Sir: We have heard much over the years from the overseas aid lobby about the value of soft power. Now the chips are down, we see how empty those claims were. Aidan Hartley (‘Russia’s special relationship’, 16 April) outlined how African nations have lined up to support Russia rather than Ukraine or the West, exposing how wasted the UK’s investment in soft power has been. The same applies to aid given to Pakistan and India. The absurdity of an overseas aid target of 0.7 per cent (of GDP) must be abandoned and replaced by an 0.5 per cent spending ceiling, at or below which the UK’s aid objectives in the third world must be seen to bring results. If we seek real influence in an increasingly unstable world, we need to rebuild our armed forces, which have been underfunded for nearly 20 years.
Sir: Your leading article (‘Keep the faith’, 9 April) discussed whether the wealth of the Chancellor was a political problem. In common with many such articles, it did not focus enough on his political acumen. Taking 5p off the price of a litre of petrol was his big decision to help with the cost of living. A few weeks later this has been forgotten as the price of petrol goes up, and occasionally down, by more than that most days. It would have been so much more memorable and meaningful to reduce the cost of annual heating bills by a few hundred pounds. It was a total waste of money and very poor politics.
Sir: Justin Welby writes (Diary, 16 April) that religion has become an easy hook to hang conflict on. Why is that? It is because from the Crusades to the Reformation right through the centuries to the first world war, Bosnia, Ulster and Afghanistan, it is difficult to think of a conflict where religion was not a major aetiological factor. That is why it is easy.
Good Easter, Essex
Theatre and theology
Sir: Charles Moore praised an apparently enigmatic but actually ‘ironic’ scene in the Fourth Gospel, which is ‘peculiarly fascinating’ because it is a superbly written drama (Notes, 16 April). The Passion section has resulted in orchestration by Bach and others, and it is high time that the entirety of this masterpiece of theatre as well as theology was accorded comparably sublime operatic treatment.
Sir: Mary Wakefield highlights the anxiety and depression children suffer in the face of constant negative news (‘The kids aren’t all right – and the grown-ups are to blame’, 9 April). She suggests that schools can be to blame for contributing to this unease by the partisan manner in which subjects like global environmentalism are taught. I believe she is right. In my view the problem lies with a curriculum often obsessed with examining issues in a secondhand way which promotes contentious criticism at the expense of balanced understanding.
The pupils I taught knew all about the Amazon rainforest and its destruction, but were unable to identify the birds or trees beyond the classroom window. This meant they were not taught what was happening in the natural world around them. Had they studied their local habitats they would have developed a more balanced and nuanced view of their world rather than being exposed to a relentlessly worrying agenda.
Pagham, West Sussex
The gig is up
Sir: As a gigging musician for 50-plus years I think I can illuminate Dot Wordsworth’s statement that the word ‘gig’ is of unknown origin (Mind your language, 9 April). I was told in the 1960s that it was short for ‘engagement’ as opposed to a residency for a week or more; it meant a booking for a single engagement rather than for a run of work, which would be at a lower price per night. The term was in use in Archer Street, the Soho marketplace where bandleaders went to find musicians for either one-off gigs or sought-after residencies such as the one in the Strand Lyons Corner House which made bandleader Joe Loss’s name (as Joe once told me).
Friends like these
Sir: Damian Thompson’s piece on the ever-decreasing circles of male friendships (9 April) cannot go unchallenged. In 2004, in this small city, we started a group called Chips (Chichester Independent Professionals). We meet at 12 noon on the first Friday of the month for a drink or two and lunch. Chips has only two rules: turn up on time, and no treating (we pay for our own food and drink). We now have friendships that have lasted for more than 18 years. There should be no lack of male friendships if we keep up strong links: perhaps Damian should start a similar group.
Chichester, West Sussex
The Big Dipper disaster
Sir: I take issue with Roger Lewis’s assertion that the acquittal of Jeremy Thorpe, defended by George Carmen, was ‘the greatest miscarriage of justice of modern times’ (‘Dogged by disaster’, 9 April). I think there is a worse case. On 30 May 1972 the Big Dipper crashed in Battersea Park, killing five children and injuring 13 others, some seriously – including me. An inquiry found 66 faults with the Big Dipper, but no one was found guilty of any wrongdoing. The manager of the concession was cleared of manslaughter in 1973. He was defended by George Carmen.
Warninglid, West Sussex
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