The Spectator

Spectator letters: Bernard Jenkin and the cabbies fight back, rising school fees, Nigel Lawson on aid

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Private pain

Sir: A line in Alec Marsh’s article (‘Britain’s one-child policy’, 1 February) caught my eye; that school fees have ‘almost doubled in the past decade’. I recently found an 1823 bill for an ancestor’s attendance at dame school (broadly equivalent to a prep school) that was approximately £3 a term for full boarding. In the 1970s, seven generations later, my own prep school fees were just over £300 a term. Whilst this represents, in nominal terms, a little more than a doubling every generation; in real terms the growth in school fees over the 150 years averages less than 10 per cent a generation. However, one generation on and the bills I currently receive from my son’s prep school exceed £6,000; representing in real terms a 400 per cent increase over a single generation. At the bottom of every bill they helpfully offer various means of payment, although all feel as though they are through the nose.

Stephen Marsh

London WC2

Time to renegotiate

Sir: The Spectator (Leading article, 1 February) accuses well over half of Conservative backbenchers of being ‘pointlessly destructive’. Our letter simply endorsed a unanimous recommendation of a respected all-party select committee of the House of Commons. For David Cameron to win the election, his party must address two problems. The first is that the EU is a failing and unaccountable institution that is encroaching upon UK freedoms and competitiveness. The second is that by capitalising upon the increasing opposition to the EU, Ukip threatens to deliver dozens of seats to Labour at the next election. You recognise our letter ‘has its merits’. Most Conservatives hope that these merits will be recognised in the next Conservative manifesto. Such an approach would deliver a more united party, also able to demonstrate that a majority Conservative government would have a credible and popular EU negotiating strategy. The pledge of a referendum, which our letter also welcomed, does not obviate the need for the Conservatives to explain what sort of renegotiation we envisage, and how we believe our objectives will be achieved.

Bernard Jenkin MP

House of Commons, London SW1

Does aid benefit?

Sir: I was glad to see the excellent Acemoglu and Robinson article (‘Why aid fails’, 25 January) and your endnote recording that David Cameron has just declared their book, Why Nations Fail, to be one of his favourites. It is indeed an important book, which is why I quoted from it extensively in a House of Lords debate on overseas development aid in 2012. So it is a pity that he persists with the UK’s anomalous aid policy, which sees that area of public spending increasing while all others are being cut back. It cannot be stressed too much that government policies need to be justified not by their intentions, which in the case of aid are irreproachable, but by their results, which in the case of aid are on balance harmful. As Acemoglu and Robinson demonstrate, economic development depends crucially on having the right institutional framework; and the principal effect of official UK development aid, which goes overwhelmingly to countries in sub-Saharan Africa, is to help perpetuate the existing malign institutional framework in those countries. This far outweighs any short-term benefit that aid might bring.

It is true that Acemoglu and Robinson do not help public understanding of this by their somewhat obscure classification of institutional frameworks in the developing world as either inclusive (good) or extractive (bad). What this means in plain English is that the crucial requirement for economic development is a separation between the political and the economic spheres. So long as the route to individual wealth is via political office, government becomes a means of extracting (to use their term) wealth for the benefit of those in government (and their families) at the expense of the governed. And the notion of facilitating economic development by providing conditions in which the governed can escape from poverty by their own efforts is conspicuous by its absence. Hence the futility — or worse — of official development aid, and of the present government’s aid policy.

Nigel Lawson

House of Lords, London SW1

Petrol head

Sir: I wish to thank Peter Lucey (Letters, 1 February) for his observations on my forays into Italian alternative medicine. The potion I ingested did not come with any dilution code, not surprising given its viscosity and stink. I have thus come to the conclusion that my petroleum cure was not homeopathic, but worse.

Clarissa Tan

London SW1

A well-stocked cab

Sir: I have been a London taxi driver for almost 40 years and was sorry to read that Harry Mount had an unfortunate experience (‘Stop that cab!’, 1 February). However, if he ever hails my taxi, he will encounter a courteous driver listening to Radio 4, and copies of The Spectator on the rear shelf, should there be traffic.

Laurence Kelvin

London W9

Blue on blue

Sir: In his article about unwelcome advances by MPs towards young men (‘The Commons touch’, 25 January), Alex Wickham manages to squeeze in no fewer than ten references to the errant MPs as Tories. It’s strange that he promotes it as a one-party epidemic. Or is it just a rather Laboured smear, albeit from a surprising source?

Peter Isdell-Carpenter

Chawton, Hampshire