Cameron and New Labour jostle for the centre ground
Sir: I thought David Cameron gave a remarkable speech to the Conservative conference. With his eschewing of tax cuts, his championing of the NHS as a paradigm of the "collective will"' (I can't remember hearing a Tory PM talk about the collective will before), the shift from the concept of personal responsibility to "social responsibility", the need to understand the causes of criminality, the embracing of minorities and the minimum wage, it exuded almost Kinnock-era Labour values - or, at least, Blair Mark I.
Cameron has obviously learned from Blair's tactic of speaking over the heads of conference (whose members could be seen sinking further and further into their seats) to the wider electorate, recognising that the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade have nowhere else to go.
The question is, now the "clear blue water" has evaporated, with Cameron trying to outflank Blair on the left, in the same way that Blair outflanked the Tories on the right, will the electorate be too confused to vote at all? And, with the centre ground already so crowded, will the Lib Dems continue their own efforts to gain a foothold in such heavily occupied territory?
Sir: May I say what how ignorant Jacob Rees-Mogg is ("State school pupils are 'potted plants' says Tory", 5 October). Recent experience tells me that bad spelling is not confined to state education.
A local public schoolboy offered, for lots of money of course, to prepare a website for a group I help and the grammar and spelling were so bad we could not consider it. On the other hand my own children, all state-educated can spell well and understand grammar - and achieved brilliant results in this year's GCSEs and A-levels. The Tories are welcome to Mr Rees-Mogg and his outlandish opinions.
HAYWARDS HEATH, WEST SUSSEX
Sir: I despair for the Conservatives. They spurned at least three chances to appoint sensible David Davis as their leader, and have lumbered themselves with this namby-pamby, touchy-feely, pseudo-evangelical Tony Blair Mk 2; just when we're sick to death of Blair.
It's the UKIP for me.
Censored by fear of a Muslim backlash
Sir: I found Paul Vallely, piece "Has the West been silenced by Islam?' (4 October) disturbing. He states that Theo Van Gogh "routinely described Muslims as 'goatfuckers', before one of them murdered him". Whether or not Van Gogh described Muslims thus, the point is that he was murdered for expressing an opinion in the form of a work of art. Vallely, by emphasising Van Gogh's "vile"' vocabulary, appears almost to be justifying his killing.
Vallely then gives examples of works of art being self-censored, because of a growing "sensitivity" towards Muslim feelings. These works of art were not self-censored out of sensitivity, but out of fear of a Muslim backlash.
As a librarian, I am aware that if I took every book off the shelves that offended someone, there would be no books left. I am routinely offended by works of art. Being offended is the price you pay for living in a free society.
Sir: Thanks to Paul Vallely for his article. The barrage of complaint about Muslim sensibilities ignores two important facts: that the main form of racism in Europe is against Muslims, and that Muslims are, in Vallely's words, "one of the most vulnerable, and alienated, minorities in Europe".
Far-right campaigns in Europe centre on anti-Muslim sentiment. It is no wonder, therefore, that when French philosophy teachers attack the special provision of halal food in school meals, Muslims feel they are being singled out for discrimination.
In my experience, most Muslims reject Islamic fundamentalism and want to be part of western societies. Nor do they want to ban or ignore criticism. But they also want to be treated with equality and respect. Perhaps we should begin to look at anti-Muslim racism as a problem for us to deal with, rather than blaming the victims.
STOP THE WAR COALITION LONDON WC1
Sir: While it is permissible for Muslims to object to a few extreme modes of expression that go too far, this is very much not the issue now. The issue is that some harmless cartoons or a passing papal reference suffices to produce rioting and murder on the part of much of the Muslim world. Rioting and murder aren't all right.
DAVID B GREENBERG
FLUSHING, NEW YORK, USA
Sir: The supposed threat posed by Muslim extremists to liberal society has been grossly exaggerated. Even the terrorist bombs, and the threats against Rushdie and the like, are incapable of destroying our society.
On the other hand, the current campaign against Islam, championed by intellectuals on the one hand and George Bush on the other, is dangerous not only to Muslims, but also to the liberal society they claim to defend. They make no attempt to engage with or understand Islam, taking extremists as representative of the whole, and heedless of the marginalised position of Muslims. They fail to comprehend Islam, or even to wish to understand it.
The last victims of discrimination
Sir: Civil partnership is not enough (letter 30 September). True, but not for the reasons given by your correspondent.
She wants to be treated as a fully enfranchised citizen. Well, as a single person, so do I. I would like the same rights enjoyed by couples - "smug marrieds" and civil partners alike. I would like a discount of 50 per cent on my council tax. A local income tax would be even better. I would like to be able to pass on my assets, free of tax, to a nominated person when I die.
Discrimination is ugly. Why should coupledom confer tax advantages? Single people have higher costs - no one to share the massive energy bills, single supplements on holiday - yet are treated more harshly by the tax system. In the present times, when discrimination on grounds of sex, age, race and disability is all illegal, how come it is still OK to give couples favourable treatment?
Polish ministers biased against gays
Sir: I disagree with the analysis of Cezary Król, Poland's Chargé d'Affaires in London (letter, 4 October), in relation to Stephen Castle's article "Poland's ruling coalition rocked by allegations of corrupt dealings" (28 September). The Kaczynski brothers' views on homosexuality and the slighting of most minorities are indeed worrying many politicians in Europe, and Mr Castle is correct when he states "nationalist, Eurosceptic and noted campaigners against gay rights, the Kaczynski twins have made few friends in European capitals".
Politicians must be judged by their actions. As Mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczynski banned two consecutive gay marches in 2004 and 2005. Earlier this year, the Vice Chairman of one of the parties in government in Poland said that if gays turn up at the Warsaw gay pride and tolerance march this year then they should be "bludgeoned". By saying nothing and more importantly doing nothing against such dangerous outbursts by senior politicians, the Kaczynski brothers, through their silence, condone and acquiesce.
Another example of homophobia in action within the political elite of Poland was the recent decision by the Ministry of Education to reject an application for funding of a Polish LGBT organisation, Kampania, under the European Youth Programme. In its justification, the ministry highlighted that it was against its policy to support any organisations which "promoted homosexuality".
Actions speak louder than words and I'm afraid the actions of Poland's political elite do not square with Mr Krol's assessment.
MICHAEL CASHMAN MEP
(LABOUR, WEST MIDLANDS) PRESIDENT OF INTERGROUP FOR GAY AND LESBIAN RIGHTS, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, BRUSSELS
Socially excluded by the small print
Sir: I have recently purchased an exhibition catalogue in which the main text is beautifully clear but the bibliography and index could only be read by a mouse.
Now that printed text is usually produced by computer rather than by traditional methods, it is possible to reduce the size of typeface almost infinitely in order to fit it into the smallest space possible. Supermarkets and other manufacturers are putting more and more instructions and cautionary disclaimers on their products, presumably to avoid the risk of litigation. In order that more and more text can be fitted into the same amount of space, the size of the type is continually being reduced. Eventually it becomes virtually illegible; for those of us who cannot read it, it might just as well not exist.
There needs to be some sort of regulation as to the minimum size of text that people can be expected to read in such circumstances. There is much talk nowadays of "diversity" and "social inclusion". Nobody queries the rights of the visually impaired when it comes to reading matter. Those of us, many in number but mainly in middle age and above, who, though not visually impaired, have difficulty in reading excessively small print should also be considered and not excluded.
Modern training for doctors
Sir: I want to reassure your readers that patient safety is at the very heart of Modernising Medical Careers (MMC), the new postgraduate doctor-training programme.
It is ridiculous to suggest ("Bad medicine", 3 October) that junior doctors will not be able to perform life-saving procedures because they are not "legally covered" if they do not have the competence signed off. The whole point of MMC is to ensure that patients are not being practised on. Junior doctors will practise their skills in simulation, or at the very least under close supervision of a senior colleague.
MMC is designed to ensure more NHS services are delivered by fully trained doctors, rather than doctors in training. The future will be safer for patients than the past, not the other way round.
It is untrue that 11,500 doctors will be unemployed because of MMC. Not only is the number of jobs unlikely to change as the result of MMC, but the number of training opportunities is much greater now than ever before. Figures collected from the UK health departments suggest that we will be able to offer between 22,000 and 23,000 training opportunities to doctors in the UK.
These changes are good for patients and were agreed by the profession's leaders. As everyone agrees, medical training does need to be reformed so that we always have the right doctors trained in the right skills to reach the needs of modern patients.
MINISTER OF STATE FOR HEALTH DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH LONDON SW1
Sir: I read the article by "Dr Lucy Chapman" with some considerable concern. She states that in an emergency situation such as she faced, she would not be allowed to perform a necessary procedure unsupervised. As I understand it, the point of the new training system is to increase the amount of supervision. Thus, in her scenario, rather than being unable to perform a life-saving procedure, she would in fact have been able to perform it, but under the guidance of someone who had, in fact, done it before.
Certainly as a patient I am in favour of the idea of doctors learning their trade under increased supervision. It is surely preferable to the idea that the doctor is using me to try out new techniques using, as she says, "a knowledge of anatomy and the instructions with the kit".
Sir: The non-payment of the Camden GP (letter, 2 October) is a direct consequence of Labour having done to the Health Service what the Tories did to the railways, breaking up an integrated whole into competing, financially separate units.
Dr P J W SMITH
Sir: You report (5 October) that pi has been recited to 100,000 decimal places, and then proceed to make an elementary mistake when you compare this to the way it is normally written, to three decimal places, as 3.141. While pi starts with the digits 3.141, it continues on 5926, meaning that if it is written out to three decimal places it is rounded up to 3.142.
Reasons to be thin
Sir: I was forcibly struck by the unfortunate juxtaposition on pages 2 and 3 of the items on the drought in Darfur and a feature on high fashion (4 October). Both were illustrated with pictures of extreme thinness. The contrast between the tragedy in Darfur and the self-absorbed, trivial and fundamentally useless world of fashion was jarring, and, to me, devalued the seriousness of the former.
HEMEL HEMPSTEAD, HERTFORDSHIRE
Sir: I wonder how many of "The Ten Best Chandeliers" (4 October) can accommodate compact fluorescent lights and still look good? Perhaps in the interests of the planet, whose demise features so frequently on your front page, you could do a feature on "The Ten Best Light Fittings that can accommodate Compact Fluorescent Lights (and still look good)". As consumers we are constantly being told to replace our incandescent lamps with CFLs. Unfortunately, as much as we'd like to be greener, this is not possible while light fittings continue to be designed for smaller incandescents.
Help for the useless
Sir: In response to Pete Barratt's letter (4 October), we have a long-standing system for dealing with those people lacking in the qualities, qualifications and experience to make a useful contribution to society. We elect them to public office. Only in the public sector can someone find work without the need to deliver on promises or be able to distinguish between theory and reality.
Cats get the Marmite
Sir: Our cats refuse, violently, to take pills by mouth. Simple! We grind up the pill, mix it with butter and Marmite - which they love - and smear the delicious folk remedy on their front paws. They lick it off with enjoyment, and the pill goes down easily.
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