Cable's threat to the unions
After 18 years of Conservative rule, which brought many constraints to trade unions, much hope was placed in the incoming Tony Blair government of 1997. But alas, not one single anti-union law was repealed.
Trade Unions have always had a bad press, but the working conditions we all now take for granted were hard won during our industrial development.
To have Vince Cable openly warn trade unions that any industrial action could result in more legislation is not only unfair; it must alienate so many of his own supporters who are themselves trade unionists.
All this with strikes at an all-time low and a massive loss of public-service jobs. All this pain was caused by the banking crisis, and it's the ordinary working people that will be forced to experience the pain. Bankers bonuses continue. No effort is made to close down on the tax-avoidance regimes that cost this country so much in lost revenue.
In the space of just over a year Vince Cable has managed to change from the highly rated financial guru of the Liberal Democrat party to George Osborne's valet.
During the Blair and Brown years the Liberal Democrats always appeared more socialist than New Labour, but that was not too difficult. To leap from the traditional Labour left to the Thatcher/ Cameron right just beggars Liberal Democrat voters' belief.
Vince Cable wants a word in your shell-like. He doesn't have a problem with strikes. Goodness me, no. He wouldn't want you to get that impression.
No, but it's his friends you see. They're not bad boys, you understand, but they don't appreciate the finer points of democracy. It confuses them. And that makes them angry. And you wouldn't like them when they're angry.
So if you know what's good for you, you'll do well to keep your mouths shut. Or they might just shut them for you.
You can't say you haven't been warned.
Vince Cable's threat that the Liberal-Conservative Coalition would bring in more Thatcher-type anti-union legislation if the GMB stands up for its members' interests must surely be the point at which we outside Animal Farm look from pig to man, and from man to pig, but find it impossible to say which is which.
Electronic books are still books
I don't understand Terence Blacker's attitude to electronic media ("There's more to a book than just the text", 3 June). I read his piece on a Kindle, through my subscription to The Independent. So how does that make my engagement with his ideas less "direct" than if I'd bought the print newspaper?
There can be a "surprise element", too. Last month, on my way to Heathrow for a flight to Canada, I read The Independent's review of a book that sounded interesting (a novel by an author I'd never heard of). Once the Tube train had emerged into the daylight, where the Kindle could pick up a wireless signal, I downloaded a free sample, which I finished reading in the departure lounge. Then I bought the whole novel, and it kept me engrossed for most of the flight.
During my week in Canada, Kindle enabled me to enjoy The Independent over breakfast, and read or consult more books than I could possibly have carried in my luggage. Back home, I have free access on my home computer, through my university library's subscriptions, to many of the books and journal articles I need for my research.
Admittedly, I'm not the kind of person Blacker is concerned about – I'm neither young nor disadvantaged, and my home is overflowing with books. But if the young can be encouraged to read electronically, I don't see why we should worry. Yes, of course there's more to a book than just the text, but surely it's the text that matters most.
Christina Patterson attacks Alan Bennett (Opinion, 28 May), referring to his use of the phrase "child abuse" at a Save the Libraries campaign at Kensal Rise. Brent Council has made a huge blunder in committing itself to abolishing six local libraries, ignoring sensible business plans which the community has put forward to save the libraries by eliminating administrative waste.
Brent is perfectly aware of the dreadful effect this will have on children who use their library for quiet study, as is shown by their hasty decision to postpone the closures until the end of the exam revision period. Why should Alan Bennett's audience, of whatever class, not clap in support of the feeling of outrage he publicly expressed?
Our outrage isn't an inability to understand the necessity of government cuts: it has been provoked by the obduracy of a council which protects the salaries of its top executives while slashing our services, including libraries, care centres, lollipop people and many others.
How to afford more homes
David Prosser ("How to build more houses and make a profit for taxpayers", 2 June) is wrong to claim that parts of the Government are not supportive of land-auctions. The piloting of land auctions is an important part of how we will rebuild Britain's economy and encourage more locally led development.
Eric Pickles' Department for Communities and Local Government will be taking this forward, trialling this innovative new approach on surplus public sector land, building more homes and raising money to help pay off the deficit.
Minister for Local Government
House of Commons
Your Letters page of 1 June raises points about low wages barring people from the property market, but I would caution against the call for higher wages to meet obscene property prices.
What is needed is lower house prices. Raising wages (in and of itself a commendable goal) would simply increase the borrowing power of buyers and therefore lead to an increase in property prices, because the cost of a house is notional and based only on the amount a lender will lend and a borrower can borrow, helped along by a large dose of chutzpah on the part of vendors and agents.
We must all accept that inflated property prices are a good thing only for mortgage lenders, estate agents and buy-to-let landlords. For the rest of us, whether renters or homeowners, they are a virus crippling our communities socially and economically. To paraphrase an advertising slogan, "Make a house a home – not an investment".
Sacrificed for the euro
In the midst of the gravest crisis in Greece, caused by their massive debts and membership of the euro, the Mayor of Athens, Yiorgos Kaminis, has acknowledged that "Not since the German occupation during the Second World War has Athens been in such a dreadful state."
There has been for some years mounting anti-German feeling in Greece since Berlin is rightly seen as the architect of the European Union and its currency the euro, which have made Greece's financial difficulties into an impossible, inescapable, debt-laden morass. Greece, like the other Eurozone countries, is ruled from Berlin and Paris. It has no currency. It has no central bank. It has no interest rates to reflect its economy.
Unemployment reaches crisis levels and the riots worsen. The EU's answer is for Greek taxpayers to take on impossible debts, not to solve their own problems but to shore up the euro.
The growing debts are not and can never be a solution either for the euro, which is doomed, or Greece. But for Berlin and Paris to allow a (justified) Greek default would drive many French and German banks into crisis.
Never have the people of one country been so disgracefully sacrificed to save the finances and ambitions of the imperial European State. And Greece will not be the last EU member to be so sacrificed on the euro-federalist altar.
Abuses of abortion
Thank you for Jeremy Laurance's piece about "gendercide" in India (25 May). For many years, human rights campaigners have striven to raise the profile of some of the demographic chaos the liberalisation of abortion has caused in developing countries. At the same time, they have sought to highlight its utter predictability, pointing to the centrality of eugenics to the intellectual underpinning of – and impetus for – the "pro-choice" movement.
Laurance's piece is a reminder to today's advocates for abortion that their attempts to bleach eugenic motivations from their history will not prevent their "choice" doctrine having eugenic effect.
Margaret Sanger, the most celebrated ambassador for women's reproductive rights and founder of America's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, said: "Ignorance breeds poverty and poverty breeds ignorance. There is only one cure for both, and that is to stop breeding these things. Stop bringing to birth children whose inheritance cannot be one of health or intelligence."
Mahatma Gandhi, asked by Sanger how her teaching would be received by girls in India, predicted: "She [the Indian girl] will be your slave, much to her damage, I'm afraid."
Luke de Pulford
The voice of silent peers
It is ridiculous to criticise peers who rarely speak or ask questions on those grounds alone ("Revealed: 173 silent peers", 6 June).
The important function of the House is that it gets through its business and that when people speak there are those to listen or read what they say, before voting. Questions are posed if the listeners or readers want clarification, amplification or to oppose.
Silent peers who pay attention, but do not feel they have to justify their work by making a noise or raising points, are an absolutely vital ingredient. They make the chamber efficient but careful at the same time. A conscientious peer might do invaluable work at home, in the chamber or in the bar. Their voting is always important.
Careful management and maybe some reform can make a good system better. Actions based on over-simplified assumptions are likely to make it less efficient and no better in any other respect.
Why we don't talk about class
A defining characteristic of middle-class people is the belief their achievements are largely the result of their own hard work ("It's time for a debate on the 'c' word", 6 June).
They are uncomfortable with talk of social class because this would require them to acknowledge the myriad advantages they have enjoyed and call into question their personal meritworthiness. Psychologically it is easier for them to disparage talk of social class as an expression of resentment on the part of those who simply haven't done enough to help themselves.
It is very difficult therefore to have a sensible discussion on this issue. But there is little doubt that opportunities in our society depend to a great extent on accidents of birth and this is something that a genuinely fair society should be seeking to mitigate.
Dr Gary Kitchen
Above the Blue Labour shop
It is not enough to be told that the Blue Labour theorist Lord Glasman "lives above a shop in Hackney" ("True colours? Is Blue Labour the way forward for the left?", 6 June.)
We need to know whether the shop in question is a fly-by-night second-hand bookshop which tries to sell sells off discarded copies of Anthony Giddens's notoriously unsatisfying The Third Way at above market prices, or whether it is a fish-and-chip shop with deep roots in the local community, which provides solid mushy-pea sustenance to the drifting masses.
Perspectives on drug prohibition
The freedom to make a choice
How disappointing to see the same old arguments for and against the decriminalisation of "drugs" (letters, 6 June), from the patronising proposals to cut crime and fund an ailing NHS to the fear-driven paternalistic rants of would-be guardians of the weak-minded and children.
The UK Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (2009) clearly places alcohol near the top of a long list of substances used (and presumably enjoyed) by many people, most of whom suffer little or no harm. Given that the widespread, illicit use of many and varied substances dates back at least five decades in the UK, we undoubtedly have many intelligent, thoughtful and experienced users and ex-users.
We should accept that in a mature democracy the citizens may wish to avail themselves of more than one psychoactive experience, choosing from many substances, most of which as far as the ACMD concludes cause fewer harms than the state-sponsored (by way of tax-raising duty) drug alcohol. This is where education comes in. What has a society such as ours, with the capacity to intelligently inform every citizen of the benefits and disbenefits of all psychoactive substances, to fear from the freedom to make an informed choice?
This may seem radical, but when compared with an ideological project which purports to strive for a totally drug-free society (except for alcohol) it must surely stand at least a marginally better chance of success.
My cycle of addiction
There is a contradiction in Joe Hartley's statements (letter, 7 June) that "cannabis, LSD and ecstasy are not physically addictive" and that "most addicts become addicts because they have addictive personalities".
I have been addicted to cannabis. I agree that it's not physically addictive; when I became aware of the cycle I had got myself into I stopped it almost immediately, but this was after four years of basing my life around my next spliff or bong.
I have known people to take heroin without becoming addicted. There are grey areas which those looking in from the outside may find difficult to understand, but cycles of behaviour are something to which we are all prone.
I do not drink, smoke or take drugs, but I am in favour of the legalisation of drugs. I believe we must take the market away from armed gangs in order to get a clearer picture of the damage drugs do, as a natural part of society maturing away from them. Humans do not need stimulants to be happy.
Funding a huge empire of crime
We cannot and should not seek to legislate against people harming themselves. We do not do it with alcohol. We do not do it with cigarettes, base jumping, extreme climbing, or a hundred other habits or pursuits which could harm us. As with runaway health-and-safety concern, we end up accepting less and less responsibility for our own actions and expect the state or the law to provide us with a risk-free environment.
A much greater concern is the huge crime empire that has arisen from drug prohibition, whose pattern closely follows that of alcohol prohibition in the US during the 1920s. The psychology of the problem follows a similar trend, in that alcohol became more popular once it was banned.
Government buying, controlling and taxing the distribution of drugs would strike a death blow to drug cartels. What frisson would there be for the user if he could obtain his supply over the counter from his chemist with the usual health warnings? The overwhelming majority of us get our kicks in other ways. We have no wish to take drugs and would not go near drugs if they were legal.
Next, look out for 'clean' tobacco
While there is a "'war on drugs"' going on, the tobacco Industry is planning to market "safe tobacco"' as "just safe clean medicinal nicotine".
Why is one part of the market allowed to sell a product which after a few weeks of use causes a craving that urges people to buy it even when they cannot afford it? These are companies that have made billions selling (and still sell) a product that kills more people annually in the UK than illicit drugs.
What is the difference between clean nicotine for smokers and clean diamorphine for opiate users?