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Monday 1 June 2009
Letters: Attack on Loach
Attack on Loach for Israel stance ignores cruel reality
Gary Synor's article lambasting Ken Loach (Opinion, 31 May) for his participation in the campaign to persuade the Edinburgh International Film Festival to return sponsorship money from the Israeli government is a grotesque misrepresentation of the facts, and a shameful negation of the plight of the Palestinian people at the hands of Israel.
Perhaps Mr Synor may choose to ignore the plight of 4.5 million people who have the misfortune to be deemed inferior by a state he describes as a "modern democracy" but, thankfully, the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, ex-US President Jimmy Carter, the STUC, and increasing millions of others do not, evidenced in the growing support for an international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against what many regard as an apartheid state.
As for Mr Synor's assertion that "Hamas is more of a direct threat to Israelis that Saddam ever was to the UK", are we expected to believe that the three-week assault on the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military in January, which killed 400 women and children, utilising white phosphorus shells against civilians, UN compounds and schools – an assault the UN and the Red Cross described as a war crime – was justified by the refusal of Hamas to recognise the state responsible for the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948, the expropriation of 78 per cent of their land, the building and expansion of illegal settlements on the land occupied since 1967, and the imprisonment of 1.5 million humans for daring to exercise their democratic right to vote for a government of their choice?
Mr Synor joins the ranks of those who through history have tried to justify the suffering and slaughter of subject peoples in the name of democracy and human progress.
Parties will resist democratic reform
I wish I shared S U Sjolin's delight at Alan Johnson's admission that we need a referendum on electoral reform for general elections (letters, 29 May). New Labour expressed its support for precisely such a referendum in its 1997, 2001 and 2005 manifestos, but as with so many other fine-sounding Blairite pledges, has failed to deliver.
This government has also dithered for 10 years over "stage two" of democratising the House of Lords, having removed most of the hereditary peers in 1999. The reality is that Labour fears that a more democratic or representative Second Chamber would challenge the government's dominance of the House of Commons.
Ultimately, neither New Labour nor the Tories genuinely want to reform the electoral system to make it more proportional, nor do they really want to make the House of Lords more democratic. Whatever fine words and pledges they offer when in opposition, or preparing for an election, both main parties love the power which the existing political system gives them when they are in office.
New Labour and the Tories will not provide genuine solutions to our increasingly corrupt and antiquated political system because both parties are a major part of the problem.
Reader in British Politics, Cardiff University
A single reform is all that is required to fix the problems of Westminster, the power for constituents to recall their MP. This would force MPs to think about what they are doing, because, fully aware that backing illegal wars, breaking manifesto promises, or fiddling their expenses, governments would have to think carefully before introducing unpopular legislation, or engaging in illegal wars, in case they triggered a massive number of by-elections.
It would even solve the problems of proportional representation, because MPs and governments would know that the people who did not vote for them could force a by-election, and so would be forced to balance their projects on the grounds of realism, not ideology.
The mechanism would also beautifully simple: a petition of no confidence in the sitting MP, delivered to the Electoral Commission for validation and, on validation, a by-election called. Checks and balances would be needed (a limit of one petition per year, containing at least 20 per cent of the constituency voters), but this in itself is not a bad thing, because recalling an MP should not be frivolous.
Party chiefs would hate this: they depend on the power of patronage and the whipping system to force through bad legislation. They would argue that this weakens government, but this is actually the point. MPs are beholden to their constituents, and it's time that the parties remembered that.
I wonder if there are other Equitable Life members who read Gordon Brown's words proclaiming the rights of "the citizen" (Campaign for Democracy, 27 May) and also did not know whether to laugh or cry.
This Labour Government has dragged their feet over the allocation of any compensation towards The Equitable's ageing/dying members in the most cynical and almost spiteful manner, so to read Mr Brown's words proclaiming, "I'll consider anything that makes the political elite accountable to citizens" certainly made my blood simmer.
As one of his citizens, I feel as if I am up against Big Brother when it comes to Brown listening to us in the Equitable Members' Action Group (EMAG). (Remember, the Ombudsman said we suffered "a gross misjustice", and called for the distribution of compensation immediately.) I read almost every paragraph of Brown's piece with amazement at the level of hypocrisy; in fact, if one is trying to get the State to hear you, it verges on the absurd, "how to entrench the rights of the British people in relation to the State ...", to "everyone must know they are being heard ...".
And the final paragraph, well, I stopped simmering and started laughing. "What has always been clear to me is that we must look at new ways in which the political elites can be made more accountable to serve more effectively the single most important person in our democracy, the citizen." EMAG read his lips.
One law for MPs, another for us
So a lady wishing to get the best school for her child is being prosecuted for fraud and may be fined up to £1,000 and imprisoned for up to five years (report, 29 May). She says it was an honest mistake. Our MPs steal from the taxpayer, for example, claiming for a mortgage that had already been paid off, and protest it was an administrative error. Do they face prosecution with the possibility of a fine and imprisonment? I think not. It is a funny old world, isn't it?
Oh, yes. An MP wishing to get their child into a good school would simply buy a second home in the appropriate area and charge the taxpayer. Fair, eh?
Rhu, Argyll & Bute
The MP Bill Cash make a totally ludicrous defence of his expenses claim for renting a flat in London which was owned by his daughter. As usual, he used the "within the rules" justification but missed the obvious observation that he could have stayed in his own flat, which was closer to Westminster, at limited expense to the taxpayer since it was not mortgaged. His additional defence that he made no claim from his own flat nor his constituency property are irrelevant red-herrings.
In essence, it appears what he did was needlessly rent a property, owned by his daughter, so generating a tidy and guaranteed income for her at no cost to himself. If that isn't a gross abuse of the public purse I don't know what is, and can only hope another dodgy MP's head will roll in due course.
MPs are compensated amply for having to work away from home. When having to do so as a civil servant, I was told in arriving at the overnight subsistence rates that a deduction was made for "home saving", the putative cost of the breakfast I did not eat at home.
Croydon, South London
How can we stop the crimes of MI5?
After further revelations about "How MI5 blackmails British Muslims" (21 May), it would be easy to say such practices are no surprise. As a letter on 22 May said, "The security services normally achieve their ends by means that would otherwise be illegal or immoral".
For at least the past couple of decades, MI5 has been blackmailing refugees to act as informers about political activities in this country. Such practices have intensified as MI5 gained more resources since the "war on terror". MI5 has often given other governments disinformation about UK residents so they would be detained and tortured as "terror suspects" when travelling abroad, some ending up in legal black holes.
In some cases, the motive is punishment for non-co-operation. Individuals here have also been put under control or deportation orders, based on secret "evidence" obtained by pressuring individuals here or abroad.
MI5 "intelligence-gathering" blurs political dissent with plans for violent activities. It follows (or perhaps leads) government policy in targeting "extremist ideology", broadly defined to encompass widespread views in this country. This vague scope is explicit in the Government's Contest 2 policy, officially called The United Kingdom's Strategy for Countering International Terrorism.
In the name of protecting "national security", the UK security services spread fear, distrust and disinformation. They aim to terrorise and silence dissent against the UK's support for oppressive regimes abroad. How can we stop MI5's crimes? Who will hold them accountable?
Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, London NW5
Britain's jobless treated unfairly
Hard times (report, 27 May)? Nothing much has changed since the jobless were left to fend for themselves in Victorian society. Not many will have the appetite for voluntary work or even for this buzz word "retraining", because, unlike our near-neighbours in Europe who receive 40 per cent to 75 per cent of their last salary when unemployed, here we get, until recently, £60.50 a week.
Imagine how quickly lives unravel on this before another job can be found, and if you do, you have probably lost your home and are heavily in debt. And there are no politicians to speak up for this disgraceful state of affairs, nor journalists to highlight how little the British get back for their National Insurance contributions.
A federal case
UKIP supports the independence of the nation state, so why does it not consist of a Scottish Independence Party, a Welsh Independence Party, a Northern Ireland (or Irish) Independence Party and an English Independence Party? They would then need a suitable structure, presumably federal, to hold them together.
President, The Liberal Party, Coventry
There is talk of creating new designs for the £50 notes we so rarely see. I suggest that the Bank of England tell us that the tatty, torn and filthy £5 notes we have to endure are because they are to be phased out, or they should replace them with new. They are a disgrace even to our debased currency notes and coins.
Cowling, North Yorkshire
It's a point
Graham A Feakins's point that French nouns have genders (letters, 29 May) is irrelevant, because it is grammar in French and not in English. In French, when a noun is referred to as il or elle, it does not mean "he" or "she", it means "it", so it is not the same as when a ship is referred to as "she" in English.
Cut fuel tax
Now petrol has reached £1 per litre again, it is time we launched a campaign to reduce taxation on fuel to a realistic level and stop penalising motorists. This burden effects everyone and, in the present climate, is unacceptable.
Allan Forrester (letters, 29 May) justifies Orkney Council trips to Easter Island because they're both World Heritage Sites. So is Stonehenge and that's a bit cheaper to visit. Not as sunny, though.
Unwelcome in valleys
In an article in Life (28 May), you write of Angry White Men and mention "welshing on an agreement". Now you have an Angry Welsh Man who thought the word "welshing" had been vetoed, with other racist terms.
By George, he's wrong
Your reporter wrote in Business (29 May) , "When Ford is struggling to survive the worst sales in nearly 30 decades ..." Did car production at Ford really start in the reign of George I?
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