15 December) embraces the preposterous implication that Dubya's presidency was itself something other than surreal.
Dunlop, East Ayrshire
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