Prisons and the public
Sir: Your leading article on the sorry state of our prisons (19 November) was very welcome. However, you refer to the ‘public demand’ for sending offenders to prison. I have to query this. I cannot think of any occasion when the public has been consulted on prisons or sentencing policy or on the exceptionally high cost of incarceration.
We currently have an unthinking and punitive culture, generated by tabloid newspapers and politicians competing to show how tough they are. It is hardly surprising that the coalition government’s search for savings targeted prison staff and community supervision, with results that can be seen today.
Peter Barker (former Senior Probation Officer in HMP Maidstone)
70 years of peace
Sir: Brian Thornton says (Letters, 19 November) that many of my generation who lived as children through the 1940s voted to leave the EU because they saw vital powers slipping away to unelected bureaucrats. I lived through the 1940s, remember my father taking me to the window and seeing London burning, and I voted to remain. I do not consider myself one of the elite; I read informed opinion and make my own judgment.
We have had 70 years of peace in Europe and I value that far more than I fear any alleged loss of sovereignty as a result of Britain being a member of the EU.
We should be proud of our achievement in helping to build the European Union in past years. Instead of working for change within the EU, we leave it as the result of a slender majority in the referendum. I fear for my grandchildren in 20 years’ time.
Sir: The outrage of the metropolitan elite in the face of Brexit, Trump et al (‘The new normal’, 19 November) reminds me of learning Russian in the 1960s. In those Cold War days the only native speakers we could meet to practise the language with were emigrés. They were charming and educated people deeply distressed at what had happened to their country, but they completely failed to grasp that they might themselves be partly responsible for the revolution.
Prof Robin Jacoby
Sir: Rod Liddle is right to say that this is the year when the previous ‘givens’ of the past 50 years are questioned (‘The new normal’, 19 November). He mentions many examples — economic, social and political — but he doesn’t dare mention the greatest shibboleth of then all: the NHS. It has long been a given that governments of both hues will criticise each other for not putting enough resources into the health service and, when in power, continuing to pour money into that bottomless pit. When are we going to have a rational debate that talks about rationing of services to suit our indebted nation? It must be time to look at the original idea again and come up with a more achievable goal than simply free services for all.
Sir: Charles Moore’s concern about the standard of English currently expected of young people (Notes, 19 November) is well-founded, and evidence of a similar decline can be found in other subjects. In modern languages, candidates are no longer required to write a brief essay in the target language; and in physics, questions once deemed suitable for 16-year-olds at O-level are now found at A-level.
In February the OECD published a report on educational standards in 29 developed countries, which showed that the standard of literacy and numeracy of young people in this country has slumped from top to bottom over a generation.
East Mersea, Essex
The look of love
Sir: Ariane Sherine may have been unlucky in love (‘The perfect mismatch’, 19 November), but surely she is not saying Marlowe and Shakespeare were both wrong: ‘Who ever loved that loved not at first sight’?
Sir: Allan Mallinson’s perceptive review of Sir Richard Dannatt’s Boots on the Ground (Books, 12 November) calls on the author to include corrections in subsequent editions. Can I, in turn, correct the reviewer on one point: he refers to National Service (1945–1960), as ‘the only time in the nation’s history that conscription has obtained in peacetime’. Not so: conscription was introduced in April 1939 under the Military Training Act, six months before the declaration of war on Germany in September.
Dr John Stevenson
Down St Mary, Devon
Name and shame
Sir: Mrs Fanny Prior (Letters, 12 November) laments being asked for her first name and says she replies ‘Mrs’. Since leaving school I have almost only been addressed by my first name (except by judges), or sometimes ‘Mr Simon’. I cannot think why…
Sir: My heart goes out to Dickie Ellis (Letters, 19 November). Since my first boyfriend was a German named Willi and my first husband was Roger, he and I could have been made for each other.