The Spectator

Feedback | 20 November 2004

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Oborne off target

Peter Oborne seems to have spent too long in his stuffy London office and has developed a conspiracy theory too far concerning rural sports. He makes a number of unsupported assumptions in his comment on the Hunting Bill (Politics, 13 November). Perhaps he needs to get out more.

BASC remains steadfastly opposed to the Hunting Bill, and has supported the Countryside Alliance through its legal protests in the run-up to the Bill. Tens of thousands of BASC members attended the marches in London and I have spoken at a number of rallies including one in Parliament Square and the recent demonstration in Brighton. We have privately and publicly told ministers at every opportunity of our opposition to the Bill.

It would, however, be negligent of us to allow legislation which would affect shooting sports to go unchallenged. To that end we have worked to secure amendments from the government to the Hunting Bill, which will protect shooting sports. None of these was arranged ‘privately’ but were put forward as government amendments and subjected to parliamentary scrutiny. To describe this process as a ‘classic strategic error’ is nonsense. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation has a duty to avoid damage to shooting sports.

John Swift

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Wrexham

Get tough on Israel

It would help if President Bush were to think the unthinkable and cut off all military and economic aid to the state of Israel (‘The beginning of hope in the Middle East’, 13 November). This change of policy, while sending an unambiguous message to the Israelis, would not endanger Israel’s immediate security, given its overwhelming military superiority and nuclear arsenal. Such a move would also strengthen the hand of modernisers within the Islamic world.

Yugo Kovach

Twickenham, Middlesex

Bureaucracy rules

Here’s a worm’s-eye view of the Blunkett effect in education (‘Blunkett coverage’, 13 November). I’ve been a governor of a small infant school in Hampshire for more than ten years. We used to ask the cosy school administrator kindly to take the minutes of governors’ meetings. That’s not allowed now. We shall probably have to hire someone from the LEA to take the minutes at a cost of £900. Ofsted has been frightened out of the classroom by the teachers’ unions, and it is picking on the volunteer governing bodies and their bureaucracy instead. There is now a whole caste of ‘Clerks’ and a science of ‘Clerking’ which requires ‘Accreditation’. The system is, of course, a vast waste of money which should be used to educate children.

Guy Liardet

Meonstoke, Hampshire

We did our bit

If Francis Bennion (Letters, 6 November) had troubled to read what I had written instead of what someone else said I had written, he would have seen there was no rejoicing, sour or otherwise, when I listed some of the great powers that loomed over my youth — Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, the Soviet Union (our ally in the war, as it happened), the British empire — and said they had all vanished. All of those seemed set to last. I could have added the other European empires: Franco, Salazar, racism enstructured in certain nations, like South Africa. My point, which I had thought it unnecessary to labour, was that certain contemporary great powers will probably disappear too, no matter how impregnable they seem now.

Francis Bennion cites his war service. I, being female, was merely having babies, but my family has more than done its bit. My father lost a limb and his health in the trenches. My mother nursed the wounded from 1914 to 1918. My brother, Harry Tayler, was sunk in the Repulse by the Japanese (yes, there was that empire too, I nearly forgot), my son John Wisdom fought for good ole Smithie who was defending white supremacy in former Southern Rhodesia. I knew many of the ‘brave young men and women’ fighting Hitler, as of course anyone of our age was bound to have done.

Francis Bennion says he is 81 years old, an Englishman living near Exeter. Well, I am 85, an Englishwoman (with Scottish and Irish tinctures) living in London.

Doris Lessing

London NW6

The feel-safe factor

I recommend that James Bartholomew (‘The death of decency’, 13 November) reads The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, by David Callahan. President Bush’s use of ‘faith-based charities’ can occasionally do some good. But a very large part of the substantial federal funding of these initiatives — and how does that differ substantially from the welfare state? — was directed to the so-called ‘religious Right’, who were an essential part of the Karl Rove plan to secure re-election. These ‘charities’ are not open to allcomers. To benefit from them you need to adhere to the same set of pseudo-religious and political precepts that appeal to these so-called ‘decent’ people.

No one is perfect, times have changed, and perhaps the Britain of my childhood, where neighbour helped neighbour and a woman got a seat on the bus, has lost some considerateness. But it still seemed pretty reasonable the last time I was there, and I never feared walking home alone from a theatre or a cinema in London or Glasgow or Edinburgh, or returning late to the country if I were staying with relatives there. I would not venture out alone in an American city at night. All that armed and paranoiac decency could be the death of me.

Hilary McLaughlin

Ottowa, Canada

In his lament on the death of decency James Bartholomew reports that the middle class of 1895 donated 10 per cent of their income to charity, and compares this with our meanness — less than 1 per cent. One explanation may be that in 1895 very few people paid income tax and the rate was about to rise from eight pence to one shilling in the pound (5 per cent) in order to pay for the Boer War.

Marianne Pitts

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Prisons replace hospitals

I would like to thank your columnist Theodore Dalrymple for highlighting the very serious issue of the mentally ill being detained in prison rather than being treated in hospital due to the acute shortage of beds (‘Losing Patients’, 6 November).

I am sure the general public is not aware of this and that the government would prefer to conceal it. I have personal experience of this situation as my son was detained in a young offenders’ establishment for two months before a hospital bed in a secure unit could be found for him. He fell victim to the massaging of figures that Dr Dalrymple refers to when the NHS facility where he was originally supposed to go decided to re-organise beds.

With the current legislation in place, it is very difficult to detain psychotic people who may be a danger to others until they have actually committed an offence as, unfortunately, my son eventually did despite warnings to the team who were handling his case. Dr Dalrymple is right to point out that care in the community is a social experiment that has caused untold suffering and misery for many families. Parents should not have to press criminal charges in order for their children to receive treatment and feel relieved that their relative is in a prison and not at large in the community. Regrettably, that is the harsh reality that many of us with mentally ill relatives face.

Name and address supplied

Universal rules

It might seem churlish to quibble with such a charming and generous review as that given by John Bayley to my book The Seven Basic Plots; Why We Tell Stories (Books, 13 November). But I would not wish your readers to be under a misapprehension as to what the book is about. The purpose of analysing t he ‘seven basic plots’ which provide its title is not just to show how many stories follow similar patterns. This merely serves as the introduction to a comprehensive analysis of the archetypal structures and figures around which stories naturally take shape in the human mind. The greater part of the book, which Professor Bayley did not have space to cover, is concerned with how and why it is that stories follow these universal rules, and why evolution should have given us the need to tell stories in the first place.

Christopher Booker

Litton, Somerset

Motherhood works

Petronella Wyatt has clearly joined the ranks of those who labour under the delusion that full-time mothers don’t do anything that is not related to domesticity (Singular life, 13 November).

During my thoroughly enjoyable 15 years as a full-time mother (brought to an end only by the need to meet school fee increases) I did voluntary work for at least three charities, completed an Open University degree, and worked as a volunteer adviser for the Citizens Advice Bureau, a job which requires a fair degree of intellectual ability. I read as much as I always had — including The Spectator — and thus had plenty to talk about to my husband in the evenings. My husband insisted that his earnings should be paid into a joint account so that I did not have to be paid an ‘allowance’, and I never felt that I could not buy things that I would like.

The result of this was that my children had the benefit of all my attention, and neither my husband nor I had the stress of juggling work commitments to meet our responsibilities to them. In addition, our children knew that they had a parent they could rely on, rather than one of Petronella’s ‘sex-crazed Romanian au pairs’. Now they are teenagers, and so far they have not shown any resentment at my having chosen to give them my time.

By all means allow women the choice of whether to work or not — if they are lucky enough financially to have that choice — but please do not assume that those who choose to stay at home turn into dreary domestic drudges. And don’t forget that work can at times be as boring as cleaning the floor.

Deborah Clarke

Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Lay on, Macfluff

Get it right, Jonathan Cecil. John Fraser’s muffed entrance as the Messenger in Macbeth (Books, 13 November) is even funnier. He said, ‘Your Lord, my Queen is dead.’ Macbeth, astonished, replied, ‘And what about my queen?’ ‘She’s dead too,’ said Fraser’s Messenger. How Macbeth got through ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow’ after that is not known. I would have forgiven him for corpsing.

J.M. Woolley

Hove, East Sussex

DIY while you can

May I urge any readers who have electrical work to do that they get it done before 1 January 2005? From that date, local building regulations will apply, which decree that even proper electricians who have served an apprenticeship and have years of experience will not be allowed to do anything (other than replacing a broken light socket) without becoming registered. This will cost them between £500 and £1,000 each year. If you or I carry out any wiring modifications to our homes or business premises from 1 January 2005, it will be a criminal offence, punishable with a fine of up to £5,000.

Sue Doughty

Woodley, Berkshire