The VW scandal, coming after no less mendacious ploys by some bankers, is a symptom of a cultural malaise which, if not treated, will spread further.
Over the past couple of decades, top executives have suppressed the idea of management as a cog, albeit a pivotal one, in the machinery of the business and have presented themselves as members of a select class of individuals graced by exceptional intelligence and extraordinary powers. As such, they see themselves deserving of remunerations far beyond the earnings of other business functionaries.
This inflated self-perception, which is not dissimilar to how the medieval nobility saw itself, inevitably encourages deception, to uphold the image and justify the astronomical earnings.
A major work in the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy is like a howl of rage at the greed, corruption and lack of official supervision that made school buildings in Sichuan province so weak that hundreds of children were killed in the earthquake in 2008.
In the last few days we have been reminded that similar conditions obtain closer to home. Volkswagen has been exposed as being more interested in profits than in public health.
Americans are better protected than we are in Europe. A very brave man, Ralph Nader, took on the car manufacturers at enormous risk and cost to himself in the 1960s, and the government was forced to take action. We need a European champion with the courage and will to do the same thing for us.
Big businesses will always try to get away with whatever it can.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has said that VW diesel engines had computer software that could sense test conditions by monitoring speed, engine operation, air pressure and even the position of the car’s steering wheel.
I often travel long distances on main roads in my Octavia, using cruise control. What speed should I set this at in order that the car goes into testing mode and gives dramatically better mpg and emissions?
Forget the pig, what about Class A drugs?
The new biography of David Cameron has prompted universal mirth but also one or two serious questions. Behind tales of Oxford “debauchery” and prime ministerial association with the “Chipping Snorton set” is an attempt to revive rumours that dogged Cameron’s campaign for the Tory leadership in 2005.
Downing Street should now address these rumours openly: senior ministers (including the PM) should straightforwardly state whether they have used Class A drugs. This is not an intrusive question about politicians’ private lives, nor is it a pedantic quibble about an occasional joint. Possession of cocaine carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence, and/or an unlimited fine.
If senior politicians were frank about such matters, it would not necessarily end their careers. There are potentially valid debates about legalisation of various categories of drugs, which can only proceed when our leaders are open about their own experiences. The toxic aspect for our political culture is a perception that a privileged elite (whether in the City, media or Westminster) operates with impunity, contemptuous of laws which ordinary voters must obey.
As a former student at Oxford, I too have personal experience of the outrageous initiation rites which go on within its hallowed walls, largely beyond the gaze of “town”.
Seeking to consult ancient books containing strange writings, I was ushered into a private room and underwent an arcane ceremony. Wearing a gown, I was compelled to mutter an oath from the Latin, promising not to be an arsonist. Only then could I read a book.
At another ceremony, I was also forced to parade in an odd form of dress known as “sub fusc” with oddly tied neckwear, making one resemble a penguin. If one wore the wrong shade of suit or incorrect bow tie, one could be turned away.
And all of this merely for me to gain admission into the University.
On graduation, I was made to kneel before an elderly man and was hit on the head with a New Testament. One could not take a degree otherwise. Other exclusive activities still go on to this day, known as bops, hall, bumps and gaudies.
“Hell Fire” Dave’s alleged undergraduate antics had nothing on official University policy.
Staines Upon Thames, Middlesex
Schadenfreude is of course an ignoble sentiment but those of us who wearied of the endless traducing of Ed Miliband by certain right-wingers who seemed to believe how he consumed a bacon sandwich was actually worthy of commentary, might be forgiven a wry smile on reading the accounts of our Prime Minister’s alleged unconventional porcine encounter.
The word “karma” springs to mind, but I think it best to try to follow Jeremy Corbyn’s example: a gentleman who eschews personal attacks, focusing instead on important issues such as tax avoidance, benefit cuts, and the ever widening gap between the privileged few and the impoverished many.
So in that generous, ecumenical spirit I sincerely hope that this time round the press refrains from swinish attacks on a man’s character just because his behaviour might be a tad unorthodox when in the presence of a dead animal.
Pen-pushers stifling the health service
This week’s news that the renowned Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge has been placed in special measures after CQC inspectors found it was inadequate should come as no surprise to any of us who are involved in healthcare.
I have been a governor at the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust for six years now and it is well known within the health service that we are on the brink of disaster. As many as half of all NHS trusts across the country are running at a deficit.
We cannot aspire to maintain the highest healthcare standards against a background of continuous efficiency savings, otherwise known as cuts.
It is the same situation as that faced by other government-funded bodies, including schools and local authorities who are increasingly feeling the pinch and the constant demand for targets to be met, forms to be completed and data submitted to the number crunchers who hold the keys to the public purse.
That organisations which were previously felt to be performing well can so quickly see their fortunes reversed must surely send warning bells to those who are responsible for shaping the direction of travel for our society.
Whilst inspectors express concern about staffing levels and treatment delays little account seems to be taken, either here or in our schools, of the time and resources that are spent in jumping through the hoops of compliance.
We have filled our hospitals, and our schools and local authorities, with office-bound pen pushers hunched over their spreadsheets for hours on end, who would better serve the public by rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in.
Combe St Nicholas, Somerset
Is it possible that the NHS is running out of money because too much is spent on pointless layers of management and intrusive paper-pushing bureaucracy rather than medical staff?
If so, then it is the same story in the police service and education. I had supposed the situation was so perilous that a Conservative government worth its name would rush to unclog the failing arteries of the state.
But no. They continue to favour a toxic mix of big government and PC liberalism whose poison continues to prevent people from doing their jobs by stifling initiative and denying the value of hard-won experience.
And so it is that disillusioned young doctors, young teachers and young police officers will continue to leave.
Just play golf by the rules
Suzann Pettersen may have been wrong in saying that a putt had not been conceded in Sunday’s Solheim Cup match, but we all know how even the best golfers can miss short putts. Surely the simple answer is for all putts to be “putted out” even in match play, just as they in are stroke play.
Saffron Walden, Essex
Stop issuing orders to the Pope
You should (not “must”) end the ridiculous practice of telling politicians, governments and others what they “must” do. You achieved the ultimate absurdity in your editorial of 21 September, by instructing the Pope on what he “must” remember.
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