Sir: Contrary to the impression given by Jason Mitchell, Venezuela does not have a socialist economy (‘Maduro’s madness’, 25 August). It has a ‘mixed’ economy (and therein lies some of its problems; such as food hoarding by private companies hostile to the regime). The private sector is large, and involved in numerous sectors within the economy; food distribution, pharmaceuticals and so on.
The US sanctions against Venezuela have always been about regime change, and these sanctions amount to a blockade of the country. US and European banks have refused to handle Venezuelan payments for medical supplies, and pharmaceutical companies have refused to issue export certificates for cancer drugs — therefore stopping them being imported into Venezuela. Despite these sanctions being illegal under international law, they continue, and will continue until the ‘social democracy experiment’ in Venezuela is crushed. No country could survive this economic strangulation, irrespective of their political hue.
Too many prisoners
Sir: Will Heaven’s article (‘Jail breaks’, 25 August) performed the vital task of highlighting that the problems facing prisons in England and Wales are endemic. What has been ignored for too long, however, is that to make meaningful improvements in prison conditions, we need to reform prison sentencing. What largely determines the size of the prison population is how many people are sent to prison and for how long. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 stipulates that a custodial sentence must not be passed unless the offence was so serious that neither a fine nor a community sentence can be justified. As the Sentencing Council makes clear: ‘The clear intention of the threshold test is to reserve prison as punishment for the most serious offences.’ Too often, this threshold is not being met in practice. Moreover, the average length of prison terms has increased markedly in recent years.
Many (though not all) of the problems facing the prison system would be eased by reducing the custodial population. Yet sentencing reform seems a political step too far: Michael Gove may have been genuine in his wish for a transformational overhaul of the prison system but, in an interview in March 2016, he made clear that he did not think ‘we should deliberately shape sentencing policy with the sole aim of reducing the prison population’. None of his successors have dissented. Sections of the media would no doubt hound any politician seen to be letting criminals off the hook, or compromising public safety. Yet other countries have reformed sentencing, reduced their prison population, and not witnessed a rise in crime as a result. Political resilience is required.
Professor Gavin Dingwall
School of Law, De Montfort University
Sir: Katy Balls (‘The plot to stop Brexit’, 25 August) concludes that a second EU referendum might go the same way as the first. Some take the latest poll as support for that view. KPMG found that 89 per cent and 93 per cent of Leavers and Remainers, respectively, would vote the same way again. But appearances can be deceptive. If those percentages are applied to the 51.9 per cent and 48.1 per cent who voted in the 2016 referendum, to Leave and Remain respectively, the results would be reversed: 50.4 per cent voting to Remain and 49.6 per cent to Leave. Of course, this KPMG poll would not be exactly reproduced in a second referendum, but the statistics show that it would only take a 10 per cent change of mind in the electorate as a whole to reverse the result.
Cley next the Sea, Norfolk
Sir: Roger Alton in his most recent piece which decries the lack of British players in Premier League teams (he chose as an example Arsenal and Chelsea) has done what all sports commentators seem to do: ignore Tottenham Hotspur.
Mr Alton wants a team that is successful, British-owned, British-managed and made up of largely British players. Tottenham is owned by Brit Joe Lewis, chaired by Brit Daniel Levy, and has five of England’s regulars (Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose) and one Welshman, Ben Davies, who all play for us regularly. Admittedly we are managed by an Argentine, but he is a rarity in the Premier League, as he has been in post for four seasons. We are also a successful team, having consistently finished in the top four spots for several years now.
Sir: I can understand Richard Madeley’s reluctance to drive through a dodgy Italian tunnel (Diary, 25 August). But I suggest that to get to a nice dish of pasta in contrast to the pricey La Colombe d’Or, he should use the very good train service which runs along the coast serving Cannes, Nice, Monaco, and ultimately Ventimiglia in Italy. Just be careful to avoid the French railway unions’ last-minute strikes. Even then, there are frequent, cheap and comfortable buses.
Huw’s good humour
Sir: The euphemism ‘an old-fashioned BBC lunch’, which my father, Huw Wheldon, is supposed to have enjoyed before interviewing Jimmy Page (‘The fault was in his stars’, Books, 18 August), suggests that he may have been drunk. Anyone who worked with him will tell you such a condition would have been very unlikely. It is however true that those who did not know him occasionally mistook his good humour for oenophilia. I should add that ‘fucking’ was not his swearword of choice. The grandson of a Calvinist Methodist priest, ‘damned’ is what he would have used instead.