Letters: Cheap labour from abroad

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Columnist Grace Dent says she'd be "lost" without her Bulgarian, Romanian and Polish immigrant employees (30 January). Were she to suffer such a catastrophe, my advice to her would be to employ British people instead. She may also find they are "focused, funny and hard-working". The down-side is she might have to pay them a better wage.

Her column beautifully encapsulates the impressively liberal views of people lucky enough to work in an industry completely untouched by the impact that mass immigration is having on the lives of the British working class. Unlike her, not everyone has an agent, Polish or otherwise.

By boasting about their pro-immigration/multicultural credentials, Grace and others ironically and unwittingly betray the class they traditionally defend, by perpetuating the belief by the wealthy and big business that low-paid immigrants do the work that the lazy, workshy benefit-scrounging British working class don't wish to do.

Novelist Will Self has remarked on the BBC's Question Time that people who worry about immigration tend to be racist. Perhaps if he was in the shoes of a British cleaner, nanny or bricklayer, anxious about competing for future work or continuing low wages, he too might share such "racist" concerns.

Michael Clarke

Upminster, Essex

Insults and apologies over Israel

The Sunday Times issues an apology to Jewish community leaders for Scarfe's cartoon depicting Netanyahu building the Israeli wall with the blood of Palestinians. Two observations come to mind.

First, the media sprang into action to defend the Danish newspaper that published cartoons denigrating the Muslim prophet Mohammed, exclaiming that principles of free speech needed to be upheld. That cartoon was aimed directly at the heart of Islam, its founding prophet. Scarfe's cartoon targeted neither Moses, nor Abraham, nor any great Jewish prophet, but rather Netanyahu, a political leader, and his policies. Will we now have an uproar in the press to protect The Sunday Times's right to free speech? I suspect not, but I hope to be proved wrong.

Second, countless Jews the world over are critical of Israel's flagrant abuses of human rights and its apartheid regime, just as countless whites the world over were critical of South Africa's apartheid regime. Criticism of South African apartheid was not criticism of whiteness any more than criticism of Israeli policy is anti-Semitism. Both are criticisms of political systems, not of races or religions.

Many Jews recognise that Israel's behaviour is not representative of Judaism's values, much as most Muslims recognise that al-Qa'ida is not representative of Islam's. To criticise Netanyahu for his policies is not anti-Semitism. I would suggest it is actually more offensive to Judaism to equate it with his flagrant racism and supremacist policies – Judaism espouses no such thing.

Iyas AlQasem

Twickenham, Middlesex

Those of us who are appalled by what is going on in Israel object to Zionism, not Judaism (Matthew Norman, 30 January). We are neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Jewish but anti-Zionist. If the Scarfe cartoon helps draw attention to the suffering which is daily inflicted on Israel's Arab neighbours it will have done some good.

Roger Allen

Nottingham

David Ward MP has to apologise for saying Jews when he meant Israeli leaders. A host of apologies has been issued over a Gerald Scarfe cartoon of an Israeli leader, Netanyahu, because it offended Jews. I don't get it.

Peter Robb

London N1

War destroys a way of life

As French and Malian troops enter Timbuktu with little resistance, media reports of the conflict might suggest Mali has avoided large-scale population displacement. Yet in Mauritania, just across the border from Timbuktu, lies Mbera camp. Although it is almost unreported, I found up to 100,000 refugees living in makeshift shelters.

These people are pastoralists who fled the conflict along with their livestock. In north Mali, livestock are vital to survival. Once the animals die, the refugees have nothing to return to and will be dependent on aid for years to come – or will be recruits for the insurgents. We must protect people and their livestock.

I watched as the international community failed the pastoralists of east Africa, leaving millions relying on aid. Repeating those mistakes in west Africa will inevitably fuel the insurgency. Without livelihoods to return to, there can be no lasting peace.

Jeremy Hulme

Chief Executive, Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad, London WC1

As one of our longest and most foolish military adventures draws to a close, the British public is weary of conflict and wary of further involvement. Yet David Cameron has agreed to act as the cat's-paw in France's latest incursion into Africa to combat nomads armed with the very weapons we flooded into Libya.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond insisted there would be no mission creep and our boys will only train local troops and provide intelligence, surveillance and logistics. The US public was told exactly the same about Vietnam.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews

Old and young help each other

Like most true words spoken in jest, your eye-catching headline "Put toddlers in old folks' homes" (18 January) will not have been generally recognised as a serious, even important, proposition.

Segregation of the generations is a British disease which impoverishes lives. More than 40 years ago I devised a scheme for running a boarding school in close association with an old people's home for their mutual benefit. Each would retain independence of organisation and staffing while accepting that whenever suitable, amenities and activities should be freely shared: libraries, chapel services, films, concerts, playing fields.

Armed with this idea, I applied for headships of existing schools where the conditions seemed appropriate. Unsurprisingly, I got no further than the interview, but your kindred idea reawakens my belief that the old and the young, who have so much to give each other, should be enabled to do so.

Giles Heron

Whitby, North Yorkshire

Animals in the Chernobyl zone

It was a lovely article with pictures (26 January) about life in the exclusion zone after Chernobyl. Having been there myself as chairman of the Chernobyl Children in Need charity, I can confirm nearly everything in the article, with the exception of the effects of radiation on animals (also humans).

The effects are clear and proven. The reason you do not see two-headed wolves or other malformations is that in the animal kingdom, deformed or affected offspring die within hours or days of birth.

In the case of humans affected by radiation there are many proven medical conditions mostly affecting children and also middle-aged people: heart, lung and blood disorders (known as the Chernobyl Syndrome). Children suffer weak immune systems and a condition know as Chernobyl Heart.

It is impossible to measure these types of conditions in animals within the exclusion zone.

Adrian Walker

Westbury, Wiltshire

No grounds for EU divorce

The way the Europe debate has been conducted in the UK in recent years would suggest that somehow innocent Brits have been kidnapped or hijacked by a gang of foreigners and forced to agree to various treaties and other arrangements which we now find unacceptable.

The reality is that under a variety of governments we have voluntarily – and at times enthusiastically – embraced economic and other forms of union with friends across the Channel. That now, often after self-interested political rabble-rousing, some of us have reservations reflects surely on how we and some of our leaders have changed rather than any deep-laid conspiracy by people abroad.

Like marriages, political alliances mature and change, and sensible partners make allowances for this. It is no help to pretend that one was grossly misled or deceived at the beginning.

Andrew McLuskey

Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey

Lodgers at Chequers?

Thanks to Mark Steel for setting his excoriating column on one of the most mean-spirited acts of this most mean-spirited of governments – cutting benefits for people with spare rooms in social housing ( 30 January). Given that the objective of the legislation is to reduce public expenditure and given that "we are all in this together" shouldn't we now expect David Cameron, George Osborne, William Hague et al to lead by example and pay £14 for each of the vacant rooms in the grace-and-favour mansions, such as Chequers and Dorneywood, provided for them from the public purse?

Jim White

Alloa

Revolutionary

The film version of Les Misérables is being met with applause in Wales. I have never before heard cinema audiences clapping, and wonder how widespread this phenomenon is. In Merthyr Tydfil, where they had their own armed insurrection in 1831, the film's spectacular last scene, in which the tricolor and red flag are brandished from the barricades, is met with loud and prolonged cheering. I don't think this has anything to do with the quality of the film, or Russell Crowe's singing.

Dr Meic Stephens

Cardiff

Slow train

My only quarrel with the HS2 project is the time-frame. By the time it arrives here in Leeds, the likelihood is that I will either be dead, or in no fit state to travel. The Victorians took only five years to build the Great Central Railway's 92-mile London extension in the 1890s, using steam shovels and muscle power, so why will it take us 20 years to build HS2 with all our modern technology? Let's get on with it.

John Smurthwaite

Leeds

Undeserving rich

Ian East (letter, 29 January) seems surprisingly confident that he would be able to buy suitable schoolmates and an acceptable school ethos for his children in the private sector. Has he not noticed how many arrogant, dysfunctional (but wealthy) families patronise that sector?

Alison Sutherland

Kirkwall, Orkney

Marriage mystery

Am I missing something here? Most gay couples want to be allowed to marry and most heterosexual couples are cohabiting. What's going on?

Bernard P McFadden

London N10

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