Defiance of the law by hunts brings anarchy to the countryside
Sir: The preposterous double speak of the hunting fraternity - we're hunting but we're not hunting - is the language of domineering, powerful bullies who are demonstrating that they will not be curbed, and their message is that law enforcers, Parliament and the public had better sit up and take notice ("Hunts keep up their Boxing Day tradition despite supposed ban", 27 December). What they're really saying is: "Yes of course we're hunting - what are you going to do about it?"
I am a hunt monitor, and as I and my colleagues attempt to film hunt activity, we are routinely intimidated and threatened, our cars are blocked in by hunt supporters' vehicles, we are physically surrounded and menaced, and our video cameras are obstructed and even sometimes seized and damaged. Our tyres are cut, our CB equipment vandalised. We suffer harassment both physical and verbal.
Breaking of the law against hunting is widespread and blatant. I would describe the present situation as anarchy in the countryside, and urgent action is needed to take control of this situation. The police must take matters seriously, and MPs must accept that they should have listened to us when we told them not to underestimate the sheer, downright nastiness of the hunting fraternity. The law urgently needs enforcement, and it also needs tightening.
GREAT HASELEY, OXFORDSHIRE
Blair on the right? You amaze me
Sir: Steve Richards (Opinion, 23 December) opines Blair is in trouble because he is following a right-wing agenda while leading a left-wing party. I fail to be impressed by this scintillating insight.
Many of us inside the Labour Party pointed out the Blair paradox over a decade ago and predicted he could split the party, too. At the time we were routinely dismissed as "dinosaurs" by the pundits of the left-of-centre press. In reality a decade ago the Independent soothsayers and their allies were hailing Blair as the saviour of the left: the desire to oust the Tories swept aside any analytical abilities which they are alleged to possess.
Have you ever thought of performance-related pay for your pundits? And how about a little "mea culpa" from the editorial writers for being the handmaidens for the Blairite capture of the Labour Party ?
GREAT HARWOOD, LANCASHIRE THE WRITER WAS A LABOUR MEP 1984 - 1999
Sir: Tony Blair's article (21 December) celebrating civil partnerships is a welcome and just acknowledgement of one of the few socially progressive pieces of legislation to come from this government.
However, I know from my personal and professional experience that much else his government has instigated increases prejudice and discrimination rather than reducing it. Iraq, repressive attitudes to asylum-seekers and constant pressure on the social support and justice due to accident victims and disabled people all send a message of intolerance and fear to vulnerable minorities. Tolerance in society only comes from strong, consistent leadership on these issues.
I view the rise in Tory popularity with a sinking heart, and continue to hope for the best from the Labour tradition of social justice, but I fear the worst.
Planners' role in creating places
Sir: Janet Street-Porter's comment on the failures of the planning system gloriously over-simplifies how we create urbanism, both good and bad ("How planners blight our towns", 15 December). I would have hoped that having trained as an architect she would recognise that creating places is about working in professional partnerships (developers, architects, highway engineers, urban designers), about different funding regimes, about engaging with communities and crucially requires strong political leadership.
Street-Porter seems deliberately selective in that she praises the "successful urban regeneration" of Birmingham town centre and at the same time undermines "planning departments of any major authority in Britain". Birmingham is a major authority. Birmingham employs planners. The title of her piece displays a fundamental bias that any unsuccessful urban projects are entirely the work of planners and any positive visionary projects that add to the quality of life and increase design quality are the work of a mysterious group of urban designers and architects who travel the country offering one-size-fits-all urban design solutions. Pure nonsense!
Birmingham is also the home of Planning Aid, a service run by the Royal Town Planning Institute, which offers free and independent advice to anyone who cannot afford a planning consultant. They have regional offices across England and employ volunteers - all planners - to help to cut through any jargon and help communities and individuals better understand the planning system so they might contribute to creating the best possible development.
Of course it is important to identify the mistakes of the past and to learn from them. I just hope Ms Porter will take her own advice and engage with the planning community. She can give me a ring if she likes. I am also a volunteer for Planning Aid. I'm not sure she would qualify for the free service but I'd be happy to work with her on the next article about planning.
PRESIDENT, ROYAL TOWN PLANNING INSTITUTE, LONDON EC3
Straw man put in to defend Sharon
Sir: Shuli Davidovich's letter from the Israeli embassy (26 December) reveals an unusually stark example of the Israeli government erecting a ridiculous straw man to defend its illegal occupation of the West Bank.
Johann Hari wrote an astute article pointing out that the occupation is helping to incubate an insane far-right organisation, Hamas. Davidovich responds by saying, "Having read Johann Hari's column, we now know that all that is needed to secure civil liberties in Tehran is to liberate Iran from Israeli occupation; all that is required to end the fundamentalist massacres in Darfur is to liberate Sudan from Israel's grasp and that perhaps if Israel had withdrawn from Afghanistan five years ago, the Taliban and al-Qa'ida would have disappeared, sparing us all untold sorrow."
This is that standard script thrown at anybody who criticises Israel. But it is inept to throw it at Johann Hari, who Independent readers know has written at great length about Iran, Darfur and Afghanistan, outlining solutions to the horrors Islamic fundamentalists are causing there. The solutions he proposes have, of course, nothing to do with Israeli occupation.
Rather than answering Hari's point and trying to defend Sharon's plans, Davidovich throws up a smoke-screen, ascribing to Hari a position that is exactly the opposite of his real view. If this is how Israel's government responds to liberal writers like Hari who are obviously opposed to Hamas and want to stem its rise, God help Israel and God help the Palestinians.
HARROW WEALD, MIDDLESEX
English hooligans in Germany
Sir: You report the remarks of David Swift to the effect that hooligans will be free to travel to next year's World Cup (13 December).
Around 3,200 troublemakers are currently subject to football banning orders, preventing them from travelling to matches overseas - 354 will have expired by the time the World Cup starts. However, if a banning order expires and an individual is still considered to pose a risk, then a new banning order will be sought. The Home Office is funding targeted local police operations to ensure that individuals who could pose a risk in Germany will be subject to banning orders.
We are working closely with the German authorities and having discussions at the highest level. Policing operations will include the deployment of uniformed English police officers in Germany to support and advise the German police and act as a liaison point for English fans.
Everything possible is being done to minimise the risk of significant disorder marring what should be a festival of football.
PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE, HOME OFFICE
Protests at general's 'racist' gaffe
Sir: I wonder if my Anglo-West Indian brethren, assuming they were the ones who rushed to complain about Major General Patrick Cordingley's faux pas, have nothing better to do with their time in the lead-up to Christmas ("BBC apologises for general's 'racist remark' in radio interview", 24 December). Of course, he could have used a choicer phrase, but what he said ["nigger in the woodpile"] is part of English usage, though indeed dying out.
Are we really so thin-skinned today that we rush to our telephone and e-mail at this? I wonder if those who complained also protest to their cousins in the pop music industry who profit from performing crude and profane rap language aimed mainly at denigrating themselves. There is more than a sniff of cant about this.
My late father (sapper Royal Engineers/Jamaica Regiment, Egypt 1941-45) and mother (WAAF/Jamaica, Cranwell and Box 1943-45) could offer some useful advice from a much tougher generation than their grandsons and granddaughters of today.
"If you hear everything the English say to you, son, you'll go mad," was my dear father's advice to me when I was growing up in Somerset. He was right in the 1950s and 1960s, and he would be right today.
MICHAEL A MCKAY
Fatal penalties of ignoring history
Sir: Although Professor Fernandez-Armesto makes a valid point regarding the learning of history in later life (Opinion, 23 December) his suggestion that it should not be taught in schools falls wide of the mark.
History is not a long list of kings, queens, emperors, dictators, their various wars, battles and conquests, nor does it have to be as boring as many of the teaching profession like to portray. History has made us what be are today and in understanding history, we gain a better comprehension of ourselves, our environment, our neighbours, our friends and our enemies.
There are children in the UK growing up today without their fathers because of a politician's erroneous belief that by removing a dictator in Iraq, stability in the Middle East region would be automatically conferred. Many historians and others at the time pointed out that given the history of Iraq and previous colonial meddling, this outcome was highly unlikely.
If the current situation in the teaching of history is allowed to continue, most of these children among millions of others will remain blissfully unaware of the part that history could have played in the decision committing the UK to a fruitless and bloody adventure.
The really sad aspect of this is that some of them will go on to become the leaders and decision-makers of the future and even if Professor Fernandez-Armesto were to have his way, will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Mothers who run out on families
Sir: I found your article entitled "Fathers who refuse to pay child maintenance face electronic tags" (26 December) quite sexist, as it implied (once again) that only men are capable of walking away from their parental responsibilities.
At present, the CSA is doing the best it can to try and get maintenance payments from my ex-wife, who is avoiding paying any form of financial contribution towards the upkeep of her children.
Whilst I appreciate that as a lone male parent I am very much in the minority, the CSA does have a number of female absent parents on its books, and your newspaper, like all others, ignores this fact, preferring the generalisation that only absent fathers are the problem. Sometimes it is mothers who walk away from their responsibilities, leaving the fathers to pick up the pieces.
I for one would far prefer your newspaper used the term "absent parent", which is the official term used by the CSA. Not all men are "bastards", and not all women are "natural care-givers" either.
NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED
Stranded at Christmas
Sir: A hearty Amen to your call for public transport service at Christmas (leading article, 26 December). And don't forget that many of us city dwellers don't even have cars as an option. The image of London as a multicultural world-class city never fits the reality of Christmas Day, when tourists and residents alike are stranded except for relatively expensive taxis.
R M O'DELL
Sir: Your leader about public transport ignores the fact that it has suffered privatisation, a Thatcher/Blair policy of which your newspaper usually approves.
Sir: Peter Butler asks if there are any country churches open to visitors without their having to search for a keyholder (letter, 26 December). Well, I can't speak for the 12,000 others, but if he should find himself in the wilds of West Sussex, he will find that West Wittering, Birdham and Itchenor churches are open to visitors during daylight hours every day of the year.
RECTOR OF WEST WITTERING, BIRDHAM AND ITCHENOR WEST SUSSEX
Don't blame schools
Sir: You may wish to reconsider the title of the article "From maths to music, how schools fail pupils" (22 December). Of the 15 subjects listed, at least seven indicate problems which come from factors largely beyond schools' control, such as exam demands and governmental policy.
Sir: I almost fell off my chair laughing at the news that a member of the voting panel had somehow pressed the wrong button, and that as a consequence the Olympic Games of 2012 were possibly given to the UK in error. What is going on here is obvious: this was no voting error, this was the Finger of God. Let those who denigrate our sceptred isles - be they in Argentina, Germany or Australia, or anywhere else - bear in mind that what goes around, comes around...