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Look to Germany for ways to improve life in the UK

The UK would do well to learn from and adapt the successes of countries like Germany for its own betterment

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaking ahead of his trip to Russia. Photo: CHRISTOPHE GATEAU/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Jonty Boom warns rightly of the danger of underestimating Germany (“Is Germany doomed?”, TNE #356). I invite any of those who continue to throw mud at Germany to provide evidence of how the German public at large is suffering in the current economic climate.

Life there continues to be good for the great majority of people, thanks to proportionate welfare support, affordable housing – due in part to the “Tiny House” initiative – a highly regarded vocational training system that enables young people – whether born in Germany or recently arrived – to access well-paid jobs in a wide variety of industries, huge investment in renewables, and a recognition that to be successful economically a country needs a reliable supply of well-trained and motivated people who are up for further professional development. I’m not saying it’s good for everyone, but it’s certainly an improvement on life in Britain.

The UK would do well to learn from and adapt the successes of countries like Germany for its own betterment. Hype and rhetoric do not lead to improvement, they serve to make people blind to alternative paths to a better future. We do not lead the world, but we can learn much from and with it, especially our nearest neighbours, as part of the EU.
Rex Nesbit

Having been to Germany just recently on one of my frequent visits, and having family who live there, I can assure Brexiteers and all others in ignorance that the German “recession” is an economic state of affairs that Britain would love to have. The standard of living is higher across the board, wages and pensions are higher, the health service isn’t in meltdown, public buildings aren’t crumbling, public transport is excellent… and the weather’s usually better too!

The Ewiggestrigen (persons living in the past) of Brexit should ditch their prejudices and see what life is really like in a country that’s committed to making EU membership work.
Bill Cooper

Cut the crap

James Ball’s “Our water is full of crap” (TNE #356) rightly notes that before water privatisation in 1989, failure to make necessary investments in the industry was the norm. This led to the UK being regularly found by the European Court of Justice to be in breach of just about every water standards regulation there was. 

Something had to be done, and for a few years in the early 1990s privatisation worked. What has happened since is not a failure of privatisation itself, but an abject failure to fund the regulatory system adequately, and to ensure it does its job effectively. Ministers have pressed Ofwat to keep water charges low by reducing the investments water companies are permitted to make. 

As James Ball rightly says, what is needed therefore is radical reform. First, there has to be a fully independent body responsible for long-term strategic planning for the provision of fresh water and of effective sewerage. It should update building regulations, set targets for investment, and draft legislation to make these targets binding.

Second, the Environment Agency must be properly funded to ensure it carries out all requisite regulatory enforcement wherever and whenever called for, such as we briefly had in the early 1990s from the National Rivers Authority. Its primary tool for this should be the administrative penalties and other sanctions as used extensively in the USA, and now provided in the UK by the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008. Criminal sanctions would be best kept for individuals who have acted in particularly reprehensible ways.

Third, Ofwat should ensure that water companies conduct their financial affairs suitably (including levels of debt and directors’ bonuses), and that their charges to customers are no higher than reasonable.

Government ministers may insist that they must retain overall control, but if we are to get away from improper pressure on regulators to meet political ends, the ministers must be forced to make their case openly in parliament, and not by nods and winks and offstage actions that attract little or no public notice.
Richard H Burnett-Hall
London W11

I do not agree with James Ball when he states that in the short term we have to live with sewage in our waterways. Has he forgotten who creates so much sewage? It is of course us, and there are two ways every one of us can help.

The first is checking where your roof water goes. Enormous amounts of water from most of our roofs go straight into the same drainage as our sewage. It is very easy to divert precious roof water so it doesn’t go to the sewage treatment plant. Ideally it should go into a soakaway in your garden, but the use of water-butts is also an easy fix. What’s more, the water companies offer a good discount on their bills if you divert your roof water away from the sewage system. 

The second is that we use far too much water washing ourselves and our clothes, while also introducing many nasty pollutants into the water. Shower less frequently. Use half the dose of washing liquid/powder recommended and flush fewer chemicals down your toilets. Also, consider the fact that anything you put down the drain could be in your drinking water next time.

Tory books

“Campaigning back in Cumbria, I began to notice that if a house was filled with books, the occupants would not be voting Conservative.” If this admission about literature and voting intention in Rory Stewart’s book extract (TNE #356) is accurate, then liberal Tories must be shaking their heads, thinking, “how do we get back from this shambles?”

It also holds a challenge for Keir Starmer though, as it suggests, Labour’s core constituency are liberal social democrats rather than socially conservative “Blue Labour” voters. Liberal Tories may be staying at home or voting for the Lib Dems, and this might be enough to win the Tories a razor-thin majority.
Em Jackson
Via Facebook

The far side

Reading Alastair Campbell’s Diary (TNE #356) on school traffic, my mind went back to around the turn of the millennium, and the emerging competitive marketisation of school education, with specialist schools and commercially backed academies (which of course a decade on opened the door to Gove’s pernicious free schools programme).

Climate change was already “a thing”, and I remember reflecting that this was nuts. Quite apart from the general principle that education is a service, not a market, we were treated to the spectacle of parents crossing each other as they all drove across town to the far side to deliver their brood to the school or schools of their “choice” – when all they really wanted was a decent local school, properly funded and supported.
Charles Baily
Bedford, Beds

Library seats

Thank you Charlie Connelly for your excellent feature on local libraries (“The birth of a borrower”, TNE #356). In 2016, Cornwall Council was busy getting rid of its libraries, asking local town councils to take them on. Our town council did not seem interested in doing this; I attended several meetings as a member of the public, and actually heard councillors say things like “Why do we need a library, we’ve all got computers now?”

The library in question, as well as doubling as a tourist information centre, housed computers for public use and hosted two book clubs, a mother and baby group, a children’s Lego club, a knit and natter group, a spinning group and more, taking food-bank donations as well.

A group of us got together and stood for the 2017 town council elections as community candidates, promising to save the library. There was a record turnout, and much to our amazement we were elected, several long-running councillors including the mayor losing their seats. 

The town council offices are now housed in part of the library building, and it has reopened post-pandemic as a well-used and much-loved part of our community.
Constance Moore

Small talk

Re: Matthew d’Ancona’s “It’s time for Starmer to spell out his vision” (TNE #356). Starmer’s workers’ charter and green new deal, even watered down, are better than what we’ve got now. But I seriously hope we have something big planned for conference as Starmer has kept his powder far too dry and is constantly playing down what change a Labour government is capable of making. 

I want more than him talking about a bigger picture, and more of him telling us how it will happen.

Jack Millard
Via Facebook

Matthew d’Ancona’s article on Starmer should have given more emphasis to the climate crisis. The Chinese are already manufacturing electric cars with massive state subsidies. 

The UK should join the EU’s plan to take on the Chinese and manufacture electric and hydrogen cars en masse to be sold at affordable prices. A national network of garages will be needed for new electric-, hydrogen- and methane-fuelled cars.

As the crisis deepens, Starmer’s government will be forced to increase affordable bus and rail transport. Petrol will have to be rationed and ownership of petrol and diesel cars reduced drastically. None of this will be popular, but if we are to save the planet these measures are vital.
David Hogg
Bristol, Avon

I can’t join in the applause for Matthew d’Ancona’s article on nationalism and patriotism (TNE #353). The distinction he draws is entirely artificial.

In April 1916, the Welsh poet T Gwynn Jones drew a polar opposite distinction: in his view, “blackguard patriotism” was driving thousands to their deaths, and in the process forcing smaller nations to toe the line.

Nationalism aka patriotism comes in many forms, some distinctly unpleasant, especially big nation nationalism (Russia’s current brand springs to mind). Others are progressive, such as the movement led by Mandela that overthrew apartheid.

d’Ancona’s attempt to shoehorn a complex topic into a spurious distinction is misleading and even dangerous. It can be used to smear national movements whose aspirations are entirely legitimate. The confusion it causes is just what right wing ideologues love.
Dafydd Williams
Abertawe, Cymru

Female voices

The TNE has been a lifeline for me since the result of the referendum in June 2016. Excellent writers endorsing my own thoughts about the consequences of leaving the EU.

Recently I have become aware of feeling a disquiet about the gender imbalance as I read. TNE#355 had 16 male writers and only seven female writers. The letters page has 12 letters from men and one from a woman. Considering that the world population has roughly 50.5% men and 49.5% women, are you able to redress this huge imbalance? 
Pat Brandwood
Poole, Dorset

Increasing the number of female voices in TNE remains a priority for us. We have made some strides (Patience Wheatcroft’s excellent column; a number of young female writers in Carousel) but there is still much to do. Thank you for the valuable reminder – Editor.

Belly up

In an otherwise depressing world of crumbling edifices (schools, government competence, the towering sunlit uplands) it was a pleasure to turn to Josh Barrie’s recipe page in TNE #354 and discover that the featured dish was mouth-watering crispy pork belly. 

Disappointingly, the recipe contains no fewer than 31 ingredients and, judging by the times given, would take around half a day of preparation and cooking.

My abbreviated recipe would dispense with 30 of the ingredients and reads as follows : Ingredient – pork belly. Method – cook pork belly and tuck in.
Ed Lewis
Potters Bar, Herts

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