The Spectator

Feedback | 18 June 2005

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Let them smoke dope

Eric Ellis is way way off in his piece (‘The whingers of Oz’, 11 June). Why are the Australians angry? I would think it’s because the 20-year sentence passed on Schapelle Corby for smuggling marijuana is savage. No doubt Eric Ellis has never smoked any marijuana, but it is a harmless and pleasant plant that, like a couple of cocktails, makes you feel relaxed and, unlike them, quiet. Why is the stuff still illegal? I assume it’s the power of the alcohol lobby (commerce being behind most things).

Alcohol has damaged and killed friends of mine, but I’ve never known anyone harmed by the weed, whose relaxing pleasure I have enjoyed for 40 years, and tobacco (now another demonised natural thing) for 50 years. The demonisation of tobacco, by the way, is supported by the press (especially the Guardian) without debating the consequences. That everyone will be better off without tobacco cannot be proved. What takes its place? Anti-depressants and other pharmaceuticals that have all sorts of side-effects and unknown long-term consequences. Of course the pharmaceutical companies are supporting the anti-smoking campaign.

The BMA is irresponsible for not seeing the consequences of its call for an outright smoking ban, which is to criminalise another industry. The increase in tobacco-smuggling has profound effects on attitudes to law and society.

The alcohol lobby, meanwhile, must have noticed lots of people at weekends just drink water, even in clubs; they don’t need alcohol because they have got something better. Alcohol causes more crime and deaths than any drug. Not that it should be banned. Like drugs, it’s pleasant, and when it was made illegal in America they just made their own.

The Australians should stand up for their freedoms and continue to support Schapelle Corby. They daren’t say marijuana is harmless, so I will, speaking from experience.

David Hockney
London W8

School choice

Michael Heseltine’s description of school choice — allowing parents to use taxpayers’ money to choose independent or state schools — as ‘cloud-cuckoo-land’ (‘Investigation: the Tory way ahead’, 11 June) would be a major surprise to parents in Sweden, certain American cities and the Netherlands where it has worked successfully for the last 13, 15 and 88 years respectively. Contrary to his fears, new schools have opened quickly and failing state schools have improved — often dramatically — in order to keep their pupils.

School choice actually works in Britain too, but only for better-off parents who can afford private education or houses in the right catchment areas. The point of education reform is to extend the same opportunity to families in deprived areas, a constituency which Lord Heseltine did so much in government to help. He should support the policy.

Andrew Haldenby
Director, Reform, London SW1

If there was one thing that came out of the last week’s discussion it was that the Tory party really did reject someone who could have led it to victory, viz. Michael Heseltine. When will it be realised that it is not choice that is wanted by most people but services that work and work well? The provision of choice will certainly not give an opportunity to lower taxation.

Philip Feakin
London N2

BBC balance

I was glad that Charles Moore (The Spectator’s notes, 11 June) enjoyed my BBC documentary on the 1975 Common Market referendum. But in talking about the unanimity then of the media for a ‘yes’ vote he repeats the oft-made charge that the BBC was a pro-Market propagandist. This is not the case. I made four films at the time about the campaign and the issues, such as sovereignty; all were strictly neutral and no hierarch ever told me what to say. Nor did I find any evidence of bias when I looked again at all the other broadcasts the BBC made during that campaign. Incidentally, Charles Moore was also wrong to say that the Daily Express was then anti-Market — it was pro.

Michael Cockerell
BBC Political Documentaries, London SW1

Exam pressure

In his article ‘Stagnant Britain’ (28 May) Martin Vander Weyer wrote about what he calls the ‘dumbing down of A-levels’. I am 17 years old and am at present going through the process of sitting the AS-level examinations. I was appalled by his statement, ‘Does anyone seriously doubt, for example, that A-level standards have been progressively dumbed down?’, to which my response is that I for one do.

Yesterday I sat through six gruelling hours of tough examination. Today I will work through a further two and a half hours. The questions are not as easy as Mr Vander Weyer implies.

I propose that for those who suggest that A-levels are being ‘dumbed down’ a trip back to the classroom may well be in order, and I believe that they too should take the AS and A2 examinations, since they would obviously be so easy for them.

Aimée Schofield
Darwen, Lancashire

Credulous

Mark Steyn writes of ‘fraudulent stories about the Koran being flushed down a toilet’ and then goes on to repeat the incredible US claim as to how urine came to be on a copy of the Koran (‘Piss and wind’, 11 June). Can there be anyone else in the world who believes such rubbish? What it must be to have such faith!

Christopher Leadbeater
Ashford, Kent