Left/right politics, euthanasia and others

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Modern politics has moved on from the left-right dichotomy

Modern politics has moved on from the left-right dichotomy

Sir: How thoughtful of you to provide us, in Joan Smith's column ("What about the left's moral values?", 10 November), with a prime example of Terence Blacker's "unthinking contempt" ("The liberal elite is smug and patronising"). However, Mr Blacker does not get to the bottom of the issue. The fundamental problem is that liberal-left commentators no longer understand the shape of the debate because the old dichotomy of left and right has been shattered. This happened in two ways.

First, the right won the economic argument. A valiant rearguard action is still being fought by the financially illiterate, but capitalism, free trade and the market have triumphed in the UK and the US. As part of this, the old notion that wealth is created through the exploitation of the workers has been shown to be nonsense. The right has taken this on board enthusiastically: any capitalist worth his salt these days wants a well-educated, healthy, happy workforce, and as many wealthy consumers as he can get.

Second, liberal values - and I use liberal in the old sense - have also triumphed. Thus, mainstream Tories and Republicans have accepted notions of equality, tolerance and human rights, and moved on. The liberal left however has stuck its head in the sand and refused to notice. It continues to ask for votes on the basis that it is saving people from right-wing bogeymen that exist only at the margins of the political spectrum or in their own imaginations.

The real, exciting debates are now between statists and libertarians, social liberals and social ultra-liberals, interventionists and multilateralists. The arguments are complex, multilayered and ongoing - but not if you are Joan Smith apparently. Think children might best be brought up in a stable, heterosexual marriage, or worried that life might begin at conception? You're a gay-bashing, intolerant, patriarchal murderer. Work in business? You're a rapacious, corrupt, immoral Earth-destroyer. And so on and so on, until there's nobody listening. Honestly, you think Bush is stupid? Try reading the liberal left.

London SW6

Mentally ill are unfit to choose euthanasia

Sir: Johann Hari's article on the selfishness of suicide (12 November) is confused, and stigmatises the mentally ill.

My father committed suicide brought on by depression, shooting himself with a shotgun. He left behind a legacy of pain and suffering to his family and children. Over 20 years later this is still present. I still find his act unacceptable, because even then there were other options. It was simply that he did not receive the help he needed, or come to terms with his inner problems. To say that if we free ourselves of the Judaeo-Christian ethic we can now sanction euthanasia for the mentally ill is meaningless, and offensive. There are many treatments, and new therapies for those with severe depression and other mental illnesses, and more in the pipeline.

To deliberately take one's life because of depression or other mental illness is still wrong, and yes, it is still a selfish act. No one should deny the real pain and suffering of these conditions, but that does not accord depression and other mental illnesses the same status as a terminal illness.

Director, Sir Robert Mond Memorial Trust
London SW1

Sir: Doesn't Johann Hari see the irony of his argument, to wit, his own very survival? He freely admits that just a few years ago he too might have taken the route of assisted suicide, possibly with a bizarre and tragic trip to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland, but was saved by the timely introduction of SSRIs.

Thus, while he claims that, for some unfortunate people, hope is over, his own case demonstrates that there is always hope for the clinically depressed, even when it seems remote and unattainable. To make even a tenuous comparison with someone in a persistent vegetative state (where all hope is realistically gone) is fallacious beyond comprehension.

The clinically depressed person does not need to have confirmation that life is hopeless, meaningless, unbearable - they already know that well enough; the same person doesn't need this reinforced by some kind of sub-fascist Darwinism dressed up as liberalism or humane concern.

What can be done for the individual who has given up all hope is, admittedly, a challenge. But simply to agree with them that they are better off dead is unconscionable.


Sir: As ever, Johann Hari shows considerable intelligence and humanity in his discussion of public attitudes to suicide. However, with regard to the historical record his argument requires some qualification.

As Olive Anderson demonstrated in her study of suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England, the general public was rarely straightforwardly censorious in its attitude, despite the apparently uncompromising teachings of both state and church. In particular, coroners' juries could show very considerable understanding of and sympathy for suicides and their families, and by very frequently returning the verdict that suicides had acted while of unsound mind effectively disabled many of the sanctions of the law.

Widnes, Cheshire

Risks of offshoring

Sir: Digby Jones has missed the really worrying aspect of offshoring ("CBI warns on exodus of unskilled jobs", 8 November). It is not just unskilled jobs which are at risk from offshoring, but any job which does not depend on either physical proximity to the point of service/product delivery, or on very close cultural empathy with the service recipients.

The comment attributed to Mr Jones that "you have nothing to fear if you skill yourself" is, sadly, not borne out by reality. My own experience is that relocating skilled accounting operations to low-cost areas of Europe and Asia is now relatively routine. Computer programming for US and European companies is commonly carried out in, for example, Jamaica, Ghana and the Philippines, as well as India and China. Clothing design as well as manufacturing is carried out in Romania and Sri Lanka.

Simply gaining skills in a conventional sense is not enough - the challenge for Western economies is to continue to re-invent themselves to stay ahead of the offshoring trend. In fact, the one group of people that really are safe are the cleaners and the burger flippers - you can't do that from India.

London EC1

Pet ownership

Sir: I think there must have been a printing error in my edition of The Independent (13 November). My section on the "50 Best Pets" was missing the subtitle: "if you want to spend all your time and money at your vets".

Almost all of the breeds of dog and cat listed have numerous predispositions to disease and illness and the giant-breed dogs in particular can be extremely costly to treat because they require larger doses of medication. I was particularly glad to learn that bulldogs are suitable for people who have no desire to exercise themselves because "owing to breathing problems, bulldogs aren't usually capable of doing much exercise" - how fortunate.

It might also have been prudent to point out that approximately 50 per cent of Persian cats, number seven on the list, have a potentially fatal, inherited kidney disorder. Never mind, at least they have "spectacularly luxurious fur" and are apparently happy to live in an apartment with no access to the outside world.

If you plan in the future to compile a list of pets you might consider including a vet on your panel of experts and even feature a healthy mongrel like the one on the front cover of the supplement.

The Minster Veterinary Practice

Sir: Every year, in January, animal rescue centres see an increase in unwanted pets, as people who have bought puppies as Christmas presents discard them once they get bored or cannot cope with their boisterous behaviour. The "50 Best Pets" feature shows that The Independent has unfortunately not yet got the message. In running such a feature in the run-up to Christmas, you risk encouraging the irresponsible impulse-buying of animals.

Alton, Hampshire

Sir: You can indeed pay £200 for a pet greyhound. Sadly, you can also adopt one for the price of a dog coat, a lead and a donation to a rehoming organisation such as the Retired Greyhound Trust, which is part of the disgracefully underfunded effort to save thousands of ex-racing greyhounds' lives every year.

Greyhounds UK
London SW20

Fathers' campaign

Sir: Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss may be irked by the way that Fathers 4 Justice has brought the grievances of disenfranchised parents and grandparents to her doorstep (report, 10 November), but she cannot seriously dispute the causal link between our campaign of peaceful protest and her own presence in front of a Commons inquiry to answer questions about the family courts.

She also overlooks the perfectly sensible proposals for reform advanced in our Blueprint for Family Law in the 21st Century, presented to Downing Street in June of this year and included in our own submission to the inquiry.

Equal parenting groups have been lobbying patiently for 30 years, and have been fobbed off with a succession of false promises, with the result that, to quote from a lecture given by Dame Elizabeth herself at King's College in London in April last year, "60 per cent of fathers have little or no continuing relationship with their children post-separation".

Founder and Chair
Fathers 4 Justice
Sudbury, Suffolk

Level crossings

Sir: It is important to clarify that all level crossings are subject to a regular review, which is used to decide the most appropriate form of protection for the railway ("Rail chiefs refuse to review crossings safety", 10 November).

The risk-based assessment takes account of road traffic volumes, the frequency and speeds of trains, and sightlines for road vehicles. Network Rail has requested that the Rail Safety & Standards Board (RSSB) holds a formal inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the incident at Ufton Nervet. The results of the inquiry and any recommendations will naturally and properly be used to inform future decisions by Network Rail regarding risk assessments and the appropriate form of level crossing in any location.

Chief Executive, Network Rail
London NW1

Police access

Sir: I don't understand the need for the Home Office's latest attempts to make the police "accessible" (report, 10 November). I know perfectly well the first name of our local police officer.

Her first name is "Call" and her last name is "Centre", and she took over from her much-loved predecessor, PC Answering Machine last year following the substantial increase (13.6 per cent) in the local police rate. She is calm and courteous, and we know that we can tell her our concerns, safe in the knowledge that we will never hear of them again. I have spoken to her a couple of times in the last few months and always receive the same level of reassurance that my call is valued.

I am curious about the implication that some areas might have real live police officers, touring around the area and occasionally even talking to the general public. I don't think we get any of that sort of thing round here.


Men behaving well

Sir: I was rather confused as to why K Turner (letter, 13 November) felt the need to point out that Ataturk, Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot were all men. The same could be said of, amongst others, Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, ex-president Carter, and dare I say, John Peel. So the point is...?

Totnes, Devon

Deliberate voting

Sir: With all this talk about voting Lib Dem to be tactical (letters, 13 November), please don't forget the large numbers of us who vote that way because we would like the Lib Dems to win. We get ridiculed by our friends, who then come out with the apologetic line, "Well, of course, they are clearly the best lot; if I thought they could win I would vote for them."

Alston, Cumbria

Rape victims

Sir: According to your report (13 November) "Several dozen white women have been raped in the Ivory Coast over the past week". Surely rape is abhorrent whatever the colour of your skin, or is your reporter confusing "white" with "European"?

Clanfield, Hampshire

No better off

Sir: Government tactic that is beginning to wear thin: announce the atrocious and retreat to the undesirable as a "responsible" answer to public debate. I suppose we're supposed to be grateful that we'll have "just a handful of 'super-casinos' " (report, 12 November), when one is too many?

London N3

Sir: I would like to thank Rodney Brody of the Las Vegas Sands casino company for his generous offer of commitment and dedication to creating jobs and supporting communities throughout the UK (letter, 9 November). However, as LVSI and the rest of the gambling "industry" show no dedication or commitment to creating wealth but only to shifting it about a bit, mostly in their direction, I am afraid I cannot.