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Tuesday 7 September 2010
Letters: Wiliam Hague
Hague, latest media victim
It is always a delight to read the common sense of Yasmin Alibhai Brown, in this case on the intrusion into the private life of yet another media victim (6 August).
If William Hague is as angry as I am about this latest intrusion, I hope he will take steps to enact some proper privacy laws against such violations. In fact I think that those reporters who take it upon themselves to report such things should first have their own private lives thoroughly examined to ensure that they are pure enough to do what they do.
Dr Tim Lawson
The appointment by William Hague of a friend, who worked as his driver and "gopher" during the election campaign, as a special adviser (Spad) in the Foreign Office raises once more the issue of how politicians seem to be a rule unto themselves when it comes to appointing staff.
Spads are appointed to the Civil Service but because of the nature of their role they are not required to be politically neutral. In all other respects, and in relation to their conditions of service and remuneration, they are public servants.
One would assume that the recruitment of Spads is done in accordance with the normal Civil Service fair selection procedures to ensure that whenever there is a vacancy the best qualified applicant gets the job. This becomes particularly important against the continuing debate about the need for Parliament to represent all sections of the community, as those who are appointed as special advisers very often go on to become MPs.
John E Orton
Surely William Hague deserves better than to be hounded by unscrupulous elements in the media on such ludicrously baseless grounds. His role in forming the Coalition arguably preserved this country from prolonged economic instability; is he to be rewarded with this farce?
Thankfully his constituents – those who actually know the man – have largely dismissed such claims with contempt, honouring the characteristic forthrightness of one marked by substance, not spin.
Stokesley, North Yorkshire
Disastrous shift of aid policy
The proposed shift in the focus of overseas aid spending away from eradicating poverty and towards national security would mark a disastrously retrograde step in UK foreign policy ("Coalition plans to link overseas aid to security", 30 August).
The vast majority of people in Britain believe that we have a collective moral obligation to help eradicate global poverty and the suffering it brings. An explicit shift in aid spending towards a "security"-driven agenda is likely to be fruitless in terms of reducing poverty, and counter-productive even on its own terms by leaching international goodwill towards Britain among a global populace that will perceive us as self-serving and uncaring.
Prior to the election, the then shadow minister for international development, Andrew Mitchell, tried to allay concerns over the Conservative Party's intentions on aid by professing that they were "completely un-ideological about how you get clean water, sanitation, basic health care and education to the people at the end of the tracks who don't have it".
Tying aid to narrow concerns on national security would not only represent an ideologically driven agenda, but would recall the dark days when "aid" was used to buy corruptible friends and mop up after the military, thus denying millions of people living "at the wrong end of the tracks" access to fundamental human needs.
Director, World Development Movement
Executive Director, War on Want
Director, Jubilee Debt Campaign
The leaked document outlining plans to use Britain's overseas aid to meet UK national security objectives is indeed worrying, though perhaps nothing new in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, where security interests have long been linked to the delivery of aid.
The notion that aid spending should complement national security interests – a notion that reaches its apex in the strategy to deploy aid to win the "hearts and minds" of a population – is wrong-headed and dangerous.
At MSF we cannot afford to accept a penny of government funding for our work in Afghanistan (we run a hospital in Helmand as well as in Kabul), nor for our work in Pakistan. To do so would be to encourage the perception that we are working in support of Western military forces, not solely in support of the people in desperate need of care.
Warring parties already view outsiders with suspicion. If Western aid policies mean that the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially those belonging to armed groups, do not trust that MSF's doctors and nurses are there with the sole intention to provide health care, then ultimately civilians will lose their access to health care, because we will be unable to function.
It is this same ill-judged rationale that has led to international donors trying to spend their aid money in the most conflict-ridden parts of Afghanistan, where in fact the western-funded clinics and hospitals are avoided by most of the population who are too afraid to use them. At the same time, areas of high population density, such as the city of Kabul, which has more than doubled in recent years, is not considered a priority for aid because it does not have strategic counter-insurgency implications. Consequently hundreds of thousands of very poor families in Kabul have no access to free health care.
For the safety of aid workers, as well as that of patients, a clear division needs to be made between aid designed to help people in desperate need, and aid designed to advance military and political strategies.
Médecins sans Frontières UK
Clean energy can do the job
Steve Connor is quite right to say that numbers, rather than vague statements, are important in considering future energy supplies ("Why achieving a cleaner energy economy involves a series of difficult choices", 3 September). But numbers that are available from reputable sources belie his pessimistic assessment of renewable sources of power.
A report by the Offshore Valuation Group estimates that the practical potential of offshore generating technologies in waters around the UK is nearly six times current UK electricity demand.
In another report, the European Environment Agency estimates that the "economically competitive potential" of wind power in Europe is three times projected demand for electricity in 2020 and seven times projected demand in 2030.
Researchers at the German Aerospace Centre have calculated that, using the proven technology of concentrating solar power (CSP), less than 1 per cent of the world's deserts could generate as much electricity as the world is using now. It is feasible and economic to transmit that electricity for 3,000 kilometres or more using low-loss HVDC transmission lines. Ninety per cent of the world's population lives within 2,700 km of a desert.
Research that is reviewed in the November 2009 issue of Scientific American shows that renewable energy technologies can provide 100 per cent of the world's energy (not just electricity) and that it is technically feasible to make the transition by 2030.
It is true that decarbonisation of the economy will cost money, but not as much as one might think. A recent report from the European Climate Foundation found that in several scenarios, including the generation of electricity from 100 per cent renewable sources, the future cost of electricity is comparable to the future cost of electricity under the current carbon-intensive infrastructure -- and supplies would be at least as reliable.
Dr Gerry Wolff PhD CEng
Menai Bridge, Anglesey
Why we fail to learn languages
Moya St Leger implies that the learning of foreign languages in UK schools would be greatly facilitated by the "systematic teaching of English grammar" (Letter, 30 August).
In my experience as a languages teacher in this country, grammar does not cause problems because pupils lack primary knowledge of the subject but, rather, because of its remoteness from the world which they experience. Since grammatical work often seems to occur exclusively in foreign language classes, pupils, quite naturally, view it as an abstract exercise, and one which is removed from their world. Consequently, learners often lack the necessary motivation to retain grammatical knowledge – though they experience no serious difficulty with it in lessons.
A foreign language is a less remote and more enticing subject for pupils when they experience traits of it being echoed in other lessons, and vice versa. For example, pupils in English or drama classes who compose and act out short scripts in order to explore particular emotions can do the same thing in French – even at an elementary level – while a well known chain of events from students' history syllabus can be simplified and presented in a past tense of a chosen language. During such exercises pupils' desire to communicate in a particular language becomes enormously more genuine.
In my experience, this – admittedly tricky – approach can reap considerable benefits. This view does not seem to be widely adopted though. Certainly, advertisements for languages teaching posts generally make no mention of any need to engage with other aspects of a school curriculum. I wonder, therefore, why we are surprised about the isolation and low popularity of foreign languages in UK schools.
Head of Languages The Arts Educational School London W4
When I was lecturing last summer at Peking University, some students told me that they were required to take weekly English language courses – at least one hour in a language class and one hour in a language laboratory. Is there any UK university that has compulsory foreign language learning for all of its students? Not necessarily of Chinese, or Arabic, but even of a continental European language?
At school level, the French baccalaureate requires study of a foreign language to the age (normally) of 18; in England, the school curriculum now allows pupils to abandon foreign languages at the age of 14.
Our increasing insularity might satisfy some Little Englanders in the short term but in the long term it will disadvantage future generations both culturally and economically .
Dr Alan Baker
Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Fran Oborski thinks that the Poles shame the monoglot UK (letter, 3 September), and she sings the praises of her teenage relative who speaks fluent English with no hint of an accent. Why does she think that is the case?
I would suggest that it is not because English kids are dull, lazy or slow learners but rather that they happen to be born in a country whose language has become the lingua franca. Maybe it's about time we stopped harking back to a time when language was a barrier to communication and started to appreciate the lucky fact that English is our mother tongue.
Guy Keleny (Errors and Omissions, 4 September) mildly takes Mary Dejevsky to task for using, if not actually coining, the word "monolingual" in preference to the classical "monoglot". Would "unilingual" have been a better choice? Does classical Greek have a word for a person fluent in two languages? Might that word be "duoglot"? If so, it would be most unlikely to replace "bilingual" in general usage. Strength to the arm of the pedantry police!
Pity our deprived kids when even an avowed grammarian teacher of French (letter, 3 September) can find fault with his English teacher colleague's perfectly correct "lived in the same town as John and I".
Children need male influence
The lack of men working with our younger children is thrown into stark relief by the news that only one man under 25 is left working with under-fives as a state school nursery teacher (report, 3 September).
While fully concurring with the view of Sue Palmer that boys at this formative stage of their development need a male role-model I would say the problem goes deeper than that. For both girls and boys, the absence of men in their early education reinforces the sense for children that it is women, and therefore mothers, who matter and men/fathers who are peripheral to overseeing their development.
This only perpetuates powerful influences on male-female relationships in adulthood, and on power dynamics in the home, where the absence of fathers is not uncommon. Girls, in particular, may be left with the sense that they will automatically hold the reins of power on the domestic front when they grow up.
What is happening in our nursery and primary schooling, where children can pass through the most formative period of their education and socialisation with barely any adult male input (sometimes none) is, I suggest, a serious problem which feeds heterosexual relationship breakdown and familial unhappiness.
There is a sense around that this "doesn't really matter" because the discussion rarely gets beyond the impact on educational achievement. I invite readers to consider how it would seem if things were the other way around and men thoroughly dominated the teaching and care of young children, with barely a woman in sight. This would be a serious problem too of course, and yet we are so used to the status quo we have in the opposite direction that we seem to accept it is "just the way it is".
I suggest this issue merits a more far-reaching debate which goes beyond schooling and addresses the assumptions and patterns around gender relations and socialisation in the UK. The gross imbalance in our schools between male and female staff is outdated and damaging, and urgently requires a national strategy to tackle the problem.
Senior Lecturer Counselling & psychological Therapies
University of Central Lancashire, Preston
Those of us who lived in or around Hendon North in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties will have been reminded by reading your obituary (6 September) of the late Sir John Gorst's election slogan: "Gorst, of courst". This snappy catchphrase worked well for him at many general election contests.
Perspectives on the countryside
Vested interests are fighting back
We now understand from Tony Blair's new book that the reason that the Hunting Act still allows hunters to continue under this weak and worthless ban was that his dark hands were all over the Act. Mr Blair showed great cowardice in the face of hunting interests.
Living in the heart of Somerset one only has to pick up a local newspaper to see the mass movement of the countryside vested-interest groups as they start to dismantle the shackles of New Labour. This can range from the lifting of the food production and control regulations to slackening of animal welfare governance, with vets no longer required all the time at livestock markets.
Dairy farmers are at the forefront in calling for a mass cull of the poor scapegoat badgers; their cry is always that the main source of bovine TB is within the wildlife population and nothing to do with "zero grazing" cattle, frequent livestock movements and factory-farming regimes .
I am sure it's only a matter of time before the repeal the Hunting Act, as this warfare on the countryside rages to new intensities.
Most people want hunt ban to stay
Mary Rose Gliksten (letter, 6 September) suggest that Tony Blair used the hunting issue to redeem himself with the left of the Labour Party. However, the Hunting Act was and is backed by 70-75 per cent of the public, including a majority of Tory voters, and its parliamentary supporters included a limited number of Conservative and Liberal MPs.
The purported fox-population-control pretext for fox hunting has long been demolished by peer-reviewed scientific research, while hare coursing of course is indulged in purely for kicks.
The only role played by the non-Blairite wing of the Labour party was to pressure Blair to move outside his comfort zone by for once antagonising the powerful coalition of Tory newspapers and establishment figures for whom hunting is a cultural fetish.
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