The West cannot take responsibility for the tragedy of Aleppo

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Kate Maltby’s piece is a classic of its kind. The crisis in Syria is very complex, with a multi-faceted civil war and a variety of regional and global players, all with their own agendas. Kate’s view is that anyone who was against the 2013 motion to use military force, or indeed doesn’t see any easy answers or who believes that bombing Assad in 2013 without any clear strategic idea of how this would have provided a positive outcome for all of the people of Syria and the wider region, has “blood on their hands”.

The trouble is that neither Maltby nor all of the hand-wringing MPs in the debate in Parliament this week have convincingly explained how a different vote would not only have produced a better outcome for the people in east Aleppo, but for Syria and the region as a whole. Unfortunately, complex situations like the civil and proxy wars in Syria, and Iraq, are never solved by simplistic solutions, however devoutly wished. 

Lots of people have “blood on their hands”, but I don’t think that includes MPs who voted against Cameron’s knee-jerk, ill-thought-through and badly-presented motion.

John Murray
Bracknell

The accusation that the West failed to act in Syria is nonsense. Right from the start of the war, we diplomatically sided with the insurgents. In quick order, we trained so-called “moderate” insurgents and supplied them with non-lethal equipment. When it became obvious that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey were aiding Isis, we turned a blind eye.

Assad’s secular regime did not pose a threat to the West, yet we sought its overthrow. Our surreptitious involvement helped prolong Syria’s agony. Some achievement. Yemen is different. Britain, alongside the US and France, openly aids and abets the Saudi onslaught. There is, alas, no prospect of an emergency Commons debate on Britain’s role in Yemen.

Yugo Kovach 
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Aleppo: who cares? We don’t. Brexit Britain is an inward-looking, selfish nation preoccupied with its own interests. We have forgotten who we are. We need to take our collective heads out of our smartphones, look at the world and see what we have become.

Mark Grey 
London

For all the hand-wringing, Aleppo pales in comparison with the fall of Berlin to the Russians or our phosphor bombing of the refugee-packed hospital city of Dresden in the last weeks of WWII. And our finger-pointing at Assad and his allies must not deflect attention from our feckless interference in Syria’s internal affairs which opened the way to Isis barbarians. 

It was to avoid the kind of mess we created in the Middle East that the UN specifically banned intervention in “matters which are essentially within the jurisdiction of any state”. Yet we have supported the US in undermining Hussein, Gaddafi, Mubarak, Assad and every secular ruler in the Levant who stood between the civilised world and religious extremism.

Rev Dr John Cameron
St Andrews

Nothing is certain

Having read your article about Brexit Secretary David Davis’s suggestion that our exit from the EU could still be stopped, even after triggering Article 50, I believe that we can now say with absolute certainty that nothing is certain. And for Davis telling MPs that “he expected his department to be wound up within about two and a half years”, I imagine that it will take far less time than that. If I were working there, I’d be stressed out after about four weeks.

Jeremy Redman
London

The Prime Minister’s refusal to discuss the position of EU nationals “unilaterally” is a trifle disingenuous. Amendment 882, already approved by the EU Committee on Constitutional Affairs, is now before the EU Parliament. It proposes to offer “associate citizenship” to any citizen of a former EU member state who applies; this would confer the benefits of residence, employment, health, education, EU voting rights, etc. The PM must be aware of  Amendment 882’s liberal and generous provisions.  

Dr Mara Kalnins
Bath 

Britain on the breadline

At a time when demand for food banks is increasing and government policies are disadvantaging vulnerable groups, Lord Layard’s recent report is a cause for significant concern. The report attempts to separate mental distress, and problems such as domestic violence and alcoholism, from wider social issues such as poverty and unemployment. The fact that mental health varies across social groups is no coincidence. A range of health and social outcomes, including mental distress, are worse in more unequal rich countries.

The relationship between poverty, mental health and wellbeing is complex, as is measuring happiness. Poverty is about to access resources and freedom to claim one’s rights. Coping with job insecurity, redundancy, long term unemployment and punishing social security systems all contributes to high stress. Losing connection with colleagues and friends through unemployment, or being unable to afford or find the time to socialise, increases isolation. It is unsurprising that feeling powerless, defeated and trapped by poverty provokes sadness, misery and depression.

Losing the opportunity to empower disadvantaged people as part of the effort to improve wellbeing, and instead focusing on specific therapies to reduce symptoms of so-called “illness”, is ludicrous and illogical. As a privileged and titled man, Lord Layard holds great power; we urge him to use it wisely. 

Sarah Wolfe, clinical psychologist in training 
Kara Bagnall, clinical psychologist 
Helen Beckwith, clinical psychologist 
Suzanne Elliott, clinical psychologist 
Carl Harris, clinical and community psychologist 
Lealah Hewitt, clinical psychologist 
Sarah Keenan, clinical psychologist 
Jennifer Maris, psychologist 
Annie Mitchell, clinical and community psychologist 
Ian Parker, honorary professorial research fellow
Cristian Pena, clinical psychologist 
Gillian Proctor, clinical psychologist 
Nikki Swan, clinical psychologist
Julie Vane, clinical psychologist
Jay Watts, clinical psychologist 
Sally Zlotowitz, clinical and community psychologist

Off the rails

Why does Simon Calder call it an early 20th-century practice to have a guard on your train? And why no mention of a much older motive – profit? Or of Southern and Thameslink’s owner (ironically named Go-Ahead) announcing a £100m profit – 27 per cent up on last year, and announced the day after the Government gave Southern an extra £20m taxpayer subsidy “to improve services and restore confidence in the franchise”?  

At least Simon got one thing half right: the conflict is a political battleground provoked by the Government’s determination to do to the rail unions what Thatcher did to the miners three decades ago. Whose side are you on, Simon? 

Richard Clarke
London

Priced out of education

Issues like those raised in Rachael Pells’ article are exactly what put me off transitioning from teaching English as a foreign language to teaching in state schools. How can the Government complain that it is too expensive to pay those who train the workforce of future? (Not that that’s how I look at children but it seems to be the only language politicians understand.)

Kat Deuchars
Weston-super-Mare

So fewer pupils from poorer backgrounds are attending universit… well there’s a surprise!

Instead of universities such as Bristol tinkering with entry requirements, perhaps efforts should be made to ensure all school children receive an education of a standard that “levels the playing field” for applicants (all other socioeconomic factors notwithstanding). Universities should resist the temptation for more dumbing down. Will they further patronise the poor by offering easier assessments?

Dr Anthony Ingleton
Sheffield

The wrong trousers – part two

I agree with the trenchant criticism of Theresa May’s expensive attire, which demonstrates why she is sadly out of touch with the general populace. The situation is curious in one way, though. Nobody criticises the Queen for dressing up and arriving in an ornate golden carriage for the opening of Parliament. People may laugh and goggle at mannequin parades which fashion houses hold but they don’t criticise them for taking place.

The answer lies in politics. Well into the 17th century, sumptuary laws were in force which dictated one’s wearing apparel to ensure that people didn’t dress above their station in life. But there was good reason for this regulation. Before the age of newspapers and photography, the rulers needed to be identified in public that they were the people in charge, and what better way than dressing up for the part? Hence the golden carriage.

Things have dramatically changed. Nowadays a politician who flaunts their wealth in our age of austerity sends out quite the wrong message. The Prime Minister should adjust her conduct accordingly. To help her, may I respectfully remind her, as a vicar’s daughter, of Jesus’ counsel that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

David Ashton
Shipbourne

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