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Friday 16 January 2009
Letters: Baroness Vadera
Media blight green shoots of ministerial frankness
Why do politicians limit themselves to making anodyne, meaningless sound-bites? Because they fear that, if they speak spontaneously, they will be quoted out of context and their comments will be distorted beyond recognition. This has happened to Baroness Vadera.
At a press conference she was asked a question about a particular aspect of banking, and gave an honest answer which included just a hint, with many caveats, of optimism. The news media (sadly including The Independent) and, predictably, the Conservatives have distorted this remark to imply that the Government is out of touch with the real world. In fact, there are few people with a greater understanding of the current crisis than Baroness Vadera.
In your article on Baroness Vadera, you refer to my speech in October 1991 about "green shoots" and you describe it as "ill-fated" and "a gaffe". It is true that it was much criticised at the time, but was the remark so wrong? Shoots are shoots, not bushes. Statistics now show that the recovery began in the second quarter of 1992 after a broadly stable first quarter.
Gavyn Davies, one-time adviser to Tony Blair but then working for Goldman Sachs, in May 1993, described my "green shoots" remarks as "remarkably prescient". Mr Davies, of course, was a professional economist and, unlike your political correspondent, had the advantage of the facts. Guess where Mr Davies made his remarks? In The Independent.
House of Lords
Racist abuse of asylum-seekers
Indeed, immigration detainees feel dehumanised by what seems to be a canteen culture of racism among certain immigration guards ("BNP links to immigration service staff", 14 January).
A Cameroonian detainee explained to us that he was told by an immigration guard: "Fucking black slave; you must go to your country." One woman was called a "filthy black African pig". Another woman was told "You are an animal." A Ugandan woman claims guards described her and her children as "black monkeys".
Robert Verkaik said in his comment piece that the time has come to give a directly accountable government agency the job of guarding and deporting asylum-seekers, rather than private companies. Lack of accountability is a major contributor to the abuse suffered by immigration detainees and it is made worse by the Home Office sub-contracting the operating of detention centres and the escorting of detainees to airports to private companies. But we feel the underlying problems are the high refusal rate of asylum claims and the Government's policy of detaining indefinitely men, women and children who are not accused of any crime. A number of people who were abused in detention now have leave to remain in the UK, which raises the question why they were detained in the first place.
We feel abuse in immigration detention centres is so widespread that they should all be closed down.
Co-ordinator, Medical Justice
In response to your allegations of 300 cases of abuse by immigration staff, I am disappointed that you have chosen once again to repeat unproven rhetoric. You are aware the Home Secretary has appointed Dame Nuala O'Loan to independently review cases.
Fifteen months after my first letter to you neither you, nor the people you report for, have provided a complete "dossier" of evidence. We have received only 48 cases, far short of the alleged 300 you claim to have. Where these cases can be linked to a named individual they are being reviewed by Dame Nuala O'Loan.
Like your readers, I expect staff and the staff employed by UK Border Agency's contractors to act with professionalism and sensitivity. Should there be any substance to any report or allegation provided you can rest assured that action will be taken. I will not tolerate any form of mistreatment against any of those people we deal with.
Chief Executive, UK Border Agency, London SW1
Blair ignores main obstacle to peace
You report Tony Blair as telling a Paris conference last week that the Israel/Palestine conflict "clearly could be solved" (Podium, 12 January). He apparently said that the keys were to bring about a position where "Israel no longer has to fear for its existence" and where "Palestinians have the justice of a viable state". He still doesn't get it.
It has been the relentless, illegal colonisation of the West Bank (now half a million settlers) which has destroyed the prospects of such a viable state, and with it peace. It is among others that cynical policy, effectively condoned by USA and UK, which is the real casus belli of rockets from Gaza.
And it is not Israel, but Gaza, which now fears for its existence. Indeed, the Arab states have long confirmed the right of Israel to exist. Hamas cannot remotely threaten the existence of Israel, even it if wanted to. As Mr Blair surely understands, and as Sir Jeremy Greenstock said on BBC radio on Monday, the aims of their charter are little more than defiant rhetoric which will be finally abandoned when there is a fair two-state solution.
Andrew Phillips (Lord Phillips of Sudbury)
Israel has the right to defend its citizens, as it argues, but it is also legally obliged, under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, to resolve its legitimate grievance against Hamas through the Security Council. The US, as a member of that Council, and a founding member of the UN, is equally obliged under the Charter to support collective measures to remove threats to or breaches of peace.
The delicate legal framework put in place after the Second World War has been treated with contempt not only by Israel but, inexplicably, by the US. Israel's political calculation has proved correct: in the last days of the Bush administration its attack on a beleaguered, impoverished and malnourished population, concentrated in a narrow coastal strip, was guaranteed carte blanche, while the White House publicly, and shamefully, washed its hands of the whole affair.
Operation Cast Lead will not destroy Hamas, but it has destroyed Israel's credibility everywhere, created images that will recruit terrorists throughout the world, and blown apart the rule of law as decisively as its precision-guided bombs have shattered the fragile frames of nearly 300 children.
The Quartet is publicly committed to the two- state solution for Israel/Palestine, and yet the reactions to the Gaza war by the UN, EU and Russia are completely counterproductive to that goal.
Israel seems to be the only player committed to two states who understands the real objectives of the Gaza war, which are, first, to cut Hamas down to a size and strength which even the Palestinian Authority and Fatah can manage, thus regaining control of Gaza and curbing the threat of Islamisation of the Palestinian state; and secondly, to send a very clear message to the Palestinian Authority that Israel will not tolerate rockets, mortars or any form of delegated terrorism, once the Palestinian state is established.
Stopping the rockets and mortars hitting Israel is desirable, but without the effective destruction of Hamas, long-term peace is pie in the sky.
Israel is doing its part, but if it fails to curb Hamas, it is the Quartet and the non-fundamentalists within the Palestinian people who will pay the price.
How we behave depends on how we see ourselves. Many in Israel and the Jewish community throughout the world need to make a psychological shift from victim to victor. As understandable as that mindset is, given Jewish history, it has to change. The current aggressive/defensive rhetoric from Israel doesn't square up to reality.
Israel is the most powerful country in that part of the world. It has the backing of the most powerful country in the world. Being the most powerful party in this crisis brings a responsibility to be the most creative, positive, tolerant and pro-active in bringing about a resolution that is acceptable to both sides.
Of course Israel's response to attacks must be robust, but it must also be proportionate. This current horror meted out on Gaza by Israel betrays a perverse and warped view of what is proportionate.
Broken promises at Heathrow
Successive governments have a poor track record of breaching promises to contain the impact of airport expansion: in the 1960s, in 1978 after the building of Heathrow's Terminal 4, and at the time of Terminal 5 when the Prime Minister confirmed that a third runway at Heathrow would be "unacceptable"; and again, in 2006, when Ruth Kelly promised a short runway for domestic flights and limits on emissions.
With governments there are no guaranteed promises and Geoff Hoon's announcement – aided and abetted by the Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband – of the go-ahead for a third runway is proof that ministers cannot be trusted to act on climate change. The public will have every right to note that government policy on the environment is, at best, confused. Even with a package of "sweeteners" that have tamed dissenting ministers and some MPs, the decision to press ahead on the basis of dubious evidence and a flawed public consultation is foolish and undermines the Government's new climate change legislation.
Expansion at Heathrow may create jobs and generate net economic benefit of around £5bn but it will also increase carbon emissions and risk the lives of millions of people throughout the country, with the poor and the vulnerable most at risk.
Executive Director, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
You cannot stop parental choice
Simon Sweeney (letters, 15 January) thinks the way to improve social mobility is to, "abolish selection, private schools and choice, and provide adequately resourced community schools". Why the obsession with abolition? Why not just focus on the last part about improving community schools rather than waste time (and almost certainly many millions in legal costs) trying to ban parents' choice around their children's education. Make community schools good enough that parents send their children there through choice rather than because there is no other option.
The big problem with abolition is the naive and unlikely expectation that parents who pay for private education for their children will, upon abolition, accept that the game's up and send their children to the local failing comprehensive. A more credible outcome is that they will put the saved fees towards a mortgage on a home within the catchment area of a high-performing state school, thus creating even worse social segregation than at present.
I've been drinking up to eight mugs of coffee and umpteen mugs of strong tea every day for decades now, but have had no hallucinations to date. Do you think I should get paranoid over this?
Your editorial "Riding roughshod over our privacy" (15 January) appears on the same day as the reporting of the death of Patrick McGoohan. He predicted and protested about surveillance and abuse of information through The Prisoner, the television series that had millions baffled and angry in the late Sixties. Surely all is clear to them now?
Driffield, East Yorkshire
Much as the chequebook football being pursued by Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City is repellent and, in all likelihood, destined to fail, I can't help but cheer him on. In any economic climate, not least the current one, the tax paid on a £500,000-a-week wage will be significant. If the good Sheikh wants to spend his petrodollars in the UK economy by paying ridiculous wages, then he should be welcomed. Let's chalk up a Manchester City first team place as an export and celebrate Manchester's booming balance of payments surplus.
Tory tax relief
David Cameron's plan for tax relief for savers follows the usual Tory pattern. The tax rebate is of greatest value to the relatively well off. The poorest in society are among those who will suffer from his proposed cuts. He calls for change: he offers small change.
I wonder how many garden-owners share John Bryant's apparently unalloyed pleasure at the sight of grey squirrels (letter, 14 January). In my garden, they dig up my lawn, unearth my bulbs, tear bark off my trees and rifle the nests of songbirds. On balance, I'd be happy to forgo their acrobatics for the sake of more enduring aesthetic pleasures.
Englefield Green, Surrey
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