A complacent government allows the BNP to flourish
Sir: Like Michael Howard, I believe Burnley is important. So much so that I am taking a group of students there on a field trip. The issue we wish to understand is how, in a prosperous country, a town of 80,000 people can have 5,000-6,000 houses nobody wants. I write as a lifelong Labour Party member and someone who has been involved in regeneration for 25 years.
I am not so naive as to think that Mr Howard wants anything more than votes. But in this enterprise, I wish him every success. In too many parts of Britain, the Conservative Party, like the labour and housing markets, has ceased to operate. This does the people of Burnley and ultimately, the people of Britain, a disservice. The Labour Party has a free ride and the scandal of the destruction of an entire community can be ignored by them.
In its defence, I am sure the Government will say its doing what it can. But it is nowhere near enough. The BNP flourishes because of its failure and complacency. Unfortunately, it is perceived as a local phenomenon and so does little to disturb the Government. It is my sincerest wish that the people of Burnley and places like it are encouraged to vote in a way that does real political damage and not just express their pain and rage through a vote for the BNP.
Mr Howard is doing his bit: when will the Government?
Guantanamo: Bush has no alternative
Sir: In your leading article of 19 February, you claim that "Bush could have dealt with the [Guantanamo] detainees in a number of ways". In fact you offer just the one, that they should have been treated as prisoners of war.
How could they be so treated when there is no state of war between the USA and the nation states to which some of these detainees profess allegiance, and they were not under any command other than their own? From your reports it would seem that a few journeyed to Afghanistan on an ad hoc basis just for the opportunity of killing Americans. Furthermore, there is a presumption that at the end of hostilities when they are returned, prisoners of war will accept that hostilities are at an end. We have evidence that some of these individuals will take every future opportunity to attack the US.
I agree that Guantanamo is bad. However, the UN is stuck in 1945 and unable to come up with rules that fit modern terrorist warfare. The American electorate are well aware that it is 2004 and Bush has an obligation to do his best to ensure the security of American citizens. That he is performing badly, I grant, but the telly lawyers and your editorial writer have failed to offer one serious alternative to his chosen course of action that fulfils his responsibility.
The quickest way Bush could lose the next election would be to allow any of these detainees out on the streets to kill and maim Americans. Some political imperatives cannot be ignored.
D R GAYLER
Sir: What would George Bush say if American soldiers were to be picked up in Afghanistan by Taliban forces, kept in cages and held as enemy combatants in the "war on terror"; what if these prisoners were cut off from the outside world for an indefinite period in order to face eventual secret trials and possible death penalties at the behest of Osama Bin Laden; and what if Bin Laden had already described them as "bad people"?
Sir: Bill Kay poses the question "What is the point of building societies?" (Save and Spend, 14 February). This is not a difficult question to answer. They provide a safe and good-value home for the savings of 15 million people and enable over 2.5 million people to buy homes. Building societies hold 18 per cent of the mortgage market, 36 per cent of cash Isas and nearly 18 per cent of cash savings. They provide their mortgage and savings products on much lower profit margins than do their plc rivals
Societies also provide employment to around 34,500 people. As the majority are not based in London, societies provide vital economic input into the regions
Contrary to the comment that building societies are simple to run, the regulatory issues facing any financial institution are huge, from mortgage regulation to money laundering rules to new accounting standards, and are stressful and time-consuming. Get it wrong and you can potentially end up in jail. Building society chief executives are not fat cats - there are no share options for managers of mutuals. There are not many bank middle-managers, let alone chief executives, who would get out of bed for the pay of their building society counterparts.
The vast majority of people who work in the building society sector are proud to work for a mutual. The ethos of a building society is about providing the best service to its members rather than institutional investors. Having building societies in the market helps keep banks on their toes when it comes to pricing and services. For instance, building societies led the campaign to stop cash machine charges and called for the introduction of "honesty boxes" on credit cards.
Building Societies Association
Sir: While, as an Iranian, I ought to be flattered by Adrian Hamilton's description of the country as "the most democratic and most politically sophisticated state in the Middle East" (Opinion, 19 February), I feel I have to take issue with him.
What many Iranians have witnessed to their dismay in the past seven years, since the election of the "reformist" President Khatami, is not at Islamic democracy but an attempt by the theocratic regime to buy time and enhance its standing in the world as a legitimate political entity.
No serious reforms were undertaken in all these seven years. Opposition leaders have been murdered, critical publications closed down, writers assassinated and the democratic student movement crushed and its leaders imprisoned and tortured.
Now the regime has dispensed with its "democratic" pretensions altogether by disqualifying its own reformist MPs from standing in this sham election. How this makes Iran "the most democratic country in the Middle East" is beyond me.
I think commentators and politicians in the West are doing the Iranian people a great disservice by ignoring the nature of the widespread opposition in Iran to the ayatollahs' regime, and concentrating on the smoke-and-mirrors show by the Islamic Republic, giving legitimacy to a very brutal regime.
If any dialogue is to be had with Iranians, it should be with the people of Iran, who want to see a genuine and secular democracy in their country, and not with the ayatollahs (reformist or otherwise), who do not.
Welcome in Australia
Sir: Your leading article "Race, riots and an Australian national disgrace" (17 February) puts forward generalisations that are inaccurate and misleading.
Australia operates an entirely non-discriminatory immigration programme and welcomes tens of thousands of migrants each year irrespective of their ethnic origin, gender, colour or religion. As part of that non-discriminatory immigration programme, Australia operates a dedicated resettlement programme for the world's most needy refugees and people in need of humanitarian assistance. Australia is one of only 10 countries in the world that does so. Over the past 50 years more than 620,000 refugees and displaced people have been resettled in Australia. Last year alone, Australia granted 12,525 refugee and humanitarian visas to people in need.
Your editorial also failed to acknowledge a number of facts in relation to the clear focus on, and the progress in overcoming, disadvantage among indigenous Australians. Substantially increased resources are being applied to overcoming indigenous disadvantage in areas such as health, housing, employment and education. Important improvements are being achieved. The process of national reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is a national priority, and the Australian Parliament has expressed its sincere regret for the injustices suffered by indigenous people under the practices of previous generations.
The improvements in reducing indigenous disadvantage are not being achieved through increased funding alone. Importantly they are also being achieved through partnerships and shared responsibility across all levels of government with indigenous communities and the private sector.
Australian High Commissioner
Sir: Ernest Hall (letter, 19 February), criticises the bombing of Dresden as a war crime. I agree with him absolutely that by February 1945 the Germans were defeated. The problem was that Germany declined to surrender. We therefore had no option but to pound them until they did surrender.
We had the same problem with Japan. Her fanatical government refused to surrender until the allies pulverised Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs. It saddens me that Ernest Hall, as an ex-prisoner of Germany, is so pro-German in his attitude on Dresden. I was a prisoner of the Japanese and harbour no such qualms. We can defeat fire only with fire. That is the unhappy fact which Mr Hall and his like must try to understand.
Sheepy Parva, Leicestershire
Sir: The letter from Ernest Hall was a moving testimony for one like me, conceived around the time of the Dresden atrocities by parents who were among the faceless masses striving to escape westward towards the end of the Second World War.
They passed through Dresden a day after the main fire-bombing. The mounds of body parts which they saw piled mile-upon-mile along the verges, some dangling from telegraph posts, warped them for life. My father survived the Soviet Gulag during the 1930s, and described that prolonged ordeal as a lesser hell than what he saw during but one day in the charnel city of Dresden. Were my parents alive, I am sure they would thank Mr Hall for his courage in writing as he did.
Sir: Because of my family history I have always followed with great interest any correspondence on the subject of the bombing of Dresden. I was gratified to read Ernest Hall's humane letter based on contemporaneous experience.
On 13 February 1945 we (my parents, grandfather and my infant self), refugees from Eastern Europe, were cowering in a cellar in Remptendorf, a village well to the west of Dresden. The flames of Dresden could be seen to the east. The village was being bombed, not deliberately, but by bomb crews jettisoning bombs prior to the return flight to Britain. The bombing was so severe that my grandfather's window was the only one in the village to retain intact glass. My mother's main worry was not to get caught up in the Eastern Front, so she was comforting me with "It's only bombs".
My main concern 59 years after the event is that my experience is not acknowledged as valid. My fear of fireworks was dismissed by a friend who was buzzed by a Messerschmitt during the Blitz. Only a few years ago I was asked why we had left Latvia. There were millions of displaced persons after Second World War. Why don't we have a part in the war narrative? Is it because it is too complicated for the myth?
That man again
Sir: So, the man who took this country into the Iraq war at Bush's bidding is now to give us GM crops, also at Bush's bidding. Aren't there enough of us to stop him?
Matter of dishonour
Sir: We should not abuse the English language. Your headline of 19 February is "Police investigate if body found in river is a victim of an honour killing". Dictionary definitions of "honour" talk of "nobleness of mind" and "allegiance to what is right". What is happening to the beautiful young people in some British families should be labelled for what it is: dishonour killings.
Toad on the road
Sir: I am delighted to hear that there are still plenty of toads in Herefordshire (A Country Life, 18 February.). However, to have so many squashed on the road is not good news. Since toads often follow the same route year after year, perhaps Brian Viner's friend and his colleagues could persuade the local highways authority to construct a toad tunnel under the road and put a low plastic barrier to channel them towards it. This has been done near where I live and I have seen no squashed toads in its vicinity.
Steyning, West Sussex
Just not cricket
Sir: Iraq is ruled by a monster and we trash the country. Zimbabwe is ruled by a monster and we ponder whether England's cricketers should play them. Saddam Hussein must wish that Iraq played cricket.