Letters: Brown's honesty

As the election approaches, Brown tries sincerity
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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister can be congratulated for the improvement in the delivery of his speeches. The interview with Piers Morgan, and his excellent rallying cry to Labour supporters on Saturday, show that style, presence, and image are now taking centre stage in his battle to overturn the Tory lead in the polls.

Yet it is precisely this that undermines his apparent sincerity. He talks of the Conservatives as a party of public relations and he has a point. But Mr Brown has chosen a funny time to bring up the subject of PR. Is this not the man who last week talked about intimate aspects of his private life in an obvious attempt to improve his public image. His statement, "I'm an open book," must rank alongside the most scripted remarks to have ever come from a politician.

A "future fair for all"? That to me sounds very nice, but very expensive. Could Mr Brown please tell the public how he intends to maintain the vast welfare state he has created, while cutting the deficit?

Joseph de Lacey

London W11

Gordon Brown invites us "to take a second look at us and a long hard look at them [the Tories]".

I can recall "13 years of Tory misrule" in the 1950s and 1960s. By 1 May we will have had "13 years of Labour misrule". The Tories never left office with the country in such a mess as it is today. On many occasions they have entered office to clear up the mess left by the outgoing Labour administration: 1979 springs to mind.

It is time for a change.

Ralph Dimelow

Stevenage, Hertfordshire

Not being renowned for innovation, the Tories are now planning their strategy should they win the coming general election. William Hague is bracing us for the inevitable "they got us into this mess" response from his party when the going gets tough by saying that current UK debt is a poisoned chalice to the Conservatives.

This is what the Thatcher government was saying when Mr Hague was but a schoolboy. Give it a rest, we've heard it before.

Henry Page


Labour has revealed its pre-election slogan: "A Future Fair for All".

What kind of "fair" is it referring to? Possibly, it is the kind with hoop-la, a shooting gallery or a coconut shy. With their past record, that is the kind of fair they mean, where the punters keep paying but rarely get anything in return.

Terry Duncan

Bridlington, East Yorkshire

Second-class rail travel for MPs

Perhaps one of the good things arising from Sir Nicholas Winterton having to travel second-class on trains is that he will experience what it is like for the majority of the travelling public and be able to use his good offices to try to improve the environment for everyone.

By the time Cross Country trains are half way through their journey from Penzance to Dundee, the toilets are filthy, the few rubbish bins are overflowing and the tables and seating areas are strewn with empty drinks and food containers and often food itself.

How train companies can get away with allowing such a revolting environment to exist, while charging such high fares, is beyond my understanding, and perhaps it will be beyond Sir Nicholas's endurance.

Professor Claire Hale


Sir Nicholas Winterton claims that he is also unable to work in standard class because of the nature of the passengers he finds there.

I am a small-business owner who travels regularly by rail to London from Taunton, a similar distance to his constituency of Macclesfield. The journey of approximately two hours provides peaceful time for working and catching up on interesting literature without distractions.

I usually travel standard-class because first-class fares are exorbitant

Jon Summers

Stogumber, Somerset

As someone who once did a good deal of business train travel, needing to work on both outward and return journeys, I entirely agree that MPs should travel first-class.

The privacy argument in particular, is valid. Once, when travelling second-class, I was surprised when the seat across the table was occupied by a well-known public servant, who promptly took out various documents whose subjects and degree of confidentiality I was easily able to make out, and whose contents I could have read, had I been interested.

I do not know whether this was an example of the practice of travelling second-class and claiming expenses for first class, which was at one time regarded as perfectly acceptable in the public service, but I would certainly regard it as essential that receipts be produced for all travel claims.

D W Budworth

London W4

Pay four times as much and get to sit next to Nicholas Winterton? I knew there was a reason for travelling in standard class.

Richard Welch

Nantglyn, North Wales

Homeopathy helped my dog

I have been following the correspondence about homeopathy. My main query would be: why does homeopathy work on animals and on young children, neither of whom could be influenced by a placebo effect?

I have had homeopathic remedies in the house since before my children were born and occasionally consulted a homeopathic doctor. The problem of teething symptoms in babies was successfully treated along with a strange condition which afflicted our Labrador dog, who would suffer from an excess of saliva and would sit in her basket, chin resting on the edge and drool a pool of saliva on to the kitchen floor. A homeopathic remedy worked like magic and we had a happy dog again.

Most people experience the trials of family ailments including teething babies, dribbling dogs, bloodied knees. My collection of homeopathic remedies is, and has been for over 50 years, a reliable standby.

I am however just as grateful to my GP and the drug manufacturers who provide my treatment for high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes. Is not efficacy more important than scientific proof? It seems that those recently writing on this subject are more interested in being right in their opinions than being concerned about people's welfare. If all the items in the chemist's shop, such as cough mixtures, anti-wrinkle cream and hair preparations, were banned because they do not work, we would find next to nothing on the shelves.

Just be grateful that we live in an open society, where we are free to make choices and not be the victims of a medical dictatorship; and "thank you" I say to all the practitioners of a wide variety of treatments.

Shirley Browning

Sturminster Newton, Dorset

Gallery beats hard times

I read with incredulity the statements about New Art Gallery Walsall as a lottery "failure"(11 February). It was not because I was at their 10th birthday party that evening, a suitably celebratory affair, but because of what I and many others, professionals in the art world and "ordinary" friends and family alike, have experienced over those 10 years.

Sure, they have had hard times. But the staff and the gallery's supporters have shown commitment and imagination to come through. I have seen terrific exhibitions, been to stimulating and critically engaging debates, and, yes, enjoyed meeting people over a coffee.

From the achievements of engaging with the Art Fund's international collections initiative to securing a new archive around its collection, all the while bringing in schools, colleges and young local artists, Walsall's continuing project does huge justice to the investment in its wonderful building.

Mike Tooby


A golfer does his public penance

Being famous, sportsmen get more opportunities. Peter Crouch, asked what he would have been if he hadn't been a famous footballer, replied, "A virgin." Which brings us to James Lawton, droning all over Saturday's front page about poor old Tiger.

Tiger Woods is a golfer, not a bishop. How many girls he has had sex with is nobody's business but his and his wife's. That he should do juddering abjection to godly America was inevitable. Must The Independent follow America into pharisaism?

Edward pearce

Thormanby, North Yorkshire

There are some acts of contrition that are well made in public, even when the subject is an apparently private matter.

Both David Beckham and Tiger Woods had become role models of fatherhood. Many ordinary young men will have looked at them proudly playing the roles of husband and father, and will have concluded that it wasn't uncool to be a family man.

If men of their stature are brave enough to acknowledge when they have let down their wives and families, if they try to redress the difficulties they have caused, it makes them even better role models and bigger men.

Margaret Casely-Hayford

London SW1

I was disappointed to see your choice of front page (20 February). The front page should be used for important news or serious issues; the private life of a golfer is not important news, it is voyeuristic title-tattle.

The current media obsession with the private lives of celebrities devalues our press.

Stewart Entwistle

Biddestone, Wiltshire

Tanks for the memory

George D Lewis's statement that, unlike in Germany, there are no open spaces in the UK available for tank manoeuvres (letter, 15 February) reminded me of a summer when a homesick German student lodged with us.

In an attempt to distract her, we drove out into the rolling Dorset countryside. She slumped despondently as we passed the best that Hardy Country could offer, before turning back across a particularly blasted piece of heath, close to Bovington, home of the tank.

As trees and gorse gave way to barbed-wire fencing, through which we could see a large armoured vehicle churning through a rutted field of mud, she sat up, face radiant, and sighed, "Ah! Just like Germany!"

We gave up hosting students shortly afterwards.

Dinah Ellis

Weymouth, Dorset

Victims of prejudice

It is just as well that many share Michael "never tried it" McCarthy's irrational prejudice against the jellied eel (17 February) or the species might be in even greater danger. The "disgusting" jelly forms naturally upon cooling of the boiled eel and the result is a deliciously moist and firm mouthful of fish. The Chinese mitten crab has been cited as a reason for the eels' decline – maybe we should start eating them.

Stephen Fleming

Hawkhurst, Kent

Children behind bars

Your article "Stop locking up asylum children, ministers told" (17 February) quotes David Wood of the UK Border Agency as saying that children are released from detention when "independent social work advice" suggests it is not in the best interests of the children. It would be interesting to know when, if ever, social workers have told UKBA that holding children in a prison is in their best interests.

Phil Cooper

Hammersmith and Fulham Refugee Forum, London SW6

Falklands oil

It is ludicrous that the UK claims possession of a group of small islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean. However, given that it does indeed have control over the Falkland Islands, then the UK has a responsibility to ensure that any oil in the vicinity is left where it is. No new oil reserves should be exploited until we know that global warming has ended. Our government should be a lot more concerned about oil platforms being set up in that part of the world than any possible interference from Argentina.

Stephen Fisk


Labour right

I would like to assure Daniel Gilbert (letter, 13 February) that turning away from the right has nothing to do with voting Conservative. Back in early 2004 I was living in Spain and had to explain to my landlady that Labour was actually supposed to be the party most on the left; not, as she had gathered, the extreme right – and we'd originally voted for them in 1997 because we felt like a swing to the left at the time.

Alice Sheppard

Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire

Quiet campaign

Mark Steel (17 February) rightly complains about the curse of "easy-listening" radio. However the curse of modern life is not just that kind of music station but the ubiquity of "piped music". We are assaulted by it in waiting rooms, restaurants, shops, banks, you name it; and even, wait for it, in some polling stations. I would suggest that Mark Steel and fellow sufferers join Pipedown, the voluntary organisation that campaigns for freedom from any piped music.

Jelly Williams