Environment Minister Owen Paterson, seemingly encouraged by his spectacular failure to deliver on an ill-advised badger cull, is ploughing on regardless, with an extension to the original six-week plan in Somerset and probably Gloucester (if it survives a legal challenge from the Badger Trust).
Meanwhile, his leader is plotting to ease restrictions on hunting via the back door. If he succeeds, farmers would gain the right to slaughter whatever wildlife they deem to be a nuisance (does this include ramblers ?) with a pack of hounds. Life in the countryside would become intolerable for the majority of rural dwellers.
Little by little this bunch of ministerial countryside vandals is destroying all that we hold dear. Owen Paterson has a vision of massive American-style factory farms, fields full of GM crops, fracking plants, and a free rein to pursue his sporting activities, as enjoyed by the rich and ignorant.
As large country estates expand and capitalise on the ever-growing band of City boys happy to spend their profits on shooting weekends, the ordinary peace-loving folk are further marginalised.
If this government remains in power, we will no longer see farm animals grazing in green fields; there will be “no go” areas where snares and hounds trap and kill any wildlife and domestic pets that roam into their path. Only cage-reared game birds, released in their millions every autumn, and tamed to the degree that they practically walk up the gun barrel, will colour our landscape.
It is within our power to restore the rural idyll we know and love to its former glory by voting at the next election.
Jill Deane, Staveley, Cumbria
How free are free schools?
The furore over free schools raises the question: “How free are they in reality?” True they are not required to follow the so-called but misnamed National Curriculum, but they are subject to the national testing regime which closely reflects that curriculum.
So their curriculum is inevitably constrained. Genuinely “free” schools would be exempt from national assessments, but would their supporters, including Michael Gove, really advocate that degree of freedom?
Professor Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria
In order to allay parents’ justifiable concerns over free schools, all Michael Gove has to do is publish the details of the numbers of teachers in free schools, together with their qualifications and whether they have been CRB checked. The trouble is the DfE don’t hold that information. I am afraid that this is a child-protection nightmare, as has been illustrated in the al-Madinah affair.
Simon G Gosden, Rayleigh, Essex
If I use the services of a lawyer, accountant, medic, surveyor, or cleric, I expect her or him to have a recognised professional qualification; why shouldn’t I expect the same from the teacher of my children, regardless of the kind of school they attend?
Geoffrey Baker-Hytch, Wells, Somerset
Need to know about religion
I warmly welcome the article on religious literacy in Saturday’s Independent, and the reported comments of Aaqil Ahmed.
High-quality religious education should not only be every pupil’s entitlement, but should also be seen by everyone as an essential part of a pupil’s preparation for adult life in today’s world. The Secretary of State for Education has acknowledged that religious education in schools has been accidentally but significantly harmed by the impact of some of his initiatives, and we look forward to his taking meaningful steps to address that situation.
In the interests of truth and clarity, and as a non-Jew, may I respectfully point out that elsewhere in the article the important word “oral” was omitted from the answer to Q7 of the mini-quiz “Are you a religious ignoramus?” Traditional Judaism holds that Moses received from God both the Torah now found in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and also a supplementary Torah handed down orally for many centuries.
This supplementary oral Torah does not begin to emerge in written form until well into the Common Era, and it is this, plus a wealth of Rabbinic commentary, which constitutes the Talmud. I choose my words carefully, as this is a debated and sensitive area. I just wonder how far The Independent’s own staff were up to speed here.
On a separate matter, Aaqil Ahmed claims that general ignorance is one factor in why there is a lack of humour relating to the world of Islam, for example the figure of Muhammad, in the public domain. True perhaps, up to a point, and “political correctness” may be a factor too, but so also may be an awareness that such humour is frequently being met with riots and death threats by those who do not get the joke.
Rev Prebendary Michael Metcalf, Chair, Staffordshire Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education, Stafford
Aaqil Ahmed bemoans the lack of religious knowledge among the younger generation. One could as well regret loss of knowledge of the tales of King Arthur, of the Norse Gods or of the great corpus of European folk tales as sampled by Grimm, Anderson and Lönnrot, which, to my mind, are in every way as valid and important as those found in the Hebrew Bible.
The study of comparative religion is indeed important in the understanding of many of the difficulties and disasters that beset modern civilisation and should probably start with The Golden Bough, but should be seen as a branch of anthropology or psychology rather than being a way towards any sort of objective truth.
The world needs to grow up and escape from religion, and in Western Europe we have made a good start but are still much troubled by the dying throes of religions in other societies.
David Wheeler, Carlisle
Sorry for these crazy Americans
I am just an average 28-year-old American. I am writing to you to offer a little insight into why the United States just went through its government shutdown debacle and risked a debt default.
Let me apologise to your country for the threat our political constipation may have caused you. Here in the US a new political faction has arisen calling itself the Tea Party, a bizarre group that believes we should fetishise the word “freedom”, and that any form of taxation is sordid and evil. Attempting to reason with them is not often possible, since they just start screaming and call you a traitor, often while dressed in 18th-century colonial attire.
And while polls indicate that Americans hold the Republican Party more responsible than other factions for the recent government shutdown, it is the tedious refrain of many American to blame the “boys in Washington”, rather than the Tea Party lunatics like Senator Ted Cruz, whenever there is a problem.
Robert Heltzel, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Anne Waddingham (letter, 18 October) is surprised that “coronated” hasn’t been OEDificated yet. Of course, English is a developing language, but a large amount of people are making grammatical errors these days. It’s a phenomena that’s spreading like a virulent bacteria, and seemingly less people are worried about it than they used to. But is there a single reliable criteria we can use to decide when a particular use should be OEDificated?
Francis Kirkham, Crediton, Devon
Nigel Priestnall (letter, 17 October) believes that the leaflets he receives suggest that “someone appears to know my death is imminent”. Not so. Insurance companies make their money out of people who don’t claim. They must expect him to be around for a while yet, so they can have the chance of selling him more insurance.
Roger Calvert, Ulverston, Cumbria
In the wings
Why the large headline spread (and the loaded term “shuns”) in reporting Peter O’Toole’s decision not to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations at the National Theatre (21 October)? An 81-year-old retired gentleman would be well advised not to subject himself to a heavily tiring day of ceremonies. Let’s keep things in perspective, please.
Roy Evans, Harpenden, Hertfordshire
Nuclear burden on the future
It may be time to revisit the debate about the generation of electricity from civilian nuclear plants, now that EDF and China have a green light to construct Hinkley C, and the nuclear lobby can speak of a further 12 such projects.
We should seriously consider the views of experts who say that, after Fukushima, the environmental risks are simply too great. As the existing hundreds of tonnes of nuclear waste remain an issue, it is clear that no country, including the US, has made provision for permanent storage of nuclear waste.
It is OK apparently to let the Chinese pay for the construction of nuclear plants and EDF to profit from the electricity produced, without reference to the escalating and unquantifiable costs of waste disposal and decommissioning. Intergenerational justice demands that we do not saddle future generations with storage problems and environmental hazards to which no solution has yet been found.
I can think of many claims made by the nuclear industry that have proved to be not true.
1960: It is safe to dump nuclear waste in 40-gallon drums in the deep oceans.
1965: Dungeness B will produce electricity too cheap to meter.
1978: Thorp plant will turn nuclear waste into nuclear fuel.
1979: The building of Heysham B would put Britain in the forefront of the world’s nuclear power station building nations. Now we ask the French and Chinese to build one for us.
This is not a good record and we should not trust any nuclear industry now. Particularly laughable is the claim that nuclear power stations are needed to keep the lights on. Just one barrage on the River Severn could give us almost as much electricity as Sizewell B.
R F Stearn
Old Newton, Suffolk
So David Cameron’s definition of UK energy security is to depend on electricity from a French state-owned organisation and to bribe the Chinese?
I am so happy at the thought that in 30 years energy bills will be affordable. The trick is, how do we stay warm until then?