Letters: Cameron's politics

Is Cameron just a Thatcherite with softer language?
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The Independent Online

Sir: Perhaps we should be flattered by Steve Richards' report that a senior Shadow Cabinet member describes the new Tory leader "as more of a Fabian gradualist than a Thatcherite revolutionary" (Opinion, 9 December). But the question is in which direction the gradualist tactic will head. Richards is right that, after the honeymoon, the Conservatives will face defining political choices.

One possibility is that Cameron's intention is to rehabilitate Thatcherism in softer language. To say that "there is such a thing as society, it is just not the same as the state" is to make a traditional Tory "minimal state" argument which is quite close to Margaret Thatcher's argument in her infamous Woman's Own interview in 1987. It does not reveal what those who aspire to govern believe their positive role in tackling major issues would be.

The alternative would be to change the Conservative approach. The party has been so out of touch that Cameron has been able to generate an element of surprise simply by expressing an interest in global warming, poverty and public services. But the argument will need to be about what the Conservatives plan to do on these issues.

The credibility test of Cameron's welcome promise to apply a "social justice" test and judge Conservative policies by their impact on the worst off is whether he will accept the Government's goal of abolishing child poverty by 2020 and halving it by 2010. The debate would then be about how to achieve this. That would be a real shift - but would it take Fabian values too far for the Tory right?



Sir: I was saddened when I read your report on David Cameron (7 December) to see that there was no picture of his severely disabled son, Ivan, age three. Cameron is photographed with his beautiful wife and playing with his daughter, aged 14 months old, but Ivan is nowhere to be seen. Has he been airbrushed out of his family portrait lest he bring embarrassment or fewer votes in the leadership campaign?

Disabled children are part of one's family and should not be in the back room whilst publicity photos of the family are taken. The message sent by excluding them is that disabled children should not be seen. Let's hope Mr Cameron will be more proactive about disability issues in his political life.



Draconian new laws must be resisted

Sir: As the person arrested with Maya Evans, I am really sorry that my MP Michael Foster has misled himself so seriously as to the facts of her case, and as to the new law (letters, 12 December).

I was the organiser of the ceremony at which Maya was arrested, and, as Mr Foster acknowledges, I did give notice to the police of the event. However, this notice was for the event as a whole, and on behalf of all those who might attend, including Maya. So therefore Maya had no need legally to give such notice as an individual participant.

Secondly, far from protecting me from prosecution as Mr Foster bizarrely suggests, by contacting the police in advance, and identifying myself as the organiser, I am now open to the much more serious charge of "organising an unauthorised demonstration", for which the maximum penalty is 51 weeks' imprisonment. The Crown Prosecution Service is still making up its mind on whether or not to charge me with this.

The crucial issue is not whether you "give notice" to the police - as I did - but whether you fill in a new form requesting permission to hold your demonstration. Somehow Mr Foster thinks that these forms will protect us from terrorist atrocities disguised as anti-war protests.

They don't and they can't. Filling in the new forms is co-operation with a law that forbids the use of loudspeakers (which undermines the ability of stewards to keep large crowds in order), and that gives the police the power to impose conditions on your protest that can rob it of any real meaning (an all-night vigil might be turned into a 20-minute protest). It's a law that forbids any spontaneous protests near Parliament, and covers a wide area well beyond Parliament, across to the South Bank.

If the Crown Prosecution Service doesn't prosecute me - despite CCTV footage, despite police witnesses, despite a full taped "confession" after my arrest - it will be because this law does not make sense. It won't be because I "gave notice" to the police.

Unless we resist these encroachments on our freedom vigorously, the outlook is grim.



Sir: I am not sure whether to be angered, or merely amused, by George Anderson's simplistic, holier-than-thou comment on myself and my co-delinquents (letters, 9 December).

In his attempt to judge us he completely misses the point of our action. Of course we are all "guilty". We are, however, protesting against unfair laws which prevent Maya Evans from peacefully demonstrating, myself from objecting to having to finance the killing of innocent Iraqis, and Mr Kendall-Smith from following the dictates of his conscience. Doubtless Mr Anderson would have found the suffragettes, Gandhi and Mandela equally guilty. He would probably claim that any change should be made through the ballot-box. Tell that to the troops!



Sir: Never can the reputation and standing of a Member of Parliament like Michael Foster have disintegrated in so spectacular and public a fashion. He abandoned his constituent Maya Evans to her fate for a "Serious and Organised Crime" on the very day the Government legal team to which he belongs was opposing the ban on torture in the courts.

Unlike him, I lived through the Second War and to me the suggestion that reading a list of the dead at the Cenotaph should require the permission of the Commissioner is an insult to our war dead. I already walk out of the room when Tony Blair lays his wreath. It is a sad finale to my political life which began as a public schoolboy defending the efforts of the Attlee government to build a new Britain.

I thought then, and still think today, that the nine Liberals I helped elect in 1950 should have given Attlee another five years, but your correspondent J. Patterson (letters, 12 December) is wrong. No true Liberal could give Labour a second preference today.



Sir: Matthew Minshall (letters, 9 December) may consider it "unacceptable" for a serviceman to disobey an order "on moral or any other grounds" but the law permits servicemen to disobey orders which are unlawful.

In the case of Mr Kendall-Smith it's simply a question of whether the orders he disobeyed were lawful or not. The court will almost certainly decide that they were lawful and, even if the court were to decide that the orders were unlawful, this would not confer any new rights on anyone or "set an appalling precedent".

Fortunately, the command structure and morale of our forces are not as fragile as Mr Minshall seems to think. With the burgeoning threats to global peace, this is not the time to allow panic to cloud our judgement.



Sir: Is the title of an Act of Parliament itself part of the text which passes into law? For a deed to fall foul of the Serious Organized Crime Act, should it not be possible to construe it as serious organized crime; and should activities prosecuted under the Terrorism Act not have some connection with promoting terrorism? It would be interesting to hear the CPS's account of how such a test could be met in recent cases which you have highlighted.



Children suffer when women are jailed

Sir: Deborah Orr touched on a key point in her recent column on the plight of women in prison (Opinion, 7 December). When a woman is jailed, it is most often her children who bear the brunt of the punishment.

Almost 18,000 children in England and Wales have a mother in prison. For most, it is the first time they have separated from their mother and will suffer hugely from losing her. They often end up being cared for outside their immediate family and they are three times more likely to suffer serious mental health problems than other children.

Many children are unable even to see their mother due to the difficult nature of the prison-visiting system. For those that do, the experience can be a traumatic one unless the prison has taken adequate steps to make the visiting area more family friendly. Women who break the law do need to be punished, but is breaking up families and putting more children into the care system the best solution?



Sir: Is the title of an Act of Parliament itself part of the text which passes into law? For a deed to fall foul of the Serious Organized Crime Act, should it not be possible to construe it as serious organized crime; and should activities prosecuted under the Terrorism Act not have some connection with promoting terrorism? It would be interesting to hear the CPS's account of how such a test could be met in recent cases which you have highlighted.



Oil fire highlights climate challenge

Sir: The fire at Hemel Hempstead starkly exposes the issues at stake at the Montreal climate change conference. The 150,000 tonnes of oil reportedly stored at the depot represents less than one thousandth of the UK's annual fossil fuel consumption. We set light to four Hemels every day.

We don't usually see it: the fuel comes down pipes and wires and the emissions are dispersed. But the carbon dioxide comes out just the same. Our dustbin: the fragile atmosphere of spaceship earth!

The UK led the world into this with the industrial revolution. Can we now demonstrate that a country can slash fossil-fuel demand through commitment by everybody: individuals, households, organisations and government? Hemel has made the process visible, so the urgency must be obvious. Let's all start today.



Sir: It is more than 20 years since Mrs Thatcher expressed concern about climate change and we're still talking about it. The lifestyle my generation has become used to is doomed, but there is no real chance that our leaders will take the lead on this issue, given the amount of pleasure this lifestyle offers us.

The choice we face is not whether we build a nuclear power station or two, but do we care about the future of human society. If the answer is in the affirmative we should build as many nuclear power stations and wind farms as is necessary to provide all our energy needs. Legislation should require all car manufactures to build non-carbon based engines by, say, 2015, and we should all be forced to conserve as much energy as is necessary. If the answer is a negative one, I'll see you in the departure lounge.



Orwell's brand of socialism

Sir: Not only does S Gately's letter (6 December) sound for all the world like the sheep in Animal Farm, entirely predictable in its ill-considered invective on socialism, it makes the classic mistake of confusing capitalism with liberal democracy.

If he or she can provide me with a single democratic socialist thinker who advocates a totalitarian state or such practices as "the banning of political opposition, elections and the free press; the gulags and psychiatric abuse for class enemies ... the establishment of a repressive secret police ..." , I will happily provide him or her with a long list of capitalist countries that engage in them.

Those who invoke Orwell in their vilifications of socialism would do well to remember his own political orientation.



Secret censorship

Sir: When the cashier scanned my copy of 10 December's Independent with its headline: "A casualty of free speech" at a high-street newsagents, the till informed him that it was a "restricted item", and that I needed to produce ID before he could sell it to me. Perhaps Big Brother sees even more than we imagine?



Season of ill-will

Sir: Donnachadh McCarthy (Green Christmas, 12 December) wonders why he has been sucked into the pre-Christmas build-up yet again: well the answer is simple, get a spine and don't get sucked in. I've not bothered with Christmas for 10 years and look forward to never again dealing with the hordes of manic shoppers buying rubbish they don't need; and as for those pesky relatives ... be off with you! Yours in celebration of the "bah, humbug" principle



Sir: P C Hall (letter, 12 December) asserts that "religionists" have appropriated the Winter Solstice. Christians appropriated a Pagan festival, but are Pagans not also "religionists"?



EU 'subsidies'

Sir: Dr Cooper (letter, 9 December) uses a tribal approach to the economies of scale. Just as Scotland, Wales, Ulster and England have budgeted on a national scale to reap the benefits of a larger economic unit, so the EU cannot ignore inequalities among its members. Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece have been "subsidised" since their accession to the benefit of the Union as a whole. How can we apply different philosophy to the latest entrants, whose economies have been recently liberated from the communist yoke?



Bygone pedantries

Sir: As a grandmother myself, I clearly remember being taught that words beginning with "h" took "an" if they were three or more syllables long (Errors and Omissions, 10 December). In class, a couple of us argued that this must have been an arbitrary decision by some pedant, but we were accused of being stupidly rebellious, and told that if we wanted to get to university, we had better do as we were told. One of my aunts used to struggle to pronounce both the "h" and the "an" before "hotel", convulsing my generation.



Mother of the nation

Sir: Presumably the writer of your headline "Single mother poised to be Chilean President" (12 December) about the electoral prospects of the former minister of health and of defence in Chile will in future be referring to David Cameron as a "father of two" and Tony Blair as a "father of four"?