With Patrick Cockburn’s extremely important piece last week on Julian Assange ('The Assange extradition case is an unprecedented attack on press freedom’, 5 October) it was good to see that The Independent was living up to its name.
The Wikileaks disclosures brought to light criminal behaviour the US government wanted concealed from its citizens – the revelation of which is probably the most important function of a free press. However, this government has done everything possible, at the cost of tens of millions of pounds, to punish Mr Assange to please its US ally. Anyone following reports on the recent proceedings would be utterly shocked at the show-trial nature of the hearings.
There are arguably more important press failings, for example, the feeble media challenges to the government’s deceits around Covid-19 reporting, or the fiascos and corruption over PPE, test and trace and the amazingly crass transfer of the elderly from hospitals to care homes. Also, of course, on the selling of lethal weaponry to the Saudis that the UN claims are being used for war crimes in Yemen. (The government was outraged by the alleged use of Novichok in Britain, yet its weapons are being used to kill thousands of civilians abroad – the hypocrisy is breathtaking.)
An informed public is vital for any meaningful democracy and it is their right, except where secrecy is necessary for national security, to know what it is being done in their name. If the bulk of the media, as it appears in the Assange case, collude with the government on silencing whistleblowers, they are doing the country no favours. The silence of the national press, and the BBC in particular, on the Julian Assange hearings is a disgrace.
We’re all stuffed this Christmas
Nicola Sturgeon’s warning about the need for people to curtail their customary festivities at Christmas this year because of coronavirus reminded me of the time Harold Macmillan’s chancellor of the exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd, introduced in 1961 various measures of what we would now call “austerity”, including a “pay pause”.
One wit described it thus: “Selwyn Lloyd is doing well/ No beer, no fags, no cash, Noel”
Workers need to learn new skills
This morning’s news that UK job losses rose at the fastest rate since records began, coupled with the biggest rise in unemployment in over a decade, show the devastating effects the pandemic has had on jobs and businesses. With further restrictions likely to be imposed over the winter months, we must brace ourselves for further disruption.
In April, a survey suggested that a fifth of firms did not have enough cash to survive even the next four weeks. Our own research certainly confirmed that firms’ top lines have taken a knock during the pandemic with revenue for SMEs down 6.6 per cent on average over the last six months. Many continue to anticipate challenges, with a third of SMEs expecting to make some employees redundant in the next three months.
Yet there is cause for optimism. SMEs have also been prompt to adapt and quickly tailored their business and operating models to the new, rapidly changing business environment, with 37 per cent of businesses asking their employees to take on new responsibilities and expand their skillset. In the face of the biggest economic hurdle in decades, having the right skills isn’t just “a nice to have” for businesses – it is essential for survival.
If we are to get the economy back on its feet, remain competitive on the global scene and sustain growth, we need to better support all workers to reskill and upskill throughout their careers and encourage them to start adapting their skillsets to the post-pandemic ways of working. This includes changing the apprenticeship levy to an apprenticeship and skills levy for all workers to ensure businesses have the talent they need now and in the future; continuing to invest towards higher level apprenticeships to raise the skill levels of the UK workforce; and introducing a rebuttable right to retrain to empower workers to request further training and development.
Andrew Harding, chief executive – management accounting, The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
No penalties for footballers
While the population is subjected to restrictions on travel and socialising, leaving industries facing closure, it seems the same does not apply to sport. With the national, Champions’ and Europa leagues, coupled with the European Nations’ Cup, hundreds of clubs with their players and entourage are flying backwards and forwards across the country and Europe, as far as Kazakhstan, to play matches.
They use aircraft, do not socially distance and then return to their own clubs, using aircraft, trains or cars. The risk of infection somewhere must be huge, yet it is permitted demonstrating total hypocrisy.
Thank you very much for the article, ‘How Beethoven’s suffering created some of the world’s most joyous music’ (9 October).
I was born and raised in Bonn and remember meeting my friends at the city’s favourite meeting place, the Beethoven statue on Bonn’s central square. In Bonn, you encounter Beethoven everywhere – streets, squares, concert halls and schools are named after him. During this year’s carnival, the whole city sold out of Beethoven wigs as many chose to dress up as the city’s prodigious son.
However, the reason why Bonn became capital was not because it was the “last one standing”, as you portray it. Rather, Germany’s first chancellor Konrad Adenauer made the case for Bonn. Not only was Bonn “close to home” for him (he was from Cologne), it deliberately was a small placeholder for Berlin. For him, choosing Frankfurt, the runner up to become capital, would have been paramount to accepting Western Germany as the new Germany. However, he was keen to make clear that Western Germany with Bonn as a capital was a provisional state, waiting for reunification.
And, as if to close the circle, Beethoven provided the soundtrack for reunification itself. The first concert after the fall of the Berlin Wall was Beethoven’s “7th symphony”, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. And in December 1989, during the Berlin Celebration Concerts, Bernstein directed an orchestra of English, French, American, Russian, East and West German musicians performing Beethoven’s “9th symphony”, with one change. Instead of the “Ode to Joy’” Bernstein had rewritten the text to “Ode to Freedom”. Nobody could have scored this joyful moment in German history better than Beethoven himself.
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