Europe's global influence, Iraq torture and others

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Too soon to despair of Europe's global influence

Too soon to despair of Europe's global influence

Sir: Stephen King's gloomy assessment of Europe's economic future ("Slow growth in Europe's economic old age", 4 May) is unwarranted. It identifies some very recent economic trends - who thought much about China even a few years ago? - extrapolates them far into the future, and then presents some depressing conclusions. Such a technique would have proven wholly misleading at any of the numerous turning points in world economic history.

Where Mr King's euro gloom goes one step further than other contemporary analyses is that he presents it as a fait accompli. Europe's poor demographics are presented not just as a handicap in terms of diminishing labour supply, but also in terms of a drying up of entrepreneurial talent. Structural reform is asserted to "make little difference in a global context". This is fatalism taken too far.

First, Europe is starting out with a surplus of labour and so its demographic problem cannot be seen as an immediate handicap to future growth. Europe's task is to put existing labour to work. With the right structural policies, changes in participation and unemployment rates would be enough to generate labour force growth in Europe close to that of the US over the next fifteen years.

Second, structural reforms would make a significant difference in a global context. Europe is starting off with seven times the weight of China in the world economy. Raising Europe's potential growth rate from, say, 2 per cent to 3 per cent per annum would be equivalent, in global terms, to a 7 percentage point rise in Chinese growth. Such an increase in Europe's contribution to global growth would undoubtedly make a difference.

It is perfectly reasonable to take the view that Europe's global influence will wither. But to suggest that nothing can be done to prevent it is unduly pessimistic.

Senior Europe Economist, Lehman Brothers, London E14

Bush and Blair share blame for torture

Sir: The leaders of the coalition forces in Iraq have speedily distanced themselves from the recent allegations of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners by claiming that such behaviour is reprehensible and unrepresentative of their soldiery.

Nevertheless, the leaders of the coalition and their generals do share a collective responsibility for these crimes. From their desks in comfortable, elegant surroundings they have authorised and condoned the operational details of their war.

Operation "Shock and Awe" was an unmerciful blitz of an ancient city and it caused the death and maiming of many thousands of innocent civilians. Weapons of great disproportionate strength were used persistently against Iraqi forces, mostly reluctant conscripts, without the least qualm of conscience. Subsequently, cluster bombs were used near residential areas of villages and towns of Iraq as the coalition forces advanced.

Since the end of their "successful" war the coalition leaders have not been in the least mindful to count and name the large numbers of innocent Iraqi men, women and children who have died on the streets of Iraq. Most recently, the American operation in Falluja resulted in the deaths of some 600 Iraqis including a very large number of innocent men, women and children. Prime Minister Blair has publicly condoned this outrageous action.

What kind of messages have the coalition leaders sent to the ordinary coalition soldiers in the front line by their example of leadership? President Bush and Prime Minister Blair seek an aura of moral righteousness by their condemnation of these alleged war crimes, but their words do not absolve them from the prime responsibility for providing the essential climate in which such inhumanity can flourish.

London E1

Sir: It's encouraging to see Labour MPs getting back to what they're good at - blaming others. Before the war it was the French, during the war it was the BBC, now it is the Mirror. Thank God they and their beloved Leader didn't themselves put British lives at risk by illegally invading and occupying a foreign country on the basis of lies and distortions....

London N14

Sir: There is only one winner from this sad affair with the photos that, at least on the surface, are linking British soldiers to the use of torture. The winner is Tony Blair.

All attention is drawn away from the embarrassing letter from 52 former diplomats commenting on his failed policies on both Iraq and the Middle East, the missing WMD, his massive U-turns on the EU referendum etc.

As an extra bonus the PM can blame all future failures in Iraq on the photos, completely ignoring his lack of plans for the aftermath of the war.

The embattled government could not have got a better distraction from all its other problems.

Ruislip, Middlesex

Sir: I find it hard to believe that George W Bush is "disgusted" by pictures from Iraq of American servicemen putting a black hood on and attaching electrodes to prisoners. Isn't that what they call justice in Texas? Is Bush disgusted because the prisoner was forced to stand, whereas in America he would be given a chair?

London NW3

Lessons of Toni-Ann

Sir: As your report highlights, the death of Toni-Ann Byfield was tragic (30 April). However, you then take the illogical step of going on to suggest that the inquiry raised serious questions as to whether too much emphasis is placed by social workers on keeping families together, rather than taking children into care. The inquiry report does no such thing.

Toni-Ann was in the care of the local authority. She was a child at risk and, as the authority has acknowledged, it was its responsibility to assess any adult looking after Toni-Ann as to their suitability, whether that be a family member or a stranger. That was not done properly. Checks were not made and the procedures set out in the Children's Act and subsequent guidance were not complied with. The inquiry states: "At the heart of the critique of this case lies concern that the core assessment work undertaken on members of the family was incomplete".

There is a substantial body of evidence that children at risk are more likely to thrive and be happier if brought up by adults with whom they already have an emotional attachment, such as grandparents, rather than strangers. Government guidance rightly states friends and family care should be explored as the first option when a child is in care. However, it is also clear that each individual child's situation needs to be properly assessed as to what is in his or her best interest. That did not happen in Toni-Ann's case.

Lessons need to be learnt. But the worst of all worlds would be to jump to ill-considered conclusions and resort to failed methods based upon old assumptions that family members and the care system are mutually exclusive.

Chief Executive
Family Rights Group
London E8

Sir: Mr Saner-Haigh seems to live in a much nicer world than me (letter, 30 April). I am a qualified social worker whose mental health improved by getting out some 20 years ago. I was young, inexperienced, badly paid and overworked. We were already bedevilled by paperwork and poor management, trying to do a very difficult job in impossible circumstances. I had 41 cases when I left, 16 of which were very live child protection enquiries and follow-ups. It seems nothing has changed.

Child protection work is essentially policing families. It requires mature, street-wise people who are paid well and have a caseload that allows them to do the job properly. I would only contemplate a return if I had a maximum caseload of 15, and no more than 5 live protection cases included in that figure. Oh, and around £35,000 pa minimum, not the £22,000 I might earn now.

Respect and value does not begin to fill vacancies with really capable people. It will take a massive cash investment, a radical job rethink and excellent professional salaries. It is only money that can improve this service.

Burntwood, Staffordshire.

Street retreat

Sir: Being a consistently loyal reader of The Independent, I was disappointed to have encountered the shallow report about the retreat which we are organising ("Zen and the art of paying £150 to be a beggar on the streets of London", 4 May). The editorial, too, was most misleading, and I feel that your readers deserve to know the truth behind the cost of the retreat.

The cost of the retreat is £150. Two-thirds of the funds raised will be given to the homeless service agencies that are encountered during the retreat, and the remainder will be applied to the social action missions of the Hudson River Peacemaker Community. Participants in the retreat are, in our experience, rarely stressed-out executives, as you suggest, and mainly fundraise in order to pay the fees.

Richmond, Surrey

Medical call-up?

Sir: I was impressed but saddened that you have raised the question of conscription (Mary Dejevsky, 4 May). She puts the state of play accurately, but from a largely US perspective. Here in Britain the prospect of generalised or even specialist conscription has been considered by many to be politically suicidal, other than for a war of national survival. Neither Iraq nor any of the other existing operational deployments fit this description.

Should the number of casualties increase in any or all of these operational areas, the Defence Medical Services will be faced with either unacceptable periods of deployment for the existing regular and reserve medical staff or the prospect of selective conscription for specialists, in consequence of the swingeing and ill-thought out Defence Costs Study cuts imposed by the last Conservative government, which grossly undermined the medical services.

Major-General (Rtd)
London SW1
The writer was Commander Medical, United Kingdom Land Forces, 1993-4

Libraries out of date

Sir: At their peak lending libraries provided a much-needed service to people from all walks of life ("A minute's silence, please, for the late public library", 28 April). The cost of a new book was prohibitively expensive even to the growing middle classes. Public and private libraries appeared in every town and village (Boots the Chemist being a well-known example), offering access to works of fiction and reference to all.

That was in the last century. Nowadays the relative price of books has dropped so much that practically anyone can buy them, whether at the supermarket with their weekly shop or via the internet. Public lending libraries are now an anachronism, illustrated by the yearly drop in users.

Rather than throw more public money trying to prop up the service, wouldn't it be better to invest tax-payers cash on more useful services? We could start by converting underused library buildings into low-rent accommodation to breathe some life into our dying town centres.

London SE14

Decline of angling

Sir: Your report on the sport of angling (5 May) gives a false impression. The sport has been in decline over many years, even though rivers and lakes are cleaner and accessible. Unfortunately the subject of this decline is taboo in angling organisations. Known, but not discussed.

Clubs which used to have waiting lists are now gasping for new members, to meet rents. Less than a million rod licenses are sold annually. It is bizarre, as fishing conditions have never been better.

The causes are a mystery, but they include changes in leisure habits of the young, and pension poverty of senior citizens. Angling is not a cheap sport, like rambling.

Bromley, Kent

Thatcher's heirs

Sir: Interesting that Tony Blair should attack Michael Howard for being "the High Priest of Thatcherism". What a choice we now face as voters: the High Priest or the Altar Boy. I ain't got religion!

Willersey, Gloucestershire

Path to hyperbole

Sir: Your report (3 May) on Madonna's appeal about a footpath crossing her estate referred to her as "the scourge of ramblers". I'm not a Madonna fan, so I must have missed the news of her laying mines and building machine-gun posts. Or does she chase walkers away with excessively loud music? If Madonna is a scourge, what epithets do have in reserve for the van Hoogstraten types out there?

Dawley, Telford

In the slow lane

Sir: I wonder if Elizabeth Hawkes (letter, 5 May) can guess which makes me more nervous as I walk through my village with its narrow streets and narrow pavements: drivers glancing at their speedometers to make sure they're driving within the speed limit or drivers talking on their mobile phones? I've found as a driver that if you make a habit of driving within the speed limit, even where there are no cameras about, you quickly get to know what 30mph or 40mph feels like and you don't need to look at the speedometer as often.

Ditchling, Sussex

Joys of nature

Sir: Like Malcolm Peltu (letter, 5 May), I tend to see joy, wonderment and awe as natural, but with scientific tenacity I demand an adequate explanation for it all.

Tintagel, Cornwall

Take no notice

Sir: I never see the road-sign "Police Slow" without wondering why they wish to advertise the fact so widely.

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire