Letters: Goldstone report

Wednesday 06 April 2011 00:00

Future of NHS looks terrifying

In last year’s general election campaign the Tories produced a poster featuring David Cameron pledging, “I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS” . Newly installed in government, Cameron promised to protect the NHS from spending cuts by “ring-fencing” its budget.

Since then, his government has demanded “efficiency savings” from the NHS of £20bn. As a result, NHS trusts and hospitals are announcing job losses and ward closures on a terrifying scale. Research by the anticuts group False Economy, via the Freedom of Information Act, show that the NHS will lose 53,000 posts in the next four years.

In the South-east, they include 500 job losses at St George’s hospital in Tooting, 486 at Kingston hospital, 454 at the West London Mental Health NHSTrust, 150 at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and 635 at Barts and London NHS Trust, which include the loss of 258 nursing posts. In England alone, 24,000 posts will disappear in hospitals, 10,000 in primary care trusts, and 6,000 in mental health trusts.

And there’s worse to come as the Con-Dems push forward with their plans to “outsource” 80 per cent of the NHS budget to businesses run by groups of local GPs, effectively privatising the NHS. Business cares about profit, not patients. Cameron and Clegg’s “listening exercise”, designed to reassure the public over their plans for theNHS, is a cynical PR exercise. The Tories and their Liberal allies are ideologically opposed to what the NHS is all about, public service over private profit. They want the end of the NHS.



The LibDem effect is there

As a Liberal Democrat, I could not but agree with the article by Steve Richards (“Lib Dems irrelevant? Far from it”, 31 March), but I wish he had picked some clearer examples of LibDem influence. For example, Sarah Teather confounded the BBC, which could find not a single person to disagree with her approach to tackling the Brownian complexity of how we assist children with learning difficulties.

Or, Chris Huhne at Decc, who, unashamedly, has stolen huge areas of Ed Miliband’s climate-change strategy and turned them into active policy, something the previous government were never able to do. In fact, the feed-in-tariff policy for solar power was so successful there was a danger the budget would run out and changes had to be made.

Any shift in Coalition policy on new nuclear power stations will be much easier if the LibDem position of “no public subsidy” is used to support a delay. When you consider that Conservative candidates at the last election put climate-change issues at the bottom of their priority list, Chris Huhne is having a major impact.

In previous governments, ministers were appointed for about 18 months or so and were desperate to make their mark in that time. Sarah Teather and Chris Huhne seem relaxed enough to take policy development at a more realistic pace and, hopefully, get it right.

Finally, Steve Richards mentions how the Lib Dems have, so far, neutered the more extreme anti-Europeans in the Conservative Party. This has enabled David Cameron to build a good working relationship with our European partners, particularly with regard to actions in Libya.



Student fees are not for subsidy

Is it ethical to ask a student who has no income whatsoever to take out a loan of several thousand pounds to pay for another student’s university fees? Have I got it wrong, or is this effectively how “wider access” is being funded?

As I understand it, universities are being made to widen access in return for the right to charge higher fees. And they get no government funding towards the wider access they’re obliged to supply. So some of the cost (I’d love transparency about howmuch) must come from student fees.

No portion, not a single penny, of any student’s fees should be used to subsidise another student. Higher fees should pay for better tuition and resources. I’m all for bursaries for bright students from poor backgrounds, but wealthy taxpayers should fund them.Taking from the poor to give to other poor is warped logic.



Goldstone report still stands

Benjamin Netanyahu must inhabit his own fantasy world if he thinks that Judge Richard Goldstone’s second thoughts about his eponymous UN Report “vindicated Israel’s wartime conduct” against the people of Gaza (“Campaign to annul Goldstone report”, 4 April).

Israel did fire white phosphorus into a UN school; Israel did kill more than 300 children out of a death toll of more than 1,400; Israel did kill 29 members of one family and refuse permission for ambulances to evacuate the wounded.

The facts do not depend on Goldstone or his report; there are plenty of eyewitness accounts and many of Israel’s appalling acts were captured on film. While Israel is ratcheting up tensions by new attacks on Gaza, the timing of both Richard Goldstone’s Washington Post article and Netanyahu’s gleeful response is highly suspect.




In the 31 days of March, Israel launched on Gaza 29 air strikes (F16 fighter, Apache gunships); 137 land-based attacks (tanks, armoured vehicles, troops); 539 other raids and house invasions (weapons present not used); 327 night/early-morning disturbances (low-flying aircraft, vehicle-borne loudspeakers); and seven curfews, all in occupied territories.

As a consequence, 24 Palestinians were killed, 170 were seriously injured, 55 others were beaten, 247 were taken prisoner, 532 detained for up to 24 hours and 2,467 had their movements restricted at road-blocks and arbitrary checks. In addition, of course, tens of thousands had their lives made a misery by the continual harassment inflicted by the Israeli army and illegal settlers.

To give a more complete picture, there were Palestinian attacks on 14 days in March; missiles were fired towards the Green Line. There were no reports of injury. Despite this, our politicians give their tacit support to Israel. They refuse to allow open debate about Israel’s breaches of international law. They allow British exports to be used directly in furthering the occupation, and are promoting changes to prevent citizens initiating legal action against Israeli war criminals. What hypocrisy.



Wing it , Danny, just wing it

Danny Boyle really needs to look no further than his own industry to see how he can delay the start of the Olympics opening ceremony by 90 minutes without having to change the advertised start time. First, at 7.30, lay on a “Parade of the Sponsors”, followed, after a comfort break, by an opportunity for organisers of other sporting occasions coming up in 2011 to stage short demonstrations of how exciting their events are going to be. Finally, after a break for refreshments and with the ads and trailers out of the way, the main show can start.



The true price of inflation

The “basket” of goods and services that ONS measures prices for contains all of the standard items on which the typical consumer spends money (“Households robbed of £900 as inflation hits 6%” 22 March).

It includes the basic food items, fuel costs, car insurance and home repairs in addition to the more detailed examples of smart-phone apps and garden furniture mentioned in your article. The importance of each item in the basket depends on the spending patterns of the average consumer so, for example, fuel is much more important than garden furniture, but spending on garden furniture still justifies including it as a “lowweighted” item in the basket.

Your article highlights that some of the items in the CPI underpinned basket are increasing in price above the headline rate. On the other hand, price change for other items is below the headline rate of inflation. Examples of items where prices are rising below the overall inflation rate in February include electricity (+3.1 per cent) and gas (+2.8 per cent).

People tend to notice when prices are rising; where prices are unchanged or even falling they make less of an impression. This is particularly so when prices rise for items that are bought regularly and often. That people perceive inflation to be different from the headline CPI does not mean that the official index is misleading.




Don’t patronisewe teenage girls

Natalie Haynes’s article on teenagers deserving sympathy (Opinion, 2 April) caused me to feel again subjected to the repeated, lazy stereotype of teenagers. I have no objection to the point of the article, but the way Haynes perceives teenagers is contrived and arrogant.

I felt the need to apologise for our generation not being as cool as past ages and was embarrassed by the way we seemed to be defined by our material possessions. People might be jealous of those who can afford the latest gadgets, but you’re no less of a “social outcast” if you can’t afford them.

Haynes’s description of teenagers came across as unoriginal and dated, with her only astute observation being that of our self-absorbed nature. But she missed the point that most teenagers just don’t care. Whether it’s about Justin Bieber’s haircut or whether we’ll leave university in unbelievable debt, it doesn’t really matter, it’s going to happen anyway. The problems we will face in the future, we’ll tackle in the future, when we are not so focused on American TV and how to roll a good cigarette.

I feel that being written down as a screaming, vampire-obsessed 17-year-old girl is getting a little tiresome and that adults shouldn’t pay attention only to the loudest minority, but the interesting, individual and observational majority. We’ll happily have your sympathy Ms Haynes, but there’s no need to be patronising about it.



Beware of some statins

Last summer I became depressed. As it was 18 months after my wife’s death friends said it was only to be expected. I was prescribed an anti-depressant and offered counselling which I didn’t take up. After six weeks, it didn’t seem to be working. Luckily, I was told that the statin I was taking could cause depression (report, 28 March). I stopped taking it and I’ve got better. I tell others about this iatrogenic sideeffect and it seems to be not uncommon. So this can be added to the other unpleasant effects caused by this statin, so universally prescribed.



Cheated out of my just reward

So IDS thinks we don’t want to retire at 65 (report, 4 April); what planet is he on? All my working life, I expected to retire at 60 and that was what Iworked towards, saving up and looking forward to going places and doing the things I wanted to do in my own time.

Even though I paid my 30 years’ worth of contributions several years ago I now have to wait until I am 62 and six months old to collect the reward. Surely we had a contract, the government and me? If you paid money into a private, fixed-term investment and were refused payment at the end of that term you would be taking legal action. I have been robbed of two and a half years of my retirement and I want it back.



An odd view of the future rents

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions told the BBC that theGovernment does not expect to see many landlords leaving the housing benefit market. “The feedback we have received from many local authorities suggests that landlords will reduce their rents,” he added.

Now Barclays Bank has forecast that interest rates will rise over 18 months, hitting 3.5 per cent in 2012 and 6.5 per cent by 2015. So how will landlords be able to reduce rents? I asked my landlord to meet me halfway with my looming £90 monthly benefit cut, more than 10 per cent of my rent, and he has told me he is more likely to increase my rent.



Sparrow heaven

What a refreshing letter about the pleasures of living so close to families of sparrows (1 April). So often the first response to birds and animals in our homes and gardens is to denounce them as pests then “deal” with them using body-crushing traps, poisons and guns.

Learning to share this planet with its other inhabitants is vital, especially as habitats are dwindling and the climate is changing because of human activity. Aside from being a compassionate response, sharing our space with wildlife is utterly rewarding.



America’s chance

If America does not take action against a minister who burned a copy of the Koran and believes he did what was “right”, it will have missed an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that it stands for what is right and that will indeed be sad.



Perspectives on the US voting system

How a President is elected

Gerald Kaufman (letters, 4 April) adds to the “No” campaign’s stock of poor argument for supporting firstpast-the-post by claiming that, because of the “rigged election votes system in Florida”, George W Bush was able to be elected US President, despite polling about 540,000 fewer votes than Al Gore.

While this is correct in this example, it is not true of the US system more generally. Kaufman’s argument misunderstands the US system of presidential elections. Voters in each state elect members of a notional “electoral college” which then goes on to elect the President. Membership of the College is determined by each state’s congressional representation which, because each state has two senators regardless of their population size, is biased towards the smaller states.

In addition, most states allocate all of their electors on the basis of a “winner takes all” procedure, as occurs under FPTP. And because the smaller states are the ones who tend to vote Republican, the US system biases the result towards them. So there is no guarantee that the candidate who wins the largest number of votes in a US presidential election will ultimately go on to win it.

A better conclusion for Gerald Kaufmann to draw is: had the USA had a more proportional system, George W Bush would not have been elected President.



A good argument for saying ‘Yes’

In fact, the US does have a first past- the-post system very similar to ours, the onlydifference being that they have 50 constituencies (the individual States) and we have 650. In both cases, the first candidate past the post in each constituency wins the seat/state.

Both forms of FPTP in the UK and the US can throw up this anomaly of a candidate/party winning a majority of the popular vote, but if they “use up” these votes by winning by wide margins in a few constituencies then they can lose many more seats by a narrow margin. Thus, US elections tend to hinge on a few key swing states, just as ours focus on a minority of marginal constituencies.

So it was the flaws of FPTP that saddled the US and the world with the lamentable President George W Bush, and the AV system would almost certainly have saved us and delivered President Al Gore. Gerald Kaufman conveniently forgot to mention that there was a third candidate in the 2000 election. Ralph Nader received almost 2.9 million votes nationally, and a crucial 97,000 in Florida (won by Bush by about 500 votes).

Nader is a left-wing environmentalist who ran under the Green Party banner in 2000. It is surely acceptable to suggest that the vast majority of Nader voters would have given their second preference vote to Gore rather than Bush (several polls have confirmed this) and thus an AV would have given victory to Gore.

It is difficult to imagine a more compelling argument to vote “Yes” in our referendum.



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