Judges of experience
Sir: In the midst of the furore about the Supreme Court judgment, many people are now questioning how the senior judiciary are appointed (‘Imbalance of power’, 28 September). Lady Hale is undoubtedly extremely clever. But perhaps that is at the heart of the problem. It is well established that the ranks of academia are now predominantly left-wing in their political views and this has unfortunately permeated down to the teaching profession in schools. I am a retired barrister who specialised in employment law, working in companies which were highly unionised. During my career I gained immeasurable practical experience, but as time went on I realised I was drifting further and further apart from lawyers in pure academic fields. I feel that it would be preferable for judges to be appointed who had many years of practical experience behind them, rather than be subjected to inquisition on their political beliefs.
John R. McErlean
Sir: It is true that there was briefly a surge in people googling the question ‘What is the EU?’ after the referendum (Letters, 21 September). The Daily Telegraph discovered that it happened between 1.30 and 4.30 a.m. on 24 June, and involved 1,000 people or fewer. What is remarkable is not that trivial detail, but the fact that Remainers (including your correspondent) have been citing it ever since as evidence that the entire Leave vote was based on ignorance. Their argument is absurd, not only because of the numbers involved, but also because even omniscient Google does not know how — or whether — those 1,000 people voted. The only valid conclusion to be drawn here is not about the Leave vote, but about the power of prejudice.
Sir Noel Malcolm
Sir: In his entertaining article on sewers, Stuart Jeffries writes that a banquet was held at one of Bazalgette’s new pumping stations at Crossness in 1865, and that the new sewers were decorated with fairy lights (‘Notes from the Underground’, 28 September). But this is impossible: fairy lights were not seen until 1882. They were invented by Joseph Swan for the opening of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe at the Savoy — the first theatre in the world to be lit entirely by electricity. The fairies in that production wore tiaras with stars illuminated by batteries, which were immediately christened ‘fairy lights’.
The hydrogen solution
Sir: The contributors to last week’s smart energy supplement missed the elephant in the room; today just 8 per cent of the country’s total energy need comes from zero-carbon sources. To deliver zero carbon by 2050 we need to build about 12 times as many wind farms, solar arrays and nuclear power stations as we have today.
In this context, the government’s decision to ban gas boilers from new-build houses from 2025 is perverse. While the performance of heat-pumps is attractive, they still rely on electricity. A more sensible approach would be to use hydrogen in place of methane in the gas supply, the hydrogen ultimately being generated by electrolysis (which would also solve the problems of what to do with surplus wind-generated electricity). Most of the current gas grid is almost hydrogen-ready, and most boilers could convert to hydrogen at little cost. This is not to say that smart metering is not an important part of the electrical infrastructure, but until we have adequate generation capacity, it is simply a distraction.
Sir: Once again Toby Young (No sacred cows, 28 September) has resorted to impenetrable genetic research to suggest that pupils at independent schools get exam results no better than state schools and that parents interested in such things are therefore wasting their money. The Department for Education data for 2018 is clear on this point: the percentage of pupils achieving grades AAB or better at A-level in the state sector (where most schools are highly selective at this level) was 19.7 per cent; in the independent sector it was 40.6 per cent. Despite the relatively small number of independent schools, 79 of the top 100 schools based on A-level points were private. Nor is it true that Old Harrovians are bug-eyed Corbynistas. That would be Wykehamists.
A rare find
Sir: Anthony Quinn would appreciate my good fortune (‘Book marks’, 28 September). I recently purchased a copy of H.V. Morton’s Atlantic Meeting from Deal’s Oxfam bookshop. It was dedicated in 1943 to a certain Geoffrey H. Hopkinson by ‘S.D.H’. The text of the book is peppered with notes in black ink. In one photo a crew member is identified as ‘G.H.H.’! It turned out my copy of this remarkable account of Churchill’s Atlantic dash to meet Roosevelt had been owned and cherished by a sailor who had been on that historic voyage with them. A little bit of history, for £1.99.
Sir: I have sympathy with Stephen Lees’s pedantry regarding the meaning of a light year (Letters, 28 September). I recently spent some time gnashing my teeth at an otherwise excellent BBC In Our Time podcast on Custer’s Last Stand, as the estimable Melvyn Bragg and his three experts repeatedly referred to herds of ‘buffalo’ roaming the plains of North America in the 1860s and 1870s. ‘They weren’t buffalo!’ I shouted. ‘They were bison!’