When Andy Burnham complains about the status of women's sport, he mostly picks on targets outside of his control, such as broadcasting coverage ("Why is women's sport treated as a sideshow?", 23 March). Yet there is one simple and cost-effective thing his government could do to show he is serious about his cause.
After the England (men's) cricket team won the Ashes in the summer of 2005, every single member of the team that played got an MBE in the New Year's Honours, and captain Michael Vaughan got an OBE. This included Paul Collingwood who only played in one (drawn) Test. Meanwhile, the women's team, who also won the Ashes that summer (a rarer and more significant victory perhaps, but which did not get blanket media coverage) had to make do with one OBE for their captain. The bloc award of MBEs to all male players regardless of their contribution was criticised at the time, but defended by government ministers.
The challenge to Mr Burnham is to make sure the World Cup winners of this weekend aren't so poorly done by when it comes to public recognition by the state. They should, in short, receive exactly the same awards for their success (as semi-professionals) as their much better financially rewarded male equivalents would receive for winning the men's World Cup – something which has so far eluded them. The cost of this would be negligible, but the effect would be surely as great as any other more expensive programme that Mr Burnham might put in place, and might encourage broadcasters and audiences to take the claims of women's sport more seriously.
Corrosive effect of Jade Goody's fame
The usually incisive Johann Hari misses the point in his piece about the belittling of "chavs", as personified by Jade Goody, as a "salve for our own soiled consciences" (23 March).
Where ignorance is celebrated, education dismissed as irrelevant and cleverness despised, there should be no acceptance of that view, no matter how hard the life of the individual espousing it.
We now have a society where bright schoolchildren deliberately fail exams so as not to be labelled boffins by their peers, while those in essential and worthwhile jobs like nursing and teaching are treated with contempt by the low-pay status of those professions. A generation of young people now aspires to "be famous" – not through achievement, but just by being. The route from poverty, deprivation and abuse was once though education and personal endeavour. So are we not right to despise those who traduce that tradition and replace it with the bright lights of the celebrity TV studio?
I wonder how many people now praising Jade Goody's courage and mourning her passing, from newspaper columnists to politicians, were the ones calling for her head when she made those distasteful remarks to on Celebrity Big Brother, which were low-level ignorance as opposed to full-blown racism. Or the ones ridiculing her lack of general knowledge when she first appeared on our screens.
Jade's story illustrates that you can get where you want to in life, regardless of education or wealth – but the price of this is that the bourgeoisie will hate you for it, and ultimately only be happy when you are dead. They can then repackage the tragedy and death, rather than trying to make sense of the life that doesn't fit in with their elitist paradigm.
When Johann Hari insists Jade Goody said nothing racist during Celebrity Big Brother, he overlooks her infamous "Shilpa Poppadom" rant, racism in its most infantile and closed-minded form. Undoubtedly Goody was a product of her upbringing and endured a childhood unimaginable to many of us, and certainly she deserved sympathy rather than contempt.
However Hari with his hagiographical account of Goody's life is just as misguided as those who demonised her. She was an appalling role model for young people. I wonder if he would haughtily defend young members of the BNP or National Front on the same basis he defends Jade – often their ignorance stems, like hers, from poor education and their anger from social deprivation. Ignorance and intolerance can be understood but they should never be celebrated, let alone used as a catapault to wealth and national adulation.
Keep bankers out of the classroom
Andy Sawford's desire to "bring pay and status for social workers into line with other similar professions such as teaching" (Opinion, 13 March) hardly represents soaring ambition. Pay and status for teachers remain extremely modest, and (just like social workers) the profession continues to be plagued by distrust and hostility from politicians and the media.
If the financial sector of the economy had been subjected to the same degree of deep suspicion and rigorous regulation which has been visited on teachers by every government since 1979, the country would have avoided the current financial meltdown. If, when Stephen Byers was scuttling around the country in 1997 squeaking about "zero tolerance of failure", he had meant banks instead of schools, the taxpayer would have avoided billions of pounds of debt.
The idea that mature adults from different walks of life and work experiences could make good teachers is perfectly commendable, and that includes those from the more modest end of the banking sector who are not responsible for the economic downturn.
However the fact that those from money and finance have been specifically designated to be propelled into teaching after an accelerated six-month teacher-training course is a further type of politicisation of the education system, with children at an early age being given the message that capitalism is the only possible economic system.
We are seeing every day what can happen when business managers and their business methods are brought into public services such as the poor old NHS. Now we are supposed to be pleased that so many of the "clever" redundant and new graduate would-be city professionals are taking up teaching.
A quick look at any publication on personality profiles in different graduate professions might at the very least give grounds for further thought. Do we really want folk like that in the classrooms? And eventually in headships, in authority over the true professionals?
St Ola, Orkney
The shame of MPs' expense claims
As a resident of the Harrow East constituency, I am sadly disappointed to learn that Tony McNulty MP has been claiming housing expenses for what seem to me very dubious reasons (report, 23 March).
Coming soon after a similar exposé of another Government minister, one is led to the assumption that standards of integrity within the Commons, and also the Lords, are variable and unfairly tarnish those members who conduct themselves to the high standards which the electorate has a right to expect.
Parliamentary standards are in urgent need of reform. The practice of MPs taking part-time jobs as paid advisers to outside interests should end, as should the cosy relationships that exist between those in positions of influence within Government, and outside lobbying firms.
Under the present system, the opportunities for sleaze and corruption are ever-present and erode the confidence of the general public in their elected officials.
G V Cornwell
Are we meant to be thanking Mr McNulty for telling us there are some "anomalies" in the rules regarding MPs' expenses?
UK complicit in the onslaught on Gaza
The news of the behaviour of the Israeli army comes as a surprise only to those who wilfully chose to deny reality (20 March). However in spite of the fact that Israel deliberately planned the Gaza onslaught and carried it out mercilessly, our Government and the EU have chosen to use our taxes to rebuild what Israel has destroyed, are busily patrolling the seas around Gaza to prevent arms smuggling, while continuing to arm Israel, are allowing Israel to set the agenda for Gaza's reconstruction and continuing to allow Israel preferential entry into the European markets, in spite of her abrogation of human rights.
Surely the world has learnt that appeasing an aggressor only results in fuelling the appetite for greater barbarity. In the absence of any sanction, and indeed in the presence of what can only be called reward for felony, one can but conclude that the governments of this country, the European Union and the US are indeed complicit in Israel's actions.
What is depressing about the Israelis is the haste, shown in the letter from Alan Halibard (21 March), with which they use any threat or claim made against them as a justification to act as a thuggish vengeful militia and not as a mature state. Britain endured years of extreme taunts from Irish Republicans in the 1970s, but wisely refrained from trashing the people of the Bogside.
Israel has a state apparatus, an army, an economy and border control. The Gazan Palestinians have none of these things. To say that the anti-Israel stance of Hamas justifies a brutal rampage in which all laws of war are abandoned shows either a loss of reality or a mentality which one hesitates to name.
Revelations of more Israeli atrocities; this time in the words of their own soldiers. Now the truth is out, why cannot the International Criminal Court pursue those Israeli political and military leaders whose war crimes remain uninvestigated and unpunished?
Following Israel's self-appointment as the world's most moral army, may I appoint myself as the world's greatest lover. When after five minutes this claim is questioned and then ridiculed, I will aggressively question your editorial standards and bias.
Might there be a correlation between Michael McCarthy's homage to the vanishing cuckoo (23 March) and the fact that today in Richmond Park almost half the people I passed were plugged into iPods? Maybe these birds feel they have lost their audience.
You report (21 March) that G20 protesters "will try to bring London to a standstill" and that the Metropolitan police will be employing "more than 10,000 officers" to control the expected 2,000 protesters; ie five police officers per protester at a cost of £7.2m.
This will illustrate to the world that the law-abiding British taxpayer is willing to pay a large sum of money to ensure that the planet's power elites are free to go about their business without any unfortunate input from the citizens.
Boris's traffic plans
Boris Johnson's proposed weakening of London's congestion charge is, as Richard Ingrams points out (21 March), a reminder of the reality of Tory transport policy. Whatever fine words they may use in opposition, in power they prefer the private car to public transport. The Mayor has also shown his colours by cancelling a number of public-transport improvements, including innovative bus schemes and extensions to the DLR and Tramlink.
Pope and condoms
Don't you think that the righteous indignation (letters, 23 March) concerning the Pope's statement on condoms is a little misplaced? Surely he has done more than anyone to publicise the issue of condoms, as evidenced by the huge increase in hits on related websites. By stressing the tenets of the Catholic church he has, perhaps not inadvertently achieved the exact opposite of his stated aim.
Drug tests on hair
Testing an athlete's hair for illegal drugs might well be a useful adjunct to urine sampling in certain circumstances (letters, 23 March) but of course the IOC would also need to insist on 1970s hairstyles for all participants. After all, I doubt the prospect of hair-testing would have unduly concerned the rather less than hirsute Ben Johnson at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.