Baume strikes gold
Sir: It is interesting that the above competition between the two largest exporting countries is at last getting some public exposure albeit in the context of the extraordinary call for a public enquiry into the industry in Australia. Your correspondent Michael Baume was the first to raise this critical matter in ‘Iron Ore’s Vale of Tears’ (28 February).
One historical fact, forgotten or indeed unknown to many commentators, is that the foundation of Brazil as an iron ore supplier can actually be attributed to Australia’s mining unions, primarily the CFMEU.
In the early ‘70s, Western Australia supplied most of the iron ore required by the then world’s largest (and growing) steel mills in Japan. China imported little.
A series of crippling strikes in the Pilbara that decade, and later of course, caused understandable concern in Japan regarding security of supply so new sources of ore were sought.
Brazil was given very significant Japanese financial assistance, by way of freight subsidies in particular, to develop their previously untouched ore deposits with the result we all know.
Why we don’t need mayors
Sir: There are a number of arguments against Steve Hilton’s call for more than 10,000 mayors (‘We need 10,000 mayors’, 23 May). One is that such an idea ruptures the whole tradition of British municipal administration, under which a system of elected councils is maintained to which executive officers are answerable. Another is that it may be doubted whether there is enough administrative talent available to exercise a substituent mayoral system effectively and efficiently. Politics will always get in the way, for one thing — a factor that our present system of councils takes into account.
Form is not so far encouraging, either. Mr Hilton might like to ‘jet’ over to mayoral Bristol and see a bad idea in action. If the present incumbent stands for re-election next year, he is likely to vanish in a puff of smoke like a pantomime demon. Most Bristolians rue the day they voted to have him.
Mr Cameron has had a number of rather dubious brainwaves over the years. Mayors are one of them (and police commissioners another).
What we do need
Sir: Mr Hilton wants more than 10,000 new mayors. The people would probably prefer 10,000 new teachers, nurses or policemen.
For freedom, not foxes
Sir: Rod Liddle has disappointed me with his latest article in The Spectator on the evils of fox hunting (23 May). He conveniently ignores the fact that the fox-hunting ban was not introduced primarily to protect the foxes but as a sop to the Labour left when Blair was feeling the heat. Even Blair has admitted since that it was a mistake. Rod also conveniently ignores the reports of urban foxes being on the increase.
I personally could not care less about fox hunting but I do care about freedom and I object to something which has been legal for centuries being declared illegal on the whim of a politician who, let us be frank, has not impressed us with his honesty. (When are we going to see the Chilcot report?) It should also not be forgotten that the last European country to ban fox hunting was Hitler’s Germany.
John R. McErlean
Sir: I was not taken aback at the inaccuracy of the polls (‘How the polls got it so wrong’, 16 May). Years ago I was canvassing for Airey Neave. As I approached a tenement house, I saw that all of the downstairs windows were plastered with ‘Vote Labour’ posters, so I decided to give it a miss — but was called over by the resident, who assured me of his undying loyalty. When I expressed surprise, he said of the posters: ‘I have to display those — the unions are very strong where I work!’ This gave me hope that the pollsters might be wrong.
Come to Kurdistan
Sir: Kate Eshelby (‘Away from the herd’, 16 May) makes fine points about Kurdistan, which I have seen transformed since 2006. New visitors often assume that Kurdistan is an arid land, and are astonished by its verdant plains. But agriculture is a poor cousin to energy, which provides the vast bulk of Kurdistan’s income. This is sad, given that Kurdistan was once the breadbasket of Iraq. Despite ambitious plans, it is far from self-sufficiency. Kurdistan produces quality pomegranates — worth more per barrel than oil — but there is no sign of these appearing on our shelves. It would not only generate a good income but could also positively rebrand Kurdistan in the eyes of western consumers.
Kurdistan has the attractions of solitude, beauty and snow-topped mountains as well as archaeological sites and ancient battlefields. All of this should make it a top destination for foreign travellers. If it hadn’t been for Isis, Erbil would have made the most of winning Arab tourism capital of the year and encouraged entrepreneurs to develop the tourist infrastructure.
Kurdish leaders know that they must diversify the economy to cope with oil price shocks. But this has taken second place to defeating Isis, coping with a major crisis caused by an influx of displaced people, and the suspension of infrastructure projects because Baghdad has yet to honour its budget payments.
The British government should add its weight to resolving those issues so the Kurds can add agriculture and tourism to their economy, and this country with a tragic past can enjoy a peaceful future.
Director, all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region
West Wickham, Kent
Sir: Is anyone left alive who experienced what I did on receiving my state pension in 1980? I was given the choice of queuing for it at the Post Office or having it paid into my bank account. Being a snob, I chose the latter. I was then sent a letter saying that three months’ worth would be kept aside to meet my funeral costs.
This happened, but although I certainly did not imagine it, I have never met anyone else who had such a letter. As it happens, I have left my brain and spinal cord for research, so what’s left will not be complicated to dispose of. What worries me is that the letter — I should have kept it — seems to be the only one of its kind. Can anyone now left, born in 1920, comment?