Andrew Rawnsley is right: “With a monopoly of power comes a monopoly of responsibility. When the audience decides it doesn’t like the music, there is only one person to boo” (“Boris Johnson will find there is a price to pay for No 10’s power grab”, Comment).
The defenestration of Sajid Javid means dark clouds are already gathering around Johnson’s premiership. For instance, Norman Lamont said on BBC 2’s Newsnight of No 10’s Treasury takeover: “This reeks to me slightly of vulnerability, suspicion, paranoia.”
Recent political history is littered with tales of overconfident prime ministers whose empires began imploding at the moment when they appeared to be strongest – think of Blair and Iraq, Cameron and the EU referendum.
Johnson and his eminence grise, Dominic Cummings, may think they are taking total control of power. Instead, they might just have sown the first contagious seeds of a dark narrative of distrust within the government that will lead to their ultimate downfall.
Tackling the housing crisis
Polly Neate is right that “social housing and homes for first-time buyers don’t have to be either/or”.(“Britain has a housing crisis: First Homes is just a comfort blanket”, Comment) They do have to be a both/and.
A new way out of our dire housing crisis into truly affordable housing for low- and middle-income, renters and first-time buyers must be found. The growing numbers of homeless demand it, as do nurses, police, bus drivers, carers, cleaners and others in low-paid essential services.
For too long, local authorities have used high-value public land to help developers build private housing with rents and prices that are too high. All public land ought to be reserved for building only truly affordable social housing to rent or to buy, while prioritising building homes for low-income homeless renters. Also, the length of time that land or property can be left unused or empty should be limited to six months.
Reverend Paul Nicolson, Taxpayers Against Poverty; Tom Burgess, Progressive Policy Unit; Professor Danny Dorling, University of Oxford; Fred Harrison, Land Research Trust
Stephen Hill, director, C2O futureplanners; Will McMahon, director, Action on Empty Homes; Professor Richard Murphy, City, University of London; Jennifer Nadel, co-director, Compassion in Politics; Paul Regan, chair, London Community Land Trust; John Tizard, social activist & strategic adviser
The BBC is owned by all
The BBC has civic, educational and cultural responsibilities and is held to account for them (Letters). The licence fee is our buy-in to its archive, range of services and what it says about us as a nation. The public domain is being unravelled and this government is offering up our world brand leader to the marketplace, masking as a tax cut its fury at it being off-message. Thank you, BBC, I hope you make it to your centenary.
Hoist with their own bonuses
Sonia Sodha writes that “politicians should stop demonising the rich” (Comment), while in your Business leader you report that Tim Steiner, the chief executive of Ocado, is to receive a £54m bonus on top of his £4.7m salary in a year when his personal stake in the company rose by 265% to nearly £300m. Sodha is right – the rich are perfectly capable of demonising themselves.
Keeping ponds afloat
On the City of London Corporation’s proposals for entrance charges and health-and-safety measures at the open-air swimming ponds on Hampstead Heath (“Don’t fence in our fun, say wild swimmers”, News) Jamie Doward quotes the corporation as saying a financial shortfall explains the need for change. It spent £747,000 in 2019 and received £67,000 in entrance fees. But if the corporation had initially installed slot-machine lockers to give swimmers the option of protecting their valuables, a considerable sum would have been netted, especially as annual attendance, now more than 650,000, might have been even greater if such security had been available.
Nicholas de Jongh
Overflowing lecture halls
The claim by the University of Manchester that the use of overflow lecture theatres is “temporary” is disingenuous (“No room in lecture halls so just watch online, students told”, News). This is not temporary – this is policy.
Twenty years ago, first-year tutorials of 10-15 students would be taken by professors and lecturers; today, classes of 25 or more are often taken by able and hard working, but less experienced, graduate teaching assistants and early-career academic staff on short-term contracts.
Universities’ failure to recognise the scale of casualisation is one reason staff feel they have no choice but to strike again. I believe students recognise our working conditions are their learning conditions and this is why we have enjoyed their support in our battle to improve pay, pensions and conditions for staff.
Dr Adam Ozanne
University of Manchester UCU branch secretary; senior lecturer, economics department
Triratna Buddhism is no sect
We were surprised and deeply disappointed to read the piece about the Triratna Buddhist order (“New attorney general is in controversial Buddhist sect”, News).
Triratna is not a “sect” but an integral and well-established part of the British Buddhist world. We have thoroughly investigated reports of our founder Sangharakshita’s sexual relations and, while the police confirm nothing they have been told is criminal, we do recognise some of his sexual behaviour was unethical, as did he when he apologised publicly in 2016. We sincerely regret the harm caused and are transparent about what took place.
We welcome thousands of people to our Buddhist centres every year to learn about meditation and Buddhism and to navigate better the challenges of life. It is a privilege to offer this help and we endeavour to follow the highest ethical standards.
Ratnadharini, chair of the College of Public Preceptors, Triratna Buddhist Order, Adhisthana
A very public school spat
The article about a Winchester v Eton feud in Downing Street sums up all that is wrong with the government and indeed parliament (News). Ability and talent to do the job are surely most important, not which school our senior politicians went to.
I find it staggering that these things are considered important by some of our elected and, in this case, top-level politicians. Run the country rather than being involved in petty rivalries.