The British and French governments should concentrate their efforts on supporting international efforts to bring the different sides in Syria together. Instead, they seem bent on a similar intervention to that which, masquerading as protecting civilians, bombed Gaddafi from power.
We would be naive if we supposed that we could impose instant democracy on Syria. Free elections would see political parties formed on communal lines and the rising to the surface of tensions that have been until the present largely quiescent. The ruling Ba’athist, secular Syrian government is authoritarian, but has worked well – save for the 1982 uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood – in maintaining a reasonable harmony among Syria’s mosaic of peoples and religions.
Nor is it fair to vilify the Assads to the degree that British media have been doing. Unlike Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, and his father Hafez before him, have not conspicuously enriched themselves, and have worked hard in the service of their country; and not only of their country – any foreign leaders from the West visiting Hafez al-Assad were sure to be at the receiving end of a long lecture on the right of Arabs generally, including Palestinians, to resist Israel.
As with any authoritarian government, unhappily, the present Syrian government’s power is maintained by a pampered security apparatus who are, as much as the Assad inner circle, now fighting for their existence. But the answer lies through negotiating an end to the civil war and in the establishment of a government of national unity, not in stoking up the fighting or, worse, intervening to overthrow the government and parade our military hardware as we did in Libya.
John Roderick Walters
How refreshing to receive a lecture on human rights from Vladimir Putin. Without weapons and support from his government the Syrian regime might never have sunk to the depths where it became feasible for the rebels to “eat the guts of their enemies on camera”.
And how galling that the conclusion of his argument is probably undeniable: that for the West now to supply military aid to the rebels would be tantamount to pouring petrol on the conflagration.
East Molesey, Surrey
Labour opts out of state education
So now the Labour Party, according to Stephen Twigg, is abdicating responsibility for state education. Freeing all schools to behave like academies looks like another Goveian step towards privatising state education.
It is all very well for private schools to set out their aims and objectives in a prospectus – however eccentric those aims and objectives may be – and for the parents to pay to have those aims and objectives visited upon their children. It is an entirely different matter for taxpayers to fund aims and objectives which are not moderate or well founded and which do not embrace material suitable for the entire ability range.
Formulating a curriculum for state education is an onerous task, yet the future prosperity of Britain depends upon it. Academies and free schools are a cowardly cop-out which absolves ministers from thinking hard about what education is really about.
Stephen Twigg’s statement is, I fear, all about politics and not about education.
Question: Under Stephen Twigg’s new proposals, when is a national curriculum not a national curriculum? Answer: when it’s a national curriculum.
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria
Honours prop up the elite
Every year the Queen’s Birthday honours list throws up its usual crop of socialist hypocrites and capitalist scoundrels, with a smattering of the genuinely deserving in the lower ranks to give it credibility. And this year is no different.
Among Labour Party supporters whose socialist principles have been compromised are Tony Robinson (Baldrick) and TUC leader Brendan Barber. Moral corruption and “cunning plans” are not confined to Blackadder.
Among the unholy alliance of the Labour Party with the Establishment are bankers and tax-avoiding chief executives who have brought this country to its knees, increased inequality and damaged social justice. Anyone with a scrap of social conscience would not wish to be associated with them. Certainly not sincere socialists,
The honours system is an anachronism whose purpose is not to recognise outstanding achievement but to sustain an undemocratic, monarchist Establishment. Once admitted to this elitist club, its members are given a disproportionate influence over society, making “one man, one vote” democracy a joke. The House of Lords is already overflowing with unelected capitalists and each year the honours list adds more to swell the ranks of the Establishment.
If anything needs reform this is it. It would eliminate one reason used by the monarchy to justify its undemocratic privileges, and prevent political hypocrites and Establishment sycophants from gaining social elevation and status they don’t deserve.
Otley, West Yorkshire
The honours system has been so devalued in recent years that I no longer refer to any knight as “Sir”.
A disastrous decision in 1914
Andreas Whittam Smith (15 June) neatly summarises Sir Edward Grey’s justification for going to war in 1914 – “he had no alternative but to honour the terms of the alliance with France” – but thereby perpetuates the myth, and Grey’s mistaken belief, that Britain had to fight Germany on France’s behalf. We did not.
First, the “alliance with France” was no such thing. Traditionally, British policy had, unless directly attacked, been one of non-intervention in Europe. The 1904 “entente cordiale” was originally a loose military agreement between France and Britain, but under Grey it was allowed, secretly, to grow into what he held to be an alliance. Many in the Cabinet in 1914 were unaware of just how entrenched Anglo-French relations had become.
Second, Grey’s explicit reason for going to war in 1914 was to uphold the neutrality of Belgium, which Britain had guaranteed in 1839. It was that treaty which Grey felt bound to “honour” in 1914, although previous governments had been prepared to ignore such obligations.
The question then turns to why exactly we had to fight to uphold the chivalric notion of “honour”, a word which Grey used repeatedly in July and August 1914. After all, France and Germany had gone to war in 1870, and we hadn’t intervened then. The Germans even won, and there was little sign that another German victory in 1914 would, in the long-term, directly threaten Britain’s interests. Kaiser Bill was no Hitler.
Did Britain really have to suffer 2.3 million casualties, bankrupt herself and hasten the loss of her empire, simply to preserve her honour? The fact that the answer is no, and that Grey’s decision to enter the war was the single most disastrous foreign policy decision in British history, should be reflected in any “celebrations” this August.
Dr Bendor Grosvenor
Ethical clash in the middle lane
This claptrap about driving in the middle lane has nothing to do with road safety or congestion. It is about doing as you are told, something that we Brits are particularly sensitive about. I imagine that Tony Woods’ friend Bubs (letter, 17 June) puts the fear of God into drivers as he “gets them to move into the correct lane” – they probably fear an attack by a Hells Angel if they don’t.
(middle lane driver)
Tony Woods’ friend Bubs exhibits the arrogance typical of many motorcyclists who believe they have a God-given right to “punish” other road users. It is not amusing; it is simply bad and dangerous behaviour.
Why we don’t pay more tax
James Moore (“Consumer the loser as investors hold whip hand”, 11 June) says Thames Water sees paying corporation tax as “entirely optional” and as “a voluntary levy.” This is simply not the case.
The Government’s capital allowances, which have existed since 1878, provide tax relief on investment. Their aim is to encourage firms to invest, and to boost the economy as a whole.
As Thames Water spends £1bn a year upgrading its old networks, these allowances have deferred the payment of corporation tax to future years. The Government says it expects companies to use these allowances, which are applied automatically when they file their tax returns.
Chief Finance Officer
Zany dandies are back
John Walsh misjudges the Chaps when he calls their style Edwardian (“Is the Great British dandy an endangered species?” 17 June). Their zanily eclectic style is culled from four decades from the early 1920s on, not the Edwardian period.
But he may have a point in saying that true dandies seldom follow any magazine’s dictates, no matter how witty. And he is spot-on in suggesting that the revival in the sales of cravats and waistcoats shows a resurgence in the dandy spirit.
Berwick St James, Wiltshire
This month so far, I have been asked to save Lifeboats, Great Ormond Street children, Progressio, Ethiopiaid, donkeys, Air Ambulance, Macmillan Nurses (more than once) and to get a Barclaycard. Cancer Research sent me a sheet of nametags and a book of raffle tickets with my surname mis-spelt, which I returned.
I can’t help feeling, in my confused 82-year-old way, that an incredible amount of money must be spent doing this.
Regarding the subject of female genital mutilation (letter, 17 June), stop calling it FMG and give it the correct title of GBH, which is exactly what it is.
Bowness on Windermere, Cumbria