Energy, Iraq war, lottery winners and others

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Turn the tide towards sustainable energy sources

Sir: The protest in Manchester on 19 June against the proposed wind farm on Saddleworth Moor should send a message to the Government that it has an uphill task if it is relying on wind power to meet most of its 10 per cent commitment to renewables by 2010. Wind is relatively cheap and quick to install onshore whilst at the same time creating the impression that the Government is putting its actions where its rhetoric has been. In the UK, wind power is likely to be an outsider in the energy stakes.

If we are to avoid the nuclear fall-back position within this decade then the Government should waste no time in planning to exploit the outstanding energy resource enjoyed by Britain in the form of the tides. If the potential of the 42 sites for tidal-stream energy, as identified by the EU, and the tidal rise and fall in our major estuaries were to be exploited, they could produce up to 76,000 megawatts of predictable electricity.

This would involve technologies like underwater tidal mills, tidal pounds and the innovative tidal fence. All of these have greater energy densities than wind turbines. If wave power is added, then a further 9,000 megawatts is potentially available. This is significantly more than the annual output to the UK grid.

At the moment we have the bizarre situation in which a highly polluting, heavily subsidised, high-risk fossil-based energy stream is shutting out long-life, robust, predictable, low running-cost technologies that could end our dependence on a contracting and politically fragile source of energy.

Special Professor in Sustainable Energy, School of the Built Environment, University of Nottingham

Sir: Privilege and self-centredness go together when it comes to wind farms. The most vocal opponents seem happy to work in cities and towns, making smog for somebody else, then to drive away from on roads built through someone else's piece of unspoilt countryside. On the way, they shop at out-of-town supermarkets, before going back to houses built in the areas they say they are trying to protect from wind farms.

Once there they use electricity produced in a massive, ugly, polluting, unsustainable power station near somebody else, that has been put up despite much local concern, in another previously unspoilt region. They want all the benefits of cheap, abundant energy, but aren't prepared to be inconvenienced by anything more than the flick of a switch. Of all the things they could find objectionable though, they choose wind farms - the most benign, sustainable and reversible source of energy known to man. It is shamefully anti-social.

Please can somebody put up a wind farm in my neighbourhood? And in areas where people object, let them be spared the "monstrosity". But charge them more for their electricity as the price of fossil fuels skyrockets in coming decades.


We cannot forgive Blair for Iraq war

Sir: Although I sympathise with much of what Melvyn Bragg writes, I take issue with his unwarranted assumption that the majority of the British people were in favour of the invasion of Iraq "at the time" ("Stop kicking a good Prime Minister", 21 June). A great majority of us would have been in favour had the undertaking been properly sanctioned by the United Nations; Lord Bragg's "technically unnecessary" is an unworthy get-out.

What I and, I suspect, a great many others find hard to forgive is Mr Blair's unquestioning allegiance to the greedy, self-serving and thoroughly nasty crew which is governing America, and which it is to be hoped will be thrown out in November. What makes this particularly hard to forgive is that it has been done by Mr Blair at the cost of abandoning his previous efforts to achieve the closer ties to our neighbours in Europe which are essential to the well-being of this country.


Sir: I have long admired Melvyn Bragg as a first-rate novelist, possibly the best purveyor of arts and sciences through the media, and a man of honest political conviction. It isn't surprising that his decency and loyalty should lead him to try to defend the indefensible. Two points must be addressed.

Our invasion of Iraq has led to the slaughter and mutilation of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis. We assume that the horrors of Saddam Hussein were perpetrated against those whom he saw as political enemies, whereas we have killed, blinded, maimed and disabled those who just wanted to live their lives in peace.

To say, as Bush and Blair incessantly do, that there are always innocent deaths in war is simply not to grow up to the realities of hi-tech war in the 21st century (and alternatives such as completed UN weapons inspections).

Secondly, Melvyn Bragg writes of Britain as a better place to live. This may be so in the House of Lords and on the literary, broadcasting, or No 10 circuits. The Britain I see around me every day howls with the pain of drugs, alcoholism, violence, ageism, rape, media degradation, xenophobia, sex obsession, the misery of the young and of couples, and the enshrinement of money as the ultimate criterion of value. But saddest of all to a staunch Labour man like myself, these have grown worse by the year under Blair's New Labour experiment.

London SW6

Sir: Melvyn Bragg's article reminded me again how quickly the political class on the left have forgotten the record of recent prime ministers.

Before 1997 the public sector was desperate for increased investment - they have it. We needed a PM engaged with Europe - we have one. I'm 40, and in my lifetime I've seen inflation over 30 per cent, interest rates at over 15 per cent and nearly 4 million unemployed. But under Tony Blair's leadership, this country has moved forward and the pace of improvement is increasing.

Like Lord Bragg, I think Tony Blair was right to support the removal of an evil dictator in Iraq - but even people who disagree with this should acknowledge the great strides we've made. It is dangerous and irresponsible nonsense to think that the calls from the left for a change of Labour leader will not reduce Labour votes. And with a rising right, that could let in Michael Howard. It's time to pull together and not indulge in flights of fancy that could bring the Government down.

Guildford, Surrey

Sir: Lord Bragg says a majority of the British backed the war. I recall the massive crowds, well over a million people, thronging Whitehall with banners saying "Bomb Baghdad" and "Go for the oil", and Lord Bragg drawing huge applause as he explained how we would shell civilians with cluster bombs, destroy their hospitals and reduce their country to chaos.

But Bragg should know that there are millions, maybe billions, on this planet who do not share his cosy re-invention of the past. Many of us will keep kicking the Prime Minister until he is in the hands of the International Criminal Court. Only then we will be able to move on from this calamitous crime.


Expert witnesses

Sir: Your editorial "Expert medical opinions must be open to challenge" (18 June) argues that in cases with a medical element, "too much weight has been placed on the opinions of experts". In fact, in cases of civil negligence, the legal means to challenge the views of medical experts have been available since a House of Lords' decision in 1998. The principle should be more widely applied.

In the case of Bolitho v City and Hackney Health Authority, it was recognised that, among doctors, there are often varying views about diagnosis and treatment. Like other professionals, however, in order to be safe against legal action they must act in accordance with the practice of a "responsible body" of medical practitioners.

The senior law lord noted, however, that an expert must be able to demonstrate to the court "that such an opinion has a logical basis". The expert, in other words, must be able to point to evidence other than his or her qualifications in order to justify their opinion. That does not downgrade the status of expert evidence but it does help with the democratic control of scientific expertise.

Director of the Centre for Law
The Open University
Milton Keynes

Lottery winners

Sir: From reading Terence Blacker's comments on the National Lottery (Opinion, 16 June), I can only assume he has been living abroad for the last 10 years.

The National Lottery has raised over £15.8bn, benefiting over 165,000 individual projects and transforming the UK through the biggest programme of civic regeneration seen since Victorian Britain.

In fact, the UK's National Lottery is the most successful in the world because we have successfully encouraged very large numbers of people to play, but spending relatively small amounts of money. I would hardly consider an average weekly spend of £3.70 as people "blowing their hard-earned cash".

Chief Executive
Camelot Group
Watford, Hertfordshire

Violence in Portugal

Sir: I was disturbed to hear that our Home Secretary has again presumed to talk to the media before final judicial determination of a matter. He states that he hopes to "nail" the individual convicted of "leading a riot" in Albufeira. As I read it, that individual was convicted by a fast-track method that denied him time to prepare his defence. In other words, a kangaroo court.

Furthermore, the convicting judge did not have the benefit of a pre-sentence report, which would have been the case in an English court. That this individual should now be at risk of an arrest warrant, presumably to face a further trial, at Mr Blunkett's insistence is repugnant.

Richmond, Surrey

Sir: Channel 4 is pilloried for violence on Big Brother, and English football fans are condemned as hooligans. The Deputy Prime Minister announces that Labour has been given "a good kicking". The Home Secretary announces he wants to "nail" a suspect. Might there not be a connection between the dumbing down, the yobbery and the sort of language used by our senior statesmen?

Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire

Europe's leaders

Sir: Your leading article, "Europe needs a strong leader" (19 June), was totally wrong. Europe has had too many strong leaders: Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini come to mind. Across the world and across history strong leaders have been disastrous. What Europe and the world need are wise rulers who are democratically accountable and can be removed easily by the democratic process and whose power is limited. Unfortunately the further the distance between the people and the rulers the less democracy is a practicable concept: which is why I, like many others, am so concerned at what is happening in the EU.

Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

Sir: John Davison (Letters, 16 June) highlighted the plight of the Swedish elk hunter regarding an EU directive.

He is misinformed. To set things straight here is a quote from an elk hunter and MEP in Swedish Lapland: "In Sweden, politicians who want to influence opinion against European co-operation have exploited this proposal for a directive to cast suspicion on the EU as a threat to traditional hunting. It is important to emphasise that they are mistaken, for the EU has no legal powers to regulate hunting for household requirements and the use of game for private consumption."

Lahti, Finland

Sir: Norman Taylor (Letters, 18 June) repeats the common Eurosceptic claim that "we were told" that the 1975 referendum was on a trade agreement. We were not, and it was not. We agreed to the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which committed us to "ever closer political and economic union".

Reader in Organisational Theory
University of Cambridge


The long and the short

Sir: So schools are concerned with girls' skirt lengths ("Short skirts force school to impose trousers-only rule", 21 June). How about adopting an all-over covering garment? Oh no, I forgot, they've been banned ("School ban on Islamic gown upheld by High Court", 16 June). Seems girls just can't get it right.

Oldham, Greater Manchester

Blame Bomber Harris

Sir: Prior to his Second World War role Bomber Arthur Harris supervised the 1920s bombing of rebellious Iraqi villages by the RAF. I was struck by Robert Fisk's quote from Harris's official biographer that "within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out" (17 June). The Iraqi air force officer Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh, the reported source of the 45-minute WMD warning, had clearly read his history.

London E4

Patriarchal myth

Sir: Who were these "cold, pre-occupied, authoritarian, sexist patriarchs who demanded respect without earning it" mentioned by Yasmin Alibhai Brown in her article on "New Fathers" (Opinion, 21 June)? I was born in the Thirties and cannot remember any fathers amongst friends' or relatives' parents who could be described in this way. Last week there was an article in which several well-known people wrote touchingly about their fathers (19 June) - almost all of them from the pre-Sixties generation. I wonder if they would agree with her?

Horsham, West Sussex

Take no notice

Sir: A kind-hearted farmer put up a notice: "Please shut gate to stop sheep worrying."

Overton, Hampshire