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Thursday 10 September 2009
Letters: Alcohol advertising
Time to get tough on Britain's favourite drug
I support the British Medical Associations's call for a ban on alcohol advertising. There is an urgent need to get tough with the drinks industry, which has a vested interest in people drinking to excess.
Over the centuries alcohol has become established as the country's favourite drug. Young people are drinking more because the whole population is drinking more. The early baby-boomers may be known as the generation of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, but they're hitting the bottle pretty hard as they age, as well. As this generation escalates its use of analgesic medicines for the aches and pains of ageing, liver damage can become a greater risk. Alcohol abuse is costing the NHS billions of pounds every year.
The historical cultural acceptance of alcohol needs questioning and educating at primary school level. We also need to get to the root causes of what motivates a significant number of people who think it is acceptable to go out on a Friday or Saturday night, drink to excess and indulge in antisocial behaviour. The majority of accident and emergency attendances over the weekend in UK hospitals are alcohol related.
The Government should develop mass media campaigns to curb excessive drinking, funded at the same level as its drink-drive campaigns over the years.
Dr Kailash Chand
Stalybridge, greater manchester
Let police answer to the people
Sir Hugh Orde believes that elected police commissioners "will drive a coach and horses through the current model of accountability" (report, 7 September). Well, all I can say is, roll on the coach and horses, because as far as the average citizen is concerned there is little meaningful police accountability now, and public confidence is at an all-time low.
Police forces are now so large, often covering multiple local authorities, that the chances of a citizen knowing who the chairman and members of the police authority are, let alone having voted for them, is remote. For example, Northumbria Police cover an area ranging from Berwick in the north bordering Scotland to Seaham in the south on the edge of Co Durham, and many other forces cover similarly large areas.
While we receive the odd glossy brochure in the mail telling us what the authority and the police are doing for us (but never mentioning actual detection rates), the authority and the police management are isolated and remote from the public.
In fact Northumbria police have made that isolation near perfect by introducing a call-centre approach to telephone calls from the public, that most hated and stressful business invention of the late 20th century. It is now impossible to speak to a police officer (outside of a 999 call) of any level, let alone someone in the office of the Chief Constable or Deputy Chief Constable.
And yes, the American system does work. Let the public down and they vote you out. Give them something to vote for and they will vote. I am not sure how long Sir Hugh has spent in the US, but I lived there for over 20 years.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir Hugh Orde is absolutely right to counsel against elected, and by consequence politicised, police chiefs. By all means explore ways to increase their accountability, but following this government's well-reported attempts to exert undue influence, resist measures that would further embroil the police in the murky world of politics. Maintaining an independent judiciary and police is a cornerstone of a free country.
David Cameron, proposing the idea, cites America as an example of where elected police chiefs have proved successful. By what measure? Elected law enforcement officers have been a feature of American civic life for around 200 years and yet presided over times in their history, such as the Wild West and the prohibition era, when lawlessness was rife.
I am seriously considering voting Conservative for the first time as a result of the proposals for elected police commissioners. On the basis of my own experience, policing in this country could not be a much greater failure than it is at present.
To make the police authorities answerable to the people might result in getting the kind of policing that will reduce crime in our cities. Many thousands of citizens live effectively as prisoners in their homes, especially after dark, because they perceive that the streets have been given up to the criminals.
Most people don't vote in local elections because as far as they can see, it doesn't really change anything. Here we are being given a chance to achieve something on a matter that is of great importance in the daily lives of millions. I think it is worth trusting the people and seeing what we will do with it.
Children rescued from the Nazis
It was very gratifying to read about the railway journey to commemorate the Prague Kindertransports and the wonderful achievement of Sir Nicholas Winton in organising the placing of the children in Britain (report, 2 September).
As he himself would be the first to point out, Sir Nicholas was only in Prague for about three weeks, and the first of the transports left after his departure. Our grandfather, Trevor Chadwick, was in charge of the operation in Prague from the end of February, where he remained for about four months, staying on after the Nazi invasion on 15 March. It was he, along with others, notably Doreen Warriner, who was in charge of the office of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, who organised the transports in Prague.
As Sir Nicholas has written: "Trevor went to work and dealt with all the considerable problems at the Prague end and this work he continued to carry on when it became more difficult and dangerous when the Germans arrived. He deserves full praise."
The full story is admirably told in Vera Gissing's book Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation.
Samuel Trevor Chadwick
Nato leaders stuck in the Cold War
I enjoyed Mary Dejevsky's article: "Nato's dissolution is long overdue" (7 September) and agree that we should question Nato's usefulness in the wake of the Cold War and its burdensome costs as we are in the midst of one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression.
Nato was originally chartered as a defensive alliance to protect Western Europe from the Soviets. Today, there is no longer any Soviet Union, and Russia, a nominal democracy, is not capable of nor interested in presenting a threat to the rest of Europe.
Yet Nato leaders seem to want a return to the "good old days" of the Cold War by provoking Russia, and acting outside of their original mandate by viciously and illegally attacking Serbia (which never attacked Nato member nations), and seeking to expand the alliance right up to Russia's borders.
But when it comes to neutralising a real threat such as that posed by Osama Bin Laden, they have been unable to do so, and more bombs will not ameliorate Afghanistan's many problems.
Henderson, Nevada, USA
Scandal may do rugby union good
In your editorial on "Bloodgate" (3 September) you refer to a "classic episode of minimal action and maximum self-satisfaction". It may be however that the whole affair may yet end in doing rugby union some good.
While the general good behaviour of fans and players is certainly something to be proud of, there have been those from the rugby union fraternity who have seemed to claim unique ownership of such decency. There are many other sports where referees are not abused and where the majority of fans act in a fair and sportsmanlike way. One of them is rugby league.
Perhaps most rugby union supporters, whilst proud of the way their game is conducted, don't hold "superior" views, but I suspect a few who have done in the past will now find themselves biting their tongues and having reason to reflect.
Who next for compensation?
The idea of compensation for IRA victims of Libyan Semtex is certainly right, but it can cause more dissension here in Ulster if a similar solution is not found for victims of loyalist violence. Otherwise we would create a hierarchy of victims.
The consequence of the compensation would however be more complex, considering the revelations that various UK government inquiries unearthed evidence of the security services running elements of the UDA and UVF. Loyalist weapons were allegedly also sourced in Libya. The discovery of an Uzi factory in Co Down raised serious international complications.
Will it also be possible for victims of UK arms sales to dictatorial regimes to gain compensation? Will victims of the Contras be able to gain compensation from the US or the families of UN soldiers killed by the terrorist South Lebanon Army be able to sue their sponsors, Israel? Are we in for interesting times?
No arguing with the BNP
Francis Kirkham (letter, 9 September) takes the commonly held view (among Independent readers anyway) that exposure in the media will make everyone realise that the BNP is racist, therefore repugnant, therefore nobody will vote for them. This is a dangerous delusion. No doubt it is valid when applied to articulate, liberal Independent readers – but they wouldn't have voted BNP anyway.
Far-right parties with racist policies work by linking fears about unemployment, housing and national identity to racist feelings by "dog-whistle politics" – messages delivered not by literal or rational interpretations of what is said but by pressing certain buttons in the psyche through emotional rhetoric.
A public-service broadcasting network should not be used to assist such manipulation, and a state that has outlawed statements designed to promote racial hatred should not legalise it.
Francis Kirkham thinks that Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time will expose the BNP as the racist "one-trick pony" it surely is.
I wish I could share such optimism, but suspect that Griffin will instead fight his party's corner using a combination of populist sound-bites and avoiding the questions: as does just about every other party politician who appears on the programme.
What the BBC is for
James Murdoch's comments on the BBC recall the words of an Australian who described one of the BBC's duties was to "keep the other bastards honest". What would be the quality of private-sector broadcasting without the threat of the viewers and listeners switching over to the BBC?
Am I to die prematurely? According to your caption writer ("Big thighs could be key to beating heart disease", 4 September) it is probable that I will. My thighs are less than 60cm diameter, in which case, according to the photo caption, I will shuffle off this mortal coil any time soon. Fortunately, on reading the article below, I discovered that it is a thigh circumference of 60cm rather than a diameter of 60cm that determines the probability of premature death.
Ash Priors, Somerset
ID card challenge
Now that the trial of those accused of plotting to blow up airliners has finished, with verdicts reached on most of the charges, I would be obliged if you would provide space in your letters page to allow a Home Office spokesman to explain how the surveillance, information-gathering and case-building would have been easier, and in what way the first trial would have been more conclusive, if the suspects had all had ID cards.
Cricket on Film
Further to the letters about cricket on film, the BBC made a film based on the village cricket match in A G Macdonell's England, Their England in the early 1970s, which, in the days before home recording, and given the BBC's archival practice, has probably disappeared into the ether. It was directed by a young Stephen Frears. I had the good luck to work on it as boom operator, and the bad luck to be working on something else when it was transmitted.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Can anyone tell me when the phrase "going forward" replaced the perfectly sound "in the future"? There is barely a politician, business person or anyone else who fails to refer to future events in this way.
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