This unjust ban on hunting will not stand for long
Sir: How refreshing to read such an honest letter as A J Griffiths' (11 February), devoid of "pretentious rubbish" about foxhunting. He recalls a heyday in the early 1920s when the "most ill-mannered, arrogant assembly of humans" hunted and presumably annoyed people like Mr Griffiths. And there was I, thinking this Act was something to do with animal welfare.
How on earth does he think in a new millennium any hunt can ride roughshod over the farming community when the pressures farmers are under are so much greater and any feudal obedience they might feel to "them in the hall" is long gone? Hunting is accepted only when it fits in with rural life and livelihood and the explosion in its popularity in the last few years is testament to the fact that it does. Farmers accept or reject the hunt for a variety of reasons, but it is their choice.
The campaign against hunting is nothing to do with animal welfare: Mr Griffiths gleefully recalls the sly grins when a fox turned up full of shotgun pellets. The Middle Way group has just published data on wounding and it does not make pleasant reading.
The campaign is, as Mr Griffiths so clearly illustrates, about prejudice. The hunting community, unique among minorities in this country, is reviled like some witch in the Middle Ages. Forget about a fair trial, inquiries, consultations, principle and evidence - such people deserve extermination. Like witches, hunting must be erased from new Labour's vision of the country it rules. Suspected terrorists held in Belmarsh may benefit from deep-rooted liberal principles - but not hunters. Crude majoritarianism, driven by the odd £1m bung from the animal rights industry, is what delivered this Act. Along with the hunting community, fairness, inclusiveness and tolerance are its victims.
We will all have to live with the consequences until this Act is overturned. So devoid of moral force, so bereft of reason and so transparently unjust is the Act that in time it surely will be.
Blair really is listening to the electorate
Sir: My daughter is officially listed as missing in Thailand following the tsunami in Asia. At noon on Sunday I posted a letter to Mr Blair in which I pointed out that he had failed to respond to a letter of 19 January from my Member of Parliament relating to our experience of his government's inability to deal with the aftermath of the tsunami, and that we felt that this showed a lack of concern for the people of this country.
Imagine my surprise to find that the reports of his speech in Gateshead later that day indicated that the biggest lesson he had learned was that he could not govern effectively without listening more to ordinary people's concerns. As Mr Blair appears to be able to foretell the future, having commented on the contents of my letter before receiving it, the forthcoming election should hold no surprises for him.
Sir: Blair said in his Gateshead speech: "For a political leader, 'doing the right thing' in reality is only ever 'doing what I think is the right thing'. " He is wrong. When he leads a party in government, it is doing what the Cabinet agree is the right thing. All he should do is try to persuade the Cabinet to agree with him.
Sir: Reading Tony Blair's latest heart-rending speech in which we, the British people, stand accused of "expecting miracles", I began to feel that we really have been something of a disappointment to him. I almost felt like apologising.
Sir: The Government that took the country to war because of WMD now tells us that an election date has not been set. We are clearly now witnessing the beginnings of an election campaign. Such dishonesty and contempt for the electorate is only matched by its indifference to the rule of law and contempt for Parliament. It is little wonder that party strategists fear a low turn out.
Sir: With an election pending, I wondered if anyone knew of a political party prepared to represent those, like me, for whom the deeply moving title "the Hard-Working Family" is inappropriate.
Dr W THWAITES
Sir: Your correspondent refers to a majority of the population being "unsatisfied" with Mr Blair ("Blair: this time it's personal", 14 February). Does he not mean "dissatisfied"? Otherwise it is a job to see how Mr Blair finds time to be Prime Minister.
ANDREW C BLUNDY
Sir: The offer of reconciliation is welcome, Tony, but I am afraid it has come too late. The gulf between us has become too wide and there is no other option now but to separate.
Sir: Dr Grenville's letter (14 February) was strangely acerbic.
We do, indeed, have a number of Jewish refugees in our village and I meet them quite frequently but I do not regard them as immigrants. Having lived in Britain for 60 years, they are fully part of our community. Nor has Migrationwatch ever opposed granting asylum to genuine refugees, as these evidently were.
Our concern is not about existing immigrant communities, but with the rapid increase in immigration which, having trebled in recent years, is placing a strain on our social services and on the cohesion of society.
Sir ANDREW GREEN
Sir: The reason Sir Andrew Green gives for his concern about immigration is the official calculation that in the course of the next three decades it could lead to an increase in the population of Britain of five million. Your shrill attack on him (leading article, 12 February) does not mention this; instead, you attribute to him unworthy prejudices which there is no reason to think that he holds. Many people doubt whether such a large increase could be accommodated in an environmentally acceptable way. If The Independent thinks otherwise, it should argue the point.
There are other legitimate causes for concern. Immigration of unskilled workers helps to keep down the wages of low-paid British workers. Immigration of skilled people deprives the countries they come from of skills they desperately need.
Most immigrants would rather stay at home given the right conditions and employment opportunities. Rich countries like Britain should be doing much more to help create those conditions. We should also fully accept our responsibilities towards genuine asylum seekers, while at the same time limiting the number of economic migrants. That would be a humane and sensible policy.
TV on trains
Sir: The horrifying news (report, 10 February) that train companies have
acquired a new weapon in their war against the passenger - compulsory TV - to add to uncleaned trains, overcrowding, malfunctioning air conditioning and terrible coffee, is just what we need to hear in the depths of winter.
Already train journeys are subject to asinine announcements, leaking personal stereos, mobile phone conversations, portable DVD players and various other bleeping devices. If you simply want to read a book or newspaper it is tough even in so-called "quiet carriages", which are never policed except by passengers themselves.
The train companies would be better advised to concentrate their energies on getting the trains to run on time and keeping them clean than searching for new ways of provoking us.
Sir: Appalling to read that some train operators are planning to install TV screens in commuter trains (with sound as well as pictures).
Many passengers use their train journey for work, reading or quiet contemplation and this would make that impossible (unless we take refuge in a personal stereo, thus cutting us off from hearing any announcements concerning the journey or safety). Few of us have the same taste in entertainment and in my own experience most television programmes inflicted on users of pubs, shops and hospital waiting rooms (to quote just three examples) are execrable. Moreover, installing televisions in trains (and on other forms of public transport) would be a major development in the intrusion of both the media and noise pollution into our environment.
The train operators run a public service and receive enormous amounts of taxpayers' money to do so. They must, therefore, initiate a full public debate before they implement these proposals.
Sir: The controversy about the legality of the civil wedding of Charles and Camilla showed how undemocratic the unwritten British constitution is.
The British constitution is undemocratic because, among other things, it is not accessible to the citizens of Britain. You need legal and constitutional specialists to "unwrap" the constitution. No one really knows exactly the role of the monarchy, and the limits to the power of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Everything is nebulous, which means that abuses of power can happen with frequency.
By contrast, written constitutions are accessible to everyone. The limits of executive, legislative, and judiciary are spelled out. There's no need for constitutional experts to dig out a 17th-century document to ascertain if a certain practice is legal or not.
Sir: I am appalled at Alice Harrison's description of Princess Diana (letter, 12 February). Yes, she was beautiful, but she was also serene, compassionate and diligent. I hope Prince William inherited these qualities. I agree with Mike Kaplan. Prince Charles is the air-head, like his great uncle.
Sir: In Anglo-Saxon times the spouse of the King was nearly always known simply as "The King's Wife"'. If it was good enough for Alfred the great, won't that do for the future Charles III?
Sir, From Spain I hear (report, 14 February) that a prestigious edifice called "Windsor" suffered serious damage over the last few days and is now in danger of collapse. Do they know something we don't?
Woodhouse Eaves, Leicestershire
Swap your vote
Sir: I note your correspondents' comments about swing voters and the capriciousness of first-past-the-post(letters, 11 February). Fear not - there is a way around it.
At the last election a number of "vote-exchange" websites were set up. These enabled, for example, a Lib Dem voter in a Con/Lab seat to pair off with a Labour voter in a Con/LD seat, and agree each to vote for the other's party. Thereby they would each have the knowledge that a vote was added to their party's column, but that vote was used effectively to unseat a Tory MP rather than pile up uselessly. There is no reason why this concept should be confined to Lab/LD tactical voting, and an internet search will find a number of tactical voting sites with different aims.
With the penetration of the internet into many homes via the spread of broadband, the scope for using internet "vote exchanges" as a form of DIY PR is already much greater than in 2001. I predict it will have an effect in this election, but will really take off in 2009/10, when it might be important enough to force the issue.
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire
Sir: In response to John Hawgood's letter (14 February) on drivers sticking to the speed limit on the motorway, I suggest that at my usual speed of 80mph there are indeed only a tiny proportion of cars going 70, but they're usually in the middle lane, holding up the lorries trying to overtake them.
Sir: I wish to praise the Inland Revenue. The other day I had occasion to phone them. My loins had been girded to expect "Press one if you wish to declare yourself bankrupt; press two if you are suicidal; press three if ..." But no. I spoke immediately to a living person who didn't think I lived in some other part of Outer Mongolia. She was polite, comprehensible and helpful; so much so that my question had been answered satisfactorily within two minutes. Gobsmacked, I was able to carry on with my life without undue delay.
Nuclear club rules
Sir: Robert J Inlow asks (letter, 14 February) if only "enlightened" nations are to be allowed nuclear weapons. Well, yes. Nobody objects to India or even Pakistan having them, because they are clearly for defensive use. Iran, despite the anti-American xenophobia which would claim otherwise, is clearly under no threat unless it itself acts aggressively. The principle is no different from that which allows firearms to policemen and law-abiding citizens but denies them to criminals.
Day of romance
Sir: I heartily recommend 15 February as a wedding day. Today, I can again look forward to a large bunch of red roses at 20p rather than £2 a stem. Or maybe this year a cut-price box of chocolate hearts?
Bishop's Cannings, Wiltshire