The Labour Party is the only political party that could implement Owen Jones’s inspiring “Agenda for Hope” (27 January), so we desperately need Labour to get elected in 2015.
But the trouble with Miliband and his glum frontbenchers is that they have no vision of what a rebuilt Britain could be like after the destructive Tory policies have ceased. They need to get a grip, to come up with detailed and comprehensive plans that will revitalise Britain, re-hearten their supporters and grab the imagination of the electorate. Not trivial ideas like breaking up the banks, or removing the deficit in five years, or a temporary tax of 50p, but plans to sweep away the worst of the Tories’ assault on the working class and to start to construct a fairer society.
After the collapse of the fantasies of Brown and the bankers in 2008, the Tories grabbed the chance to demolish the welfare state, privatise the NHS, sell off the national utilities, and reduce taxes on the wealthy. And to be as mean and nasty with the poor, the disabled, the unemployed, the sick and the elderly as only the Nasty Party knows how.
Labour would gain wholehearted support from all decent Britons if a Labour government was committed to rolling back the worst excesses of Tory policies. More positively, a commitment to have hundreds of thousands of new homes built at affordable prices would persuade many young people who feel that they have no reason to vote, to do so.
Owen Jones’ compelling rhetoric is simply that. For those who wish for a society where the state is involved in the lives of as few as possible, the Agenda for Hope is regulation-and-control socialism dressed up in “let’s all be nice to each other” verbosity.
“Democratic public ownership” and “allow all unions access to workplaces” would see professional activism led by the sort of profoundly undemocratic unions that purport to represent the very people Owen Jones wishes to save; the agenda would be hard-left and Owen Jones must know that.
You don’t free the poor by imprisoning them in social housing and fostering a mentality that when you’re better off by your own enterprise and ambition the state will then take half your income to pursue nirvana.
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire
Lost in the big city
So “huge numbers of young adults move to London and never return home” (“UK regions hit by brain drain”, 27 January).
I have just started reading a novel by Ivan Turgenev written in 1859. One of its themes concerns talented young people who leave home and head for Europe’s capital cities. They end up feeling “superfluous” and lost, without a grounded place in the world.
There is every chance that Turgenev’s books will become a popular read for the lost souls who travel on the Tube.
Westminster war on the oldest profession
Well said, Howard Jacobson (25 January). With the planned redevelopment of Walker’s Court being given the green light by Westminster, yet another slice of Soho’s history and culture is to be bulldozed, despite much local opposition – as if the Luftwaffe and Crossrail haven’t done enough between them already.
Soho Estates, Westminster and, with the recent police raids on sex workers’ premises, the powers that be, appear to be waging war on the oldest profession (also a local “core industry”). This will merely serve to drive activity elsewhere or underground, which can be very dangerous for sex workers.
Of course, the police must act to stamp out trafficking, pimping and other illegal nasties, but the oldest profession is legal and there will always be demand for the services of “artistes”, no matter what the law says. How much more Disneyfication and Starbucking can our precious and unique neighbourhood stand?
I have lived in and loved Soho for almost 30 years and it breaks my heart when I think of what has been lost already. Soho Estates maintain that they are not trying to sanitise Soho, but that is exactly what they are doing.
Saudi Arabia shuns Syria extremists
The false claims made in the article “Now it’s Middle Eastern regimes fighting al-Qa’ida” (6 January) about the Kingdom financing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are of the utmost seriousness. The Embassy refutes such implications and finds them an inaccurate and misleading account of the situation.
We would assume our attitude towards violent extremism is clear. In the light of the article, however, we would like to take this opportunity to again clarify our position and the imprecision of this accusation.
Saudi Arabia continues to show its support for the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Opposition. Global hesitation to do the same, we believe, is acting as a large barrier in movement towards peace. It is only too easy to assign blame for indecisiveness and hesitation in the support of the Syrian Opposition to fear of indirectly enabling the involvement of al-Qaeda within Syria.
In reality, it is this lack of international involvement that is paving the way for terrorist-affiliated networks to breed within Syria. Saudi Arabia has unremittingly emphasised that provision of support to forces of moderation is the most effective manner in which to stunt the growth of forces of extremism within Syria.
The Kingdom continues through the Friends of Syria group to urge the international community to be more courageous in displaying their support for the coalition and the Free Syrian Army, who are in desperate need of international assistance.
Mohammed bin Nawaf Al Saud
Ambassador, Embassy of Saudi Arabia, London W1
Costs of flooding in Somerset
R Horsington Graham’s letter on the Somerset flooding (14 January) only describes part of the problem. Since 2000, there have been seven flood events on the river Tone, three in the past two years. The Environment Agency has a policy to flood an area of some 15 square miles in times of heavy rainfall and pump the water into the river at a later date.
A number of us from our village did a cost-benefit analysis on the impact of this water and the cost to the taxpayer of the resultant pumping. Regardless of the damage done to businesses and private individuals, it quickly became apparent that the Environment Agency was wasting several million on pumping when dredging was cheaper for the taxpayer and far more beneficial for the local people.
When we pointed this out to the Government, they asked the Environment Agency to try to placate us. The EA didn’t dispute our figures; they couldn’t since we based the calculations on their costs, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
North Curry, Somerset
Fetishists who run down the NHS
Vivienne Rendall praises the NHS service in Northumberland, and then adds that if standards were as high in the rest of the country, “there would be none of this constant carping at the NHS” (letter, 23 January).
I suspect that however good the NHS was, there would still be relentless “carping”, because Conservatives have a vested interest in denigrating it, so that they can then “justify” handing it, piece by piece, over to their private-sector chums.
Of course the NHS is far from perfect, but much of the endless denigration is politically motivated, and emanates primarily from free-market fetishists in the Conservative Party who are ideologically opposed to the public sector, and look for any excuse or example to criticise it.
Few private schools want to be academies
You report Lord Adonis’s assertion that up to 100 independent schools are poised to join the state sector (23 January). However, this was a throw-away comment at the Social Market Foundation and reflects the noble Lord’s political aspirations rather than any sense of reality.
Of the 15 private schools that have used the 2010 Act to convert to a free school or academy, most were struggling for numbers and a few used the opportunity to return to their direct-grant roots. All are now finding that the constraints of the state education sector, notably in funding, are eroding any sense of independence, with larger class sizes and reduction in extra-curricular activities among the many consequences.
Lord Adonis is quite wrong in suggesting that independent schools are queuing up to join the state sector, and the few exploring such a route only see it as a last resort.
Chief Executive Officer, The Independent Schools Association, Saffron Walden, Essex