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Opinion: Violence in schools, bus travel, immigration, election and infected blood scandal among topics debated in letters to the KentOnline editor

Our readers from across the county give their weekly take on the biggest issues impacting Kent and beyond.

Some letters refer to past correspondence which can be found by clicking here. Join the debate by emailing letters@thekmgroup.co.uk

‘As a retired teacher, I have watched with horror as this vital public service has become privatised’
‘As a retired teacher, I have watched with horror as this vital public service has become privatised’

Schools taken away from democratic control

How refreshing it was to read Ralph Tebbutt's letter on our education system.

As a local teacher, though retired many years, I have watched with horror as this vital public service has become privatised, taken from local government democratic control, with school governing boards, elected by the local community, including parents and teachers, answerable to the community via the county council, with its inspectorate and support services.

Now we have Academies, run by an increasing number of businesses (often labelled Trusts) taking the cash from the taxpayer to run schools as cheaply as possible, in order to finance their executive hierarchies.

The more schools in their "chains", the more they can cream off and, as Mr Tebbutt points out, (like our hospital trusts) they are largely unaccountable.

This is so different from my teaching days when the education service followed the principles of supporting child development outlined by Mr Tebbutt.

What of the future? I do not see any attempt by the major opposition party to return state education to the principles of the 1944 Education Act (as important to the Welfare State as the NHS) with its democratic control by the local community.

Sadly, Academies were introduced by Tony Blair, so I am not surprised that local democracy in education does not feature in the Labour Party manifesto.

Alan Davis

Pupils must learn respect and discipline

It's a cause of grave concern and indeed alarm, that amongst the teaching profession, there is a sharp rise in assaults and verbal abuse directed at them by pupils.

According to a report by the teachers union (NASUWT), 37% of respondents have had furniture thrown at them, being bitten, spat at, headbutted, and kicked; 90% reported receiving verbal abuse, including being sworn at, threatened and targeted with racial or sexual insults.

Not surprisingly, suspensions in schools in England have almost doubled since 2016/17.

In the 2016 autumn term, there were 129,151 suspensions in schools rising to 247,366 in the 2023 autumn term.

56% of teachers said they are leaving their vocation and over half are considering a change of livelihood as a result of the egregious conduct of pupils.

It would be incumbent upon parents to take the responsibility of ensuring their children are taught the value of discipline and respect for others.

The spectre of children virtually running amok in the classroom, cannot be allowed to continue and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

M. Smith

Moderate views now labelled as ‘hard right’

Sadly previous weeks’ letters pages have demonstrated the divisions of our society today, both politically and in terms of plain old snobbery.

Christine Oliver of the Green Party describes Natalie Elphicke as a "hard-right Tory" and K. Chapman accuses Colin Bullen of holding "extreme right-wing" views.

Now I know neither Natalie nor Colin but I have never seen or heard either of them express "hard or extreme" right-wing views; their views seem generally to be pretty mainstream.

There is sadly a bit of a campaign amongst the left to decry all right-of-centre views as hard or extreme right-wing, by doing this such views are somehow then to be conflated with nuts storming the Capitol who are equally described as "hard right".

This is not an accident, by describing all moderate conservative views as "hard right" the socialist parties seek to shift the perception of the centre to the left of centre; think of the number of times recently we have heard left-wing politicians and agitators using the terms hard-right or right-wing about their opponents.

In my experience, and I was in politics for some years, I have found that people of the "right" are much more willing to engage with, listen to and debate the views of those of the left, they tend to be much more open-minded than socialists who tend to the view that they are right and that therefore you must be wrong whatever the objective truths may be.

Which bring me neatly on to K. Chapman's denial that such a thing as objective truth can exist. Colin Bullen is right, there is "objective truth" which is factually correct, then there is your personally biased understanding of the truth based on your "lived experience", that ridiculous modern expression.

From where I stand K. Chapman's dismissal of Colin Bullen's arguments seems to be based on university snobbery .. "if he had attended university" ...like I did ...he wouldn't hold such outrageous views, they'd have been educated out of him.

If that's not classic university-educated snobbery I don't know what it is.

In an ideal world perhaps university lecturers would have no political views; sadly we are far from that world and too much of what seems to take place at university smacks of intellectual snobbery and political bias.

Bob Britnell

Target criminal gangs, not immigrants

It now looks like the question as to whether the Rwanda plan will or won’t act as a deterrent to Channel crossings will soon become a footnote in history.

I say this because in his recent speech in Dover, Sir Keir Starmer has said that a Labour government will scrap the scheme “straight away” if his party wins the general election this year.

Given that this win is looking increasingly likely, we now turn to hear what Labour is offering as a solution to the problem of the cross-channel crossings.

First off, Sir Keir has said his government will set up a new ‘Border Security Command’ to work with existing Border Force, MI5 and the National Crime Agency, to prosecute the gangs operating the small boat routes.

In addition, the new unit would be led by either a former police, military or intelligence chief, who would report directly to the Home Secretary.

Sir Keir also said that scrapping the Rwanda Scheme would free up £75m in the first year of a Labour government to hire hundreds of investigators and “intelligence agents”.

Needless to say, these plans have already attracted criticism, with Peter Walsh from Oxford University’s Migration Observatory saying the Labour scheme was “unlikely to be a game changer”.

However, at least we can see that they have the virtue of targeting the criminals who illegally load hapless immigrants onto dangerous boats, rather than our government ridding itself of the problem by loading hapless immigrants onto planes and sending them off to a potentially dangerous country.

John Cooper

Lack of information before election

The recent Police and Crime Commissioner election in Kent would have been the first time my daughter, just turned 18, would have taken part in a democratic vote. I am so pleased that she couldn't, as it turned out, as this election has been a mockery of the democratic process.

I went online and I Googled a few days before who the candidates were and what they were standing for. I found nothing, including on the local government websites. I received no information in the post.

I discovered for the first time the name of the candidates in the polling station, with no more information than their names and their party affiliation. Asking people to go out to vote with that little information about who they're supposed to select is scandalous and certainly undemocratic.

What does it tell young people about the state of the democratic process in the UK? We hear politicians say over and over that young people need to vote, but that last election sent them a clear message: ‘Don't bother’.

Nic Daniau

Hypocrisy of those taking moral high ground

One result of the pro-Hamas marches disfiguring the UK and USA is to expose the hypocrisy and obsessive anti-Western ideologies of those groups who like to claim that they hold the moral high ground on such matters as race, identity politics and the environment.

As far as the Greens are concerned their child saint Greta Thunberg has proved to be totally selective as to whom she condemns for violence, ignoring the actions of the baby murderers of Hamas, while attacking Israel for trying to ensure that the Jewish people are not subjected to a repeat of such an attack.

Her fellow so-called environmentalists in Scotland and elsewhere have taken a lead in supporting the trans ideology which has done so much damage to innocent youngsters, begging the question as to what the demands of such activists have to do with climate change.

The same position is also taken by groups such as Black Lives Matter, who seem equally unaware that Israel is a liberal democracy, which treats all citizens equally, regardless of ethic origin.

It is essential that the pseudo Marxist nature of those vociferous fanatics who dominate the extreme left is recognised for what it is, whether it be those mentioned above, or the ignorant antisemites setting up protest camps at some of our most highly regarded universities.

Colin Bullen

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called a General Election for the UK on July 4. Picture by Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called a General Election for the UK on July 4. Picture by Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street

Is Colin a liberal at heart?

Colin Bullen never disappoints; last week he has let us into one of his little secrets - the people he would like to see at the top running the country.

Suella Braverman would be Prime Minister, Priti Patel would be Home Secretary and Kemi Badenach would be Chancellor.

All three are women and all three have a different ethnic background to the majority of British voters. This confirms what I have always suspected; - that Colin Bullen, despite all his right-wing posturing, is at heart a cuddly old liberal.

Michael Charles

Praying for a miracle before D-Day

As our nation commemorates the anniversary of D-Day on on June 6, let’s remember that there wouldn’t have been a D-Day, without the successful evacuation of Allied Forces from Dunkirk four years earlier.

At that time, over 350,000 Allied troops were trapped across the Channel by the German Army and if they couldn’t be rescued, the UK would have been invaded. Britain was on the verge of defeat. There could be no help from other European countries and America hadn’t even entered the war.

What happened next may seem strange to today’s generation, but to the people of wartime Britain it was perfectly natural. King George VI broadcast an urgent message to the nation, declaring May 26 to be a special Day of National Prayer and urged everyone to pray for divine intervention. In response to his call, millions of people attended special church services,. At one point the response was so great that the queue of people trying to get into Westminster Abbey stretched for a quarter of a mile.

Two events occurred straight after this National Day of Prayer. Firstly, a violent storm arose over the Dunkirk region grounding the Luftwaffe which had been killing thousands on the beaches. Secondly, a great calm descended on the Channel, the like of which hadn’t been seen for a generation. This Channel calm permitted hundreds of tiny boats to sail across and help rescue 335,000 soldiers.

D-Day took place on June 6, 1944, exactly four years after Dunkirk. Allied forces were once again in France, this time with the aim of liberating Europe from Nazism.

As we commemorate this special 80th anniversary and reflect on lives lost to bring freedom, let us remember that it wouldn’t have happened without The Miracle of Dunkirk.

Rev J. Willans

National Service plan does not reflect our values

After comments by Conservative government ministers about putting the country on a war footing, we now have Rishi Sunak vowing to bring back National Service.

This he suggests is “to create a ‘renewed sense of pride’ in our country.

This, his first policy announcement of the general election campaign, is wrong on two counts.

First it fails to understand the deep commitment of the younger generation to those human values that are essential to life in modern society. Secondly, it adds to the accelerating process leading to nuclear war.

At present far too many young men and women are being killed in wars which are being fought over issues that those young people have no influence over.

What has been lacking in world affairs has been statesmanship that would lead to peace and security worldwide.

The concepts of ‘British values’ so often spoken about by our political leaders are usually taken to refer to Christian values.

What we should never forget is that certain values are shared by people of all faiths and those with no religious views.

I will mention three: ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’, ‘peacemakers shall inherit the Earth’, ‘Thou shalt not kill’.

Sadly, in a world in which the rich and powerful oppress the weak and poor, the only remedy seems to be for the oppressed to fight to relieve their suffering.

The difference between the violence of the oppressed and that of the oppressor is that the aim of the oppressed is to put an end to violence and to achieve a situation of peace, freedom and security for all people.

The violence of the oppressor is designed to conserve the domination of the powerful and the subjection of the oppressed.

Ralph A. Tebbutt

Labour has no plan to stop the boats

In his summary of Sir Keir Starmer’s ‘non-plan’ for stopping the boats (letters) John Cooper fails to mention what Labour would do with all his so-called ‘hapless’ illegal migrants that keep on arriving, while Starmer and Yvette Cooper are tinkering with a border control system that already exists and has already established that the people heading up the criminal gangs are controlling things from countries nowhere near these shores and have no intention of coming here.

Occasional limited successes ave been achieved but the intelligence services (if their methods were not best kept secret) would be the first to admit that breaking down criminal networks using encryption on the dark web is very difficult, sophisticated and challenging work and increasing the numbers in our border force will make precious little difference, if any at all.

No mention either of what a Labour government intends to do with the thousands already here. An amnesty perhaps? Just release them all into the community so it can claim it has cleared the backlog?

I have already expressed my reservations about the Prime Minister’s Rwanda plan but now that the law has been passed to declare Rwanda a safe country it seems that without a single illegal immigrant being sent there, the law is already having an impact.

We are told that to avoid being sent to Rwanda, migrants are crossing from Northern Ireland into the Republic, but the Irish government doesn’t want them there, so is insisting that the ‘non-border’ (it insisted must be retained post-Brexit, because to have one would contravene international agreements) is now not such a good idea after all and has apparently already despatched officers to border crossings to stop any more coming in. It also wants to send back those that have already entered, even though the EU has not allowed the UK to send illegal immigrants back to France. Double standards and hypocrisy writ large.

Finally, it is now also in the public domain that the Rwanda policy, which EU bureaucrats rubbished as unworkable, has been adopted by them to negotiate a similar arrangement with Egypt and Tunisia, and no less than 15 European countries want to do the same.

What is Sir Keir Starmer’s response? His government will abandon the Rwanda scheme, even with the emerging evidence that it’s already working!

That is not a credible position. It is just blatant political posturing because he and his potential Labour government do not have any plan to deal effectively with illegal migration.

C. Aichgy

Send a message on mass immigration

The current government has made a complete pig’s ear of immigration, which has cost the country billions, much of which could have been spent elsewhere such as the NHS or defence.

They want us to vote for them again - dream on Rishi. At the same time, I would not vote for Starmer either, as he just wants a free-for-all.

It’s all very well saying we should target the gangs but as soon as you capture one, another springs up in its place.

We should have come out of the ECHR to stop charities and the do-gooders from making legal challenges, happy to for the responsibilities of immigration to be placed on others’ shoulders but not themselves.

We should either have turned the boats back to France or alternatively, put them into holding camps whereby they will remain or be returned from whence they came, as per the Australians.

Voters have a chance to send a very strong message to the politicians that the ordinary people of this country have had enough and want it sorted.

Sid Anning

Theatrics begin in election campaign

Now that a date has officially been declared for the general election on July 4, the starting gun has, in a manner of speaking, been fired in the race for the keys to No. 10.

The leaders of the opposing parties will, no doubt, be keen to ridicule each others’ manifestos and trumpet their own.

There's nothing a politician likes better than a good fight.

With five weeks to go before the balloon goes up, the verbal interplay will become more brazen as polling day draws nearer.

The voter will become somewhat beguiled by the theatrics of electioneering but are acutely aware that the show is only put on for their benefit to seduce them into making the right decision when casting their vote.

But the cynics amongst the electorate will feel whichever party wins, the consequences for the nation won't be nearly as beneficial or as rosy as intended.

Michael Smith

Nothing will change after polling day

Labour will undoubtedly win the upcoming election but not because they will be any better than, or any different from, the current government.

Rather, the British sense of fairness will dictate that it is their turn to ruin the country and the countryside.

Derek Wisdom

Turn water and rail companies into charities

The proposed increases in water charges, a basic necessity, are ridiculous.

Any ‘normal’ commercial company pays ‘dividends’ to its investors from the profit made by the company. The rules seem to change for water companies which paid dividends by increasing debt. But who is expected to pay for this debt? The consumer!

I do not advocate ‘buying’ the water companies back to bring them into public ownership, which would cost the taxpayer a fortune, but simply take them over. There must be some form of contractual legislation which would enable the government to take control because of mismanagement.

The same applies to the rail systems in this country. I am sure it would be cheaper to pay a minister and administrative support than the payments made to CEOs.

Perhaps water boards and railways could be given charity status i.e. non-profit companies.

It would appear the ‘Thatcher’ idea of privatisation has failed and we need a serious rethink of the way government runs this country.

Where are the billions of pounds for ‘our homeless’; ‘affordable housing’; ‘our national health system’?

We should be looking towards our own population before spending billions of pounds on other countries and their populations.

Brian Butler

Stagecoach says passenger numbers on its buses in the Folkestone area remain lower than before the start of the coronavirus pandemic
Stagecoach says passenger numbers on its buses in the Folkestone area remain lower than before the start of the coronavirus pandemic

Stuck in the past over bus travel

As an observer of transport policy in the UK, I am concerned at the lack of grip and drive in terms of turning around the drop in bus passenger numbers in Kent.

Most bus services in Kent are provided by two territorially based companies, Arriva, and Stagecoach.

Many existing bus routes and the territories of both companies date back to the interwar years. Stagecoach services have been cut significantly since 2019 and Arriva appears to be considering the same in Kent and elsewhere in England.

The bus companies’ case is that demand has fallen since 2019, which is true, but last December the ONS suggested that bus passenger numbers are on a strong upward growth, even though mileage (i.e. the size of the network) had fallen. Even the National Travel Survey (NTS) reports that demand is steady, so in my view the bus companies’ case is not made.

What appears to be happening is that bus companies have adopted a short-term shareholder value policy by indulging in a Beeching-like search for a mythical core network, which will sustain profitability. This a delusion, because if you fail to invest in new buses and cut back the network, passengers will fall away, even those on concessions, and so it has proved.

If we cannot tempt car users out of their vehicles for at least some journeys, then the future is one of potential gridlock. We are also an ageing nation, where many will be faced with not being able to drive because of ill health or disability; they will need to get around to get to medical appointments, shopping and to socialise, and I am afraid a taxi service won’t help many of them, as they are predominantly urban-based services.

I remain to be convinced of bus franchises or outright nationalisation but where the bus network has been abandoned, especially in rural areas, I think there is a case for setting up a new kind of organisation backed by government to be a provider of last resort.

I don’t think KCC is a fit and proper body to deliver a bus franchise system like Manchester’s, because they don’t understand public transport, and have remained wedded to the private car. Both KCC and the automobile are of similar longevity, the difference being that the car has adapted, not always effectively, as conditions changed, but KCC remains stuck in a post-Victorian era loop.

Richard Styles

Apologies not enough over blood scandal

Back in the 1980s, I was the teacher representative on the Kent Education Department health and safety committee and a perennial problem was the admission of haemophiliac (and other) children to mainstream schools when they had contracted HIV (AIDS) through treatment with the contaminated blood products.

Such was the hysteria over Aids there was great concern that these children posed a health threat to their classmates. Sadly they were wrongly regarded as such, only adding to the misery of their plight.

Now we know via the Langstaff Report that this was through the criminal neglect by those responsible for health care.

Billions of pounds are now earmarked for “compensation.” Paid by whom? The taxpayer. Were we responsible? No.

Those billions were for our public (and health) services.

Meanwhile those who were responsible are laughing all the way to the bank.

Happily drawing on those generous “public service” pensions, we pay these unaccountable officials and politicians. A touch of a button could put a stop to that but don’t hold your breath.

A few “apologies” will be all that’s necessary to wipe the slate clean for them.

Alan Davis

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