Sir: I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues Khalid Mahmood MP and Sadiq Khan MP, but when they oppose practical action to increase the numbers of black and minority ethnic MPs they are being both silly and selfish.
It is 20 years since four black and Asian MPs were elected to Parliament. Since then progress has been painfully slow. On current trends it will take over 70 years to have a fair representation of black and Asian MPs. I do not believe that the British people should have to wait that long for a parliament that looks like Britain.
The introduction of all-woman shortlists in the run-up to the 1997 election made possible a leap forward in the number of women MPs (over 100), put pressure on other parties, created a critical mass of women in Parliament and made things easier for women, even in open selections. I believe that all-black shortlists would have the same transforming effect.
Just because Khalid and Sadiq have their foot on the ladder, they should not block changes that could help others.
Diane Abbott MP
(Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Lab), London E8
Sir: Janet Street-Porter (27 March) concludes her incisive questioning of why MPs should receive special treatment with the statement: "It's a job, not a religious vocation." On the same day, Andrew Grice reports on the proposal for black-only shortlists.
The disillusionment with politicians has two primary causes: a public belief that many aspiring MPs see a job in Parliament as an easy way of making a lot of money, and secondly that MPs arrogantly seek to give themselves special treatment.
Black and all-women short lists are unlawful in every other sphere of employment under legislation which does not allow positive discrimination. Selection for any other public-sector job will be made using fair selection procedures, with proper monitoring to ensure that the best applicant is chosen, irrespective of gender or race.
The reason why there are not enough women or black prospective parliamentary candidates is that the political parties are not prepared to force their constituency organisations to follow equal-opportunity employment practices. Once again those who make the laws are excluding themselves and their chums from something they force on others.
John E Orton
Why Blair went to war in Iraq
Sir: Whether the reader is a supporter or opponent of the Iraq war, Steve Richards gives a candid appraisal of Blair's position ("Overwhelming and still underestimated factors propelled Blair into war in Iraq", 27 March). Nifty political positioning happily co-existed with a messianic zeal for liberal interventionism and sudden fear for national security.
In this matter, as in so many others, Labour was enfeebled and coerced by its fear of losing favourable coverage in the right-wing press. (Can we take bets on how many index entries for "Murdoch, Keith Rupert" will appear in Blair's memoirs?) Unfortunately, it is rather easy to imagine, as in the reverse scenario posited by Steve Richards, the amenable Mr Blair dispensing with the passion for humanitarian intervention and concern for national security if The Sun had been seeking a non-war solution.
Given the carnage of the war, surely no man, let alone a man of strong faith, could continue to function and display the unshakable equanimity, self-belief and self-justification evident in our former Prime Minister, if he knew decisions were taken chiefly for the basest of political reasons. Therefore, shouldn't we give him the benefit of the doubt?
Sir: If, as Steve Richards indicates, Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq was hedged with doubts and calculations, why, since the war turned into a catastrophe, has every utterance on it by the former Prime Minister been characterised by an absolutist sense of self-righteousness, and a messianically fundamentalist view that his deluded policy has served the greater good of mankind?
Isn't it more likely that in 2003 we saw the consummation of a taste for macho militarism in the person of a hitherto unwarlike individual, following the intervention in Kosovo, and following the experience of having been knocked off-balance by 9/11 ("a wake-up call" – typical psychotic language)? War, when death is others' business, can become addictive. Especially if you back it up with a stiff dose of morality.
Sir: Steve Richards' analysis of the reasons Blair and New Labour took us into Iraq may or may not be correct, but what struck me most about the article was the dispassionate way in which domestic UK politics can be discussed without regard to the fatal consequences for hundreds of thousands of people in another country.
I well remember the general consensus of the time that absolutely nothing about Irish politics could possibly justify the killing on the streets of innocent people, and that any attempt to justify such killings based on the claim of some bigger goal was regarded as an obscenity.
Clearly that view is no longer held, though it may be interesting to note that Northern Ireland is arguably more stable now than at any time in its history, at the cost of some 3,000 lives, while Iraq is a long way from stability at a cost of some hundreds of thousands of lives. And still counting.
Lisburn, Co Antrim
NHS betrayed by governments
Sir: Steven Ford is right (letters, 24 March) that the NHS has been betrayed by governments, the present one in particular, with its endless, aimless reforms and love affair with private companies.
Corporate organisations are responsible for a multibillion IT system (five times over budget) that does not work and, according to independent expert opinion, never will. Billions more have been spent on PFI. Taxpayers will shoulder the debt for the next 30 years, and private companies will laugh all the way to the bank.
The Government is allowing private companies to run GP services, against the wishes of patients. The CBI has organised a forum called "Improving Primary Care Services". There appears to be no input from doctors and, to ensure mere patients do not contaminate the cosy proceedings, it will cost £586.33 to attend.
Already, millions have no access to dental services. Stand by for "increased choice" in primary care, a dumbed-down, depersonalised, one-size-fits-all system, or go without.
Lord Darzi called for the NHS to be freed from day-to-day political interference, with greater input from clinicians and patients. Some hope.
Dr P Outen
Sir: I was sad to read Victoria Summerley's account of her husband's trials with the NHS (11 March).
I discovered a lump in my breast last June, and the practice nurse in my health centre arranged an appointment at Frenchay Breast Clinic in less than a fortnight. Within three hours of meeting the consultant, my cancer was confirmed and I was offered a date for surgery in less than two weeks. After day surgery, I went home with a check-up a week later.
It was then explained to me that as I had had had in my armpit a large number of cancerous lymph nodes, which had been removed, I would need chemotherapy, which would be followed by radiotherapy.
The kindness, the care and consideration shown to me by all has helped enormously. I have had the best attention I could need, all the drugs my condition requires, and I could not ask for more. My family and I will be for ever grateful to these dedicated people of the NHS.
Chipping Sodbury, Bristol
Sir: Philip Hensher (Opinion, 25 March) has underestimated the problem of government interference with professional decisions. It has infected healthcare. Doctors and everyone else are told by diktats, handed down by quangos, just how they should be doing their jobs. Guidelines and pathways dreamt up with variable reference to science leave us in the unenviable position of having responsibility without power.
Consultant Gynaecologist, Carmarthen
When drink is not a feminist issue
Sir: Joan Smith is willing to see such a dangerous drug as alcohol as a feminist issue, even at the expense of something as vulnerable as a foetus (Opinion, 27 March).
While Nice does itself no favours with its apparently arbitrary attitude to various chemicals, there are studies which do more than suggest that exposing one's unborn child to alcohol is playing with fire. The risks are legion, as with any drug, and abstinence is likely to be the best way to avoid them. It is true that this matter is part of a wider debate about the damaging effects of alcohol, but that is hardly a reason to play down the problems associated with maternal drinking in pregnancy. Perhaps Ms Smith would prefer that users of other drugs are also not subjected to "misogynist"advice about their use in pregnancy?
Plight of children seeking asylum
Sir: Your article of 27 March highlighted key failings of the UK asylum system. The Children's Society's experience of working with child asylum-seekers and their families reflects those findings. Research we published this year found these children growing up destitute, homeless, denied health care and sometimes going for days with nothing to eat.
Your article highlights a culture of disbelief in the asylum system, which consistently disadvantages those genuinely seeking sanctuary. Children are not protected from this adversarial system and often lack support through a frightening process.
The UK has one of the worst records in the EU for locking up children seeking asylum. Every year around 1,500 children face enforced detention, without time limit or any judicial oversight. Children should never be made destitute or locked up in detention because they, or their parents, have sought sanctuary in the UK. We urge the Government to end this situation.
Chief Executive, The Children's Society, London WC1
Decline of marriage is nothing new
Sir: At Marriage Care we don't believe the decline of marriage ("Marriage rate hits record low", 27 March) is anything new, but rather is part of a cyclical social phenomenon. Since the 17th century, marriage has been driven by children or property ownership. Our experience of counselling couples in 2008 suggests that for many owning a property together now takes priority over marriage. A mortgage has become the new wedding ring.
Couple that with the breakdown of traditional social communities and customs, and it is hardly surprising that couples are turning their backs on marriage. However, the number of couples cohabiting is on the rise. Our focus will continue to be in supporting couples to have rewarding long-term partnerships, whether via marriage or not.
Chief Executive, Marriage CareLondon W1
Mme Sarkozy as a pair of legs
Sir: What has The Independent got against the French? Your front page picture (27 March), reducing the First Lady to a pair of legs, however good, is demeaning to her and shaming to your readers.
Sir: President Sarkozy calls for fraternité ("Sarkozy hails 'brotherhood' of France and Britain", 27 March): what this country needs is more liberté and more égalité.
Sir: MPs have gone to the High Court to block a freedom of information request for the disclosure of detailed MPs' expenses. It makes me wonder how many hours MPs will spend attempting to block the next FOI request; which will, hopefully, request disclosure of the amount of hours MPs spent blocking the first request.
Canvey Island, Essex
Who needs a TV licence
Sir: In response to Dominic Lawson's article of 21 March, I would like to make an important clarification. A TV licence is not for owning a television set. It is a legal requirement for anyone who watches or records TV programmes as they are being broadcast, irrespective of the channel being watched, the device being used (TV, computer, laptop, mobile phone or any other), and how the programmes are received (terrestrial, satellite, cable, via the internet or any other).
TV Licensing, London WC2
Bikes in the slow lane
Sir: How does James Daley justify his insistence that two wheels are virtuous and three or four bad? (Cyclotherapy, 27 March) Surely a pedicab is better than a black cab, and a delivery trike is better than a motorbike. If the cycle lanes are too small to accommodate all push-powered vehicles, then it is the lanes that need changing, not the vehicles. Let's get mayoral candidates on to widening the lanes instead of consigning riders who have switched to pedal power, but can't fit their loads into a basket, to our dangerous roads.
Ellen M Purton
Sir: Your correspondent suggests that the choice in Tibet is between a benevolent colonialism or an anachronistic feudalism (letter, 26 March). He is mistaken. The Chinese occupation of Tibet is not benevolent and never was. More than a million Tibetans have died as a direct result of the occupation. The six million survivors are still denied fundamental human rights. The Tibetan government in exile proposes a democratic autonomous regime with defence and foreign policy remaining in the hands of China. A return to feudalism is not on the cards.
It's hell out there
Sir: The NUT conference delegates were critical of Army videos for giving a misleading impression of Army life. Are teaching recruitment advertisements on television any more truthful about life as a teacher?
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk