Egalitarian society, Blaming Blair and others

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The Independent Online

We are lucky to live in a modern, affluent, egalitarian society

We are lucky to live in a modern, affluent, egalitarian society

Sir: Angela Lambert whinges that "Modern life is so unpleasant" (20 July). I think she needs a bit of a change of lifestyle.

You certainly can find unruly behaviour on a Saturday night in most towns around the country, but don't throw all the blame on alcohol. The UK is currently 12th in a league of the 20 leading industrialised nations in alcohol consumption. Sure drinking causes problems but the reason why so many young people are out doing it on a Saturday night and often many other nights of the week, is because they can. Put it down to affluence and full employment. Get rid of those and you will solve the problem.

Yes, there is less deference in society. Blame that on Mick Jagger and his like democratising society in the 1960s. Much less nowadays will young people doff their baseball caps to their elders, "toffs" or teachers. We all have equal rights as human beings now. Respect has to be earned. This is indeed a freer, more questioning and more open society than 50 years ago, with all the difficulties that entails.

Angela Lambert says "There is an underlying assumption that people are entitled to happiness" and that is the one point where we are in agreement. Most people in this country today have a level of affluence that is the envy of most of Europe, not to mention much of the rest of the world, and which our parents' generation never even dreamed of.

Modern life can really be quite good and all this unpleasantness Angela Lambert bemoans is the product of just how lucky many people today are.

Datchet, Berkshire

Sir: The excesses of the capital were perhaps muted for those of us becoming young adults in the provinces during the infamous 1960s. But we surely knew and now remember the decade as a time of hope; of release, change and a heady optimism that the country and the world could be better, more humane, and - yes - gentler.

Our anthem was Dylan's and our mantra was, for all its naffness, "Make Love, not War". Your contributors, most notably Tony Benn and Joan Bakewell (20 July), have stated our case and that of the period.

One can only add that it all seems such a far, and far nobler, cry from Blair's shoddy Britain of Cool Britannia, Millennium Domes, the engagement in war on a fabricated prospectus, spin, croneyism, fat cats, the employment of the term "liberal" with all the pejorative contempt of the American right, a Bolshevik repressiveness at the Home Office ... and now, the "total commitment" to attracting to these shores the shameless drugfest that will be the 2012 Olympics.

Our dreams were large, our sins small, we can justly claim. Of a leadership growing up in a later decade, history may well not say the same.

Whittington, Staffordshire

Don't blame Blair for toppling Saddam

Sir: Can I try and deflect you for a moment from your relentless campaign to unseat the Prime Minister because of his stance over Iraq? Consider just a few points.

Saddam had expansionist aims, as evidenced by his eight-year war with Iran and by his invasion of Kuwait. He also launched missiles against Israel. He had used poison weapons in the Iran/Iraq war and had gassed 5,000 Kurds with WMD. His regime killed countless numbers of his own people. He was in complete breach of UN resolutions. Before the last war, UN weapons inspectors discovered missiles with a longer range than allowable, proving his contravention of resolutions and his intention to strike further afield.

Contrary to what you try to imply, the Prime Minister did not make up the intelligence. If the intelligence was wrong, everyone is to blame, because the American, French, German, Italian, Israeli, Spanish and Australian secret services and those of other governments which supported the action against Saddam all believed Saddam had WMD. Indeed, practically the entire international community was of that opinion. Why would the UN send in weapons inspectors if it did not believe there was a good chance of finding them?

Finally, I ask everyone who criticises Blair to look at the shocking photograph in the Independent on Sunday's Review section. It shows, by my reckoning, some 200 bodies recovered from a mass grave at Musayyib in Iraq.

How many more poor lost souls must be discovered before you and others, intent on laying all the blame at the Prime Minister's door, recognise that, however imperfect the intelligence at the time, the end certainly justified the means?

East Horsley, Surrey

Sir: When Roy Jenkins won the Glasgow Hillhead Parliamentary by-election, I was the returning officer and properly adjudged another Roy Jenkins to have been validly nominated.

Understandably this did not please the future Lord Jenkins who, and let me put it euphemistically, came to see me to encourage me to disallow the other nomination. When it became clear to him that I would not do so he commented, "Do you mean to say that you intend to allow the nomination of someone who intends to deceive and mislead the electorate?"

I remember the riposte that I almost uttered. Maybe now, after Butler, many feel sadly that that is what elections have become.


Sir: As a veteran of three Middle Eastern wars (Suez, Iran/Iraq, First Gulf) I found it strange that afterwards sensible people still thought Saddam Hussein could have weapons of mass destruction.

On the way out to the last war we were briefed on their dangers and filled with dubious protective medicines. In the event we were roused in the middle of the night to dress up like space-men when the first scuds took off at twice their maximum range away, but they failed to cause much damage.

It seemed incredible that after their subsequent degradation and sanctions they could still pose any threat and one could only conclude that there had been further exaggeration of their importance by ill-informed people with catastrophic results. It seems time they were all replaced.

Dufftown, Moray

Sir: I expect I am being impossibly naive in wondering whether the mechanism by which Britain declares war is in need of review.

Declaration of war is a royal prerogative, which in modern times the monarch delegates to the prime minister of the day. In the days when we had cabinet government the decision to go to war was a joint or consensual one; now that this process seems to have been superseded, a decision which involves vast expenditure and, above all, the loss of many lives is in effect in the hands of one person; we are already seeing what has happened at the hands of a PM acting "in good faith".

What if we should, at some future date, see this decision in the power of a far worse individual?

Ludlow, Shropshire

Benetton in Argentina

Sir: We found the article on Benetton and the native Indians of Patagonia (report, 6 July) to be extremely disconcerting. Compania de Tierras Sud Argentino was purchased by Edizione Holding in 1991 from three Argentinian families (not from a British company). The challenge was to transform this historic company, with a tradition of over 100 years, but by that time run-down, into a modern agricultural enterprise, dedicated in particular to sheep rearing: an activity synergic with the core business of Benetton Group, one of the world's largest consumers of wool.

Today the ranches are involved with the production of wool, in addition to the production of beef and Iamb. Over 600 people are employed either directly or indirectly. Currently the number of sheep is 280,000, with a total annual wool production of 1.3 million kgs (exported to Europe), while the heads of cattle are approximately 16,000.

The question of the Curinanco family, while painful from a human point of view, is an issue of the contrasting positions of rights and emotions. The sentence of the judge of the court of the southern province of Chubut recognised that the contested land is the properly of Compania de Tierras Sud Argentino and that the Curinanco family has no right to reside there.

As an industrial enterprise, the company in Patagonia has a moral duty to manage its activity in such a way as to be capable of contributing to the development and the generation of wealth for all its stakeholders, shareholders, employees, consumers and the local community.

Director of Media and Corporate Communication
Benetton Group SpA
Treviso, Italy

Whale hunting

Sir: The unpleasant saga of pro-whaling countries such as Japan and Norway in effect buying the votes of small countries to reverse the moratorium on hunting whales (report, 19 July) is a sad illustration of the failings of international governance.

There are many parallels, from Libya attempting to control the African Union by throwing its oil money around, to the United States making military aid conditional on countries exempting US citizens from the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, as long as there are many countries dependent on the financial and political support of others, any international body where issues are determined on a "one country, one vote" system will merely reflect the spending capacity of rival powers.

London SE5

Multi-faith Britain

Sir: Even as a Muslim, I sympathise with Brenda Hamilton's dismay (letter, 19 July) that, in the name of multi-faith Britain, the Royal Mail does not allow Christian-themed Christmas stamps.

This is really going too far. Neither secularism nor a multi-faith society implies ignoring religion altogether; they imply tolerance, accommodation and respect of others faiths, and non-discrimination on the basis faith.

A far better solution would be for the Royal Mail to bring in faith-themed stamps on the major occasions of all the world religions; Christian themes on Christmas and Easter, Islamic-themes on the occasions of the two Eids, and so on for other religions. Such an approach would clearly enhance the idea of a multi-faith Britain, which the Royal Mail claims to be in favour of, rather than ignoring the faiths of millions as if they are not important.

Imperial College London

Sir: Brenda Hamilton writes "Christmas is a Christian festival and should not be secularised". Actually the winter solstice is a secular festival which should not have been christianised.

Barking, Suffolk

Virgin Mobile

Sir: Your article on Virgin Mobile (20 July) implied that the value of the company had dropped by 50 per cent since our initial float plans.

In fact our original range was an enterprise value of £900m to £1.025bn. In the last two months Vodafone shares have dropped 13 per cent and we have dropped our enterprise value to between £810m and £860m. A drop of 13 per cent at the midpoint, rather than the draconian drop your article implied.

The Virgin Group managed to realise £400m from the float in prefloat dividends and equity sales and is still left with around 75 per cent of the company.

Chairman, Virgin Group of Companies
London W11

Senior workers

Sir: There is no reason why, with better health and longer life expectancy, we should not all work until 70, as the CBI suggest (report, 19 July). If the retirement age is raised, I take it, then, that employers will abandon "early retirement" schemes, start taking on people in senior posts in their fifties and retrain if necessary those in their sixties.

London SE16

New Scout leader

Sir: It is great news that the Scout Association has appointed Peter Duncan as its new chief. This is the first time in my long scouting career that the chief has been younger than me. Peter was an inspiration to exactly the generation - 23-30, graduate/professional training, pre marriage/children - who must be encouraged back into the movement as leaders for the future. My own children are of that generation. I applaud the association for taking a brave step out of the Establishment and into the population.

1st Balham & Tooting (King of Siam's Own) Scout Group
Sutton, Surrey

Labour legacy

Sir: In his article (19 July), Bruce Anderson says that Harold Wilson "occupied Downing Street for almost eight years without a single achievement of note". I agree with Mr Anderson that Wilson had "much to his discredit", including inflation running well up into double figures, and temporary rule of our economy by the International Monetary Fund. However, let's at least note two achievements: Wilson's government created the colleges of advanced technology, and set up the Open University, from both of which I and thousands of others have have benefited.

Frenchay, South Gloucestershire

Confiscated clippers

Sir: Sadly, were Mr Sleath (letter 20 July) to travel from Cardiff Wales Airport and take his nail clippers with him he would probably find himself with a similar dilemma to that of Mr Wilkin (letter, 20 July). My clippers were removed from my handbag at that airport last year, to my surprise. It was suggested that they were large enough to cut wire!

Llantwit Fardre, Pontypridd