Letters: Cameron's image

Cameron's friends belie his carefully fostered image
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The Independent Online

The Independent carries a short piece by Nigel Morris (11 March), where Ed Vaizey is quoted as saying that David Cameron is "much more conservative" than he has taken very great care to appear. Since Gordon Brown is now on the same wavelength as Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, the inference would be that Cameron is very right-wing indeed. Other indicators point in this direction, too.

In Europe he has allied the Tories with extreme rightist parties from Poland, Latvia and elsewhere. His friends in the Latvian Fatherland and Freedom Party celebrate an anniversary of the Waffen SS (report, 17 March).

Nearer home, Cameron is umbilically linked to the Ulster Unionists.

The fact that the Conservatives are prepared to implement James Murdoch's policies towards the BBC is further cause for worry, unless it would be in the national good to have a domestic equivalent to Fox News.

David Cameron, the PR man, has managed to avoid any taint through these associations. The attempted suppression of the Bullingdon Club photograph points up his sharp awareness of the importance of projecting the right image. Yet, if the adage that by their friends shall ye know them has any credibility, Cameron's friends suggest that he is not at all what he would like us to believe he is.

Michael Rosenthal

Banbury, Oxfordshire

Attack the causes of police 'racism'

The report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (15 March) regarding Black and Asian teenagers facing discrimination in the criminal justice system fails to address the futility of enforcement action against "racist" police officers. This solution misses the point – it targets the effect, but not the cause.

The real issue is ignorance: people tend to fear what they don't understand or know, and act accordingly. We need to teach each other that acceptance is a key part of being British, and simply branding a policeman as "racist" will not solve the problem any more than setting quotas for targeted ethnicities will.

We must seek to change our understanding of one another, and this change needs to come from within the communities themselves – and those who serve them.

Racial profiling alienates, polarises, and divides British society, and it is precisely this trend that councillors, youth workers, carers and teachers are trying to fight from the bottom up. Long-term changes to people's attitudes cannot be legislated but must be taught.

Councillor Rania Khan

London E14

The grossly disproportionate number of young black men being stopped and searched exposes the shocking inequality that still exists in the criminal justice system. Research shows that it is not an effective way of reducing crime, and persistent unequal targeting is in danger of alienating black and minority ethnic communities.

The young people we work with tell us that the negative experiences they have of police make them less likely to come forward to assist in the future. This could undermine some of the productive work undertaken by community groups with the police in the fight against crime.

In an environment of dwindling resources and cuts to budgets, we all need to be finding smarter ways of reducing crime, instead of repeating the errors of 20 years ago.

Deryck Browne

Senior Policy Development Officer, Nacro, the crime reduction charity, London SW8

Getting out the protest vote

More and more people now understand we do not live in a democracy and that power is in the hands of establishment capitalists; the banking crisis has exposed this. The illusion of democracy is promoted by the big three political parties.

There is a growing realisation there are no mechanisms to change the system. We can vote for a party but not a system. And since all major parties are under establishment control the voter cannot change anything.

The simple suggestion of having a place on the voting slip for "none of the above" would put the establishment under a threat it is not prepared to face.

Not voting has been dismissed as an expression of apathy rather than dissatisfaction. At the last general election only 23 per cent put the present government into overwhelming power. In Leeds at a recent by-election a councillor was elected by 7 per cent. And no one blinked an eyelid.

It is not proportional representation that's needed; it is compulsory voting and a box for "none of the above". It is easy to understand why the establishment resists it. Dissatisfaction would be fully exposed and unavoidable.

Malcolm Naylor

Otley, West Yorkshire

Europe can unlock Palestine conflict

The Obama Administration are insulted by the Israelis' attempt to increase their footprint in Jerusalem. The discredited Baroness Ashton arrives in the Middle East to be briefed and give the EU view of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Just maybe the EU could lead rather than follow the USA for a change.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the EU has been its support and creation of democracy in Europe, in Greece after the Colonels, Portugal after Salazar and Spain following Franco, and all manner of countries that have joined since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is what we are apparently trying to support in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So why not in Palestine? When she visits Gaza that is under siege by the Israelis, a siege currently supported by the EU, could she not, instead, recognise democracy, meet Hamas and accept they won an election fair and square three years ago?

The EU can unlock this conflict, but needs the guts and will to stand up for what is right rather than cower before the horrendous sins of the pogroms and Holocaust.

Peter Downey

Bath

There is change afoot in Western attitudes to Israel in the past year, and the article by Johann Hari was timely because it reflects that change ("Palestinians should now declare their independence", 12 March).

Here in the West Country, many small groups supporting Palestinians are starting to emerge and organise. In Bristol a large convoy was sent to break the siege of Gaza,supported by all political parties and all of the major religious groups in the city. Now a formal twinning with Gaza City is becoming a possibility, with more and more links with schools, universities, trades unions, hospitals, mosques, churches and others.

That was far from the case even two years ago, when talking about Palestinians was only met with indifference. Nowadays, when activists go out with leaflets to explain boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, a large proportion of those approached willingly show support.

Nonetheless, it was brave of Hari to unambiguously state that if the world will not give Palestinians what they deserve, then they must take control of what is theirs. I wonder if western politicians will show the same courage – and I wonder if other Arab leaders, many corrupt and keen to kow-tow to the demands of Israel and western leaders, will follow the will of ordinary Arab people, and back a Palestinian claim to statehood.

Dr Judith Brown

Farrington Gurney, Somerset

ID cards, the great Whitehall McGuffin

Alan O'Brien is right; the Home Office's identity cards are utterly pointless (letter, 15 March). However, the central purpose of the mis-named Identity Cards Act 2006 was never to give us ID cards, but instead to build a database of the entire UK population for Whitehall's convenience.

To forcibly enrol us on that database, when it is clearly not in our interests, ministers plan to make it a condition of getting a passport from next year. Everyone listed on the database is legally obliged to keep the extensive data it holds up to date, for life, on pain of repeated civil penalties of up to £1,000.

Populating the database and using it to monitor the population are the raison d'être of the ID cards scheme. The cards themselves are what Alfred Hitchcock would have called the McGuffin: something that the entire story is built around, which yet has no real relevance.

Andrew Watson

Cambridge

On the frontier of engineering

I read with disbelief and some sadness your science editor's article on the Large Hadron Collider (11 March) and your leading article. What you failed to convey was the sheer audacity of the engineering that this machine represents. The leading article even compared its progress to upgrading the London Underground.

This machine is not just a collection of parts that, once bolted together, will work perfectly. In effect, there are two experiments going on: the science for which the machine will be used, and the very machine itself. Its components are so complex – many never attempted before – that they will need continual probing and modifying in order to coax it into full performance.

When I worked at CERN on a much earlier machine, it underwent changes and upgrades over years before its full potential was finally recognised. The same will apply to this machine.

So please don't give the impression that the whole thing is a mismanaged mess – it most certainly is not. We ought to be proud of this machine and the huge contribution of CERN's UK engineers and scientists, a contribution out of all proportion to our financial stake.

Ray Noyes

Cardiff

NHS is a big hit with Americans

Thanks for printing the letter (15 March) from George D Lewis comparing the NHS with US health care.

As another American living in the UK, I'm appalled by the "I've got my health insurance, the rest of you can go to hell" attitude of so many Americans, not to mention the misinformation spread about the NHS. I know the system has its problems, but I've had only good experiences with it in the nearly seven years I've been here, and especially now that my health care comes from Wales.

To those opposing reform I say, better "socialist" medical care than the mess you want.

Dugie Eyton-Hughes

Dodleston, Cheshire

Many opponents of health care reform in the USA use the word "socialist" as a demonising label to preclude debate. Despite his sympathetic view of the NHS, George D Lewis falls into the same trap.

The NHS is not socialist; it is welfare capitalist. Although it is absolutely vital for the welfare of most of the population of the UK, on the whole it still operates to alleviate the worst effects of living in a capitalist society, as do most of the other provisions of the "Welfare State".

John Prance

Penwortham, Lancashire

Briefly...

Papal gaffes

Your correspondent Jim Fisher (17 March) suggests that the Pope would become less gaffe-prone if he were able to receive guidance from a strong-minded wife. This may well be the case, but it appears that a successful outcome could by no means be guaranteed. Consider, for example, the case of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Roger Davis

Peterborough

BA strike threat

Gordon Brown's former spokesman Charlie Whelan is busy telling his 100,000 fellow Unite union members in marginal seats to phone round their friends and colleagues to persuade them to vote Labour at the general election. How about somebody phoning round those millions of airline travellers who will have their holiday plans disrupted – again – by members of the Unite union that is bank-rolling the Labour party, and urging those travellers to vote Conservative?

Alan Carcas

Liversedge, West Yorkshire

Frugal pleasures

As somebody who likes to pursue "middle class" activities, such as playing tennis, going to the theatre, attending music festivals and visiting museums (letter, 11 March), I am constantly surprised by how much cheaper my life is than that of somebody who holds a Premier League season ticket, or has a subscription to Sky Sports.

Justin Brodie

Chester

Junk mail warning

I hope that thinking people will not follow the suggestion of Dr Tim Lawson (letter, 12 March) and fill the post boxes with returned junk mail. Many of these boxes serve a populated area, yet are emptied only once a day. Some of them would soon become clogged and overflowing, especially at weekends, thus bringing the whole service to a grinding halt. Much better to let the refuse authorities deal with it.

Stephen Usher

Egham, Surrey

Bird of ill omen

According to the headline on your report of an escaped European eagle owl (13 March), we now have to look out for a "killer owl" – as opposed to all those vegetarian owls that we have already.

David Hinton

Bournemouth

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