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Wednesday 20 February 2013
Letters: Too late for Britain in India
For the last 11 years, my wife and I have visited India every year. During that time, British influence has dropped from negligible to invisible. One reason has been the campaign from the Tory right against "illegal" immigrants, which some Indian newspapers seize upon as an example of "neo-colonialism".
Another reason is the decline in popularity of the BBC. The TV arm, BBC World, now charges a connection fee, which most hotels and individuals will not pay. The radio arm, the World Service – Britain's "priceless asset", in the words of Kofi Annan – dropped its English by Radio programmes. Millions throughout the world acquired a good working knowledge of the language, but also a better understanding of British values, through listening to the news before or after the programme, an example of "soft power".
Finally, Indian students pay a premium to study here compared with the US. The daughter of friends in Kerala wanted to do a doctorate at Imperial College, London, following her master's degree there, but could get no support. So she is now in California, having taken the best of three offers.
So what is left? Still some goodwill and an appetite to learn English and a respect for British connections, especially in the armed services. But that is a long way from what it could be and should be. My reaction to the fine words of David Cameron in India is: "Too little and too late."
William Robert Haines
Is it my imagination or is David Cameron spending more time on foreign travels than in Downing Street? At the moment he is in India, not long before he was in Geneva, and not long before then he was travelling around Africa. Is it possible that the Prime Minister has been looking at the leadership ratings of the main three political parties and feels that he is more popular abroad than he is at home? Or am I just hoping that he won't come home?
Coal, gas and nuclear – the energy dilemma
Coal power stations will be closing at a time when coal prices are low and gas prices higher ("Britain warned to prepare for an energy dark age", 20 February). Gas is plentiful in the world, but the pipeline and liquefaction infrastructure does not exist to allow it to be freely transported to the UK. While, say, US gas prices are very low, gas is much more expensive in Europe, including the UK.
Other options such as new nuclear are some time from being available, and renewables in the UK are mostly costly at present, although the industry is confident it can reduce prices if it can see large-scale orders. A stable regime and confidence in decarbonisation targets is required to bring this investment forward.
So in the short term we need gas-fired plant to replace coal closures. In the longer term we need to look at the energy system as a whole, maximising the opportunities to use less energy, and balancing use of the full range of low-carbon energy sources to give us a clean energy system without vulnerability to price shocks. But doing so will not be cheap.
Dr Simon Harrison
Institution of Engineering and Technology, London WC2
I cannot believe that the looming electricity supply crisis has come as a surprise. Before privatisation there was a body known as the Central Electricity Generating Board whose responsibility was strategic planning and long-term commissioning of generating capacity to ensure the country's electricity supply was secure.
Since privatisation, no such body has existed and money which should have been spent on planning and investment has gone to shareholders. The current crisis has arisen because of political ideology, which has seen electricity supply run as a commercial business rather than an essential public service. The generating element of the industry should be taken back by the state to ensure proper planning and investment
An immediate way to alleviate the forecast energy shortage would be to adopt the fuel tariff escalator, a billing system with no standing charge, where the first units are set at a low rate and units rise in price as the quantity increases. This discourages profligate energy consumption, while relieving the burden of "fuel poverty".
Long term, 10 to 15 years, the solution is development of safe, environmentally friendly nuclear power generated with the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR). Britain has the engineers and the knowledge to achieve world-leading energy self-sufficiency (also fossil fuel free) with the LFTR technology. It just needs the will, and deviation of resources from problematic uranium-based nuclear.
Easter Compton, South Gloucestershire
A directive on Eurospeak
While I sympathise with the attempt by Jeremy Gardner (a translator at the European Court of Auditors) to purge the use of nonsense words by the EU, especially the inappropriate use of "Anglo-Saxon", I can't understand why he is so exercised by "informatics" and "modality" ("EU told to planificate end of nonsense", 16 February").
The New Oxford Dictionary of English indicates that the former has been around since the 1960s and refers to "the science of processing data for storage and retrieval", while the latter – meaning "modal quality" or "a particular mode in which something exists or is experienced or expressed" – has its origins in the 17th century.
I wish Mr Gardner success in his mission to clean up Eurospeak, but I suspect it will fall victim to his having failed to consult a good English dictionary before compiling his hit list.
Professor David Head
Director of Innovative Partnerships, University of Lincoln
You report EU employees generating non-English words such as "comitology". Another problem is the infiltration of American English.
I worked for a British chemical company that was taken over by a Finnish company. Soon we were being told that we were using incorrect English spellings: apparently there is an International Standard for the English Language, and words like "sulphur" and "colour" are not recognised by it; we needed to use "sulfur", and "color".
This adoption of American English seems to be widespread: I recently bought a republication of a story by Nicholas Blake (one-time Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis). The book was published in 2012 and printed in the UK, yet all the spellings had been changed to American. Why not leave the story as Blake wrote it?
Ian K Watson
Ten years on, Blair still hated
During the period before and after the Iraq war I worked in Cairo. My colleagues were mainly Arab, of several nationalities. Steve Richards' excellent analysis of the reasons why we went to war (19 February) will not surprise them, as they raised such points in discussion with me in those awful times. What really disappointed them was the failure of the British, as a nation, to reject the war on moral grounds.
Blair is still hated and his "career" since then has reinforced that hatred. He is no longer of any relevance, but, more importantly, the British nation lost many friends. We will continue to suffer from that loss, long after he has gone. Any British interference in Middle Eastern affairs is now treated with a mixture of contempt and ridicule. Such is Blair's legacy.
Scotland's Irish problem
The Scottish National Party seems to be very keen to talk about the break-up of the Union with London or England, but less keen to discuss what the other regions of the UK have to say.
We in Cornwall with our own language and culture feel that a Union without Scotland will be much the poorer, as, I am sure, do our Welsh cousins. Yet Alex Salmond has given us no say.
He is also keen to avoid discussion of the largely Scottish legacy issues in the North of Ireland. In the horrible dawn of an independent nationalist Scotland, Edinburgh must not be allowed to leave the issue of Northern Ireland as a solely London, Dublin, Truro and Cardiff one. The current flag protests seem to have a fair few saltires present.
Penzance, Kernow, UK
How to curb City greed
In response to our financial woes, Ian Birrell argues that "we do not need more regulation, we need better regulation" (20 February). Sadly, I believe this will fail.
Regulation tends to be ineffective in the financial arena. The greedy and antisocial will always try to find ways to circumvent it. The state does not have the resources to police such complex activities.
The only answer is penal rates of tax on salaries over, say, £50,000. This will remove the greed incentive. Nobody needs to be earning more than this, when some are living in poverty.
Mark of social distinction
In two sections of your 14 February issue you report on plans by Gary Goldsmith, uncle of the Duchess of Cambridge, to publish a book. Both writers refer to the fact that Mr Goldsmith sports "body art". Tom Peck makes reference to "Kate Middleton's tattooed, Ibiza-dwelling uncle"; John Walsh to "the tattooed, thrice-married property developer".
The implication is dismayingly clear: "tattooed" in this context being your correspondents' not-so-subtle euphemism for "oik". Is this kind of thing really appropriate for a sensible, egalitarian newspaper in the 21st century?
Old, rich and undeserving
Before any Dilnot-sanctioned savings liability kicks in, Dan Dennis thinks the elderly should be compelled to contribute to their care costs the whole of any "unearned and undeserved" gain from house price inflation (letter, 16 February).
Since when has there been a workable way of identifying wealth that is earned and deserved? If his basic concern is for state funding to take full account of unearned wealth, why confine the focus to care, why not also education; why only the elderly and not every beneficiary; and why house ownership and not all forms of property?
Hilary Mantel wittily likens the royals to pandas – expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But the Duchess of Cambridge has proved that the royals are easier to breed in captivity.
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