Sir: ‘Imagine,’ says Hugo Rifkind in his excellent piece on the power of Google (29 November), ‘that there was one newspaper that got all the scoops. Literally all of them.’ We don’t have to imagine: such a newspaper existed, a couple of centuries ago, and Hugo works for its descendent.
The Times of the early 19th century had a foreign intelligence service that regularly outperformed Whitehall’s, and a circulation several times that of all its rivals combined. It thundered as confidently on royal scandal as it did on the details of parliamentary reform. Its editor dictated the membership of at least one cabinet.
Regulation just entrenched this state of affairs. Stamp taxes gave the Times cheap distribution in the provinces; and once newspapers were issued with individual stamps, to reveal what the government assumed must be the Times’s fraudulent dominance, they also gave it authoritative figures showing how far ahead it was. Only after the end of the ‘taxes on knowledge’, in the 1850s, did it begin to wobble on its throne. There may be a lesson here for the politicians seeking to tame today’s technology giants.
Sir: Nicholas Berry makes a fine point concerning the correct punctuation of the controversial third verse of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ (Letters, 29 November). However, there has been no ‘misrepresentation’ for the past 166 years, as Mr Berry claims.
Irrespective of the comma in the third line, once God had made people ‘high or lowly’, the fourth line goes on to assert quite unambiguously that He then ‘ordered their estate’. In other words, the hymn’s Victorian author clearly reflected the prevailing belief in the Anglican church at the time that one’s social class, rank and worldly wealth were all divinely ordained and should remain untampered with.
Dr Christopher Goulding
Newcastle upon Tyne
Geldof’s limited appeal
Sir: While I always support efforts to prevent unfair castigation of public figures, I take exception to Mr Barker’s proposal that whatever Bob Geldof raises for Ebola through Band Aid should be praised (Letters, 29 November). Not if it takes attention away from other issues. Ebola is bad, but less fashionable problems are worse: thousands still die of hunger, malaria or inadequate sanitation every day. Yes, Ebola is a scourge — but let’s not forget the other terrible things afflicting Africa and the world.
Oligarchs and school fees
Sir: Since less than 5 per cent of pupils at independent schools are international students with parents living overseas, it is absurd to blame oligarchs for pricing out ‘ordinary Brits’ (‘A liberal education?’, 29 November). As a headmaster and governor, I have helped set countless fee levels over the years and never once have the whereabouts of the pupils’ families been discussed in this context. The most salient factor is that 70 per cent or more of fee income is spent on staff salaries, national insurance and pension contributions; and teachers are not famously well paid. Unless there is a surplus to invest in improved facilities, where are our future musicians and sportsmen going to come from?
As for cultural implications, overseas parents have chosen a liberal education, which is sure to rub off on their progeny. Indeed, there is an argument for suggesting that these parents have replaced ‘ancient titled families’ in being the part of the parent body most likely to trust schools to get on with the job of educating their children rather than complaining every two minutes about injustices to their offspring.
Sir: Your correspondent Benedict King has got it wrong. Marriage does not need to be subsidised. It is not ‘prohibitively expensive’ (Letters, 22 November).
In Sussex you and your intended can get married for £84. If you are on a low income then yes, £84 can be a lot of money, but for — it is hoped — a once-in-a-lifetime expense I would not think it justified the cost of subsidising it. Of course if you want expensive trimmings they are not for the taxpayer to fund — however beneficial Mr King thinks they are.
East Chiltington, Lewes
Sir: We all have tales to support Martin Vander Weyer’s airport scores (‘Any other business’, 29 November). Yet with all the urgent talk of the need for bigger airports, surely we first need a change in the law to allow our current hubs to compete. On a recent flight from Manchester via Gatwick I had to traipse through the transit airport to re-enter security queues, a statutory requirement. Frequent travellers over the high bridges at Gatwick will appreciate how long this can take. Arriving back at the outlying gate and almost missing the flight, I was astonished to find myself back on the very aircraft I had left 45 minutes earlier. My luggage had a similar needless journey, and didn’t make it to Venice for another couple of days. British Airways blamed the regulations. I now travel via Schiphol.
Hold the praise
Sir: Someone must have been praying very hard indeed for Jeremy Paxman to admit (Diary, 29 November) to watching the revamped Songs of Praise. It is, of course, now gloriously dumbed down, with a preponderance of pseudo-classical singers and mawkish amateur choirs. So, songs of a sort, but somewhat light on the praise.