Letter of The Week
A second opinion
The British Medical Association's prescription to bring the market in health care to an end (Editor's Note, 23 January), dispensed by Dr Hamish Meldrum, is one that many of us would be happy to take. Sadly, it is a long way from the current thinking.
Monitor, the Department of Health-sponsored economic regulator, is planning to use credit rating agencies such as Standard & Poor's to conduct assessments of health trusts' financial well-being. But it is diagnosing the problem without looking at the patient. Public concern around health and care services arises from patients' experiences of the quality of care, clinical performance and staff attitudes, rather than balance-sheet problems. Ministers and officials responding to criticisms of their planned reforms invariably state that all of it is intended to improve patient care but engaging with credit rating agencies is an example of wanting to know the cost of everything while appearing to know the value of nothing. Perhaps the secretary of state should consider seeking a second opinion?
Three angry men
I am surprised that Richard Dawkins, as a scientist, is unable to see the point of a jury at a murder trial in which the proceedings in court seem already to have established the accused's guilt beyond reasonable doubt ("O J Simpson wouldn't be so lucky again", 23 January). The point might be that this apparent guilt is simply a hypothesis. Thus it may be overturned like any scientific hypothesis by casting doubt on the evidence or by interpreting it differently - as happens in the film 12 Angry Men, as well as in real-life British juries (the Ponting case of 1985). So we don't need multiple juries; one will do, if it is capable of questioning the court's assumptions or even the judge's directions and dismissing the hypothesis.
It is a wonder that Richard Dawkins thinks that anyone would be fooled that justice is little more than a pretence. The judiciary have been careful to cultivate an aura of imperiousness. We buy in to this because the reverse is intolerable. In this respect, justice has much in common with the vanity of science and its exponents, when a brief look at its history shows how easily swayed it is by society's requirements.
Professor Dawkins criticises the use of the phrase "beyond reasonable doubt". But for more than 20 years, judges have been avoiding it, instead directing juries to convict only if they are "satisfied so that [they] are sure" of the defendant's guilt - emphasising that it is the jury's view of the evidence that is crucial.
Gerry Hassan's new book should be renamed The Strange Suicide of Scottish Labour ("The battle for Britain has begun", 16 January). The Scottish Labour Party has adapted Oscar Wilde's aphorism to: "The only way to defeat Alex Salmond is to give in to him."
Coast to coast
In the first paragraph of her review of Robert Holland's Blue-Water Empire (The Critics, 23 January), Amanda Foreman alludes to Portugal provoking thoughts of the Mediterranean. That country does not have Mediterranean connections - its coast is adjacent to the Atlantic. And a quotation from Holland's history of the Mediterranean reads: "It was the British presence . . . and the stability it provided." Think of the modern state of Israel and who created it (with the Balfour Declaration) and it is clear that the statement is inaccurate - where is the stability? Since its beginnings, the country has been host to continual civil war and has provoked war with neighbouring states.
In claiming that Angela Merkel's reluctance to allow the European Central Bank to print money threatens the euro (Leader, 23 January), you join commentators who do not seem to grasp that this isn't simply a crisis that must be overcome. Rather than using quick fixes such as printing money to postpone disaster, Europe is restructuring itself to develop an alternative to US crisis-bound capitalism. The rating agencies, all American, apply the Keynesian thinking they've studied and downgrade those who do not follow its teachings. The NS should support its fellow Europeans in reforming the system. This crisis will be around for a while, so we might as well make good use of it.
That'll teach 'em
Dominic Sandbrook's dismissal of me as an unworldly academic won't do (The Critics, 23 January). It's he who is sticking his head in the sand by ignoring the positive findings of last year's Ofsted report. Of course there are problems. In my article, I pointed to a small decline in secondary school uptake under the influence of league tables, as well as the marginalisation of history in primary schools for the same reason. But none of this amounts to a total collapse. We need to keep a sense of proportion. Michael Gove recently recognised the importance of teaching skills; let's hope this signals a change of mind. European and world history must be taught at every level if we're not to decline into narrow-minded parochialism.
Richard J Evans
Wolfson College, Cambridge
I was mildly distressed but not surprised when Richard Evans reported that Civitas and the Daily Telegraph (Culture Essay, 23 January) wish to introduce Our Island Story to the National Curriculum. I once mischievously presented it to my comprehensive school students in order to provoke them. They promptly objected that we in Britain are several islands and surely have more than one story. Their understanding of a multiplicity
of contexts and narratives vindicated the application of critical skills in schools council history as it then was. I am unsure, however, if Michael Gove has such a grasp.
In the Nick
In response to Nicholas Lezard's difficulty in deciding which nights not to drink (Down and Out in London, 23 January), may I suggest he starts with 29 February?
London must be the only place in the UK where you can be down and out, penniless and living in a hovel and yet still manage to employ a cleaner. I do hope Marta is being paid the London living wage for her efforts.
Just for laughs
Many of Peter Wilby's notions are inspired, none more so than his idea for prerecorded crowd reactions to enliven commentaries from deserted cricket grounds (First Thoughts, 23 January). The canned laughter could be kept for when England are batting.