Letters: Coalition tensions

Tuesday 28 December 2010 01:00

Why not tax me more?

You write: "Except among a handful of deficit deniers, there is acceptance of the need for substantial reductions in public spending" (leading article, 27 December). I am not a deficit denier, but I do query the degree of cutting that is planned.

As a relatively well-off person I am wondering why I am not being expected to pay more income tax – only VAT is being increased. It seems to me grossly unfair that almost all the actions being taken are ones of reducing government expenditure, with little effort being made to increase government income. This will have little impact on the affluent, but much impact on the poorer members of our society.

I have yet to hear any convincing explanation for the imbalance, other than that the Conservatives don't want to upset their affluent voters, and that the poor who are losing their benefits and jobs wouldn't vote for them anyway.

Ian K Watson


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is absolutely right, we need another Dickens ("The ghost of Tiny Tim haunts coalition's children in need", 20 December).

Dickens was a brilliant writer-historian, highlighting the hypocritical and inhuman authorities of his day. There were others, such as poets, who were also acknowledged as social commentators (unlike today) who drew attention to child poverty. See for example Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "The Cry of the Children". Well, let's hope we don't go all the way back to children working in mines and factories, but who knows with this government?

Of course, the Labour government didn't eliminate child poverty, but they did try. They didn't benefit as many students as they should have done, but they tried.

I speak as a pensioner, with a free bus pass and winter fuel allowance, and who benefited from a free national health service and got a free university education. Our young people are our future; they deserve better than they are getting now.

Sue Berry

Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Tensions in the Coalition

Conservative Party leaders and MPs should realise that, while the present accommodation with the Liberal Democrats may still be accepted as a regrettable necessity by most Conservative supporters, taking this arrangement too far may have disastrous consequences at elections. Andrew Grice ("Government's secret talks to aid Lib Dems in by-election", 24 December) quotes Peter Lilley, who now, surprisingly, seems to be leaning towards greater and prolonged co-operation with Lib Dems.

To Conservatives in parts of the country where we have long fought bitter battles with the Lib Dems it is quite unthinkable that we would present a joint front with them at the next general election. Indeed, talk of such an approach could lead, at best, to widespread apathy among Conservative supporters and voters and, at worst, to mass defection to UKIP.

Those Conservatives who are enjoying power and material rewards in terms of the ministerial trappings of office should not delude themselves into thinking that they can continue this lifestyle indefinitely against the wishes of grass-root members.

Ron Forrest

Somerset County Councillor, Lower Milton, Somerset

You set out two views of the Liberal Democrat presence in government which have been portrayed by opponents: crypto-Conservatives driving a right-wing agenda, or hapless passengers (leading article, 23 December). A third perspective is plausible.

It is of Liberal Democrat ministers working very hard to do a job of work, and having considerable Liberal influence on matters varying from day-to-day decisions to major strategy. From my position as a Liberal Democrat working peer who has many close contacts with colleagues in the Government in both Houses, it is obvious that this is a rather more accurate description of what is happening in many departments.

Of course a Liberal Democrat government would be very different in many ways, but, let us be very clear, so would a government of the Tories on their own. If this is not the case, why is The Daily Telegraph gunning quite so hard for the Liberal Democrats in government?

Tony Greaves

House of Lords

There is a simple way out for David Cameron and other Tories toying with the idea of giving quiet support to Lib Dem candidates in winnable seats without outraging grassroots supporters.

They should throw their weight behind the campaign for the alternative vote, which would end once and for all the "tactical vote" and "wasted vote" arguments, and enable Tory voters, if they wish, to give their second preference to Lib Dems without letting down their own candidate.

Alan Pavelin

Chislehurst, Kent

Am I the only one becoming exasperated by the Liberals? They want proportional representation, which would mean more coalition governments, yet they seem to balk at the constraints a coalition places on a party that's lucky to be in office at all.

This is their chance to grow up, and realise that being in office is an honour and that most of all they as a party must remain worth it.

R P arker

Taunton, somerset

NHS back to the bad old days

In 1996 I was contacted by a Dutch friend who needed a hip operation. When she demurred at having to wait, in pain, for six weeks, her doctor replied: "Be thankful you're not British. If you were, you'd have to wait two years."

She didn't believe him, so rang me. I had to tell her it was true. "How sad," my Dutch friend said. "We used to admire your health service."

It took a great deal of money and determination to train extra doctors, physiotherapists and nurses and create new consultancy posts before the waiting lists were reduced to their present levels. It took a huge effort by the medical staff to catch up, so that at last they had the satisfaction of treating patients who needed treatment now, not patients who should have been treated two years ago.

The Coalition Government says that they will save money by getting rid of this aim to treat people as soon as possible, but does not explain how lengthening waiting lists can possibly save money. Nor do they mention the cost in pain and anxiety suffered by patients as they wait.

We are told that the Government's changes will ensure that patients are treated as valued customers whose interests the doctor will always put first and choose what is best for them. That is exactly what happens now, except that our doctors treat us as patients, not customers.

If members of the Government had actually used the health service, they would know that our relationship with our doctors is not a commercial one, like that with shopkeepers or travel agents, but one of trust, consultation and friendship. It is noticeable that most of the criticism of the NHS comes from people who don't use it. Those who do use it, cherish it.

Margaret Tuckwell

Highworth, Wiltshire

A practicing British GP of my acquaintance observed: "The last government gave all the money to NHS managers. When it went wrong – they got the blame. This lot are giving the money to us – guess who they'll blame?"

Simon Allen

Watford, hertfordshire

Students? Just a bunch of Nazis

Julie Burchill (23 December) juxtaposes a racist internet rant against Topshop's owner with the fact that student protesters recently attacked one of its stores. The implication? Same target, therefore similar motives (nudge, nudge). Then comes speculation that student leader Clare Solomon "may well be a Holocaust denier". The conclusion, all in all? Student protesters are (or perhaps "may well be") neo-Nazis.

I know that Julie is paid to shock rather than analyse, and so challenging her "argument" is a bit like attempting a musical critique of a fire-alarm. But does she honestly think that readers will fall for this?

As Christina Patterson's account (same issue) of being smeared online as "anti-Semitic" underlines, the worldwide web publishes whatever pernicious nonsense is put there. Newspapers should be a bit more choosy.

Sean Cordell


Open up the professions

We write as the leaders of organisations that campaign for equality. The need to ensure that all potential is unlocked is crucial – not just in making ambitions achievable for all, but also in ensuring that the business leaders of the future represent the best and brightest of each generation, not just those from privileged backgrounds. While we have seen a step-change in commitment, the elite levels of the professions remain exclusive.

We welcome the proposals from the Legal Services Board for law firms and barristers' chambers to publish data about the diversity of their workforce – across all levels from partners to support staff. Transparency is a powerful tool to change behaviour. A requirement to publish details of the diversity of a business increases scrutiny by regulators, while this information is increasingly used by corporate consumers as a factor in procurement.

We would welcome the extension of this level of scrutiny across each of the professions. A commitment to increasing diversity must be more than a feel-good "also ran" when it comes to business planning – it needs to be at the centre of creating an attractive offer to consumers. Throwing open the doors of the professions to greater transparency can be a major force for economic recovery.

Michelle Mitchell

Charity Director, Age UK

Mark Golding

Chief Executive, MENCAP

Lesley- Anne Alexander

Chief Executive, RNIB

Simon Woolley

Director, Operation Black Vote

Ceri Goddard

Chief Executive, The Fawcett Society

Paul Martin

Chief Executive, The Lesbian and Gay Foundation

Liz Sayce

Chief Executive, RADAR

Gill Morbey

Chief Executive, Sense

Richard Hawkes

Chief Executive, Scope

Sir Peter Lampl

Chairman, The Sutton Trust

Michael Webster

Director, Black Solicitors Network

Shams Rahman

Chair, Society of Asian Lawyers

Christl Hughes

Chairwoman, Association of Women Solicitors

Linda Clarke

Director, Disability Law Service

Conductors greet the customers

Correspondence about the changing style of presenters on Radio 3 brought to mind similar developments at classical concerts. Traditionally, the Maestro will walk to the rostrum and without a backward glance toward his paying customers, wave his orchestra into action.

Recently, conductors such as the Hallé's Sir Mark Elder, on reaching the rostrum, will turn to the audience and politely wish them "Good evening." He may even explain the music which his orchestra is about to play. I find this satisfying. Not all the music we hear is familiar and the interpreter's thoughts add to our appreciation.

K A Reedman

Long Eaton, Derbyshire

Under suspicion

Jane Powell reports that she had a lucky escape from Ofsted when she hosted in her school a Santa who had not been checked by the Criminal Records Bureau (letter, 21 December). But Santa is the one with the problem. As CRB checks are not portable he is obliged to pay for a separate check to be carried out for each school he visits, just as other temporary entertainers are required to do. If I were Santa I'd think about sticking to domestic chimneys in future so as to avoid the catch-all lunacies of the CRB system.

Glyn Edwards

Worthing, West Sussex

Fatal waistcoat

Susannah Frankel's light-hearted piece on the yellow peril of clothing (Ready to Wear, 20 december) overlooks an important 18th-century example. In Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1772) Goethe's sorrowful Young Werther wears a yellow waistcoat. In the Europe-wide frenzy that followed publication of the novel, many young men adopted the character's clothing to express their identification with him; some even followed him into suicide. In later life Goethe repented having written it and expressed feelings of crushing guilt. Matt Cardle may not know what he has unleashed.

Martin A Smith


Tally ho!

It is a traditional time of year for fox hunting, even if hunting an actual fox is illegal. Surely however the hunt at least sends a message to foxes to behave themselves. Given the ever-increasing numbers of foxes in north London I am disturbed that yet again the local Conservative Association has resisted the idea of organising a Tottenham hunt. Nothing could better symbolise the Big Society.

Keith Flett

London N17

Perspectives on airports in the snow

Must Britain take the blame?

I am told by someone who flew out of Zurich on 20 December that the weather there was very much worse than here. Yet he managed to fly and the Swiss authorities coped.

Why then did Britain have all this trouble at Heathrow? Have the airport authorities spent money on the right equipment? Will those people who were stranded travel here again?

Maybe it is time for a change of management at Heathrow before any more damage is done to the British economy?

Nigel Boddy

Peterlee, Co Durham

We, in this country, are led to believe that we are uniquely incompetent at coping with abnormal weather. Everyone one else does it better. We want heads to roll.

Yet I read that airports across northern Europe, in Russia and the east coast of America have been closed down, leaving people stranded in airport terminals over the Christmas period. Do they all whinge when their comfort is disrupted or are they thankful for the men and women who go out in horrible weather to do their best to keep things moving?

Nick Collier

London N5

BA's staff are doing their best

Deborah Ross's article "You can never have enough giant Toberlone" (21 December) singles out BA as being in some way solely responsible for the disruption caused to the country by adverse weather conditions.

BA staff have a terrible job to do in situations like this, abused, threatened, assaulted and blamed constantly for matters that are totally out of their control.

I fail to see how an editor and your commentator can think it is acceptable to print: "You can then fantasise about stabbing anyone who works for BA, has worked for BA, or might work for BA at any point in the future and is still a small child, but has a BA-ish look about him or her."

The reality is that members of staff at the airport, whether they work for BA or not, are being regularly abused and threatened by passengers at this time. No one deserves such treatment but rather than deploring the violent behaviour of such people your article trivialises such behaviour and practically encourages it.

No doubt you will seek to suggest this article was meant as some kind of joke. I would like to see both your editor and Ms Ross explain how it is funny not only to members of harassed and attacked airport staff but also to the many families of victims of knife crime in this country.

Alessandra Marotta

Feltham, Middlesex

The Victorians got it right

After the airport delays, a little history-based comment may be in order. I started my working life 55 years ago in the engineer's department of an urban district council in Yorkshire. Water supply and other similar services in many areas were still in the hands of Victorian-era Statutory Companies.

The key characteristic of these bodies was that they were limited, by statute, to a profit margin of 5 per cent of turnover, with a requirement to reinvest anything in excess of this figure. However, the profit incentive was there, as opposed to a pure public service, taxation-funded, operation with its in-built tendency towards inefficient working.

This way of doing things might be re-examined. I find myself siding with those who lay much of the blame for present shortcomings at the door of short-termism and maximising shareholder value, and the application of the principle that occasional glitches are more acceptable than the sunk costs of providing a longer mean time between failures. We may have reached the limits of such acceptability.

Michael Crawshaw

Paphos, cyprus

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