Letters: Benn stood up for a fairer society

These letters appear in the Saturday March 15th edition of the Independent

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Tony Benn was a great, kind and principled person, his ethical stance only strengthening in later life as he became a vegetarian.

His words echoed far beyond Westminster as he courageously stood up for the poor, the downtrodden and all those in need, hoping to build a better, fairer and truly compassionate society.

His ideas live on.

Susan Jacobs, Sean Prebble, Winchester

Tony Benn was one of those rare politicians who genuinely do make history, when he renounced his peerage in 1963. His diaries are an important historical record, unparalleled in post-1945 British politics.

Part of his legacy should be to inspire politicians to have the same sense of the importance and context  of history as he had. Too few do.

Dr Keith Flett , London Socialist Historians Group, London N1

What a pity that Tony Benn never became Prime Minister instead of Tony Blair.

Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby, Lincolnshire

Great war soldiers who said ‘No’

You report a bid to build a seemingly profit-driven memorial to First World War soldiers who embarked for the Western Front from the Kentish seaside town of Folkestone (11 March). Perhaps the sponsors should balance their project with a memorial to one of the few cases of mass disobedience in the Allied Armies that happened in the same town in January 1919.

Then, 2000 soldiers who had seen years in the trenches were ordered to embark for service abroad at Folkestone. They refused. Instead they marched to Folkestone Town Hall. There they were promised a rapid programme of demobilisation.

Next day, however, new orders arrived summoning a certain number to embark. Again they refused. This time they marched on the harbour. The flood of incoming troops swelled their ranks, and a Soldiers’ Union was formed. New demands were now added to the demand for demobilisation. Food in the local Shorncliffe barracks was a disgrace, sanitation was abominable.

They elected a committee to advance demands including rapid demobilisation; shorter working hours; an end to training; no compulsory church parade; no drafts for Russia; control over messing arrangements; and no victimisation. And they won. The mix of British and Canadian troops were hastily sent home.

They stood out against renewed slaughter, and, for that, deserve recognition.

David Walsh, Skelton, Cleveland

We should be saving all our efforts to commemorate the ending of the First World War instead of its outbreak. Commemoration of the outbreak should be confined to historical commentary on the reasons why such a tragedy occurred.

Chris Elshaw, Headley Down, Hampshire

Cameron ignores Israeli abuses

It’s not unusual for a British prime minister to express unswerving support for the state of Israel, but this should not come at the expense of overlooking serious human right issues. David Cameron’s effusive speech to the Knesset referred to the foundation of Israel in “international law”, yet the less rosy truth is that Israeli soldiers regularly act unlawfully in shooting unarmed protesters in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

Last year alone, 22 Palestinian civilians, mostly teenagers or people in their early 20s, were killed by Israel’s forces in the West Bank, with several of the victims shot in the back. In the past three years, an astonishing 8,000 Palestinian civilians, including 1,500 children, have also been seriously wounded by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, many from rubber-coated metal bullets or reckless use of tear gas.

Mr Cameron said nothing about any of this in public, and I fear he said nothing in private either.

Israel has very real security concerns – as the latest barrage of rockets fired from Gaza underlines. But Mr Cameron’s rock-solid commitment to Israel shouldn’t mean ignoring the concrete reality of human rights abuses being committed by Israel’s forces.

Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK, London EC2

Birmingham beats London

“Accuse me of London-centrism,” says Mary Dejevsky, lamenting the move, 20 years ago, of Crufts to Birmingham.  Indeed she is London-centred and very self-centred too, wanting the rest of the UK to travel more miles to get to London.

I was born in London and have spent all my life in the South-east, and I love the Birmingham venue. In the centre of the country and easily reached by motorway, train or plane, it is accessible to everyone. The National Exhibition Centre has huge car parks and regular free buses from car parks to the event entrance and is a well run-venue with good loos (always important).

There is serious breed judging, entertainment with a view to educating the public on responsible dog ownership, and hundreds of stalls for canine shopping. Mary Dejevsky obviously watches Crufts on TV from her sofa, as she complains “Now it’s an entertainment event”. Televised Crufts has to spend time on the entertainment side or no one would watch. Mary Dejevsky should take a trip up the motorway to the NEC next year and see what she is missing.

Jan Cook, South Nutfield, Surrey

What women want from cars

I turned eagerly to David Williams’ report on the Geneva Motor Show (13 March) in the long hunt for the model I need, but closed the paper a sadder, wiser woman.

It left me with the startlingly sexist conclusion that Mr Williams was inspired only by the motorised toys that men like to impress each other with. The multi-tasking woman’s approach to car selection is, I suspect, very different, with all-round practicality a priority and showing-off coming way down the list.

Do please ask your motoring correspondents to look over the fence occasionally.

Yvonne Ruge, London N20

Can I be Scottish  too, please?

Just a thought, but as the BBC is increasingly London-centric and London itself is eccentric, is there any chance, when the Scots vote for independence, that the England boundary could shrink to London and the Home Counties and the rest of us could become Scottish? It would be an honour to do so and rid myself of the arrogant stupidity that being English now means. Och aye.

Steve Cragg, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire

GM crops are not the solution

Arguments for introducing GM crops in Africa, and for the greater involvement of global agribusiness on the continent more broadly, rest on the idea that Africa needs to produce more food. But in the 20 years to 2011, the numbers of undernourished people in sub-Saharan Africa rose by 40 per cent, despite the fact that food production rose by 10 per cent per person over the same period. People are undernourished because of lack of access to food, not lack of production.

The UK and other G8 governments are pushing African countries to open their agriculture to increased involvement of global seed companies, including the introduction of GM crops. But there is a real risk of increased costs for the small-scale farmers who feed the majority of the continent’s population, as an ever smaller number of multinational seed companies control both prices and the seed varieties available.

Supporting African agriculture and tackling hunger require policies to help small-scale food producers regain control and feed local populations, not initiatives that will further disempower them by handing control to multinational companies.

Nick Dearden, Director, World Development Movement, London SW9

Here we go again. “There is no compelling evidence,” we are told, that GM crops are dangerous. The fact that there is no compelling evidence that something is not safe does not mean that it is safe. Even when there is compelling evidence we are given the same message by government and some of the scientific community.

Even after Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima we are told that there is no compelling evidence that nuclear power stations are not safe.

Before the Iraq war there was, presumably, no compelling evidence that it would result in the death of tens of thousands of innocent people and the ruination of a country.

There is no compelling evidence that using drones to terrorise villagers in Afghanistan and Pakistan creates terrorists.

As many already know, the way to ensure an adequate food supply is to cut down on meat production, stop the growing of biofuels and develop sustainable energy.

Jim McCluskey, Twickenham, Middlesex

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