Care for the elderly, Use tactical voting to punish Blair and others

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Hard questions must be asked about care for the elderly

Hard questions must be asked about care for the elderly

Sir: Johann Hari paints a timely, bleak picture of what awaits the old when dwindling facilities force them reluctantly into under-funded care homes (Opinion, 30 March). Of course we all dread it. We don't want to be bed blockers either. So why not, when the time comes, and not before, give us the option of a quick and merciful pill?

Of course there would have to be safeguards, but granted the money it would save it should be possible to provide them. And how much more happily we would live the rest of our lives, knowing our future is planned. Hari is absolutely right. These are facts that need to be faced and the sooner the better.

Lewes, East Sussex

Sir: A measure of a civilised society may be how the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members are cared for. I appreciate the excellent article highlighting neglect in some residential care homes for elderly people.

However, as a senior social worker, may I also add my concerns regarding the quality of care in some other residential care homes such as those for children, and adults with mental health, physical or learning disabilities.

I too believe that the poor standards of care frequently encountered result from a succession of morally questionable government policies. These have resulted in the value of crass materialism taking precedence over that of basic human kindness. I am left wondering how such a society may continue to regard itself as civilised.

Surbiton, Surrey

Sir: I would like to expand on Johann Hari's testimony. My mother was 54 when she suffered a brain haemorrhage. She was well looked after by the Royal Free, Homerton and Barnet hospitals. For a while she got by as I was still at home but eventually I was unable to look after her. I had a full-time job and the mental strain was more than I could cope with. She was by now a completely different person as a result of the haemorrhage.

My two sisters and I searched for help. She was offered a place in a residential home for the elderly. Whilst we appreciated the help provided by the local authority we realised there was no alternative. There is a gap in the system. Where are the homes for the incapacitated who are not elderly?

Borehamwood, Hertfordshire

Use tactical voting to punish Blair

Sir: Tony Blair has shown his contempt for both Parliament and the electorate on many occasions, most notably on Iraq and the new anti-terror legislation. If re-elected he will take that as an endorsement of his actions and continue in a similar fashion into his third term.

Anyone who values parliamentary democracy in this country must be wary of any vote swaps to wipe out leading Tories. As pointed out by Matthew Oakeshott (Opinion, 30 March), given the current electoral boundaries a Tory victory is impossible anyway. In the interest of democracy the only sensible course of action is therefore tactical voting between Tories and Liberal Democrats to unseat Labour MPs. This gives a reason to vote to several disaffected groups: Labour supporters unable to influence their party's policy on terror and Iraq; Conservatives who feel their party has wasted the last eight years and moved too far to the right; those who find no reason to vote for any of the three main parties.

The aim of this strategy is to produce an opposition able to put a brake on New Labour's excesses and even, dare we hope, a hung parliament. Above all it will send a very strong message to politicians on the issue of trust: that voters are prepared to cast their ballots tactically if they are continually let down.

If Liberal Democrat tactical voters create an even larger sycophantic Blair majority, it will prove to disenchanted voters like myself that they are a perpetual party of opposition. If however they help engineer a hung parliament, and take the opportunity to prove themselves the voice of reason in government, able to negotiate pragmatic compromises, they stand to gain even if they do not succeed in changing the electoral system. This is a major opportunity, particularly if after the election the Tories revert to their favourite sport of internal squabbling.

Chelmsford, Essex

Sir: Considering the cards they have in their hand, the Liberal Democrats seem intent on playing them very close to their chests. Could it be that they simply don't have the self-belief to consider they might conceivably win an election, or are they playing another sort of game?

They could of course be keeping their powder dry until an election is formally announced or on the other hand they could be considering the prospect of a Lib Dem/Labour pact in the event of a hung Parliament. If it is the latter, then they have seriously underestimated the possible consequences for themselves as a party and for democracy as a whole. Those who feel betrayed by Blair's government particularly in respect of the war and are considering voting for the Lib Dems in protest will find themselves doubly betrayed should the Lib Dems form any sort of pact with Labour. Moreover it will confirm, for those naive souls who still remain in any doubt, what a wholly corrupt system this is, with the implications that will have for turnouts at subsequent elections.

Of course if they were honest about their intentions they would not capture the protest vote. However most people recognise that "honesty" and "politician" should never be used in the same sentence.


The value of trees

Sir: Ealing Council clearly does not understand the value of its assets ("Fearful fantasies about the natural world", 29 March). Ealing is one of London's leafiest boroughs, benefiting from roughly 31 trees per hectare, a wonderful legacy that residents today can enjoy thanks to the foresight of previous generations. The proposal by the council to cull its lime trees and save £55,000 a year in maintenance costs fails to take account of the value of this important asset.

Studies in North America have shown that average house prices can be up to 18 per cent higher where property is associated with mature trees. Recent research in New York illustrated how mature large-species trees, such as lime, can save millions of dollars in healthcare costs because of their ability to filter polluted air, reduce chemical smog formation and shade out harmful solar radiation, thereby impacting positively on asthma and other respiratory diseases as well as skin cancer.

Add to this the fact that trees can save 10 per cent in annual energy costs by regulating the local climate, and in pure accounting terms alone the financial benefits of Ealing's lime trees far outweigh the costs of looking after this vital asset.

Chief Executive
Trees for Cities
London SE11

'Unrest' in Indonesia

Sir: Hamish McRae bemoans the fact that in recent years there has been little or no net foreign direct investment in Indonesia, "largely because local political unrest has scared away foreign investors" ("They need our trade more than our aid", 30 March).

Perhaps by "local political unrest", he is referring to the continuing Indonesian oppression of the peoples of West Papua and Aceh, where, according to the US Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2004 (Indonesia): "Security force members murdered, tortured, raped, beat, and arbitrarily detained civilians and members of separatist movements."

Mr McRae condemns foreign companies who choose not to invest in such a human rights context as "cowardly". Many West Papuans and Acehnese would call them principled.

Free West Papua Campaign

Payment to law firm

Sir: The article by Philip Willan ("UK minister's husband investigated over 'bribes to lie for Berlusconi'", 24 March) is inaccurate and it is unfortunate that no attempt was made to contact us before publication. The payment referred to was made to Mr Mills' former law firm, Mackenzie Mills, and ultimately divided between him and the three other former equity partners of that firm following its winding up. It is misleading, therefore, to suggest that these payments were made to the recipients in their capacity as partners of Withers.

The events which led to this payment all took place before Mr Mills and the Mackenzie Mills partners joined Withers in 1995. Mr Mills left Withers in 1997.

Joint Managing Director
Withers LLP
London EC4

The US and the UN

Sir: I cannot let pass unchallenged your inaccurate and wrong-headed assertion that the US Government is waging a "campaign of vilification" designed to "undermine" the United Nations (leading article, 30 March). My nation provides about one quarter of the UN's operating budget (not to mention over half of the budget of the World Food Programme and one-third of the budget for the High Commission on Refugees), we are permanent members of the Security Council, and no nation can claim to have done more to establish the UN nor to ensure its continued relevance.

Yes, my government and my countrymen have criticised the UN. We are far from alone in this, and it's a far, far thing from vilification. The Bush Administration is committed to a UN that is responsible, accountable and effective, something reiterated as recently as yesterday by the White House spokesman. More detailed information on our views about the UN is available at

If there is anyone responsible for "undermining" the UN, it surely must be those - be they individuals or national governments - who stand in the way of it efficiently carrying out its core missions as laid out in the UN Charter. There is nothing wrong - and indeed everything right - in insisting that the UN must work and work well. Surely, the editorial staff of this newspaper does not object to that.

Chargé d'Affaires
US Embassy
London W1

Parental discipline

Sir: I am a retired teacher. I have long maintained that if parents won't, don't or can't control their children at two and three years old, and if they never say "no" to them, you cannot expect teachers to cope 10 years down the line when they have classes of 30 pupils to control and teach who have never learned discipline in the home ("Teachers to crack down on poor discipline", 28 March).

With all the new ideas trainee teachers have to take on board (different teaching styles, different learning styles) and given that children's behaviour is getting worse all the time I believe that teaching is now not a do-able job. Containing the hordes is all that might be hoped.

There will be no improvement until parents accept their responsibilities and instil acceptable standards of behaviour in their children from an early age.

Melkridge, Northumberland

Sir: I was concerned by the article "Teachers to crack down on discipline" (28 March). In this you say the NUT want to use exclusion and suspension of pupils more frequently for bad behaviour. The problem with this is that the average disruptive pupil probably doesn't want to be in school in the first place, so if he is sent home won't he see this as a reward not a punishment?

What is needed is a punishment that the bad kids won't like: might I suggest bringing back the cane?

Northfleet, Kent

Arrogant Prime Minister

Sir: I cannot agree with Steve Richards' assertion that "Blair is not an arrogant leader" (Opinion, 31 March), unless it is thought humble to decide policy with unelected advisers in unminuted meetings, to attend the Commons less than any of his predecessors, consistently to respond to criticism by misrepresenting the positions of others, or to invade a sovereign territory in defiance of majority public opinion.

London E7

School dinners

Sir: As I understand it New Labour's defence in the school dinners issue is that the Tories are to blame for a decision made twenty years ago. For eight of those years New Labour has been in power and has been unable to find the time to reverse the decision. It did, however, find time to reverse Clause 28 which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools. Interesting priorities.

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Evictions of Bushmen

Sir: Rory More O'Ferrall of De Beers asks us to believe Botswana government assurances that diamonds are not connected to the evictions of Bushmen from their ancestral lands (28 March). That government also claims that the Bushmen moved voluntarily. Not only does Survival have dozens of Bushman testimonies showing this was not the case, but the Bushmen themselves are now taking their government to court over it. Why should people believe the Botswana government instead of the Bushmen?

Director, Survival International
London EC1

War poetry

Sir: Professor Day (letter, 25 March) issued the challenge, but why stop with a limerick? If I might apologise to Edward Lear, how about:
The hawk and his poodle have sailed away
On the dodgiest premise to war;
What on earth might they do
With a page of A2
If they did such a thing with A4?

Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire