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Wednesday 30 September 2009
Letters: The Pilkington tragedy
How horrific abuse can be nobody's problem
As a local councillor in Leicestershire, I am not in the least surprised by the outcome of the case of Fiona Pilkington. I have two long-running anti-social behaviour cases, one of which has been going on for four years. Neither of these cases is anything like as horrific as this sad suicide, but the behaviour of the agencies concerned has paralleled what has been revealed at the inquest.
"'Why did nobody listen to them?" your front page asks (29 September). Let me give you two answers from my own experience.
First, following some previous horrific case of child abuse the Government put in place partnerships, where all agencies were to take responsibility for cases like that of Fiona Pilkington. As all are supposed to take responsibility, no one takes responsibility. Each partner puts a great deal of thought and effort into defining the limits of its role and responsibilities within the partnership, and is assiduous in analysing any problem and demonstrating quite clearly that it is (just) outside its remit. They are usually so, so sorry about this.
Second, over the past 30 years, the Government has steadily removed the power of local councillors to act, and replaced it by giving councillors the power of scrutiny. I could be an "advocate" on behalf of my constituents until I am blue in the face and I am almost completely ignored, but in the most polite way of course.
Just as I am not surprised by the Pilkington case, neither will I be surprised by the report produced by the "scrutiny" of what went wrong. It will be a wonderful report, describing in detail what happened, but not allocating blame, because how can you apportion blame when all concerned have acted strictly within their own agency terms of reference?
Finally, the Government will issue all concerned with new targets, without any additional resources. In the case of the Leicestershire police this will result in staff being pulled from dealing with gun crime and drug dealing in the city, with the inevitable consequences.
The morality of the Aztecs
Philip Hensher mistakes anthropological objectivity for "cultural relativism" in his denunciation of the British Museum's "morally neutral" exhibition on the "evil society" of the Aztecs (28 September) .
As far as the Aztecs – both sacrificer and sacrificed – were concerned, the regular offering of human blood to their supreme god Uitzilopochtli was believed to keep the sun from disappearing. According to Jacques Soustelle, the "people of the sun" were "unmoved by the scenes in their blood-soaked temples" since "blood was necessary to save this world and the men in it". Many prisoners to be sacrificed refused clemency, believing that it would incur divine retribution.
The Aztecs were certainly mistaken about their beliefs. Yet it is an argumentative fallacy to compare, as Philip Hensher does, the Aztecs with the Nazis or the Khmer Rouge, since the former existed before the general acceptance of Enlightenment values and, as a society, had no inclination to abandon the ideological framework which had maintained the civilisation since its humble tribal beginnings.
Philip Hensher argues against moral neutrality and the aestheticising of objects of torture and death. Broadly, I agree. But the matter becomes more complicated when we make allowances for the Aztecs' state of mind. This was different from that of other mass murderers.
The Aztecs believed that the blood of their victims was needed for their very survival. They thought that their gods fed on this blood and would destroy them if they were denied it. The Aztecs' actions were thus barbaric in effect but not motivated by a desire to cause suffering. They did not think that their victims' agonies were personally or collectively deserved. This separates them from the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge.
Perhaps the Aztecs were not "cruel" as such but lacked proper moral agency. In the face of the conundrum there may be something to be said for a "neutral" stance.
As a metropolitan bien pensant, Philip Hensher must surely understand that critical comments on the culturally-endorsed religious practices of the noble Aztec might be seen as support for the Spanish conquistadores who so brutally prevented them from contributing to our shared multi-cultural space, and might even confuse our thinking when it is generally agreed that all decent people rightly blame Dead White European Males for all the bad things that have ever happened, anywhere and at any time.
Shame on him. He clearly needs Aztec Awareness Training (Obsidian disembowelling knives optional).
R S Foster
Keeping food stores clean
Martin Hickman, in his report "Is your favourite restaurant dirty?" (19 September) quoted a letter dated December 2008. Our position has moved on considerably since then.
We are not lobbying for food retailers to be excluded from the Scores on the Doors scheme; in fact we are an active member of the Food Standards Agency's Scores on the Doors working group, and are in the process of agreeing a consistent approach to measuring food safety across all 460 local authorities.
As it stands a five-star rating in Leeds is very different from a five-star rating in London. This is daft and needs to be resolved quickly to give consumers confidence when they shop in different places.
We believe the Scottish system is the most effective way of monitoring compliance. Following an assessment by a Scottish local authority you either pass or fail, or need to make improvements. We'd support this pass/fail scheme being applied throughout the UK to ensure consistently high standards across all stores.
Company Secretary, ASDA Stores, Leeds
Cost of ill-designed public services
Andreas Whittam Smith describes the concept of failure demand ("A simple way to greater efficiency", 25 September) in public services as the failure to do something right for the customer.
Recent studies show that failure demand isn't just costing the public sector millions; it is also choking up the voluntary sector. A study by Advice UK shows that people are driven to Citizens Advice Bureaux largely because of the factory design of HMRC, DWP and housing benefits services.
Paradoxically, one of the main causes of costs in the public sector has been the Government's efficiency agenda. Shared services, front/back office split, targets, standards – all features of factory design – have led to poor quality, expensive public services and, as we are now discovering, an overloaded voluntary sector.
Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear
Mandelson's empty boast
Am I alone in feeling deep moral repugnance at Lord Mandelson's speech at Labour Conference, where first he boasted he had come back, not stating the heavy clouds under which he had been forced to resign, and second claimed all in the Labour Party were in the fight of their lives?
The only British people currently fighting for their lives are our soldiers commissioned to do an impossible task in Afghanistan.
When Mandelson says "If I can come back, we can come back" does he mean that all Labour MPs who lose their seats at the next election should be made Lords so that they too can re-enter government without being elected?
Polanski brought to justice at last
Harvey Weinstein (Comment, 29 September) managed to state his case in favour of Roman Polanski with just one oblique reference to the crime: "This is not to do with what happened in 1977."
Sorry, but yes it is. Polanski pleaded guilty to the offence. His early history in Poland, the murder of his wife and unborn child, his later success as a film director, none of these has anything to do with the fact that he drugged and raped a 13-year old girl.
If there is a "miscarriage of justice" it is in the obscene practice of the US justice system in making deals with celebrities. Take him back and punish him. It's about time. And thank you to Dominic Lawson for his common-sense article in the same issue of The Independent.
Roman Polanski has been finally arrested for an offence for which he has been on the run for 30 years, and a massive wave of sympathy and indignation is unleashed by his admirers.
Whether or not Mr Polanski deserves such generous compassion for his paedophiliac peccadillos is a matter of opinion; but I wonder whether he would have received so much indulgence over the past three decades if he had been convicted of sexually abusing a boy of 13 rather than a girl.
Not the Queen Mother's fault
I am by no stretch of the imagination a monarchist, but I found Johann Hari's attack on the Queen Mother (25 September) distasteful. That cousins of the Queen Mother suffered from a chromosomal abnormality and were therefore mentally disabled is hardly her fault nor her responsibility.
David Robinson (letter, 29 September) points out that the Queen Mother was the product of a bygone age and is no longer with us. However, her grandson does a passable imitation of someone from that same bygone age and he is very much with us.
My husband was reading Johann Hari's article about the Queen Mother when he said: "This is disgraceful. How can they print such rubbish?" I was gearing myself up for a good argument when he added: "Dignity, charm and majesty aren't adjectives – they're nouns." Well, I couldn't argue with that.
Thanks for nothing
I'm with Anthony Shelmerdine (letter, 29 September) in his accusation of greed against banks. My current account with First Direct remained static one month: no incomings, no outgoings. For this inactivity they charged me £10. When I rang to query this I was told it was "policy". I closed the account.
Cowling, North Yorkshire
There are a couple of inaccuracies in your article about funding for Bletchley Park (29 September). The Poles did more than alert British Intelligence to the existence of Enigma; a team led by the mathematician Marian Rejewski had already cracked the Enigma codes and they passed this work on to French and British intelligence. There is a memorial to their work in the grounds of Bletchley Park. And the Colossus computer was never used to break Enigma. It was dedicated to the task of cracking the even more secure Lorenz cipher.
I was saddened that you carried an article (26 September) disparaging "Back-to-Church Sunday" and predicting gloomy prospects for the Church of England. But this is no new thing; at the beginning of the 19th century Dr Thomas Arnold said: "The Church of England as it is at the moment no one can save", but it has done quite well since that time. Some may find the diverse theological viewpoints and practices in the Church confusing; I consider them a strength, as different approaches are likely to appeal to different people.
the Revd J D Wright
Wrong sort of liberals
I must take issue with Alex Macfie (letter, 24 September). I found The Independent's reporting on Germany's FDP (18 September) more than accurate. As a committed Liberal Democrat (UK) who spent 23 years in Germany, I would never consider voting for the FDP, because the party is far too right-wing. It continues to be a source of concern to me that my party is allied to the FDP in the European Parliament. The FDP stands for conservative, pro-business values and would never pass the Clegg/Cable test of working for a fairer, better future for all.
I always worry when someone, in the latest case Lewis Hamilton, ascribes responsibility for his success to God. Does this mean that He is selfishly favouring one individual and denying success to everyone else? I would worry about this uneven playing field if I was another God-fearing Formula One racing driver.
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