Lettersletter of the week

Lettersletter of the weekI'M SURE that Nancy Mitford shocked her sister Jessica over more than the U/non-U divide ("Do you speak New Labour?", 20 August). Nancy had published an article on the topic in Encounter in 1954, in which, if I recall correctly, she gave credit to the inventor of the concept, Professor A C S Ross. He had introduced U/non-U in an article entitled "Linguistic Class Indicators in Present-Day England", which was published in the Finnish journal Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, and it would probably have remained in decent academic obscurity had Nancy not brought it to a wider audience.

Ross was an eccentric professor of philology at the University of Birmingham who had two great passions. The first was card games: as a young mathematician at the university, I would regularly receive postcards from him outlining his latest newly invented patience-game, always with the question: "What is the probability of getting this game out?" In these computer-driven days, I might have been able to give him an answer, but in 1960 there was no way I could even start to answer his question. His other passion was driving Jeeps over the Welsh hills, on slopes on which no sensible person would even contemplate walking, never mind driving. He also played a mean game of table tennis.


Strange kind of peace

MAY I congratulate you on last week's leader (20 August). As John Lloyd's piece in the same issue indicates, government policy on Northern Ireland, including that of new Labour, has focused on an old agenda-one shared by "New Sinn Fein"--centred on Britain, or rather the degree of British mental and physical disengagement. Hence the apparent paradox in Northern Ireland that, as a result of the "peace process", the "war" between the IRA and the British state has become more attenuated -- though never "over" this side of a united Ireland -- while Protestants and Catholics are less reconciled to one another than ever.

While I would not have used the old language of "ancient hatreds" -- loose talk often used of the Balkans, too -- you are right to criticise the infantilisation of the Northern Ireland political class through the indulgence of external patrons. There are, as you also indicate, no obvious policy levers that London (or Dublin) can pull to end this stand-off. That remains the primary responsibility of the citizens of Northern Ireland themselves.



Providing shelter

YOUR LEADER "We need new homes, and now" (13 August) rightly asserts that we should not be scared of reviving public housing where needed, provided it is done in ways that do not create "the next decade's slums". But tried and tested old solutions must be matched by new, innovative ideas. Shelter wants to see a move away from a rigid approach that sees owner occupation as the ideal and social housing as the tenure of last resort. To achieve this, new ideas are needed to encourage a greater mix of housing tenure to build strong, viable communities. The imaginative use of planning powers would secure more affordable homes in mixed-tenure developments, as well as other benefits to the whole community from increases in land value. Giving people in social housing a bigger stake in their homes would also foster greater involvement in their local communities. Alongside this, reforming housing benefit and introducing stronger regulation would encourage responsible landlords and secure higher standards.


Director, Shelter

THE PRESENT housing problems are symptomatic of the encouragement of economic growth in an already restricted area of a small country. To improve either housing supply or affordability would do nothing to ease the current pressures, and would, in the medium and long term, merely accelerate the upward spiral. We need to recognise that a lot of commercial enterprise must be "persuaded" to relocate for society's good. Business crowds into London in an absurd crush and eschews distances that, in other countries, would be regarded as "local". Tourism adds to the pressure and, despite its alleged economic benefits, it should probably pay more heavily for the burden it adds to the working capital. While unfashionably dirigiste, the relocation of businesses to other areas of the country would be the best way to encourage better balance in the housing market. To set an example to commerce, parliament itself could begin by moving nearer the geographical centre of the country, and then almost all MPs would be within daily commuting distance of their place of work. JON TEMPLE

London SW I

Terrestrial TV respects its viewers

MALCOLM CLARK ("Battle of the brandosaurs", 13 August) suggests that the survival of the "big old" terrestrial TV channels is largely due to their investment in branding and retaining a character with which audiences identify and remain comfortable.

He might have added that too many cable and satellite channels present their schedules as if the viewers were morons. Frequently, blocks of advertisements crash into programmes with all the elegance of a chimney collapsing, and then run for five, six or seven minutes. Then it's back to the show for ten minutes, then more adverts. This makes for a profoundly frustrating viewing experience. Second, some companies offer "packages" of channels based on a theme (drama, music, and soon), but too often change some of the channels in the package without consulting the viewers, who end up paying for stuff they don't want to watch. Result: more frustration, or cancelled subscriptions.

In short, too many cable and satellite channels are not considering what their viewers really want. The terrestrial channels are, and their audience figures are holding up as a result.



Rod Liddle's vocabulary

I WAS amused to read Nick Cohen's account of his conversation with Rod Liddle, editorof Today, inretrospect of the appropriateness, or not, of describing the British National Party as "fascist" ("Why do the media love fascists?", 6 August).

Can this be the same Rod Liddle who, back in 1978, very nearly succeeded in recruiting me to the Socialist Workers' Party? The Rod I remember as a 17-year old involved in the anti-racist movement in Middlesbrough was a fluent and persuasive member of both the SWP and the Anti-Nazi League, and he had no difficulty, then, in describing the National Front as both "fascist" and "Nazi" (anyone remember that old slogan, "The National Front is a Nazi front"?).



Love or money

HAVING BEEN on holiday, I have just read Andrew Neil's piece on Rupert Murdoch ("The Murdochs: a family saga", 6 August). I came across the phrase "accompanied by a young wife who clearly adores him". How sweet.

The next time Andrew Neil meets Mrs Murdoch, perhaps he could try the Mrs Merton question: "Tell me, Wendi, what first attracted you to the 67-year-old, billionaire, media mogul, Rupert Murdoch?"



A question of taste

VICTORIA MOORE may be better-looking and a better philosopher, but Roger Scruton does select good wines.
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