Letters: Blunkett should have quit much earlier

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Someone who consistently claims ignorance of the rules by which he must abide, ignores repeated reminders about those rules, makes ridiculous decisions on his financial position in relation to obvious conflicts with his position in public service and then claims forgetfulness about those past misdemeanours is clearly not up to working in important posts.


Sir: The circumstances behind David Blunkett's resignation

illuminate the current state of the Labour Party rather than the individual.

Like most of the New Labour cabinet today, the former leader of the "Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire" built his career on the left only to scupper his principles once in power.

Politically it is quite immaterial whether he was acting with financial impropriety. The key issue is that (albeit quite permissible) his intended capitalist indulgences by buying shares and seeking a directorship mirrors everything about New Labour's neo-liberal, free-market reformist policies. Tony Blair resurrected his ally's career so promptly because support throughout the mainstream Labour Party for these reforms is depleting fast.

As the Labour Party stemmed out of the Trade Union Movement, the key political observation culminating from Blunkett's resignation is that the Labour government today is ideologically just as capitalist as its Tory opponents and will model all their policies accordingly. It takes little ingenuity

to realise the threat this condition can pose for the democratic process.


Sir: David Blunkett has finally understood his predicament and rightly fallen on his sword. No doubt both he and his mentor the Prime Minister will insist that he was hounded from office by a rabid media pack and that he would have been otherwise perfectly capable of continuing to provide an invaluable contribution to the Government.

Unfortunately for both, however, this is not the case. Mr Blunkett's judgement as related to his ramshackle personal life and his complete obliviousness as to how the sordid details of his affair with Kimberly Quinn would be perceived by the public is merely another aspect of the arrogance and incompetence of New Labour and in particular Tony Blair and the clique that surrounds him.

Far more worrying is that these same characteristics are reflected in the anti-terrorist measures originally and ironically conceived by Mr Blunkett and now before Parliament. The yes-men and women on the Labour back-benches, ever-mindful of their Parliamentary careers, appear to be more than willing to toe the party line and provide the necessary support to push through some of the more contentious sections of this reprehensible bill.


Sir: This whole Blunkett affair has me asking just one question - why are MPs even allowed to take on part-time employment while in office? They are paid a fairly generous wage - not to mention generous pension plan, benefits and expense package.

As a teacher, I make only £23,000 per year and it is a full-time job! Surely an MP, should he or she be worthy of their remuneration, should be committed to their constituents and not divide their time between the House and some other institution.


Booze ban on trains is unworkable

Sir: I gather that New Labour's latest wheeze is to consider banning drinking on public transport as part of the daftly named "Respect Agenda". They don't seem to have thought this through properly.

Drink is served in GNER dining cars, and with complimentary meals in first class on Eurostars and various internal operators. Are we going to ban alcohol on these too? It would seem that the choice is a full ban (welcome to Iranian State Railways), a ban on drinking except in dining cars or their equivalent (which means an invidious class distinction, as except for GNER I suspect most operators only now give proper meals to First Class passengers), or an unenforceable ban on passengers in all classes drinking except with food (the pub smoking option, but far far harder to enforce on a train, and a nightmare for guards and ticket inspectors).

In any case none of these will have much effect, as youths will have already tanked up beforehand, and will continue to be rowdy even if they are only served tomato juice in the buffet car.


Sir: In many years of travelling by rail, I have never been unduly concerned by the practice of fellow commuters, in which I don't personally indulge, of sipping a can of beer on the way home as relaxation after a long day. This is something the Government would like to stamp out.

I am, though, deeply offended by the revolting stench, which particularly pervades late trains, created by people stuffing themselves with semi-edible rubbish from fast food chains. Perhaps the Government could reorder its priorities - or create no-eating carriages!


Sir: So, 24-hour binge drinking in pubs and clubs is now to be complemented by a ban on the sale of alcohol on trains. Is this what they call joined-up government?


Prosecution service committed to justice

Sir: The Crown Prosecution Service does indeed have a high conviction rate ("We don't need new terror laws", 2 November). This is the result of increasingly successful joint working with the police in building up robust cases from the start and bringing the right charge against the right defendant.

The CPS does not take a "feather-soft" approach to any prosecution and does not favour any particular group, religious or otherwise. We make all our prosecution decisions according to the Code for Crown Prosecutors, a published public document. This is a transparent process. There are two Code tests that must be met before a prosecution can proceed: the first is that there must always be sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of a conviction; the second that it is in the public interest to prosecute.

Last year we reviewed and reissued the Code after consulting widely, including with victims' groups. Prosecutors write to victims to explain when charges are dropped or downgraded and in certain cases, including homicide, rape and sexual offences, they offer a meeting to explain their decision.

To underline our commitment, the CPS and police are aiming to have 165 Witness Care Units (WCUs) in place by the end of the year. WCUs have transformed the provision of help and advice to both victims and witnesses as their cases come to court.


Housewives' choice? Only the few can afford to stay at home

Sir: Lucy Cavendish ("The Last Taboo", 1 November) is raking up 20th-century clichés for 21st-century consumption. This was inappropriate then and is even more so now. She seems to think that there are two sides, women working and women not working, and that you need to be signed up to one side or the other.

Most women work for the same reason that men work, to earn money. Most women do not have this alleged "choice" that Ms Cavendish cheerfully assumes is the case for all women. She is writing about a privileged segment of society that she and her family belong to. Most working women work to support their families and/or themselves. I find it insulting and annoying that it is assumed that I have had a choice whether or not to stay at home, when I have worked hard for years to support my family and now myself.

In my experience of friends' lives and my own two six-month maternity leaves, women work exceptionally hard at home bringing up children and being housewives. I prefer to use the term "working outside the home" when Ms Cavendish says "work". She is condescending to housewives when she says staying home's good fun and not work.

Work can also be fun; there is hard slog in both spheres. And she seems to think that feminists don't enjoy cooking or other housewifely activities. Come on, Lucy - a feminist is a person who believes in equal rights for women, not someone who doesn't like recipes.


Take the politics out of climate change

Sir: Your editorial on the difficulties of achieving action at the world climate talks is indeed apt ("The elephant in the room at the world climate talks", 1 November). David Cameron's proposals to "change our political system and our lifestyles" (1 November) are certaintly bold. The creation of a cross-party commission, the framing of specific annual carbon reduction requirements and the establishment of an independent monitoring body - a new Carbon Audit Office -are exciting proposals.

But is it possible to "take the politics out of this issue," as Mr Cameron proposes? All of Britain's political parties would have to be willing to take on the road transport lobby and the fuel lobby, with their threat of road closures and demand for lower taxes. Taking climate change out of politics is going to require a lot of guts, political will and a firm awareness that short-term personal hardships are essential for long-term environmental sanity.

Scientific opinion clearly supports immediate action on climate change, but Tony Blair is disastrously wrong in believing that "science will solve climate change" (report, 2 November). What is essential is a public consensus committed to action on climate change. The UK could take the lead. Do we dare?


Sir: Christmas is coming and once again our homes, shops and towns will be festooned with bright lights. In view of the Government's failure to persuade us to meet energy targets and your proposals for saving energy ("10 Ways to Save the World", 31 October), is it time for Scrooge to be rehabilitated in modern form and for us to start to challenge the cost to the planet of our own festival of electric light?


Sir: Why should the Prime Minister take advice on curbing CO2 emissions from a newspaper with a 16-page motoring supplement that includes articles on truck racing and a celebration of the "biggest and best" American cars?


Sir: Ms Briggs (letter, 2 November) can stop holding her breath. The CO2 she exhales comes from her body "burning" food, which in turn comes from plants (or plant-eating animals) converting atmospheric CO2 into carbohydrates. Breathing is thus effectively carbon neutral, at least if we ignore food miles. On the other hand, methane, emitted by humans and other plant-eating animals when they fart, is not counterbalanced by plant metabolism - and methane's greenhouse effect is 21 times that of CO2.


A man's world

Sir: I wondered how long it would take someone to bring up the "example" of Margaret Thatcher ("Women in charge", letter, 2 November). Mrs Thatcher, an honorary man if ever there was one, fought her way to the top of a male-dominated government and out-maled it in order to rule. Hers was not an example of the way that most women would wish to run things, should there ever be a society in which they could do so without distorting their true natures.


Village wildlife

Sir: Regarding Joanna Trollope's comments on over-tidy villages, I wonder if the time has come to review the idea of "Best-Kept Village"?

For people to take pride in their village, e.g. by picking up litter, is admirable. But what about wildlife? If every patch of nettles is sprayed, where are the food plants for butterflies? And would many people not like to see clouds of cow parsley and the glitter of buttercups as well as perfectly manicured verges? Promoting a Wildlife Award for the Best-Kept Village could lead to some imaginative schemes - and to more butterflies.


Trick or treat

Sir: I can tell Rhoda Koenig exactly where to place the blame for the arrival of the ghastly "Trick or Treat" tradition in Britain (Opinion, 31 October). In the mid-to-late 1970s, Blue Peter ran several annual items on "How other countries celebrate. . ." Their, as always, bright audience were to quick to learn from, and adapt, the practices of their transatlantic peers, and the old guising and turnip lamps disappeared under a weight of petty, and parentally condoned ("Ah, bless 'em") vandalism.

Biddy Baxter has a lot to answer for.


Fruits of the forest

Sir: In the answer to the question, "why are pineapples so spiny?"("Does it hurt when you're beheaded?", 2 November), it is claimed that pineapples fall to the forest floor, "usually from quite a height". Not in my part of the jungle, they don't: your average pineapple grows at the top of a vertical stem, at about knee height.


Sir: Your interesting spread today from New Scientist ("Does it hurt when you're beheaded", 2 November) says that the browning effect in cut apples is "designed to make the fruit unattractive to animals". Who designed that then (and who would be cutting up the apples for the animals, anyway)?