CAP shake-up, Debate on nuclear weapons and others

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The Independent Online

National farm subsidies are no substitute for CAP shake-up

National farm subsidies are no substitute for CAP shake-up

Sir: Only one thing could be worse than the Common Agricultural Policy - and that would be to have 25 separate agricultural policies, each with its own competing subsidies, each with its own protectionist measures ("Let every country subsidise its own farmers", Andreas Whittam Smith, 13 June) . That would ultimately cost the economy, the taxpayer and the environment far more.

It's far better to pursue further reforms of the CAP - reforms which we have already made a start on, and where we have had a significant measure of success, for the first time in thirty years.



Sir: Sir Michael Franklin asks: "Do we want subsidised French exports unfairly competing with our own farmers?" (letter, 15 June). Of course not, but there is an easy answer. Each EU member state should be free to subsidise its farmers in order to supply its home market, but produce leaving the country should be subject to an export duty so the Government recovers its subsidy and avoids "dumping".

If subsidies were contained within national borders they would become a purely domestic issue, and therefore amenable to democratic control within each country.



Sir: There is no better back-up for Denis MacShane's call to start talking to Europe (Opinion, 14 June) than the sight of Tony Blair, visiting George Bush, arriving in Washington in the rain without a formal welcome and leaving in a hurry with little accomplished.

We have been used to support the Iraq debacle and divide Europe and now we are being dropped like unwanted packaging. There is a lesson here for the rampant British nationalists who think we can go it alone and drive forward using the rear-view mirror. We have a say in Europe and none in the US, and it's time to say it.



Sir: All these arguments as to why Britain should reduce its £3bn European rebate are persuasive, but I'm reminded of the words of the late Tommy Cooper. After moaning about losing a few shillings he'd left on the bar of a pub, he said: "It's not the principle, it's the money."



We need a debate on nuclear weapons

Sir: Unlike Julian Lewis (Letters, 14 June), I found the Defence Secretary's answers to Parliament concerning the future of the UK's nuclear weapons refreshingly lucid. The fact that the Government has yet to reach a decision on Trident's replacement is welcome, given that it is only six weeks since the general election.

The Government will need to take many factors into account in reaching a decision in this parliament, one of which is the UK's obligation under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As Dr Reid acknowledged in the House of Commons on 6 June, "If we replace the existing system with a massive increase in our capability, that may not be compatible; if we reduce capability, that may well be compatible" (column 987).

Contrary to previous occasions, before any final conclusions are drawn we need a thorough national debate about whether this country's security is best served by the retention of weapons of mass destruction. Overlooking the absence of any mention of the matter in its recent manifesto, the Conservative Party should play its part in that discourse too.



Sir: Julian Lewis states that his repeated efforts to extract an answer from the Labour Party about its intention to replace the strategic nuclear deterrent have been met with evasive and ambiguous answers. Was it not ever thus, regardless of which party was in government?

That master of the evasive answer, Geoff Hoon, did admit under questioning from Mike Gapes at a Defence Committee meeting last year that options for a replacement for Trident were under active consideration but declined to say what they were. In an interview with Jeremy Paxman more recently, the Prime Minister indicated that Britain would remain a nuclear weapon power indefinitely.

Interested parties should be able to agree that this issue must be approached in a more mature way than merely re-running the "you will leave us defenceless" farce of the 1980s. There is still time - just - to press for executive accountability to parliamentary democracy. The Government must present geostrategic, legal, economic and moral justifications for retaining a nuclear weapons capability and be prepared to defend its case under questioning, both inside and outside Parliament.

Such a debate would be unlikely to result in parliamentarians dividing along party lines. There are many people outside Parliament who have no political affiliations who would also like to contribute to such a debate. The question Julian Lewis should be asking is, "Will this government initiate a parliamentary and public debate on the advisability of replacing the strategic nuclear deterrent?"



Sir: I can only conclude from Dr Julian Lewis's bizarre letter ("Will Labour really replace Trident?") that he is engaged in some strange sort of reverse-scaremongering in an attempt to convince us, flying in the face of reality, that "Labour" will do what is right and sensible.

His suggestion "that the Government may yet decide to leave the United Kingdom with no nuclear" weapons when Trident gives up the ghost is absurd in the light of this government's record on war and weapons of mass destruction (as long as they're ours, America's or Israel's) and the statement, the first of its kind, by the previous "Defence" Secretary, Geoff Hoon, that the Government might use our nuclear "deterrent" (excuse the excess of ironic inverted commas) in any case other than such weapons' first being used against us.

The idea of Britain's abandoning nuclear weapons remains preposterous. Which is truly tragic.



TV executives in denial about reality

Sir: What are TV executives planning next for us after the early demise of Celebrity Wrestling and the disappointment of Celebrity Love Island?

Creative training courses' current favourite slogan is "Thinking Outside the Box", but all we have now is "Thinking Inside the Box". When they conduct a post mortem on the current reality shows, will they ask themselves "Can we think of something other than reality shows?" No, they will probably say, "What other reality formats can we think of?"

Well here are a few suggestions: Celebrity Washing Up, Celebrity Woodworking or Celebrity Computer Programming. But actually what would be very interesting would a camera on the TV executives themselves as they brain-storm the next reality show. Exposing the cynicism as they dream up more contrived, confrontational and embarrassing shows would be a "must see".



Vote them out with a reformed ballot

Sir: Tony Blair highlights a prime weakness of first-past-the-post in saying that if people wanted to put the Government out they would vote ("Politicians on Britain's voting crisis", 15 June).

They would - if they knew their vote would count, which under the present system requires being certain which opposing candidate will attract the most votes. With only three parties standing, up to half of the opposing votes may be wasted.

Simply introducing a transferable vote, or a second ballot, would enable Mr Blair to make such a remark without being culpably misleading. Wouldn't that be nice?



Sir: There might well be a positive correlation between PR and turn-out, and, yes, Belgium, which takes pride of place on the chart you printed on your front page on 15 June, does have a PR system, but Belgium also has compulsory voting. (So does Australia, and achieves turnouts of about 94 per cent - funny how the prospect of a fine pricks the democratic conscience.) Perhaps this does not undermine the overall force of your argument, but is it not worth a footnote?



Bullying by Geldof over ticket sales

Sir: I am deeply disappointed with eBay's climbdown over the sale of Live8 tickets. The bullying tactics of Sir Bob Geldof in forcing his moral code on others and encouraging people to sabotage legitimate business transactions is unacceptable.

The selling on of tickets does not deprive the event of money, does not prevent the event from going ahead and certainly is not preventing any debt relief or aid getting to the poorest people on the planet. In fact some of the "profits" were likely to be channelled back into charities. That is now not going to happen.

I take it now that Sir Bob has decided to force his moral code on the public he will also be forcing any performing artist to return any money they may make from extra record sales related to their performance at the concerts.

I have supported what Sir Bob Geldof has done in the past with regard to debt relief and other aid in Africa but this time round I feel he has overstepped the mark hugely.



Jackson's mystery British connection

Sir: The media seems not to have spotted an extraordinary British connection in the Michael Jackson trial.

Each day of the trial I noted that he wore the same black blazer. On the breast pocket of the blazer there was always a gold-embroidered badge. Each day there appeared to be a different badge. These badges were clearly the regimental badges of various British Army units.

I am not an expert on these badges, but as a former member of the Royal Army Medical Corps I definitely recognised its badge and the name was clearly visible in a TV close-up. I think I also saw the Royal Engineers, and one each of the Guards and Scots regiments.

The badges appear to be attached by press studs so, presumably, he used the same blazer - or an identical one - for each day of the trial and he, or one of his staff, replaced the badges daily. He must have used a dozen or so of these badges.

Have any of your readers identified any of the badges or have any idea why he wore them? A lucky charm, maybe? If so, it certainly worked.



Sir: As critics have failed to prove abuse there, shouldn't Neverland be added to the list of candidates for debt forgiveness? The alternative would be a sell-off of assets, a sacrifice we have not asked of anyone else.



The blame for Mugabe

Sir: Barry J Lennox's invitation to us to lay the blame for Mugabe's regime on Margaret Thatcher (letter, 13 June) is beguiling, but those of us who were on the left at the time should be honest enough to admit that in this instance she did exactly what we wanted.



Traditional abuses

Sir: Lord Justice Auld takes a position of appalling moral relativism in his decision to reject the asylum appeal of a young woman who feared forcible genital mutilation if she returned to Sierra Leone (Law Report, 14 June). He suggests that most people in Sierra Leone regard genital mutilation as a traditional part of their culture. However, all kinds of iniquitous power relationships are justified in terms of being part of a "traditional culture". Human rights abuses committed against an individual are not legitimised simply because a majority of people in a state support them.



Right-wing Tory rump

Sir: The reason the bickering in the so-called Conservative Party about their next leader is largely irrelevant is that this group has shrunk to a mere right-wing rump. The actual current leader of the Conservative Party is one Anthony Blair.



Persecuted Christians

Sir: Suzanne Evans ends her letter, "After all, what was Christianity once but a highly persecuted sect?" (14 June). Not many centuries ago, Idi Amin had Christian students thrown from the windows of their student lodgings. In numerous areas of the world today, Christians dare to witness in the face of abuse, imprisonment, torture and death. Is Ms Evans one of those dinosaurs who still equate Christianity with Western middle-class society, despite her working with Pagans?



Curbing the car

Sir: There are many possible ways to discourage private car use. Naturally, the Government, with its proposals for road pricing, plumps for an over-technological scheme which will come to fruition reassuringly far in the future. So much for courageous "leadership". But at least an intention has been stated: not so long ago the very idea of curbing transport in any way was regarded as completely mad. In that sense things really are changing at last.



Gainsbourg's wordplay

Sir: It's not uncommon for Serge Gainsbourg's genius to outstrip the wit of his critics - particularly those hoping to render his exquisite French wordplay in simple English. I am confident that a renological procedure was the last thing on his mind when he recorded "Je t'aime...". The salient point you miss ("1000 years of rivalry", 14 June) is that the very title of Gainsbourg's chef d'oeuvre encapsulates better than anything the true nature of the Entente Cordiale: "I love you - Me neither."