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Saturday 31 December 2011
Letters: The poor and the cuts
How Lib Dems let down the poor
Many of those with the lowest incomes now find themselves disproportionately worse off despite the much-lauded higher personal tax allowances championed by Nick Clegg, and that is no surprise to me, a long-standing but now disappointed Lib Dem.
Your report and Andrew Grice's comment (27 December) might have been foreseen in May 2010. Then, at a post-election meeting in Oxford, party members were addressed by a Lib Dem peer on how the Coalition would offer the chance of an early referendum on the Alternative Vote, and the general feeling seemed to be that this was the greatest opportunity for years, offering Lib Dems a path back to power.
I asked how the most vulnerable in society would be protected from the necessary cuts, which I regarded as much more important than a new voting system. The peer brushed my concerns aside and went back to talking about AV. When I repeated my question, the deposed MP, Evan Harris, bravely attempted a response, since the peer didn't seem to have a clue.
For me, this was a light-bulb moment. The Lib Dem hierarchy appeared to have entered the Coalition more interested in AV than in the difficult decisions ahead. The Lib Dems should have concentrated 100 per cent on the plight of the nation. If, at the end of two or three years, they had proved their worth, they would have been in a much stronger position to fight for a really good voting system (certainly one better than AV, which I voted against) and establish themselves as a political force to be reckoned with.
In the event, Nick Clegg and his naive colleagues have been out-manoeuvred by Cameron and his cohorts, and it is difficult to see a way back.
Playing by the European rules?
Some members of a club play by the rules and some manifestly do not. The latest news about the banning of battery farms in the UK illustrates, yet again, the uphill struggle those of us who support the principle of the EU face when trying to persuade doubters in this country that this is where we belong.
France and Spain are two of the nations that will not say when they intend to introduce this ban. Memories of burning British lamb carcasses at Boulogne come to mind, as does the ban in most of Europe on British beef after the BSE crisis. Then there is the alleged bending of the rules on fishing quotas in our waters by our Spanish partners in particular.
Some nations put national interest above anything else; then they accuse us of doing the same in the recent summit in Brussels. Perhaps it is about time we took a leaf out of their book.
North Hykeham, Lincolnshire
Ancient City is no tax haven
Max Gauna (letter, 29 December) is completely wrong. First, the City of London Corporation has indeed existed for a very long time – since the middle ages, in fact, like many other British institutions – but its constitution is regularly updated and the last time this happened was 2002, under the Labour government.
Second, the City Corporation is not responsible for organising or encouraging tax avoidance or the existence of tax havens: such matters are entirely for the UK government and international bodies. Third, the City Corporation does not run the derivatives markets or any other City markets or trading. What we do do – entirely openly and without hesitation – is support and promote the UK financial services industry – "the City" – as a key source of jobs and growth, both for this country and the whole of the EU.
Fourth, we do not give any money to the Conservative Party or any other political party and never have done. What individual City firms do is a matter for them.
Chairman, Policy and Resources Committee, City of London Corporation
I need to ask Max Gauna the source of the information on which he bases his assertion that the City of London "is devoted very largely to the facilitation of tax avoidance via offshore tax havens".
I also wonder why, if abuses exist, did Gordon Brown not deal with them by changing the relevant laws? Brown was not a fan of the City – witness his refusal, as Chancellor, to wear the correct evening dress at the Lord Mayor's banquets.
Standard & Poor's catches up
The eurozone is at a very difficult moment, and the creditworthiness of some of its members does not look as solid as it did some time ago. But the Standard & Poor's announcement about downgrading the credit rating of Germany and France is no reason for panic.
As with the US downgrade some months ago, the market is already aware of concerns about Germany and France's creditworthiness. The only thing that is new is that Standard & Poor's finally got its act together and made a statement. The yields on German bonds have been going up for some time, so it is only natural that eventually the credit ratings would register their concern.
It may seem that a downgrade of Germany and France will make things a little more difficult for the leading countries in the eurozone to arrange and facilitate financing for troubled countries such as Ireland, Portugal and Greece, but realistically, even that is questionable.
After the US downgrade in August, the yield on its bonds decreased, and the downgrade has not fundamentally changed the perception of investors toward the creditworthiness of American debt.
Professor Salvatore Cantale
IMD Business School, Lausanne, Switzerland
Alternative to prison
The Prison Officers Association has warned that pending budget cuts and staff shortages may well lead to riots in our prisons.
The Coalition has tried to adopt a more evidence-based approach in criminal justice, with an emphasis on rehabilitation, but is too easily unnerved by fury on the backbenches and in the media. The dramatic increase in prison numbers following the August riots has put intolerable pressure on prisons.
The Probation Service remains largely marginalised in national debates. It also faces severe budget cuts, but continues to contribute in its work with those sentenced by the courts towards creating safer communities with fewer victims, but it desperately needs championing.
BBC's insult to Dickens
Well said, Tim Lott ("A prettified Pip and a BBC that wants to condescend to the past", 30 December)! At a time when we are supposed to be celebrating the life and works of one of our greatest writers, I thought that Sarah Phelps's version of Great Expectations was an insult to Dickens. The characterisation, story and language were pathetic. Let us hope that Mike Newell does better with his film.
Robin Grey QC
Sorry to take issue with Tom Sutcliffe's review of the new BBC1 adaptation of Great Expectations (28 December) but Pip does not take a slice of pork pie because he sees Magwitch is starving but because, according to the text, the convict told him to bring him some "wittles" (food and drink) as well as the file. In the novel, Pip finds the pork pie in the larder and takes the whole thing, hoping nobody will notice too quickly. The book has wonderful touches that do not need elaboration.
Some directors of literary adaptations appear to have lost sight of, or not even read, the actual text; readapting the story for the mass television audience, probably not even realising that some readers would actually notice the changes.
Finally, can I add for all other Essexians, that although this TV film was largely shot around the Essex marshes, Dickens set the opening on the north Kent marshes of the River Medway downstream of Chatham, where he spent some of the happiest years of his childhood.
Robert W Fletcher
Christmas nearly didn't happen
Your story of Samoa's moving to the other side of the international date line, thus losing 30 December, brought to mind the occasion several years ago when my brother, the captain of a container ship, cancelled Christmas as his vessel moved towards the date line.
Moving westwards in late December, he had to lose one day and planned originally to miss out on Boxing Day. But news came to his ears on Christmas Eve that the crew of mixed nationalities were arguing over what should be served up as Christmas dinner on the 25th and the cook was so stressed by all the arguing that he had taken to his bed.
In true Grinch style, my brother declared that Christmas Day was summarily cancelled and that tomorrow would be Boxing Day. The thought brought everyone to their senses and he reinstated the special day just before midnight.
Too divisive for a state funeral
I was a Thatcherite until the poll tax and still see her as our best prime minister since Churchill. I also oppose a state funeral for her. Churchill and the Queen Mother were national icons, admired by the overwhelming majority of the population.
Margaret Thatcher was controversial and divisive. That is one reason why she should not have a state funeral. The other is that other peace-time prime ministers didn't.
Clever way to price electricity
Some years ago a wily marketing executive working for an electricity company thought of a wheeze to charge for electricity in a completely different way. We can get rid of the pesky standing charge, he said, which customers hate, and charge a little bit more for the first few units each quarter. That way, we can recover the fixed charge we have to pay the wires businesses and we can advertise the tariff as "No standing charge". The punters will never realise what's going on.
And they don't, as John Hunwicks's letter (29 December) and others before have shown.
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Thank you for Philip Hensher's excellent article on Olympic security (29 December). Such high security must be predicated on our intelligence services providing accurate estimates of terrorist threat. If these threats are real and demand 40,000 military, a warship in the Thames and surface-to-air missiles, will it not be extremely hazardous to be in London during the Games? Should not Locog be advising tourists to avoid the city at that time, and London residents to get away to the country or to the continent? To, say, Paris?
David Bracey (letter, 30 December) claims an independent Scotland would lose the benefit of having Scottish MPs at Westminster. The benefits have been marginal. Even in the happy times of New Labour, Blair was criticised for his "Scottish Raj" cabinet. Scottish MPs tread carefully in Westminster, aware of their unique position: they will not usually be in the ranks of dissenting backbenchers. Maybe Europe will treat Scotland better.
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