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Tuesday 26 April 2011
Letters: The Royal Family
So it seems that apart from AV we have another choice to make – at least if Steve Richards is to be believed (21 April) – between the "anachronistic absurdity" of monarchy and right-on republicanism.
Swept along by the flow of epithets about "this weird national celebration" and "compulsory adulation" (presumably up there with the cult of Stalin) we are asked to consider the "political correctness gone mad" without ever getting to grips with what the silly proles out there might really think about it all.
But then opinionated progressive political journalism has never had much time for the traditions, let alone eccentricities, of the vulgar British, so why defer to the icon of their sensibilities?
As with one's own "talentless family", whatever we inherit is respected simply because its ours and made us who we are; the same goes for the national family and the particular family that embodies it. Apart from which, many are quietly grateful that at least there is one thing to which overblown politicians must still defer.
I wonder if Steve Richards is just a bit too pessimistic about British republicanism. When one contrasts the notable lack of fervour attendant on next Friday's shennanigans with previous royal fiestas one feels that there will come a time when serious politicians could propose the abolition of the monarchy and the electorate would shrug; a majority would broadly agree and would then ask the politicians to direct their attention to important issues such as the economy, health and the environment.
Even in the 1990s and, admittedly, at a fairly low level of the political food chain, I, as leader of a city council with lots of royal visits which I always boycotted, never felt that passionate republicanism was an electoral liability. That is now even more the case. How many of us, as we canvass for 5 May and are asked what our constituents feel about royalty, that wedding and the rest, could say "They speak of little else"?
No matter how hard I try I can't help being a royalist. I'm a royalist and a democrat – if that is possible – and any affection for the Royal Family I retain sits uneasily with how I regard an institution which is essentially anti-democratic.
I can't say I'm looking forward to the prospect of hordes of rapturous Dianaites searching hysterically for meaning in a matrimonial second coming that they hope will put the world to rights and finally realign the planets 31 years on. However, I do admire the dignity and level-headedness of Diana's son – not to mention his choice of bride – and while I don't think the wedding will indefinitely secure divine right to rule as an acceptable working idea, it will at least happily consolidate the Windsors' standing in British society and consciousness for a generation to come.
It may also supply the pre-emptive popularity boost required to get over the inevitable hurdle just around the corner in the form of George VII and Queen Camilla. It could get nasty, so I think I'll stick to social democracy – in the meantime, there's a big wedding to enjoy.
Thirty years ago the nation genuinely "came together" to celebrate the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. In contrast, this week's wedding seems to highlight a nation divided.
While the London-centric media may believe that the country is gripped with royal wedding fever much of the nation is overcome with apathy. Someone needs to tell David Cameron that the reason there are so few street parties now, compared with 1981, is nothing to do with bureaucracy; rather it is that many people just don't care any more.
Talbot Church (20 April) must have got it wrong when he says that Prince Charles dislikes Kate as "a ghastly TV weather-girl name". He is meant to be a fan of Shakespeare, and Henry V in particular: "Oh Kate, nice customs courtesy to great kings. Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners, Kate" (Act V, scene ii). Surely Henry V's Kate is a happier precedent than any of Henry VIII's Catherines?
I am puzzled why the press and media erroneously call Prince William and Kate Middleton the future King and Queen of England.
The English line died out in 1603 when Elizabeth of England died without issue. King James VI of Scotland then became King of Great Britain, uniting the crowns of Scotland and England. Scotland has probably got Europe's oldest monarchy, going back to Fergus Mor who died AD501. One day William and Kate may be on the British throne, but this is not the throne of England.
As the poet wrote, "More than the English have fought for the flag that more than the English own" – English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish.
Donald J MacLeod
Academies fail the Ebac test
A key government policy for school improvement since 2002 has been the creation of publicly funded schools, free of local authorities. Academies are claimed to achieve better GCSE results than LA schools.
The evidence on this is clearly mixed, with statistics on academy results questioned by the introduction of Michael Gove's English Baccalaureate. There are real doubts about whether the Ebac is the right mix of subjects in our schools. But given this is the Government's chosen measure, it throws a glaring light on academy performance.
The press focused on the Government statistic that only 16 per cent of pupils achieved Ebac. But the statistics were even worse in Academies. The Times Educational Supplement reported that in 58 of the 187, or 31 per cent of academies where pupils sat GCSEs last year, no Ebacs were achieved. On the other hand, only 8 per cent of non-academy comprehensives and secondary moderns failed to score on Ebac.
Academy schools can argue that Labour set up academies in deprived areas. So a comparison has to be made with schools with similar intakes. However, study of schools with similar proportions of pupils on free school meals, a total of 970, showed that only 169 completely failed on the Ebac, a figure of 17 per cent. This is significantly better than the 31 per cent of the comparable academy proportion.
Critics of Academies have long argued they do not work. Ebac seems to prove this. The silence from the Government is remarkable. The debate on whether Ebac is appropriate must continue, but that on Academies is approaching a critical point. The Government cannot claim Academies are successful when their own chosen measure of success shows they are not.
Prof Richard Pring
Green Templeton College, Oxford
Editor, Education Politics
Sir Peter Newsam
Prof John Elliott
Centre for Applied Research, University of East Anglia
Prof Michael Fielding
Institute of Education
Chair, Local Government Information Unit
Prof Bob Moon
Research Group on International Development in Teacher Education, the Open University
Right to die or a 'duty' to die?
While I would second Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's endorsement of Terry Pratchett's dictum: "My life, my death, my choice" (18 April), I cannot share her confidence that external pressures won't play an increasing role in that choice. The issue can't be seriously debated without putting it in its economic context.
With social care in a state of near collapse, the NHS on the brink of privatisation and welfare benefits cut, the economic implications of chronic illness or disability are becoming starker than ever. With the cost of just four hours of social care a day rising above £20,000 a year, the prospect of leaving one's partner in penury for the "selfishness" of a few more years or months of existence must start to bear more heavily on the conscience, making the autonomy of that "choice" more circumscribed by economic considerations and the guilt of being a "drain on the family" than many supporters of the "right to die"' would admit.
As inequality rises, the tax base is eroded and the ideology of small government tightens its grip, it's a decision more of us will have to face.
Name and address supplied
I can perfectly understand the Rev Bernard O'Connor's insistence that, for him, assisted dying will never be an option, and I defend his right to live and die by his own beliefs (letter, 20 April). But surely he would not want to deny that same freedom of choice to others.
We have autonomy in almost every aspect of our lives today, as long as we do not harm others, except when it comes to that most final, private and personal of choices: the manner of our dying. The state decides for us. Surely it is only the most zealous of collectivists who would continue to insist that intensely suffering people should be kept alive against their will.
Horses know who is ahead
Sue Montgomery, in her article of 23 April, quite rightly makes the point that the sudden impact of a whip may drive a hard-ridden racehorse through the pain barrier to the point of damage. However, I would dispute that a horse never knows when he is first in a race.
Horses are indeed flight creatures but among their own kind they can be aggressive, dominant and dangerous. A dominant horse of either sex will always want to be ahead of the herd.
I have a 28-year-old who has always been in charge of whoever is in his field; teeth and heels are brought to bear in the last resort, but generally it takes "just one look" to keep his stable-mates behind him, meekly queueing in order. As a hunter and endurance horse he was keen always to be in front. I have a mare who is the same. Once, she and the old gelding got in together. There was an almighty fight.
I feel that the top-class racehorse is an individual with more brains and drive than the average, which qualify him to be the leader of the pack, whether or not he has a little bloke with a whip on his back. It is the little bloke's and the little bloke's boss's job to see that their charge's talent is not exploited.
P A Reid
A reminder to remember
Dominic Lawson writes: "With the whole world of knowledge so readily available at the click of a mouse, we decreasingly need to make the effort to remember, knowing we can have any information recalled before our eyes in a flash." (19 April.)
Socrates, as reported by Plato, had a similar issue with writing almost 2,500 years ago: "[Writing] will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality. Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so." (Phaedrus 275a-b.)
I think we'll probably remember enough to be OK.
Kettled by the Third Reich
Tom Sutcliffe (19 April) questions the origin of the word "kettling", in the context of police crowd control. It could originate from the German verb einkesseln, a military term meaning to encircle or trap in a pocket. The German noun is der Kessel, meaning in military usage, a pocket. In non-military usage, it means a kettle.
My own experience of the military meaning was indelibly impressed on my memory when I was working in Germany as a student in the 1970s and I got into conversation with a former Wehrmacht officer. He described one action which he had fought thus: "Wir haben sie eingekesselt und haben alles verheert." (We encircled them and destroyed everything.) I still recall the conversation with a chill.
US returns to the Barbary Coast
I am not sure that I can agree with your assessment that, for the United States and others, "Libya was never seen as especially strategically important" (leading article, 23 April).
The USA fought its first war outside its own borders against the Pasha of Tripoli between 1801 and 1805, and the exploits of US military "boots on the ground" on the "shores of Tripoli" are remembered to this day in the hymn of the US Marine Corps. Another short war followed in 1815.
President Obama is a keen student of American history and will need no lessons on the dangers of being sucked into conflict on the Barbary Coast.
Pity us poor Lib Dems. After a year of harmony when we have sustained a right-wing government more radical than Thatcher, we appear to have rediscovered that our partner in government is the nasty party. Wonderful!
Dibden & Hythe, Hampshire
Perspectives on Israel and the Arabs
Holocaust to blame for today’s brutalities
Howard Jacobson (23 April) writes: “Jews are doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to the moral wasteland of having found no humanising redemption in its horrors.”
Mr Jacobson misses the point entirely: the Holocaust was one of the most despicable events in history, devastating in its cruelty. So cruel and devastating in fact, that the ultimate result was a nation state, now grown to full strength and maturity that behaves just like an adult, once cruelly abused as a child, now abusing children.
It is the evil of the Holocaust that is to blame for the cold, heartless brutality of the state of Israel today, as portrayed in The Promise. Palestinians are humiliated and abused on a daily basis. Documented and confirmed stories emerge daily of IDF soldiers abusing their authority, of detaining women in labour at checkpoints until they give birth in the street, for example.
To be anti-Zionist is not to be anti-Semitic. Human rights matter. The Palestinian people deserve justice and peace as much as the State of Israel deserves to exist.
One might have some respect for the views of Howard Jacobson, if he demonstrated awareness of the history of the state he so vigorously defends. He might, for instance, acknowledge the way in which Zionists planned to displace the existing population of Palestine decades before the Holocaust, as recorded in their own words. Or the atrocities of Zionist terrorist gangs in both the pre- and post-Holocaust period – and the fact that two terrorist leaders (Begin and Shamir) later became Prime Ministers.
But no, he yet again portrays Israel’s critics as anti-Semites – and, more pathetically, condemns Peter Kosminsky as the archetypal self-hating Jew.
It is natural for Howard Jacobson to speak eloquently in celebration of Jewish history from his own point of view. It would be interesting to hear what he has to say to those many Palestinians living in the prison of Gaza and under occupation who also yearn to go home. What does he advise them to do in the face of injustice? Grin and bear it?
Least of region’s evils
Having seen what Assad is doing in Syria, what the Bahraini King aided by the Saudis is doing and what the Libyans are doing, I must concede that Israel is the very least of all the evils in the region.
We can no longer argue with the fact that Israel, compared to Syria, is a democracy of shining credentials. We must still make the Israeli law and military squeaky clean, but must give them support. They are clearly surrounded by fascist or Islamist states.
Kings Lynn, Norfolk
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