Education, education: a 10-year-old's introduction to politics
Sir: I am a primary school teacher in rural Herefordshire. I recently delivered a lesson to a class of nine- and 10-year-old children on the topical issue of poverty in Africa. It was a very emotional lesson, showing the plight of a young girl of six, who lives on the streets and cares for her two-year-old sister.
In response to this lesson a 10-year-old girl in my class, who had clearly been moved by what she had seen, decided to write to Mr Blair to ask him what his government were doing to tackle the problem. I am sure Mr Blair will agree that initiative like this is exactly what we should be encouraging from the next generation.
While I praise the Labour administration for their rapid response, I would like to ask who they thought they were addressing. As part of the National Curriculum children are taught to consider the audience for which they are writing. Here is an extract of the letter received: "Already, through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, over $US 70 billion in debt relief has been agreed for countries that have demonstrated their commitment to poverty reduction. Together with our G7 colleagues, we are going beyond the requirements of the HIPC Initiative, by writing off 100 per cent of all bilateral debts for HIPC countries."
I am sure you can imagine my pupil's excitement at receiving a reply, only to be extremely disappointed when she tried to comprehend its content. What encouragement can this, and a photocopied signature from Tony Blair, possibly give to the children of this country? With Labour policies of "Education, Education, Education" I ask Mr Blair what educational value a response like this can have to a 10-year-old child.
Tactical voting can put a curb on Blair
Sir: It is surprising that the Labour leadership's claim that "a vote for the Liberal Democrats could help the Conservatives win" is still taken seriously.
Three days before the election, Ladbrokes was offering odds at 25 to 1 on Labour and 8 to 1 against the Tories. On 10 April, the Financial Times described how the fund managers of many of the largest investment houses "have already started buying companies and sectors that could do well under a third Labour administration". Apparently bookmakers and fund managers do not see the Tories sneaking into power by the "back door". Perhaps of more significance is the fact that even if Labour were to lose all 72 seats that it holds with a majority of 5,000 or less (an inconceivable outcome) it would still have an overall majority of 13.
But Labour supporters still have a choice to make. They can either swallow the "back door" myth and uncritically vote Labour, thus ensuring that Mr Blair is returned with a majority between 80 and 130; or they can vote tactically to return Labour to power with a more modest majority. If they follow the advice of such tactical voting websites as www.strategicvoter.org.uk or www.sowhodowevotefornow.net, they can help return a Labour government with a majority of between 10 and 50.
This is a real choice between a Labour government that is frequently arrogant, that often pursues a right-of-centre agenda, and that only takes account of public opinion when it suits it; or a Labour government that would need to take greater account of the views of its backbenchers and of public opinion and, as a consequence, would have its arrogance and its right-of-centre agenda tempered.
Sir: I thoroughly disagree with tactical voting. It is dishonest and amounts to a deliberate distortion of the democratic process.
We should all simply vote for the candidate we favour most. If everybody did this we would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that the result was the genuine choice of the electorate. I could live with that even if my least favoured candidate got in, whereas I consider the principle of democracy to be undermined by people voting for candidates they don't actually want.
SHOREHAM-BY-SEA, WEST SUSSEX
British choices over Bush's Iraq war
Sir: The Prime Minister says "I had a choice ... to leave Saddam in power or to remove him" (Opinion, 3 May). This is a curious statement. As Dennis Twist points out in his letter the same day, the choice was not whether or not to remove Saddam but whether or not to support the Americans in doing so. We certainly did not have it within our power to do so on our own.
I supported our joining the US in the invasion of Iraq, and still believe it was the right decision, and undoubtedly a courageous one. My view has little to do with international law, which seems to be elevated by Mr Blair's detractors to the level of holy writ whereas in fact it is little more than a set of conventions that change from time to time. Rather it is quite simply a question of whether our country's and the world's interests were better served by our joining the Americans than by helping to isolate them in a war that would undoubtedly have some beneficial consequences, namely the removal of a vile dictator who was inflicting starvation, torture and death on thousands of his own people.
By supporting the US we could hope to have an influence on the conduct of the war and on American policy generally. Whether we did is impossible to say, but it was not an ignoble motive.
Sir: In the welter of headlines on Tony Blair's honesty, the consequences of the decision to go to war could slip into obscurity.
Whether deploying a pack of lies or a bundle of sincerity, Blair and his New Labour MPs took Britain to war in line with a strategic outlook, to back the US in a "uni-polar world". They were cheered to the rafters by the anti-Europe brigades of Robert Murdoch, Michael Howard and most of his Tory MPs.
As British citizens of Iraqi origin, we are daily reminded by friends and relatives in Iraq of the war's consequences: over 100,000 civilians killed, vast areas contaminated by depleted uranium shells, prisoners tortured, world historic sites and libraries destroyed, and gangsters and terrorists allowed to wreak havoc on a people bravely resisting the occupation.
Most people in Britain are opposed to the war, but without rejecting the Blair-Howard axis of pro-war candidates on Thursday, Britain will continue to be implicated in the Iraq war crimes, and will be dragged deeper into a wider US-led war.
LONDON METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY DR KAMIL MAHDI EXETER UNIVERSITY HAIFA ZANGANA PROFESSOR KAMAL MAJID TAHRIR NUMAN SABAH JAWAD LONDON E1
Sir: Tuesday's headline claimed that Iraq is "the issue that won't go away". Well, certainly not in The Independent.
I have been working on election campaigns in Guildford continuously for the past two years, and we have spoken to thousands of people. Their perspective seems somewhat different from yours: the NHS, schools, crime, the terrible state of our roads. Iraq has been mentioned only a few times, and that is mostly from people complaining that the media seems obsessed with Iraq rather than the issues that matter to them.
If you want to know the main concern of the voters of Guildford at least, it is that they are terrified of Michael Howard becoming Prime Minister. That is a real headline for you. In a top Tory target, in the heart of Toryland, people are even more determined that Michael Howard should not win. I really think that it is time that you reflected the issues that worry people most, not your own obsession.
Sir: What fantasy world is Denis MacShane (letter, 4 May) living in? A mass grave of 1,500 people being uncovered in a third world country would be shunted off the front page by the British media in favour of David Beckham's latest haircut.
Vote against New Labour oppression
Sir: I must admit to being shocked by the amount of support New Labour still seems to have in the run-up to this election. Despite the many controversial things they have done since coming to power, they are still managing to take the lead in opinion polls. Have people forgotten what this party is responsible for?
Labour have recently told us blatant lies as justification for an immoral war; introduced university top-up fees that will place poorer students and universities at a huge disadvantage; ignored public outcry against both the war and top-up fees; brought in laws which ignore habeas corpus and other civil rights; made a mockery of the democratic process by ignoring their election promises; and intend to enforce a mandatory identity card scheme.
They take right-wing politics to frightening extremes. I urge anybody who has the slightest doubt about who to vote for to consider the damage Labour has been doing, and what they may do in the next five years. Even if voting for a minority party seems like a wasted vote, it isn't. At least it will be a vote against oppression. Don't throw away our freedom.
BARRY, VALE OF GLAMORGAN
Who can we trust with public services?
Sir: In this election campaign, both opposition parties have sought to exploit the issue of trust by concentrating on Tony Blair's actions over Iraq.
There are many other issues where trust should be of concern to citizens: in particular, the care of our public services. Few voters can afford private healthcare, private education for their children or indeed private pensions.
Which party can we most trust on these issues? The Liberal Democrats have no record to go on, but the Conservative Party was in power for 18 years and left our public services in a state of considerable disarray, through under-investment and a myriad of ideological "reforms". In contrast, the current Labour government introduced a programme of real investment that has started to reap considerable rewards after less than eight years.
I find little difficulty in knowing where best to place my trust.
COLNEY HEATH, HERTFORDSHIRE
Sir: What do "Senior Labour officials" mean when they say that a majority of at least 80 would "make it easier to push through the public service reforms in their manifesto" ("Revealed: Labour's strategy to block influence of left-wing MPs", 4 May)?
To take the NHS, what Messrs Blair, Milburn and Reid have meant over recent years by radical reform has been privatisation. Unsurprisingly, the Labour manifesto gives no clarification but the news that Labour officials fear the opposition of left-wing MPs gives the game away.
Those who have studied what extensive private healthcare means in practice, for instance in the US, take the view that more privatisation is the last thing the NHS needs. Now that extra resources are at last allowing staff levels to be increased, ministers must be urged to stop constantly interfering.
DR PETER DRAPER
The real threat of the Liberal Democrats
Sir: As a Liberal Democrat I would be as horrified to wake up on Friday to a Tory government as I would to this Labour government returned with a huge majority. However, for Mr Blair to suggest that those of us who vote Lib Dem do so in the belief that the Tories cannot win and as a protest against his decision to go to war is an insult, and demonstrates the depths to which he will sink to cling to power.
I vote Liberal Democrat because I could never conceive of voting any other way. Increasing numbers of votes for Liberal Democrats will lead to a Liberal Democrat government, which will be the end of two-party politics; and that is why Mr Blair fears us, not the Tories.
Sir: Mr Blair has urged us for the past two years that if we "disagree" with him over Iraq we should express our views via the ballot box. Now the election has arrived he is desperately pleading that is the one thing we shouldn't do. For years we have been told not to vote Lib Dem or Green because our vote would not count. Now we are told not to vote in that way because our vote might count after all.
DR TIMOTHY FARRELL
The Kennedy Cabinet
Sir: In her assessment of Charles Kennedy as leader of the government, Mo Mowlam perhaps has a mistaken idea of what the prime minister's job is ("This country needs a hung parliament", 4 May). Charles Kennedy would be an excellent chairman of Cabinet, listening to his ministers, reaching agreed decisions with them and consulting Parliament over all matters of concern to the country as a whole. Please do not underrate the worth of such a man who works with and values his superb colleagues.
Defend the hunt ban
Sir: Roger Stratton ludicrously overestimates voter support for hunting with dogs ("Country people united in anger", letter, 4 May). According to a poll for the BBC's Countryfile only 36 per cent oppose the hunting ban even in the countryside itself. With the Conservatives pledged to introduce a Bill overturning the ban, it's certainly a case of vote Tory, vote cruelty.
Sir: As we move into the final days of the election, Tony Blair needs to remember that to win is not to convince. The legacy of the last four years will impact on the UK for many years to come. Apart from the illegal war and human rights legacies, we lost a major opportunity to realign the UK within the EU. It is hard to see when such an opportunity will come again. Achieving positive votes in the constitutional and euro referendums has been made very hard, if not impossible.
DR MICHAEL CROSS
Through the back door
Sir: If Michael Howard does manage to sneak in through the back door despite our best efforts to keep him out, are we entitled to use reasonable force to defend ourselves?
Sir: If I vote Liberal Democrat, could Michael Howard be in Downing Street within 45 minutes?