Call centres, Tactical vote swaps and others

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The Independent Online

Guerrilla action won't get through to call centre bosses

Guerrilla action won't get through to call centre bosses

Sir: Your article's suggestions for "beating the system" of call centres ("Call-centre victims use guerrilla tactics to exact revenge", 28 March) will do no such thing, merely making the life of the unfortunate soul you are speaking to even more miserable. Having worked in a call centre last year out of financial desperation I can assure you that complaints from the floor never reach the kind of level at which they can make a difference.

Call-centre work is soul destroying. My brief employment there probably took a decade off my life; grown men wept on the bus at the prospect of another work day, callers threatened to find my house and cover it with manure and the pressure to meet our targets was unrelenting.

If you really want to get your point across, get the address of the company head office and write them a strongly worded letter; we simply can't help it if we are under-trained, the computer systems are down or you've been in a queue for half an hour; so please direct your anger at the real culprits.


Sir: I work in a call centre, providing one of the now hundreds of directory inquiries services in the UK. I must say that I was rather puzzled to read the advice given to readers in the "How to beat the system" box, at the bottom of your article on "guerrilla tactics" against call centres and their staff.

It's true that we operate to certain productivity targets, including average call handling time. However, if any reader thinks that it's somehow to their benefit to either keep me talking for three minutes or to put me on hold, I must correct them. Firstly, in the case of directory inquiries, you are paying for the call. Keeping me on the line costs you more money, and besides; if you do try to "waffle" for three minutes, you will find I simply interrupt you to extract information relevant to your inquiry.

Secondly, if you come on the line and put me on hold, I will pick up my book and you are paying my salary for five minutes in which I am doing no work. As a call centre operator, I have no problem with a member of the public giving me an extra break at their expense.


Tactical vote swaps will only help Blair

Sir: The very last thing Liberal Democrats should do is to enter a tactical alliance with Labour supporters in Tory seats (" 'Vote swappers' aim to wipe out leading Conservatives in internet campaign", 29 March). The greatest danger to what remains of our liberal democracy is another Labour landslide.

It should be remembered that in the last election under our distorting electoral system Blair's party won a 200-plus seat majority when less than 25 per cent of the electorate could bring themselves to vote for them, whereas nobody seriously believes that in the coming election the most successful Tory campaign could deliver anything better for the Tories than a hung parliament. This could be the chance for the Liberal Democrats to offer their support to any party whose first act would be the introduction of proportional representation in future parliamentary elections.

The way to do this is to vote as many Labour members out as possible, by voting Tory if this will serve the purpose, not to give Blair yet another overwhelming parliamentary majority on a minority vote.

Wellington, Telford

Sir: Would-be Liberal Democrat vote-swappers should think carefully about the consequences of delivering Tony Blair an artificially inflated majority.

Could they live with five more years of incompetence, cronyism, spin and, above all, self-righteousness in government? Could they live with a Parliament full of Blairite stooges, waving through the creation of pockets of privilege in health and education, new assaults on civil liberties and new wars in support of the Bush administration?


Sir: In six weeks or so, the British electorate will have a choice between two decidedly mediocre opposition parties and a government led by a man who is a serial liar and, in all probability, a war criminal and a mass murderer. This is, in living memory at any rate, unprecedented in our country.

Whatever the polls currently say, I believe that when it comes to polling day the British people will recoil in disgust from Blair and his henchmen, and either dump New Labour or deliver a hung Parliament. If I am right, it is still far less than Blair and Co deserve. If I am wrong, God help us all.

Worthing, West Sussex

Sir: You observe that none of the big parties has yet articulated a "big idea" (leading article, 28 March). Ideological talk of class and economic barriers and especially the hoary old favourites such as law 'n' order and taxation are the biggest turn-offs imaginable.

The scope for fresh, specific and challenging political aspirations is considerable. There ought, for example, to be a sufficiently large environmentally aware section of the electorate, who would rally behind bold initiatives, to make a difference to the party that embraces such change. An enthusiastic and comprehensible exposition of Britain's role in Europe and the world would be a refreshing change.

An election ought to be the time for the barriers to come down between the politicians and the electorate. The party that eschews pusillanimous rhetoric and asserts clear and reasoned policies on areas of direct interest to the electorate might be rewarded handsomely.

Implementation, on a less than geologic timescale, would be a novelty too.

Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

Sir: Bruce Anderson (Opinion, 28 March) reckons this will be the dirtiest election in modern British history. He obviously intends to play a full part in it. His use (or invention?) of the word "Goebbelsian" with regard to Labour's campaign reminded me of 1945 and the first big political rally I ever attended, to hear Churchill talk about the new Gestapo - and a lot of good it did him!

Windermere, Cumbria

GM battle goes on

Sir: A terrible irony lies behind your headline "The end for GM crops" (22 March): that the latest farm-scale trial results were published on the day that the European Commission agreed to authorise the commercial planting of GM crops across the EU, and to demand action against those countries - Austria, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Greece - which maintain national bans.

This latest study provides yet more weight to the overwhelming scientific and democratic arguments against GM but that it won't be enough to keep GM out of the UK in the face of deadlocked Environment Council and a pro-agribusiness Commission.

It has never been more urgent than now to demand a GM-free EU, by reminding MPs, food retailers and the European Commission that consumers will reject any GM crops which are given the go-ahead, through non-violent direct action against the crops, by refusing to buy them, and voting only for candidates who opposed their introduction.

(Green, South-East England)
European Parliament, Brussels

Sir: A merit mark to you for making the news on GM crops your front-page lead. The issue lacks glamour yet it matters a great deal.

But I fear it's premature to call this "the end" for GM crops. The agribusiness interests will not give up easily, having made headway in other countries. And the big problem is not, I suspect, loss of local biodiversity arising from specific GM strains - the test results which you report - but cross-contamination from all GM strains.

Other tests have already shown that cross-contamination of non-GM crops is unavoidable, covers wide areas and is irreversible. This corruption of billions of years of evolution (and some selective breeding) will have effects - already taking place in the US and elsewhere - of which scientists, like the rest of us, have no knowledge whatever. It is time to stop thinking of GM crops as having only local effects. Your report that the shadow Environment Secretary is talking about "a liability regime" to deal with this shows how very far politics still has to go to get to grips with such massive issues.

London SW17

Obsessed with class

Sir: If Alan Milburn (Monday Interview, 28 March) truly believes he can sweep away the class system and it's not just another election soundbite, he's living in cloud-cuckoo land. Britain's "class" system has its roots in the treatment meted out to the Saxons after the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066. For more than 1,000 years a seething resentment, not to say blind, implacable hatred, of the one side for the other has been perpetuated from one generation to the next.

Furthermore, it is nonsense to talk of Britain's "middle class". There are several "middle classes" in this country and as a general rule they feel pretty uncomfortable in each other's company. And it has nothing to do with money: many members of the new "middle class" have oodles of dosh but are still quietly regarded by members of the "real middle class" as being as common as muck. Conversely, many members of that old "middle class" are often as poor as church mice, yet are privy from birth to a kind of masonic code which distinguishes them entirely from those people they regard as upstarts. (And that is a point which only those privy to that code will understand and wholeheartedly agree with, even though they might be loth to admit it publicly).

Being half German and having been brought up in Germany for a crucial part of my youth, I regard the whole British obsession with "class" as complete, nonsensical rubbish. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And it will take a lot more than wishful thinking from a politician to see an end to it.

St Breward, Cornwall

The value of a life

Sir: Although I am certainly no apologist for the present Pope, I must take issue with Joan Smith's jaundiced view of the manner in which his failing health has been presented to the world (Opinion, 28 March). What Smith sees as spin and spectacle I see as a powerful and moving testament to the value of human life.

Any unease that we might have felt when watching this desperately ill man struggle to communicate with the crowds in St Peter's Square on Easter Sunday may arise not only from an empathic reaction but also from a discomfort at having to witness human life in a fragile, disabled and terminal form. As he nears the end of his life, Pope John Paul's refusal to stand down or shut himself away can be seen as a challenge to any desire we might have to devalue and dismiss lives which cause us some manner of existential discomfort or which do not constitute what we assume to be a "worthwhile" existence.

Smith links the response to the Pope's condition with the case of Terri Schiavo and, although many factors are involved in assessing the complex ethics of the latter case, John Paul's witness reminds us of the need to question our personal reactions to such cases and monitor our assumptions about how we assess the value of any life.

Guildford, Surrey

Turbines in Spain

Sir: Michele M Berry (letter, 28 March) waxed eloquent on the beauty of the wind turbines she saw in Spain, and offered them as a contrast to the "frightening expansion" of airports. I am forced to wonder how she got to Spain. Surely not by flying?

London NW6

Fear of growing old

Sir: The Archbishop of Canterbury's observations of society's "odd and unhealthy" attitudes towards ageing ("Williams rails against 'disgust at growing old' ", 28 March) are very timely given the impending general election and, hopefully, will be the catalyst for an overdue review of the standard of care for the elderly. I suggest that our fear and disgust is more to do with the unbearable thought of ending our days in one of these rest or nursing homes where, because of government neglect, the facilities, ownership, management and staff training leave a lot to be desired.

Eastleigh, Hampshire

Popular music

Sir: You say that Classic FM should stop giving its listeners too much of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 2 (leading article, 29 March). The trouble is that it doesn't give them enough. It has never, as far as I am aware, played more than one movement on any occasion. And that goes for any work. I think you should ignore Classic FM's popularity poll.

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Rugby and Vichy

Sir: Brian Viner's column "How I enraged xenophobes, Christians and devotees of both rugby codes" (26 March) made excellent reading and probably helped to placate supporters of both rugby codes following his earlier article. However, I was puzzled by his use of the word "fundamentalist" when describing those rugby league supporters who had pointed out to him rugby union's connections with South African apartheid and Vichy France. "Fundamentalist" suggests an unsubstantiated belief with faith as its basis rather than fact. Yet rugby union has proven connections to these unpleasant right-wing regimes.

Northwood, Middlesex

War poetry

Sir: Here is another limerick, based on Professor Day's line "We went to war on a page of A4":
Enlightened by Dubya's epistle,
Blair sexed-up Iraq's old Scud missile
And took us to war
On a page of A4,
But never found anything fissile.

Potters Bar, Hertfordshire