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Letters: Arms fair shames Britain

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 13 September, 2013

It was with a mounting sense of injustice and anger that I read your report on the ejection of two arms traders from the world’s largest arms fair, for promoting equipment that could be used in torture, contrary to UK law (12 September).

To our shame as a nation, this is not the first time that exhibitors have behaved in this way at an event being hosted in London and supported by our government.

Concurrently, I have been following the story of five peaceful protesters at the same arms fair who were arrested and will appear at Thames magistrates’ court later this month charged with aggravated trespass.

As a British citizen I am being told that it is our moral duty to intervene to prevent chemical weapons being used against innocent civilians in a rogue nation. How dare we as a nation moralise when we are supporting and promoting companies that deal in death and destruction?

Naomi Goff, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

How come it took Caroline Lucas MP telling Parliament that there were two arms companies marketing banned equipment at the DSEI arms fair in the London docklands before the organisers even noticed?

Do they not take even the most cursory look at their own exhibition? It seems to me that they may have known what was being marketed, and didn’t mind a bit until the whistle was blown.

Bill Linton, London N13

A new world role for America?

After much threatening talk, President Obama has accepted the Russian plan on Syria. We can but hope that this is a historic turning point in international relations.

America’s self-proclaimed leadership had never been acknowledged universally and if Washington is to retain the influence that its economic, social and political power warrants, then it must, from now on, act as first among equals.

The West’s unity as a power bloc has been disintegrating over the past two decades, put at risk by a series of illegitimate and misconceived wars. Without his deputies the sheriff cannot muster a posse. Now let’s give the UN a chance. 

Alex Mitchell, Sheffield

In his opening address at Nuremberg in November 1945 Justice Robert H Jackson, for the United States, said: “While this law is first applied against German aggressors, if it is to serve any useful purpose it must condemn aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment.” His definition of aggression included “provision of support to armed bands formed in the territory of another state”.

Do you notice the queue forming on the courthouse steps?

Keith Horne, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire

I was glad to read in Andreas Whittam Smith’s article on Syria (11 September) that the days of imperialism are over. On that basis, could we please have our country back?

Dewi Jones, Holywell, Wales

No thanks to Osborne

Chancellor George Osborne is no more responsible for the recovery in the British economy than he is for the changing of the seasons. After six years of turmoil the world economy was long overdue an upturn, irrespective of his policies.

What the Chancellor is responsible for, however, is making the recession a much more painful and prolonged experience for all bar the most wealthy residents of our country. His blind and bone-headed adherence to the economic policies of the Iron Lady has squeezed the pips of the middle class and low-paid alike and  short-changed them on the  public services they have paid  for over the years.

His proclamation of economic recovery and slackening-off of taxation 18 months before the next election smacks of an attempt to induce a sense of wellbeing in voters in time for the election. One wonders how long the Chancellor intends to prolong this warm feeling beyond May 2015, or indeed whether British voters will fall for this attempt to secure their votes in the closing months of this parliament.

The real heroes of the economic recovery are former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his Chancellor Alistair Darling and former Bank of England boss Mervyn King, who in the dark days of 2007/8 squared up to an alarming and unprecedented collapse of the World economy by setting in motion the innovative and boldly interventionist (positively anti-Thatcherite) policies such as quantitative easing, car scrappage, homeowner support and 15 per cent VAT, which preserved and sustained the core of our banking system, retail sector, manufacturing and construction industries so that they can now fuel the recovery we are now experiencing.

Mark Campbell-Roddis, Dunblane Perthshire

Votes for a coalition

Ian Craine (letter, 12 September) repeats the literal interpretation that Sarah Teather was “voted in to carry out the policies of her party, not to get into bed with the Tories”. 

Anyone who voted in the last election must have been aware that the chances of the Lib Dems gaining a majority in Parliament and forming a Lib Dem government to carry out exclusively Lib Dem policy were precisely nil. It was always the case that their best chance of passing any of their policies was to form a coalition with one of the other parties, and the electors of Brent Central will have known this.

It seems to me that there’s no point in throwing your toys out of the pram because the Coalition doesn’t do everything you want – that’s the nature of being the minority partner in such an arrangement. The Lib Dems are lucky to be in a position where they have genuine influence. Perhaps the next election will give their supporters what they appear to crave – the right to shout loud and idealistic suggestions from the sidelines without the responsibility of having to implement any of them.

Mark Redhead, Oxford

Grande vitesse beats high speed

France is currently constructing 302km of new high-speed rail from Bordeaux to Tours at a cost of £6.6bn, at £21.9m/km, of which only half is funded from the public purse. It was started in 2012 and will be in service in just five years, in 2017. 

Our lumbering HS2 will cost £50bn for a total of 427km, at £117m/km, eventually to be fully completed in 2032. The difference in cost is not explained by the amount of tunnelling, cuttings and bridges compared to that of the Bordeaux to Tours line.

The finished HS2 route will serve a tiny percentage of the UK population and probably better off ones at that, while every UK tax payer will contribute on average some £1,700 to the scheme. Could we perhaps learn something from the French?

Andrew Lovatt, Chelmsford, Essex

Teachers on zero hours

Ed Miliband mentioned in his speech to the TUC that some zero-hours contracts can provide a useful service, and cited supply teaching.

For many teachers close to retirement or with family commitments supply teaching used to be a job of choice. That is no longer the case. Supply teaching is almost completely dominated by low-cost private agencies. Schools might be charged anything up to £200 per day – that’s for making a few phone calls and maintaining a list of teachers. As for the teachers, they might receive anything from £30 to £90 per day below the national rate set by the Teachers’ Pay and Conditions agreement. Private supply agencies make no contribution whatsoever to teachers’ pensions.

Supply teachers are exploited in this way because most of the council-run supply agencies that did pay the rate have been replaced by low-wage, low-cost, no-training providers, run by CEOs on seven-figure salaries.

Zero-hours pay and conditions are a blight that affects many other professions, such as university and further education lecturers. Let’s hope a Labour government will outlaw this practice. Everyone loses out from this type of privatisation - teachers, parents and children.

Richard Knights, Liverpool

A sterile, bland vision of Europe

When I read in your report of 12 September that Jose-Manuel Barroso had said that Eurosceptics want “to drag Continent back to the trenches”, I couldn’t help but feel a wave of irritation. Why do these Eurocrats engage in such weird binary rhetoric? And why is the only “good Europe” for them a “Brussels-centric” Europe? I just can’t grasp that.

I’d much rather have a Europe where we can enjoy our differences rather than one were multinational corporations and their puppets in Brussels have steered us into a sterile Bland New World, where big-brands dominate the market and banks and corporate executives rake in the cash, while everyone else is forced to fight for the crumbs.

Alan Mitcham, Cologne, Germany

Shylock: ‘the Jew’ as hero

You report that Howard Jacobson is to rewrite Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.  Arnold Wesker wrote a  play, The Merchant, “to explain how Shylock committed himself to such a [blood-spilling] bond in the first place”.

In 1960 at Stratford-upon-Avon I played Tubal to Peter O’Toole’s towering Shylock, whose performance proved that “the Jew” can emerge as a true hero.

Clive Swift, London NW8

The Merchant of Venice addresses the power of one religious group over another, and Shylock’s speeches express the view of the powerless Jew.

His demand for a pound of flesh from Antonio showed the audience of Christians what it would mean to experience such oppression. Shakespeare uses Shylock’s obstinacy to turn the wheel back to what would have been normal to an Elizabethan audience, having pushed the point as far as he dared.

Vanessa Martin, London W4

Wine train

Your photograph of “a train passes through a Napa Valley vineyard” (11 September) is not “a train” but “the train”.  It is California’s version of the Orient Express: the Napa Valley Wine Train. Since car-driving and wine-tasting do not mix well, the train offered us a much safer and tastier way to enjoy the Napa Valley wine at this harvest time, with wonderful food and the vines passing our window. This wine definitely “travels well”.

Jed Falby, Budleigh Salterton, Devon