What is the point of party conferences? At a time when the credibility of all parties and their leaders is at an all-time low, do they really expect us to pay any attention to these spin-doctored, stage-managed performances?
All the parties are as bad as each other: hand-picked audiences standing up to applaud manically on cue, vague promises that are rarely remembered, let alone kept, and minor celebrities wheeled out to read well-rehearsed lines.
Perhaps there was a place for them when genuine debate, discussion and even argument was permitted, but is there now anyone left in Britain, other than those living in the parallel universe of professional politics, who is interested in a word they say during the so-called conference season? In these financially straitened times why don't they save their money? After all, we're all in this together aren't we?
Four Crosses, Powys
Labour politicians Ted Knight and Steve Reed have disputed on this page which was the more disastrous leader of Lambeth Council (letters 28 September and 2 October). In fact, both of them were and are incompetent.
My local library in West Norwood has been closed for eighteen months for want of £750,000 investment. Yet the current Labour administration has failed to collect over £20m in council tax, one of the worst records in the country.
And while Reed is right to lament the stock of debt left by past council administrations, he should reflect that past runaway Labour borrowing at the national level is precisely why he faces a tight budget settlement now.
A ComRes poll finds that people rate David Cameron more highly than Ed Miliband as having what it takes to be a good prime minister. It does not surprise me. It appears evident that a sizeable number of the UK population are of the roll-over-and-die type.
It seems that many people are willing to undergo a kicking providing the kicker administers it with a smile. True bulldog spirit?
Free school's bright ideas need a rethink
Oh dear me. I read with something akin to depression your article about the proposal for the new free school in Hackney (1 October). So much of it is nonsense, but the part that shows it more clearly than anything is the "bright idea" of the teachers moving from lesson to lesson, not the students.
Andreas Wesemann, the former investment banker who is promoting the school, clearly cannot imagine how difficult it can be to move resources from room to room for up to 30 students at a time, six times a day. When a teacher is in her own room she has instant access to all her resources – textbooks, exercise books, paper, pens – and also her room is designed to reflect her own subject, with wall displays, examples of the students' work and so on. As an ex-teacher, I remember that students always noticed when the wall displays were changed and it would often spark a discussion as they came into the room and make a great start to the lesson.
Movement from room to room for the students is a good thing in many ways. It allows them to move physically as well mentally from subject to subject and to wake themselves up after an hour perhaps spent mostly sitting in one place.
Why don't these people ask the teachers?
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Your report of 1 October misrepresents the basis of my criticism of the Hackney New School. When I said that evidence from similar schools elsewhere shows that they do not improve standards or reduce social inequality I was talking about free schools, not mixed-ability schools. The use of mixed-ability teaching, if it happens, in the Hackney New School would in fact be one of the very few positive features in what otherwise looks like the ill-thought through pet project of a small group of individuals with little educational experience.
The 600 parents who have expressed an interest in this risky venture should think again. Many planned free schools have failed to recruit and been pulled before opening. With no clear need for additional secondary places locally, and no site finalised, the Hackney New School organisers are taking a huge gamble.
Andreas Wesemann, the banker behind the project, is no doubt used to risk. He seems to welcome the fact that his school can prosper only if it diverts pupils and resources away from existing maintained schools. In a recent letter to the Financial Times (22 September), he praises the current government's education reforms as taking schools out of "incompetent" local authority control and allowing the hiring of unqualified teachers. New free schools, he says, will force state schools to "beef up their performance in order to survive".
This – competition, deregulation and (eventually) privatisation – is the real agenda behind Mr Gove's "free schools revolution".
Massacres in Beirut
I was very pleased to read Robert Fisk's article about the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut in September 1982 (15 September). His figure of 1,700 killed was the Red Cross number. After the journalists left many more bodies were found and a figure in excess of three thousand is more likely.
In reality the slaughter in the refugee camps was a "tidying-up" exercise. The Lebanese Christian Phalangists, armed and led by the Israeli military (which surrounded the camps to prevent escape and sent up flares to illuminate the scene) were called on to finish off the much greater massacre, Israel's aerial bombardment of West Beirut over the previous seven months.
I was in Beirut in the middle of 1982 and saw things that will live with me for ever. More than 30,000 Palestinians and Lebanese were killed during the bombardment. During the 10 days I was there, it was not unusual to come across piles of bodies in the western Beirut area.
On two occasions, members of the my company failed to return from trips over the "green line", and are presumed dead.
Given that there are more than five million Palestinian refugees scattered around the Middle East, we will never cease to have "terrorism" and a widespread hatred of the countries that support Israel. End the Occupation, allow refugees to return to their homes, and we stand a chance of peace.
West Kirby, Wirral
Jeremy Crane, commenting on the anger of Muslims at insults to their religion, mentions the "commonplace horrific media portrayals of other religions, in particular Judaism" (letter, 22 September), but he does not explain that the religion of Judaism was transformed into a "national cause" by the Zionists Jews, who have claimed to "return" to a country, Palestine, whose inhabitants were dispossessed in 1948 and 1967.
The Arab countries, in particular those bordering occupied Palestine, and an increasing number of people – non-Jews and Jews – all over the world, who campaign for the liberation of this land, are very vocal about the crimes committed by a regime calling itself a "Jewish state", thus giving all Jews a bad name. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.
Taking a swing at Europe
Poor Dominic Lawson! In order to prove that the Ryder Cup victory was not a sensational pan-European success, a pathfinder act for a vision of the Europe of the future, he, like an amateur golfer slashing angrily through the rough with his club in search of a very lost ball, puts up any argument he can grasp to tell us that the reality – European partnership – did not happen (2 October).
Does anything show more clearly the fundamental anti-foreigner agenda of the Europhobe lobby? There was I, moving slowly away from support for the Europe of Brussels, in the face of the Euro-disasters of the last few years; now forcefully returned to Europhilia, given this remarkable anti-European display from your columnist.
Election with no winner
Jerome Taylor ("Choosing an archbishop", 1 October) suggests that the new Archbishop of Canterbury be elected by church members rather than chosen by a committee. Reports of the split in the world-wide Anglican Church indicate that it is so deeply divided that a convincing majority would be out of the question.
The luckless winner is bound to be a loser, whatever form the election takes.
Peter Popham (25 September) is wrong to say that Sir Tim Berners-Lee "invented the internet in the 1980s". What he did was invent a very clever way (the world-wide web) of using the already existing internet in the early 1990s. The internet grew out of the US Department of Defense network in the 1970s. The invention of the WWW is what drove the uptake of the use of the internet but it is still only one of several services you use the underlying network for.
Professor Chris G Guy
School of Systems Engineering
University of Reading
Amid the latest hand-wringing over Syria at the UN, why is nobody talking about Resolution 377? This is the situation that this "Uniting for Peace" resolution was designed for. When there is deadlock in the Security Council, it allows a binding resolution to be taken by a majority in the General Assembly. Why is it not being invoked?
Bearing in mind that most Britons don't want this year to end and that there is a time-honoured method of avoiding the number 13, could I propose that we refer to next year not as 2013 but as 2012a?
Your headline "Still no apology for Clough's Hillsborough outburst" (29 September) is incorrect. Brian Clough apologised in his 4-4-2 magazine column in November 2001. I wrote the piece for him.