Piggies in the middle
Sir: Your feature ‘The strange death of the middle class’ (24 August) assumes that young people who do not attend fee-paying schools cannot have access to the same opportunities as those who do. I attended my local comprehensive in the first decade of this century. Despite the variable teaching quality, I did well in exams, went on to a good university, and now work for an aerospace company. I can afford to rent a flat, go on holiday and save a little, all on an income not much higher than the average starting salary for a graduate. I have not inherited any money, nor did I receive any from my parents during university. If you work hard at school, study a useful degree, and don’t expect to walk into the lifestyle of a euro-billionaire, then the UK is a fine place for the young and middle class. The problem is more to do with inflated feelings of entitlement.
Sir: To a large extent, the British middle class grew out of a need to provide ‘back office’ administration to support the growth created by the entrepreneurs of the Industrial Revolution. It is an oft-overlooked fact that many incumbents of the House of Lords are the antecedents of those entrepreneurs. It appears to me that far from being the backbone of Britain, the middle classes have become the interceptors of wealth created by others. They expect their children to have a right to the same highly paid jobs in the selfsame areas. As I was told by a German friend of mine, who came to the UK to run a factory recently acquired by the privately owned engineering firm Bosch, ‘The quality of the British workforce is superb: it is the management that is smug, self-satisfied and distinctly third-rate.’
Me and Mr Jones
Sir: Nick Cohen (‘Forget “militant” atheists’, 24 August) presumably seeks to injure me by calling Owen Jones ‘The Peter Hitchens of the left’. Mr Jones — who also did not take the equation as a compliment — has offered his own response to this elsewhere. I am mainly mystified. Mr Jones and I are both human, and both write for a living, but this doesn’t seem to me to amount to an important resemblance. But I recall that Mr Cohen has never sought to rebut, with facts or logic, some serious criticisms I once made of his support for the invasion of Iraq. I also scolded my fellow conservatives for imagining that this stance made Mr Cohen in any way their friend or ally. He seems to me to remain a committed enemy of conservative opinions, especially mine. I also recall with some amusement a rather raucous and personal public attack which he made on me at an Orwell Prize event some years ago. I think it would be civil of Mr Cohen, whose past support for selective state schools shows him to be a man of intelligence, to argue with what I say, rather than attacking me personally.
Sir: Michael Hanlon (‘Bordering on insanity’, 17 August) concludes his amusing piece by encouraging us to raise Ceuta and Melilla in any conversations with Spaniards about Gibraltar. I used to try this occasionally during my time in Madrid. It doesn’t work. The Spanish argue that Gibraltar is a ‘colony’, while Ceuta and Melilla are ‘autonomous cities’. This distinction apparently makes all the difference. I could never quite grasp why, but the difference is clear to the Spanish. One solution to the problem of Gibraltar is to swap it for Minorca, which was also ceded at Utrecht in perpetuity to Britain, but which the unfortunate Admiral Byng carelessly lost in 1756. This solution, however, tends to find little favour — except in Minorca.
Former British ambassador to Spain
Sir: Peter Hamlyn (Letters, 24 August) shows a disregard for historical accuracy. Admiral Sir George Rooke captured Gibraltar in 1704, not in 1703. Mr Hamlyn states that only six fisherman and their families were living on the Rock. Sir William Jackson in his history of Gibraltar, Rock of the Gibraltarians, writes: ‘ All the inhabitants who did not wish to take the oath of allegiance to the Crown had to leave Gibraltar. Some 4,000 people left the city; only about 70 of the original Spanish inhabitants took the risk of staying behind.’ As a Gibraltarian I can assure you that we are as British as a Welshman, a Scotsman, a Lancastrian or a Yorkshireman.
Michael Brufal de Melgarejo Gibraltar
It’s dirty Down Under
Sir: Tom Switzer asserts (Politics, 24 August) ‘The Fairfax Group, publishers of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age, tend to treat (Tony) Abbott as so loathsome a character that the ordinary rules of fair play need not be applied.’ To balance that he might have quoted the recent headline accompanying a picture of the Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd in the Murdoch-owned Sydney Daily Telegraph, which said ‘Now you finally have a chance to kick this mob out’. Politics can be a dirty business Down Under, all the more so when you have two such startlingly unpleasant people vying for leadership of the country and voting is compulsory.
Elephants vs pandas
Sir: I sympathise deeply with Aidan Hartley’s Wild Life column (24 August) in which he laments that African ivory poaching is way out of control. I have a suggestion, which is probably not going to meet with approval from Tusk or the World Wildlife Fund. The main market for ivory is China. My idea is to mount a campaign in China where we declare that for every elephant poached in China, a panda will be killed. It might just work.
Llysworney, Vale of Glamorgan