Bush's next illegal attack, A three-party system and others

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Here comes Bush's next illegal attack - and we must disown it

Here comes Bush's next illegal attack - and we must disown it

Sir: The US may be undertaking covert operations in Iran (report, 18 January) with the intention of carrying out another illegal attack on a sovereign nation (any reaction to which will, of course, be denounced as terrorism).

Surely it is time the UK stood up to the perpetual American threat instead of leaving it to the rest of the world? I cannot understand why the UK government is suddenly so much in thrall to America that it must act as chief apologist and second fiddle in illegal invasions, civilian massacres, war crimes, breaches of the Geneva Conventions and human rights abuses. I am ashamed to be British under such a government. And God alone knows how civilised Americans must feel.

If Tony Blair had learnt anything from the Iraq debacle, he would immediately and publicly announce that the UK still respects national sovereignty and will not support another illegal invasion. Unfortunately, past form suggests that our Prime Minister is incapable of learning any lessons and disinclined to admit to any errors. Rather, we can expect him to use his usual techniques of misdirection, false argument and red herrings until he can justify supporting this next step in oppressing the Islamic world, undermining the UN, and trampling on British values under the ludicrous pretext of the "war on terror".

And to think, at one time we could have voted Labour to throw out the warmongers.

London NW1

Voters need fair deal in three-party system

Sir: One can only agree with your leader (18 January) that a three-way debate between the three major parties at the forthcoming general election will improve the quality and impact of political debate. But such a debate will not provide a government that reflects the views of the voters.

With a two-party system, first past the post elections were fair in a rough and ready way. But a vote split between three parties is far more likely to put one party into government with a large parliamentary majority from a minority vote, as in 1997 and 2001.

Good debate is not enough. What is also needed is a voting system in which the number of MPs elected reflects the proportion of votes cast for their party. Such a system was very nearly introduced in the 1920s, was in effect promised by New Labour before the 1997 election, and is still notable for its absence.

It would be pleasant to think that a vote split more evenly between the three major parties might lead to pressure for proportional representation being successful. But the truth of the matter is that any party gaining a "good" majority in Parliament on a minority vote is likely to put any change to the voting system low on its agenda.

The only effective pressure for such a change will come from newspapers such as yours arguing for a fairer deal for the voter.

London, SW1

Sir: In his article about "the defection of a little-known MP" (18 January) Steve Richards refers to senior Tories "quite often leaping over the Liberal Democrats and joining Labour". I can assure your readers that this gymnastic feat is quite impossible.

I fought both the 1992 and 1997 general elections as a Liberal Democrat candidate and was aware in 1992 that ideologically, on a left-right spectrum, I was between the Labour and Conservative candidates. By 1997, when all three candidates appeared on a public platform I found myself as the left-winger present. The explanation for this was not any change in my own party's stance, but the distinct rightward shift of "New Labour". The shift has continued ever since (foundation hospitals, top-up student fees etc, etc.)

For Robert Jackson I suspect the move from the official Conservative party to the unofficial is an easy translation. He is not required to leap over the Liberal Democrats - because we are not there. If people want to find us we are out there offering a principled (war on Iraq, opposition to ID cards) and progressive (see our taxation and spending policies) alternative to the right-of-centre choices offered by Labour and the Tories.

Shipley, West Yorkshire

Sir: The Tories fear election meltdown (report, 17 January), but they won't do the one thing that will improve their chances - get rid of Michael Howard, and do it immediately! He is the all-too-visible symbol of the old Tory regime, and the physical embodiment of why we threw the Tories out. We remember his appearances on television in the 1990s all too well, and we aren't about to vote for more of them.

The Tories' most useful role is as an unofficial New Labour think tank, a role which they perform very well. No sensible person would put any of them in charge of anything as large as an entire country any more, but individual Tory MPs do have good ideas from time to time.

Michael Howard may be a nice fellow in private, but we have to vote for leaders, not dinner-party guests, at the next election. My son still has the rubber brick that he bought to throw at the television whenever Mr Howard appeared on it 10 years ago.

Worthing, West Sussex

Midwife shortage

Sir: So Karen Rodgers (Letters, 15 January) would have every woman in the country booking a home birth regardless of intention in order to get the full attention of her midwife? The already creaking system would come to a complete halt. There is a national shortage of midwives, which no one can be unaware of.

Home births are a wonderful thing but demand the attention of two midwives for each birth, whereas in hospital one harassed midwife is expected to look after three or four women at one time on the labour ward. Caseload schemes which are being trialed in some parts of the country are the more likely answer.

She mentions the "new" direct entry course. These have been up and running for 20 years at least in some areas. Direct entry simply means that they have not been trained as nurses first. They turn out midwives who then have to slot into the system just as do the traditionally trained midwife on a degree or a diploma course. They do not become independent midwives. An independent midwife is one who chooses to leave the NHS and set up in business on her own and who charges approximately £2000 per birth.

No, the answer is that you either have to pay for independent care or risk booking with the NHS lottery.

Silchester, Hampshire
(The writer is a retired community midwife)

Faustian TV

Sir: For me as a marketing professional Janet Street-Porter's comments on Celebrity Big Brother (13 January) prompt two thoughts. First that the presence of Janet and Germaine in programmes such as these widens the "demographic" of the programmes. The benefit gained by the programme maker is not in the entertaining spectacle of the clash between intellectual and popular culture but in widening and refreshing the audience and so increasing advertising revenue.

Both Janet and Germaine seem to have gone into reality TV with their own personal agenda - whether that was the cash, the exposure or even the experience. What they have done unintentionally is to add credibility and audience to a tired format. They have undervalued the "halo effect" of their presence.

The only person who may win in the Faustian pact of reality TV participation is John McCririck. He has created a new medium - the living product placement. If he doesn't appear in ads for Diet Coke after demonstrating such a strong emotional attachment to the product I will be very surprised.

London SE1

Sir: Janet Street Porter has written an excellent appraisal (13 January) of Professor Greer's misguided participation in Big Brother. However I have to say I watched it for the first time ever and that I will no longer watch it now she has gone.

London SW8

Peace at a price

Sir: The election of a new Palestinian leader, the conference shortly to be held in London and the initial steps proposed by Israel, all indicate some cautious optimism that prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement are greater than has been the case for several years. Courageous leadership from all sides will be required but a real opportunity may now exist.

However, it is at the same time necessary to be aware that a settlement leading to an autonomous Palestinian state will remove a major umbrella that for decades has been held over the inherent tensions between the majority of the Arab states in the region.

It has been a long-held assumption in the west that settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem will facilitate general peace and progress towards democratic structures in the region. The contrary is quite likely to be the result. No longer shielded by the common political objective of creating a Palestinian state, relationships between the Arab countries in the area may well deteriorate.

The western world which has a major interest in this area will do well to anticipate the wider consequences of the long awaited possible settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

London WI

Telephone crime

Sir: Like Ian Gardner (letter, 15 January) I and countless others have been the victims of "telephone crime", and I have been down the same route of complaint that gets you absolutely nowhere.

BT appear to have no interest whatever in trying to stop these scams; this is despite the fact that the simple act of compelling premium rate number suppliers to agree to deferred payment from BT for, say, a month, to establish if any scams have been operated by them, could dramatically curb their activities.

With regard to credit card companies being a lot quicker to spot possible fraud and contact the card-holder, this is because they recognise that in most cases the card-holder cannot be made legally liable for transactions that he or she did not make, and so in many cases the credit card company will lose out. With the widespread use of computers and the internet this point of law has become a grey area. Can you be made liable for a transaction - in this case a telephone call - that a third party has made via your computer, in your name and without your knowledge? BT seem to think that you can.


Sir: It is a sad day when someone who subscribes to a telephone service expects the service provider to stop him abusing that service himself. If Mr Gardner has bought a ticket for a train journey and had his pocket picked on the train would he hold the train company responsible for his loss?

Renting a phone service from BT is no different from paying for access to a toll road or buying gas from a gas supplier. The service supplier is not responsible for how the customer uses or abuses the service. When using a personal computer connected to a public telephone service it is the PC user's responsibility to protect himself from malicious attacks. If you cannot accept that personal responsibility then go to an internet cafe or your public library and pay for a commercial service where someone else will accept the responsibility for the connection.

This sort of abrogation of personal responsibility is highly irresponsible and is fuelling the burgeoning blame culture imported from the US.

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Operatic ambition

Sir: Wonderful news (report, 14 January) that the ENO will now be putting English opera at its core, something which, as a regular at the Coliseum, I have long advocated.

The benefits highlighted by Sean Doran are clear to see: a new platform for artists and operas. The distinctive repertoire will also attract visiting opera-lovers, willing to pay non-subscription prices for a one-off chance to hear King Arthur, rather than yet another production of Rigoletto.

I hope it will not be too long before they stage a neglected opera, which, for some reason, I have always had a particular yearning to see, Vaughan Williams's Hugh the Drover.

London SE16

Own goal

Sir: The Premier League is to launch an inquiry into the competition's declining popularity (football report, 17 January). Your headline football news for the same day (" ... the state of war between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger is now official... ") provides one of the answers.

Halifax, West Yorkshire

Minister's religion

Sir: If Cardinal Basil Hume considered it inappropriate for anyone under the age of 18 to be allowed to join Opus Dei ("The Dei today", 17 January) is it not totally inappropriate for this country to have a Secretary of State for Education who allegedly is an associate member of this religious sect?

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Mysterious symbol

Sir: Congratulations to Nic Stevenson (letter, 17 January) for knowing what a swastika is. In Canterbury Cathedral there is a window commemorating the freeing of Europe from Nazi tyranny. It has an opened padlock, with a swastika-shaped keyhole. When I show it to school parties I ask them to tell me the shape of the keyhole. It is amazing how many classes of secondary school pupils simply haven't got a clue what it is! Pupils from continental Europe fare better, but their grandparents were probably locked behind that padlock.

Sittingbourne, Kent

Legacy of FDR

Sir: It is truly ironic that A R Boddy should chose to quote Franklin D Roosevelt (letter, 15 January). FDR is after all the president that authorised the incarceration of thousands of Japanese-Americans without charges or trial. Methinks he would have approved of Guantanamo.

Irving, Texas, USA