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Monday 16 May 2011
Letters: The Iraq Dossier
Mystery of Iraq 'golden bullet'
In 2002 Major-General Laurie was one of the three most senior members of the Defence Intelligence Staff.
As a more junior member, it is interesting to learn all these years later, that our top man, Air Marshal Sir Joe French, explicitly told him something that was not revealed to us lesser mortals – that the purpose of the Iraq dossier was to make a case for war ("Campbell 'misled' Chilcot over dossier", 13 May). It was more than a nod and a wink.
If that was the case, as I could only infer it was at the time, it is even more important that the insistent objections of DIS analysts were circumvented through a deception apparently perpetrated on their own colleagues by MI6 and senior Cabinet Office intelligence officials. They claimed to have new intelligence that overcame our reservations, but were not prepared to disclose it to us.
Almost unnoticed, the Chilcot inquiry has recently published important evidence from a senior MI6 officer, identified as SIS4, which strongly indicates that the undisclosed intelligence did no such thing. According to SIS4, that intelligence report merely promised that the required "golden bullet" would, hopefully, become available within a few weeks – but unfortunately too late for the dossier. It never materialised.
It may well be that Gen Laurie was not in the loop when these matters were a hot issues in the DIS in September 2002, or in 2003 when they hit the headlines in the Hutton inquiry. However, it worries me that the Chilcot committee appear to have asked him nothing about this issue. Perhaps they already know the answers. Perhaps they will at last publish the intelligence report that did not provide the "golden bullet", or give us a clearer idea about how inadequate it really was.
It is once again from within the military intelligence establishment that disquiet is voiced regarding the case for war put forward in the notorious "45 minutes" dossier outlining the supposed threat from Saddam Hussein. Perhaps the military feel a particular responsibility to get the facts right when a case for war is being made.
Alternatives to university
On Thursday David Cameron and Nick Clegg were televised hosting an event at the Olympics site to promote apprenticeships and work experience. This was admirable. However, there is no point in resurrecting Careers Services unless such a move is coupled with making it an absolute requirement for schools dealing with secondary age pupils to inform pupils and their parents of the benefits of apprenticeship training.
Too many school heads refuse to value apprenticeships as a route that could benefit very able students as well as moderately able. There may be a general unawareness that many employers will take on apprentices at 17 or 18, after a course of study at sixth form.
I have been told on many occasions by heads and their senior staff that they did not wish their able pupils to know about the vocational option, preferring instead to peddle the view that if you're clever, university is always best.
Many of your readers will have come across people in their twenties, saddled with debt, nursing a mediocre degree, holding down a mundane job and wishing they'd gone down the route of their less academic mates who left school at 16 or 17 and were now raking it in.
Chapel Lawn, Shropshire
The CEO of McDonalds UK is right to say that university might not be the right route for everyone. I would go further. It is entirely possible to join the professions without a degree, leaving aside the low-tech, low-paid entry-level jobs offered by McDonalds.
In 2011, the Deloitte apprenticeship programme took on 100 school-leavers with a view to training them to qualify as accountants. Deloitte plans to expend the programme in 2012 to bring in 240 school-leavers – which means non-graduates would make up more than 20 per cent of their 2012 junior intake. Other accountancy firms such as KPMG also train school-leavers.
We work with a number of highly successful accountants who never attended university. They are all in senior finance roles – and got there three to four years ahead of their university-educated peers.
For many young people balking at the prospect of taking on massive debts to obtain a higher education qualification – and graduate unemployment at 20 per cent – the prospect of learning through experience rather than through academic study should be very attractive.
Marks Sattin Recruitment
The Universities Minister, David Willetts, is an enthusiast for the choice and flexibility offered by two-year bachelor degrees "delivered in an ex-office block with students studying 40 hours a week" (Education, 12 May). He should be aware that two-year degrees carry significant risks.
They may not be recognised by some employers and jurisdictions abroad, as the Lisbon Recognition Convention and the Bologna Declaration, to which the UK is a signatory, indicate a minimum of three years for bachelor degrees.
They may not allow for the deep learning, reflection, consolidation and summative assessment that longer courses ought to entail, nor part-time employment, work placement, or study abroad, elements which add value to a three- or four-year degree.
A two-year bachelor degree will look lightweight by international comparison, especially if institutions allow progression despite modules not being passed, or if they award qualifications on a reduced number of credits. These challenges apply to all degrees and all universities, and there is no room for complacency, but they are even greater in condensed programmes.
York Management School
University of York
What the Scots really want
The leaders of the main UK political parties need to be clear that the resounding victory served up to the SNP at the Scottish elections was more down to failings of Westminster politics than any particular desire of the Scottish people for independence.
It is no secret that the Scottish economy is particularly reliant on public spending and public-sector jobs. The Thatcher and Major years saw to that, with their catastrophic effect on traditional industries. No one in their right mind votes in a way that will harm their income, or put themselves out of a job, and no one should be surprised that the Scottish people live in fear of public spending cuts of the magnitude currently espoused by Westminster politicians.
It sticks in the throat of the Scottish people that the London-based financial institutions that caused the recession, and were propped up with vast sums of taxpayers' money, are now the very ones awarding their South-east-based employees whopping bonuses, while screwing the Scottish people over on their mortgages and savings, starving Scottish businesses of credit, and baying for harsh spending cuts that will cause undue suffering across Scotland.
If the Westminster parties can reverse Scotland's long economic decline and attract investment and high-skill jobs here, not low-value supermarket and call-centre jobs; if they can sort out the shameful mess that is current British foreign policy and stop closing Scottish military bases; then they will remove any reason for the Scottish people to plump for the risky option of independence, while also making Britain a stronger and more cohesive place.
Dr Mark Campbell-Roddis
Robert Readman (letter, 10 May) will be less keen on Scottish independence once he discovers it will mean an end to Scotland's subsidy of the UK. The most recent Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report for 2008-09 showed that Scotland's financial position was a current budget surplus of £1.3bn, the fourth year in a row that revenue raised in Scotland was surplus to expenditure, and this in spite of factoring in a share of the UK Government's financial sector interventions to support the banking sector.
Children out of control
Three cheers for Harriet Walker's article about "parenthood" (14 May). I am a happily child-free person who is being driven to distraction by having every social occasion ruined by badly behaved children and their indifferent parents. The world is not their play park and others do have the right to the quiet enjoyment of their lives.
Harriet Walker's understandable irritation with parents who don't teach their children consideration for others reminded me of a recent incident when I was quietly reading The Independent in my local coffee shop.
A toddler climbed up on the back of my chair and screamed in my ear. When I, gently, said "Shhh!" its parents shrieked at me, saying they could tell it to keep quiet. My response of "Why don't you, then?" led to such a torrent of abuse that the proprietor of the coffee shop came and asked if I needed help.
My laughter on being called a "mean old witch" (I may be old but I'm not mean!) only increased these boorish people's anger. In their eyes I was a child-hater, therefore worthy of no respect whatsoever.
I dread to think of what that child will be like as it gets older. Its wretched parents will probably wonder why it has no friends.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Show death as it truly is
Showing natural death on TV is a good idea. Andreas Whittam Smith (12 May) says that "death has been institutionalised". Honest documentary can encourage people to reclaim it. We must start the enormous task of replacing the false images of death that TV has been planting for so many years in medical, police and murder dramas, with how it usually happens.
As a Humanist Celebrant, I have heard end-of-life stories of hospital and home across 20 years. A frequent statement is about being frightened about what might happen because people did not know. If we can show computerised conception and real births, we can show real death and start to remove the fear.
Where Lib Dem support goes
Your correspondents (13 May) rashly assume that the decline of the Liberal Democrats will benefit mainly Labour. This has manifestly not been the case in Scotland, but nor is it necessarily the case in England.
In areas where the Green Party is strong on the ground – for instance, parts of my own region such as Norwich, West Norfolk, much of rural Suffolk, and St Albans – it is striking that the Lib Dem decline is benefiting the Green Party. Not surprising, given most people's lack of faith in Labour.
Labour is serving as a repository of protest votes for disillusioned Lib Dems, but the more permanent realignment appears to be favouring parties such as the SNP and the Greens.
Co-ordinator, Eastern Region Green Party,
Navarin is a very unlikely derivation from navet (Quiz, 14 May). The dish is far more likely to be named for the famous naval victory of 1827, in which French forces were involved. The ingredients include lamb, garlic, thyme, rosemary – very Greek.
Bury St Edmunds
Voting for a song
I note that a "first-past-the-post" voting system was operated by the Eurovision Song Contest to give Azerbaijan victory. I would be interested to see the result had it been decided by the "alternative vote" method.
Perhaps technology might help sparrows (letter, 12 May). On our farm we have two pairs nesting behind our solar panels.
North Curry, Somerset
Perspectives on railway travel
Imprisoned by rail fares rip-off
Howard Jacobson is barking up the wrong tree entirely in his complaints about rail travel ("What fresh hell is this?", 14 May). As an expat living in Australia I can assure you that by far the worst thing about train and bus travel in this country is the cost.
I have been in this country for 10 months now, but have been able to visit my grandchildren only twice because of the cost of rail travel. For example, arriving at London Paddington some months ago at 6pm from Heathrow and wishing to travel to Stroud, I found that this would set me back £60 – the cost of an off-season air ticket from London to Europe. I was speechless. I had to wait three hours for it drop to half price.
Public transport here is about five times more expensive than in Australia, where the a concession ticket (available to anyone on a benefit) of about £3 gets you everywhere all day, on any train, bus or tram, and full price is only double. But what appals more than anything is that the rail ticketing system is the same as that of airlines; it gets more expensive the closer to the day of travel that you buy your ticket. I needed to attend a meeting in London, booked a week in advance, and then the meeting was cancelled. It then took four weeks to get a refund for the ticket.
This is absurd – is anyone actually thinking about this situation? It's bare-faced exploitation by the rail companies, and people are wrong to let them get away with it.
This is still a great country in many ways, but this rip off is a disgrace, imprisoning low-income people in their own homes.
Next stop, the real world
Oh dear! Howard Jacobson has again left the world of books and Shakespeare to encounter the real world, this time while travelling the country by train to sign his books. I say "Oh dear!" because in the battle between Mr Jacobson and the real world, it's the real world which seems to come off worse.
In his latest adventure, Mr Jacobson bemoans the lack of sandwiches on the buffet car between Edinburgh and London. I would dare to suggest that a Weltanschaung predicated on an endless supply of sandwiches on the buffet car of a train from Edinburgh to London is always bound to lead to disappointment among its adherents.
It's not that it's an unreasonable expectation, but, alas, the real world does not always conform to our reasonable expectations regarding our own personal comfort. Perhaps next time Mr Jacobson should make some sandwiches and a flask of coffee against just such an eventuality, rather than intimidating the buffet car staff by shouting, which is normally why people ask not to be talked to "in that tone of voice".
Just possibly, Mr Jacobson is going to have to adjust to a world of growing shortages and effective rationing as the world's resources become more scarce and fought-over by a burgeoning world population. "No" is an answer he is just increasingly going to have to accept.
By the way, Mrs Jacobson is clearly a saint, and will undoubtedly reap the reward she is due, if not in this life then the next, for her valiant efforts to protect the real world from the bruising encounter with Mr Jacobson.
Eat across Europe
Howard Jacobson should go to Switzerland or Germany, where I was last week. All inter-city long-distance trains have full on-board restaurant cars with tables adorned with white linen cloths – and not restricted to first-class passengers. What is it with the UK rail industry that they cannot emulate this?
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