Hospital cleaning, Blair and Iraq, and others

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Here's how to keep a hospital clean: employ more cleaners

Sir: I was interested in your detailed article on keeping St Mary's Hospital clean ("It's germ warfare," 11 April). I am a community nurse, and I have worked overseas monitoring cleaning in Cambodia, and in Tajikistan.
I know the size of St Mary's and to hope to keep it at optimum level in cleanliness with 105 cleaners is hard. There is likely to be enough work for 200 cleaners, which would give a ratio of approximately one cleaner for every eight nurses: a better ratio than one to 13. We had a ratio of one cleaner to every seven nurses when I worked overseas. In a busy ward two cleaners are needed during the day and one in the evening.
St Mary's is lucky to have cleaners who stay so long, especially on the current pay - an awful wage for London. When I was working in hospitals there were many more cleaners, and not such a fast turnover. Now, efficiency drives to keep beds occupied and targets met mean more dirt to clean, and yet fewer cleaning staff to do it. This is all part of the changes made to the health service in the late 1980s.
Many nurses may remember the "good old days" when nurses supervised cleaners. This has a number of advantages, though I imagine many nurses now are pleased not to have to worry about rotas, or disputes with their cleaning staff.
Whoever has control of the cleaning, what is abundantly clear is that more cleaners are needed, and they should be better paid. MRSA may not disappear just because cleaning is increased, but at least we can eliminate one of its possible causes.



What Blair cannot admit about Iraq

Sir: Rod Barton (letter, 13 April) is right to draw attention to the "weasel words" and "word-smithing" by the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in the annual report to Parliament of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

It is totally inadequate for the chairman of the JIC to say that the evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction "has not been substantiated". It would be better if the chairman admitted that the JIC (and the Prime Minster and those around him) made a calamitous error of judgement to believe the verbal information of a handful of intelligence contacts.

If he did speak the plain truth, however, it would call into question just about everything that the Government (and the majority of politicians) have said about Iraq since the publication of the dossier in September 2002. It would be an admission that Resolution 1441 was not about Iraq handing over weapons that "we know it has". It would be an admission that Iraq could not be in breach of UN resolutions just because it did not admit to having WMD.

It would be an admission that the majority of the UN Security Council were right not to support the second resolution, because they had made a better judgement of the intelligence material than the UK and the US. It would be an admission that the debate in the House of Commons before the invasion made little sense, as it took as its starting point the idea that WMD in Iraq were an established fact and that opposition by other members of the Security Council was "gratuitous" or "unreasonable".

In short, the weasel words are there to maintain the polite fiction that it is accidental, and unimportant, that the UK joined in an invasion of another country without a legitimate reason. Members of Parliament seem to be content to believe in this sanitised version of events. I think that the rest of us know better.



Sir: Steve Richards tells us that Blair took us into Iraq because otherwise "Labour would not have looked like a party of government" ("You can question Blair's judgement. But you can't question his integrity", 12 April). Are we to understand that those countries who declined to join the so-called "coalitian forces" were in some way ungoverned? In seeking a "third way" Blair clearly overlooked the second - simply not to co-operate in Bush's monumental folly.

The truth is that Blair was determined to keep his seat at the American table and became intoxicated by his own rhetoric to that end. Is this what Richards means by "integrity"?



Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith is too charitable in comparing the dishonest Robert Maxwell with our dissembling Prime Minister ("The Prime Minister must be judged on his record of deception and lies," 11 April.) Maxwell only once employed Alastair Campbell, as a political editor (Daily and Sunday Mirror), and Peter Mandelson, as a political columnist (Sunday People). Blair has done it several times with both these selfless and straightforward public figures.



Reasons to keep Labour in power

Sir: The Tories talk about tax cuts on waste savings, yet they were hardly successful in achieving any bureaucracy savings during their 18 years of power, so why should we believe them now? They made a mess of running the economy, leaving many of us with negative equity, high mortgage rates, high unemployment and a long recession of their own making.

By contrast, in just eight years, house prices have trebled under Labour with mortgage rates halved, car prices have fallen by over 20 per cent since Labour came to power - thanks to forcing the car companies to fall into line with European prices. Our family even saves more than £40 on a family ticket each time we visit a museum thanks to Gordon Brown's removal of VAT on museums - making museum entrance free. Even petrol prices have increased by a far lower proportion under Labour than during the last eight years of the previous Tory governments.

Even if we are paying a little more tax with Labour we are still infinitely better off with Labour than the Tories and that is why the Tories are doomed to another period of opposition. To quote Harold Macmillan : "We have never had it so good". Why spoil it with the backward-looking Tories?



Sir: One does become very tired of all these letters from people complaining of being disenfranchised by not wanting to vote for Tony Blair or Michael Howard (letters, 13 April).

The only people who have the choice of voting or not voting for them are the electors in their respective constituencies. One of the few sensible things that Michael Howard has said is "Vote Blair - get Brown" or whoever the majority party after the election has as its leader.

We already know that Blair is going to stand down soon so can we have less of this daft and irrelevant argument for not voting for the Labour candidate in your constituency - if this is the party whose plans you favour. Anyone whose voting intention is driven by the desire to "give Blair a bloody nose" is politically naive and simply shooting themselves in whatever tender parts of their anatomy they care to choose.



Sir: Wavering Labour voters are urged to "Vote Blair, get Brown". My fear is that, if we vote for Blair he gets another huge majority, we get Bush not Brown and Iran gets bombed.



Sir: I have been discussing the up-coming election with my 18-year-old daughter as we approach the first opportunity for her to vote. Her first question to me was, "Who do I vote out?"

It makes me wonder whether there will be a generation of first-time voters , thanks to the influence of the so-called reality TV shows, who will go to their polling station on 5 May and put their crosses next to the candidate they dislike the most. I wonder whether that would work for or against Mr Blair.



Mugabe upholds colonial traditions

Sir: What Peter Kellett (letter, 12 April) doesn't understand is that Robert Mugabe is Ian Smith's direct political descendant, a chip off the old block, a seed from the same tree. "Good Ol' Smithy" was an excellent teacher by example, Mugabe an excellent learner by experience. The Smith regime of old Rhodesia showed Mugabe how to do it, and he's just doing it in spades.

Smith's media censorship was the forerunner of Mugabe's media control. Smith leaned on the judges, so does Mugabe. Smith's Law and Order (Maintenance) Act remains on the statute books (shamefully not repealed by the British interim administration) and has been used to the full by the Mugabe regime. Even Smith's Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) was bequeathed to Mugabe, and it still brutalises people in the same way it always did. It even operates from the same premises, perhaps even using the same torture equipment.

Mugabe was moderated after Zimbabwe's independence by the influence of his first wife, Sally. The tragedy is that she died so young of cancer, to be superseded by Mugabe's second wife.

Sally was a woman of compassion and humanity, still spoken of in Zimbabwe today by ordinary people who remember her with reverence and affection. The irony is that she was a foreigner, an expatriate, only Zimbabwean by marriage to Mugabe.



We will fight on for island hedgehogs

Sir: With the annual cull of hedgehogs on the Scottish islands of North Uist and Benbecula under way again ("New campaign to save island hedgehogs", 4 April), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) still tries to justify its killing policy by claiming that moving hedgehogs to the mainland is inhumane. Yet SNH can provide no scientific evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, the evidence actually suggests that, if done properly, hedgehogs can be successfully released back into the wild.

Uist Hedgehog Rescue (UHR) is a coalition of animal welfare, protection and rescue organisations, with expert advisers on ecology and hedgehogs. We understand that the introduced hedgehogs must be removed from the islands in order to protect the breeding populations of wader birds. However, we believe that these healthy wild animals should be translocated to the mainland instead of being killed.

Over 5,000 rescued hedgehogs are released back into the wild each year by organisations such as the RSPCA and SSPCA. Is SNH accusing these organisations of being cruel?

Hedgehog populations are in decline in certain areas of the UK. This is mainly as a result of habitat fragmentation due to intensive agricultural practices, housing developments and new roads. If hedgehogs are released into suitable locations in appropriately small numbers, they can easily be absorbed.

UHR consists of Advocates for Animals, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Trust and International Animal Rescue. Over the last two years, we have rescued nearly 400 hedgehogs from the islands. SNH was warned that we would oppose its hedgehog-killing policy. This we have done and will continue to do until this unethical treatment of our wildlife is halted.



Morning coffee with a new-look paper

Sir: Oh dear! You've changed and now we can't take our favourite section of The Independent to enjoy with our breakfast coffee. Does this mean, after almost fifty years of marriage, that we have to be very, very polite?

"No, no, you take it. I'm fine."

"No. I insist. I'll wait. I'll iron it when you've finished."



Sir: Judging from the asymmetry of your new masthead, there would appear to be some justification for the assumption that The Independent now considers itself to be a left-of-centre newspaper.



Family fortunes

Sir: Does nobody among Labour's top brass understand how boneheaded and pathological they sound in their inability to utter the word "family" except preceded by the mantra "hardworking"? I think I counted 20 cases at the manifesto launch. Not only does this induce widespread cynicism in the voters, it also alienates single people, who must assume by implication that they're being called lazy.



Royal status

Sir: Gerald Williams is correct that the impediment to the recent royal marriage being conducted in church was that the bride's former husband was still inconveniently alive (letter, 12 April). Nevertheless, having a dead former spouse does not make one a widowed person and Prince Charles's marital status was definitely "divorced". He has never been "widowed".



Sir: Further to Terence Blacker's piece (8 April) the recent royal wedding has had two significant effects. Firstly it has embedded the Human Rights Act 1998 into the British constitution where it rightly belongs. Secondly it made both Tony Blair and Michael Howard publicly confess to and "bewail and repent of their manifold sins and misdoings''. Not even Jeremy Paxman has ever managed to do that.



Supermarket success

Sir: The British habit of treating success with disdain has now been brought to bear by the media on Tesco, following the announcement of their excellent end of year figures. Tesco deserve their success. They provide good quality products, at competitive prices in attractive outlets, and do these things better than their competitors. The comments in your own newspaper on Wednesday may have been largely true, and I am sure they were independent. But they were unbalanced.



Fitness regime

Sir: Because of my weight and my high blood pressure, my doctor has put me on a programme of fitness exercises at my local leisure centre. Four days a week I am subjected to treadmills, exercise bikes et al. I have been given a Record Card which ominously has a final entry: "Expiry date".