Putin the gangster
Sir: Putin is a gangster’s gangster. While he ruins Russia economically and diplomatically to keep himself in power, he behaves like a renegade in Ukraine and Syria (‘Putin’s triumph’, 10 October). He is a stirrer and an adventurer, who causes danger in the world and to his fellow citizens.
In 2011 he suggested that Russia should join the EU in a common market reaching from Lisbon to Vladivostok. That would be a good idea if the country were ready in terms of human rights and law and order, for Russia’s obvious political destiny is as a bridge between Europe and Asia. But Vlad changed his tune straight after the Sochi PR beano.
Russia was not ‘right about Iraq and Libya’, Owen Matthews, nor were ‘America and Britain dead wrong’. Russia has no view on matters of right and wrong, and Putin couldn’t give a damn about Assad; he wants a warm-water port and leverage at home. America and Britain were not wrong, simply incompetent and lacking in proper planning and consistent resolution, in circumstances that do actually challenge the conscience — which is something that does not tend to trouble Mr Putin.
Tom Watson must atone
Sir: Charles Moore (Notes, 10 October) is rightfully shocked at Tom Watson’s smears and false allegations regarding ‘establishment’ child abuse (indeed, a charge of wasting police time might be appropriate). However Mr Watson has a golden opportunity to atone. As newly elected deputy leader of the Labour party, Mr Watson is ideally placed to drive a full investigation into the real child rape scandals and cover-ups in Rotherham — Rotherham being a long-time Labour fiefdom. When can we expect Mr Watson to start the probe?
Sir: In just over four years, Michael Gove profoundly altered the direction of education in England. Teachers are not only allowed to teach from the front of the class, but are actively encouraged to do so.
Schools can no longer gloss over their failures with coursework, resits, and Mickey Mouse GCSEs and BTechs. The SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) agenda has been scrapped, and knowledge and understanding are once again the central tenet of education. It is difficult to think of any other politician since Thatcher who has had so profound an impact upon the real world beyond Westminster and Whitehall.
Nicky Morgan has had none at all (‘She could be a contender’, 4 October). Of course, she is not unusual in this respect. However, the fact that Gove’s political career is all but over and she is being tipped as a possible leader tells you everything you need to know about David Cameron’s priorities.
The VW scandal
Sir: Rory Sutherland reckons that the software which helped Volkswagen dodge emission rules for several years could have been produced by ‘one or two unscrupulous people and a keyboard’ (The Wiki Man, 10 October). But its effects would definitely have been noticed by many other VW employees. VW must employ hundreds of people in the enterprise of testing software. The functionality of an engine loaded with particular software in an emissions test would surely have been a focus for testing, as failing an emissions test would have been catastrophic for sales.
If the software behaved to specification, that implicates far more than one or two unscrupulous programmers — including whoever wrote the specification and funded the software development. If the software did not behave to specification, then that would have been brought to management’s attention. Surely, even if emissions-test cheating software was not their original idea, many members of VW’s senior management would have heard about it.
Bring back string bags
Sir: Alexander Chancellor says that plastic bags are ‘the most useful carriers ever invented’ (Long life, 10 October). Has he so quickly forgotten the venerable string bag, once ubiquitous and famously used by Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise to hold his very substantial salad lunch? String bags have all the merits of plastic: they are very light, can be crammed into a tiny space and expanded to a considerable size; they are very cheap to produce — admittedly not perhaps quite as cheap as plastic, but with a much longer useful life, and with no attendant environmental disadvantages at all. We should campaign for their revival.
The vice of virtue
Sir: Many years ago, in a paper for the American Enterprise Institute, the distinguished scholar of the American constitution, Robert A. Goldwin, credited my mother, Jacqueline Wheldon, with coining the phrase ‘moral greed’. May I suggest this is the vice that ‘virtue signallers’ (‘My word!’, 10 October) indulge?
Sir: Over in England from New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup, for the first time in 20 years, I ventured to Newmarket for a day at the bloodstock auction sales.
People with immaculate manners, tweed caps, purposeful calm, the freedom to smoke, no officials telling anyone where not to go, bonhomie at every bar, and not an unshaven face, tattoo, drip-dry white shirt or cheap suit in sight. Why isn’t the rest of your country still like this?
Dr Geoffrey Francis
Auckland, New Zealand