Letters: Back to shallow populist nationalism

These letters appear in the Tuesday 27th May edition of the Independent

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The success of Ukip in the European elections is a disaster for British politics. The history of Europe’s last century is littered with the damage caused by parties based on resentment, prejudice and ignorance.

Shallow populist nationalism has left behind a squalid legacy and it should have no place in British political culture in the 21st century. Are we incapable of learning anything from history?

Professor Richard Overy, London NW3

Through the letters page of your paper I would like to ask Mr Farage what colour of shirt I should wear when the call comes to smash Polish shop windows or Indian restaurant frontages. This is important, as I would not want to be mistaken for a real fascist – just a member of Ukip.

John Broughton, Broad Haven, Pembrokeshire

The coverage of the local elections has become ridiculous.

Newspapers claimed that the Labour Party had been “trounced” by Ukip. Labour gained overall control of six councils; the Tories lost 11 and the Lib Dems lost two. Ukip control no councils. In like manner, Labour gained 338 seats, the Tories were down 231, and the Lib Dems were down 307 seats. Yet the press concluded it was the Labour Party who were trounced by Ukip’s “surge”. David Cameron and Nick Clegg could stand to be so trounced!

Julie Partridge, London SE15

Two things filled me with pride in living in London on Friday. The first was the breathtaking view over Trafalgar Square to Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament beyond. The second was that most Londoners, including myself, had avoided falling for the “charms” of Ukip in Thursday’s elections. I hope that Ukip’s spokesperson can see the irony in me being too well educated, as well as living in this country thanks to uncontrolled immigration from Wales.

Richard Jones, Hampton, Middlesex

Criticism of Ukip for the marginally racist, and deeply unpleasant, antics of some of its candidates rather misses the point: the real problem with it is that it is a single-issue, wholly negative party.

Does anyone have a clue what it stands for on, say, the NHS, trade, housing, transport, defence or any other issue on which a normal political party would have clear views? No, the only thing that Ukip bangs on about is the European Union and nothing else. 

“Brussels ate my hamster” does not make a platform for a credible party.

Dr Richard Carter, London SW15

May I congratulate those people who voted for Ukip for helping the country towards the “return of powers”. 

The “red tape” and “human rights” that the voters will be able to douse with large buckets of cold water, should they succeed in leaving the EU, will include the following: 28 days’ minimum paid annual leave; rights for agency workers, temps, and those in part-time work; current rights to pregnancy and paternal leave; working time directives, including 48-hour weeks and minimum break times. Anti-discrimination law (sex, disability, age, and sexual orientation) may be under critical consideration by our new island government, as may be redundancy legislation.

Only one more election, and we may be able to make our own rules. Perhaps that is the cause of Nigel Farage’s inability to keep a straight face. 

I G Christie, King’s Lynn, Norfolk

Call me old-fashioned, but I have always understood that at any election, be it for national politics or for the committee of a local society, the sensible voter chooses the candidate who they believe will do the best job. How bizarre then that we have Ukip gaining a large number of seats in the European Parliament, an organisation which they do not support at all.

Until such time as we may leave the EU, all voters should choose the candidate who they believe will do the best job for Britain, attending meetings, lobbying and arguing our case. We should not vote for a candidate who seeks only to do the best job for their party.

David Dorkings, St Albans, Hertfordshire

It is obvious that, as an urban lounge lizard, Nigel Farage has never seen the effects of a fox in a henhouse; otherwise he would not have used the analogy of a “Ukip fox in the Westminster henhouse”.

What you see is simple wanton destruction and carnage for the sheer blood-lust of killing. There is nothing smart or constructive about it. I do not know many people who would vote for it if they knew the real consequences.

Tom Simpson, Bristol

Given the increasing choice of candidates we are faced with, and some of the bizarre results that it produces (such as right-wingers who have hitherto voted Conservatives voting Ukip and letting in Labour) is it not time to replace the first-past-the-post system with a two-round system like (horrors!) some of our neighbours? 

If only, say, the top two or three parties in a given voting area were on the second-round ballot paper, then, unlike an alternative vote system, this would give time for inter-party deals to be done locally and voters to take into account first-round voting patterns in deciding how to vote in the second round.

As (whispered!) the French say, in the first round you vote with your heart and the second with your head.

Venetia Caine, Glastonbury, Somerset

Educational value of a day at the zoo

As the hymn-writer didn’t say, children learn in mysterious ways their wonders to perform (“Writing about ‘My day at the zoo’ can help a child’s literacy, survey finds”, 22 May). A particularly powerful way  is  first-hand experience and then reflecting on it through talk, writing, art or other media.

But to have memorable experiences requires time away from the constraints of test preparation and second-hand learning; it also often, though not necessarily, involves a degree of  expense. Those  economically disadvantaged children who attend schools “requiring improvement” can be further educationally disadvantaged if not given first-hand experiences to reflect on in the headlong pursuit of better data to satisfy Ofsted.

Yet inspectors do not have to assess the quality of experience offered by the curriculum except in the most perfunctory way. Perhaps inspectors too need that visit to the zoo.

Professor Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria

Overheard in an infants’ school as we boarded a coach bound for the zoo.

Child A: “Don’t you want to go?”

Child B: “No, you always have to write about it afterwards.”

Jean Gallafent, London NW1

UK complicity in torture

Your report that MI5 may have been complicit in the detention and torture of a former UK resident in Egypt is extremely disturbing (“MI5 stands accused of complicity in torture this year”, 20 May).

To date the Government has failed to mount the full inquiry into past allegations of UK complicity in torture promised by David Cameron soon after he came to office in 2010. It’s alarming to think that fresh cases may be piling up even as older ones go uninvestigated.

Are lessons going unlearnt? Is there an ongoing sense of intelligence officials being above the law, and a continuing culture of “untouchability” in the security services?

Our research into the prevalence of torture worldwide has found that abuse is disturbingly ubiquitous – we recorded it in a staggering 141 countries in the world in the last five years alone.

It’s shocking to think the UK may itself have played a part in perpetuating this global scourge.

Tom Davies , Stop Torture campaign manager , Amnesty International UK , London EC2

Female beauty, male blubber

I haven’t seen or heard the singer Tara Erraught perform, and I hope I would never be so ill-mannered as to comment on a woman’s weight in any case. But I think it’s a bit rich for Janet Street-Porter (“Shrill male critics are deaf to soprano’s real beauty”, 24 May) to chide the male music critics she names for doing so, and then, not a hundred words later, to refer to Peter Ustinov and Luciano Pavarotti as “mountains of blubber”.

She calls the critics’ comments “outrageous”, which they are. Aren’t hers? Or doesn’t it count when it’s a woman criticising a man for not conforming to her idea of handsome?

John Spencer-Davis, Harrow, Middlesex

The right to be assertive

Mary Dejevsky (23 May) writes of Theresa May: “Just because a woman stands up and makes her case assertively does not mean she has an ulterior motive.” Quite so. However, replace “woman” with “politician” and the picture changes completely.

William Roberts, Bristol