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Spectator letters: Aid, Arabs and how to spot a gentleman

1 February 2014

9:00 AM

1 February 2014

9:00 AM

The battle over aid

Sir: Why Nations Fail, the book rightly lauded in The Spectator (‘Why aid fails’, 25 January), is one of the inspirations for many of the changes this government has made in international development policy. Those changes can best be described as driving value for money through the system, tackling conflict and instability, and building prosperity. Bringing together defence, diplomacy and development — not least through the mechanism of the National Security Council — has made a significant difference to the success of British development policy. Buried in the article is the sentence: ‘We do not argue for its [the aid budget’s] reduction.’ Our development policy is about maximising the effectiveness of what we do in all the ways that this brilliant book extols.
Andrew Mitchell MP
International Development Secretary 2010–2012
London SW1
Sir: Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (25 January) argue convincingly that the UK’s international aid isn’t working. But they draw the conclusion that this is because it isn’t smart enough or targeted enough. What evidence is there that even if it were smarter, it would do any good? It is one of the great ironies that a government which believes that, at home, aid for the poor creates dependency and must be reduced nevertheless insists that, for poor people in other countries, it does not create dependency and must be increased.
John Nugée
New Malden, Surrey

Wrong image

Sir: Is The Spectator’s cover (25 January) of two bearded, large hooked-nosed, weapon-wielding men how the publication wishes to portray a Sunni-Shia war in the Islamic world? This casual use of Middle Eastern stereotypes of both Arabs and Iranians is not new but it is certainly not helpful. Depicting Arabs and Iranians in this way risks alienating these communities further and entrenching negative stereotypes. Images matter more than words and have a major impact in how people see others.
Chris Doyle
Council for Arab-British Understanding
London EC4

The Ward files

Sir: Michael Ward (Letters, 25 January) looks forward to seeing the conviction of his uncle, Stephen Ward, overturned when the transcript of his trial is disclosed. Recently, however, the government revealed that no transcript exists. Earlier this month the House of Lords was astonished to be told that only ‘partial records’ survive. We were also told that only one of the six files seemed to be entirely secret. I suggested that the historian Peter Hennessy should be asked to visit the files and clear up the confusion. Nothing could be done ‘for another 100 years or so’, I was informed. The establishment seems determined that Ward should continue to be denied justice.
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords, London SW1

Sniffy response

Sir: I enjoyed Clarissa Tan’s adventures in Italian alternative medicine (Florence Notebook, 25 January); the whole account reminded me gloriously of Three Men in a Boat. But if she could smell the petrol in her potion, homeopathic it was not. Homeopathy, one of the oldest and most widespread quack remedies, hides its ludicrous levels of dilution under a code, that is, ‘C’, for one in 100. Each further ‘C’ is another one-in-100 dilution, so 6C, a common dilution factor, is one in a trillion. Practically indistinguishable from plain water, and surely not scented?
Peter Lucey
Wokingham, Berkshire

The other side is worse

Sir: If Charles Moore really believes that Radio 3 is ‘babyish’ (Notes, 25 January), then he should spend a few days or even a few hours listening to its rival, Classic FM. A little exposure to broadcasters who mangle the names of the most familiar composers, and introduce the chunks of music they play as ‘smooth’ or ‘relaxing’, should convince Mr Moore of the superiority of the public service station over the commercial.
Colin Armstrong

Gentlemen of polish

Sir: Alexander Chancellor tells the story of a member of the landed gentry telling him that the best way to tell a gentleman was by the condition of his footwear (Long life, 18 January). My grandfather, who died in 1940, told me something different: that you could always tell whether a man was a gentleman by observing the back of his shoes. If they were polished, he had a servant to clean them and was a gentleman. If only the fronts were polished, he had to do it himself, and was not a gentleman. Needless to say, my grandfather never cleaned either his shoes or his riding boots.
Alan Tritton CBE
Great Leighs, Essex

Drunk drivers of 1897

Sir: Barometer (25 January) says driving motorcars while drunk was not illegal until 1925. But individual prosecutions date back much earlier. In 1897, George Smith, the 25-year-old driver of an electric cab, was charged with drunk driving in Bond Street. The Autocar commented sternly, ‘This is an offence that should be very stringently dealt with, as an autocar in the hands of a drunken man is distinctly worse than a horse-drawn vehicle.’ He was fined £1.
Nick Georgano


Sir: I do not believe that Charles Saatchi is a black belt in anything, except perhaps origami. My money is on Taki.
Jeremy M.J. Havard
London SW3

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