Robbing the idle rich, Free trade/federal Europe and others

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The Independent Online

Robbing the idle rich fails to help the deserving poor

Sir: Johann Hari's proposal ("Pick a fight with the undeserving rich", 16 June) that inheritance tax should be used to even out perceived inequalities may be superficially attractive, but a little consideration of history beyond Lloyd George might have led him to a different conclusion.

If Lloyd George's proposals, as subsequently taken to their highest levels by the redistributive Labour Chancellor Denis Healey, actually redistributed wealth, why do Blair/Brown "confront a new aristocracy of multi-millionaires with surnames like Sainsbury and Barclay" almost a century later? In practice, such taxes almost never impact significantly on the "super-rich", who simply move their resources to a more tax-friendly environment through trusts or going offshore, and it's the "wonderfully chippy middle classes", in their over-priced and illiquid properties, who bear the brunt of it.

At the root of his misconception is the idea that the wealthy sit on piles of cash to be divided equitably on their deaths among the "deserving poor". The assets of the wealthy are mostly in the form of property, shares and artwork which means that, for those who haven't erected a tax shelter, estates and art collections are broken up, family homes sold and family-controlled companies put in jeopardy. The "deserving poor" may be enriched by visiting National Trust properties and art galleries whose assets have transferred from private to public ownership, but I doubt that inheritance tax will ever generate for them any significant tangible cash benefit.

Every generation will throw up its own inequalities - some will swim and some will sink - and any attempt to engineer a "level playing field" for all at birth, besides inflicting some pretty obvious injustices, is doomed to fail. I don't think making one man poorer has ever made another man richer, although it would, apparently, make Johann Hari feel better.

London W6

Yes to free trade: no to federal Europe

Sir: Fred Catherwood misses the point in his letter (15 June) in which he describes how the Overseas Trade Committee was able to put a quota on Japanese cars. The result could equally well have been obtained in a free trade area - which is what most of us thought we were getting when we signed up for Europe. We do not need political union to negotiate trade agreements.

He again misses the point when he says that "the Brussels Commission can only propose European laws". Unlike Sir Fred I have not spent my time "in shuttle diplomacy between London, Dublin and Belfast", I actually lived in continental Europe for nearly 30 years. My last 10-year stint was in Brussels as a management consultant to multinationals. I remember being asked my opinion of the draft Maastricht treaty. I actually read the wretched thing and was cheerily able to advise that no British Prime Minister would sign up to it as the only body allowed to propose laws was an unelected civil service. How wrong I was!

Those of us who know continental Europe well understand how its very different geography and history has shaped entirely different political and social structures. Used to being run by foreigners, the smaller countries embrace the EU as it gives them a voice, however small. The French and German ruling families embrace it as they are able to achieve their traditional political ambitions without war. That, Sir Fred, is the whole point of the EU.

If they are ever to win British hearts and minds, pro-Europeans must demonstrate the advantages to Britain of submerging itself into a federal structure rather then being in a free trade area. This they consistently fail to do.

Bethersden, Kent

Sir: I applaud the efforts that Sir Fred Catherwood undoubtedly made in defence of British interests inside the European umbrella, but his example of using the power of Europe's institutions to save the British motor industry is scarcely credible. His efforts of 25 years ago have resulted in the fact that from my living room window, I can see only one purely British car. And that's mine. Perhaps Sir Fred should look out of his.

Golden Green, Kent

Sir: Patrick Powell (letter, 16 June) says that "Europhiles" who think the European Union could be like the harmonious United States "choose to forget that for the US to become what it is today involved a very bloody civil war". Exactly. We've had two: in 1914-18 and 1939-45.

St Andrews, Fife

Sir: Excellent front page on what withdrawal from the EU would mean for Britain ("The £23bn Question", 16 June), but why didn't you run it before the election?

Dorking, Surrey

Sir: I would have expressed my strong opposition to UKIP by voting for the pro-Europe party; if only I could have figured out which one that was. Mind you, politicians committed to abolishing themselves? The appeal is understandable.

Beckenham, Kent

Coram's legacy

Sir: There are many misconceptions about Thomas Coram and as his biographer, may I correct some that have crept into your article on the Foundling Hospital (8 June)?

I have done Coram the honour of calling him by the title he most coveted, that of gentleman. He never referred to himself as captain and was never a "Sir". He was by profession a shipwright and for 10 years had a shipbuilding business in New England. Forced out, he returned to London in 1704 deeply in debt. He worked as factor for a consortium of London merchants, sometimes captaining a merchant ship across the Atlantic. For him the title of captain was synonymous with being seen as a hired hand. He was never what is generally understood as a "self-made man".

He always wished to return to America and was very active in promoting settlements in North America, and began his work for a charter for the Foundling Hospital in 1722 when he was in his fifties, not in 1704 as stated in the article. It took him 17 years to achieve his objective. Hogarth was present at Somerset House in 1739 when he handed over the Charter to the Duke of Bedford, the first president of the Foundling Hospital, bearing the signatures of 350 noble and prominent men.

Coram was only involved with the management of the hospital for two years, being ejected from the committee for being too outspoken about the behaviour of two trustees. He became impoverished, forced to live on the charity of friends. In all probability he never saw the beautiful courtroom or listened to Handel's concerts. The hospital was in the hands of gentlemen, leaders of society who had no time for Coram. He was finally granted a pension two years before he died in 1751, and according to his wish was buried beneath the altar of the chapel of the foundling hospital.

London SW1

Sir: Your recent article about the Foundling Hospital provided a fascinating and moving insight into one of England's oldest children's charities, today known as Coram Family. The article concludes with the Hospital moving out of London to Berkhamsted in 1926 and finally closing as a foundling institution in 1953. What many may not know is that the work of this great man, Thomas Coram, still continues. After the Berkhamsted buildings were sold to Hertfordshire County Council for use as a school the Foundling Hospital began a new life as the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, today known as Coram Family.

Situated next door to the Foundling Museum on the original site of the Foundling Hospital, Coram Family provides practical care and support for thousands of very vulnerable children, young people and families every year through a wide range of innovative projects.

While children are no longer left abandoned on the streets, today's challenges facing children and young families are still as great as ever.

Chief Executive, Coram Family
London WC1

Strike a light

Sir: I am very pleased to see the coverage given to Andrea Levy (The Saturday Profile, 12 June) for the award of the Orange Prize for fiction for her novel Small Island. However, her remark, "I like the point of contact between black and white. The fission. That's where the energy is", needs some clarification.

While fission, as she correctly states, releases energy, it produces separation and division, not points of contact. Is it that fusion, not fission, is the source of the energy she is referring to? As happens in the stars, the coming together of different components in fusion, produces integration with release of energy and light. As she goes on to say, "The people who come are as changed by it as the people they come to."

Head of Physics
Ampleforth College

Islamic dress

Sir: I applaud the decision of Mr Justice Bennett that Denbigh High School, Luton, had the right to exclude a pupil who "flatly refuses" to wear the uniform. On the same premise another girl could wish to wear a mini-skirt or bikini. Should the school allow this?

The school had already allowed Muslim girls the concession to wear shalwar-kameez, to comply with the Islamic dress code.

Many Muslims strongly disagree with the Muslim Council of Britain that the ruling is "very objectionable". On the contrary, we should teach our children to respect the law (as the Quran enjoins upon all Muslims) and not adopt a confrontational and arrogant attitude against all teachings of Islam.

and five others

Sir: Your editorial "School uniforms and a setback for common sense" (16 June), misses the main point. Shabina Begum's insistence that jilbab is more Islamic than shalwar and kameez is a result of her confusing culture with religion.

The school dress code, shalwar and kameez, is as much Islamic as jilbab except that former is a common female dress in the Subcontinent, the latter in the Arab world. For her to insist on such a trivial matter and miss two years of her schooling shows where her priorities lay.

I hope the matter has now been laid to rest by the High Court judgment. Human rights and multi-culturalism should not be used as licence for unreasonableness.

The Muslim Parliament
London W6

Psychology of louts

Sir: Raj Persaud (Opinion, 16 June) attributes England fan violence to a sense of solidarity awakened by overzealous policing on the Algarve, and draws a parallel with sentiment hostile to the European Union.

The evidence of TV footage is that the "fans" on Tuesday night were throwing bottles and chairs about with some abandon before the arrival of police. Might an excess of alcohol, too much money and too little civilising socialisation have had something to do with it?

On Sunday night, after the England-France encounter, there were violent displays of displeasure by England "supporters" in Billericay, when "drunken fans smashed fences and cars" in the vicinity of a pub, according to the local Evening Echo. There was more trouble in the High Street. Police were called in from several adjacent towns to quell the trouble. Nobody was seriously hurt. No doubt such low-level loutishness occurred in many other places than leafy Billericay.

Would a poll of these fans have shown them to be the groundswell of UKIP? I doubt it. Come off it Raj. There is a limit to psychobabble.

(Psychology teacher)

Healthy diet?

Sir: I was fascinated to read your article on the raw food diet (14 June), particularly the claim of its proponents that this was the diet that our ancestors evolved to eat. Just wondering if somebody could remind me what the life expectancy of our ancestors was.

Canberra, Australia

No relevant experience

Sir: Sir Richard Wilson confirmed what has been evident for years, that Blair "has never managed anything" ("The naked anger of a humiliated civil servant", 16 June). Other prime ministers had their managerial skills honed in the armed services - Attlee, Callaghan, Heath - while Wilson was a civil servant, who knew how to get the best out of the civil service, the finest in the world. As a barrister, Blair worked in chambers which are run by the clerk.


Most-hated women

Sir: Victoria Beckham, Jordan and Cherie Blair are the female role models most hated by British women (report, 10 June). Victoria and Jordan presumably because their professional success is put down down to glamour rather than talent. But why Cherie, who, despite Carole Caplin's attentions, is hardly glamourous? Are women displacing some Iraq anger from Tony to Cherie, when as a leftist lawyer she probably opposed the war? Or do women still want the Prime Minister to have a traditional wife similar to Norma Major or Laura Bush?

London SE16

Take no notice

Sir: Mr Ambrose, recently arrived from Australia, worries about our police when he sees notices such as "Police Drink Driving Kills" (letter, 16 June). He must have seen enough signs reading "Police Diversion" to realise it's all in fun.

Olney, Northamptonshire