Cricket boycott, Mandelson and others

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Cricket boycott would send a powerful message to Mugabe

Sir: The Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, needs to be listened to ("Zimbabwe bishop calls for cricket boycott", 22 July). He is a brave and courageous man who understands well the situation pertaining to the people of Zimbabwe, particularly those of Matabeleland. This region more than any other has faced the perfidy of the Mugabe government almost since its inception. Between 1980 and 1988 the activities of the notorious 5th Brigade, formed by the Mugabe government for the specific purpose of subjugating the peoples of Matabeleland, went largely unreported in the Western media. This activity has formed the basis upon which much of the now nationwide policy of starving the opposition into submission is based.

I met Archbishop Ncube at the consecration of the Anglican Bishop of Bulawayo three years ago. He offered sage advice to his new Anglican colleague. Simply, he said, don't be too quick to enter the fray against the regime. His reasoning was equally simple: no one in power was listening to him, and he was subject to a process of silencing. At that time I met with many brave Christians of all traditions who had during the years since independence experienced the terror of Mugabe's various forces. One woman spoke of her "crucifixion", which her husband was forced to watch. Others spoke of imprisonment and beatings. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, when the present round of intimidatory tactics began these good folk, and many others, simply could not face again what they had previously been subjected to.

Britain must keep up pressure on Zimbabwe through international forums, taking care also to channel aid to rights groups and appropriate NGOs. The boycotting of cricket against Zimbabwe by the ECB and ICC would send a powerful message to the regime.

Many church leaders and brave church members, along with countless others, seek day by day to be part of a more just society, represented through a proper democratic election process. They deserve the unequivocal support of the British government, church leaders and all others of good will.

Bishop of Bath and Wells

Mandelson does not carry enough respect

Sir: If we are to hope for meaningful involvement in Europe we need to send people of quality to represent this great nation at the much changed Commission. Peter Mandelson should not be our representative.

I admire and respect the member for Hartlepool's political abilities - unsurpassed since the dying days of the decadent Roman Empire. But we need our, now single, commissioner to carry public support and not public ridicule. The impact of Europe on our nation will grow, and rightly so, but the habit of sending failed domestic politicians "up to" Europe must stop.

We need a commissioner who will reduce the running cost of Europe, defend its borders and reform the fishing and agricultural polices to the benefit of all Europeans, not one working solely to achieve the personal political ambitions of our current Prime Minister.


Sir: Peter Mandelson has the abilities and commitment to be an effective commissioner for the rest of Europe, but in Britain he is damaged goods. His appointment plays into the hands of the Europhobes, allowing them to portray the European Commission erroneously as a refuge for failed politicians who put spin before truth.

Across the political divide pro- Europeans are waiting for the Prime Minister to switch the government machine into campaign mood to win over a doubting British public in the promised referendum on the EU constitution. This latest action makes him look more saboteur than facilitator.

Leader, British Liberal Democrat MEPs

Sir: Mr Blair must not compound his Mandelson felony by insisting that yet another New Labour lounge lizard is imposed on the hapless few in the Hartlepool constituency Labour Party. Only a true "Old Labour" stalwart with local Teesside roots will retain this seat.

To put in a home counties apparatchik would result in local party alienation, a clear lack of interest in winning the by-election and the prospect of yet another UKIP success.

Kew, Surrey

Sir: In "A commissioner's life" (24 July) Stephen Castle states that an EU commissioner's perks "fall well short of the 'gravy train' image". A salary of £143,893, plus a residence allowance of £24,000, plus a relocation payment of £23,915, plus an entertainment allowance of £7,000. This adds up to £198,808 for a year, which raises the question, what would Mr Castle count as measuring up to the gravy train image?

London E12

Pain of council tax

Sir: In response to Peter Spring (letter, 20 July), we all pay tax on our work and effort; it is called income tax. If you feel the same way as many did when they had to stump up the poll tax and you are prepared to "fight" an increase in your contribution to your local community, then please do your rioting in your own street.

This may bring the price of your property down and hence a drop in your council tax bill! Alternatively, you could campaign for increases in income tax for greater central government grants to local councils. You could just pay up and think of it as a tax on the £300,000 you confess to have made on the value of your property in the last six years.

Or you could sell up and move into a smaller house.

By the way, Sweden is the country in Europe where the greatest proportion of people are most content with their government's tax and spending arrangements. They also pay the highest taxes.


Sir: Peter Spring asks readers for ideas how taxation on work and effort can be fought.

Simple. Vote for someone other than Labour at the next election. It seems to me that not only do people not vote any more, they do not even understand the purpose of voting.


Justice for fathers

Sir: The concept of 50/50 parenting by separated parents may be a practical possibility where the parents remain on amicable terms ("Parents to face fine for refusing access", 22 July). It is evident, however, that the protesting fathers were in relationships that ended with acrimony and bitterness. It cannot possibly be in the child's best interest to be passed back and forth between these warring adults.

Children have a right to a stable home as free from stress as possible. They need to be able to go to school regularly each day with the same friends using the same route. They do not need to be used as a weapon in a battle between their parents. Of course, it is desirable that a child should know his or her father and that there should be regular contact, but the concept of a legally enforced 50/50 split is ridiculous.

The idea that it is always the fathers who lose out in these situations is quite false. There are thousands of mothers bringing up children with no financial support from the fathers. And, just as it is claimed that the courts fail to enforce orders on contact, so the courts have also failed to enforce orders for maintenance payments.

King's Lynn, Norfolk

Sir: You report that "radical fathers' groups have been angered by the Government's rejection of their demands for an automatic 50-50 split in custody rights when couples separate".

What is radical about wanting to stay involved in your child's life?

Over time, society and the government has attempted to diminish the importance of fatherhood until now some people believe men are not essential in the lives of their children.

San Antonio, Texas

Mostar bridge

Sir: It is good news that Mostar's Old Bridge has been rebuilt (report, 23 July). However, problems remain. Mostar now has a small Croat majority. Bosnia's High Representative, Lord Ashdown, recently imposed on Mostar a political system where no ethnic majority could take control.

This would be a good idea if applied to all of Bosnia's towns such as Muslim-controlled Sarajevo or Serb-controlled Banja Luka. But it will not be. By effectively discriminating against the Croats in such a manner, Lord Ashdown has simply ensured that tensions in Mostar will remain for many years to come.

London W12

Great conductors

Sir: Your profile of Simon Rattle (24 July) was so full of adulation that accuracy, fact and balance seem to have fallen by the wayside. The assertion that he has only two rivals (Jansons and Abbado) for the title of "world's greatest living conductor" is absurd: it is arguable that he isn't even Britain's greatest living conductor. While you are right to conclude that Carlos Kleiber's death has narrowed the field, what of Haitink, Barenboim, Colin Davis, Alsop and Boulez, to name but a few, and, of course, in my view, the incomparable rightful owner of the title, Sir Charles Mackerras?

The suggestion that Rattle is responsible for the popularisation of Mahler is similarly daft. Here the honour lies with Leonard Bernstein who, back in the 1960s, was a relentless advocate and recorded the first complete cycle of the symphonies.

Simon Rattle does deserve some accolades, however. He must certainly be credited with making the CBSO what it is today. He must also be the rightful holder of the title "most over-hyped conductor", as evidenced in part by your article. That's not to say he hasn't produced some excellent recordings: contrary to your suggestions, his Mahler 2 has truly earned classic status and rightfully holds a Penguin Guide rosette. But he has also produced some utter turkeys, not least his recent and vastly over-rated cycle of Beethoven symphonies.

Woodbridge, Suffolk

Gambling expands

Sir: On the whole, the proposals for destination resort mega-casinos in the UK are sensible ("Parliament limits casino expansion", 23 July). However, the introduction of mega-casinos in other countries such as South Africa, Australia and Canada led to significant changes in clientele, as those from lower socio-economic classes were more likely to visit them. As a consequence, there were also increases in the incidence of problem gambling.

The deregulation measures announced are likely to lead to a significant expansion in the number of casinos right across the UK and it is highly unlikely that the current low levels of problem gambling will remain static in consequence.

Professor of Gambling Studies
Nottingham Trent University

Baseball caps

Sir: What rubbish Peter York writes about baseball caps (report, 24 July). Has he forgotten that baseball caps are highly functional, not mere ornaments for the head? Does he never go outdoors until after dusk?

I am well into my sixties, and never wore a baseball cap until I was given one in my mid-fifties. Since then I have wondered why for most of my adult life I put up with having the sun in my eyes. As for aligning myself with America, consumerism or youth, forget all that. I just want comfort when the sun shines, and am grateful for such a convenient and inexpensive aid to the quality of life.

Evesham, Worcestershre

Licence evasion

Sir: Sophie Griffiths seems pleased that only three women were jailed last year for non-payment of fines related to TV licence evasion (letter, 24 July). It is still three too many - more so when one considers the non-custodial sentences handed out to men, including a high court judge, who download child porn on the internet.

London N11

Running out of oil

Sir: We learn that Alistair Darling is predicting complete gridlock of our roads in 20 to 30 years (report, 21 July). The few drops of oil left on the planet will probably have been fought over, but certainly won't be available to produce petrol and diesel for transport. Unlike the French, we can also forget hydrogen engines as we won't have the nuclear power stations to produce hydrogen.

So let's prepare for the grassing-over of motorways, and plan for lawnmowers not charging systems!


Animal rights

Sir: The "law-abiding activist" Juliet Collier (letter, 23 July) feels she has been labelled a terrorist because of the actions of a few animal rights mavericks. I can understand her frustration; not all activists are terrorists. By the same token, I hope animal sympathisers can appreciate that not all animal experiments are pointless, bloody butchery on wide-awake furry pets, carried out by automatons or sadists.

London N19

Floating voters

Sir: Sir Robert Calderwood's reminiscence about his refusal to disallow an individual standing under the name Roy Jenkins against the better-known holder of that name (letter, 21 July) reminds me of the 1997 result in Glasgow, Maryhill.

This constituency registered the highest vote in the country (300) for the Natural Law Party, possibly because a number of Labour voters had been confused by the name of the party's candidate - one Mrs Blair.