Sir: Christopher Snowdon’s perceptive and informative article (‘The lost boys’, 18 July) reflects perfectly my own experiences in trying to highlight the under-attainment of white working-class boys in higher education, particularly in chemistry, a frontline Stem subject. I was elected to the Inclusion and Diversity Committee of the Royal Society of Chemistry to investigate this matter. Despite strong acknowledgment of the under-representation of ‘white working-class males’, any positive action remains painfully slow.
It is abundantly clear that while white working-class males are the largest group of disadvantaged young people in this country, their cause is the least fashionable and the problem not considered worth solving. Equally disturbingly, my enquiries relating to this situation are often taken as a ‘front’ for hard-right political thinking.
I can only hope that the government commission on racial inequality will include an urgent examination into the under-performance of working-class white boys. Widening access to UK universities — particularly in the Stem subjects — is not only a way of increasing social mobility, but also ensures the flow of talented young people into these key areas and their associated technologies.
I myself am the product of Toxteth, Liverpool, and a grateful recipient of free school meals, going on to Salford University before occupying positions at Cornell, Cambridge and now Oxford.
Peter P. Edwards
The threat to the Union
Sir: It seems that unionists are waking up to the nationalist threat in Scotland (‘The state of the Union’, 18 July), but all is not lost. Yes, polls have nudged over 50 per cent for independence. But those who live here understand the volatility of politics, and know that some of this nationalist vote is soft and can be reduced with some decent campaigning (sadly lacking from the unionist side). Other factors can come in to play as well: Starmer can boost Labour’s lamentable performance in Scotland; and we now have a split in SNP ranks. If this festers, it could debilitate them. Chin up!
Sir: Paul Levy’s review of the history of chickens (Books, 18 July) contains some common misconceptions that are in danger of giving poultry farming a bad name. His suggestion that meat birds (or ‘broilers’) ‘live their brief lives in cages at densities that make their species-typical behaviour impossible’ is well wide of the mark. Meat birds are not kept in cages — rather they are raised in large, well-ventilated, temperature-controlled sheds, often with natural light and pecking objects, with plenty of hygienic food and water.
He then goes on to claim that the birds are frequently ‘de-beaked’ as part of the process of turning them into drumsticks. Again, not true. Beak ‘tipping’ — where the sharpened end is removed from newly hatched chicks using an infrared beam — is confined to egg-laying birds. It is a precaution to prevent aggressive feather-pecking, which is most commonly seen (though still quite rarely) in free-range laying flocks.
Whither Hagia Sophia
Sir: The decision to redesignate Hagia Sophia as a mosque prompts Michael Nazir-Ali to ask whether Turkey will affirm the universal right to freedom of religion and belief (‘Beyond belief’, 18 July).
In Abu Dhabi, the Abrahamic Family House project is designed to embrace worship by Muslims, Christians and Jews inside the same complex. This was inspired by last year’s meeting in the UAE of Pope Francis and Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. Their joint declaration called for a culture of mutual respect, dialogue and cooperation.
Provision for worshippers of different faith within Hagia Sophia would be a powerful gesture of toleration by the Turkish government, and a unique symbol of a shared religious and cultural patrimony.
A beloved cat
Sir: Sam Leith’s column on the death of his beloved cat (18 July) was moving beyond words. Seventeen years is a long time to have a cat, or any pet, in your life. As he so rightly says, they become a part of you, and when they go you are at the same time conscious of how they have enriched you, and how they have left an irreplaceable space which time never quite fills.
My mother once asked her older cousin whether animals have souls. ‘If they have been greatly loved, dear,’ she answered. So there you have it, Sam. Be of good cheer: Henry is pathbound for heaven.
Dowding and Park
Sir: Air Vice-Marshal Hugh Dowding was made a Lord eventually, not a Sir as is stated in the letter from W.Cdr Brookes. Dowding was a superb tactical commander and he fought like a tiger for the Fighter Command and its pilots. The outcome of the Battle of Britain was largely due to him. He was ‘discarded’, as was Keith Park, who was in charge of No. 11 Group, Uxbridge, at the end of the Battle of Britain, and it was not until post-war that they were both fully recognised. Park’s statue was on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square for a time; it is now outside the Battle of Britain museum at Hillingdon. There is a new above-ground museum; but 60 feet underground, the Ops room is still extant.
I have given many talks on ‘the Hole’, as we called the Bunker, and on D-Day I gave a talk to a distinguished audience. I was not there in 1940 but ‘plotted’ 1943/1944. I am now 96 years old.
Helen Mills, former WAAF plotter (1942-46)