Following the sudden death of our police and crime commissioner in the West Midlands, a by-election has been called for 21 August. The first I knew of this was when the voting card arrived, there having been no advance publicity. As I am on holiday then I have applied for a postal vote.
The ballot paper has four names on it: one candidate from each of the main parties plus Ukip. There are no independents and they are all men of a certain age; though thankfully one is from an ethnic minority.
Persistence was required when searching the internet to find some information about these people, there being no printed material. What I finally found was an extremely brief document with barely half a page per candidate, containing a few predictable platitudes and the usual political statements, on which basis I am supposed to determine who will be best placed to oversee policing in a region containing over three million people.
We have ended up with the inevitable politicisation of local policing predicted when this ill-advised system was introduced. The process discourages independent candidates and excludes those with no access to the internet, while the timing of the election will result in a turnout even lower than the lamentable 15 per cent we managed last time.
The sooner we do away with this travesty of democracy the better.
Discover the real Cambridge
Rosie Millard’s experience (11 August) at the Cambridge University open day is disappointing. As a comprehensively educated recent graduate at Robinson College, who worked the open days tirelessly trying to dispel myths and welcome prospective students, I find it very frustrating to read that poor management and apparent complacency put her daughter off applying.
It is quite possible to have a great experience studying and living there, meeting fantastic people from all over the world and of all backgrounds. I’d encourage anyone to talk to “real” Cambridge students, who can provide honest appraisals of uni life, and to have the confidence to take with a pinch of salt the pretensions of some of the unhelpful people who presented the university in such an unappealing and elitist fashion to Rosie and her daughter.
I survived three years without playing a single game of croquet.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Stranded at Orpington
Probably many readers will be in sympathy with Oliver Wright’s suggestion (Inside Whitehall, 13 August) that the nation’s main railways should be mutualised. But I wonder if it was entirely fair of him to accuse a Southeastern Trains employee of “surly indifference”?
“No one’s in charge here”, he said, when challenged. “They’re all at home in bed.” He was probably at least as angry as the passengers – frustrated at his inability to help them. Who could blame him?
Things used to be different. Faversham is a junction. Like Orpington, where Oliver Wright and other passengers were understandably put out, it sports sidings where electric multiple units are stabled between turns.
My memories, from commuter days, are that staff would work heroically to meet the needs of passengers in an emergency. On one occasion no up trains were coming through from either Dover or Ramsgate. To ensure that commuters still got up to London, the station master (there were such in those days) simply summoned up three multiple units from the sidings and found a driver and guard to run them.
In the absence of station masters at most stations, initiatives like that are now virtually impossible. They will become quite impossible once the present process of closing even quite modern signal boxes and replacing them with “regional operation centres” is complete.
Why on earth did Oliver Wright go back to Sevenoaks by bus when he was stranded at Orpington station? Even if the “surly” Southeastern station staff were unhelpful, surely it would have been sensible to continue towards London. In fact there are two bus routes, 61 and 208, from Orpington station to Bromley South station, where trains would have been running.
By all means blame un-cooperative staff – I have been on the receiving end of misleading information on Southern at West Croydon – but Mr Wright should have used a bit of initiative.
Oliver Wright doesn’t think a nationalised rail service would work. I beg to disagree.
I travel the East Coast rail line regularly from Darlington to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The services are usually punctual and the staff both on board and at the station are helpful and friendly. This service is nationalised in all but name, but it is to be sold off before the next election by this government despite making £250m a year profit. Such is their determination to prove that nationalisation doesn’t work.
Low Worsall, Cleveland
Gunfire over the moors
The grouse season is with us and once more some of our most beautiful moorland is being trampled by people who enjoy murdering and maiming beautiful birds which have been raised solely for the so-called sport of driven grouse shooting.
Not only are large areas of heather being cut and burned, despoiling wonderful views, but raptors are being persecuted to make grouse more available for the guns. While it is part of nature for hen harriers to attack grouse to feed their young, it is not part of nature for humans to rear grouse just to have them blasted out the sky for pleasure.
On Sunday nearly 600 people gathered in the Peak District to protest peacefully against this illegal killing of hen harriers and other birds of prey merely to enhance the chances of more grouse being shot. It is hoped that those organisations who own or manage moorland will now do more than just talk and take action to stop the killing of raptors and maybe, in time, even to stop driven grouse shooting.
The various fates of fish
Grace Dent is too eager to support the RSPCA’s bully-boy tactics (12 August), if the experience of my tyre fitter is anything to go by.
He has two tanks in his office with a splendid selection of tropical fish. One of the tanks contains a single, large, ugly specimen. A customer complained to the RSPCA and he was visited and told that the fish was lonely and needed company.
“I put other fish with him, but he ate them”, he said. He was then told that the sides of the tank should be painted black so that the fish did not feel intimidated by visiting customers.
“You should go to the shop down the road,” he told the officer. “They dip their fish in batter and fry and eat them.” He was told that this was not a laughing matter.
Let the wine speak for itself
Countries with a long tradition of wine making sell it in bottles designed for functionality according to the type of wine, and for elegance.
The latter characteristic invites consideration of the wine as it is poured and as it is tasted – be it alone or as a component of a meal. The labels of long-established châteaux are themselves the result of careful composition.
Having first become acquainted with wine while living in France many years ago, I am sure that I am not alone in being horrified at the thought of flashing a health warning under the noses of friends and guests as I address their glasses (“Put health warnings on beer and wine labels, say MPs”, 11 August)
The nasty label round the back already reiterates the volume of the bottle, and informs them of the concentration of alcohol and the number of “units” they should not exceed . I feel that I owe it to the wine and to my guests to remove this vulgar impertinence by soaking and scraping before my bottles reach the dinner table.
If we are to be insulted with even more information on these labels, or on third labels, might I request that they be attached to the bottle with a glue which yields to the gentle insertion of a thumb nail, to leave the bottle in its original unsullied condition.
Dominated by England
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown asks (11 August) why England holds contradictory opinions on Europe and Scotland, wanting to leave the former but stay in union with the latter. It’s a good question, but the answer’s easy, and to do with dominance.
England cannot dominate Europe (witness the recent election of the president) but feels it does dominate Scotland. Dominance is its idea of a relationship.