Letters: Unfettered capitalism

How the law masks the wrongs of unfettered capitalism
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There are two factors in the "super-injunction" affair that should surprise no one (report, 14 October). The first is that a large company which might have something to hide should cower behind its pet law firm to avoid public scrutiny. The second is the willingness of lawyers to be employed in such an exercise.

No, these incidents are simply part of living in a world where the primacy of unfettered markets is once again in the ascendant and in which there seems to be no activity so potentially nasty that it can't be shielded by an armoured division of expensive attorneys.

What's truly shocking is that the super-injunction should have been granted in the first place. Where was the judge when the lawyers came to call?

Richard Butterworth

London N13

While the shotgun-style "super-injunction" applied for by Messrs Carter-Ruck intended to hit not only the immediate target but anything in its vicinity, may seem unusual, there are medieval precedents.

When the Bishop of Exeter was in dispute with the Dominican Order in his diocese in 1276, the friars complained to the King that he had excommunicated not only themselves but also all their field-hands and mill-workers, together with anyone appearing on behalf of the Order in the ecclesiastical or civil courts; so they were denied both food and legal representation.

Sebastian Robinson


Would we be more honest than MPs?

As we once again explore the twists and turns and further reaches of MPs' expenses a basic fact seems to be ignored – in the 1980s it was recognised that they were paid less than others with jobs of similar importance and difficulty. Government feared the backlash that might result from a straightforward rise in salary and so made it easier to claim a wider range of expenses.

I would plead with all who comment to consider honestly and calmly what they would have done in similar circumstances. I try to live a moral life, but had I, as happened to one MP, been presented with a ready made-out form by an accountant saying something like "It may seem odd, but it isn't actually illegal to tell the Inland Revenue that one of your houses is your main home while telling the Fees Office it is the other; just sign here and you'll get several thousand more in expenses", I think I would have signed.

Are those who now fulminate so enjoyably sure their consciences are more finely honed than mine?

Ann Duncombe


The leaders of the main political parties are all guilty of gross hypocrisy in their scramble to denounce their MPs' expenses. They all seem to have thought this venality was perfectly acceptable as long as nobody found out.

If our MPs genuinely believe they are being treated unfairly, instead of public contrition they should simply carry on just as before, and then defend the morality of their actions before the public at the next election.

At which point the people of Redditch, for example, can decide for themselves whether they wish to continue being represented in Parliament by a lady who finds the place so disagreeable that she chooses to make her main home many miles away in her sister's spare room. And the canny burghers of Kirkcaldy can opt either to carry on paying 12 grand for Gordon's cleaner, or to elect someone with a more thrifty approach to domestic hygiene.

John Shepherd

Cockermouth, Cumbria

I work in a commercial organisation which has a clear expenses policy, one of whose overarching principles is to spend the company's money as if it were one's own. This commonsense approach seems to be mirrored in the MPs' Green Book of rules, which requires expenses to be "reasonable".

All Sir Thomas Legg has done is put some parameters around what "reasonable" means. He is not seeking to move the goal posts, as many MPs have claimed, he is merely applying a commonsense interpretation of what is already in place.

The MPs lost a long time ago the right to any public sympathy in this matter. They should stop whining, grow up and get on with what they were elected to do.

Derren Berresford


The discussion about MPs expenses, boils down to this:

Most claims were within the rules. So that is all right. Those which were outside the rules (eg relating to non-existent mortgages) were all simple mistakes and so should be forgiven. The rules were altered to give MPs a pay rise without letting the public know. That is deliberate cheating and is absolutely unforgivable. Please tell me which unscrupulous people were responsible for these changes.

Tony Baker

Thirsk, North Yorkshire

I had some sympathy with those MPs who are being castigated for expenses that were within the rules at the time they were incurred, however absurd or unreasonable they may have been.

But then I remembered how the terms of my son's student loan were changed by the Government retrospectively when inflation went negative, thus increasing his indebtedness over the next 15 years or so.

Nic Siddle


Care scheme does not add up

Dr Ben Ferrett (Letter, 9 October) is rightly sceptical of Tory claims that their "home protection scheme" could be provided on a "commercially viable" basis. For a one-off payment of £16,000 per couple at the age of 65, it promises lifetime insurance cover in the event of nursing home care becoming necessary. He asks: "Why hasn't it been offered by commercial insurers already?"

The answer is that, in the form of "long-term care bonds" promoted by reputable firms, it has, and in fact proved to be unsustainable. In my wife's case at the age of 68 we invested £10,000 in such a bond, the declared aim of which was to provide any necessary care "throughout the insured person's life". Eight years later she was notified that all cover would cease at 85 years of age, an additional investment of £16,654 being required to ensure continuous care throughout her lifetime.

Complaints about similar experiences of long-term care bonds by ourselves and other investors were referred to the Ombudsman services, and compensation of up to £30,000 awarded against the companies concerned.

Dr Robert Heys

Sowerby bridge, West Yorkshire

An opportunity for poor countries

Paul Collier is right to highlight the danger of diminishing finance for the poorest developing countries as a result of the crisis ("The Flight of finance from Africa", 12 October).

The Catholic aid agency, CAFOD, believes that money to developing countries needs not only to be "well used" but also "well given". Reallocating Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) can represent significant opportunity for the poorest countries as it avoids the problems of conditional lending of the past. However, it is critical that the cost of converting SDRs is stabilised so that countries can predict their costs into the future.

Collier argues that funds must be used only for "investment", and contrasts spending that reaches poor people with productive spending. But would education and literacy programmes simply consume resources, or are they an investment in business capacity? CAFOD recently called for greater support to poor households and social spending in areas such as health and education to ensure that long-term consequences of the crisis do not fall on future generations.

The great opportunity of SDRs is that countries are free to delineate what they are spent on. Reasonable financing arrangements are ones that countries will be able to pay back, and ones that are not used to coerce governments into a two-tier system – spending freedom for the richest countries, and conditionalities for the poorest.

Amy Pollard

Policy Analyst, Development Effectiveness, CAFOD

London SW9

Dangerous Tory allies in Europe

Your leading article of 14 October rightly describes the Conservative decision to join a new right-wing group in the European Parliament as ill-judged. But you underplay its significance by discussing this only in the context of Tory divisions on Europe and in simply calling their new partners "dubious".

David Cameron's decision to join with parties with a record of climate-change denial, open homophobia and a desire to rewrite the history of the Second World War is dangerous.

That this question concerns Brussels and Strasbourg should not diminish its significance for everyone who cherishes democratic rights in Britain. The Tories must recognise their mistake and detach themselves from the new grouping forthwith.

Richard Howitt MEP

(Lab, East of England) Human Rights Sub-Committee, European Parliament, Brussels

Why Morecambe needed Wise

Ernie Wise played a pompous yet lovable character who provided the ideal authority figure to egg Eric Morecambe on to ever greater excess.

If, as Tom Sutcliffe suggests (13 October), Ernie's role could have been better filled by someone else, then which straight-man of the era did he have in mind? Mike Winters? Sid Little? Tommy Cannon? Could Eric and Ernie's scriptwriter, Eddie Braben, have turned these base metals into gold? Far from being "generous" in his praise of Wise, Eric Morecambe simply understood what a great, and irreplaceable, find his partner was.

Stewart Lee

London N16

Proud to be a granny

Your Ultimate Apps guide (13 October) includes this: "Fingerprint scanner. An incredibly childish way of fooling technological dunces . . . Your granny won't know the difference when it tells her she's had access denied". Does your writer think that all older women who are lucky enough to have grandchildren are mentally deficient?

In the same day's paper I read that Ruth Frith (100) set a new world record at the World Masters Games in Sydney and Elinor Ostrom (76) became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics.

Why has "granny" become a derogatory term? I'm an illustrator, and a grandmother of seven wonderful children, and I consider myself blessed, not cursed, to be a grandmother.

Jane Morwood

Ely, Cambridgeshire


A teacher's role

I am slightly puzzled by Sir Terry Leahy's comment that my main job, as a teacher, is passing on knowledge to pupils (report, 14 October). I can assure him that when you try to pass on knowledge to pupils they tend to switch off after a few minutes. My main job is to create the environment where pupils can access, create and scrutinise knowledge.

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich, West Midlands

Art unveiled

At last the critics, such as Tom Lubbock (14 October) have admitted what we out here already believed: Damien Hirst is no good as a painter. Will we now admit that many of the others of his ilk – Rothko, Pollock et al – are also no good as artists? They do nice designs for wall tiles or summer frocks, but not serious art. Is this the beginning of the end for the post-First World War art sham?

Mike Bell


Councillors maligned

Steve Richards (13 October) bemoans the selection of "plodding councillors" as candidates for Westminster. All walks of life have plodders, but Mr Richards should recognise that councillors up and down the country who are running administrations have responsibilities way above those of backbench MPs. I am the deputy leader of a Lib Dem-SNP coalition in a large Scottish council. We are responsible for a budget of approximately £1bn providing over 900 services for some 360,000 people. We can't afford to plod.

Councillor Elizabeth Riches

Anstruther, Fife

Iraq war and Cabinet

If the Chilcot inquiry finds that the British government went to war illegally, Mr Blair is not the only one who must bear responsibility and face legal sanctions. The doctrine of Cabinet collective responsibility means that all members of the Cabinet are equally responsible for the decision to go to war. Only those who left the Cabinet prior to the start of the war would be free of the threat of legal sanctions.

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northamptonshire

Champagne etiquette

In response to Mike Abbot's letter on how Tories hold champagne glasses (15 October), we can safely assume that the bunch of socialists who go by the name of New Labour are competent and experienced in correct champagne-guzzling techniques.

Simon Robinson

London SE21