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Wednesday 1 February 2006
Letters: Cameron's new Toryism
Cameron's new Toryism and the legacy of Thatcher
Sir: Bruce Anderson misleads himself and readers of The Independent ("There is method in Cameron's madness", 30 January). Seeking to minimise the election victories of Margaret Thatcher he comments that "she only once, and then narrowly, exceeded the percentage by which Alec Douglas-Home lost the 1964 election".
The percentage comparison is misleading since the rise of the Alliance as a third party taking well over 7 million votes in 1983 and 1987 (as opposed to the 3 million Liberal score in 1964) clearly affects the percentage scored by the other two parties. In addition, Alec Douglas-Home's poll of 12 million in 1964 included 400,000 Ulster Unionist votes, but Margaret Thatcher did not have that benefit.
Looking at the numbers of votes cast is a better measure of a party or party leaders' support than the percentages. In 1987 - her third election - Margaret Thatcher polled 13.8 million, the highest Conservative vote since 1931. To be fair to John Major he scored 14.1 million in 1992 - an absolute record before he was found out and managed only 9.6 million in 1997.
It is worth noting that in 1987 after eight years of Thatcher in office her vote was 100,000 greater than at her first election. Blair's comparable figure in 2005 was 4 million fewer than in 1997.
Much to learn from Margaret Thatcher I think, and not too much to emulate in the performance of Mr Blair.
HOUSE OF LORDS
Sir: I think that most young women of my generation with an interest in Conservative politics will be bemused and somewhat appalled by David Cameron's proposal to impose a quota of female candidates on a priority list for Parliamentary target seats.
Inherent in this policy is the assumption that women are incapable of succeeding on their own merit. For some 30 years now, women have had the same educational opportunity as men and have put this to good use in the workplace without the need for positive discrimination. I am studying law and in my chosen profession, women succeed in competition with men on a level playing field.
Artificially favouring women in the selection of prospective Conservative MPs is demeaning and patronising, and could result in the danger of overlooking better-qualified male contenders. This is unfair and undemocratic.
Surely the electorate deserves the best. What a tragedy it would be to have second-rate candidates in a first-rate party?
Lacklustre response to climate change
Sir: As a Defra report warns us that climate change is further advanced than had been previously thought, I wonder if the Government's response would be so lacklustre if presented with warning of any other disaster - a tsunami in the North Sea, say, or a hostile military invasion.
Just as Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change warns that a 2C rise in global average temperatures is likely to melt the Greenland ice cap and raise sea levels by as much as seven metres, devastating coastal towns and cities around the world, Government scientific adviser Sir David King says avoiding it is desirable but politically unfeasible.
This is shameful: scientists are pretty much in agreement that we face a devastating global tragedy if we don't do enough now to prevent climate change. Could you imagine Tony Blair, confronted with the aftermath of a natural disaster resulting in millions of deaths and unimaginable deprivation and conflict, furrowing his brow and muttering that he would like to do something but it would be politically unfeasible?
The Government must wake up and expend sufficient political capital on preventing what is still, we hope, a preventable disaster: that means a complete review of government policy, an end to road and airport construction and a massive investment in energy efficiency and renewable technologies - and a renewed embrace of international mechanisms to persuade the rest of the industrialised and developed world to do the same.
The irony is that these policies would bring immediate social and economic benefits and be a better guarantee of our true security than fighting over increasingly-scarce oil and gas.
CAROLINE LUCAS MEP
(GREEN, SOUTH-EAST ENGLAND) EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, BRUSSELS
Sir: Your leading article "All these flights abroad could end up costing us the Earth" (28 January), is welcome. But it is nonsensical to write "there may come a time" when addressing the problem is "a necessity for the whole world".
If airline emissions are worth writing about at all, it's because what they're doing right now has been proved to have an effect that will be increasingly catastrophic from now on. Reductions in emissions, however, will have a decreasing effect, since the impetus for climate change will already have been provided.
In the war against climate change, some have said it's no good asking people "Is your journey really necessary?" However, our grandchildren will certainly ask us, "What did you do?"
Sir: You are right to highlight the growing contribution of cheap air travel to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I am a teacher and was very surprised when I calculated that the emissions caused by 200 of our pupils flying to the US, China and Iceland on school-organised holidays last year was almost as much as the CO 2 from the school's use of gas and electricity for the whole year.
Here's one idea to put to the Government: label every foreign holiday advert and air ticket with an estimate of the environmental impact in tons of CO 2 per person, and state for comparison a per capita annual "allowance". This could be based on current UK emissions per person or even on the Government's aspiration of 60 per cent cuts by 2050.
BURY, GREATER MANCHESTER
Democracy in Palestine
Sir: How wearisome the Western response to the best chance of solving the Middle East crisis in a century. Mark Caplan (letter, 27 January) encapsulates it. Will our arrogance have no end?
Israel and George Bush threaten isolation and the EU wants to cut the financial lifeline to the Palestinian Authority - because we do not approve the popular Palestinian choice. Our assumption is that they have voted for war, yet the majority who voted for Hamas want peace and family security. Did we take this line against the ANC in South Africa, Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, Zanu-PF in what was Southern Rhodesia, Menachem Begin in Israel?
We have the opportunity to welcome a terrorist organisation apparently turned democratic government and to extend the hand of friendship, which would help that transformation. The true democrat respects the results and then requires that the new government plays by international rules. Instead we threaten it, even before we know its composition, let alone a single policy.
Who will benefit from this foolishness? Al-Qaida's leaders will be celebrating. The West's double standards will be portrayed as contempt for all things Middle Eastern and Islamic and proof that we will never accept them as equals even when they follow the path of our example, Democracy itself will be seen as part of our "corruption". The failure of a Hamas government for want of Western support and encouragement will guarantee the continuation of Islamic terrorism and extremism. It's a strange way to conduct a "war on terrorism".
Sir: President Bush's legacy in the Middle East may prove to be far more historic than it appears today. In pressing for the flowering of democracy in the region he really has started to unleash a wave of people power, the effect of which is still to be appreciated.
The overwhelmingly successful elections in Iraq and Palestine have created a new dynamic in the Middle East, particularly for the peace process. The Iraqis and the Palestinians now have genuinely elected representatives to look after their interests. The fact that these interests may not in the short term appear to coincide with America's or Israel's interests is inevitable - why would an occupied people vote in a government that collaborates with their hated occupiers?
The hope now is that Mr Bush holds his nerve and stays with the democratic principle, whatever the immediate outcome - he may yet turn out to be the unlikely hero of the Arab street.
US remembers a medieval thinker
Sir: I was interested to read "Portrait gallery pleads for cash to buy £1.6m painting of John Donne" (28 January). After the derisive comment that "visiting Americans only ever wanted to know two things - where Diana, Princess of Wales, stood to be married and where the cathedral kept its own effigy of Donne", the article continues: "... wrongly labelled as the medieval poet Duns Scotus".
Having attended university in New York, I can assure you that Americans are correctly taught that John Duns Scotus (1265 or 1266 to 1308) was one of the most influential philosophers and theologians of the High Middle Ages - not a poet. Scotus addressed such weighty concepts as the semantics of religious language, the problem of universals and the nature of freedom.
Before taking issue with the Americans and their implied shallowness, perhaps either the Dean of St Paul's or your reporter should take a course in the history of the Middle Ages - perhaps in an American institution.
JAMES HAMILL SMITH
The labels we give to disabled people
Sir: I was much heartened by Dominic Lawson's article on the language of disability (27 January).
My son, who is 24, has Down's Syndrome and is severely mentally handicapped. At a meeting to discuss the closure of his day centre I described my son as having a "mental handicap" and explained why. The assembled professionals and council officers had been blandly referring to "learning disability" as if it were a minor inconvenience. Having downgraded his need they could then take away from him a vital service that he depended upon. My comments were ignored.
I also agree with Dominic's comments on cosmetic surgery. On one occasion when my son was very loudly misbehaving in public, I began to explain to a lady next to us who looked startled. She replied that she understood and could see that my son had a problem. She then explained to me how difficult it was for her to cope with disapproving comments and stares when her own son, who was autistic but without any outward physical indication of this, behaved in a similar manner.
It is good to know that I am not alone in my dislike of the "learning disability" euphemism.
MICHAEL WILLIAM COLLINGS
Sir: Dominic Lawson says the term "mental retardation" is still used in America, as if this validates its usage. What he failed to mention is that the word is derogatory for vast numbers of American people who have tried in vain to change it.
How disabled people are described should be up to us, not non-disabled people who seem unable to understand the politics of disability, preferring to shout "politically correct" whenever we argue against their version of language.
I support Brian Rix, who as a non-disabled person asserts the right of learning-disabled people to name themselves. Dominic Lawson's psychobabble "those who have such feelings are betraying their own suppressed horror about their child's condition" is such tosh. Brian Rix is hearing disabled people, something Dominic Lawson fails to do.
Sir: Those with learning difficulties, and their carers, are as entitled as any other group to decide the name they prefer to go by. But might one suggest they choose something short?
Every time a name becomes disallowed, the approved replacement is always three times as long. Anything longer than two syllables is either going to be shortened, with unpredictable results, or ignored completely. Could we look for something pithy which doesn't bother anyone ?
Engine of victory
Sir: If the Rolls Royce engine was so flawed ("Best of British", 27 January), then why did the USAAF use it to transform the P-51 Mustang into the first fighter to be able to escort Allied bombers over the Reich?
Sir: British science used to be conducted by geniuses in small back rooms, often at their own expense. May a devil's advocate interrupt the procession of former heads of environmental research stations protesting in your letters page at the threatened closure of some of them to inquire whether we really now have hundreds of such geniuses or whether this could be an example of Parkinsonian proliferation that might well benefit from a little pruning?
DR W R P BOURNE
DEPARTMENT OF ZOOLOGY ABERDEEN UNIVERSITY
What GPs are for
Sir: The suggestion that GPs should work as junior hospital doctors is deeply flawed (Opinion, 31 January). Our excellence is in seeing large numbers of people quickly and diagnosing and treating them in the community. This is very busy already. As a junior doctor I spent countless tedious hours hauling on a retractor in operations. In three such hours I could see 25 patients in surgery, and deal with over 90 per cent without referral elsewhere. I have little doubt what provides the NHS with better value.
LITTLE HAYWOOD, STAFFORDSHIRE
The duty to die?
Sir: There are two problems about ticking boxes to express a willingness to die (Letters, 28 January). One is that after a few years, when your home is worth a million and you can't make yourself understood, you might change your mind when you hear them asking when it's time to get rid of the old sod. The other is that this solution to illness might well deter medical science from bothering to find cures for pain and currently terminal illnesses.
Taxes on steam
Sir: Richard Betts would suffer double taxation on his proposed steam car (letter, 31 January). To take wood from his own trees he will require a felling licence, and to use his own water he will require an abstraction licence. Death and taxes - you can't escape them.
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