My daughter, a British citizen and an Oxford University graduate, is currently teaching English in St Petersburg. She decided to invite her partner, Mr Alexei Sibikin, a Russian citizen, for a week's trip to the UK to show him the places where she grew up.
Mr Sibikin duly applied for a tourist visa to the UK. As requested, he provided his fingerprints, proof of his employment, payslips, my passport, my personal payslips from Glasgow University (is it not a breach of data protection that the UK visa authorities demand this?) and my invitation, where I expressly stated that I would fully finance the week's trip.
The application was turned down, allegedly because the Russian applicant "had not proven that he can finance the journey". The justification was a blatant lie, considering that I offered to pay for everything. Subsequently, I spent almost a day trying to phone the UK embassy in Moscow. It was a nightmarish experience. No one will give you a name. No one will put you through to a higher authority. The telephone exchange puts you through to extensions which ring out without anyone answering them. There are long minutes of meaningless pre-recorded messages. People who wish to enquire about the fate of their application are expected to phone a premium line which costs 70 roubles (£1.50) per minute. The first several minutes or so are taken up with pre-recorded gobbledygook.
You may conclude that no one in the UK is interested in how arrogantly and inefficiently the British diplomatic service behaves to non-British citizens.
Dr Jan Culik
Senior Lecturer, University of Glasgow
How did hospital safety net fail?
Your letters page understandably has five letters seeking to apportion blame for the failures at the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital (19 March). Sadly, the blame game can leave the essential questions unaddressed.
The medical and nursing professions have strict control of standards through, among other processes, regular audit meetings. These are backed up by their Royal Colleges and the Postgraduate Deans (who supervise the training standards). It should not be possible to override these.
Medically they consist of regular half-day meetings where attendance for all staff apart from those providing emergency cover is compulsory. Monitoring these at a hospital level are the clinical tutor and the Royal College speciality tutors. In the tier above and supporting these are the Royal College Regional Advisers and the Postgraduate Deans.
The questions to be addressed, and without apportionment of blame are: why did these audit sessions fail to spot the gross differences in outcomes; did they take place; did any of the junior doctors (who rotate through other hospitals and are expected to report back to their Postgraduate Deans) blow the whistle? Is this hospital different in some fundamental way? Why were the Regional Advisers and the Postgraduate Dean not aware of the problems – or were they, and did some obstacle prevent them from reacting?
I write as a consultant, now retired. Having been a part of setting up this system of standards I would like to be reassured that these basic questions are being addressed in order to learn what went wrong. In this way there can be positive gain for the future from these terrible tragedies
John Atkins FRCOG
Swainby, North Yorkshire
It has been concluded that the problems at Stafford Hospital are the result of a catastrophic failure of management. Presumably therefore, the Government will be ploughing billions of pounds of public funds into the hospital and allowing the senior executives to retire early on massive pensions.
Beauty contest masks injustice
In opposing the Miss University pageant, we were not attacking the women taking part, but the system that has allowed such competitions to re-emerge decades after they were denigrated as sexist. As the lexicon of Sixties feminism has been adopted by mainstream society, women today learn to describe themselves as "empowered", "liberated" and free to "choose". The reality belies the language.
While privileged, university educated, capable women like last week's winner of the Miss University contest Susheel Bal ("I won a beauty contest. Now get over it", 13 March) may be more or less liberated to follow their chosen paths, the majority of women in Britain today are subject to the continued injustices and inequalities of a system that devalues them, exploits their unpaid labour, objectifies them and commodifies their bodies.
We were trying to highlight the current culture of "anything goes" post-feminism. We were objecting not just to the "Miss" contest but to a system that sees Playboy pencil cases and pole-dancing kits sold to seven-year-olds
As young feminists today we do not accept being branded anti-beauty, anti-feminine or anti-fun. We respect and celebrate beauty, interpret and reinterpret femininity and masculinity and have a laugh doing it. We may not laugh when police officers fail to take rape allegations seriously or the Government cuts welfare support to mothers. What we're trying to do is to link up events like this "Miss" pageant with wider social processes that negatively affect the lives of millions of women daily. If that makes us targets for cheap accusations that we're jealous, ugly, duffel-coated bra-burners then so be it.
Rheem Al-Adhami, Women's Officer, Goldsmiths Students' Union; Eleanor Catharine James, Women's Officer, SOAS Students' Union; Jennifer Jones, Campaigns and Communications Officer, Goldsmiths Students' Union; Francesca Bancarino, President Goldsmiths Feminist Society; Evy Samuelsson,
Treasurer, Goldsmiths Feminist Society
Open collar sends a signal to voters
Richard F Grant is confusing two issues when he deprecates the contemporary practices of failing to wear a tie when appearing on television and failing to tuck shirt tails in (letters, 12 March). The latter is merely an ugly defiance of the normal requirement of neatness once expected of schoolboys which we shall have to suffer until boys grow up or fashions change.
The absence of a necktie is a manifestation of something quite different and more manipulative. Most people in positions of power and influence – of whom our previous prime minister was a good example – can afford to buy whatsoever clothes they prefer. But omission of a tie signals to the masses, who are presumed not usually to go to work wearing ties, that "we are just like you lot at heart" and so can be trusted. Introduction of gentle glottal stops and dropping of aitches are frequent and amusing concomitants.
Mindful of the danger of alienating their better-heeled supporters by this cheap trick, however, they are careful to ensure that their suits and shirts are reassuringly expensive and well pressed.
Rise of politics without parties
Andreas Whittam Smith ("The revolution starts here", 14 March) could not be closer to the truth. We need a substantial bloc, or even a majority, of independents in Parliament after the next election. I am already committed to standing in Hexham and have received the warmest support.
Mass independent candidacy would electrify our entire political milieu. There are no insurmountable obstacles to an independent confederacy forming a most effective government – let's not set out on the campaign trail being shy about the potential outcome. The first order of business ought to be electoral and parliamentary reform.
We need a deliberative democracy that strengthens citizen voices in governance by including people of all races, classes, ages and geographies in deliberations that directly affect public decisions. As a result, citizens would have influence – and see the result of their influence – on the policy and resource decisions that impact their daily lives and their future.
Haydon Bridge, Northumberland
What the Bible says about Palestine
The Christian Zionists, who say that Israel is "the apple of God's eye" and who astonish Michael Cook (letters, 17 March), may deserve some praise for having found something very rare, a positive role for a religion not their own. But there's room for doubt over their view that the Bible implies Zionism.
The Bible shows the Philistines (Palestinians) as in Palestine before Abraham, and the land as inhabited by many races. Jesus did not call for it to be cleansed of non-Jews: from this I'd conclude that the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is contrary to Christian principles, though whether it's contrary to Jewish principles is a more urgent question.
Divorce show offered answers
In "Don't make light of the pain of divorce" (Opinion, 16 March), Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is being exactly what she writes she is not – judgemental. What a shame she didn't bother to attend the Starting over Show in Brighton on Sunday. Had she done so she could have seen for herself how Suzy Miller and many of the exhibitors were passionate about helping people find solutions in break-up crisis, and not just out to make themselves wealthy at the expense of "credulous divorcees".
The questions being asked of experts at the show ranged from "How do I get out of this mess?" and "How do I get through divorce as quickly and cheaply as possible?" to "When will I find love again?" There were of course tears, many of which were ones of relief at finding someone qualified to talk to.
Pope's indefensible views on condoms
Pope Benedict's statement against condom use (17 March) is morally indefensible. There is an unambiguous scientific consensus that correct condom use is highly effective in preventing transmission of the virus.
Unfortunately the Pope's remarks echo years of abstinence-only messaging delivered by faith-based organisations that received funding for HIV "prevention" activities from the Bush administration.
The Pope's perceived authority, along with persistent anti-condom messaging, will combine to form a potentially fatal cocktail of misinformation, confusion and fear that will put countless people at risk of HIV.
Chair, Interact Worldwide
Is it just coincidence or could there be another reason why the colours of the Cadbury's dairy milk with caramel egg are the same as those of the knitted sweater on the hen at the Little Hen Rescue Centre in Norwich (Janet Street-Porter, 18 March)?
No fond farewell
On the day that you publish a letter from National Express assuring us that platform passes are freely available (19 March), I have seen my student daughter off at Norwich station with all her luggage for a 24-week volunteering project in the UK and Central Asia. I was told categorically that no platform passes can be given at this main-line station, and had to watch her staggering away from the other side of the newly installed barrier, denied the emotional send-off that is so important on these occasions. How can National Express justify this petty inhumanity?
The quantity of litter in a street on my way to the Tube station is so heartbreaking that, although I'm not Polish (letter, 18 March), I too have taken to collecting it up and dumping it in the nearest bin. I remember a report some time ago about a philanthropic individual doing this on Snowdon who became known locally as Rob the Rubbish. Should I see myself as Helen the Hoover?
War crimes and Iraq
The UN Security Council did not legitimise the invasion of Iraq or grant immunity for crimes and misdemeanours committed during the invasion and subsequent occupation (letter, 16 March). The UK is a signatory to the International Criminal Court which has authority to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The crime of aggression though not defined – thanks to US/UK intransigence – is recognised as the highest crime. I live in hope that those in political and military life will be held accountable before the ICC for their crimes.
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
Life imitates art?
With the melting of the Antarctic ice perhaps becoming unstoppable (report, 19 March), maybe Kevin Costner's 1995 film Waterworld should be moved from the action-adventure genre to that of documentary.