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Letters: We dither as Syrians suffer

These letters appear in the Saturday 24th August edition of the Independent

Irrespective of one’s position on military intervention, the passionate words of Khaled Erksoussi, head of operations for the Syrian Red Crescent, speaking on BBC radio on Thursday, remind us whose interests should be paramount:

“You see all those pictures and you see all the suffering in those areas, then you hear people talking about decisions in the Security Council and investigation committees, and you scratch your head: did they see the same picture I saw? Because what I saw in those pictures is people need help.”

It should not be controversial to say that the needs and interests of innocent civilians should in extreme cases such as this take precedence over the principle of non-interference in the sovereignty of states even when they are illegitimate and criminal.

John Slinger, Rugby

Although many have assumed that the Syrian Government has been behind the latest atrocity in Damascus, it is not as unrealistic as your editorial (23 August) suggests to suppose it might have been perpetrated by a faction on the other side.

Jihadist elements of the opposition have shown many times over the past two years the extent to which they are prepared to go and the carnage they are prepared to inflict to further their cause. As we have seen in the past they are also very adept at posting the gory results of their efforts on YouTube.

Despite their unhelpful stance the Assad Government has nothing to gain and everything to lose by launching any kind of chemical weapons attack but to the twisted mind of the fanatic there is everything to gain if such an outrage, irrespective of the numbers of “martyrs” it creates, entices external intervention.

Peter Coghlan. Broadstone, Dorset

The massive influx of  Syrian refugees to northern Iraq shows just how vulnerable the entire region is to the fallout of the spiralling crisis inside Syria.

 The number of Syrian refugees in Iraq has nearly tripled since the beginning of the year and is expected to double again by the end of December. With summer temperatures reaching 45 degrees, UNICEF staff at the border say new refugees are arriving exhausted and in desperate need of clean water and shelter. Most are children and women who have lost everything in Syria and are now facing a gruelling life as refugees. 

We are working with the government and partner organisations to get tens of thousands of litres of safe drinking water to the border point and to help children who have been separated from their families. With the fresh surge of arrivals expected to continue over the coming days, and our existing emergency response work in Iraq seriously under-funded, our resources are being driven to breaking point. 

Global leaders must sharpen their focus on the humanitarian impact of this conflict. 

David Bull, Executive Director, UNICEF UK, London EC1


Women paid less, even in a new industry

The Chartered Management Institute research revealing that the gender gap in salaries is widening comes as a great concern (report, 20 August). Working in the search marketing industry, which is a fairly new concept for UK businesses-owners, it is hard to ignore that the salary patterns we find are exactly the same as mentioned in this report.

The search marketing industry is progressive. However, our own recent survey conducted among attendees at the last Brighton SEO Conference – which welcomed over 1,000 delegates – discovered that the overall average salary for men was in excess of £39,000 while women earned more than £10,000 less, with an average of £28,000.

One thing is for sure: there are some exceptional female digital agency leaders out there. The good news is that these sorts of inequalities are becoming more publicised, so I hope it means my female colleagues are able to get the pay they deserve for the great work they deliver.

Kelvin Newman, Director of Strategy, SiteVisibility , Brighton

Ben Chu writes (21 August) that “thoughtful people” will not suppose an “unequal distribution of talent between the genders”. But that is not quite the right question.

The issue, particularly in the financial sector, is whether there are as many women as men with a specific skill, proved in practice to be valuable in a fiercely competitive international market. 

You report women’s leaders as commenting that men are better than women at selling themselves within their organisations. It is surely not impossible that the same skill also results in better sales to customers and clients. These are intriguing and important issues, but the debate is not advanced by the knee-jerk reaction reported to date.

Richard Harvey, Frating, Essex


Why Brunel’s air railway failed

David Walsh is correct in identifying I K Brunel with “atmospheric” railway propulsion in the 1840s (letter, 21 August), but he is mistaken in his reference to the use of a “leather pipe” on the track Brunel laid on the South Devon Railway between Exeter and Newton Abbot.

The tube was made up of cast-iron sections, with a slit along the top through which passed the rod connecting the piston in the tube to the carriages on the railway. Leather was used only in the flap which closed the slit before and after the passage of a train.

It was this flap which proved to be very vulnerable to Devonian rain and rats, and caused the project to fail after a few months in use.   

Brunel, who was an outstanding structural engineer but a poor steam engineer, had observed small-scale railways operating on the atmospheric principle and was convinced of its theoretical elegance. But it was a disaster in practice for the South Devon Railway.

Angus Buchanan, Emeritus Professor of the History of Technology at the University of Bath.


Don’t rely on  the expat vote

About 18 months before every general election, parties announce they are going to get out the vote from the 5.5 million voting-age citizens known to be living abroad (report, 23 August). Labour sent Glenda Jackson to patrol the beaches of Spain ahead of the 1997 election and the Electoral Commission always announces a drive to encourage expat votes.

But over the past 20 years there have never been more than 30,000 voters at any time still on electoral registers with the right to vote – fewer than 200 voters per constituency.

Britain strips its citizens of voting rights after 15 years’ residence abroad. Other countries, notably the US but also most EU member states, make major efforts to keep their citizens connected to democracy back home. We treat any Brit who lives outside the UK as a second-class citizen who, like prisoners or peers, should not be allowed to vote.

Good luck to those trying to get more expats to vote, but the idea it has an impact on an election is silly.

Denis MacShane, London SW1


BBC fights bullying

Further to your article “BBC facing ‘140 allegations of bullying’ by staff” (21 August), I can confirm that the actual number of cases currently being investigated is fewer than 30.

Since publishing the Respect at Work Review in May we have implemented, or will soon  be implementing, all of the recommendations made by Dinah Rose QC.

The Director General has made clear that bullying will not be tolerated at the BBC and we continue to work closely with the National Union of Journalists and the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union on this. We are regularly collating the numbers of formal complaints on bullying and harassment, so we can closely monitor how long it takes to resolve disputes, and have committed to publishing this information and will be doing so in due course.

Huw Jones, Employee Relations Manager, BBC, London W12