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Sunday 13 January 2013
Letters: US self-interest rears its head again
President Obama is worried the UK might leave the EU, as well he might be; it grows ever more likely. In 1975 the CIA poured big money into the "yes" campaign which had over 20 times the amount of the "no" campaign. The United States believes, rightly, that the EU is fundamentally hostile to the US in cultural, economic and foreign-policy matters. It is, therefore, desperate to have an Anglo-spheric Atlanticist power at the top table to restrain a power block of a centralised statist nature not un-akin to the old Soviet model.
As a regular speaker on the East Coast circuit I am familiar with this Washington-based geo-political outlook. There is no "special relationship". It died at Yalta. There is a special bond between the military and academic people, but it is personal.
Barbecues on the lawn at the White House are simply to keep prime ministers of smaller countries on side. So let us understand President Obama's view for what it is, the usual US self interest.
Godfrey Bloom MEP
(Ukip, Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire)
In "Some sense about Europe, at last" (10 January), you mention the very relevant statement from the US minister for Europe, but you do not mention the "attack" from the other direction. Both the French and Germans are now saying that we cannot expect to unilaterally change our terms of membership, which we accepted when we joined. This seems perfectly reasonable and consistent with the rules one would expect in any club. I cannot understand why this issue of Europe always becomes so important during periods of Conservative government. At other times we seem to be quite capable of shrugging our shoulders about some particular bureaucratic idiocy in the same way as other Europeans.
So what does David Cameron do? I assume he will propose a referendum at some stage. If the result of that is to renegotiate terms, but stay in, it will be meaningless. The only real alternatives are to stay in or leave, and to do the latter will be against the will of the US and the business community.
It really is a bit rich for Philip Gordon, the US Assistant Secretary for European Affairs to warn David Cameron that allowing us to hold a referendum on the EU and/or renegotiating the terms of our membership of that discredited farce of a political union, could lead us to becoming "inward" looking.
The effrontery of the man! The US has to be the most "inward" looking of all the industrialised nations.
MPs' complaints show they've lost their way
You report "'Underpaid' MPs call for pay rise" (11 January). But politics is about serving the public, not making a fortune. It's not just that politicians ought to be motivated by altruism and the idea of public service, but that it is already a real problem that politics is seen primarily as a professional career path, where a plum job is landed through unpaid internships and family contacts.
When MPs' pay was first introduced, it was because people from poor working-class backgrounds could not afford to give up paid work to enter parliament in order to represent their peers without the sponsorship of a trade union. The argument now is that unless MPs' pay is raised, the "best people" will not see politics as a viable career path. This is in fact a complete inversion of the reason MPs' pay was introduced.
The divergence of received wisdom within the Westminster village from wider public opinion on issues such as privatisation of the NHS and the railways; Iraq, and the closing of tax loopholes for the likes of Philip Green and Vodafone clearly demonstrate that MPs are no longer the representatives of the people, but a professional managerial class. They may well be underpaid compared to comparable managerial positions in other industries, but how tragic that we now see them in that way rather than as representatives of the people.
In these times of austerity, surely MPs should be bound by the same pay restraint they impose on other recipients from the public purse? If 1 per cent is good enough for public-sector workers and benefit claimants alike, regardless of their circumstances, then 1 per cent is surely good enough for MPs as well?
The poor, impoverished, anonymous Tory MP who struggles to get by on £65,000 per year is completely out of touch. There are about 50 pharmacists working in my area, and all but one or two of them earn less than an MP.
Mysteries of the Savile affair
The Jimmy Savile affair (report, 12 January) has mystified me. First of all, why did no one do anything? I, my grown-up children and everyone else I know all agree that we thought him "creepy" and "physically repulsive" and that we never watched his programmes. Why were the reactions of people like me different from those of the establishment, who entertained him, and the media – usually assiduous in digging up even the most trivial bits of dirt – who left him alone?
Secondly, a personal mystery: 60 years ago, in my leafy London suburb, children were able to be out and about, the only injunction being "never talk to strangers". Twice I was approached by unsavoury characters (one said "Give us a kiss, darlin'", and the other exposed himself), and on both occasions I ran away. So no harm done – except that in later years I have worried about not reporting them: other children might subsequently have been less fortunate. It wasn't that I expected to be disbelieved – an intelligent, reliable child with a respectable family background, I would have been a credible witness – but that I was ashamed and felt it was somehow my fault. Why on earth would a child like me feel guilty, and is this a common reaction of small children?
Most people in the UK will know what Jimmy Savile looks like, and probably don't want to be reminded, so would it be possible to leave out the photos of him from future articles, please? Am I alone in finding his constant, continuing presence in the press disturbing and somewhat insulting?
Lecturers are far from lazy
Ian Ray-Todd (Letters, 7 January) thinks that university lecturers are "lazy", that universities have a "limited mindset" and that "minimum standards of teaching" should be demanded. Arising from my chaise-longue and having dismissed my students with a lofty gesture, I reread his letter in a vain search for evidential support.
The picture that he paints is far from my daily experience of dedicated and stressed colleagues doing their level best to balance the ever-increasing demands of teaching, research, administration and outreach in the face of rising student numbers, tight budgets, and a regular kicking in the media. We want the brightest and best to make careers in our universities, to ensure that university remains a life-enhancing experience. This steady dribble of casual criticism is hardly going to encourage them.
Professor of Archaeological Science, University of York
Paul Curran ("Universities lead the world", Letters, 8 January) accuses me of "ill-informed comments", but I wrote from direct, personal experience.
If Professor Curran has never encountered a colleague who abused academic tenure, he must have led a singularly charmed academic life. I accept that there is much good practice in the sector. But are the 15 per cent of students who remain dissatisfied an insignificant proportion, or will Curran and other V-C's wake up to the fact that smug expressions of self-satisfaction, far from being an adequate or convincing response to well-founded criticism, are a pretty clear indicator of the malaise?
Too many of the UK's leading universities – including several in the Russell Group – still do quite poorly on a value-added measure of teaching performance. And they do so because their greatest effort is directed to research as the highest priority.
Lawyers at fault for food waste
The scandal of food waste as highlighted by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers has many causes (letters, 12 January) but I believe a certain amount of the responsibility must be borne by M'Learned Friends. Fear of expensive and reputation-damaging litigation has resulted in food companies putting unrealistic "use by" dates on packages and a public brought up on food-scare stories take these dates as gospel. Most foods that do not look or smell bad are safe to eat irrespective of "use by" dates.
Much is talked of three ills today: obesity, wasted food and food poverty. Those of us who lived with wartime rationing had little but made ends meet, wasted no food and are told we were never healthier. Perhaps somebody should ask our advice.
Who are you calling 'elderly'?
Talking about "care of our elders" instead of "care of the elderly" might help to encourage more respect for older people. They have walked this planet for many years and have gained wisdom, which they can pass on to the younger generation. Many will have learnt skills in understanding problems with patience and tolerance, which is something our youth-obsessed culture could certainly do with.
Dr Craig Brown
East Preston, West Sussex
The article about Ross Hutchins's friendship with Andy Murray (10 January) refers to "many of his closest friends". In my experience, hardly anyone has more than a few close friends, and therefore very, very few can be "closest". I remember at the time of the bank crashes a bank worker saying he'd emailed 50 of his closest friends. I wonder if people who refer to friendship in this way understand what a close friendship is.
Alas, Philip Hensher (11 January), is too late in his wish that the onesie should remain an indoor, private garment. I had a positive sighting of a young woman wearing one at a service station on the M1 in early December. So not only are they out and about, it appears they are on the march and migrating.
David R Pollard
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