Robert Fisk is the moral conscience of our nation on things Middle Eastern. But his visceral piece on Blair ("Blair should take responsibility for Iraq", 3 September) misses the real point.
Blair can hardly bear responsibility for 100,000 (or is it 500,000?) deaths in Iraq, and for the mayhem that followed the invasion. I doubt that British bombs did much damage at all in the broader scale of things. In fact Britain's role in Iraq was an irrelevancy. British participation was not a necessary condition for the Iraq invasion, as Bush made dismissively clear at the time. British forces pacified Basra for a time before retreating to their barracks as Iran-backed militias took control, and awaited the arrival of US forces before withdrawing ignominiously.
It is Blair's deceit that most enrages me. His "I would do it all again and have no regrets" self-importance is what needs to be destroyed. He is not only culpable of giving an illegal war some "moral" cover, but of inflating Britain's (and his) own importance to the outcome. He did not overthrow Saddam: he presided over one of the most humiliating actions in British military history.
John Rentoul ("Where does Blair rage come from?", 1 September) is keen to see a more balanced assessment of Tony Blair from outside the "self-reinforcing London liberal media compound". So, as a simple country postman based in the Chipping Norton area, I will venture my view for what it is worth.
I certainly do not "hate" our former Prime Minister, and I recognise his success in winning three terms of office and some of his achievements, not least in the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. It seems to me, however, that the New Labour project was heavily dependent on the party occupying traditional Tory territory on a number of issues such as law and order and privatisation.
When the prospect of invading Iraq loomed, I have no doubt that Tony Blair and his advisers were determined that Labour should not be perceived as anti-American, pacifist and "weak", and so the safest course of action must have seemed to be the one they took – backing Bush. Buoyed as he was by his success in Kosovo Blair never envisaged a protracted conflict in Iraq.
As time went on and the weapons of mass destruction were not found, and more and more people lost their lives in Iraq, it was inevitable that public opinion would swing against Blair. He was left with little option but to present his decision to go to war as one based on deeply held principle and the need to remove the tyrant Saddam Hussein.
Alan J Fisher,
John Rentoul again defends Blair's motivations for going into Iraq. Very few people would suggest that Mr Blair did not think he was acting in the UK's best interests in sticking with our closest ally in the aftermath of 9/11. However I believe most people would still think that the rationale for the Iraq war was based on a lie.
To most people, exaggerating intelligence to justify a war would count as a lie. If the "evidence" offered to support the action at the time was subsequently found to be strengthened, cherry-picked etc to bolster a particular conclusion, then that would suggest to most people that those proffering the evidence knew (or ought to have known) that they were misrepresenting the truth.
It didn't matter whether or not they may have believed that the WMD existed, if only they could find the right evidence. A reasonable person would still conclude that the misrepresentation was deliberate.
The threat of savage birds
I read with some bemusement Richard Ingrams' comments (28 August) concerning the imprisonment of a smuggler of peregrine eggs. Mr Ingrams believes that the sentence was disproportionate, as "the number of people likely to appreciate the sight of the peregrine is small". Should a burglar clear Mr Ingrams' house of its contents, should the burglar go unpunished because only Mr Ingrams would suffer?
Mr Ingrams quotes the judge as saying: "Environmental crime strikes in some measure at the planet and its future". Mr Ingrams then concludes, in a weird non sequitur: "You could as well argue that the future of the planet is threatened by the artificial breeding of hundreds of savage birds of prey."
No artificial breeding is of course involved, as peregrines are a naturally occurring wild species, nor are the "savage" birds of prey in any way a danger to the wider environment. What other "savage" species does Mr Ingrams hold to be a threat to the planet?
Labour needs a real leader
"Ed Miliband is glad he was against the invasion of Iraq from the start'' and this is one of the reasons Johann Hari (3 September) is supporting him to be Labour's leader.
What a pity Ed didn't tell us his views on Iraq at any time that he has been in public life. When he had the freedom of the back benches I can find no record of his supposed views in Hansard or any article expressing dissatisfaction with the Labour Government's support for the invasion of Iraq.
I was in the opposite lobby to David Miliband on the Iraq issue, but I shall be voting for him and not his brother Ed. I want somebody as leader who holds real views that one can agree or disagree with rather than electing a fantasist.
Graham Stringer MP (Blackley and Broughton, Lab),
House of Commons
London Tube staffing plans
Transport for All's attack on London Underground's staffing proposals (letter, 31 August) is based on a misunderstanding of our commitment to customers. Our proposals have come about because ticket sales on our stations have dropped significantly since the introduction of Oyster, so that now only one in 20 journeys start with a visit to a ticket office, and some stations sell fewer than 10 tickets each hour.
Under our plans every station on our network that has a ticket office now will continue to have one, and staff will remain in every station in exactly those areas that Transport for All want them to be: in ticket halls and on platforms where they can help customers, not hidden away behind under-used ticket office windows.
Staff will still help with any problems and provide a reassuring presence across the Tube network for all of our customers – including older and disabled Londoners, many of whom receive a Freedom Pass which requires no interaction with either ticket offices or machines.
We need to change, but we will do so without compromising safety, without compulsory redundancies and in a way which means all stations will continue to be staffed at all times.
Mike Brown, Managing Director,
Last Saturday I played in a local cricket match which was almost certainly decided by a cheating umpire. No money was at stake; no betting was involved. While we should rightly deplore the actions of the Pakistani players if the current allegations are proven, at our peril should we imagine ourselves inhabiting a superior universe of fair play. Where opportunity knocks or temptation is provided, the middle class of Surrey is as likely to be found morally wanting as the boys from the Punjab.
Name and address supplied
The much over-used expression "elephant in the room" is being applied to Hamas in the context of the new Middle East peace talks. Surely what condemns these talks to failure is that Hamas is the elephant outside the door.
North Baddesley, Hampshire
So the Bush administration didn't care for Brown and wanted Blair to stay? I can just imagine the email: "Yo Blair. No Brown."
How curious that Joan Smith's defence of Britain's "secular" society (Opinion, 2 September) should conclude by citing its Christian tradition of charity.
Perspectives on elite universities
Perils of a free market in fees
Professor Steve Smith, chair of Universities UK, was quoted in your newspaper on 2 September as saying that it was "bullshit" to suggest that if the present fee cap on university undergraduate fees was abolished, a small number of elite universities would charge what they liked. However, evidence from the US and from the postgraduate market here, as well as continuing internal discussions at both Oxford and Cambridge, suggests that this is precisely what would happen if any government were so foolish as to abolish the controls.
In the US the leading private universities are able to charge fees of $50,000 and more because of their market position. This reflects the absence of any agreed measures of educational quality, so that resources and prestige become a proxy for quality. What we have is not economic competition but positional competition as well qualified and wealthy students seek the "best" universities. The fee cap, and the level of the fee, keeps this wasteful and socially dysfunctional phenomenon at bay in the UK.
However in the postgraduate market universities here charge what they can, so that Cambridge's MBA fee is one of the highest internationally. If the undergraduate cap were lifted there can be little doubt that the undergraduate fee there would quickly rise to £10,000 or even more, as is already being talked of. This is precisely what any business in this position would do: why would they not?
Let us have no more "bullshit" from our university leaders.
Professor of Higher Education Policy,
Liverpool Hope University
Former polytechnics do a top-class job
Various letters and articles that have recently appeared in The Independent on the "choice" of a university for a student seem to imply it is most important where you take your first degree. I believe it is more important what you study and how diligent you are.
I teach mechanical engineering at an ex-polytechnic and the vast majority of our mechanical and electrical engineering graduates get "proper well-paid" jobs within six months of graduating. At least two of my ex-students have become multi-millionaires.
The "top"' universities are so-called as in general their lecturers are better researchers than ex-polytechnic lecturers, but they do not necessarily make better teachers. Even in the field of research, many of the academic staff of the "lesser" universities can hold their own with the Russell Group; just look at some of the recent Research Assessment Exercise ratings of some of the non-Russell Group universities.
Professor Carl T F Ross
Department of Mechanical and Design Engineering,
University of Portsmouth