Energy policy, Tories and others

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To save the planet we need leadership, not Blair's nuclear power

To save the planet we need leadership, not Blair's nuclear power

Sir: Until this morning, I was feeling a little sorry for our Prime Minister but I felt a sickening wave of shock on reading your piece "Blair demands nuclear power to protect high living standards" (9 May).

In our hearts we know that humankind will need to make radical lifestyle changes if the species is to survive. Before the election we were led to believe that the PM had grasped the seriousness of the "sustainability" challenges ahead, and was prepared to show some leadership.

But now it seems, not so! If he considers "business as usual" an option, and that building more and more nukes can keep us going indefinitely, then his delusion is verging on the criminal. Where did he get the notion that all the public wants is its high living standards protected? How cynical he has become. Could we not also care about our children's, and our species' future? The Prime Minister's admission that he is opposed to asking people to make changes to their lifestyle is an appalling admission of failure. If those are truly his views, then the sooner he goes the better.



Sir: There are many problems with the option of nuclear power "to tackle global warming", but the main one is that it doesn't exist. Just like Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. It is true that there are designs for Generation III reactors but none have been built or tested anywhere.

The idea of nuclear as a "quick fix" is ludicrous. The earliest realistic date for delivery of power from a new UK reactor is around 2020. During those years of construction carbon dioxide emissions would increase while billions of pounds of capital expenditure on nuclear stations would throttle government spending on energy efficiency, ensuring that profligate use of energy continues unabated.

If the taxpayer is to invest in meeting the country's Kyoto commitments it is the most cost-effective means that should be supported, such as energy efficiency and renewable energy sources such as tidal lagoons, biofuels, and wind. Nuclear power is an expensive technology that diverts money and time from cheaper, safer, faster and more resilient alternatives.



Tories the choice of the dynamic South

Sir: Simon Carr could not be more wrong in saying that the Conservatives have nothing to say about modern life (Opinion, 7 May). In the South of England the Conservatives scored a crushing victory in the election, with well over 40 per cent of the votes cast. The South of England is the home to the "modern life" of the United Kingdom. In the South the people are better educated, work in high-growth productive industries and services, have the highest living standards in Europe and support one of the world's great cultural centres.

In contrast where the socialists (Labour, Lib Dems and nationalists) won their votes, in the urban areas of the North, Scotland and Wales, more than half of the working population are government employees and many of the rest are dependent on some form of handout from the state. Education standards, entrepreneurial activity, income levels, health and cultural participation are all poor in comparison to the South. I hope Simon Carr does not see this as a sign of modernity.

Non-white ethnic background, non-heterosexual preferences, youth or education have nothing to do with the patterns of Conservative support. All of these measures are higher in the South. They are indicators of a more dynamic society and the Conservatives have proven their attractiveness to these sectors.

The Conservatives lost the election in the old fashioned rust-belt areas of the country and with other dependents of the state who have failed to move into the modern world. How to find ways to bring these people into the 21st century, and break their dependence on southern taxpayers, represents the real challenge for Conservative policy makers.



Sir: It is understandable that the Conservatives will be publicly talking up this election result. They have increased their number of MPs, and in England have polled more votes than Labour.

However, privately there should be no back-slapping or talk of a revival. In terms of the Tory share of the vote, there has been none. The party is more or less exactly where it was in 1997 and 2001. The spoils of this election are owed principally to a swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. All Michael Howard has achieved during his short tenure is a stopping of the rot, and perhaps a greater sense of enthusiasm amongst natural Conservative voters.

The need for the Tory party to define clearly what it wants to be in the 21st century is more pressing now than at any time since it left government. They must not be afraid to be radical or to break with the past, both in terms of ideology and personnel.

Above all, they must not kid themselves - they remain as far down the electoral mountain as they were, and while their eyes may now finally be directed upwards, the ascent back to the summit has yet to begin.



Reform our absurd electoral system

Sir: Two days after Labour's victory in 1997, you kindly published a letter in which I observed that tactical voting, as recommended by this newspaper, had fortunately produced what most people wanted, the dismissal of a discredited government.

Some observers seem to think the same thing has happened again, the electorate having shown Mr Blair a "yellow card". Some may argue that the first-past-the-post system is thereby vindicated, since the electorate can use it to achieve the result it wants.

Both views, of course, rest on mistaken descriptions of what happened. No one who voted tactically could possibly know how many people would do the same. There was a real risk the outcome would be what the majority desired least: a Tory victory.

I suggest that now, before the new parliament is far advanced, is the time for the media to put the reform of our absurd electoral system at top of the political agenda.



Don't spend taxes on selective schools

Sir: I agree with the British Humanist Association's opposition to Education Secretary Ruth Kelly's pledge of £500m to rebuild every faith-based secondary school in England (report, 7 May).

Given the continued underfunding of much of the state education sector, a sector that I support wholeheartedly and in which I am employed, I find it objectionable that "private" schools should be sustained by the taxpayer in this way. By "private" I mean institutions whose entrance policy is selective - including those selecting according to religious persuasion. (That schools such as the Brompton Oratory are allowed to title themselves as "Comprehensive" is beyond irony.)

If zealots like Blair and his hopeless Education Secretary wish to fund such schools, many of which, in this country, are Roman Catholic, perhaps they should approach Kelly's friends in Opus Dei to organise a whip-round.



Iraq, not race or sex, lost King her seat

Sir: Respect MP George Galloway has received much criticism for deposing one of the few black women MPs. This is a nonsense argument. I am a black Afro-Caribbean male who was born and bred in Hackney and stood for Respect in the Hackney South and Shoreditch constituency. There were no cries of outrage that New Labour were standing a white middle-class woman, the Blair babe Meg Hillier, against a local working-class black man in such an ethnically diverse constituency.

Political commentators should stop patronising the voters in Bethnal Green and Bow and write something interesting, like a report on why Respect's policies against the war, against privatisation and against racism are finding an echo among many people who used to look to Old Labour. As well as winning in Bethnal Green and Bow, Respect came second in three other constituencies, just 18 months after its formation. This demands some serious analysis, not tedious mud slinging.



Sir: Following George Galloway's victory (and more pertinently, Oona King's defeat) I found comments by Tony Banks (and many others) patronising, insulting and highly offensive to us British-Bangladeshis/ Muslims.

Contrary to the shameful excuses they were making for her, we did not vote against Ms King because she was a woman, or because she was black, or because she was Jewish. She was all those things when we voted for her in 1997 and 2001. We voted her out this time because she did not listen to us on Iraq. If she had done her job and represented her constituents she would still be our MP. Simple.



The decline of wild flowers and insects

Sir: Two further aspects of our disappearing wild flowers should give cause for concern ("The vanishing flowers of Britain", 9 May). Firstly, all our food crops (and the majority of our pharmaceuticals) are developed from wild ancestors by selective breeding. We cannot afford to lose this vital gene pool.

Secondly, the demise of wild flowers is linked with the decrease in insects (after all, the two groups evolved together) which I and my fellow invertebrate specialists have noted with increasing alarm over the last decade. Wild flowers have problem enough in the fight for survival in their battle with herbicide use and high nutrient levels from fertilisers but, with the added problem of fewer insect pollinators, what hope is there for the future? Cereal food crops, luckily for us, are wind-pollinated, but others, vegetables and fruits, rely on mainly insects, but also birds and mammals, for pollination and seed production. We are already seeing decline of bird species - this is also linked to insect depletion.

It is time to ban all pesticides, and not only save our plant gene pool, but also reduce the CO 2 emissions from the manufacture of these lethal chemicals.



Case for the defence of creationism

Sir: You report that the Kansas State Board of Education, in special hearings, is considering evidence and argument from evolutionists and creationists ("Fundamental Questions", 7 May), and note that the chair of the panel is himself a committed Young Earth creationist (believing the world was created by God no more than 6,000 years ago), and his two fellow board members both won election to their posts by pledging to insert prayer into the secular curriculum.

That does not inspire hope for an impartial hearing. An ancient and important principle of justice requires that no one shall be a judge in his own cause - nemo judex in causa sua. This principle seems to be badly violated in the Kansas hearings.

Comparably odd drama unfolded in the 1925 trial of John Scopes. He was prosecuted in Dayton, Tennessee for teaching the theory of evolution. William Jennings Bryan, an outsider and passionate creationist, came in to prosecute the case. He also delivered the sermon at the local church on the first Sunday during the criminal trial. During the sermon he attacked the defence lawyers' arguments in the case. The audience was most attentive, including the front pew in which sat the trial judge, Judge Raulston.



Triumphant return

Sir: So happy to see Mr Blunkett back in office. And what a superb example this sets to the country: that one can abuse the power of one's position; fornicate with someone else's wife; utilise the press for one's own gain; have a few weeks' vacation; and then return a hero. Is it no wonder the country has an inherent problem with discipline?



Tactical victory

Sir: Living, as I have always done, in a seat where my party had little chance of affecting the outcome, I agreed to vote tactically on behalf of someone living elsewhere in return for that person voting my way in their constituency, where my vote just might be of some use. And it was. For the first time in my life I have helped to elect a member of Parliament! The pairing was arranged through an internet website, found by searching under "tactical voting". I recommend the practice.



No vices in the convent

Sir: In my obituary of the actress Margaretta Scott (7 May), a beguiling misprint - which she too would have enjoyed - referring to her appearance in John Kerr's convent-set piece on Saint Bernadette, gives the play the title Mistress of No Vices. While this indeed eloquently suggests the lack of conflict which was one of the problems of a ploddingly wimpled drama, it should for the sake of theatrical history perhaps be recorded that the real title of this postulant play was Mistress of Novices.



Prophetic philosopher

Sir: "The prime duty of British statesmen and diplomats is to keep Britain out of the next war. The greatest impediment to that policy is the fact that Britain is tied to the wheels of the American chariot - a chariot leading us to hell." MP George Galloway, yesterday? No, philosopher Cyril Joad, speaking at a Oxford Union debate "That this House regrets the influence exercised by the United States as the dominant power among the democratic nations" in 1950.



First-strike capability

Sir: I am grateful to Johann Hari ("The nuclear decisions that will affect us", 6May) for pointing out that I have plutonium in my testicles. Opening up vast new areas of double entendre, I advised my wife that I have "weapons of mass destruction" in my underpants. She informed me that if it got to the stage where I couldn't deploy them within 45 minutes, she would have no choice but to seek a coalition elsewhere.