Communitarians, authoritarians and nonconformists

From Ms Janet Montefiore

Sir: Jack Straw's response to Anna Coote's questioning of Labour party policy shows, only too depressingly, how right she is about its authoritarianism. She expressed qualified support for the proposed policy of expanding the power of the police to suppress anti-social behaviour and also warned that harmless eccentrics and nonconformists could be criminalised by over- hasty "communitarian" legislation.

Mr Straw's response to this entirely proper concern for civil rights is to invoke examples of unacceptable behaviour, in a rhetoric of populist horror that sounds dismally like the Tory Right. So far from answering Ms Coote's criticisms, he blames her for even making them. Does he mean, then, that there's no such thing as a harmless eccentric? Or that nonconformists shouldn't have rights?

Yours faithfully,

Janet Montefiore

University of Kent

at Canterbury

From Earl Russell

Sir: Congratulations to Anna Coote on her article on Tony Blair (Essay: "A bit too much of a prig and a prude", 3 July). For those who believe that families need help with their mortgages rather than their morals, the Liberal Democrats are now the only horse to back.

Yours faithfully,


House of Lords