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- Arts + Ents
The “Alternative Queen’s Speech” of Private Members’ Bills (report, 25 June) provides an illustrative insight into the ignorance and/or deviousness of Tory MPs. Let us take just one Bill as an example: the Prisoners (Completion of Custodial Sentences) Bill.
Taken at face value this demonstrates rank ignorance. If all UK prisoners served their full term, then we would need many more jails to house the expanded prison population. Currently, sentence reductions are used as a means of managing the prison population. “Time off for good behaviour” is not there for the benefit of prisoners, but of prison officers, for whom it provides leverage over prisoner behaviour.
Of course, it may well be that Tory MPs aren’t ignorant, but are aware of the implications of this Bill – and intend to profit from it. Any Tory-led expansion of prisons would certainly involve the private sector in both the construction and running of them. It would be no surprise to find Tory MPs with significant interests in (or subsequently becoming directors of) private security and construction firms awarded contracts for this work.
While many of the Bills are indeed “laughable”, the mindset that creates them is very disturbing.
If it were men whose faces were covered because they encouraged intimacy; whose very identity and window on the world had to be blotted out because it revealed their nakedness and shame to the opposite sex; who were beaten and imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for daring to show their faces in public – then perhaps a Bill to restrict the wearing of the burka in public would not appear so high up in Donald Macintyre’s list of “laughable” and “chilling” “right-wing lunacy”.
Save money and limit the pain of cuts
The Chancellor’s cuts would not need to be so pronounced if there was a stronger culture of performance management across the Government. Companies must have a relentless focus on efficiency and effective decision-making to succeed. The Government is no different, but there is currently too much emphasis on populist policies, to the detriment of real priorities.
Last month it was revealed that a third of projects are late or over budget. And with 190 major projects with an estimated cost of £350bn, this is a big concern.
There are encouraging signs in the public sector, such as the professionally qualified accountants brought in to improve management information. Whitehall must now open up to the best practice ideas on offer from the business leaders introduced by Lord Browne and Francis Maude.
Chief Executive, Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, London SW1
The death of public service
Dominic Lawson has once again demonstrated his talent for looking through the wrong end of the telescope (25 June). He is of course right that people in the public services are only human, and some may indeed be prone to feathering their own nests. But what does he expect from a society that has spent several decades promoting unrestrained greed and ambition?
Government control of public sector pay has far more frequently been used to restrain pay than the opposite; at the same time, we have seen the other part of society – that which goes to work each day primarily to extract as much profit for itself as possible, rather than to contribute to the collective wellbeing – heaped with praise and allowed to accrue vast fortunes.
Public services have been remodelled along quasi-corporate lines and told to behave as though they are businesses. League tables and other performance indicators are nothing more than pseudo profit-markers, so it is hardly surprising that the erstwhile public services have also started chasing “profit”, and that those powerful enough to do so within those organisations have started behaving in a similar way to some business executives.
I am certainly not condoning illegal or unethical behaviour, but Lawson needs to realise that for public services to operate as fully in the public interest as possible, they actually need to be insulated from the conflicts of self-interest and competition. The business model is simply not suitable for health, education and policing, and it is no coincidence that the level of malfunction has increased the more services have emulated businesses.
The state needs to provide a reasonable settlement with the public servants so that they do not need to fight their own corner and can concentrate on serving, but this has broken down.
I J Stock
Dominic Lawson is wrong to say that if you don’t like the way you are treated in your local hospital, there isn’t another one down the road where you can take your custom. There are other fairly local hospitals, but because of the way this government has passed responsibility for purchasing care to our GPs, patients are not being referred to other centres.
For example, where I live, my GPs’ practice has awarded the contract to Basildon Hospital. I asked if a patient could be referred to another hospital if they requested it, and was told no. There was only a very small amount of money left over after this contract was awarded and that was for patients who required treatment in a specialist hospital.
Of course the Government will say that it is up to GPs to make this decision, but they are caught between a rock and a hard place. I was told by a GP in the practice that if they don’t give the funding to a local hospital it will close.
So much for patient choice.
Inspiration for Darcy’s house
On 24 June you published a picture of a Regency evening held at Chatsworth to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. You say that Mr Darcy’s house, Pemberley, is believed to be inspired by Chatsworth, because the book was written in Bakewell.
It is not thought that Jane Austen ever went to Bakewell or saw Chatsworth, because she never travelled that far north. Of course she may have read about it. What is quite certain is that Pride and Prejudice was written in Hampshire and not in Bakewell. The first draft, called First Impressions, was written in Steventon near Basingstoke, in 1796. Later she “lop’t and crop’t” this manuscript at her house in Chawton, and Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813. You can still see the table where she wrote it in the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton.
Chairman, Jane Austen Society, Winchester
How to beat the snoopers
It seems that no electronic data transmission is safe from interception by various agencies of varying probity (“Prism, privacy and the tragic triumph of the Nixon doctrine”, 26 June).
Here is a method of defeating the snoopers: write the information by hand on a piece of paper, fold the paper, then insert it into an envelope. Write the address of the person for whom the communication is intended on the envelope, attach a postage stamp and drop it into a convenient mail box.
These days the primary purpose of the Royal Mail is to deliver unwanted advertising material to households, but perhaps there is room in the mail sacks for the occasional private communication.
Beyond the middle lane
Yesterday, driving to the end of the M4 (which stops 10 miles short of Carmarthen) I pondered the correspondence about drivers hogging the middle lane of motorways. As we might say here “A motorway with a middle lane! Duw there’s posh!”
For most of its length in Wales the M4 is a two-lane road, a concrete testament to the long-term low infrastructure investment in Wales
Typically, the middle-lane hogging correspondence has been hogging the letters pages for too long. Time to turn off at the next exit?
South Nutfield, Surrey
Probe the crime, not the victim
Is Alton really in Hampshire? From the comments of Paul Dunwell writing from there (26 June) to applaud police intrusion upon the Lawrence family, it might be on the Moon.
It is not the business of the police to investigate the background of a murdered person, looking for “a ruffian from a criminal background”. That would be a case of the victim being presumed guilty until regretfully acknowledged innocent.
What might properly have been investigated (by another force) were the friendly connections widely alleged, between certain local policemen and the known criminal father of one of the suspects.
I’m baffled why the Moors murderer Ian Brady is given so much prominence in the press and the BBC. Why is this creep, who committed his ghastly crimes in 1963, still given the oxygen of publicity to bore us with details of his meetings with Ronnie Kray and opine on the judgment of previous Home Secretaries and Prime Ministers. We have an unhealthy obsession with this villain, and really – who cares?
The Royal Navy’s decision to ditch the traditional toast to “sweethearts and wives” in favour of “families” is an example of wimpish political correctness. Fortunately the MoD made no mention of abolishing another much-loved toast: “To the wind that blows, the ship that goes, and the lass that loved a sailor.” I dread to think what the PC version of that might be.
Commander Roger Paine RN
Hellingly, East Sussex
Your quiz in the Magazine on 22 June lists the three great Greek tragedians as “Aristotle, Sophocles and Euripides”. I’m sure Aeschylus would find it an outstanding example of tragic irony to have his name replaced by that of a critic.
Has it come to this? “The 19-year-old beats No 10 seed in straight sets – but only her and Murray keep home hopes alive” (headline, 26 June). Her indoors and myself was horrified.
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The BBC could be toast if the Tories narrowly sneak back into power with minor party support
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