Why we need a free press
Sir: As bereaved parents and (to borrow from some signatories of last week’s advertisement) victims of public authority abuse we wholly oppose adoption of the politically endorsed Royal Charter of Press Regulation. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Christopher, our mentally ill son, had been denied his right to life as a result of failures by the prison service, the police and the NHS. Our experience was that, in the aftermath of our son’s death, the primary objective of the public authorities involved was to protect themselves from criticism because of those failures rather than to achieve justice for our son. If it had not been for press support, we question whether we would have achieved the accountability by the agencies involved that was reflected ultimately in the ECHR judgment. We are in no doubt that a politically endorsed system of press regulation would lead eventually to pressure on the press to avoid embarrassment to ministers. Would future failures by public agencies such as those revealed in the Stephen Lawrence case or various recent NHS scandals be revealed under a Royal Charter regulatory regime? We believe they would not, and the risk involved is too great to accept.
Audrey and Paul Edwards
Sir: I’m inclined to agree with Cosmo Landesman that working-class grandparents are usually an excellent influence on a child (‘The wrong kind of granny’, 22 March). My own instilled in me unfashionable notions of hard work, thrift, charity and stoicism — virtues that are sadly lacking in the middle-class young of my acquaintance. What nearly caused me to spit out my Friday gin and tonic (fancy — working-class person who doesn’t drink beer!) was Landesman’s snobbish assertion that working-class grandparents have bad diets, no cultural appreciation, and lack any desire to improve their lives.
Most working-class grandparents (or elderly people in general) are unable to engage with new hobbies like exotic travel because they lack the financial ability to do so, not because they do not want to. I am fed up with snobby middle-class journalists who depict the working class as brain-dead, uncultured and fed on a diet of chips and processed food. This is not a fair representation any more than it is fair to say the middle classes spend their entire time eating quinoa and visiting farmers’ markets. There is a great historical tradition in this country of self-improvement among the working classes; enrichment is not only a middle-class habit.
Don’t try this at home
Sir: I was stupid enough to think as Rod Liddle does about nut allergies (15 March) until about three minutes after giving my youngest son a peanut to prove my point. By that time, he was in the grip of an anaphylactic reaction, and we were on our way to casualty. The child lived, but I have not repeated the experiment since.
A man of peace
Sir: There is a special reason why millions of UK citizens feel affection and respect for Tony Benn (Matthew Parris, 22 March). When Blair, Hoon, Straw, Cameron, Hague and most of our elected leaders were gung-ho for the ruthless killing of the innocent people of Iraq, Tony Benn was one of the honourable few who spoke clearly and consistently against that war and others such as those in Afghanistan and the Occupied Territories. We knew there was at least one public figure who, unlike those in ‘power’, spoke for us — the majority of the population. Benn’s role in the Stop the War Coalition will not be forgotten despite the tittle-tattle of irritated journalists.
Dr Chris Burns-Cox
Thank you letter
Sir: I have a further sidelight into Michael Gove’s good manners (‘Meeting the monster’, 15 March). A few years ago I gave a lunch at the Travellers Club for the then Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks. It was complicated to arrange as kosher meals had to be delivered to the club for Sacks and his aides. I asked a number of distinguished journalists to the lunch and afterwards Sacks answered questions. I never heard a word from any of the guests afterwards — except from Michael Gove, who was still working for the Times then. He wrote me the most charming handwritten letter of thanks that was delivered to my office the next day.
O si sic omnes!
Sir: As a dog owner myself, I have some sympathy with Josie Appleton’s ‘responsible owners’ who are being ‘persecuted’ by Dog Control Orders all because of the ‘irresponsible few who don’t look after their dogs properly’ (‘Here come the dog police’, 15 March). But to blame the authorities for using draconian measures in an effort to make our parks and beaches excrement-free is like insisting the drink-drive laws be repealed on the grounds that they unfairly punish responsible drivers.
The word on the street
Sir: I was surprised to read in a recent Spectator article that prostitution was illegal in Kenya (‘The best places to open a brothel’, 8 March). My many visits to that country have led me to conclude that it was compulsory.
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