Letters: What are the Liberal Democrats for?

These letters appear in the Wednesday 16th April edition of the Independent

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Ian Birrell discusses the “dismal offering” of “Mr Clegg’s dwindling band”, and suggests the Liberal Democrats “need to be more than not being somebody else” (14 April). But what?

Such strictures are quite dated. A century ago in The New Machiavelli H G Wells wrote of the Liberals that they can never be “anything but a diversified crowd”, which “has to voice everything that is left out” by Conservatives and Labour. “It is at once the party of the failing and untried... the “Anti” party ... a system of hostilities and objections that somehow achieves at times an elusive common soul.”

Liberals have drifted with the tides, from Herbert Spencer’s laissez-faire, through Herbert Asquith’s social welfare, to Herbert Marcuse’s political correctness. Celtic fringes, suburban eccentrics, metrosexual cosmopolitans, they have become a pointless collection of ideological “spotty herberts”. The sooner the Liberal Democrat party is wound up, the better.

David Ashton, Sheringham, Norfolk

Miliband needs to get off the fence

If Ed Miliband would set out Labour policies and defend them, rather than wriggling on the fence, then he would find his personal rating zoom up. This is why Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond are so popular. You may not agree with everything they say, but you know without doubt what their policies are and what they will do if elected.

To win the next election the Labour Party must drop the New Labour concept, as we now all know that this was secret code for “warmongering Conservative”. They should realise that the average Labour voter loathes Tony Blair more than even the Conservatives.

Parachuting Euan Blair into the safe seat of Bootle would be a disaster for Labour, as it would send out the wrong message and would not work anyway. You cannot fool Scousers.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

The Labour leader might command more respect if he were Ed Megaband or Ed Gigaband.

David Ridge, London N19

What an MP learned in court

Nigel Evans now realises the injustice of the Government’s cuts in legal aid. Evans was lucky enough to have £130,000 to pay for high-quality legal representation; presumably he felt the expense was worth it, to improve the chances of acquittal. 

So are we really “all equal before the law”? Innocent others, without such wealth, might have ended up being found guilty.

Evans’s change of mind also suggests that parliamentary votes cutting benefits for the poorest, might well have gone the other way had MPs and ministers had direct and vivid experience of poverty and unemployment. 

It is easy to judge “objectively” that too much is spent on welfare and legal aid when your own quality of life is unaffected by cuts in such benefits.

Peter Cave, London W1

Having been found not guilty of sexual offences, Nigel Evans MP thinks that the CPS should pay the costs of his defence.

But there seem to have been no substantial issues of fact for the jury to decide; the question was whether Mr Evans’s admitted behaviour amounted to, or fell short of, a criminal offence. This jury found in Mr Evans’s favour; but another jury could well have decided otherwise, in which case Mr Evans would have lost not only his money but also his liberty.

It was because of his own behaviour that he found himself in the dock.

Anthony Bramley-Harker, Watford, Hertfordshire

Practical work in science A-levels

Stephanie Fernandes from the Institution of Engineering and Technology is right when she says that GCSEs and A-levels do not always provide the level of practical experience that employers need (letter, 12 April).

When looking at the science A-levels, we found that the current assessment arrangements do not support the teaching of practical work as they should. That is why we are putting in place new arrangements which place practical skills back at the heart of teaching, where they belong. They will put the focus back on equipping students with the skills they need to progress into education and careers in science and engineering.

The content for the new A-levels, published by the Department for Education, requires students to carry out experimental and investigative activities in a range of contexts, to analyse and interpret data to provide evidence, and to evaluate methodology, evidence and data. They will have to carry out a minimum of 12 experiments over each two-year science course they take.

Some of the practical skills, such as commenting on experimental design and evaluating scientific methods, will then be assessed in the written exams. To get good marks in their A-levels, students will have to show knowledge and understanding of the experiments they have gained through doing them.

The new  A-levels will promote more and better science practical work being carried out, emphasise the vital role of practical skills in teaching and learning the sciences and help students develop the science practical skills that higher education and employers are seeking. We intend to consult on a similar proposition for GCSE sciences in the  near future.

Glenys Stacey, Chief Regulator, Ofqual, Coventry

Allotments in danger

As a former allotment-holder, I was very interested in “The great British rake off” (15 April) but Margaret Willes did not mention the widespread and continuing destruction of allotment sites throughout the country.

I was Secretary of the Parc Beck allotments in Swansea, which were established during the First World War. The site was in the middle of an urban area and was very popular, with a long waiting list, but the allotments were destroyed when the landowner (the local health authority) sold the land for housing development.

Mike Stroud, Swansea

Triumphs of democracy

Millions queue to vote in India; thousands risk assassination to vote in Afghanistan. There must be something in this democracy lark. Why don’t we introduce it here?

Clive Georgeson, Dronfield, Derbyshire

Shale gas gives us time to go green

While one must take note of warnings from the United Nations in respect of global warming, they should not necessarily be interpreted as requiring the immediate cessation of burning fossil fuels, or as having  particular reference to shale oil and shale gas (“Final IPCC report demands green energy drive to avoid catastrophe”, 14 April).

What we do need, and what also was sadly lacking when North Sea oil was discovered, is a plan. In the case of North Sea oil the plan seems to have been to use up the resource and then go back to importing oil and gas.

Shale gas and shale oil offer the country a unique and magnificent opportunity, unlikely to be repeated. Not only will they assist the country towards energy security but also enormously reduce the balance of payments deficit. A plan now would reap huge rewards for the day when even shale gas runs out. A proportion of the profits set aside could be directed, from the outset, towards developing green energy.

Gradually, as shale gas runs down, green energy will be expanding to fill the gap, and there will be a no break. Indeed, we would be less dependent upon fossil fuels over the years as this programme was rolled out.

In this way shale gas can be usefully employed to solve the problems of industry, global warming, and self sufficiency in green energy. Not to mention giving the whole country a kick-start when it is most needed.

Vernon J Yarker, Maldon, Essex

Energy Secretary Ed Davey need not worry about having to persuade other European governments about the need to take Putin’s energy threat seriously (14 April). As it happens, the heads of EU Governments, all of whom met in Brussels last month, unanimously agreed to require the European Commission to report  to them by June on precisely  this topic.

They  asked for  a detailed plan showing how we can minimise the amount of Russian gas Europe need import. Their communiqué states what they believe to be the best, most cost- effective and swiftest way of proceeding. It says unequivocally that, to reduce gas import dependency, “moderating energy demand through enhanced energy efficiency should be the first step; this will also contribute to other energy and climate objectives.”

It is clear where the 28 heads of governments believe the priorities for Europe’s energy security future rationally lie.

Andrew Warren, Director, Association for the Conservation of Energy, London N1