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Wednesday 8 August 2012
Letters: Why Clegg had to defy the Tories
After the last election the Liberal Democrats were given a choice. At a time of national crisis do they attempt to form a government with the only viable partner, the Conservatives, against whom they had fought bitterly in many constituencies, or do they walk away and preserve the purity of their political aspirations? The leadership came to the conclusion that the interests of the country had to come first, and went ahead knowing the likely consequences. At a very senior level in the party there were widespread concerns about the prospect of electoral annihilation after having to compromise on treasured policies.
The Conservatives were incensed at needing a partner but were sure they could manage the issue given their much larger numbers. It was an early Conservative imperative that the economic burden should be borne where their partners would be damaged most, and so the tuition fees were increased. The Liberal Democrats have managed to make their mark, sometimes effectively, but in the public's mind there is a sense of weakness and betrayal attached to the Lib Dem party.
The destruction of House of Lords reform, the last major Lib Dem totem, was another essential part of the Conservative methodology. So Nick Clegg has decided enough is enough, and the boundary changes are to follow House of Lords reform on to the pyre. Conservatives will now attack the Lib Dems for "throwing their toys out of the pram". But if Clegg had simply accepted the manoeuvrings of the Conservatives, that would have been seen as accepting eunuch status. His actions have demonstrated that if the Conservatives intend to renege on their coalition commitments they will suffer punishment. How else will they understand that a partnership requires mutual respect and reciprocity?
At constituency level, the two parties loathe each other. For the leadership to have managed to stay the course thus far is quite remarkable, and testament to the necessity of the venture, however much the compromises stick in the throat. But the project will fail unless both sides understand the requirement for reciprocity. Perhaps they will be more aware of this from now on.
Yes, we need a new anthem, but which one?
Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 7 August) is absolutely correct. "God Save the Queen" is a dreadful dirge, and the least inspiring of all national anthems. Its sycophantic lyrics are an insult to the population, belonging to a previous age of deference. A national anthem should seek to unite a country's population, but "God Save the Queen" is entirely divisive along monarchist/republican and Christian/atheist lines, and in one version it even calls for the brutal subjugation of the Scots.
Given the, at times, fractious relationship between England and its Celtic brethren, it's no surprise that the conflation of Britishness and Englishness causes antagonism. Mr Lawson's own argument is infected by this when he suggests that a song, "Jerusalem", which celebrates "England's green and pleasant land" (with no references to the other nations of Britain) is appropriate as a British national anthem.
England does have good alternatives for a new, more stirring and inspiring, national anthem, such as "Jerusalem" or "Land of Hope Glory" (the latter having been used previously by the English rugby league team). That still leaves the real challenge though: to find an inspiring anthem that all the people and nations of Britain can unite behind.
Perhaps Dominic Lawson would become reconciled to our national dirge if we made more of its conditional verse. In the time of George I this made the point that "the people's allegiance was conditional on [the monarch's] abiding by the constitution" (Linda Colley in Britons): "The choicest gifts in store/On him be pleased to pour,/Long may he reign./May he defend our laws,/And ever give us cause,/With heart and voice to sing,/God save the King."
For the then monarch read today's government, establishment or ruling elite. They owe us before we owe them.
Dominic Lawson avoids the main objection to "God Save the Queen". Why should our anthem extol the virtues of our head of state while appealing to a higher being to show favours to an individual who already has countless advantages over the vast majority of her citizens?
Yes, let's have a more uplifting tune, but also match it with words that reflect our country's pride, achievements and diversity. A national competition for a new anthem?
I agree with Dominic Lawson that our National Anthem feels rather hackneyed these days, but to suggest that "Jerusalem" or "I Vow to Thee My Country" would be a better choice is somewhat crass. As clergy, our hearts sink when we are asked for the fanciful "Jerusalem" at weddings or funerals.
As for "I Vow to Thee My Country", can we really sing "The love that asks no questions"? I think not.
Revd Margaret Roylance
Dominic Lawson's apparent approval of the association of "I vow to thee, my country" with Remembrance Day and funeral services demonstrates with extraordinary clarity just how dirge-like that music is. I fear I would have to give Beethoven's positive assessment of the musical qualities of "God Save the Queen" rather higher regard than the view of Mr Lawson. Maybe time for a change, but heaven save us from his preference.
Historic book collection in peril
Your report "Historic manuscript sale 'vandalism'" (4 August) does not give the full picture of the Law Society's plans to sell the Mendham Collection. The 300 books already removed from Canterbury Cathedral library include more than 70 printed in the 15th century, many important 16th-century books, a large collection of early printed liturgies, and one of the country's best collections of editions of the Index librorum prohibitorum, dating from 1546 to 1844, one of Joseph Mendham's special areas of polemical interest.
In the 19th century the Law Society recognised the importance of this collection when it accepted the bequest of Sophia Mendham. This was again recognised in the 20th century when the Law Society deposited the collection at Canterbury and then supported the publication of a catalogue. In the 21st century the Law Society seems to feel that the collection is purely of monetary value.
The sale of the collection item by item will destroy for ever its integrity. The collection was a gift to the Law Society. If it is no longer of intellectual value to them, one ethical step would be for the Law Society to donate the collection to an institution willing to look after it. If the collection must be sold, they should revoke the decision to sell piecemeal and seek to sell the collection as an undivided whole.
I write as a co-editor of the catalogue which the Law Society generously published in 1994.
Dr David J Shaw
As one of the contributors to the 1994 Catalogue of the Mendham Collection, I am horrified by the Law Society's decision to sell off the most valuable items in the collection. This is not in keeping with the wishes of the original owners. In 1869 Sophia Mendham indicated that she was "most anxious" that the books and manuscripts should be kept together. The Law Society should now demonstrate that it has the right to break up the collection by publishing the terms of the 19th-century donation in full.
Professor Jackie Eales
Canterbury Christ Church University
Tax system needs radical reform
Dream on Mr Osborne. Your latest wheeze to reduce tax avoidance by naming and shaming is like trying to sink a battleship with a pea-shooter. While the tax system remains so complicated, and the sums involved so large, tax avoidance will thrive like the drug trade.
At the last count, Tolley's tax guides, the bible to the tax system, ran to 11,500 pages, one of the longest in the world. The Revenue is always shutting one loophole, only to have the tax accountants and lawyers find others.
The moral case for a fair and simple tax system will never be made by naming and shaming. Those engaged in casino banking are unlikely to change their ways unless they have to.
Adam Smith put it well: "It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue but something more than in proportion." Under the present system the mega-rich don't even contribute in proportion. The system is corrosive and immensely harmful to the economy. It will remain so until politicians reform it instead of tinkering with it.
A human, not a Muslim, right
Mohammed Samaana (letter, 6 August) applauds Shafilea Ahmed's courage for refusing an arranged marriage, and adds that the freedom to accept or refuse a husband is a right granted to all women by Islam.
The right to accept or refuse a husband is a fundamental freedom for all women in a civilised society. It has nothing to do with a right granted by Islam; indeed the very idea of Islam granting rights to women in the UK is a joke. Until Muslim men understand that women are not their possessions to control as they see fit, "honour" punishments will continue.
Zounds! There I was thinking that our heritage and culture were soaked in the Christian tradition but – strewth! – here comes David Battye (Letters, 7 August) to complain abut the use of Christ's name as "a swear word". Perhaps he could explain whether he objected to the use of "Christ" as an expletive or as blasphemy. Nor do I think that any other faiths have got such rich linguistic pickings to choose from. You'd think that given the poor showing of religion in everyday life, he'd be grateful that Jesus got a mention at all. Blimey!
The difference a comma makes
In response to Simon O'Hagan (Errors & Omissions, 4 August), I can only say that I have been an inveterate user of the Oxford comma since editing a text for a certain international charity and encountering the following sentence: "The street kids stand at the traffic lights, selling cigarettes, chewing gum and shoelaces" – from which I deduced that either poverty in Colombia was even worse than I had imagined, or that a final comma was required after "chewing gum".
Figure it out, Chancellor
When even George Osborne talks of concentrating on the economy "110 per cent", should we not worry that he is Chancellor of the Exchequer?
Eastbourne, East Sussex
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