Blunkett, ID cards and others

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Blunkett cannot blame the press for exposing his private life

Blunkett cannot blame the press for exposing his private life

Sir: It is not surprising that David Sawtell should call for a "draconian privacy law" in the light of the Blunkett affair, but it is misguided (letter, 2 December). The fact remains that the media showed little interest in David Blunkett's private life until he and his "friends" chose to pursue his objectives through the press, and Kimberly Quinn's "friends" decided to do the same.

We have to remember that the exposure of the marital problems of Prince Charles and Princess Diana was the result of both parties choosing to pursue that private struggle in the public gaze, each seeking an advantage over the other by damaging their public standing, and a similar battle between the Blunkett party and the Quinns is taking place now.

The responsibility for that exposure lies with those parties, not with the media, and there can be no complaint that the press seek to publish as much detail of this dispute as they can find out, rather than only the details David Blunkett wanted them to publish. If he were to take a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission or to the courts under the Human Rights Act, my educated guess is that he would fail precisely because he, or his allies, placed the matter in the public domain.

As to whether he should resign, even if the inquiries clear him of any wrongdoing, there is still the question of the public perception of his credibility, and so his ability to "sell" the Government's policies to the people. Given the potential unpopularity of some of those policies - for example, the identity card scheme - I suspect it is that concern that will sink him in the end.

Lecturer in Media Ethics, Middlesex University, London

Identity cards are about political control

Sir: A couple of weeks ago I attended an anti-Iraq war rally in Oxford. The police were taking video and still pictures of all those attending. I was outraged. Why should anyone who is not committing a crime be photographed by the police when merely doing what a citizen is entitled to do - demonstrate peacefully against a policy they strongly disagree with? What was most disturbing about this episode was that no one protested.

How have the British people allowed a situation to arise where they are now treated as criminals or potential criminals? Will people who attend the likes of anti-Iraq war marches be designated criminals retrospectively at some time in the future?

Thinking about this reminded me of the Government's plan to impose identity cards on us - in the guise of protecting us against "terrorism". Of course, identity cards have little to do with fighting terrorism. They are about social and political control.

The police now have thousands of photographs and videos of people who have attended various rallies and marches - the poll tax, miners' strike, Countryside Alliance, animal rights, Fathers 4 Justice, anti-Iraq war. Introduce identity cards and the state can match the photos on the police computer with those on the ID system, identifying people who have been on political demonstrations and see immediately where they live, etc, while having a good idea about their political opinions. For instance, those on anti-Iraq war marches are likely to be hostile to US-dominated globalisation too. One could imagine that in the future, an authoritarian government, or perhaps one under the control of a larger authoritarian power, would easily be able to round up those they see as a threat.

What is very disturbing is how easy it is to introduce many of the trappings of a police state in a way that it is hardly noticed. I think identity cards are dangerous and should be opposed by anyone who values their freedom.


Sir: In half a century on this planet I've managed to work in the private and public sectors with only a month's unemployment. I've committed no crime worse than a speeding ticket and been an active member of several community groups. I've also raised a child, celebrated a diamond wedding and gained a degree.

Hardly Nobel prize material and I'm not expecting an MBE, but why should that paragon of moral virtue Mr Blunkett want to criminalise me and fine me £2,500 simply for refusing to fill in an identity card application?


Sir: "Knowing your true identity and being able to demonstrate it is a positive plus," states Blunkett. Is he talking about DNA tests? No wait! O, I see: a plastic card demonstrates my sentient consciousness and identity, my actions, thoughts and nature. Or does it demonstrate that individuals are being moulded into robots?

London E14

Sir: I was very disappointed by Paul Handley's discourse on identity cards under the heading "Faith and Reason" ("Identity cards are devious, expensive and misconceived", 27 November). As a child I was proud to possess an identity card during the war and felt that it gave me freedom - people could be certain of who I was. The text that comes to my mind is "The truth will set you free'" (John, chapter 3 verse 32).


Casualties of war

Sir: Deborah Orr writes (Opinion, 18 November) about the issues concerning soldiers returning from Iraq with mental health problems but is rather wide of the mark in a number of her allegations.

It would indeed be scandalous if nothing was being done by the Defence Medical Services to treat those suffering from combat related psychological injury either in the battlefield or on return, but that is just not the case. Sadly, however, by no means will all personnel suffering in this way seek medical help and there is, in the view of Combat Stress, an urgent need to tackle this issue, partly cultural but in its entirety really very complex.

It is also a sad fact that for some of those who return damaged in this way, the damage will be permanent and seriously debilitating. After service discharge these casualties of war will often find it very difficult to adjust to civilian life. We know because we see them - 600 new cases last year alone including Iraq war veterans - only 25 per cent managing to hold down a job. Without any doubt many will end up amongst the veterans who are rough-sleeping or homeless, if they are not already, and there are some in the prison population. How many we just do not know, but the ex-Service case-working organisations are working with the MoD and other government departments to tackle this problem as well.

Deborah also draws attention to our Scottish treatment centre, Hollybush House. Yes, we will face closure of this first-class specialist facility if we cannot find the £1.6m needed to bring the accommodation up to the national care standard, but we are absolutely determined to raise the funds we require. Our appeal is one third of the way there already. Does anyone want to help?

Chief Executive
Combat Stress
Leatherhead, Surrey

Big Dig will be dry

Sir: The article "Boston fears becoming 'New Atlantis' as Big Dig springs a leak" (20 November) mischaracterises the tunnel leaks in Boston's Big Dig project. All the experts agree that the Big Dig is structurally safe and sound. The project already meets industry norms for finished tunnels, even before completion.

The work to seal leaks and seeps will be done within months, not years. Water is entering the tunnels because they are still under construction and partially open to the weather - no revelation to engineers. Water flows down traffic ramps that are not yet covered, through manhole covers that are not yet sealed, and into other openings that will be closed when the tunnels are finished. In the meantime, the water is readily managed by drains and pumps.

All tunnels have some water leakage. Damp spots are being sealed, generally at contractor expense, to meet project specifications. The tunnels are safe now, and when the Big Dig is finished, they will perform better than industry norms and government guidelines.

Bechtel Corporation
Frederick, Maryland, USA

Ukrainian struggle

Sir: Just returned from Ukraine, I am surprised to see a discussion that focuses on Ukraine's "possible membership of Nato and the EU". BBC, Sky news and ITV keep calling the opposition "pro-Western", a dangerous terminology.

It is not what it is all about to the 100,000 ordinary people I saw protesting in the streets of Lviv. They are tired of corruption, lack of opportunity, racketeering, murder and oppression. People want a society that stands for a decent life and a future for their children. If he wins, Mr Yanukovich has promised dual- citizenship with Russia, where there is even less economic prosperity and freedom and more corruption than in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian struggle must be seen as the people's quest to create a democratic and fair state with equal opportunity for all and not as yet another target for US influence. We must avoid tickling Mr Putin under the nose with Ukraine's potential "membership of Nato" or orientation towards the West. The Ukrainians must get the chance to decide that for themselves, freely and fairly.

London W6

Arab human rights

Sir: Ali Muhsen Hamid, Ambassador of the League of Arab States (letter, 30 November) asserts that his country, Yemen, has a ministry of human rights. My parents are also of Yemeni origin and know all too well of the systematic abuse of civil rights activists in the Yemen and the intimidation of the southern people by the tribal north's dictatorial regime, in a political system similar to Saddam Hussein's system of fear and bribery.

I suppose the term "human rights" is open to interpretation. Mr Hamid's interpretation of human rights may be acceptable (just) in the Arab world but to the vast majority of the British people it is unacceptable. I believe Charles Glass was speaking realistically when he said that "ministries of human rights do not figure in the Arab world".

West Midlands

Mast scares

Sir: Jay Griffiths (letter, 29 November) claims that on the basis of a single cluster of cases there is a causal link between the Tetra communication system and occurrences of motor neurone disease. It is in the nature of random events that sometimes clusters will occur, and folk are apt to jump to conclusions.

There are nearly a thousand Tetra masts scattered around the country. If this claim is correct, then at each of these sites there will be similar clusters of motor neurone disease. This should not be hard to ascertain.

The history of these kinds of scares usually shows that the original suspicions fail to replicate when proper studies are carried out. In the meantime folk should not lose any sleep.


Hope for a continent

Sir: My morning was immeasurably brightened by the picture of Ami and Alimata on your front page ("A picture of hope, and a symbol of relief in a blighted continent", 1 December). As someone who has visited Zambia, Tanzania and Zanazibar in the past three years, and seen so much to be positive about, I have longed for politicians, campaigning pop stars and editors to stop peddling their own agendas by going on about the misery of African people and the corruption in their governments. And yes, I contributed to your appeal on-line.

Norton, Wiltshire

Named and shamed?

Sir: Mr Bratman, I wonder how many of your mothers over the forty years thought "silly old fart, who needs your opinion anyway" (letter, 1 December). Our three sons, now in their twenties and thirties, are named Emile Jude Boris, Leofwin Edgar and Maximilian Frederic. They are proud of their names, and feel that we gave them a great start in life. Best of luck to Phinnaeus and Hazel.

Aston, Hertfordshire

Lost for words

Sir: Your article on Iris Murdoch and Alzheimer's disease ("Reading between the lines", 1 December) is most disturbing for the many OAPs, like myself, who have increasing recourse to Roget's Thesaurus to find the word that they know exists but frustratingly eludes them. This problem commonly features in conversations between "crumblies" and is lightheartedly dismissed with "It affects us all". However, not "all" develop Alzheimer's disease. Perhaps your health correspondent could shed a little more light on this subject and, maybe, disperse some of the gloom that this article has cast.

King's Somborne, Hampshire

Sir: Further to your piece about the medics' textual analysis of Jackson's Dilemma ("Reading between the lines", 1 December), as Iris Murdoch's then paperback publisher I once received a letter from a group of Japanese university students who were studying her work. They had just finished reading Murdoch's novel and had two questions which they hoped I could answer: Who was Jackson? And what was his dilemma?

Penguin Books, London WC2

Sickening truth

Sir: Marina Donald's account (letter, 1 December) of her Latvian grandmother's cheese was illuminating. Born in England to Polish parents, I was brought up with the Polish euphemism "to go to Riga", meaning to be sick. I have always wondered about the derivation of this odd phrase; after all Riga is such a beautiful city. Finally all is clear - it is the cheese!

Much Hadham, Hertfordshire