No blanket solution
Sir: Paul Collier is right to say that the refugee crisis will not be solved with tents and food alone (‘The camps don’t work’, 25 March). But context is everything, and aid remains vital.
In middle-income countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, getting refugees into jobs is essential. Businesses are part of the jigsaw. So is government legislation to ensure, for example, that refugees get work permits or can register as self-employed. So too are labour market interventions that generate incentives to get refugees working.
However, in fragile and impoverished states that lack functioning markets and governments, different forms of aid are required. Collier rightly highlights the principles of autonomy and integration, but job creation or community integration for those starving in Yemen or South Sudan won’t help save lives. Food and medicine have to be the top priorities here.
The important question is how to provide better aid for refugees in all crises and contexts. This requires an obsessive focus on evidence: collecting data to assess what is cost-effective and cost-efficient, admitting failure where interventions don’t work, and innovating across the response, from job creation to healthcare, housing and emergencies.
Countries like Britain can provide aid and strong support through institutions like the World Bank. There is one other thing: welcoming refugees to our own shores offers the most vulnerable (and most vetted) substantive help. It is also a symbolic stand with countries bearing the greatest load in the refugee crisis.
President and CEO, International Rescue Committee, New York City
Sir: I believe Ian Olson’s wisdom, not to say common sense, is letting him down (Letters, 25 March) when he argues that nationalists now speak for Scotland. It is far more likely that the SNP’s resounding victory in the election after the referendum happened because Scots believed that the question of independence had been settled for the next 25 years. The SNP were therefore a safe alternative to Labour. I know many people who voted SNP and now bitterly regret it.
Sir: The figures you quote in Barometer (25 March) relating to the ‘March of the Centurions’ are remarkable. In 1952, when the Queen ascended the throne, only 225 people reached 100 and received the royal telegram.
Using the figure you quote of 14,500 people reaching 100 in 2016, this represents a compound interest growth rate of around 7 per cent — a significant factor in the impact of budgeting for the NHS. Those reaching 100 traditionally receive a signed birthday card from the Queen, who is now issuing them at a rate of 40 each day!
So and so
Sir: In common with many others, I have over recent years become increasingly irritated by contributors on the BBC starting a reply to a question, or a sentence with ‘So’ — inevitably reminding me of my schoolmistresses in the 1950s. You can therefore imagine my disappointment when I read the first word of Sarah Sands’ diary piece (25 March). Printed with a large bold ‘S’.
Equally disappointing was to discover that her next destination is BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, which probably attracts the largest number of offenders. Perhaps a quiet word in her ear?
The Bercow problem
Sir: I write following Lord Lexden’s letter to The Spectator about my MP, John Bercow (Letters, 24 February). I guess I am the ‘impressive local Tory’ who thought in 2009 that the Conservative party should field a candidate against the Speaker. I was chairman of the Buckingham Constituency Conservative Association from 1999 to 2003, and am currently president. I have always been a good friend of John and still am — but it irks me that I cannot currently cast a vote for the Conservative party at parliamentary elections. The fact that I expressed these views to the BBC at the time on Newsnight caused Conservative party headquarters to crack the whip and stern instructions were issued to local members by the constituency chairman to fall into line.
Sir Beville Stanier
Sir: It was a surprise to me that there were no letters in response to Mary Wakefield’s excellent and timely article on Crispr Cas-9, the latest technique in gene-editing (11 March). I can’t think of any other current issue which has such alarming and ominous implications.
The manipulation of life is not a new idea, of course; it was explored, for example, in a small book published over 70 years ago, written — perhaps surprisingly — by C.S. Lewis. Although only three chapters long, The Abolition of Man bears all the hallmarks of sustained deep thought.
The book is still in print — rightly so — and those who share my concern about this whole business of genetic engineering could do worse than obtain a copy and give it their full attention.
Thornton Heath, Surrey
It isn’t safe!
Sir: I agree with Charles Moore’s forecast that before long even everyday activities like home cooking will be on Health and Safety’s hit-list (Notes, 25 March). If only the nanny brigade would learn what the rest of us already know: that living itself reduces our life expectancy.