Blair speech shows the mysterious power of oratory over truth
Sir: Thank you to Mark Steel for introducing a note of sanity into the otherwise disgracefully sycophantic coverage of Blair's "farewell" speech (27 September).
Here is a man who through his slavish devotion to a fanatical US president has led his country into an illegal war, is directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of British soldiers and countless thousands of innocent Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan civilians, alienating half the world, and who has colluded in the draconian curtailment of civil liberties in the UK.
Add to this his close alignment to the super-rich, with the modification of legislation to suit their interests, leading to the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. He is also the man whose failure to take any serious action to curb carbon dioxide emissions will increase the toll of deaths and damage in the future.
Yet Blair's clever oratory appears to blind otherwise sensible people to this appalling record. The parallels with Hitler's rise to power are chilling. Perhaps Richard Dawkins could explain to us what evolutionary advantage there is in humans' susceptibility to clever speech-making.
DR R M MORRIS
Sir: Tony Blair continues to lie about the war on terror. In his speech at the Labour Party conference on Tuesday, he said that 9/11 happened "before war in Afghanistan or Iraq was even thought of".
This is not true. In the policy document "Project for the New American Century" produced in 1997 by the US neo-conservatives before they became the government, they say: "Iraq should be a target . . . if we have a force in Iraq, there will be no disruption in oil supplies."
Monarchy protects liberal values
Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes, "The longer I live here the less I understand the pull of royalism over the British psyche" ("Boiled eggs, royal idiocies and Jeremy Paxman", 25 September). Although there is an appalling amount of privilege invested in the British monarchy and any number of hard- or soft-boiled foibles, the fact is that it generally supports and enacts a continuity of liberal (and even in the protection given to Sir Anthony Blunt, communist) values.
Contrast and compare with the Islamic monarchy in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah has recently ordered newspapers in the kingdom to avoid publishing pictures of women, even though editors ensure they are covered in accordance with Muslim tradition. He expressed fears that such pictures would corrupt young wealthy Saudi men.
The Labour Party is republican in sentiment. But many of the laws enacted and proposals on the table are clearly absolutist and show no respect for the historic good sense of British citizens. That is why the monarchy still remains an important aspect of this democracy.
DR DAVID SPOONER
Sir: I would like to assure Yasmin Alibhai-Brown that I grew up in the Sixties, and am still passionately, vehemently, almost pathologically, anti-establishment. I would not, however, wish to replace the monarch with an elected head of state, on the principle that anyone who wishes to rule is ipso facto unfit to do so.
How about replacing the monarch with a random citizen selected by pulling a name out of a hat, and changing them every year, or perhaps every five years or so? The only drawback might be that if they had no relatives with complicated love-lives, the tabloids might go short of headlines occasionally; but the short period of tenure should ensure that this problem would soon be rectified.
Sir: Since the 20th-century experiments in raw equality led to rather a lot of corpses, we have been asked to subscribe to meritocracy as an alternative version of "fairness".
But a real meritocracy would surely be intolerably similar to a feudal society, with everyone stuck in a pecking order by accidents of birth (although different sorts of accidents). I would naturally expect to find Ms Alibhai-Brown far above me; but somewhat above her, politicians totally convinced of their own fitness to govern, and naturally uninterested in listening to lesser mortals. Recognise anyone?
Regrettably, the meritocratic myth seems to have some of the bad consequences of the divine right of kings. Since, I presume, the Windsors no longer believe in the latter, they must recognise that they are people of average merit selected (by a bloodline, although it could be a lottery if the tourists would wear it) for an above-average quantity of privileges and criticism.
Whether it's fair on them is another question, but I don't think it's difficult to see why many people are more sympathetic to aristocrats than meritocrats.
Unfair blame for Russell murders
Sir: The murders of Lin and Megan Russell were a tragedy. However the independent inquiry into those deaths states that the treatment given to Michael Stone (by mental health services) was among the best in the country at the time and it was unknown whether better care could have prevented the murders.
Despite this the media, including The Independent, seek to apportion blame to Kent psychiatric services for their failure to treat Stone's "personality disorder" equating this with mental illness.
Personality disorder is a description of enduring behavioural patterns and despite the pseudo-medical terminology, has no aetiological significance. It remains a construct of dubious utility. Yet your newspaper, among others, continues to conflate these deaths with other high-profile cases of killings by mentally ill people such as that of Jonathan Zito by Christopher Clunis, despite the fact that the latter suffered from severe schizophrenia, a recognised mental disorder.
People with "personality disorder" are aware of and as accountable for their actions as any other member of society. If people with "personality disorder" and substance misuse problems act in antisocial ways, it is the role of the criminal justice system, not the mental health services, to take responsibility.
Frequently in such cases, mental health specialists are pilloried for not having offered "treatment", when there is no evidenced based intervention shown to be effective.
In any society, there will be people who are perceived as highly dangerous although not mentally ill. It is not the function of mental health services to preventatively detain such people in order to avoid potential violent acts in the future; mental health services are not an agency of crime prevention. We need to look at ways of dealing with people such as Michael Stone, but medicalising their difficulties and attributing the management of the subsequent risks to psychiatry is not the way forward.
DR SEAMUS V MCNULTY
CONSULTANT PSYCHIATRIST GLASGOW
Speed cameras are bad for road safety
Sir: Johann Hari ("It's time to send Clarkson to the scrapyard", 25 September) has fallen into the same trap that many of the other "speed kills" campaigners fall into; that is to assume that speed in itself is dangerous. It is, of course, inappropriate speed that kills and such inappropriate speed cannot be measured by a camera.
Nor do cameras record vehicles being driven by drunk drivers, unlicensed drivers, drivers using mobile phones or driving while under the influence of drugs.
Mr Hari even confirms what the general public already know: "Police resources have drifted away from road policing." Road safety management now consists of thousands of cameras that do the job that traffic police used to do, with the inevitable consequence that the more serious driving offenders are going unrecorded.
The current mantra seems to be that if you are not exceeding the speed limit you must be safe. We no longer put the emphasis on observation, anticipation and hazard awareness but simply on "keeping to the limit". As a result, figures from the NHS suggest injuries from road traffic accidents are on the increase.
Mr Hari should not allow his obvious distate for Jeremy Clarkson to mask the real danger these "safety" cameras pose to all road users.
Sir: N T Shepherd (letter, 26 September) says that women are better drivers because they have lower insurance premiums. All that proves is that women have fewer accidents. They have fewer accidents because they generally drive slower and take fewer risks. Learner drivers do the same. Does that make them better drivers?
Sir: Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Poor, deluded N T Shepherd. It is not that the men insist on driving, it is that the women refuse or use every excuse going not to (forgot my glasses; my insurance doesn't cover me for France ...) and then sit there in the front passenger seat criticising everything the poor male driver either does or doesn't do.
Sir: We need to take the sport out of transport. Speed governors on cars would be a start.
The Cooper Brown I knew
Sir: As a visitor to these shores, I happened to pick up a copy of your paper last week. Imagine my astonishment to find an old colleague of mine, Cooper Brown, writing a column for you.
The last time I saw Mr Brown, he had just been fired from a Paramount Pictures subsidiary for financial fraud. I met him as he was packing stuff into his car and he told me that he was going abroad. No one knew where to.
Cooper has always been an exceptionally bright, avidly self-promoting individual and I was never in any doubt that he'd survive wherever he laid his hat, but his new status has come as a surprise even to myself.
It was with some amusement that I read letters questioning whether he actually exists. I can quite understand the bemusement of the general British public as to how someone like this could actually be reality. Sadly, I can confirm that he is all too real and almost impossible to ignore.
Best of luck, Cooper. Hope you fare better here than you did back home.
VICE-PRESIDENT MOKO DISTRIBUTION SAN FERNANDO CALIFORNIA, USA
Marmite conquers the Himalayas
Sir: How Mike Bell's account of maritime Marmite (letter, 19 September) brought the memories flooding back. Let me tell you about it.
It was April 1983 and Steve, the Royal Marine, and I were sitting cross-legged in our tent at 18,000 feet on the col below Manaslu North Peak in the Himalayas. Five thousand feet above us our team-mates were inching their way to the summit. Our tent shuddered under the strafing of a million ice crystals.
Having nothing better to do at the time, I broke open a packet of "biscuits AB" from our "Compo" ration pack and reached for the spread and jam. "Let's have some of this," suggested Steve, and produced a jar of Marmite. He went on to tell me how he had had his first experience of the yeast extract when he was fighting the Argies the year before in the Falklands. I concurred and we tucked in.
Our reverie was disturbed when the radio crackled into life and we heard the message "We've knocked the bastard off!" Happy memories.
So now we have, in addition to maritime marmite, martial Marmite and mountaineering Marmite. Does anyone else want to join our elite group of extreme Marmite eaters?
Sir: In your report of Rob Gauntlett and James Hooper's Pole to Pole challenge (22 September) you stated that in 2002 Rob became the youngest person to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats. In 1991 my youngest son Gareth completed this journey in two weeks at the age of 12. Whilst not wishing to disparage Rob Gauntlett's achievement, Gareth was three years younger at the time.
Sir: I was horrified to read Julia Kollewe's prediction of the demise of the cheap and rowdy boozer (Business Analysis, 27 September). Not that I have any objection to the gastropub but I would certainly not wish to rub shoulders with a clientele who would drink red wine with moules marinières. Even a rowdy old boozer like myself knows that the only drink to accompany this simple but classic French dish is white wine.
The old New Party
Sir: Peter Scales (letter, 26 September) suggested that New Labour should dispense with the "irrelevant" word in its title and be known as the New Party. Britain did have a New Party once, founded in 1932 by Sir Oswald Mosley, before he rebranded it the following year as the British Union of Fascists. God forbid that anyone should draw a parallel to the present. I would suggest that the "American Party" would most aptly sum up the ideology of our governing party, although it would also be an apposite description for the Opposition.
Sir: Your report on Safia Amajan makes painful reading ("The woman who defied the Taliban, and paid with her life", 26 September). It was just as painful to see fellow anti-war protesters this weekend in Manchester holding aloft banners in support of the Afghan "resistance". It was the US which financed and trained some of the most extreme anti-woman groups in the world in its dirty war against communism. The only principled position on women in Afghanistan is to oppose both of these former allies and the destruction they continue to wreak on that beautiful country.
Sir: Roger Slater (letter, 27 September) asks the fuel consumption of an environmental bandwagon. The answer: an infinite supply of hot air.