Big Brother, Europe, football and others

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The Independent Online

'Big Brother' may be crass, but the alternative is worse

Sir: Bernard Morgan (letter, 8 June) describes Big Brother as an indefensible freak show and compares the lack of morality and low entertainment value with that of a chimps' tea party.

Whilst most of your readership would be in agreement that the Big Brother contestants are at best misguided, and at worst fame-seeking, navel-gazing, knuckle-dragging and mentally immature, it is ultimately freedom of choice that has dictated the programme is able to exist. Big Brother acts as a counterpoint to the Orwellean vision from which it took its name - a society that would not have tolerated either the programme, its participants or indeed its viewers. I am almost glad that the latter are kept busy at home watching binge drinking, fighting, sexual promiscuity and semi-public urination rather than engaging in those activities themselves in my local town centre.

Last Monday night BBC 4 showed A State of Mind, which followed two young gymnasts in North Korea as they prepare for participation in a "Mass Games" event. It reminded me of what freedom is actually about. In a society where housing is allocated, labour is forced, people are compartmentalised (worker, peasant, intellectual), food and fuel are scarce, and all entertainment is focused on government propaganda, there is no "lack" of morality. A deviation from what the party says results in a jail sentence, possibly torture. Whilst there is no Big Brother TV show there, they live the "dream" every day. Kitchens in apartment blocks have state radio pumped into them all day long. The one TV channel exists purely for reasons of propaganda.

In North Korea, Mr Morgan's ideal of an enforced sense of morality is a reality - there is no freedom, no choice, only enforced happiness or torture. At least our own Big Brother is fictitious, lasts for 10 weeks a year, and participation on the part of both the contestants and the viewers is entirely voluntary. Mr Morgan can choose what he watches on TV, and he can choose to turn it off and not be subjected to it any more - a choice and freedom that nobody filmed in BBC 4's offering has ever experienced. He doesn't know how lucky he is.


How Europe works in Britain's interest

Sir: Isn't politics wonderful? A totally untried party has swept aside its rivals on an emotional idea which no one has troubled either to analyse or cost. Some of us are old enough to remember that it is tough to be on the outside without committed friends, tough to have international laws imposed on us, on which we have had little say, tough to pay tariffs for access to export markets on which we depend and tough too to see major employers take their investment to a common market with none of those problems.

But what hits me harder is the big lie. We are not run by "Brussels". The Brussels commission can only propose European laws. They have to be passed by the Council, on which British ministers sit and by the Parliament to which we have just elected our British members. That membership works well for us.

Twenty-five years ago I went from the chair of the British Overseas Trade Board to the chair of the Overseas Trade Committee of the European Parliament. In the BOTB we were powerless against untouchable international trade agreements, but Europe had the power we needed to look after British interests. We put a quota on imports of Japanese cars, which were set to wreck our motor industry. With five other committees, we commissioned the experts' report which recommended the Single Market. Another cross-party group (which still exists) produced the reform which ended the food mountains. And our regular liaison with the US Congress enabled the reform to be incorporated in the next international trade agreement (the Uruguay Round).

That none of this was reported in the British press was a first sign of a rising tide of English nationalism which seems now to be reaching full flood. As an Ulster Scot, who has spent much time and energy in shuttle diplomacy between London, Dublin and Belfast, I know more than most the sour whiff of nationalism, where logic is borne down by flag-waving fanatics. The Normandy landings, which we have just celebrated, should remind us of its final bloody cost.

Balsham, Cambridgeshire

Sir: As a literary critic, Anthony Sampson is capable of finding the language of the draft European constitution stilted (Opinion, 11 June). As a political commentator, however, he shows ignorance in arguing that the drafting convention has done nothing to "deepen the democratic and transparent nature" of the European Union.

The draft constitution streamlines the system of EU government, strengthens the rule of law, enhances parliamentary democracy, entrenches fundamental rights and forces the Council of Ministers when passing law to act in public. It is a perfectly acceptable compromise and a very important step forward for European integration - despite the language of the preamble which, in any case, the IGC is minded to edit.

Those of us, mostly Lib Dems, who have campaigned in the recent election for the constitution have been rewarded at the ballot box. At one pole of the Europe debate there are many people who want Britain to play a central role in a stronger and more democratic European Union that can stand on its own feet in world affairs.

Tony Blair had a bad election campaign. This week he has a chance to redeem himself. He should agree to accept a constitutional settlement on terms that respect the common interest of all Europe rather than the narrow, nationalistic view of the UK alone. Mr Blair must begin to act on behalf of those who believe that Britain has a future as a modern European country.

Constitutional affairs spokesman, European Liberal Democrats

Sir: My dad loves continental Europe. He likes nothing more than setting off in his Jaguar for the autoroutes of France; he loves the way the French look after their town squares and the Spanish lay out their tapas.

He constantly berates this country, saying we have gone to the dogs as he talks longingly about retiring to the Dordogne or Southern Spain. He also has a healthy contempt for most things American (such as McDonalds, George Bush and brash language).

He has also just voted UKIP. So many people in this country love Europe's civilising ways over our own and America's, and yet they want out of the European venture. In truth, do they have any idea what they really want?

London SW4

Sir: It is depressing that Labour leaders have been expressing pleasure at the inroads made by UKIP into the Tory vote. UKIP scapegoats the EU (by implication, all non-British Europeans) for the ills of society. The Labour Party should eschew the temptation to encourage Tory deserters to UKIP, and Michael Howard should denounce them as strongly as he recently denounced the BNP.

Chislehurst, Kent

Sir: Pamela Schlatterer ("You British, the elections, and your special brand of European hatred", 10 June) may well project a true picture of anti-European feelings among certain sections of the British public. Yet to avoid generalisations, it should perhaps be noted that at the instigation of Sir Brian Heap, the Master of St Edmund's College, University of Cambridge, the College dedicated a special Millennium Garden to British-German Friendship.

Opened by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh on 2 May 2002 it is now a prominent and widely used feature of the college. The college chapel further displays a new stained-glass window by the German artist Erika Bauer-Bamberg depicting St Boniface of Credition (c. 675-754), the English Archbishop of Mainz and Apostle of Germany, blessed by Cardinal Cormac Murphy 0'Connor on 21 January 2003.

Perhaps we should all remember the words on a plaque in the Cambridge Millennium Garden from a prayer by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written in 1942 while in prison awaiting execution by the Nazis: "Heiliger Geist, gib mir die Liebe zu Gott und den Menschen, die allen Hass und Bitterkeit vertilgt." (Holy Spirit, give me such love for God and men, as will wipe out all hatred and bitterness.)

London N2

England's defeat

Sir: So, a stunning defeat secured in the dying seconds against seemingly impossible odds. How do England do it?

Throughout the first half of this absorbing game, their were two teams on the pitch playing intelligent, fluent football based on the premise that it is a good idea to maintain possession of the ball. Constant running and short, inventive passes were the order of the day.

From France, this came as no surprise, but it was a delight to see England at it, to remarkably good effect. But once the goal was in (and a very brilliant goal at that), England reverted to type - huge punts upfield at all costs and regardless of who was on the other end of them. Pity that three times out of four the cost was loss of possession, allowing France to assault our goal again and again.

Will our boys never learn that where the ball is on the field matters much less than who is kicking it?

Forest Row, East Sussex

Draconian rule

Sir: On Tuesday in the Lords we and our colleagues will be debating the Home Secretary's amendments to the Asylum and Immigration bill. We plan to raise concerns about a number of them, but perhaps the most perplexing is the proposal to establish special marriage registrars for marriages involving foreign nationals.

In 1997 the Government rescinded the "primary purpose" rule under which foreign spouses and fiancés of UK citizens had to prove to the authorities that entry to the UK was not their main reason for marrying. Given that this rule was the source of particular distress to the UK's black and ethnic minority communities, its abolition was greeted with some relief.

However, it seems it could now be resurrected in a more draconian manner by making all foreign nationals apply to special registrars for marriage licences and allowing licences to be issued only to those who have received the Home Secretary's permission to marry. Exactly who the Home Secretary will allow to marry is not specified.

The Government should not interfere with the right to choose a spouse. It is a clear breach of the right to family life. On this occasion, the Home Secretary has gone one step too far, beyond the old primary purpose rule which impeded a couple's right to live together, to whether or not that couple have the right to marry at all.

We urge the Home Secretary to reconsider this hurried amendment.


House of Lords

Don't blame the war

Sir: The Independent's front page of 12 June featured the views of ex-Labour councillors, ousted from their seats after the local elections. They blame a protest vote against the Government's military action in Iraq: they deceive themselves.

Most people are not so easily turned against honest representatives who struggle to provide necessary services at a reasonable cost. The reality is that residents in many parts of the country have suffered increases in local taxation, frequently accompanied by cuts in services. Many authorities have approved generous increases to their own allowances, and "fat-cat" enhancements to the salaries of senior officers.

If those councillors rejected on 10 June must blame Mr Blair, they should concentrate less on events in distant Baghdad, and more on the failure of their leader to discourage greed and arrogance within the UK.

Hedon, East Riding of Yorkshire

Sir: The Labour Party just does not get it and, more worryingly, neither do many journalists. A large proportion of voters believe that they and Parliament were lied to by the UK Government about the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify an otherwise illegal war.

Whether or not Iraq becomes a stable democracy will not change that and therein lies the danger for the Government come the general election.



Smoke and mirrors

Sir: Philip Hensher, while supporting the right of we poor people to smoke, wonders how we can afford "£5.20 for a packet of Marlboro Lights" (Opinion, 11 June). We can't, so we smoke skinny roll-ups using tobacco from the man in the pub that he got, in bulk and virtually tax-free, while on "holiday" in Andorra. Our fags work out at about 50p for 20.

Lifton, Devon

Facing the coffin

Sir: I am wondering why the guards at American lyings-in-state, such as that of Ronald Reagan, face inwards while those in Britain face outwards. Could it be anything to do with where the enemy is perceived to be?

Walpole, Suffolk

Wind power

Sir: Peter Windibank (letter, 11 June) fails to take into account the differences in scale and siting between wind turbines and windmills. Turbines are taller, greater numbers appear in one place (who ever saw seven or more windmills in the same neighbourhood?) and it is frequently proposed to site them in landscapes admired for their wildness, whereas windmills were always fairly close to human habitations. Turbines may not be uglier in themselves, but would anyone want a group of skyscrapers (however well designed), in a much-loved mountain landscape?

Lewes, East Sussex

Take no notice

Sir: A pub in Durham City used to have a notice outside which stated "Food and drink purchased in this establishment may only be consumed in the courtyard." This was fine on a sunny day, but a bit harsh when it was cold and wet. They have since changed the word order.

Hunwick, Co Durham