Darfur, expenses and others

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Genocide or not, the people of Darfur are still suffering

Genocide or not, the people of Darfur are still suffering

Sir: How appalling for Baroness Amos to admit that "labelling" the actions of the Janjaweed militia in Darfur as genocide would make no difference to the response of the British government (report, 19 October).

Is the Government so dizzied by spin that it cannot recognise right from wrong? Has the famous British sense of fair play been so diluted that we need to be told when injustice and abuse is being perpetrated and how to respond?

The attitude displayed by Baroness Amos is a symptom of the international malaise that has afflicted political and diplomatic circles worldwide, and which has had such disastrous consequences for ordinary people. This attitude puts strategic, political and commercial interests above the duty of care for vulnerable people that in a more civilised world we would all share.

It is a measure of how far we have slipped down the slope towards chaos that 18 months after the genocide began, and when the Janjaweed have more or less achieved what they set out to do on behalf of their masters in Khartoum, the international community, including the House of Lords, is still in denial and still debating the best response.
The Independent and Lord Alton are to be congratulated for highlighting the plight of the people of Darfur, but I fear that, unless politicians come to their senses we are headed for an even greater disaster than has already occurred.

JOHN O'SHEA
GOAL
London W1

Sir: Claims by Lord Alton (18 October) and others that "genocide" is being carried out in Darfur are challenged and criticised by respected and credible groups such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Unlike people such as Lord Alton, MSF have had a continuous institutional presence in Darfur for a year. Dr Mercedes Taty, MSF's deputy emergency director, was an early observer of the situation in Darfur, having worked in field hospitals throughout the region. She has pointedly stated that MSF has not seen a systematic targeting of one ethnic group by another - a point also made by senior UN officials. MSF's president, Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol, recently dismissed the Bush administration's claims of genocide as questionable and crassly opportunistic. Given Lord Alton's claims of Arab tribes "eradicating" African tribes, it is worth noting that Dr Bradol also found that such claims were equally questionable, stating that "the concept of race" in the Darfur conflict was irrelevant and "dangerous" and had been used "outside of its historical context".

Coverage of Darfur would be best served by more clarity and less faith placed in claims by the Bush administration in an election year.

SIMON WILLIAMS
European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council
London WC2

No scandal around MPs' expenses bills

Sir: Like Neville Gill (letter, 23 October), I too was infuriated by your front page on Thursday, but for different reasons. Your article was full of words and phrases which carry the tedious whiff of scandal about them - "perks", "second homes", "generous pensions", "paid for by the taxpayer", etc - though the details sounded for the most part perfectly reasonable.

To take just one example, you stated that Barbara Follett is within the rules in claiming for a second home "despite being worth an estimated £15m", but since when has a person's remuneration package been based on their private wealth? That would be scandalous.

As far as the (hardly excessive) salary goes it's important to remember the kind of salaries that capable, intelligent people can command in other fields, and to ask oneself what other careers lay one open to such vitriol, where every word one utters in the course of one's job is pored over and criticised from all quarters, or from which one can be unceremoniously booted out overnight every few years, and consider who on earth would want to do such a job.

Personally, I wouldn't do it for all the tea in China. Don't you think it's about time we started cutting our MPs some slack and let them get on with their jobs?

CAROLINE BLACKFORD
Beauly, Inverness-shire

Sir: The case of Claire Curtis-Thomas, the highest-spending MP , illustrates an unexamined aspect of the MPs' expenses regime which has a pernicious effect upon parliamentary democracy in the UK. Not only is the regime open to manipulation and abuse, it also funds continuous electoral campaigning in their constituencies by MPs of all parties at the taxpayer's expense while their potential opponents receive nothing. Moreover, the huge public subsidies they receive for staff, office, postage, travel, etc, over the life of a Parliament do not count as election expenses.

The one virtue of our obsolete electoral system is supposed to be that in its simplicity it enables the people to "kick the rascals out" at election time. But the expenses regime intensifies the "incumbency factor" - that is, the advantage that a sitting MP has over his or her opponents. This reduces the chances of removing MPs, and so ossifies the political turnover at elections.

Ms Curtis-Thomas justifies her high spending on the grounds that it is all for the benefit of her constituents. But it also pays for a sustained programme of self-promotion which is also making a previously marginal seat into a safe seat for her and her party. The public money spent nationwide on the constituency affairs of MPs and their case-worker activities would be far better devoted to improving the work of Citizens' Advice Bureaux and the legal aid and advice system.

Professor STUART WEIR,
Democratic Audit,
Human Rights Centre,
University of Essex

Sir: I am not the least surprised that Claire Curtis-Thomas MP is at the top of the list on expenses. I do not know of another MP who puts so much effort into helping and working for his or her constituents.

She has unfailingly helped carers and teachers (and their families), wherever they may live, who have been falsely accused and, as in many cases, wrongly convicted.

Ms Curtis-Thomas formed the All Party Group for Abuse Investigations and she is also on the Home Affairs Select Committee. She works incredibly hard for those who are in the devastating position of having had false allegations made against them. She updates everyone of progress, including those in prison. For them and their families and friends she is a life line of hope and support. How does she find time to do all this?

S GRIFFITHS
New Broughton, Wrexham

Sir: Even though Ms Curtis-Thomas once sent me the same reply three times, I'm still surprised she has been able to despatch an average of 270 letters with first class stamps for every working day of the year. I am also surprised that her "office in the constituency" cost £18,780 as it is in her house. Finally, she has been misled if she believes that her team have visited our house last year - or indeed ever.

PETER TALLENTIRE
Crosby

Sir: Given the reaction to the level of MP's expenses (letters, October 23), and against a background of voter apathy and declining turnouts, would it not make sense to replace the systems of first past the post and proportional representation with a process of competitive tendering, whereby we could elect the cheapest candidate?

IAN McBAIN
Loughton, Essex

Bush's terror policy

Sir: Bruce Anderson asserts that "we live in a dangerous world" and that Bush "is the best candidate to guide us through the dangers" (Opinion, 25 October). Islamic terrorists would, he says be celebrating if Kerry were elected.

Has he forgotten that it is precisely the Bush administration's policies and the illegal war on Iraq which have fired the enthusiasm of Islamic terrorists throughout the world? Has he forgotten that Iraq is now awash with Islamic terrorists precisely because Bush's armies have invaded a Muslim country which previously was no direct threat to the West? And, given the fact that Israel has a stockpile of nuclear weapons and WMD, why does he suppose that Iran or anywhere else would happily strike against it? Is he also unaware that Iran has expressed support for Bush? Back to the drawing board, Mr Anderson.

ROGER PAYNE
London NW3

Gay bishop apology

Sir: By instructing the American church to apologise for appointing Bishop Gene Robinson (report, 19 October), the Lambeth Commission is saying that this was wrong. Why was it? Because St Paul once spoke against homosexuality? No authority exists for the assertion that all Paul wrote was divinely inspired, yet Anglicanism is increasingly dominated by those who speak as if this were the case.

PETER SMITH
Halifax, West Yorkshire

Treating ailments

Sir: Doctors are sceptical of homeopathy because of their indoctrinated beliefs, and feel threatened by something they do not understand (letters, 21 and 22 October). Homeopathy cannot be studied in clinical trials because no two people are the same, and the treatment is as individual as the patient.

Alternative treatments have been tested for years, but because the testing is not funded by the pharmaceutical industry and usually published in a foreign language the research has rarely been available in the UK. Many treatments have proved superior to conventional medicine, and thousands of people can testify to its success.

It is easy to dismiss homeopathy as a placebo; this can be said of any treatment, conventional or otherwise. However, it cannot be said in veterinary use about animals that have responded and do not know the difference. It is interesting that many alternative practitioners are conventionally trained doctors or vets with the foresight to know that conventional medicine does not have all the answers.

Mrs M A THOMPSON
Hucknall, Nottinghamshire

Sir: Professor Pennington reminds us that complementary medicine "has never cured a gangrenous appendix". Indeed, it is rare for any aspect of complementary medicine to be subject to rigorous testing and rarer still for it to be shown to be directly beneficial.

However, as a result of a lamentable decline in respect for scientific method and science teaching, a whole range of unproven expedients is now subscribed to by a gullible public, vulnerable to dubious celebrity endorsement and royal advocacy.

As the erstwhile owner of a gangrenous appendix I am, by reason of antibiotics and conventional medical skill, able to write this letter.

ROBIN E N HORNE
St Neot, Liskeard, Cornwall

Planning for casinos

Sir: While I welcome tougher planning rules for casinos (report, 25 October), it is further proof that the Government's gambling proposals have not been fully thought through. If they had, the text of the Gambling Bill - not subsequent regulations - would have set out the principle that local people should have the power to decide whether they want a casino in their area or not. At present, they cannot.

The Bill gives powers to local authorities to refuse all casinos for three years, but not the absolute power to refuse only those proposals they might object to, such as a regional super-casino in a city centre. It also fails to give clear guidance over whether existing so-called D2-use class leisure facilities, such as bingo halls and cinemas, need any planning permission at all to change into casinos. As Lord McIntosh has admitted, the Government have certainly "not done a good job" of selling this Bill. Let's hope that they rein in their ill-planned casino proposals so that the welcome measures in the Bill, such as regulating internet gambling, get a fair chance.

DON FOSTER MP
Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture Media and Sport Secretary
Bath

Short in office

Sir: Clare Short had it within her power to prevent this country from going to war. The vote was tight. Two cabinet resignations could have made all the difference. Yet she preferred to remain in office. Now she argues that "the world is in deep trouble . . . unless we can can achieve a change of direction" ("At the court of King Tony, 25 October).

Too late Ms Short. You, along with all the members of that Cabinet, took us into an illegal war.

Rev COLIN LAXON
Brampton, Cumbria

PM's questions

Sir: The Prime Minister continues to refuse to give straight answers to questions in the House of Commons on Wednesdays.

Instead of continuing to complain about this and about Government spin, why don't the opposition parties simply boycott the exercise? By maintaining their silence and pointedly not asking any questions at all, they would draw attention to the Prime Minister's evasiveness rather than play into his hands, as they do at the minute.

GARY WILTSHIRE
Bunwell,
Norfolk

Building bridges

Sir: John Lichfield's description of the seven pillars supporting the Viaduc de Millau as the "curving, sculpted, gently separating columns, which resemble the fibia and tibula in a forearm" ("The mother of all bridges, 25 October) loses much of its poetic impact when one realises that the bones should be known as the tibia and fibula, and are to be found in the leg below the knee.

JAMES F PEARSON
Cardiff

Modern Germany

Sir: "It is time to ditch these old stereotypes" (leading article about Germany, 21 October). "Do mention the fares war" (travel article about Germany, 23 October). Am I misunderstanding something here?

MARTIN PICKARD
Leeds

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