Letters: Work ethic

A workshy society will soon face a rude awakening
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The Independent Online

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown makes some pertinent points in her article "If you don't want immigrants, will you then do their jobs?" (22 February) but she is too polite to address the basic problems posed by the bread-and-circuses decadence of modern British society.

I refer to the assumption of entitlement to easy living of a culture where the vocational ambition of over 50 per cent of schoolchildren was found to be achieving celebrity by participating in a reality TV show; where unemployment benefit continues to be paid to able-bodied people unwilling to fill vacancies in agriculture and service industries; where the hard work and perseverance of obtaining the skills and qualifications needed to build a worthwhile career are not considered worthwhile; and where the education establishment, industry and above all the Government have abdicated their responsibilities for ensuring people of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged and if necessary steered into the training and education required for the vacancies available.

No shame is felt when as a result of this we poach expensively trained professionals in the health, education, caring and construction industries from poorer societies in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe.

We have got away with this over the past few decades because of the artificially high value of sterling against other currencies, but we are living on borrowed time. Polish plumbers, Romanian fruit-pickers, Indian doctors and South African nurses will no longer be available when they can earn more in their own countries. A dose of reality is imminent.

David Burton

Wellington, Telford

Voters' choice: the bully or the toff

In the run-up to the general election, policies and debate have been replaced by name-calling and mud-slinging. The Tories are portraying Gordon Brown as a tyrannical, ranting maniac shouting incoherent instructions from his underground bunker. Labour are doing their damnedest to portray David Cameron as a champagne-quaffing toff wiping his feet on the great unwashed.

Their exaggerations of each other have become ridiculous – though not as ridiculous as Brown's TV appearance showing his "softer side"' or Cameron claiming to like darts and a pint.

But then, both leaders realise that the election may well be won or lost by how effectively they discredit the other in the eyes of the political ignoramuses who vote for the personality they dislike the least while having no idea about their policies.

Alan Aitchison

Wakefield, West Yorkshire

It has long been Tony Benn's mantra that "the ishoos" are more important than personalities. This finds an echo in your editorial assertion that the election "must be about policies, not personalities" (22 February). Well, up to a point, but what about the competence required to address the issues and successfully deliver the policies?

Even if you believe in New Labour's priorities and policies – and I seldom do either – its track record of delivery is abysmal. It cannot be entirely coincidental that during most of its period in office it has effectively been controlled by Gordon Brown.

This is not the way to lead or manage effectively. Everything we now know suggests that Brown's personality is deeply flawed, that this can fatally cloud his judgement, and that for this reason alone he is unfitted to lead the country, the Cabinet or even his long-suffering office staff.

Ralph Windsor

Ramsey, Isle of Man

John Rentoul fails to understand just what bullying is and how it affects the victim ("How can a security man scare so easily?" 22 February). He, along with Lord Mandelson and others who have defended the Prime Minister, seems to think that being "passionate" or having a "forceful personality" is an excuse for throwing your weight around. It isn't.

Bullies single out those who are least able to defend themselves, which is why bullying is common in the workplace, where power relationships are asymmetrical. So it is perfectly possible for first-rate security guards to be totally confident and fully in control of a situation where they are defending their employer, while at the same time being intimidated by that employer. They are trained and capable in the first situation but powerless in the second.

Colin Browning


In making light of the Prime Minister's allegedly intemperate behaviour towards his staff, John Rentoul needs to check the law or spend a few hours in a magistrates' court. There is no need for blows to be struck for an offence to be committed.

Sections 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act (1986) provide protection for the public against threatening behaviour, harassment, alarm or distress. Sentences of up to six months' imprisonment for the perpetrator are available to magistrates for the most serious offences of this type.

N Bernard JP

Chilson Common, Somerset

Christine Pratt says she went public with confidential information "as a result of a statement of denial issued by Downing Street". Yet if communications with the National Bullying Helpline are in any way confidential, by definition an employer would not know that such contacts had taken place.

This is a truly extraordinary breach of trust. Victims of bullying now know that the national helpline will tell the world about their complaints, if and when it can contribute to a contrived media story with little or no relevance to voters' ordinary lives.

Peter McKenna


Proof yet again that Brown lacks his predecessor's political nous. Blair got someone else to do his bullying for him.



Green energy clouded by doubt

There is no need for "national power failure" (leading article, 4 February). You are right that more could be done about energy efficiency, because that could enable customers to use less and pay less. Renewable energy is already supported, and to comply with European legislation, 30 per cent of our electricity will have to come from renewables by 2020.

The present market, introduced specifically to encourage predictable and competitive electricity supply, works. But the prospect of it having to accommodate large amounts of less predictable renewable energy is clouding other power investment decisions. So too, after the feeble outcome of the Copenhagen talks, is the absence of clarity about future limits on CO2 emissions, which should provide the signal that the industry expects to give competitive advantage to low-carbon technologies.

Electricity companies face a bill for investment of some £200bn, to replace elderly power stations and move to low-carbon electricity production. But political uncertainty and the unintended outcomes of past decisions make investment decisions more difficult than they should be. Changing the market could be part of the road map out of this problem, but, at the first junction there should be a sign that reads "Proceed with caution. Unintended consequences ahead."

David Porter

Chief Executive, Association of Electricity Producers, London SW1

Where the groat came from

Your report on the proposed makeover of John o' Groats (13 February) states that the Dutchman Jan de Groot, who obtained a royal grant for the ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney in 1496, "gave his name to both the area and the unit of currency he charged travellers".

Not so: the groat coin had been well established for more than a century by then. It was the name given in the Middle Ages to all thick silver coins, as distinguished from thin coins such as deniers and bractates. The name is a translation of denarii grossi (large denarii), and in England was applied specifically to the fourpenny piece, introduced in 1279 in the reign of Edward I.

This coin was copied from the continental gros tournois. The first issue was not a success, but from 1351, during the reign of Edward III, it became a popular coin, and remained so for more than 200 years.

Paul Sieveking

London NW5

Law reform helps Jewish divorcees

I read with interest your article "Longest-serving 'chained wife' finally breaks free after 48 years" (19 February). I have been involved in several attempts, on behalf of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, in the last 30 years or so, to assist in alleviating such problems.

The board, with the agreement of the entire Jewish community, and with the assistance of many others in the general community, were eventually able to put the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002 on the statute book. The Act permits either party to the marriage to seek to obtain an order of the court to refuse or delay the granting of a decree absolute of the civil divorce, until such time as a declaration is made by both parties to the marriage that they have taken such steps as are required to dissolve the marriage in accordance with the usages of the Jews (a get), which information is then produced to the court.

Regrettably this would not have assisted Ms Zinkin, as her divorce was well before this Act came into force. I am conscious that the Act is by no means a cure in every situation that can arise, but we are aware that there are many who have benefited from its passing.

Eleanor F Platt QC

Chairman, Family Law Working Group, Board of Deputies of British Jews, London WC1

Muslim Pakistan's capital of fashion

As a former resident of Karachi, I was amused to read that Karachi had its first fashion show a few months ago ("Karachi literary festival hopes to turn page on bombs", 18 February). I wonder what people had been attending, watching models walk down ramps, showing wares by local designers, for the past 50 years or so?

Karachi may not be the literary capital of Pakistan, but it has always been at the fashion forefront. What is fairly recent however, is Pakistani designers entering the realm of western wear, in order to be recognised internationally. We have always had fashion shows showcasing the elegant shalwar kameez (our national dress) and myriad forms of formal bridal wear.

Karachi has always been the business capital of the country, while Lahore has held its title as the cultural capital, with its literary, musical and Sufi festivals.

Mullahs have always been around, but have rarely crossed paths with the glamorous side of Pakistan, which is created by, and catered to, the educated urban class. Even a mullah knows his limits.

Aman Shahbaz

Faringdon, Oxfordshire

Squalid trains

Professor Claire Hale (letter, 22 February) complains about the filthy trains, blaming the train companies: "The tables and seating areas are strewn with empty drinks and food containers and often food itself." Perhaps the filthy travelling public bears some responsibility for this?

John Naylor

Ashford, Middlesex

Man of mystery

Will the real Bruce Anderson please stand up? Is it the spiteful and vengeful warrior (13 February) who advocates the use of torture in defiance of all known civilised behaviour? Or is it the warm and cuddly Bruce who empathises so sincerely with the victims of workplace bullying at No 10 (20 February)? We need to know.

David Burgess

Little Bardfield, Essex

I am surprised that Bruce Anderson didn't suggest torturing Gordon Brown into admitting that he is a bully.

David McNickle

St Albans, hertfordshire

Banks for sale

So the bank shares that the Government bought with my taxes and without asking my permission will be knocked out cheap to people who don't pay any tax, who will then sell them on, mainly to large financial institutions, for a small profit. All they have to do to take advantage of this two-stage scam is to vote Tory.

Rob Webb

St Breward, Cornwall

Fun of the fair

Following the revelation of New Labour's pre-election slogan, I am very much looking forward to this Future Fair, in particular the following attractions: the Big Dipper (of boom and bust); the Helter Skelter (a downward plunge); the Ghost Train (of taking responsibility for mistakes); the Hall of Distorting Mirrors; and the Carousel (appearing to make progress but, in reality, just going round and round and round).

Andy Ward


Israel lobby

I would thank Brian Hennessey (letter, 19 February) not to refer to the supporters of and apologists for Israel's crimes (in the US or elsewhere) as the "Jewish lobby". Many such people are not Jewish and, more to the point, many Jews (including many in the US and even Israel) deplore them as much as Mr Hennessey does.

Laurie Marks