Blair's opportunity to lead Europe, G8 must give poor a fair chance and others

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The Independent Online

Sir: Nothing is as it ought to be in European politics. On one side of the English Channel Tony Blair, a left-of-centre leader and incoming President-in-office of the European Union, is accused of championing ultra-liberal values and imposing market forces on a reluctant continent with help from new member states. On the other side of la Manche Jacques Chirac, a right-of-centre President and self-styled leader of core Europe, is fighting tooth and nail to preserve some vestige of his cherished social Europe based on a model of state support and intervention.

Is it little wonder that Europe's voters are confused and concerned at the direction Europe is heading when even their national leaders no longer conform to traditional political models ?

Blair has promised a shake-up of the EU, beginning with the budget but prompting a wider debate about how it has gone about trying to protect the social model that differentiates it from the US. The liberal economic agenda combined with social justice he espouses is music to the ears of many of us who have long argued that a sustainable welfare system and efficient public services require a prosperous society to fund them. Blair has only six months to convince Chirac that he offers a viable alternative model and to convince the British public that Europe can offer added value and is capable of reform if it has the right leadership.



Sir: I have a real love of the French and lived happily in Paris for four years. But Chirac's taunt about English cuisine is a 20 year-old sandwich; stale, tasteless, unimaginative. What, anyway, does Chirac know of the food available to us? He has only ever eaten at state dinners, the food created by top chefs - some of them French.

His remark "One cannot trust a nation which has bad cuisine", can be restated: one cannot trust a nation's leader who relies on cuisine to gauge trust. Trust cannot be discussed; it either is, or is not, present.



Sir: Whatever you do, don't mention the frogs' legs.



G8 must give the poor a fair chance

Sir: EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is right when he says that trade is key to unlocking millions out of poverty (Opinion, 4 July). Oxfam would welcome additional money to enable poor countries to trade, but it is vital that this money is substantial and not used as a bargaining chip to force poor countries to further open up their markets to rich-country exports.

The bottom line is that aid-for-trade must not be offered as a substitute for reform of global trade rules. Rich-country protectionism and subsidies currently cost developing countries around $24bn a year.

It's vital this week that the G8 makes a firm commitment to eliminating export subsidies and improving market access, so that people in developing countries have a fair chance to work their own way out of poverty.



Sir: Peter Mandelson misses the point about free trade. It is the very fact that African countries have been forced to open their economies to western multinational companies that has decimated their industries and prevented them from producing for their own markets, let alone G8 ones.

Forced liberalisation in the 1990s cost Ghana 50,000 manufacturing jobs and cut Zambia's formal employment in half. In the past conditions on aid and debt relief imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund played a central role in the destruction of African industry. Today the threat also comes from the World Trade Organisation and negotiations on economic partnership agreements. And greater access to G8 markets is in danger of becoming a red herring for poor people as western corporations now dominate the global trading system.

For the G8 the challenge is to change their anti-development trade policies and allow African countries to set their own trade and development agenda. The G8 leaders must stop forcing liberalisation on poor countries and start making new laws to regulate G8 multinationals effectively. Only then can the G8 say it is helping to "make poverty history".



Rock's vast debt to African music

Sir: Some 20 years ago I was the recording engineer on the original Band Aid single. Like the artists involved I was moved by the appalling images of famine appearing on my television, and jumped at the chance to do something about it. The incredible public response showed just what can be done when a tragedy of this scale unfolds before our eyes.

But now times are different. In the intervening years since Live Aid our understanding of the underlying issues surrounding global poverty has increased. So the message has changed and now Mr Geldof wants to give Africa a level playing field, a fair deal.

This is a demand that I have heard before, most often from African musicians that I have had the pleasure of working with over the past two decades. On Saturday I heard it again at the Eden Project, where along with several hundred others I was involved in "Africa Calling", the hastily put together concert of African artists which resulted from criticisms that none had been invited to Hyde Park.

Thanks to the monumental efforts of all involved, from the Eden volunteers, the Womad team, the lighting and sound crews, the cameramen right the way up to Peter Gabriel and all those fabulous artists the concert was a resounding success. "Africa Calling" presented a beautiful and powerful cross section of African music today. Those bands at Hyde Park owe an enormous debt to the music of this vast and varied continent. Without the influence of African music, rock'n'roll and everything that followed wouldn't exist

What we want is a new deal for Africa. That deal involves a change in the way we look at Africa and its people. Saturday was a great start and a missed opportunity. With a level playing field Africa can begin to solve its own problems. Yes Mr Geldof, I hear the message, have you?



Aids tragedy is only one side of the story

Sir: Thomas Sutcliffe is right that Dispatches was a brave and powerfully moving exposition on the terrible scourge of Aids in Zambia (Last Night's TV, 28 June). However, we feel that a sense of balance is missing in this discussion. In our working lives in different African hospitals we have witnessed in the midst of this tide of suffering much to uplift us as well as to sadden us.

Every day we see remarkable bravery. For every shocking young man who carries on willingly disseminating HIV to his sexual contacts there are many more struggling to behave responsibly to those around them. For every church leader confusing his flock about condoms there are many more very caring, thoughtful clergy encouraging people to do whatever they have to to protect their families. While Sutcliffe laments that "only" 23,000 people got anti-retrovirals, remember that this is a remarkable achievement for a country whose population was deprived of them until only two years ago.

Yes, Aids is a terrible scourge. Yes, much more needs to be done. But Africa is much more than tragedy. We long to see someone portray the vibrancy and joy of Africa which is as much a part of our daily experience as the tragedy and loss.




Why cathedral charges visitors

Sir: The visitor to London's South Bank (letter, 30 June) is naturally surprised to find that the government grant enabling free entry to Tate Modern is not available to St Paul's Cathedral or indeed to any of our churches. Few realise that such places must finance not only their mission but also their maintenance with neither government grants nor large ancient endowments.

Admission charges to St Paul's were first introduced in 1709. They were reintroduced with some reluctance in 1991 when donations from visitors were averaging just 20p per head. It was decided that those who came to look around the cathedral and enjoy its considerable history should be asked to pay towards its upkeep and to meet the increasing demands required of a building open to the public. Of course those who come to attend the daily services are not charged for entry. Nor are those who come seeking a place for quiet prayer - a chapel is set aside free of charge for that purpose.

A large part of the nation's heritage and history lies in its churches and cathedrals. Whether we can continue to rely upon the generosity of the faithful churchgoer to maintain them for us all is the question to be asked.



ID cards will not prevent terrorism

Sir: Charles Clark's description of ID cards as "helping counter, not create, a Big Brother society" would be laughable if it were not so serious. The reason the Government puts forward for the insanity of introducing ID cards is to stop terrorism. This claim falls down under any serious examination. We all watched in horror the tragic events of the Madrid bomb, but the bombers all had legitimate ID cards. Similarly, the September 11 hijackers all used their real names before boarding their flights. The notion that ID cards will protect us from terrorist attack is an example of New Labour fearmongering.

That New Labour play fast and loose with the terrorist threat is indisputable. Before the election we were told by Blair that hundreds of terrorists were poised to strike at the UK and that the authorities needed control orders to stop them. Since Blair made that proclamation only the original Belmarsh detainees have been subjected to such orders. One is left to wonder where the hundreds of terrorists have disappeared to.

Those who support ID cards will sadly learn Ben Franklin's old aphorism that those who give up liberty for security will get and deserve neither.



Catastrophic losses of library books

Sir: You report the loss of 30,000 books from the French Bibliothèque Nationale (28 June). You do not have to cross the Channel to find large-scale losses: thousands of books have been thrown out of all types of British libraries and important ex-library books continue to appear on the shelves of second-hand dealers up and down the country.

This is due partly to pressure on space and partly to an obsession with the internet, which some authorities see as a substitute for books. The internet is a welcome supplement whose use is bound to affect the use of books, but does not replace them. Comparison of sources, an essential part of serious study at any level after primary school, is much easier with a group of books on a desk than by switching between different internet sources. Cuts in stock and specialist staff threaten scholars and students of all subjects.

Musicians, on whose behalf I write, have a special need: printed parts on music stands. Too often large and important collections have been dumped with catastrophic results. Unfortunately, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, in a letter dated 22 June, report that music provision is not one of their concerns.



Words and pictures

Sir: Please can someone explain to me why, if it is so important for people to have phones and cameras combined, no forward-thinking camera manufacturer has yet seen fit to include a phone within their product? Given the relative size of each item, I would have thought this much the more appropriate way round.



Cycling should be safe

Sir: Too many local authorities seem to need reminding that cycling is not just a leisure activity (leading article, 2 July). It is, or ought to be, a means of getting from A to B which is healthy, cheap and environmentally friendly. Why can't road-building and route-planning take account of this, as happens in more enlightened countries? And why should those of us who don't run cars have our lives put at such risk?



Sir: For the benefit of Chris Bain and Fred Ellis (letter, 4 July) and perhaps the BMA, the reasons why major cycle groups opposed compulsory helmet use are twofold. There has yet to be any conclusive evidence that helmets actually save lives; exaggerated rotational damage and an increased feeling of false security are both strong arguments against. And compulsory helmet use projects the image that cycling is a dangerous activity, discouraging people from taking it up. Given that cycling will improve your life-expectancy, compulsory helmet use would be likely to achieve the opposite of its intention.



Suspense ruined

Sir: I was extremely disappointed to read your review of the film War of the Worlds (1July). Not knowing the full story I was looking forward to a brief review that indicated whether it was worth seeing. Unfortunately your reviewer decided to inform me of the murder of one character - I will not spoil it for anyone else by naming the person - and gave out the ending of the film.



Figure it out

Sir: I wonder if Sam Little of CSUUIU (letter, 29 June) could advise us as to the present status of the unit in common use in my university days (late 1940s) for the measurement of the facial beauty of the human female? This was the millihelen, originating from the question, "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?" Thus a woman scoring one millihelen would have a face capable of launching one ship; ten millihelens, ten ships, and so on.