Letters: Time for the state to rescue public services

These letters appear in the Wednesday 26th November edition of the Independent

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You report that the Big Six have increased their profits threefold in three years (26 November) while households have faced soaring bills. Surely an incoming Labour government with an outright majority will have a mandate to dismantle the privatised utilities and start afresh with a radical restructuring of energy supply, along with water and the railway operators.

Few (beyond right-wing think tanks) weep for the failed property company that was Railtrack, so why not liquidate the Big Six, along with the water companies and rail operators, and replace them with not-for-profit trusts charged, by law, with the task of supplying services at the lowest possible cost to the customer? The not-for-profit Network Rail has transformed the rail network from the shambles presided over by shareholder-run Railtrack, so surely this is a strong paradigm for the reform of the household utilities?

Ownership issues aside, the current corporate structure of the utilities must also be addressed to skew benefits to the bill-payer, not the shareholder. Gas and electricity interests should be separated out, with so-called "dual-fuel" deals abolished. The gas supply network should be divested from the National Grid, which should revert to public ownership under perhaps a single British Electricity Trust for England and Wales.

If in 2015 the electorate deny the Conservatives their first majority in 23 years, Labour must wipe the slate clean and rebuild our dysfunctional utilities and public services to favour the consumer, not the man with a fat cigar.

Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex

 

The theme of Conservative market intervention that Steve Richards identifies in his column (26 November) is most advanced in the areas of industrial policy and higher education.

In industrial policy, David Willetts could not mention the Technology Strategy Board, a Labour invention, in the early months. Now he is a big supporter and has mounted a comprehensive assault on Thatcherite ideas. In a series of substantive speeches he has slaughtered the sacred cow of "no picking winners". The actual industrial policy we now have remains weak. There is for example still no money for industry sectors. But the intellectual case for that spending has been made from the Conservative side of the Cabinet table with nods from George Osborne.

And in higher education, Willetts' early rhetoric of a free market has been heavily tempered by the need for strong regulation to control public spending.

In both cases, Conservatives have not chosen either markets or intervention, but both.

William Cullerne Bown, Executive Chairman, Research Research Ltd, London EC2

Who's snooping on my tuna sandwich?

Andreas Whittam Smith (22 November) highlights the use of mass surveillance to recognise patterns of behaviour.

I fly from Edinburgh to Bristol most Monday mornings and I am now required to show my boarding pass to buy The Independent from WH Smith. The same when I buy my bottle of orange juice and tuna sandwich from Boots. I have asked why they need this information: no one has yet given me any sensible answer.

I can only assume that some zombie in GCHQ has noticed that every Monday at 7.30am, a grey-haired person travelling to Bristol always purchases an Independent plus orange juice plus tuna sandwich. This is definitely a "pattern", and patterns are suspicious are they not?

Should I be worried about my door being kicked in some morning at 6am? Why on earth is this vast store of useless information being gathered; where is it stored; who looks at it, never mind analyses it? Why do we meekly put up with such nonsense?

I now refuse to show my boarding pass - even The Independent is not worth the risk!

Tom Simpson, Bristol

 

Throughout several years of foam-flecked ranting about the completely unfounded threat to the liberty of British citizens posed by our membership of the European Union, it is gloriously ironic that the supposed "Land of the Free" has been secretly spying on all of us.

I do hope they have been keeping particularly close tabs on our dangerously irrational scare-mongering extremists in Ukip and on the right of the Conservative Party, who must presumably be all in favour of such intrusion.

Aidan Harrison, Rothbury, Nothumberland

 

Ukip's policy: get rid of unpopular things

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown suggests (25 November) that Ukip knows what it wants. I appreciate that the point of the article was to highlight the shortcomings of the Tory party - a very respectable aim - but I think that giving Ukip this kind of credit may be a touch misleading.

I had a quick look on its website. Out of the EU and an end to immigration; no surprise there. They don't believe in climate change - but the main reason seems to be that the EU does. Lots of fracking and a mass programme of nuclear power stations - hmm. Tax cuts of £77bn and a flat 25 per cent tax rate; the wealthy should be OK, then. Bring back selective grammar schools - bang goes the education of 80 per cent of the population. No restructuring of the NHS but control to be handed to County Boards - no contradiction there. No gay marriage; double the number of people in prison; no HS2; the hunting ban repealed; smoking in pubs allowed. Oh, and an end to "political correctness" and "multiculturalism".

The Ukip agenda is very clearly based on picking out all the things that people say they don't like, putting them on a list and simmering them with a generous sprinkle of xenophobia.

This (it seems to me) is not to be confused with a policy. Nigel Farage may be a nice guy, but what he represents is potentially much worse than the Tories ever were. Yasmin, can I lend you my long spoon?

Derek Chapman, Warnford, Hampshire

 

Church of England without a God

Ian Quayle (letter, 26 November) suggests that church members who agreed with Chris Beney (letter, 25 November) could no longer call themselves "Christians". Members of the Sea of Faith network have for more than 20 years been exploring and promoting religious faith as a human creation.

I accept the label of Christian as well as Humanist and see no contradiction. It is perfectly possible to follow the teachings of Jesus, who taught about bringing God's Kingdom on Earth, without my having any belief in an interventionist God or an afterlife.

To me, God is a metaphor for the sum of my highest values and their creative power, and Jesus a man who personified these values. The idea of God is real, even if (s)he is not. I find it perfectly logical that I attend my local church with my fellow Christians, each exploring the consequences of their belief in their own way. I am glad that the CofE is still broad enough to find room for me and those who think as I do.

Peter Stribblehill, Trustee, Sea of Faith, Melton Mowbray

Church of Humanism (letter, 26 November)? Ethics without dogma? Quakers, perhaps?

Lyn Atterbury, Pila, Poland

 

Let's have a go at languages

Alexander McGeoch is half right with his comments on the British Council's Languages for the Future report (letter, 25 November). Our report agrees with him that Spanish, French and German are still languages the UK needs. But his own argument only reinforces the importance of Arabic, Chinese and Japanese. As he says, he has "only come across a handful of British nationals who spoke Arabic with any degree of fluency, or indeed at all".

As to difficulty, non-European languages with different scripts are considered "harder", but 230 million native and 200 million second language speakers of Arabic suggest many people succeed. Add 1.2 billion Mandarin Chinese and 120 million Japanese speakers, and the total suggests it's not impossible, and well worth us having a try.

John Worne, Director of Strategy, British Council, London SW1

 

Whale of a time in Hull

As an exiled native of Hull, I was as pleased as anyone that the City's cultural heritage has been recognised. However, the photograph accompanying your article (21 November) shows not the City Hall, as labelled, but the Dock Company Offices, which are now a museum of Hull's whaling history.

It seems that a wider recognition of the city that Larkin once described as a place "where only salesmen and relations come" is long overdue.

Stan Broadwell, Bristol

 

All power to Margaret Hodge

Any idea how we can get Margaret Hodge to become Prime Minister? It wouldn't matter much (to me) which of the current awful parties she would lead - or maybe she can be persuaded to do a Borgen and start her own political party?

Paul Wallace, Telford, Shropshire

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