Sir: Ivor Roberts says that Oxford University is ‘taking the very best, whatever their background’ — and is not to blame if state schools no longer produce the very best (‘Oxford under siege’, 2 April). And yet studies have found that state-school pupils perform better at Oxford than their privately educated peers, relative to GCSE results. When his university is admitting as many state-school duds as private ones, we’ll know that its admissions tutors are no longer swayed by expensive manners at interview. For now, that remains open to doubt.
Sir: Charles Moore (Notes, 2 April) quotes the late, great Auberon Waugh on cuts. In his Private Eye diary for March 7 1980, Waugh wrote: ‘Civil servants in every department, asked to propose expenditure cuts, are suggesting whatever will save least money and cause maximum public outcry. But the government has not woken up to this yet...’ It is clear from the interview with Eric Pickles that the Cameron government is wide awake to these tactics. However, the only weapon Pickles suggests to deal with them is ‘transparency’, revealing council spending in microscopic detail. It is all very well exposing unnecessary expenditure, but once the libraries are closed it will be too late. Why is the government not taking a stronger line with these fat cat councils? I suspect this inaction is a cynical attempt to discredit political opponents that will backfire.
Sir: Rod Liddle (2 April) suggests that the Sentencing Council aims to reduce sentences for heroin dealers and users. This echoes reports by some tabloids, but is incorrect. We are not in fact proposing any change in sentencing for drug supply offences. We only suggest two changes to current sentencing practices. The first is to increase sentences for commercial cannabis producers. The second is to reduce the sentences for some drug ‘mules’ (to a starting point of 6.5 years in custody). The idea therefore that our proposals represent an endorsement of heroin addiction could not be further from the truth.
I would encourage Spectator readers to make up their own minds about the proposals by visiting the website and responding to the online consultation: www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk.
Head of the Office of the Sentencing Council, London SW1
Marriage vs monarch
Sir: Melanie McDonagh writes that it would be preposterous if Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, were to become Queen Consort (‘Adultery Rewarded’, 2 April). She says she ‘respects the institution of matrimony’ more than the ‘institution of the monarchy’. But Charles also sustained a relationship which the church of which he is to become head regards as sinful. Is McDonagh’s objection to Camilla becoming queen really an objection to Charles becoming king?
Sir: I refer to the article by Rod Liddle in the 26 March edition of The Spectator. Although the focus of the article is on the events unfolding in Libya, Mr Liddle makes passing mention of the recent disaster in Japan, including use of the expression ‘white-coated Jap bloke’. May I point out that most Japanese people find the word ‘Jap’ offensive, irrespective of the circumstances in which it is used. At a time when many people in Japan have had their lives devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, while others are working tirelessly to secure the safety of the stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima at considerable risk to themselves, I find the gratuitous use of a word reviled by everyone in Japan utterly inappropriate. I strongly request that you refrain from allowing the use of this term in any future articles that refer to Japan.
Minister, Embassy of Japan, London W1
Parris in Paris
Sir: Paris a black hole? Matthew Parris’s descriptions of the RER and the Gare du Nord (2 April) are unrecognisable: they have both been vastly improved in recent years. The transit of Paris is easy and always more interesting than two hours on the same train going from or to Lille. Besides, weren’t Parris’s difficulties caused by problems in the Tunnel or even in England?
Richard de Lacy, QC
Sir: Hugo Rifkind (26 March) asks ‘What does Sarah Palin see in Israel that makes her think of Alaska?’ Perhaps Mrs Palin has read The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. In this alternative version of history, the USA voted to recommend the provision of land in Alaska for the temporary refugee settlement of European Jews during the second world war. In the novel, the State of Israel is founded in 1948, but is destroyed after only three months, leaving Alaska as the only Jewish settlement (‘the frozen Chosen’).
Man of few words
Sir: Barometer last week (2 April) informed us that Fabio Capello uses a vocabulary of only 100 words to communicate with the England team. Is this a comment on the England football manager or his players?
Write to us The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP; firstname.lastname@example.org