Barbara Ellen is on the money when she identifies how gilded boomers have lucked out in the vaccination lottery (“Boomers are already dreaming of escape to the post-Covid sun”, Comment). But is it luck or is it strategy? When the May elections roll around, whose gratitude do the Tories want? A well-heeled army of mature voters can safely stride to the ballot box, on their way to their flights to the sun, casually adding to the greenhouse gas burden already shouldered by future generations.
Meanwhile, the rights of the young remain as irrelevant to policymakers as those of Victorian factory workers. Change was forced then by the rise of unionism. But how can the young, a whole new disenfranchised class for the 21st century, unite when they are exhausted from zero-hours overworking, defeated by a complex benefits system? Or, as Ms Ellen evocatively portrays, isolated in overpriced, under-resourced rentals or back at the parental home, distanced from their electorally registered addresses?
It’s time to enfranchise young people with a Ministry for Youth and the Future. But will Tories be the ones to do it? Sorry, they have a flight to catch.
Jennifer Leach (aged 57)
I was shocked and insulted by Barbara Ellen’s article. Just to point out a few things. First, the decision about who gets the vaccine was not made by the boomer generation – it’s a government decision based on scientific evidence about who is most at risk. As for the notion that, post-vaccine, our lives will suddenly be free and joyful, well, I live alone, like many of my generation, and for months now every activity that I do to keep fit, sane and in contact with other people has been cancelled, and likely to remain so, except for my volunteering. I deliver prescriptions and other essentials to those, often younger, people locally who can’t risk going out. And I am supporting my adult children financially to compensate for their lost income.
What else does Barbara Ellen feel I should do? I’m well aware I am lucky, being retired with enough to live on and without young children to home school but, after 35 years as a teacher and lecturer, I do think I’ve made a decent contribution to the lives of young people throughout my life and I continue to worry a great deal about their prospects now.
Aston Clinton, Bucks
Ugandans deserve better
The outcome of the Ugandan election is deeply concerning (“Ugandan opposition leader under arrest as Museveni wins sixth term”, World). The election was not so much a democratic exercise as further consolidation of the power structure that citizens have been subject to for 35 years. Every nation deserves sovereignty over its territory, but there is a line beyond which international bodies should become involved. The conditions under which citizens have been living in Museveni’s Uganda are clear human rights violations. So when is enough enough?
Newcastle upon Tyne
Climate change solutions
We are now way past the point at which it might have been possible to prevent runaway climate change through emissions cuts alone (“Carbon capture is vital to meeting climate goals, scientists tell green critics”, News).
The lifestyle changes would be too great and too rapid to be politically acceptable. Therefore, technology has to play a major part, including carbon capture and storage, carbon scrubbing and geoengineering techniques such as solar radiation management and oceanic iron seeding. Simultaneously, green taxes should be made more palatable by sharing out the proceeds among us all equally as a “green dividend”.
Education before research
Rowan Moore is right to trace many of the problems faced by students to the adoption of a business model for funding universities (“Has Covid broken the free market education model?”, the New Review). However, he omits to mention the other principal component of that model: the funding of research through substantial grants by the research councils and by outside funders, especially in medicine and the sciences. This has tipped the focus of many universities strongly towards research and away from their traditional teaching role.
There is much to be said in favour of the view of Lord Boyle, who was vice-chancellor at the University of Leeds, that the role of the university should be “teaching in an atmosphere of research”.
Rowan Moore describes the often bewildering choices that UK students have to make between a huge number of autonomous, competing higher education institutions, with decisions largely based on persuasive marketing as opposed to hard evidence. As Moore reports, in other European countries it is more usual for qualified school-leavers to go, as of right, to local, state-run universities. He quotes David Willetts: “We don’t realise how unusual the British system is. People who complain are being deeply unhistorical.”
Perhaps Willetts should consider the possibility that, along with so many other matters, British exceptionalism is a fundamental problem. To be historical, perhaps this difference helps explain Britain’s failure to invest in the renewal and updating of both industrial and human capital, a failure that notably became apparent at the Great Exhibition of 1851. The associated failure of the UK education system to educate and train all our people for a modern economy and society has been an issue at every general election since.
Maybe, post Covid, we should reappraise our tradition of shifting thousands of young people to strange cities round the country each September. And maybe the continental system is, and in modern history always has been, more fit for purpose than ours.
Dr Charles Smith
Hooray and up she rises
As someone who has been involved with folk music in general and shanties in particular for many years, I have been amazed and pleased by the wave of enthusiasm for shanties. Robyn Vinter’s piece (“How a Scottish postie’s simple sea shanty struck a chord worldwide”, News) is just one more gratifying public promotion.
However, I would point out two things: the photograph of the Longest Johns showed them playing instruments, yet shanties are always unaccompanied; the other picture shows Royal Navy sea cadets – shanties were not allowed to be sung in the Royal Navy but only on merchant vessels.
Darlington, Coxunty Durham
Apart from his heartwarming success with sea shanties, congratulations to postman Nathan Evans for smashing several stereotypes by not having a beard.