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Monday 25 October 2010
Letters: Wikileaks revelations
Crimes in Iraq? Just keep quiet
How utterly depressing, yet also how unsurprising. When more information, courtesy of Wikileaks, is made public about the brutality – the torture, the deaths – in Iraq and the American involvement, what is the first response of the American and British governments? To condemn the leak.
So, some information has been unofficially leaked. Is that really the feature upon which to concentrate? Might not the officials just possibly – in their heart of hearts – recognise that the brutality, the torture, the deaths are of far, far greater significance?
What good news that the current defence budget cuts will disable Britain from ever again taking part in wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan. What a pity they were not introduced by Labour when it first took office under Blair's premiership.
That way Britain could have avoided two of the dumbest and most expensive wars in its history, those killed in the London bombings would be alive today and we would all be a lot safer from the danger of terrorism.
Big Society won't work
I have just dispatched a small piece of demonstration software to a colleague in Australia, a process requiring me to consult with one expert to ensure I did not breach export controls, a second to ensure that I did not defraud the tax authorities, an expert on software to ensure that I did not breach the licences of the software used, and finally a product certification specialist, to check that the software was fit for purpose.
This is what a big society really means – a complex mesh of mutually supporting specialists, dealing with a web of detailed regulations and procedures, to ensure that everybody meets every obligation all the time.
Fortunately I work in a big company that has the experts to hand. Divesting control to small organisations such as an individual school or a GP practice will inevitably mean that many tasks will be done by people who are not specialist, have had limited training, and have too little time to do much more than their day job – that is, some of the time, the tasks will be done badly. Only, rather than demonstrating software, a school will be forming the futures of our children, or a GP making decisions which affect our health.
In Cameron's Britain, everything will be a postcode lottery, and as with the National Lottery, most people will lose most of the time.
I was at a recent meeting in the House of Lords where Baron Mawson was encouraging non-conformist churches to support the Big Society.
The confident, patronising speaker supplied by the Government was David Burrowes MP. He spoke of the "fantastic opportunity" offered by the nation's circumstances, and positively acknowledged that the Government's policy was not anything.
He said: "The Big Society is not a spending programme or a cuts programme. It's also not necessarily a government programme. If you wanted to Google the Big Society and look at an identikit of what the Big Society should be in your area, you'll struggle to find anything. You won't see a government description." I wonder how closely the image of aircraft carriers for no aircraft will become associated with this Government.
The Big Society is the ultimate realisation of brand culture. The prevailing wisdom in government and big business is that they should devote themselves only to maintaining the brand, while outsourcing all components. The less they are involved the better. Control is eschewed in favour of not being accountable for perceived errors. The brand is kept pure by being separate from any actual endeavour. The Big Society means mind your own business – a blithely ironic perfect assimilation of Conservative liberalism and current business quackery.
What loss of benefit means
The spending review has yet again revealed the Government's lack of forethought and concern for the disabled. They show no awareness of the unintended consequences of denying people under 35 the right to housing benefit if they live alone.
Our 24-year-old autistic son lives alone, except for full-time care support. Under the proposals he will lose his housing benefit.
He cannot share his house with people other than a range of support workers because of the severity of his autism. So what happens? He will cost the local authority thousands of pounds a week if he has to live in a residential home. He will be very unhappy and cause endless problems because of being with other people, at even more cost to the NHS. This makes no sense, morally or financially.
Our son gets a very small amount of housing benefit as we have helped him buy a house, which he is purchasing using our large contribution and a DWP mortgage support, the rules of which don't allow him to share the property with anyone else. We are grateful that he was given this opportunity, but it appears that the Government now wants to take away his independence and a life he values.
To be a parent of our son means unending anxiety and a constant battle against the ignorance and thoughtlessness of the state.
Empire-builders of Whitehall
Sir Philip Green, in his savings review, may have missed an important feature of fiscal policy in both central and local government.
My experience comes from 32 years' service in two government departments, where I was responsible for the spending of a relatively small budget, and I suggest that there was an endemic attitude within the hierarchy to overspend each year. Indeed it was considered ideal if an overspend of 10 per cent could be maintained annually to support an increased budget each year.
We have all seen this attitude, with local authorities spending recklessly on quite dubious schemes near the end of each year.
Until some policy of prudence is adopted by the introduction of some form of incentive (and I'm not talking of bankers' bonuses) to stay within the budget allocation of departments the "empire-building" mentality will prevail.
Naval might on the rocks
If the Royal Navy cannot take better care of a £1bn submarine, I don't think they deserve any more aircraft carriers, especially as they don't have any planes to put on them.
Considering their likely fates would it not be a good idea to rename the future aircraft carriers so as to not embarrass the Queen and the Prince of Wales by association? HMS One Careful Owner and HMS Sitting Duck would seem more appropriate.
Letchworth Garden City,
Building a real gay community
I was disappointed to read in The Independent (23 October) Richard Ingrams's statement that "there is no such [gay] community in any meaningful sense of the word".
Accepting the Oxford dictionary definition of community as "the condition of having certain attitudes and interests in common" he may have a point. There is a very wide range of lifestyles and opinions across the population of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. But what he fails to recognise is the great uniting factor of being in a historically oppressed minority – something felt at some level by all aware gay people.
Increasingly this is being expressed in the kind of mutual support and self-empowerment that defines true community. While Ingrams may be ignorant of such organisations as the Edward Carpenter Community (named after the influential 19th-century visionary and socialist reformer) which has been bringing gay men together for 25 years, he cannot be unaware of gay people's increasing confidence and visibility as a community, reflected in the popularity and growth of Pride events throughout the country.
His comment, which carries a rather unappealing flavour of bigotry, also does a great disservice to the numerous community groups and charities dedicated to the welfare and wellbeing of LGBT people in this country.
Chair of the QT's (social group for Gay Men in Totnes),
Most of France ignores strikes
A footnote to your "Perspectives on the French protests" (letters, 23 October). Most of those emanating from foreign correspondents or, particularly, reporters and commentators of the French national media are Paris-based: the writers tend to get a nosebleed if they venture beyond the Paris ring road. And the sporadic urban violence – perpetrated by vandals, not the protesters – does make for better television.
But the protests and strikes are patchy in different parts of the country, and since the protesters are mainly from the public-sector unions, the private sector is far less affected. Out here in la France profonde, shops, offices, banks, bars are all open – and most of our local petrol stations are unaffected.
My wife and I flew back from the UK on Tuesday, a day of national strikes and protests, to find things little different from usual, apart from several schools we passed being closed. As your correspondent wrote, this coming week will decide whether the strikers orthe half-term holidaymakers win out.
Mind you, our "normal" British train service to the airport managed to be half an hour late on a 90-minute journey.
John Lichfield's claim (20 October), echoed in your editorial, that it is "absurd" for youngsters and university students in France to protest at proposed changes to pension rights, because they will not be affected for years, misses the point. It is precisely because they are protesting in support of their parents and grandparents, rather than in their own immediate interests, that it is so admirable. And perhaps they also have the perspicacity to recognise the thin end of a wedge when they see it.
Voting reform without donkeys
Andy McSmith (Village People, 23 October) cites Australia's alternative vote (AV) system as encouraging so-called "donkey voting", where voters just number candidates in the order they appear on the ballot paper.
But this problem has nothing to do with AV in itself, but instead with Australia's system of compulsory ranking, where voters must rank all the candidates. Being more respectful of voter choice, the proposed AV system for British elections, on offer next year, would not do this.
Donkey voting has nothing to do with electoral reform, and everything to do with Australia's forced ranking. I can understand why Australians would "donkey vote"– but I would like to reassure Andy McSmith that it would not happen here.
The idea of sharing services between the London boroughs of Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington and Chelsea, is an interesting one (report, 23 October). If they got together with a few more London boroughs and shared education services, they could perhaps call it the Inner London Education Authority.
Perspectives on the cuts
This is no mere housekeeping
If anyone doubts that the Coalition is taking advantage of the financial crisis to complete the Thatcherite revolution (Andrew Grice, 22 October) they merely have to apply the analogy of a household which is deeply in debt through some traumatic economic experience.
Black holes in domestic budgets lead to a period of necessary austerity, cutting out holidays and luxury goods, downgrading shopping choices and other economies. But such measures are designed to restore the home's economy and to permit a return to the pre-crisis standard of living.
No such restoration plans exist for this government. What is cut now will stay cut for ever. A return to economic stability will not reward all of us "in it together" by restoring the level of life of the underprivileged or reducing the costs of university education.
That life will be but a memory. A return to prosperity will, rather, benefit the old friends of the Tories, and the new friends of the Lib Dems – the rich, through Reaganomic tax cuts aimed at the wealthy. Thatcher's aim to roll back the so-called socialist state will be finally be achieved. Tomorrow belongs to the few. Mission accomplished.
Nothing fair about it
I am constantly hearing the word "fair" used in the context of the budget cuts. This is a spurious use of a vague term which allows the Government to make it appear that what is happening is equitable or just.
What is equitable about a low-income couple or family losing 2 per cent of their income and a higher-rate taxpaying couple losing the same percentage. In one case it means a loss of basic essentials, whereas in the other it means a possible lower level of savings or spending on non-essentials. Superficially the 2 per cent cut seems fair, but it is not equitable in its impact on family expenditure.
What is equitable about cutting public expenditure on local services which are relied on by less well-off families more than higher earners?
What is just about allowing banks, which we own, to pay obscene bonuses to their employees when local government workers, many of whom work hard, in difficult areas, dealing with social problems, may lose their jobs?
It's our money
In response to the opposition to public spending "cuts", may I remind readers that governments do not have money of their own. Every job "created" in the public sector is at the expense of a job in the private sector.
It is the productive members of the private sector who create a nation's wealth and who not only pay for their own families and pensions but also pay for the salaries, pensions, equipment, offices etc in the public sector.
If governments recklessly borrow and spend, encourage irresponsible lending, create the illusion of economic growth and cause a recession (like the previous Labour Government), a drastic reduction in unsustainable public spending is necessary. It is economic suicide and morally unfair to expect the wealth-creating private sector from factory worker to senior management to continue to finance a bloated bureaucracy and a false economy.
D S A Murray,
The Government believes that unless it increases taxes and reduces public expenditure to close the deficit it will be unable to maintain interest rates at their current low level.
As this is the reason for making these changes, it seems only fair to include in any calculation of who is bearing the cost of this exercise those who are deriving the benefit from lower interest rates. I doubt if it is the poorer section of our society.
Why they hate me
So there I was thinking that the Government's visceral hatred of me was just due to me being nearly old enough to receive a state pension, and having to claim incapacity benefit after severe illness prevented me from working and continuing to pay all the income tax I had done for years. But no, it seems that my being a woman is an economic crime too ("Jobs for the boys", 22 October) .
Because of the spending review, 490,000 workers will be giving up all their income. To help pay off the country's war debt in 1919, Stanley Baldwin donated 20 per cent of his personal fortune. Can we expect the Cabinet's 18 millionaires to show the same altruism? If they do, they'll still be millionaires.
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