Joining the club
Sir: As Robert Hardman notes (Royal notebook, 16 March), not only is the C back in FCO but these days there is a waiting list of countries interested in joining, or being more closely associated with, the Commonwealth. I have a list of at least half a dozen, and even some strong signals from Dublin that they, too, are now thinking about joining the club. How can this be so when we were told so firmly by foreign policy experts in the past century that we should break our ties with the Commonwealth and that our future prosperity and destiny lay in Europe?
One reason is certainly that the Queen has kept the Commonwealth idea alive through years of British disinterest, remarking — with a prescience lacking in some of her then ministers — that it was becoming in many ways the platform of the future, as well as being the ideal soft-power network of the 21st century.
But an even stronger reason may be in the numbers rather than in the words. The Commonwealth network embraces some of the world’s strongest and most vigorous wealth-generating economies, with the new resource-rich economies of Africa, west and east, coming up fast. UK trade (in goods and especially services) with the Commonwealth expanded by 149 per cent between 2001 and 2011. Getting relevant Commonwealth figures out of the national statistics these days is hard (perhaps they were airbrushed out after 1972) but totting up, it looks as though inward investment from rich Commonwealth countries is climbing fast, and our earnings from UK investment in Commonwealth countries is second only to America.
So while we of course must remain on the best possible terms with our European neighbours, for the next few decades it is the Commonwealth that is going to provide one of the best gateways to the giant new consumer markets of Asia, Africa and Latin America in which we must succeed to survive. No wonder new applicants are queuing up to join this increasingly attractive club. The wind of change is blowing in new directions, and as a seafaring nation we need to trim our sails accordingly.
Lord Howell of Guildford
Chairman of the Council of Commonwealth Societies
Come to my comp
Sir: James Delingpole (16 March) rightly acknowledges the hectic nature of school life: the eclectic array of activities, copious bureaucratic diktat and the need to control unruly behaviour are all part of the life of a teacher. It is encouraging to read this in the Speccie as the general public usually associate teachers with union nonsense about pay and conditions.
As a teacher in an inner-city comprehensive, I would like to offer Delingpole the opportunity to tackle a few of my classes for a morning and see if his views on such schools are open to change.
Andrew Marvell College, Hull
Sir: Royal Mail had always prided itself on delivering far better quality of service than its European counterparts, so last week’s Royal Mail correspondent rather gives the game away (Letters, 16 March). The facts are that service standards have fallen: cessation of Sunday collections, loss of the second delivery and ‘stealth’ cuts (such as the advancement of the ‘late restricted’ last collection in central London from 7p.m. to 6.30p.m. or earlier) are just a few examples.
Royal Mail would not be in such a financial pickle if it tackled the issue of how to reduce delivery costs, which account for 70 per cent of its operational cost base, in the face of falling mail volumes.
In the early 1990s, Royal Mail was generating annual profits of up to £400 million, yet its highest sub-board level bonus was 25 per cent of base salary. Now its Long-Term Incentive Plan (LTIP) provides for bonuses ten times that amount, for mediocre performance.
Peter Forrest (Royal Mail 1969-2000) London N6
Sir: Shane O’Riordain from the Royal Mail says that ‘stamp price increases last year were necessary to sustain the one-price-goes-anywhere, six-days-a-week Universal Service in Britain.’ Is he suggesting there are no first and second class stamps? I was under the impression that Royal Mail regularly increases its prices in order to try to recoup its losses due to email etc. He continues: ‘This year we’ve frozen stamp prices…’. Can he then explain the two letters I’ve had sent to me by Royal Mail warning of increases to come in April?
St Andrews, Fife
Caring for dementia
Sir: Cressida Connolly is absolutely right (Bookends, 16 March). Oliver James’s excellent book Contented Dementia is the gold standard. He describes Penny Garner’s work on dementia at Burford, for which she deserves a Nobel prize.
My wife had dementia. She was nursed at home and died there, contentedly and with dignity and almost no medication, ten years after diagnosis. I closely followed Penny Garner’s teaching. The main lesson was that laughter is better than medication. Caring for a spouse is of course very tiring, but it is also very rewarding.
Sir: I have never liked Russell Brand. But I was very moved by his article on dealing with addiction (‘Fixing a hole’, 9 March). The concept of abstinence-based recovery seems obvious, but as he points out so clearly, it depends for its success on the existence of reliable support mechanisms. I wish him every success with his battle against addiction, and with the admirable Give it Up fund which he has established.
East Lavant, West Sussex