Dear Editor, I was not in the least surprised to see that, following a lengthy investigation, a report by the Joseph Rowntree Trust has strongly criticised the free availability of postal votes to anyone on the electoral roll. (Fears 'village politics' may sway result of city elections, Post, April 28).

Being able to vote freely is a precious right, and people should be willing, indeed eager, to make the journey to their polling station unless there is some valid reason why they can't, such as absence from home, illness or infirmity.

My wife and I are well into our eighties and still manage to get there. Until I retired 20-odd years ago, I regularly assisted by serving as a presiding officer at elections, and have noticed developments since then with some alarm. The change in the postal voting system was one, and the withdrawal of electoral rolls from local libraries was another.

For perfectly harmless reasons I wanted to dis-cover the address of someone who had done me a good turn so that I could write and thank him, and I had to go down into Birmingham city centre in order to do so.

There I was able to inspect the full register and make notes without any noticeable supervision, and I think the argument that library staff could not provide adequate supervision does not seem to stand up.

It makes me wonder whether the books are safe. If registers were more readily available for inspection, it would make it much easier for people to spot whether excessive numbers of people were down as voters at a particular address with which they were familiar.

This might not eliminate large numbers of fraudulently registered voters, but would be a valuable step in opening up the system to inspection.




Regulation to protect the public

Dear Editor, Your recent article 'There's no accounting for a lack of protection of the public' (Post, April 29) highlights the importance of professional regulation to protect consumers and patients.

As Andeep Mangal rightly points out dentistry is a profession which has long been regulated.

With something as important as dentistry, you do indeed need somebody somewhere to check that dentists know what they're doing and that they're people the public can trust. As the UK dental regulator (General Dental Council) that's what we do.

Our job is to protect the public. You can check whether somebody is registered with us as a dental professional by logging on to our website or calling us on 0845 222 4141.


Chief Executive and Registrar, General Dental Council


Inappropriate construction

Dear Editor, Let us hope that Birmingham's planners have the good sense to refuse permission for British Land's 35 storey tower in Colmore Row.

This proposed building is totally inappropriate for this site in Birmingham's best city centre street.

It would have no relationship to any of it's neighbours and would destroy the streetscape with its sheer size.

Brindleyplace is a success because the buildings relate to each other in scale and form a unified whole.

At least John Madin's Nat West Tower sensibly set back the tall tower from the Colmore Row frontage.


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What is left that is really English?

Dear Editor, We all know the story of St George & the Dragon (as my mother will tell you, I was once the dragon in a primary school production of it); most of us probably assume the story's a myth, but amongst the English at large, how many know anything of the real St George?

The patron saint of England is surely English isn't he? Isn't George about as English a name as you can get? But in fact he was born in what is now Turkey, and died in Palestine in the 3rd century AD. Not only did he never come anywhere near England during his life, but England as we know it didn't even exist.

At least St David really was from Wales, St Patrick worked in Ireland, and there's the legend of the relics of St Andrew being brought to Scotland centuries after his death.

But when I think about it further I realise St George - or rather our adoption of him as the patron saint of England - is a perfect symbol of Englishness. Our adoption of him as our patron saint sums up everything which has ever been great about England. Why? Let's take a look at some of our other 'national symbols'.

Take what used to be said to be our national dish - the Great British Fish 'n' Chips. What could be more English than that? Erm, potatoes. About as English as a bald eagle, they were brought over here from America by Walter Raleigh. The idea of cutting them up into fingers and deep frying them? Belgian. Or we could talk about the new national dish. Erm, curry. Or is it a kebab? Or Chinese takeaway?

Never mind, look what we've given the world as our gift - the English language. What we think of as the 'old' English words, which are usually described as Saxon (from Germany), are actually Dutch; Friesian to be exact. Ever heard the phrase 'double Dutch'? The derivation being about how close, but not quite understandable, to English Dutch is. Then of course there are all the Norman, ie French, words from the middle part of our language's history. Most of our modern English idioms come from either Shakespeare (the working class lad from Warwickshire), or the King James Bible.

Shakespeare actually wrote most of his plays not for good queen Bess, as we are always led to believe, but King James. That's King James the Sixth - of Scotland.

What about the great English musical tradition? Notwithstanding the comment Pierre Boulez once made about England having not fielded a decent composer since Purcell, we know English music started off in the middle ages.

When the crusader knights came back from the Middle East bringing the exciting new exotic rhythms, scales, and instruments they found there. Which 800 years later became the roots of the great English rock & roll tradition - itself also imported from America.

"But wait", I hear you cry, "what about King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table,"? There has been much historical speculation about the possible roots of a historical Arthur, but the legendary tales, of Arthur, Lancelot, Percival, and the Holy Grail? First written in the 12th century by Chretien de Troyes. The French bloke.

Coming right back to St George, and our adoption of him as our patron saint - what is great about Englishness is our cultural openness, our celebration of other cultures and traditions, our way of taking them and making them as our own - our very celebration of diversity.

Next April 23, I might just fly the cross of St George myself in celebration of all this; with a nice cup of tea - Indian, of course.


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