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Wednesday 16 January 2013
Letters: What about atheists' rights?
The European Court of Human Rights judgement allowing Nadia Eweida's appeal must seem reasonable to anyone who is liberal enough to accept that a person's views, however much one doesn't share them, must be respected as long as there is no adverse effect on those for whom the reality of equal treatment has been a long-fought battle. The rejection of the other three appeals before the court confirms that the correct balance has been struck.
However, as an atheist I am minded to wonder whether, were I to find myself employed again, I would be permitted on the basis of this judgement to wear, together with a corporate uniform, a distinctive trinket clearly demonstrating my belief in science over metaphysics. I have an odd feeling that the loophole that I might face, were I to bring a similar case in similar circumstances, would be that the judgement does not apply because my belief is not of the religious variety.
Atheists do not have a history of complaining legally about the astonishing imposition of religion upon their day-to-day lives. They get on with life without recourse to the courts and put up with the irrationality they perceive around them with great stoicism. The time may be near, however, for this to be tested, if only, with due respect to the legal process, to see exactly what the law is on the subject.
It is worth remembering that the British Airways tail-fin livery is a representation of the Union Flag, itself a composite of Christian crosses.
Nothing wrong with a good horseburger
So horsemeat is going into burgers? But, actually, horsemeat is very good – and better for us than what is traditionally put into burgers. It's leaner than beef. Surely, then, we should be eating it.
I lived in Switzerland for years, and good horsemeat, which is commonly sold there, as it is in France, is wonderful stuff. It's like beef but sweeter. It's not hard to buy horse from high-street butchers here in Britain, either, though they tend to not sell it openly. They'll get it for you if you ask for it.
In an era when it's easy enough to buy zebra meat, and goodness knows what else, perhaps we should start being rational. Horses are not bred for their meat and they live longer and better lives than most livestock. Eating them is simply a sensible way to dispose of carcasses when their useful lives are over.
The horseburger scandal recalls the story of the New York deli which advertised sausages as being "50 per cent chicken". On examination by the relevant authorities, the chicken content was found to be 2 per cent. In court, the proprietor's defence was that the sausage mixture consisted of an equal number of horses and chickens.
Britain in Africa
Ian Birrell (9 January) is absolutely right to highlight the growth and potential of African economies. A recent World Bank study found that seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies worldwide were in Africa.
On 7 January I was in Ghana for President Mahama's inauguration and was struck by the rapid pace of development in Accra, where aspirations and energy are high. Mr Birrell is also right to focus on the progress other countries have been making in stepping up their trade efforts with Africa. Countries such as Turkey and Brazil are serious players now in Africa, alongside China and others.
But it is wrong to say that the British government has been ignoring that potential. Far from closing diplomatic postings in Africa, this government has been opening new ones, in South Sudan and Ivory Coast, with Madagascar, Liberia and Somalia also scheduled this year. We have created a network of local trade attachés across West Africa to provide country-specific advice to UK businesses who want to invest in the region.
It is right to say there is a job to do to update the impression of Africa in the UK. Of course there are areas of conflict, in Sudan, Somalia, Mali and the DRC. But there is also a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit in many countries in Africa which is driving an emerging middle class. I want to see more UK businesses getting out and contributing to the future of the continent just as I'd like to see more of the African growth story in the British media.
Mark Simmonds MP
Minister for Africa, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Having lived in Lesotho for nine years before coming home to Wales, and worked briefly in Sierra Leone since then, I agree with Ian Birrell about "our loss".
When we arrived in Lesotho the UK's presence was very evident. There were the British High Commission and British Council (that provided a library and other facilities for young and not so young local people). Their personnel, along with those of British contractors and consultants, were prominent on the interconnecting flights between Johannesburg and Maseru.
As time wore on these British faces were increasingly displaced by Chinese faces. Since I returned to Wales the UK has closed its High Commission, the British Council facilities have also been closed and Lesotho nationals have been required to apply for visas to enter the UK, for which they must apply to Pretoria. In the construction market, despite their language disadvantage, Chinese companies seem to have ousted British companies.
Sierra Leone, with its Atlantic seaboard, glorious beaches and tropical climate, is completely different from Lesotho. To its credit, the Swansea-headquartered company Dawnus Construction has secured a foothold in that country to both its benefit and that of the local inhabitants.
Coupled with the wishes of some to leave the European Union, the trends Birrell describes, born of ignorance and arrogance, are in danger of isolating us from the rest of the world. In particular a part of the world whose skills and expertise we continue to fail to acknowledge, to our detriment.
Libor: jail the guilty bankers
Andreas Whittam Smith (16 January) goes a fair way along the right path in his proposals that the entire Royal Bank of Scotland staff bonus pool should be used to help pay any fines levied on the bank for its part in fixing Libor, and that any current directors who served on the bank's audit or risk committees during the period should resign or be sacked.
But there is one more step that the taxpayer requires: the prosecution of those responsible. Traders who have damaged other banks with dodgy deals have faced the courts and been imprisoned; those who lied or concealed the truth to have Libor adjusted in their favour should be treated likewise.
The Independent reveals that "Taxpayers face £500m bill for RBS Libor fraud" (16 January). When this scandal originally broke, the paper reported that the Libor rate-setting process was "overseen" by the British Bankers' Association. If this is the case, surely their insurers should be liable to pay the fine, not taxpayers.
The people who pay for football
Assistant referee John Brooks is being withdrawn from duty by Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the body that assigns referees and assistants to football games. This is apparently in response to his comment to Joleon Lescott that "They've paid 62 quid over there; go and see them."
It is a sad indictment on the game that an official is punished by one of football's authorities for sympathising with the plight of fans. All football authorities and participants should be reminded that all income from the game emanates from football supporters, whether it is through ticket receipts, TV rights or merchandise. I applaud John Brooks as someone involved in the game who hasn't forgotten this.
Sidlesham, West Sussex
A chance for real shops?
I don't know. One month everybody bemoans the destruction of the high street by chain stores, and the next month everyone bemoans the loss of chain stores from the high street.
Much as it pains me to admit it, the departure of the likes of Jessops and Comet from the high street is no great loss. Their cluttered, aggressive, salesman-heavy approach put them completely at odds with the modern customer. HMV dropped its wide-ranging, eclectic music stock in favour of aisles stocked solely with discounted Madonna CDs.
All this makes the perfect opportunity for lively, independent retailers to take back the high street by offering the things online retailers can't. There are plenty things that can't easily be sold on the internet – fresh food, bread, things customers need immediately and not in a couple of days. What's wrong with seeing the return of the butcher, the baker and the hardware store?
Portraits from photographs
As a former illustrator, I must respectfully disagree with sculptor Sara Neill about artists and the use of photographs (letter, 16 January). On many occasions I was asked to breathe life into commissioned portraits of world leaders and celebrities, many of whom – understandably – were not able to sit for me.
As a tutor advised me many years ago: "Make sure you use any photos, and the photos don't use you." Perhaps those artists with only photos to work from simply need more practice and should try out more imaginative techniques.
During the 1970s I paid for cavity wall insulation in our then house. The cost was repaid by fuel savings within a very few years. Why does Stuart Fretwell of Portland (Letter, 15 January) expect his fellow citizens to pay for his fuel saving?
As a person living in a rural area that has now had its mobile library and regular (infrequent) bus service axed, I would be horrified to learn that my local council was using limited resources to restore weekly bin collections, as suggested by Eric Pickles.
Aspley Guise, Bedfordshire
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