Letters: Blair's attack on civil liberties

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The Independent Online

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's comment on the lack of outcry at our incipient police state (Opinion, 10 October) hits the nail on the head, but the media must take their share of the blame. The Green Party has, along with human rights groups such as Liberty, tried to draw attention to the calculated oppression of dissenting voices, but the media coverage has been feeble.

Not enough is made of the fact that terrorism was illegal long before President Blair declared war on it, nor that the right to protest has been the major casualty. Tony Blair uses Britain's police forces as private security guards, keeping dissidents away from sensitive areas such as Westminster and Gleneagles with laws so encompassing as to criminalise virtually any form of unauthorised protest.

The police are a tool of society; they do not run it. We can strive to make their job easier, but should not, in so doing, compromise our society's fundamental values. We are being led like sheep to a dark place and the media must play its role and shed light on these challenges to democracy before it is too late.



Sir: I realised with a jolt recently the worrying truth of what Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote about "submitting to the will of New Labour" which "uses democracy as a clever disguise to encroach on our liberties".

I went on a march organised by the Campaign Against Arms Trade to demonstrate against the arms trade fair in east London. There was a large police presence, who had efficiently roped off areas of road for us to walk along from East Ham to the Excel Centre. However, a quarter of a mile from the site we were stopped and told we could not continue as it was "private property".

We were a peaceful demonstration, according to the policemen I talked to, and very well behaved. The stretch of road was the Queen's highway, not private property and the purpose of the march was to demonstrate to buyers of British weapons that there were people who disapprove of the activity. Visitors to the exhibition will think that no one in Britain objected.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right when she quotes Cherie Blair's concern that we are in danger of cheapening our right to call ourselves a civilised nation.



Cross-party action on climate change

Sir: Oliver Letwin and Norman Baker deserve great credit for trying to lift climate change above party politics ("Opposition parties demand action on climate change", 12 October). Both have shown a deep understanding of the enormous threat posed by rapid climate change, and their joint parliamentary debate shows they are serious about tackling it. Fighting global warming is a long-term endeavour requiring urgent action from both the current and future governments. Cross-party consensus and a consistent approach are therefore essential.

There has already been some agreement. All parties back the Royal Commission's call for 60 per cent cuts in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Unfortunately, since that target was first proposed, UK emissions have risen. The target is so distant that it has not been prioritised. It has been too easy for the Government to hope future administrations will pick up the slack.

The UK must get serious about taking action. It won't be carbon dioxide emissions in 2050 that will affect our climate; it will be the cumulative effect of all the emissions up to that year. It is crucial that we start cutting emissions now, and sustain those reductions every year through to 2050. We believe this requires a legal framework to ensure an annual 3 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions. A Climate Change Bill that would provide such a framework is already before Parliament. The Government must show that it is serious about taking action and support the Bill.



Sir: Conservative politicians deserve praise for being prepared to unite across the party divide in identifying measures to fight climate change. This is a historic opportunity and the Government must embrace it without reservation.

In the European Parliament a wide measure of cross-party agreement on global warming issues has existed for some years. Oliver Letwin can take heart from the fact that the parliamentary team which negotiated Europe's most important climate change instrument, the emissions trading scheme, was led by an MEP from the European Peoples' Party, to which the Conservatives are affiliated. He had the full support of those of us representing other parties.

The sooner measures are taken to reduce global warming emissions the lower will be their cost and the greater their effectiveness. This is not a time for tribalistic party loyalties to stand in the way of environmental progress.



Sir: Climate change is the greatest challenge facing our world today but I never thought it would lead to a Conservative-Liberal Democrat alliance. This new pact tells me more about the state of Opposition than it does about concern about global warming. Climate change is about the management of resources and how society seeks to allocate them. Nothing could be more political, which is why I am surprised by this new consensus.

Have the Liberal Democrats forgotten about the Conservatives' commitment to abolish the Climate Change Levy, one of the most important policy initiatives of recent times, or how they continually question government subsidies for renewables? Have they forgotten the legacy left to us by 18 years of Conservative government?

Despite the rhetoric about change, the Conservative Party have yet to put forward an alternative energy policy to the Government other than more nuclear, more quickly. Perhaps this new opposition consensus demonstrates more about the current shift in Liberal Democrat thinking than a long-term solution to climate change?



Sir: WWF welcomes the move by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to forge a cross-party consensus on tackling climate change. There is certainly an urgent need for strong and decisive action on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which could be hindered by the short-termism often encouraged by the nature of party politics and the political cycle.

While Norman Baker and Oliver Letwin are right to take the Government to task over slow progress to fulfil its manifesto commitment of reducing the UK's carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2010, the consensus should be based not just on broad and worthy principles but on specific, challenging, practical measures that all parties must agree to.



Worries about the European warrant

Sir: The European Commission's reply to our concerns about the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is disturbing in its complacency (Letters, 8 October).

We are informed that everyone will have rights to legal advice and interpretation. Of course the problem is that we have all had these rights for over 50 years under the European Convention of Human Rights but in most member states of the EU the fact remains you will get neither unless you can afford to pay. This situation is not going to change with more legislation of any type unless what goes on at ground level is properly monitored and all national governments are willing to put adequate money into legal aid and interpretation. There is no sign of either happening.

In addition one must be particularly concerned at the assertion that the EAW will somehow wave a magic wand over foreigners' bail problems. We have yet to hear of a single case where the EAW has been successfully prayed in aid of a bail application. It is as well that the Commission does not believe its own propaganda. The problem is being tackled in a separate framework resolution on bail.

We must not blame the Commission, who are really to be commended on their attempts to get justice for the foreigner. It is the national governments of Europe who have all the power to put things right and should shoulder all the blame.



End the scandal of political donations

Sir: Matthew Norman's piece on the rich men who buy into politics (7 October) is a serious contribution on an unacknowledged scandal, and the sooner a cap of say £5,000 a year is imposed on individual and corporate donations and an austere state payment put in their place, the better. Politics needs to have about two thirds of the money now spent on it docked.

But concluding his scorn for flash bestowals, Mr Norman describes Lord Sainsbury handing out a couple of million "with as much insouciance as you or I would tip a fiver to a hairdresser". Your insouciance, Matthew, not mine, not the North of England's. In Easingwold, North Yorks, my nearest haircut, anyone tipping the barber a fiver would be made a ward of court.



Religion, laws and personal choice

Sir: Joan Smith believes that "religion is a matter of personal choice" and so there is no need for laws to protect religious minorities (Opinion, 11 October). Tell that to the thousands of children raped, murdered and terrorised in the Gujarat massacre of 2002 simply for being Muslim. Or maybe it was their fault for making the wrong personal choice?

As for her belief that the Qur'an contains passages that incite hatred of Jews, Christians and non-believers - which passages exactly? And (unless she is fluent in classical Arabic) what translation has she referred to? Does she know anything about the interpretation (tafsir) of the Qur'an? Or has she appointed herself an instant Islamic scholar qualified to elucidate the meaning of Qur'anic verses?



Care for diabetes in the community

Sir: The association of clinical diabetologists claims (letter, 12 October) that the UK needs more consultant diabetologists to manage the increasing epidemic.

In fact most diabetes care now occurs in general practice, where the new GP contract has shown the overall excellence of what is achieved. More staff and facilities are certainly needed in GP practices to cope with the expanding numbers. Hospital is where the smaller number of complex cases need to be managed.

Many hospital diabetologists have argued for years that most diabetes care should be in the community, but seem not to expect the money to follow the patients. That is unrealistic in the NHS.



England's answer

Sir: Iain Mackenzie (letter, 11 October) asserts that England has never wanted devolution. This is rather strange: I don't recall being asked. Has he conducted some sort of referendum from the Isle of Arran by means of ESP?



Pheasants in the garden

Sir: There is really no need to resort to firearms to deal with marauding pheasants (letter, 10 October). My grandfather lived next to an orchard and in autumn the pheasants, sated on windfall fruit, would invade his garden looking for different pickings. These he provided in the time-honoured peasant way with grain soaked in cheap liquor (perhaps best not to enquire too deeply into where it came from). They were soon merrily befuddled and easy prey to a modest rugby tackle. Result - delicious.



TV 'poll tax'

Sir: Digital TV is being brought in partly because the Government is desperate to sell the analogue TV bandwidth. The BBC is asking for £5.5bn for digital switchover ("BBC is accused of levying 'poll tax on television' ", 12 October), but why doesn't the Government pay for it from the bandwidth sale? Whoever buys the bandwidth will eventually get us to pay (3G mobile services, for example), so we're being forced to pay twice.



No need to apologise

Sir: Guy Keleny apologises for saying that David Blunkett watches television (Errors & Omissions, 8 October). I can't speak for the possible sensitivities of the newly blind, but please tell him that Mr Blunkett, my husband and very many others go to see their friends, watch their step, inspect objects and see points of view, etc, etc. Unnecessary apologies and self-conscious corrections are amusing, embarrassing and at times downright insulting.



Poor architects

Sir: John Kellett points out the low salaries of architects. Some things never change. About the time I qualified as an architect in 1960 the Royal Commission on Doctors' and Dentists' pay published its report, wherein were listed the incomes received by various professions. Teachers were next to lowest paid. Bottom of the list were architects.



Forgotten country

Sir: Surely Hungary deserved a cursory mention on The Independent's map of the 21st century world (11 October)? A reasonably sized European country with a long-established history and unique culture and language equal to the rather newer and more obscure countries which were deemed eligible for inclusion. My father (Hungarian freedom fighter in 1956 and British doctor since 1962) was most unimpressed.



Whatever next?

Sir: Heard coming into Waterloo one morning this week: "SouthWest Trains wishes to apologise for the delay to this service, which is arriving nine minutes late. The delay was due to passengers getting on and off the train."