David Blunkett, Mob Rule, Belmarsh and others

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The Independent Online

If 'no favours but ...' was the answer, what was the question?

Sir: We did not really expect lawyers, trained to take one side of a case, to be able to sift competing evidence, which is the business of historians (among others). Sir Alan Budd also could not manage it.

Leave aside the inferences being drawn from forgetfulness and missing faxes, by most people, except a former insider. They can't be "proved". Ask instead what question the famous e-mail could have been answering. A general question (so Budd imagines): "Why is processing so slow? Here's one example among hundreds." Answer: "No favours but...". Doesn't quite work. Alternative question: "Look again, hurry up, the Secretary of State has a personal interest." Answer: "No favours but...".

Anyone for a historical training? (As you have noticed to your credit, it can also help with weightier matters. For a start: rule of law, jury trials, habeas corpus and casus belli.)

London N1

Sir: I am so tired of hearing how Mr Blunkett resigned with dignity. How is being caught misusing government resources and abusing a position of trust in any way dignified? Simply resigning because you have to does not confer any dignity on the offender.

The idea that after Sir Alan Budd's "inquiry", which of course as the nation expected found no case to answer, Mr Blunkett should return to the Cabinet like Peter Mandelson just confirms the contempt in which this government holds the electorate.

London W8

Sir: Hutton report: establishment figure inquiring into the establishment - result, whitewash. Butler report: establishment figure inquiring into the establishment - result, whitewash. Budd report: establishment figure inquiring into the establishment - result, whitewash

Glad to see the class system is still working as it is intended to work.

Ilkeston, Derbyshire

Victory for mob rule over free speech

Sir: It is appalling that the Birmingham Repertory Theatre's production of the Sikh play, Behzti, was forced to close by mob violence. The reason why Sikhs are not massacred here as they often have been in their countries of origin is because in Britain it has been recognised for centuries that we cannot have the freedom to think and speak without fear unless we accept that others have the right to offend our feelings and beliefs as we are free to offend theirs.

London SW5

Sir: The Counter-Enlightenment surges onward - witness 11 September 2001 and the US election - and the barbarians are at the gates, literally in the case of the Birmingham Rep. Those who treasure the values that made Europe pre-eminent and shaped the modern world must fight back or yield.

I am therefore writing this intentionally to incite your readers to religious hatred of the beliefs and practices of all religious bigots who seek to suppress my Enlightenment values. Would Fiona MacTaggart like me, and/or you if you print it, prosecuted?

Wells, Somerset

Sir: Journalism lives! If you had done nothing else all year, your front page today (21 December) reproducing the extract from the Sikh play Behzti would have justified your award as Newspaper of the Year.

Hand-wringing editorials lamenting the weakness of the directors of Birmingham Repertory Theatre in giving in to mob threats carry little weight unless the editorialisers are willing to expose themselves to the same risks. You have. Well done.

London W8

Sir: I managed to read the offending extract of the play (just). While violence is an inexcusable weapon to argue a point, I believe the content in question is seriously offensive.

It fails miserably and insults many people beyond the Sikhs I should guess. Artistic impression? A score of minus 10 is in order.

Pill, North Somerset

Sir: I think that those who fought for their country in two world wars would have wanted to preserve freedom for journalists to tell the truth. They would have been less keen to lay down their lives for the right of theatres to peddle inaccurate and offensive attacks on any religion - Sikh, Christian or whatever. One can lose freedom by abusing it.

Redditch, Worcestershire

Sir: What century are we in? It is ominous and incredibly depressing that the violent actions of a religious group can force the closure of a play. Freedom of speech and expression in this country must be constitutionally codified as a fundamental human right.

Ferring, West Sussex

Sir: Will someone please ask the Sikh community why they came to England? For its democracy, freedom of speech and tolerance? Obviously not.

This Christmas the ghost of Enoch Powell runs gibbering through the streets. I am left-wing, normally tolerant, I admire Sikhs and have visited their uplifting temples in India. If they can alienate me by their behaviour, how must they be playing into the hands of the BNP thugs?


Belmarsh challenge

Sir: While legally the Government has time to decide how to respond to the Law Lords' ruling that holding foreign terrorist suspects without trial breaks human rights laws, politically, the Government must make it clear immediately what it intends do with the Belmarsh detainees being held.

The ruling gives an early opportunity for Charles Clarke to show he is serious about the principles of justice and will listen to the views of the judiciary. The Home Secretary should reform the legislation so that individuals can be brought to trial and should seriously consider the proposals of the Privy Council Committee, which include the possible release of the detainees subject to restrictions on movement and arrangements for surveillance.

The question of what the Government must do now is a direct one. For the sake of all those concerned, I hope the Government will give a direct answer.

(Lord Goodhart, Lib Dem)
House of Lords

Sir: It must be a great comfort to those in the centre and on the left politically to read Bruce Anderson's piece "The Law Lords have usurped the right of the British people to defend themselves" (20 December) as it expresses the gut feelings of political right-wingers, without the thin libertarian veil with which they often surround themselves, thus: "the judges aligned themselves with an abstract, ahistorical concept of human rights and ignored the primacy of the right to order".

The concept of "rights" ceases to be abstract when it translates itself into the reality of power. Britons have no "rights", they only have what is granted to them by laws over which a government with a majority in Parliament has unlimited power. "The sovereignty of Parliament" admits no equal countervailing power. A group of political leaders with a largely sycophantic and supine majority in Parliament can do more or less what it likes: it can take the country into a war which the majority of the population did not want, based upon laughably wrong intelligence; it can give itself the power to imprison people without charge or trial under conditions which drive them mad on the basis of intelligence which clearly would not stand up in court.

The claim for "human rights" has been used as a rallying cry for the persecuted and the "have nots" throughout history. The reaction of existing regimes to such subversive claims has invariably been couched in terms of "order", which must, or course have "primacy". By "order", they mean "our order" - the status quo, so long as we are in control of it.


Sir: The Law Lords claim a tradition of upholding civil rights even when we are under attack. How far back do they trace this tradition? It wasn't much in evidence when we were putting down the rebellions of Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Duke of Monmouth. Our oldest and strongest tradition is that of ruthlessly crushing any threat.

They condemn discrimination on grounds of nationality. We have a natural right to expel any non-UK national whom we don't want here. It was misplaced generosity to offer the option of remaining here in detention instead of being deported.

The Law Lords implicitly endorse discrimination on grounds of place. Secret intelligence that would warrant an air strike against a suspect elsewhere is deemed insufficient to justify imprisoning them here.

The Law Lords maintain purity of thought within their box, but that box is too small to be of ethical or practical relevance.

Farnborough, Hampshire

Bad omen for ID cards

Sir: Five days to Christmas. I go to the Post Office to collect my pension, using the new Post Office Card Account. I hand in my card for swiping, put in my PIN number.

Unhappy counter clerk says: "Sorry we can't pay, the system's crashed. No, we can't tell you when it will be working. No we can't give you any money."

Fortunately for me it's not the end of the world, though for some it will have been serious. But how much can I rely on it in future? This is a relatively small, though official, organisation. How can we be sure that the mammoth system that ID cards would require will be any more reliable ?

Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Humanist Christmas

Sir: I suspect that there is more prejudice than evidence behind E Gardiner's assertion (Letters, 11 December) that it is intolerant atheists who ban nativity displays because they "would suppress all expressions of religion". It is more likely to be well-meaning but ultimately patronising and misguided people of any faith (or none) who think that Christian Christmas displays are offensive to other religious groups. As an atheist and humanist, I can acknowledge that Christmas is, at least in part, a Christian festival and I respect the right of others to believe and practise their faiths. I don't find Christmas displays, or those associated with the festivals of other religions, remotely offensive or upsetting.

There are, however, some public displays of religion that atheists and humanists do find inappropriate and offensive: these include religious symbols in shared spaces such as crematoria, and religious services, which inevitably exclude or marginalise us, on public occasions or in public institutions, such as schools.

Education Officer
British Humanist Association
London WC1

Bashing burglars

Sir: Rod Heathcote (letter, 18 December) can keep his "American" baseball bat. I, like every other cricket-loving Englishman of my generation, if faced by a burglar would imagine myself to be Ian Botham smashing an Australian bouncer for six!


Sir: Mr Heathcote has forgotten the square cut and the hook shot, both of which are suitable strokes for beheading burglars.

Holyport, Berkshire

Sir: Lacrosse sticks do indeed work as a deterrent. When I took up the game as a student, from our team of 12 four ended up in hospital after our first match even though we were wearing protective padding.

Nantglyn, Denbigh

Selection on merit

Sir: So a coach should have the right to select, based on ability, a woman to play in a male football team (leading article, 21 December). What should be done in the case of the coach of a women's team who decides to select 11 male players based on their ability?

Hayton, Cumbria

Living language

Sir: I find Paul Miller's description of the supposedly incorrect sentence published in The Independent as a "gross grammatical anomaly" (letter, 18 December) a little extreme. During my training as a TEFL teacher, we were told that if we ourselves would use an item of vocabulary or point of grammar, then we should teach it. When will people understand that language is a living thing, constantly evolving, and should not be bound by out-of-date grammatical rules?

London SE19

Fair pension

Sir: Madeleine Harvey (letter, 20 December) complains at the size of her pension. When she started teaching, she opted to pay a tanner rather than the ten bob a week which men had to pay. My wife had as much difficulty finding the ten bob as Ms Harvey, but she did. Her state pension now quite fairly is 20 times larger.


A toast to sharks

Sir: Sharks occasionally cause deaths in South Africa as well as in Australian waters (letter, 20 December). In an attempt to counter emotive media coverage, the Marine Aquarium in Cape Town has an exhibit with a large panel saying: "Shark deaths, 4; deaths from faulty toasters, 791".

Vice-President, Marine Conservation Society
Exeter, Devon