Letters: Cameron can't go back to the past

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From where David Cameron looks down, he may well see a broken society when he comes down into it. I don't from where I am. I see people of all ages dealing with what we have now as opposed to what we used to have, and doing a good job of it. They haven't broken society.

I was born and lived in the village of Brompton near Northallerton, North Yorkshire, in the 1950s and 1960s: population less than 2,000 then. As a travelling salesman, I was one of the few with a car then, and the villagers were pretty well self-supporting.

There were five thriving pubs, a co-op grocery shop where you dropped your order book in one day and it was delivered next day by carrier bike, two butchers, post office, tobacconist, two fish and chip shops, newsagent, two bakers, electrical and bike shop, two sweet shops, a drapery shop, six small grocery and general shops and a greengrocer and grocery shop and warehouse.

In addition, the village had its own policeman, local farmers, a small repair garage, a reading room where the village band practised and the Yorkshire Bank was available two days a week, a village hall which was very well used by all ages for dances, concerts, group dinners and parties. There were two local, family bus businesses, two builders, two painters and decorators, a funeral director, two blacksmiths, a horse dealer, two hairdressers in cottage kitchens, a linen factory with overseas trade, a busy railway station, two coal merchants, three chapels, a church, two doctors, the district nurse and the village school.

Everybody knew everybody and they were almost self-sufficient. It is very different today with very little of all this left.

Because everybody got cars, and big business changed all that. David cannot put it back, ever again.

George Appleby, York

Why workers can come here

Lost in the furore over Gordon Brown's "gaffe" is a critical issue centred on the freedom of movement of labour.

In legal terms, Mrs Duffy was not talking about immigration at all; she was referring to EU citizens' rights under EU law to freedom of movement. To this degree there is no difference between a Polish person moving to Rochdale and a British person moving from Leeds to Derby or London to Cornwall. To his credit, Brown did try to raise this, with his comment to Mrs Duffy that while a million EU citizens had moved to the UK as many British citizens had moved to other EU states.

We remain mired in a debate on immigration, based on dishonest portrayals of caps and restrictions and points systems, none of which will prevent the rights of EU citizens to enjoy freedom of movement, which was at the heart of Mrs Duffy's concerns.

So what is to be done? There are three issues here, all of which are a political hard sell.

First, we need to communicate to the British people the difference between immigration (affecting people outside the EU and which Britain can restrict if it wishes) and freedom of movement.

Second, we need to make it clear that one of the reasons that the UK has received larger than expected labour mobility is that many of our EU partners placed temporary restrictions on mobility which will come to an end in 2011.

Third, we need to emphasise that this issue is linked to the economic crisis. In times of economic stress resentment has perhaps inevitably, if regrettably, turned on our fellow EU citizens.

Without facing up to these truths, the issue of immigration will continue to be misrepresented to the British people.

Dr Nick Robinson, Lecturer in EU public policy, University of Leeds

The "gaffe" committed by Mr Brown has put a different spotlight on immigration by bringing out the mention of British emigration. Mrs Duffy's concern about East Europeans has rung across the country over many decades. When the question has arisen, the different parties have done their best to convince voters how well they are "managing" this phenomenon. The general undertone is that immigration is a "problem" and a burden on our taxes.

The urge to move is a human one. Migration is good. It is natural. Migration and diversity revive and refresh cultures, strengthen societies and help us all evolve as people and as communities. Mr Brown made this clear when he responded to Mrs Duffy's query by reminding her that we Brits also like going off to live abroad.

We too use the taxpayers' money in other countries. So, for instance, we like using the Spanish health service, sending our children to schools and universities in Spain, moving our homes and mortgages from Britain to a place in the sun.

Why is it so hard to understand that a Pole might want a place in Britain, a chance to earn money (and also pay taxes) here, the right to contribute to the way and standard of life here?

As mariners, as explorers, as colonial conquerors, as missionaries and volunteers, as retired folk on the Costa del Sol, we British are perennial migrants too.

Parvati Nair, Professor of Hispanic Cultural Studies And Director, Centre for the Study of Migration, Queen Mary, University of London

What Brown's 'gaffe' reveals

When I heard the headline about Gordon Brown's "gaffe" I thought that at least he must have totally lost his temper with a voter and probably lamped her in the street, the way it was introduced.

In fact, he did something that was completely human – he made a mildly disparaging remark in what should have been the privacy of his car. He did not shout or swear, and considering he had just been harangued by this woman for some time in front of a huge bank of cameras, he is entitled to a few exasperated words in private.

The public are being increasingly programmed to have outraged indignation as their default setting. This is infantile and stupid.

The media is out to crucify Gordon Brown. I think he is a decent man who does his utmost to do the right thing, and I hope voters will see beyond this media savaging and treat the whole incident as a trivial non-event. In fact it may even backfire on his detractors.

Penny Little, Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

The most damning thing about Mr Brown's views was not that he called Mrs Duffy a bigot but that he thought it was "ridiculous" to be put in a position to talk to "that woman", being forced to hear unpalatable views.

If ever unequivocal evidence was needed of this Labour government's contempt for ordinary people's opinions, this incident has provided it. Brown didn't "misunderstand" the very reasonable Mrs Duffy. He heard what she said well enough but didn't want to know.

Russell Armitagem, Walsall, West Midlands

The point about Gordon Brown's gaffe is whether we believe the competition is any different – except that the microphone is turned off. Are we persuaded that the occupant of the Bullingdon battlebus, for example, warmly praises that argumentative voter for bringing a new slant to the debate which he hadn't thought of before?

I say thank heavens for a politician who shows his human frailties and yet has the humility to seek forgiveness when he offends. Perhaps we should leave off the stone-throwing, and focus on electing a parliament rather than a president.

The Rev Peter Sharp, Penrith, Cumbria

What is most concerning about Gordon Brown's mildly robust encounter with Gillian Duffy is not so much that he felt that she was a bigot but that he thought the meeting was a "disaster".

He didn't agree with everything she said, but, to a non-solipsistic person, the fact that you cannot have 100 per cent agreement with somebody is not a disaster. That he described his encounter in such terms would seem to indicate an over-inflated self-assessment of how he and his opinions should be perceived. Perhaps that is where all his troubles started.

Steven Williams, London N19

On Wednesday morning Gordon Brown made an insulting comment. By the time I drove home, the radio was telling me about "Bigot-gate, as the incident has become known".

I may consider giving my vote to any political party that gives a manifesto commitment to legislating against the use of the suffix "-gate". I would allow an exception if a politician was heard making rude comments about a voter while unable to unlatch the exit from the garden path.

Paul Streater, Linlithgow, West Lothian

I wonder if William Shakespeare foresaw the events of Rochdale. In Act 5, Scene 10 of Macbeth a despised Scottish king is brought to book by Macduff:

Mrs Duffy: Turn, hell-hound, turn.

Brown: Of all people I have avoided thee. But get thee back. My soul is too much charged with blood of thine already.

Mrs Duffy: I have no words – my voice is my sword, thou bloodier villain than terms can give thee out. (They fight.)

Brown: Thou losest labour.

Stan Hey, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire

It would probably be easier to sympathise with Gordon Brown, given the way his private remarks were made public property, if he didn't head a government that has shown precious little respect for the privacy of the rest of us, with its plans for compulsory inclusion on the ID card register when we renew our passports, its refusal to comply with legal rulings to remove innocent people's DNA from the national database and its enthusiasm for CCTV.

Nick Wray, Derby

Mrs Duffy may well be a decent, caring woman who fully supports her fellow human beings' wish to exercise their treaty rights, but unfortunately, the manner in which she expressed her question exposed her to understandable allegations of bigotry.

I have yet to speak to anyone who disagrees with Gordon Brown's comment.

Kath Sainsbury, Saltburn, Cleveland

What a ridiculous storm in a teacup; what an adolescent society we are! If anything would make me vote for Gordon Brown, it would be the surprising evidence that he cares about bigotry against immigrants.

Eileen Noakes, Totnes, Devon

Oh dear, poor Gordon Brown. Where is Malcolm Tucker when you need him?

"He did not say that! You may have heard him say that..."

Jane Gregory, Dundee

Whatever you do, go and vote

It is said that the televised debates have roused the UK electorate, particularly the young. Let's hope so.

With our courageous youngsters out in Afghanistan risking their lives, and sadly all too often dying, for democracy there are more reasons than ever to vote.

I was in Afghanistan in 1980 before the days of the Taliban, when the Mujahideen were supported by the West in their struggle against the Russian-backed Afghan army. Before one attack I photographed a young Mujahideen fighter with the telling words on his cap: "Tomorrow awaits."

He survived that attack, but who knows what successive tomorrows brought him? He could be happily retired now or may be dead. In any case, I am certain he would rather have had the opportunity to vote for his future than have to fight for it.

M J Huskisson, Halesworth, Suffolk

Roger Schafir suggests (letter, 27 April) that the first-past-the-post electoral "system" enables the electorate to "boot out a government every so often". He is mistaken.

The 95 per cent of the population who live in constituencies like the one where I live have no influence on the outcome. We have no say in whether a government is booted out or not.

Pin a blue rosette on a monkey in Rutland and Melton and it would be elected, and the same (with different colour rosettes) is repeated at hundreds of seats around the country.

First-past-the-post is the major reason for the British Parliament becoming discredited and why millions, despite having an interest in politics and how their country is run, no longer bother to vote – it is a pointless exercise in vast swathes of the country. Proportional representation may have its faults, but it has far fewer than FPTP.

Paul Clark, Oakham, Rutland

Whenever I come in from electioneering and before I fall asleep all I see on the TV is three party leaders. Very interesting to the electors of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Sheffield Hallam and Witney, who are the only people that can definitely stop one of them from becoming Prime Minister.

In a couple of months from now any of those leaders could have been dumped by their respective parties anyway. Would it be best for electors in all other constituencies to concentrate on deciding who they want to represent them in Parliament?

Roger Stearn, Old Newton, Suffolk

Just a harmless flutter for £3

Terence Blacker's conclusion that the National Lottery has changed the way we behave as a nation is wide of the mark (Comment, 23 April). He is wrong to link the present economic situation and National Lottery sales. Over the past five years, we have seen a steady sales growth of 11.6 per cent across our full range of games, which is down to a long-term strategy of diversifying the range of lottery products on offer and ensuring that these games appeal to a wide cross-section of society.

This strategy ensures we maintain a balance of lots of people playing, but spending relatively little. Players do enjoy the thrill of large rollover prizes and they inject added excitement into draws throughout the year, raising more money for good causes when they occur.

The National Lottery does not target the poor: the demographics of lottery play are almost an exact match with the UK population. About 70 per cent of the adult population play at least one of our games on a regular basis, and average spend is under £3 a week. People view the National Lottery as a harmless flutter, which might just change their lives.

Dianne Thompson, Chief Executive, Camelot Group Watford, Hertfordshire

Evolved to smack our children

I disagree with Tom Sutcliffe's conclusion that "If you aren't allowed to hit my children then I can't honestly see why I should be allowed to either." (Opinion, 27 April.)

The difference between him smacking his own children and someone else doing it is that his children contain his genes. This means there is a strong disincentive to injure his child, since it would hurt their future reproductive success.

Smacking evolved to keep children out of mortal danger, because it allows the child's mind to associate pain with a bad course of action. A parent who smacked a child who played too close to a lake filled with crocodiles probably had more descendants than one who didn't.

There's a huge difference between the savannah we evolved in and the world we live in today. Yet children often stick their fingers in plug sockets or run out in front of cars; the dangers are still there, they're just different.

I have yet to have children, but when I do I will smack my children if I feel it is in their best interest. It would be wrong to criminalise such a basic part of our evolved psychology.

Simon Johnson, Widnes, Lancashire

Sillitoe on the short-wave radio

What a fantastic photograph of the two shortwave receivers accompanying the interview with Alan Sillitoe (27 April). In addition to his other skills, he was obviously a keen SWL (short wave listener), quite possibly stemming from his days in the Royal Signals.

The bottom receiver is an AR88, made by RCA in the war years for the amateur market, but shipped over here in quantities, and used, I believe, in the listening stations to copy "Enigma" and other foreign signals traffic.

I am unable to identify the top receiver, though it also has the look of a set from the same era. Possibly another former SWL reader may be able to identify it.

Mochael Clemitson, Cardiff

Sports for all

Your correspondent Paul Severn (letter, 29 April) thinks that football "can bind a family, forge friendships and create a sense of loyalty, perseverance and community in a way that the elitist sports of rugby and cricket can never manage". Rugby and cricket elitist? He's clearly never been to The Shed at Kingsholm (Gloucester Rugby Club's ground) nor to a Test match at Edgbaston. I can only think that instead of "elitist" he actually meant "intellectually satisfying".

Edward Collier, Cheltenham


Labour and the Tories demand tougher tactics on knife-carrying, yet most offenders state they carry a knife to deter others. Isn't this the same message both parties have recently been applying to the Trident issue?

Alex N Hay, Haddington, East Lothian