Letters: The Prince of Wales

Prince of eccentrics is no threat to democracy
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The Independent Online

I am no supporter of the Royal Family, but after reading Johann Hari's vitriolic attack on the Prince of Wales (20 November), I began to feel a sneaking sympathy for the poor chap. Charles's views on architecture and alternative medicine may be daft, and his lifestyle anachronistic but he hardly poses a threat to the democratic process.

In fact he cuts a rather pathetic figure. Lacking his mother's regal presence and his children's charismatic appeal, he does not have much going for him except his eccentricity. Perhaps this is the key to whatever support he still enjoys. After all, in a society where the official role models are ruthless, self-obsessed high achievers, it is a bit of light relief to have someone whose only claim to fame is to be a man without any of the "can do" qualities.

But the real issue is why, after all the House of Windsor has done to bring itself into public disrepute in recent years, there is still so little support for the republican cause. Is it because replacing the monarchy still carries with it the taint of regicide?

Until such time as it becomes possible to organise a rational debate on the issue, perhaps allowing the future king a public platform to address matters of national and international interest might be seen as a dress rehearsal for the "real thing" – an elected president, who, like Mary Robinson in Ireland, would actually be a public intellectual and a genuine source of inspiration to all sections of our fractious and divided country.

Phil Cohen

London N19

It has been reported that "those close" to Prince Charles have signalled that his intention, on becoming king, would be to adopt a more "presidential" approach. I infer from this that he would involve himself in the political matters of the day.

We must hope that those advising the Prince will recognise that the assumption of any sort of "presidential" role will require an election first. I cannot believe that Prince Charles would be so arrogant as to take such a role without a mandate from a population which might not be as responsive to him as it has been to his mother. Those who wish to see an end to the monarchy hope for its peaceful demise rather than that which could occur should such a drastic change of role be formally declared.

As, however, it seems likely that the Queen will be sending herself a 100th birthday card in 2026, perhaps we should remain calm.

David Hill

Oxhill, Warwickshire

Sad excuses for death of Baby P

So social workers are the victims of understaffing and low wages, and therefore absolved of culpability in the death of Baby P. I find myself reading the excuses with increasing frustration and anger.

Your correspondents criticise the Government's target systems and shift blame from those who come to the job armed only with "courage, dedication and wits" (Letters, 19 November). I am confused as to the nature of courage that sees a child in danger and allows itself to use "the system" as an excuse for failing to act, and the wits which are not alert to that danger.

I am a nurse, and am frequently frustrated by "the system". We are also understaffed and arguably underpaid. But I find myself surrounded by people who, no matter how tired they are by the relentlessness of need, or how bitter at their treatment by management systems, continue to do the very best for their patients.

Those that find themselves unable to cope with the environment leave for other jobs. They do not chain themselves to desks whining about the problems in their job while failing to execute their duties in a satisfactory manner. There can be no excuse for the death of a child whose situation has required him to be on a protection register.

Claire Perkins


I am a retired doctor who, 40 years ago, was medical officer to an infant welfare clinic in Haringey when I rang the police and asked if someone could pick up a child from her house and take her to hospital. I knew, the community knew and the health visitors knew that a child was being physically abused ("battered" it was then called). Social services had been informed a number of times but advised "not visiting for fear of upsetting the family dynamics".

Eventually mother and child were coaxed to my clinic and then there could be no doubt. The toddler was pale, withdrawn and had a large bruise. I suggested to mother that I take them both to hospital, but she bolted so I rang the police. In hospital the child was found to have multiple fractures and cigarette burns. The father got 20 years, while the mother, a woman of very low intelligence, was put on probation. Haringey Social Services convened a case conference that was devoted to self-justification.

Social workers are poorly selected and badly trained for the job we expect them to do. A quick look at the internet shows whole or part-time courses, none from the major universities, in which abstracts such as "concept of power" and "responsibility for own health" are discussed, not how to deal with evasive "clients" or assess the truth of what they are told. But their main failure is their refusal to communicate or work with other professionals

I am old enough to remember the days of the Almoner, Children's Officer and Duly Authorised Officer. All experts in their field and all imbued with a strong sense of responsibility, though few had academic qualifications. We worked very happily together, respecting each others' qualities.

Fiddling with the present system will simply result in more boxes ticked, more children tortured and yet more inquiries.

Anne Savage

London NW3

Learning how the other half thinks

Vicky Tuck ("Single sex schools 'are the future'", 18 November 2008) might be interested to hear about my transition, between GCSEs and sixth form, from an all-girls grammar school to a mixed comprehensive.

Besides the fact that the work was much more challenging at the comprehensive, it was an enlightenment and a joy to encounter the way boys thought about and reacted to things, how they learnt, and their approach to problem-solving. It greatly expanded my own mind and ability to assess situations.

I was no longer surrounded by classmates who were forced to sneak into nightclubs to try and encounter the opposite sex, but by boys and girls perfectly relaxed around each other; furthermore, the girls at the mixed school dressed far more casually, because the distracting clothes competitions which Vicky Tuck speaks of are a "girly" thing, about which the boys sensibly couldn't care less.

Mind you, her remarks appear to only refer to exam results, not to real knowledge or thinking or getting on in the real world. And we all know which is more important to the Government.

Alice Sheppard

Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire

Vicky Tuck appears to suggest that the decision of whether one should co-educate boys and girls should only be based on the well-worn conclusion that "girls learn in a different way".

Whatever happened to forming a flexible curriculum and teaching style that supports children's individual abilities and, importantly, teaches them to function effectively as part of society as a whole? The valuable social aspects of schooling that exposes children to a representative cross-section of the population, by class, race, religion and indeed sex, seem to be worryingly missing from Ms Tuck's vocabulary.

Ed Borgnis

North Elmham, Norfolk

The 'efficiency' enforced by fear

Hamish McRae is right that "recessions serve a useful purpose" in capitalist economies (19 November). However, he is vague about how economic crises "force efficiency".

One major factors is fear of unemployment. Employers find it easier to make employees work harder, for longer hours and for less pay, when the latter are particularly anxious about being made redundant, and when it is relatively easy for employers to replace workers who refuse to accept worse working conditions. How strange that a neoclassical economist and cheerleader for the "free market" should fail to mention this ugly truth.

McRae's confident use of the word "efficiency" in this context also raises the following question: just how efficient is an economic system for which periodic recession (with all the suffering, anxiety and waste that it brings) is a functional requirement?

Dr Ed Rooksby

Fareham, Hampshire

Education policy? Don't ask ministers

On 15 November, the Campaign for State Education (CASE), an organisation that has been campaigning for over 40 years, held its annual conference. Each of the leading political parties was invited to send a spokesperson who would outline the education policies on which the party would fight the next election.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats accepted this invitation to address a well-informed and critical audience. The Government not only declined but refused even to send a statement that could be read out to the conference.

Has the Government now grown so complacent that it no longer sees any need to explain its policies to interested parties, or has it lost the confidence to do so? It seems that in 11 years we have declined from "Education, education, education" to "No comment: we can't be bothered."

Melian Mansfield (Chair); Judy Harrington; Keith Lichman; Alan Carter; Michael Pyke; And 19 others

Shenstone, Staffordshire

How to beat the Somali pirates

In order to deter Somali pirates from attacking merchant ships in the Indian Ocean, wouldn't it be better for an international force of naval vessels to escort merchant ships in convoy between the Gulf of Aden and the Mozambique Channel, rather than simply carrying out patrols in the area?

Some ship-owners might opt out of this arrangement if they thought waiting for a convoy to assemble too time-consuming, but given the relatively high speed of modern merchant ships, others might prefer a convoy system to protect their vessels, rather than hope patrolling warships intercept the pirates before the pirates intercept them.

Terence Roy Smith

Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

Defensive style of a swashbuckler

"Buckler" means a shield, in both the literal and the metaphorical sense. A swashbuckler (letters, 19, 20 November) is someone who uses swash (flamboyance, waving the sword around) as a defence, in place of a shield.

Which is why all those swashbucklers in the films don't carry them, relying instead on footwork, swordplay and sheer style. A swashbuckler thus can't "swash his buckle" (wave his shield) except perhaps by seizing a shield from an inept guardsmen and using it to surf down a staircase.

Hanbury Hampden-Turner

London SW6


Radical step

Sack Bruce Forsyth and let John Sergeant take over as the presenter of Strictly Come Dancing. That will improve both the dancing and the jokes.

Peter Wotton

Longwick, Buckinghamshire

'Probably no god'

Even though I am a Christian, I have been delighted with the "atheist buses" correspondence. If I saw an advert saying "You probably haven't left the gas on", my first thought would be "Gosh, did I leave the gas on?" My only request is that the advert could be made more specific. As its minister, I would be delighted with buses saying "You probably shouldn't come to Hexham Trinity Methodist Church at 10:30am every Sunday."

The Rev David E Flavell

Hexham, Northumberland

Back in anger

Janet Greaves (letter, 19 November) reports that her electricity and gas suppliers have retrospectively raised their prices. She should write back, advising them that she changed her supplier to a cheaper one on the very same day as the price rise came into force.

John Shepherd

Cockermouth, Cumbria

Legal conundrum

I am puzzled by the proposed law to criminalise men who use prostitutes who are trafficked women or are working for pimps. In order to prosecute, it would be necessary for the police to know that the woman was trafficked or working under duress. Since I believe it is illegal to traffic women or live off immoral earnings, one would be forced to ask why the police had not previously rescued the victim and prosecuted the people concerned.

R Watts

King's Lynn, Norfolk

Drug problem

We read that producing one gramme of cocaine uses up four square metres of previously virgin forest in Colombia (report, 19 November). High time the cartels and dealers offered consumers a carbon offset scheme.

David Buttery

Douglas, Isle of Man