Only a written constitution can keep politicians in their place
Sir: D Hughes (letter, 5 March) is right to question the authoritarian tendencies of Blair and Blunkett as they launch offensive after offensive against our rights and institutions, aided and abetted by an unwritten constitution imposed on the people by the powerful for the protection of their power. In this day and age, such a system is nothing less than an insulting imposition on a civilised and well-educated nation.
Blair and Blunkett would never suggest, or have any chance of getting away with the suggestion, that "liberated" Iraq and Afghanistan should adopt unwritten constitutions: precisely because they are so open to abuse. But, almost alone in the world, they are happy to perpetuate such a system here, because it suits them.
It is time that changed. A written constitution, protected by a carefully weighted system of checks and balances and endorsed by a plebiscite of the people, is the surest possible means of defending our rights and liberties. Only in this way can we clearly define the limits of the authority of the Government in its role as our servant, and not our master.
Perhaps I might also suggest that if the monarch (or such other head of state as the people might subsequently adopt) were empowered with the duty and authority to dissolve any parliament that tried to flout the rules, and with the police, judiciary and armed forces swearing allegiance to the head of state in the name of the people, then our politicians might finally learn their place.
R A SELLWOOD
Blair's war rhetoric still fails to convince
Sir: In its dramatic style of delivery, its overwrought language and its unproven assertions - even its very phrasing - Tony Blair's oration last Friday to his Sedgefield constituents was a repeat of the war speech he made to the House of Commons one year ago. The main difference is that in March 2003 he sought to panic us with the imminent threat posed by Saddam's WMD, and he is now trying to panic us about "the mortal danger" we face from global terrorism.
So let us keep our cool, and ask him why the invasion and occupation of Saddam's Iraq was supposed to be a master-stroke in "the war on terror" when Saddam was a sworn enemy of Osama bin Laden's fanatical Islamism. We must ask him why it is that since the occupation of Iraq the rate of global terrorist threats has speeded up rather than slowed down. We must point out to him that the occupation has opened a new and vulnerable flank for terrorists to kill and wound Americans. And we must ask him whether when launching the war he imagined that a year later the political and security situation in Iraq would be in the present appalling mess.
And finally, we must ask him who he thinks would be the judge, jury and executioner in the case of future pre-emptive wars against "rogue states" or "failed states". Does he think that the answer lies in self-appointed vigilantes like himself and George W Bush in the case of Iraq?
Sir: Tony Blair now seeks to justify this country's invasion of Iraq, even though that country posed no threat to us, by describing the Saddam regime as "despotic" and "undemocratic".
This is wonderful news. We can now proceed to rebuild the old Empire. The Union Flag will once again adorn the world's legislatures, and every map of the world will once more be coloured one quarter pink . Oh for the day when our tanks roll into other "despotic" and "undemocratic" states like Burma, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Zimbabwe. Oh bliss! We can rename it Southern Rhodesia. We can march our troops into China's Forbidden City, as in 1860.
Hold on though. What about our unelected head of state and upper house of Parliament? Perhaps a real democracy like the US, France or Germany will invade us to effect a regime change. On second thoughts, perhaps our Prime Minister should stick to what he does best, being George W Bush's poodle.
Sir: The Prime Minister wishes that international law would allow us (he seems to assume it will always be us, the good guys) to get rid of malignant regimes. Well, so do I.
But international law is made by treaties, freely agreed to by the sovereign nations of the world. And I find it hard to imagine any nation signing a treaty that says, in effect, "If we turn evil, it's all right if the rest of you invade." And when I try to imagine the US Senate ratifying such a treaty, my disbelief suspenders finally snap.
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Sir: Tony Blair's speech in Sedgefield seems to propose that if you don't agree with a law you should flout it. Has he cleared this with David Blunkett?
Sir: So, our present Prime Minister operated outside international law, with profound sincerity and conviction. That just makes him a profoundly sincere international outlaw with convictions.
RICHARD W SYMONDS
Crawley, West Sussex
Sir: When you are saving the world do people really worry whether your actions are strictly legal? Tony Blair can be confident he is on a winner here.
But the real issue is whether invading Iraq had any real prospect of making the world a safer place. On that measure those of us who felt it was more likely to have the opposite effect have seen nothing to change our minds. This is what we all (and Labour MPs in particular) should really be concerned about. Further concentration on "legality" plays into the PM's hands.
Sir: I have read Tony Blair's speech carefully, but I cannot follow his logic.
He tells us that the global war on terrorism is a new and different sort of war. New and different indeed! To fight terrorism we joined the US in invading a country that had no links whatsoever to any recent terrorist acts. To fight terrorism we attacked Iraq when our own intelligence warned that to do so would increase terrorism in the area (as it has). We occupied Iraq in such a chaotic way as to give the maximum opportunity for weaponry to fall into the hands of terrorists.
And he asks us to trust his judgement. No thank you.
Sir: Tony Blair still doesn't get it. We know he thinks he was right. The problem is the method he used to drag Parliament and the rest of us into a war most of us didn't want on a timetable he had already agreed. The legal opinion was necessary once he realised he was not going to get a UN resolution.
It is the way we were all manipulated that outrages me and means I would never vote Labour again until it has a leader who respects our institutions.
P J PARKINS
Sir: If Tony Blair seriously believed that there were WMD in Iraq, then to go to war without knowing where they were and without a plan to secure them was an act of monstrous stupidity.
We are fortunate that there were none, for had they existed they would have fallen into the hands of terrorists as surely as have the mortars now being used against the people of Iraq and those seeking to protect them. And if the terrorist threat were as pervasive as Mr Blair believes, then they would have been used against the Iraqi people, our forces and possibly the UK. The consequences would have been horrendous.
Mr Blair would prefer us to criticise his judgement rather than his integrity: my difficulty with this is that I cannot believe he can be as stupid as he now wishes us to believe he is.
R I SYKES
Sir: It seems that Tony Blair believes his destiny is to lead a struggle against a world-wide secret conspiracy designed to destroy Western civilisation. In the course of that struggle he believes he has the right to tear up international treaties, abrogate human rights and invade nations which he perceives to be a threat.
Chillingly familiar. No wonder he worries the French and the Germans.
D G C JONES
Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys
Sir: It is heartening to see Bob Ashley, a Bush supporter, pointing out that a large part of the human race cannot vote in their own nations (letter, 5 March). Presumably he includes in this group of disenfranchised people those residents of Florida that were removed from the electoral roll in 2000 for, among other reasons, sharing a name with a criminal.
St Helier, Jersey
Sir: Many of us suspect there will be foul play in the US elections, is there any chance we could insist on UN observers to supervise the process?
MMR: don't despair
Sir: Kenneth Campbell (letter, 2 March) suggests that any retrospective comparison of vaccinated and unvaccinated children, to shed light on whether there is a link between MMR and autism, would be worthless, because it would be impossible to account for any other hidden causes of autism, such as the quality of the mother's diet in pregnancy.
This is a counsel of despair - as if to say: "It's all too complicated, so let's not bother!" Can you imagine Sir Richard Doll exhibiting this kind of scientific defeatism when he was seeking to establish a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer?
It should be quite possible to design a study which factors in differences in diet, economic grouping, and so on. You could, for example, include within each group - of both vaccinated and unvaccinated children - similar proportions of those children exposed to other variables. With the power and speed of today's information technology, it should be a piece of cake to overcome the statistical problem of "confounders".
Another possible approach would be to forget all about confounders, and simply compare the two groups without any adjustments. If the occurrence of autism in the vaccinated group turned out to be a great deal higher than in the unvaccinated group - anything above two- or three-fold, say - this would be enough to set the alarm bells ringing.
We do not know for certain that MMR does not trigger a regression into autistic spectrum disorders. A comparison of the two childhood groups may enable us to banish the fears of thousands of parents.
Toys for boys
Sir: Helen Hanna said, "Perhaps your paper could do a feature on the 10 best non-fighting computer games, if you can find that many" (letter, 3 March). Can I suggest you go further? How about "Toys that cost less than a PlayStation and can't be bought in exclusive London shops".
I'll start you off - a cap gun; a cap rifle; a friend with another cap gun and a few walls to shoot round; Combat Zone soldiers, tanks and helicopters from Tesco; a walkie talkie - and a person at the other end; snow, with which to build defensive walls to shoot over
If you really want to keep out of combat (though rather now than when they're 18) try these: FastLane racing track (with loops) from Toys R Us; pack of cards and instructions for Cheat from any newsagent; skateboard; chess; an hour with a friend in the kitchen and the ingredients for chocolate brownies; a selection of the right balls for the right games (£2 each from my newsagent) and some sweatshirts for goals.
I think even after buying all the above I'd still have change from the cost of a PlayStation. It's not children who need the imagination, it's the parents (and possibly the feature writers of The Independent?)
Sir: Only the style policeman Dylan Jones could wear a three-piece suit and tie to a Bob Dylan concert and then deride the ageing fans in T-shirts and jeans (Fashion, 4 March). We went to listen to the music, not to be seen.
Unfair tax burden
Sir: You criticise the Lib Dems for being in thrall to the producer interest in health and education (leading article, 5 March). Your connection between this and their proposed 50 per cent tax on incomes over £100,000 is far-fetched - the two issues are independent. Labelling this proposal "a relic from another era" is equally odd. Many voters believe income tax should be more steeply progressive. The Thatcherite move to indirect taxes such as VAT, followed by New Labour, has indeed shifted the burden of taxation from higher toward lower earners. Does this make it fair?
Addiction and need
Sir: Johann Hari's article "The best treatment for addiction: free heroin" (5 March) cogently makes the case for attempting to reduce crime by prescribing what addicts need. However, his position is undermined by the introduction of the specious comparison of diabetics with heroin addicts. The condition of diabetics is in no way of their own choosing, and while diabetics have a genuine medical need for insulin and will die without it, withdrawal of opiates from a heroin addict does not have fatal results.
Dr TIM SHORT
Paralysed by choice
Sir: I have spent far too much of my life dithering over 47 almost identical varieties of mint-flavoured toothpaste in my local Tesco. ("More is less", 4 March) As supermarkets present us with an endless variety of new and tasty (but not necessarily healthy) foods, drinks and sweets, no wonder we like to try them all. Paralysed by the TV, we keep watching, channel-hopping, in hope of finding a better programme. No surprise we are a nation of under-exercising overeaters!
West Malling, Kent