Letters: Blair's speech

The reign of Emperor Blair ends in a flurry of rhetoric
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Sir: I write in support of Dr R M Morris and Christopher Holden (Letters, 28 September). It is indeed amazing that otherwise reliable commentators, such as Simon Carr, should apparently be taken in by Blair's mastery of delivery. We should focus on the substance.

The reality is that he has had monumentally bad judgement. He has been able to deceive himself and others as to why he has followed the path he has done, not just on Iraq and the aftermath where he has repeatedly misled, but also on many other domestic and foreign issues. His rhetoric has far outrun his delivery and his forensic skills have been much used to avoid shame or responsibility for the consequences of his actions.

The idea that by use of his silver tongue Blair has somehow bought a extra few months is derisory. As John Julius Norwich puts it: "It is an almost universal characteristic among autocrats that they cling compulsively to power, to the detriment alike of their subjects and their reputation". He was referring to the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, but it seems apt. The longer Mr Blair goes on, the worse it will be for him and for us. There has been something of Byzantium about the court of Emperor Tony.



Sir: The letters from Dr Morris and Mr Holden gave a fair summary of why people at the grass-roots of the Labour Party can't wait to see the back of Blair. His awful record sent membership numbers into free-fall long ago. Thousands of traditional activists no longer felt able to pretend his was a Labour government, so most resigned while others refused to work at elections. His name was actually wiped off leaflets in the marginal constituency I worked in at the 2005 election.

Yet the great and the good of the party, whose political futures he has severely compromised, offer him a sickly-sweet farewell and flattering words. How pathetic! He's simply the bought-in football manager whose flashy tactics no longer work. He never belonged here, the team is facing relegation - and the real fans want him out.



Nation in debt needs reasons to save

Sir: David Prosser is right that we should be concerned as British personal debt exceeds all previous records ("Never never nation", 28 September). However, we're still too frequently looking at only one side of the problem - the ease of borrowing.

Banks are doing almost nothing to encourage us to save. Banks will only offer me a few percentage points above inflation and the Government will tax the interest too. The amounts I'm allowed to save tax-free in ISAs are paltry and if I invest in shares I feel the only person getting rich will be the City boys with their fat commissions. Often their percentages are well above government recommendations.

Government attempts to make financial institutions charge fairly for credit cards, savings and pensions have all been ignored by the industry. Only the impact of bad debt on the profitability of banks will have any effect. Surely they will get what they deserve, and with more bad debt on their books they may have to offer me a decent incentive to save instead of spend.



Sir: Why are commentators so exercised about Britain's debt spiral? The Government at least will be delighted about it, given their stated policy that every young graduate in the country should enter the workplace in debt to the tune of several thousand pounds.

The system of student loans has legitimised indebtedness as a way of life and swept away any stigma about failing to live within one's means. Now, thanks to New Labour, it's cool to be a graduate and cool to be in the red. Surely we should be celebrating the socially inclusive broadening of the Government's debt initiative.

If you believe in equal opportunities for all, raise a cheer and bring on the loan sharks.



Sir: Concern at the British tendency to run up debt should extend to the Government's use of PFI finance, and other off-balance-sheet methods of burdening our children with our capital expenditure. (I live between two new PFI hospitals, one of which is a candidate for closure before even being formally opened) . We burden them not just with expensive finance cost, but with legal and negotiating costs throughout the lives of the facilities whenever alterations are needed.



No need to cower behind those gates

Sir: Philip Hensher is absolutely right ("Gated communities are promoting irrational fears", 26 September). Gated communities are just one aspect of dividing people from each other.

In our local community, builders (presumably as a selling point) erected gates across an access road to a small estate without planning permission, and yet over a year on, despite protests, the gates are still there. The district is quiet and in a low crime area.

As someone who has travelled widely in the former Soviet Union, the trend begins to remind me of Russia, where to have bodyguards, cars with blackened windows and life behind high walls is a matter of being well dressed.

I thought that in a free society all three would be outlawed except in exceptional circumstances. What next? Vigilantes?



Wind power in a democracy

Sir: I have great sympathy for Tony Allcock's frustration with his local planning system (Letters, 29 September) but the evidence from elsewhere in the country is that such initial caution is merely temporary, and that a well-informed local planning and political system can work effectively.

We have just secured planning permission for two urban wind turbines in conservation areas in Warwick and Leamington Spa. In both cases the applications were unanimously approved by the planning committee, following thorough examination by officers and councillors - including doubling the normal consultation period.

In parallel all local newspapers and radio stations ran articles on the proposals, inviting comment, and a street survey canvassed local opinion. Initial concerns about noise and visual impact were examined, including visits by councillors to existing installations elsewhere in the country.

I embarked on the planning process with some trepidation, fearing an experience like Mr Allcock's, but was pleasantly surprised. Local democracy and planning can work well, and it is surely healthy for our democracy and society for understanding to be built in local communities in this way.

The alternative - which is for expensive studies to be funded centrally and a one-size-fits all approach imposed on local authorities from above - simply encourages exactly the ignorance and conservatism in local communities that Mr Allcock deplores, and makes it harder still for the next innovation to get off the ground.

We should think carefully before criticising local planners and politicians. They protect much which is precious in this country, and where the system fails we should invest time and taxes in educating and supporting them so that the process works properly. The odd experience like Mr Allcock's is a small and temporary price to pay for a healthy democracy.



Civil partnership is not enough

Sir: As a lesbian, my rejection of civil partnerships, and desire to have the ability to marry does not mean that I am, as Nick Chadwick suggests (letter, 27 September), "keen to ape heterosexual ways". Rather it reflects my wish to be treated as a fully enfranchised citizen. I see it as discriminatory to be subject to different laws and institutions on the basis of the kind of people I'm attracted to.

The gay community has had it so bad for so long, that many of us are pathetically grateful for every bit of oppression that is lifted. While civil partnerships are a big step in the right direction, they are a discriminatory compromise designed to appease both homophobes and gay people. That's still short of equality in my book, and I'm not appeased.

I wish to see both marriage and civil partnership available to straight and gay couples alike.



Politics skips a generation

Sir: I attended a packed fringe event at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester this week entitled "Are Young People Engaging?" Looking around the room, the question answered itself. Out of 100 people in the room, around 10 per cent were under the age of 40 and fewer again were in the 16-24 age group that politicians so covet.

While it is nice to know that so many middle-aged and middle-class people are interested in discussing what is wrong with the disaffected youth of the country over free orange juice and crackers, perhaps politicians need to make more of an effort to get out there and engage with people. Don't just introduce policies that benefit young people but get out on the street and show us what they've done and explain why it is good for us. Don't just listen to the Arctic Monkeys over cornflakes but get out to a concert.

I think the sight of Gordon Brown bopping on the dance floor might just re-engage a few young people ... perhaps.



How to curb our elected dictators

Sir: Dr David Spooner (letter, 28 September) is wrong if he thinks the monarchy in its current guise provides any protection for Britain's liberal traditions.

Ever since the Civil War, the government has slowly assumed virtually all monarchical power, to the extent that all the Queen can now do is supinely put her seal of approval on any legislation shoved in her direction by the government of the day. Consequently, by virtue of having a large majority in the last three parliaments, Tony Blair's government has been able to enact major (and often illiberal) constitutional changes without any any other arm of the legislature having the power to stop them.

Republicanism is not just about overthrowing an anachronistic institution (although the preposterous notion that one human being has the right to be head of state simply because of an accident of birth is transparently ridiculous in the 21st century), it is about arguing for a proper system of checks and balances on our elective dictatorship. These should include a written constitution, an independent supreme court upholding that constitution and an elected second chamber.

Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues realised that these institutions were the best check on tyrannical government over 200 years ago and they didn't do the USA much harm, did they?



Class of the cad

Sir: Can anyone explain to me? At what income level does a man who completely betrays his wife and family cease being a cad ("Return of the cad", 29 September) and resume being a common or garden miserable bastard?



A proud people

Sir: However much John Romer may yearn for our "wholehearted" involvement in the European Union (letter, 27 September), the basic political fact is that public support for membership has never been more than half-hearted. Perhaps this is the inevitable result when a "proud sovereign nation", to quote Tony Blair, realises that it has been inveigled into an international organisation committed to the destruction of its national sovereignty through a stealthy process of "ever closer union".



Stick to Marmite

Sir: Your correspondent questions Captain Scott's choice of marmalade over Marmite (29 September). In fact, Scott's frostbitten foot - and his death - can be attributed to a curry. Scott wrote in his journal for 18 March 1912: "Like an ass I mixed a small spoonful of curry powder with my melted pemmican - it gave me violent indigestion ... foot went and I didn't know it."



Names for the British

Sir: Thanks for your fascinating article on cant terms for the English (28 September). However, I would like to point out that the Polish term Fajfoklok is pronounced "five o'clock" and of course refers to our national habit of drinking tea at that time.



Posters of the past

Sir: Since quality posters have become the latest fashion in newspaper inserts, many of the obvious topics have been used up. For something different, look no further than the centrefolds of that excellent publication of half a century ago which shared your masthead logo, the Eagle comic. Among the treasured possessions of my youth (no doubt first perused over the Marmite and cucumber sandwiches from my school lunch box) were the beautifully executed exploded diagrams showing for example the internal workings of a steam locomotive and a jet engine.



More goals, please

Sir: With or without penalty shoot-outs, football needs more goals. More goals would reduce the chances of shoot-outs. Sepp Blatter and Fifa (report, 28 September) should try widening goal-mouths a little.



Frugal lunches

Sir: I would like to defend the staff at the BBC (letter, 22 September). Whenever I called on my customers at the Television Centre, liquid lunches in the BBC club rarely exceeded two hours.