Britain still nurses some deep official collective need to remember epochal conflicts
This week, it was the Dambusters – their wartime air raids against German dams commemorated once again, 70 years on. Last week, it was the Arctic convoys — their survivors gathering in the Highlands, again 70 years on from their wartime exploits. Only a few days before that, it had been the turn of the Bevin Boys — commemorated in a new memorial to their war years in the coalmines. What will it be next? Unlimited opportunities beckon for similar commemorations – many of them already doubtless well-advanced – through 2013, 2014 and in 2015. The 75th anniversaries kick in even before the 70ths have come to an end, to say nothing of those other commemorations that are already planned for the centenary of the first world war. Britain still nurses some deep official collective need to remember these epochal conflicts. Yet it all raises a set of questions which deserve more thought than they get. When should these commemorations end? What forms should they take if they are deemed necessary? Do we really need any more material memorials of these already overly well-memorialised events? There is, of course, a poignancy about the 70th anniversaries, since they are perhaps the last occasions when significant numbers of the wartime generation can gather one more time. Yet these events are well sewn into the national consciousness. Do we need any more memorials, plaques and statues? Can we not decide, maturely and respectfully, that enough is enough? Can we at last move on?
Cameron's plan (PM raises prospect of 1980s-style sale of RBS, 16 May), losing the taxpayer some £24bn, exposes the government's priorities. He insists on cutting benefits by £18bn and expenditure on public services by another £81bn, with all the hardship that causes, yet for ideological reasons gratuitously empties the public coffers of £24bn.
Why sell RBS at all? Private-sector dominance of the banks led to the crash of 2008-09 – and almost no safeguards have yet been put in place to prevent a recurrence. Nor are the Basel III provisions in 2019 or the proposed Vickers commission's Chinese walls, flawed by the risk of regulatory arbitrage, an adequate response. Banks should support British industry and services, not indulge the current predilection for property, overseas speculation, tax avoidance and derivatives. Only 8% of current bank lending goes into productive investment, which is a main reason why Britain's traded goods last year showed a deficit of £106bn, 7.3% of GDP.
Too much economic power is concentrated in the Big Five banks, holding some 85% of the public's money, while the Cruikshank commission recommendations remain unimplemented. Total gross lending of the banking sector reached £7tn, five times GDP and 10 times total government spending, but the catalogue of malfeasance witnessed in the last decade of market-rigging, money laundering and product mis-selling shows clearly that banks of this size cannot be trusted with that power.
Britain needs smaller, specialist banks which would serve the rebalancing of the economy – regional banks like those that support the German Mittelstand, as well as banks focused on infrastructure, a low-carbon economy, small businesses, science and innovation etc.
Michael Meacher MP
Lab, Oldham West and Royton
If there is a 9% gap between the numbers of women on TV (39%) and the female workforce (48%), might it be that the very low percentage of women over 50 on screen corresponds to a similarly low figure of women over 50 in the TV workforce as a whole (Report, 16 May)? In other words, where male executives prevail they are more likely to appoint men – and the fact is that there are fewer women at senior level aged over 50.
• There is another, rather more frivolous, side to the disgraceful position of older women on telly. The (male) powers that be seem to think we women like looking at bald, wrinkly old men. Where are the handsome younger men? Perhaps all the oldies at the top are stopping the young men coming through?
Pontyclun, Vale of Glamorgan
The planned high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham (HS2 rail project has £3.3bn funding shortfall, warns spending watchdog, 16 May) is the land-bound equivalent of Concorde; both scams for spending billions of pounds of citizens' hard-earned wealth in order to benefit a tiny minority of very rich businessmen and multinational corporations so they can reach their destination a few minutes before they otherwise would.
This reckless expenditure of £32bn is as unjustifiable, at a time when citizens are making painful sacrifices, as the £100bn being spent rebuilding our weapons of mass destruction. The job-creating capacity of this project should be compared with the number of jobs that would be created by the government spending £32bn in the sustainable energy industry.
• Simon Jenkins's attack on HS2 (17 May) helps explain why most environmental groups have been reluctant to condemn the project out of hand. Jenkins argues that new roads such as a Nottingham-Derby-Stoke motorway would be preferable, but a major road-building programme would be environmentally disastrous.
Much better an investment in high-speed rail – but only if it is done well. HS2 has the potential to destroy a swath of precious, tranquil countryside. So we need to be prepared to shift the route, compromise on top speed and invest properly in tunnelling and other mitigation, so that the line can fit in better with the contours of the landscape. If that means a more expensive HS2, so be it.
Above all, the argument for HS2 is about rail capacity. If it is to be justified it must be part of a larger shift of passenger and freight travel from road and air to rail, not least a reversal of Beeching's cuts to rural lines.
Campaign to Protect Rural England
• I'm glad I am not the only one disappointed with the transport select committee's recommendations for expanded airport capacity (Letters, 16 May). However, the members seem to have their blinkers on. The most significant, indeed, terrifying factor to guide their recommendations should be that atmospheric CO2 levels have just passed the 400ppm mark. With the new transport infrastructure and airport capacity they wish for, they will ensure that we continue on our way to 500ppm and beyond. We are poisoning the life systems of the planet and all, they suggest, in the name of competition. It seems we are actually lemmings being led by donkeys.
Dr Colin Bannon