Boring election?, Sedgemore's switch to the Lib Dems and others

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Boring election? Not if it heralds the death of the Tory party

Boring election? Not if it heralds the death of the Tory party

Sir: "Whoever wins next week, the result is unlikely to mark a watershed," according to The Independent (Great British Elections, 26 April). I disagree: this could be the most significant election since 1945.

If the Tories are heavily defeated for the third time in a row, the Conservative Party will disintegrate. The world's oldest and most successful political party is, today, a fragile and fractious coalition, held together only by the hope of holding power. If it fails again, there will be nothing to keep the near-Falangists of the gypsy-baiting wing of the party in bed with the pro-EU patricians, let alone with the "privatise the Army, abolish the state" idealists. Within 18 months, in place of one monolithic Conservative Party, we will see a Christian Democrat party, an anti-immigration party, and a libertarian party - and all of them far too small and divided to ever hold office. We will be free at last.

Isn't that a result worth holding your nose in the polling booth for? The party which campaigned with all its strength against votes for working people, against the creation of the NHS, against sexual equality at work, against the establishment of the National Minimum Wage - against every decent thing that has ever happened in these islands and beyond; the party of Enoch Powell, Keith Joseph, Chamberlain and Baldwin, Howard and Thatcher, the party of "We are being swamped by aliens," the party of "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" will cease to exist. The centre of British politics will have been moved permanently, and significantly, to the left.

MAT COWARD

FROME, SOMERSET

Sir: When I was vice-chairman of the Conservative Party the party took a strong line against any candidate that attempted to exploit public fears over race and immigration.

I left the party a decade ago because of its move to the right and I am disappointed to see that over the last 10 years this political shift has accelerated significantly. I was deeply shocked over the weekend to pick up a collection of Conservative campaign materials that are deliberately stoking up the fears of the general public.

One of these leaflets, sent out by a prospective Conservative county council candidate screams "Asylum numbers fuels fears about housing availability" yet makes no reference to whether there is currently any housing shortage in the area. A decade ago we would have disciplined a candidate for using these kinds of inflammatory statements; alas it now seems that this is party policy.

BARONESS NICHOLSON OF WINTERBOURNE MEP

HOUSE OF LORDS

Sedgemore's switch to the Lib Dems

Sir: Brian Sedgemore is so principled that he only defects when he's not standing again - and therefore coming off the payroll. Someone ideally suited to the Lib Dems! Perhaps he'll catch the next gravy train by emerging as a Lib Dem peer on the Queen's birthday.

K V MORTON

HULL

Sir: I agree wholeheartedly with Brian Sedgemore's moving account of why he feels morally obliged to abandon his lifelong support for Labour and to join the Liberal Democrats in light of all that the power-mad warmonger and zealot Tony Blair has done. Mr Sedgemore's depiction of the pathetic MP camp followers of Blair is spot on.

I shall happily follow the suggestion to vote Liberal Democrat to hopefully help put an end to this disreputable government.

TOM MACKINNON

LONDON SW15

Sir: My favourite recollection of Brian Sedgemore was at the count of a previous general election when he ignored the argumentative groups of Hackney Labour supporters (from their multitude of Trotskyite factions) and went and talked to the small group of Liberal councillors. Could that have been the first step on the road to Damascus?

Let's hope that in his new home Sedgemore contributes to an effective opposition to the government.

STEWART RAYMENT

LONDON E3

Sir: Brian Sedgemore says in his statement of resignation from the Labour Party: "I'm renouncing Tony Blair, the Devil, New Labour and all their works." This religious sentiment may strike a chord with many. "Teflon Tony" has appeared to lead a demonically charmed life for years.

Even as an atheist I find myself thinking, "This man Blair sold his soul to the Devil a long time ago." He really does seem to have exchanged all humanist principles for the promise of power. But all demonic gifts are treacherous. Blair's power became the insane illusion that war is peace, and 100,000 killings humanist progress. Pray there is no Hell, Tony.

JAMIE LANG

SHEFFIELD

Sir: Labour's response to Brian Sedgmore's defection is to say that, because of the vagaries of our electoral system, a vote for the Liberal Democrats will let the Tories in. How ironic that many of us wish to punish Labour for breaking its promises, among them this one in its manifesto of 1997: "We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system."

COLIN BURKE

MANCHESTER

Sir: I presume you, Mr Sedgemore and the Liberal Democrats are all in favour of restoring Saddam Hussein to power? If not, why not? More "legal" than the Prime Minister, it would seem? Do tell us. We would love to see him sharing a platform with Mr Kennedy.

DR M SCHACHTER

LONDON NW6

In the footsteps of Labour pioneers

Sir: Johann Hari, in his splenetic diatribe of 22 April, scalpels a phrase out of my interview with Al Jazeera, distorting what I said. I said Tariq Aziz should either face a fair trial or be released, but should not be held indefinitely incommunicado. Hari renders that as an unqualified call for Aziz's release.

Hari compares me with the racist Enoch Powell: "Rivers of blood, he [Galloway] implies, are only months away." I have spent my life opposing racism. Powell spent much of his inciting it. We on the left rallied to the communities under attack, and do so today.

He accuses me of adapting my life-long principles for political gain. If I had done that, I'd still be in Blair's party, probably fighting a shoo-in seat.

The main casualties of Hari's rant are the people of east London, particularly its immigrant communities. He has all Muslim women forced to wear a veil, and domestic violence earmarked as a specifically Muslim problem.

This is the language of inflaming racial tension. But it's not working. Something great is happening across east London. Working people, bitterly betrayed by this government, are not turning on one another. They are coming together around a progressive alternative. Respect is following in the footsteps of the pioneers who gave birth to the real labour movement on these streets a century ago.

GEORGE GALLOWAY

RESPECT COALITION, LONDON E3

Criticise our Pope, but don't insult us

Sir: Whilst I respect the right of columnists to hold any opinion on the Catholic Church, I find it disappointing that Matthew Norman (22 April) has become the second columnist in two days to forgo the opportunity to make valid, reasonable criticisms of Benedict XVI and some of his views and instead give in to the temptation of some good old fashioned Catholic-bashing.

Just for his information: 1. The Church makes it very clear that non-Catholics, especially those who never get exposed to the faith, can go to Heaven and are not excluded as he seems to think. 2. Jean Marie Lustiger is not a Jew. He was born a Jew and ceased to be one when he became a Catholic. That does not mean he does not have affection for his Jewish roots and respect for the faith but he is not Jewish. 3. The name Inquisition was given up a long time ago, not recently. Comparing the Congregation of the Doctrine for Faith to the Inquisition is no more fair than comparing Schröder's government to that of Hitler.

Many liberal Catholics (for want of a better phrase) do have genuine fears and doubts about the direction the Church often takes, and the election of Benedict XVI may well be included. But maybe Matthew Norman and his like would do well to remember that we do have feelings and we do get offended.

If I wrote a column that described all atheists as stupid, afraid sheep, I would be shouted down as a bigot trying to impose my faith on others. Why then should Catholics have to read such things in a newspaper that is supposed to be dedicated to independent and impartial debate?

JONATHAN MOLES

EWELL, SURREY

Sir: Contrary to Hildegard O'Kane's view (letter, 25 April), Pope Benedict's membership of the Hitler Youth is very relevant to his current ministry.

At the age of 13 his morality was flexible enough to accept compromise with probable life-changing association with Nazism, a flexibility he would nowadays deny teenagers when assailed by the threat of Aids and the life-changing consequences of early experiments with sexuality. He may pontificate on the "evils" of modernity, but he seems unwilling to accept that society needs the sort of wriggle-room he seemed happy to accord himself.

HELEN WALDIE

ROMFORD, ESSEX

Starry-eyed over a gas-guzzler

Sir: Congratulations on your new weekly section "The Green Pages" - it is good that we have at least one national paper that takes environmental matters seriously. But how disappointing to open the paper only one day later and see a two-page spread going into ecstasies over the new BMW M6, without even mentioning that this monster guzzles nearly 15 litres of fuel per 100km.

The subheading of the article claims: "This is a car that can actually make the world feel like a better place." Well, it may make the writer feel that, but it is cars like this that are rapidly making the world a worse place, and if you want us to take your green credentials seriously we would expect to see you deploring them, not going starry-eyed over them.

BILL QUANTRILL

BRADFORD-ON-AVON, WILTSHIRE

No NHS dentist, but carry on paying

Sir: I have paid my misnamed National Insurance contributions for all of my working life, as my side of a contract with the Government that it would provide me with medical and dental care when I needed it.

I have just received a letter telling me that my NHS dentist has retired, the practice has closed, and I should make alternative arrangements. There is no NHS practice accepting new patients within 60 miles of where I live and so I have had to register as a private patient.

I can't think of any other service provider that would write to me withdrawing their service but still demand that I pay for it. Is there anything I can do about it?

DR ROBERT RALPH

ABERDEEN

Teaching students to read for pleasure

Sir: We were surprised that a document of 62 pages purporting to deal with "The Future of A-level English" should make no reference to why English literature is still taught the way it is, with its primary focus on the close study of a selection of individual texts or group of texts.

Nowhere does the report acknowledge that one of the prime aims of teaching literature is to develop in students the habit of reading for sheer delight, stimulating the imagination. The concepts of "enjoyment" and "pleasure" are not to be found anywhere in the recent NATE report nor is there any understanding of how the delight in reading books allows the more than 50,000 A-level literature students to come to terms with a growing sense of the relationship between themselves and the world around them.

IAN BRINTON

CHAIR, SECONDARY EDUCATION COMMITTEE, THE ENGLISH ASSOCIATION, UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER

Opposition party

Sir: Charles Kennedy, says he wants to run a positive campaign. Yet on billboards throughout the country the "10 good reasons to vote Liberal Democrat" start with the words "We oppose..." .

IAN HUNT

LONDON N10

Too late to vote

Sir: As a British citizen domiciled in the Netherlands, I decided to see if I could help in toppling the White House messenger boy from his perch by registering to vote as an overseas elector. So today I rang the British Embassy in The Hague. Oh yes, I could register, but the closing date was 11 March. "But that was before the date of the election was known!" I exclaimed. "Yes, I know," giggled the girl at the other end of the line. As Billy Bunter used to say: "Gosh, chaps, what a clever wheeze!"

ADRIAN MARLOWE

THE HAGUE

Exemplary behaviour

Sir: Guy Keleny (Errors & Omissions, 23 April) is in error to restrict "paradigm" to a set of example words. It also means a model or pattern of behaviour. When Yasmin Alibhai-Brown asked for changes in the paradigm of human sexual relationships, I understood her to mean that the taken-for-granted model of behaviour must be challenged. Her target was the pattern, from which flow particular actions.

PETER HEAD

EDINBURGH

Borderline cases

Sir: The Games Page's "Ten Questions" (25 April) asks which countries border only one other country. In addition to the answers given, do not the following also qualify? Haiti and the Dominican Republic (they share an island); Brunei (surrounded by Malaysia); Papua New Guinea (bordered only by the Indonesian part of its island); East Timor (the western part of the island still being in Indonesia)

RICHARD INWOOD

LIZ INWOOD

CARDINGTON, BEDFORDSHIRE

Landed interest

Sir: The Tories claim that they are no longer the party for the privileged. Why then does every landowner in the country appear to want to allow them to erect free election posters on their land?

PETER MORRIS

FLEET, HAMPSHIRE

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