How 'old Trots' became new tankies, Blunkett saga and others

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Prague to Baghdad: how 'old Trots' became the new tankies

Prague to Baghdad: how 'old Trots' became the new tankies

Sir: Peter Coghlan ("Ruled by old Trots", letter 1 December) misses the point. While most of Tony Blair's senior ministers were once on the left, in upholding the abhorrent policies he has listed, they have all moved well to the right.

It was revulsion against Stalinism that brought together many strands to form the New Left in the late 1950s and 1960s. The New Left stood in opposition to the policies of both the Kremlin and the Pentagon. It campaigned for an end to police states, to colonialism and wars of aggression, to immigration controls, militarism, the nuclear arms race, inequality and injustice throughout the world.

Those of us who have not moved to the right in our old age have been reinvigorated by the betrayals of our former colleagues, though we saw them coming at the time when place-seeking in the students' unions and in the Labour groups became the focus of their ambitions.

When they called themselves New Labour and went into an alliance with Bush and his neo-conservatives, we were at a loss for words. Perhaps they should be labelled as a new species of "tanky", as the Stalinists were called after the Soviet suppression of the "Prague Spring" in 1968. Or would "Apaches" be more applicable today, if it weren't such an insult to native Americans?

NICK HOWARD
Sheffield

It's the bullying that damns Blunkett

Sir: The Blunkett-Quinn imbroglio is not a sex scandal. Neither is it to do with visa applications and so on.

Like stuff, adultery happens; what is abnormal is Blunkett's reaction to being dumped. Whatever Kimberly Quinn did or did not do, in the end she made a decision to try to save her family. To pursue paternity under such circumstances, as Blunkett seems to be doing, is vindictive control-freakery.

Can one trust a man who bullies his ex-lover into hospital and reduces four peoples' lives to a shambles not to do the same in his public life? That is where private and public lives merge. It is not adultery or fornication that renders a man or woman unfit for office, it is how he or she copes with the consequences.

To let Blair, the Government and his friends off the hook, Blunkett should resign. Of course he will not because Honourable Gentlemen seem no longer to exist.

JEREMY JAMES
St Julien, France

Sir: I am no admirer of New Labour, Tony Blair and David Blunkett or, for that matter, politicians in general. So my normal reaction to the witch-hunt now being mounted against the Home Secretary might be along the lines of "no smoke without fire ... they're all rotten" etc. etc. But it is not. To my surprise I find myself on his side.

So what if he helped his lover's nanny? So what if he gave her a ride in the ministerial car or passed on to her a complimentary train ticket? Let us get a sense of proportion. In all my working life in public and private employment, it has been the norm for the top men to help their friends to minor perks . It is just one of the side benefits of the job and barely worth comment. It is not as if he's declaring an illegal war or anything really serious.

The lady in question has behaved dreadfully throughout. But no one is excoriating her in public. But then that's the new double standard, isn't it ?

Professor CHRIS PAYNE
Ziegelhausen, Germany

Sir: Here we go again. An able and effective minister of the Crown is being systematically destroyed by the media because of his private life. He is not the first nor will he be the last to suffer in this way. Only Parliament has the power to deal with the media by way of a draconian privacy law. If we continue as at present only eunuchs will dare to stand for public office.

DAVID SAWTELL
Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire

Sir: We have a prime minister who almost certainly lied to the country with impunity (as have several of his predecessors) and yet we are prepared to hound from office a man who may have done some small favours for the woman he loved and wants access to his children. What crazy values!

PETER SALOMON
London N2

Sir: How interesting that the influence of Mr Blunkett may have precipitated the issuing of a working visa at such lightning speed. My Australian girlfriend, who has come here to work as a social worker, has spent the best part of a year (and several hundred pounds) battling the Home Office for a so-called "highly skilled migrant visa", so she can have the joy of slaving for little money in the NHS.

Imagine our excitement when she was approved for the visa programme this summer, only to be told that it would take at least a further three to four months merely to get the passport stamped. We are meanwhile unable to travel outside the UK and have no idea when we will get her passport back. Predictably, all Home Office helplines are constantly engaged.

She is now wondering why she bothered in the first place and will probably head back to the sunshine of Sydney, where bureaucracy doesn't seem to rule - if she had a passport that is. Perhaps sleeping with a Home Office minister would help matters?

PATRICK HARRIS
South Nutfield, Surrey

Sir: An employee who took £180 out of the company's petty cash and spent it on a rail ticket for a friend who was not a member of the company, and when discovered to have done so said, "I'll pay it all back, no, really, honest, it was a mistake, I didn't know I wasn't meant to ..." should be sacked, even if he or she is not to be prosecuted.

No one with such a deficient standard of personal honesty should remain responsible for law enforcement in this or any country.

CHRIS BELL
Bristol

Sir: David Blunkett should be subject to the most intense critical scrutiny not because of his jejune peccadillos, but because of his so-far unchallenged attempts to institute a police state.

MICHAEL ROSENTHAL
Banbury, Oxfordshire

Sir: Tony Blair is quoted as saying he "has no doubt at all" that David Blunkett will be exonerated by the forthcoming inquiry. Neither, I am sure, has anybody else. That's what government enquiries are for.

Dr JOHN RADFORD
London E1

A-level in jargon

Sir: If A-level candidates are to be penalised for poor English (report, 29 November), the examiners had better make sure that they know it when they see it. The A-level syllabuses for English Literature are often written in abominable, pretentious, jargon-ridden English which makes them very difficult to understand.

An exam board which can write of "the position regarding word count limit infringements", "key skill portfolio evidence requirement" and "sufficient commitment time allowance to achieve approved projects in spite of allotment limitations" is not very well qualified to judge the quality of a candidate's English - or, indeed, of Shakespeare's.

JANE DARWIN
London SW7

Sir: To penalise students at the public examination stage it is both unfair and too late if their school regimes were like those I encountered in the 1980s and 90s. When looking through students' work books in non-English subjects, I often commented that punctuation, spelling and grammar were not corrected along with the content. The response was always that "I am not an English teacher".

I remember as a pupil any spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes were always highlighted whatever the subject, and as a teacher in the 1950s and 1960s I followed the same line. I suppose the many changes that have taken place, and the current weight of administration imposed on teachers today, has influenced their view of what they are prepared to mark. My view has always been that every teacher should be a teacher of English, and if followed through it might achieve the improvements required by Ken Boston, Mike Tomlinson, employers and universities.

DAVID SELBY
South Wonston, Hampshire
The writer is a retired education adviser

Modern Egyptology

Sir: I write in protest at the article Pyramid wars (22 November). As an Egyptologist and member of numerous excavations in Egypt, I understand the objections that Dr Zahi Hawass has to M. Verd'hurt, M. Dormion and their scheme for Giza pyramid drilling.

Egypt's cultural heritage is fragile, and is facing innumerable problems in the face of urban expansion and development. Dr Hawass is encouraging excavation work in Egypt's most threatened regions of the Delta and Sinai, and supports scientific exploration in all areas of Egypt, to protect and conserve threatened tombs and temples.

If M. Verd'hurt and M. Dormion had a scientific conservation plan for tombs in the Valley of the Kings, or had figured out how to stop local farmers from removing archaeological sites, Dr Hawass would have given them his full support. If amateurs are keen to work in Egypt, they need to know the truth: gone are the days of great tomb clearances and goody-hunting for museums.

Today, foreign Egyptologists work in partnership with Egyptian scholars in the Supreme Council for Antiquities, to protect, conserve and explore Egypt's archaeological heritage. An additional chamber in the Great Pyramid matters very little in the face of saving and preserving Egypt's heritage for future generations.

SARAH PARCAK
Trinity College, Cambridge

Children after divorce

Sir: Your correspondent ("Mothers suffer just as much as fathers in family courts", letters 29 November) accuses Fathers 4 Justice of "hijacking" public debate about post-divorce parenting, but to my recollection no such debate existed two years ago.

Whatever you think about the methods adopted by Fathers 4 Justice, it is to their credit that they have got everybody talking about an issue which, while it impacts on a huge number of families and children in this country, had been virtually invisible until now. Indeed, so widespread is the problem that I think most of us are acquainted with somebody (a family member, a friend or a colleague) who has experienced difficulties over post-separation access to their children or grandchildren.

Rather than engage in scaremongering, I would prefer to see Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Opinion, 24 November) put forward substantive arguments as to why she thinks men deserve to be treated as second-class citizens when it comes to bringing up their children after separation or divorce.

ANDREA HALL
Pamington, Gloucestershire

Danger of ID cards

Sir: The Government's reasoning in support of the introduction of ID cards should give us cause for great concern. When a product is advertised as a cure for everything from the common cold to cancer you know it's snake oil. When the Government says a policy will be effective against everything from terrorism to benefit fraud you know it's got to be too good to be true.

Why should we trust with such an important task a public sector that consistently fails to introduce efficient computer systems? Can you imagine the distress of finding out that your ID card database entry has errors? Given the significance of this information for public service access I can foresee many innocent people questioned, fined and perhaps imprisoned because of another monumental government IT cock-up.

Cllr CHRIS LENTON
(Liverpool Liberal Party)
Liverpool

Any other name

Sir: It seems remarkable that a gynaecologist with a mundane name felt himself qualified to tell mothers what type of name to give their children (letter, 1 December). My sister and I were both given Welsh names, despite the fact that our parents moved to England. These unusual names, Geraint and Ceridwen, were not the handicap they might appear.

I like to think that they acted as a filter, exposing ignorance and bigotry fairly swiftly, and also as a good conversational opening gambit. It may well have taught me to keep an open mind as well. While an elaborate, clearly comedic name might be a handicap in life, my direct experience suggests that an unusual but fairly sober name such as Phinnaeus might help give Miss Roberts's son an essential sense of individuality in this increasingly homogenised world.

GERAINT HARRIES
Nottingham

Cycle and recycle

Sir: Why would one need a car to take mobile phones, clothing, phone directories or batteries to a recycling site (letter, 30 November)? What's wrong with cycling there - possible at minimal cost to all except the most disabled or from the remotest locations? Driving even a mile or two may negate the environmental benefit of recycling a few household goods.

JOHN REES
Bristol

Sir: Surely the only destination for used copies of The Independent should be the recycling bin, not, as correspondents have suggested, the fire.

MARTIN HOLLYWOOD
St Samson-sur-Rance, France

Victorian arithmetic

Sir: Alan Wells (letter 30 November) has totally missed the point in his comments on a Victorian school exam. Of course few if any people nowadays need to be able to add pounds, shillings and pence, but the ability to do so, given the necessary information about pre-decimal currency, is an indication of at least some basic arithmetical skill. Adding up is, after all, pretty simple stuff, and the unfamiliarity of the context doesn't make it any harder.

RICHARD SAUNDERS
Waterlooville, Hampshire

Fathers' rights

Sir: So "Labour offers three months of paid leave for fathers" (report, 1 December). As a father of four, could this be back-dated and can I have a year's holiday?

MIKE BOR
London W2

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