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Libel lunacy, this severed Isle and Scruton in the Labour party

By Prospect   March 2012

Generation tax

Three contributors want to withdraw pensioners’ small financial perks. Time to fight back.
I worked and paid taxes for 45 years before retiring 18 years ago. To save for retirement, and seduced by promises of tax relief, I opened SERPS and PEP accounts and subscribed to a company pension scheme and another with Equitable Life. They should have been fireproof, but the tax reliefs went in Brown’s pension raid, the company scheme disappeared across the Atlantic, my Equitable pension has been cut to 30 per cent of what is due and the widows’ entitlements have been slashed.

If prudent savers are going to be robbed blind by a combination of governmental bad faith and regulatory incompetence, then small wonder if the coming generations do not even try to save.

John Parfitt
Gloucestershire

After 50 years of hard but satisfying work I live frugally on a modest pension—the Freedom Pass is our most valued possession. There is a strong case for taxing benefits, but to remove them entirely from existing pensioners would be bitterly resented. As we survive longer we are a burden which makes many working people angry. These issues have to be addressed—the pensionable age should be increased and public sector pensions reduced. You included some thoughtful articles but an equal number that seemed angry and negative; do they hate their fathers?

Ian Hamilton
Richmond

Ruth Lea’s suggestion that support for the aid budget is one of the British taboos most in need of busting (as we tackle a financial crisis engineered by her colleagues’ greed) will have stunned even the most hardened heart.

I don’t like paying taxes but I console myself that those taxable earnings reflect the fact that I enjoy a standard of living better than any of my family’s predecessors and better than 99 per cent of humanity—ever. While I struggle to accept reassurances that the billions we’ve poured into banks so that they might, in turn, keep pouring out millions to bankers really is to the collective good, I never will accept that the answer to our problems lies in taking bread from starving children.

Brian Fitzpatrick
Glasgow

Far from being a case of thinking the unthinkable, the idea that other people should pay more tax is one that comes naturally. I suspect that Andrew Haldenby is not himself a low earner and that Owen Jones is not himself rich—at least by his definition. Will Hutton’s plans probably do not include being taxed on his enjoyment of Hertford College’s elegant and spacious Principal’s accommodation. With its world heritage views of the Bodleian library and Radcliffe Square, this is housing wealth indeed. I may be quite wrong about this and, if so, I can only applaud his disinterested approach to the nation’s problems. As a hard-pressed taxpayer I would, of course, welcome his very substantial contribution to the exchequer.

Nick Carn
London

As a pensioner, and erstwhile property developer, I couldn’t agree more with your contributors’ suggestions. I don’t believe in winter fuel allowance: I don’t need it, and I’m embarrassed to receive it. Perhaps bus passes are slightly different. And place a road tax on fuel—who uses the most pays the most. The government spends countless millions collecting road tax, or fining those who don’t pay. What a waste of time and money.

Green belt protection is one of the great social errors of our time. It’s the middle and wealthy orders looking after themselves, pulling the ladder up at the expense of the young and hard-up. Development land is precious and ridiculously expensive, and this expense is passed on to the housebuyer.

Release green belt land, and let’s build affordable housing for this and future generations. Now. There’s simply no excuse not to!

Steve MacSweeney
Hertfordshire

Occupy James Macintyre

We had the mixed pleasure of receiving your politics editor James Macintyre down at St Paul’s this autumn. We treated him with respect and co-operated to meet his requirements. The article he published (January) we found somewhat disappointing.

The essential point I made to him is that while the protestors are by no means all saints, the reason we have endured a cold winter living in a tent is because we admire the brave people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria. It is not about what individual people wear or eat. It is about trying to create a fairer world for our children and future generations.

John Moran
Tent City, St Paul’s

Paying attention to the lessons from the Occupy St Paul’s protest is vital if we are to move forward. Many of the unhelpful dynamics that accompanied occupation could have been avoided had we attached a time limit on what we were doing. Naming an end-date would have made things easier for us and our neighbours: it would also have given Mr Justice Lindblom something to think about.

Naomi Colvin
Occupy London

The lunacy of libel

Julie Burchill (February) hits the nail on the head when she attacks the propensity for those on the left to “put more faith in unelected judges than elected politicians to make laws.” Politicians gave up on our libel laws some time ago, leaving this the fiefdom of a select few judges. The top 20 libel cases each year cost on average in excess of £750,000. With the odds stacked in favour of the claimant very few cases get to court, and when they do most defendants forego their right to free speech and settle.

All three main political parties made a commitment to reform in their 2010 election manifestos. The coalition government’s draft defamation bill is a step in the right direction, but it’s absolutely crucial that it makes it through into the Queen’s speech. If it does, it will be the first wholesale reform of our libel laws since 1843.

Mike Harris
Index on Censorship

This severed Isle

Much of the debate surrounding Scotland’s departure from the UK (February) has assumed that the proposed new Scottish state will take a significant portion of the national debt. Unfortunately for Westminster, the historical precedent is not good. When the 26 counties of southern Ireland left the Union in 1921 (admittedly under rather different circumstances) none of the national debt was transferred to the new government in Dublin. Its only financial liability to London was to continue payments made by farmers who had bought land mortgaged under Gladstone’s 1870 and other Land Acts, which transferred land owned by (largely English) absentee landlords to tenants. Even these were made reluctantly and after significant delay.

Roger Lewis
London

David Hale assumes that an independent Scotland’s currency choice would be entirely a matter for itself. If it wishes to be a member of the EU, who’s to say the EU won’t insist on enforcing the principle that new members must join the euro? Of course, Scotland could opt for a Norwegian-style relationship with the EU through the EEA, which would leave it free to peg its own currency to the krone; but that would mean its trading relationship is dictated by the EU without its having any representation in the EU institutions. Some independence!

Patrick Wallace
London

Freud: under the influence

Freud (John Gray, February) must have read Schopenhauer closely but makes no mention of him in his writings on human sexuality, dreams and slips of the tongue. Nor does Freud credit Plato’s influence on his “tripartite” approach to personality—his concepts of id, ego, and superego. Freud’s definition of id and ego are at times almost verbatim definitions of reason and appetite laid out in the Republic.

Was it arrogance that kept Freud away from giving credit to others, or simply his assumption that, since his colleagues were all well versed in the works of Greek philosophers and the great thinkers of their time, the sources of his inspiration were obvious?

Fatma Torun Reid
Istanbul

Scruton, all too Scruton

I am not a biological determinist but I am not averse to well-reasoned, evidence-based arguments to the contrary. But the argument that “no educated person is likely to dispute the fact that this difference between men and women is genetic” (Roger Scruton, February) is simply lazy. The statement “men are by nature more aggressive and more inclined to settle disputes by violence” has plenty of educated challengers, and not just those whose brains are hardwired for “serious home building.” There are myriad social reasons why men are ten times as likely to end up in prison as women, starting from childhood when boys are socialised to prefer action toys, and extending to the courtroom where, studies have suggested, women are treated more leniently.

Amelia Knott
Hammersmith

Roger Scruton had fun taking potshots at liberal philosophers for ignoring scientific evidence that evolution is responsible for many aspects of human behaviour and culture. But he is guilty of similar ignorance.

We are all born with a certain genetic endowment of talents (despite much effort, I am never going to be able either to sing, or to write as elegantly as Scruton). But this does not imply there cannot be a large environmental factor in whether we can make the most of these talents. Second, genetic studies suggest that most humans are descended from a small group that left Africa 100,000 years ago. Though this period has been enough for evolution to produce superficial adaptations for humans to live in different environments (white skins at northern latitudes, for example), it seems much too short for any intrinsic differences between the races—a good liberal conclusion.

An application form for Professor Scruton to join the Labour Party is in the mail.

Professor Steve Eales
School of Physics and Astronomy, Cardiff University

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