If Blair were bolder, he might find climate action is a vote-winner
Sir: Recent polls do not back Tony Blair's assertion that it would be political suicide to end cheap air travel ("Blair says no politician would ban cheap flights", 9 January). Indeed they show that a majority of people say they would be prepared to pay more to fly if it would help the environment.The suspicion must be that Tony Blair doesn't want to ban cheap flights; that he sees them as a good thing.
This provides a big opportunity for other politicians, bolder and wiser than Blair, to develop a realistic programme to curb cheap flights. Cheap flights are costing the country money: last year there was a £19bn deficit in aviation tourism, the difference between what Britons spent abroad and what visitors spent in this country.
Cheap flights are causing noise complaints to soar. Cheap flights are of greatest benefit to the rich: according the Civil Aviation Authority the average annual household income of people using Stansted, a low-cost airport, exceeded £50,000.
There are powerful social, environmental and economic reasons to use fiscal measures to curb cheap flights. If the money raised from increased tax on budget flights was ploughed back into things which the polls tell us people value - better schools, improved hospitals, cheaper public transport - then a policy Tony Blair claims would be a vote-loser could be turned into a vote-winner.
CHAIR, AIRPORTWATCH, LONDON SW9
Sir: I am sitting on the floor of a Virgin train (because of a mix-up of carriages) on a five-hour journey to Newcastle. I have been stood on, kicked, poked and squashed and this train is over an hour delayed. The recent uproar by environmentalists (of which I am one) at the reactions of low cost airlines to condemnation by the Government now seems to me to be misdirected.
I could have spent £7.99 to fly instead but chose to pay six times the price to travel in a sixth of the comfort and six times the time. Perhaps the uproar should focus on Network Rail and its seeming inability to entice travellers away from planes and on to trains.
ETHICS AND ENVIRONMENT OFFICER UNIVERSITY OF NEWCASTLE STUDENTS' UNION
Sir: Blair's failure to show leadership on the crucial issue of climate change may turn out to be an even more disastrous aspect of his "legacy" than the Iraq debacle. It's a good thing we didn't have him in 1940: "You know, all that 'blood, sweat, toil and tears' is a bit impractical actually; let's just hope new technology will defeat Hitler by itself."
The true hypocrisy of Kelly's choice
Sir: The true hypocrisy of Ruth Kelly's decision is that she, like every other Secretary of State for Education, has vilified and publicly denounced primary schools who do not meet government targets for achieving level 4 in English at the age of 11.
If Ms Kelly had sent her child to my school he would have learnt to read. It would have been a painstaking and difficult process while maintaining the child's self esteem and commitment. That said, it is still quite likely that the child would not achieve level 4. For this the school and would be judged a failure and the league tables used to prove it.
Schools have many children with special educational needs, just like Ms Kelly's child. Many of them do really well given their difficulties. The hypocrisy is that the Government doesn't recognise this success.
LONDON SE15 (THE WRITER IS A RETIRED HEADTEACHER)
Sir: I have worked as an adviser to parents of children with special educational needs for over ten years and parented an SEN child. From that perspective, the truly abhorrent aspect of Ruth Kelly's actions is simple.
She is a minister in a government which has been responsible, through wilful underfunding, for the brutal reduction in SEN provision nationwide. This has been achieved through the closure of maintained special schools and a decimation of statements of special educational needs. Such public deprivation must surely modify her rights to private choice.
Sir: As a parent, Ruth Kelly is right to seek out the best for her child; as a politician, having discovered that the best does not exist within the state system, she must now do what she presumably went into Labour politics to do: fight to provide the best for everyone.
Sir: Poor Ruth! Why do they dislike her? I think it may be the self-satisfied, smug grin she presents them with, which says, "Come on, fire away! I've got all the answers; I'm in charge and I know my lines." It seems to be inbred with Tony and so many of his babes and boys.
Better future for Cyprus blocked
Sir: Mr Iacovou (letter, 2 January) is correct that the accession of "Cyprus" to the EU was never dependent on the solution of the Cyprus problem, but far from being a catalyst this policy was a disaster. If the accession of Cyprus had been so dependent we would have a settlement by now on the basis of the Annan Plan, which the whole world, except the Greek Cypriots, endorsed as fair to both sides.
Instead of accepting the Annan Plan, and going forward with us to a better future in Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot leadership rejected it. They now cling to their often-repeated but discredited legal arguments. No international court has ever held Turkey's intervention in 1974 to be illegal, and Turkish troops would be on their way home by now if the Annan Plan had been accepted. Until there is a settlement they will remain in Cyprus to defend Turkish Cypriots against tens of thousands of Greek and Greek Cypriot troops based in the South, and from any repetition of the attacks to which the Greek Cypriots subjected us in 1963, 1964, 1967 and 1974, in violation of our human rights.
The Greek Cypriots had a democratic right to reject the Annan Plan, but they have no right to expect the world to maintain for a moment longer the restrictions on trade and communications with Northern Cyprus.
LONDON REPRESENTATIVE, TURKISH REPUBLIC OF NORTHERN CYPRUS, LONDON WC1
Asperger's is not a disease
Sir: As a person who has Asperger's syndrome (I do not like to say I "suffer" from it) I have been concerned at the reporting over the sad loss to us all of Nikki Bacharach and the potential fallout that has for "medicalising" our condition.
It is not, as the initial press release suggested, something that ravages one's brain, as if it were on a par with Alzheimer's, and it is not something that automatically leads to depression.
I have suffered from depression. Living in a world that treats autism as a "disease" to be eradicated rather than a different set of perceptions and cognition is what makes it difficult - particularly the assumptions of others about our capacity for empathy, ability to contribute to society and so on.
It has been hinted at that Nikki was not able to pursue her chosen career after graduating. That is something I fear too, even though I am pursuing postgrad studies in autism itself. Perhaps it is the failure to find a valued place in society that is a potential killer, not the condition itself or any concomitant depression.
Sir: Interesting article about Asperger's ("The Ballad of Nikki Bacharach", 8 January). But I'm wondering if anyone has applied a medical label to that other developmental disorder, the one that makes affected individuals become glib, shallow and manipulative.
LEWES, EAST SUSSEX
How a continent was ravaged
Sir: Frank Broughton assumes (letter, 5 January) that a description of the North American prairie as "comparable in its wealth of wildlife to the Serengeti" was simply an exaggerated metaphor and that the principal large fauna were bison.
In fact, when humans first arrived in North America, some 11,000 years ago, they encountered prairies that, like the Serengeti, teemed with large animals: mastodons, woolly mammoths, giant sloths, tapirs, lions, cheetahs, sabre-toothed cats, camels, giant beavers and many others besides. There is excellent evidence showing that the human response to encountering this cornucopia was to hunt all these animals to extinction, primarily for food.
Humans did the same to the large indigenous animals of Australia and of islands such as Madagascar on arrival there. Only African and Asian animals were able to avoid the onslaught, and only because they had long enough experience of humans to evolve the necessary wariness that could protect them as human populations started to explode in number.
It is therefore quite accurate to say that meat-eating per se has indeed been the enemy of wildlife on an enormous scale as humans spread across the globe in prehistory.
If a few millions of our ancestors were capable of causing such dramatic extinctions through their need to fill their stomachs, then we must certainly be alive to the risk that our current billions will be able to cause an even more catastrophic set of extinction events for the same reason.
Cost-cutting hits morale of nurses
Sir: In her mostly very perceptive overview of the NHS (5 January), Mary Dejevsky has mis-diagnosed the situation as regards agency nurses. Few qualified nurses moonlight for agencies. As Mary Dejevsky says, they are better paid than they have been, commonly earning around £20,000. Although this is still hardly a high reward for saving lives, they have less need to earn extra than used to be the case. In addition, the majority are too exhausted after a week's work to want to do any more.
With health care assistants (HCAs) however, the situation is different. On some wards, these "unqualified nurses" do the majority of the essential physical work of patient care, while the qualified nurses struggle with paperwork and dispensing medication. Unqualified nursing pay in the NHS has been in the region of £5-£6 per hour for the last few years. Private agency HCAs have been able to earn in the region of £7 to £8, hence a long-term dependency on agency staff for providing a substantial part of NHS nursing care.
In some areas of the country, the NHS has finally attempted to solve this problem by creating its own agency called NHS Professionals. An obvious solution, except that this has turned out to be yet another "stubbornly substandard" support structure such as Mary Dejevsky refers to, at least from my experience. I have seen the spirit and soul of the ward where I work completely destroyed by this badly thought-out and incompetent cost-cutting exercise.
One is sometimes left wondering if the Government is deliberately running the NHS into the ground, so that it will then be able to turn round and justify privatisation to the public.
LANCING, WEST SUSSEX
The British horrors Saddam was spared
Sir: There has been much criticism concerning the manner in which the execution of Saddam Hussein was carried out.
Until the death penalty was abolished in this country the prisoner would, for a modest fee, be killed by a working class "bloke" whilst being observed by a group of po-faced, silent very superior gentlemen. That is the way we liked it - all stiff upper lips, clipped accents and old school ties. After the event there would be a congratulatory whisky and soda in the prison governor's office. It was all a statement about our society and culture - authoritarian, repressive and class-ridden.
At least Saddam Hussein was spared all that. He was executed in the chaotic, slogan shouting environment with which he was very familiar. We must stop trying to impose our values on other societies.
Sir: Congratulations on Monday's front page story on dark matter. It made a very cheering change from the usual necessary chronicle of the lies and horrors perpetrated or disregarded by our so called leaders. As a result of an international collaboration we now know something new and fascinating about our universe, and you made it headline news.
D G C JONES
LLANWRTYD WELLS, POWYS
Sir: Doorstep refuse collection in Diego Martin, Port of Spain, Trinidad is on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week. The dustmen also sing while they work. The indigenous monkey-faced rat , the manicou, is very rare and I saw only one jump the garden wall. To improve matters in Wonersh, I suggest Alex Morris (letter, 9 January) stands for council office in his home ward on this issue.
Sir: You report that the new bullet train in Taiwan is the first railway of its kind outside Japan (5 January). This is incorrect; there is a railway in Shanghai, connecting Pudong International Airport to the Shanghai metro system. It is the fastest in the world, with a top speed of 267mph, over its 19-mile length.
Fate of dolphins
Sir: One reason that people are so appalled at the brutally inhumane slaughter ("Japan's dolphin cull", 6 January) is that dolphins are very intelligent and have a long history of helping humans who are in distress at sea. They are "humanlike" in their playfulness, exuberance and kind acts towards our species. The fate of a few thousand dolphins is not small fry. It is part of a global culture of cruelty towards non-human species.
OSSINING, NEW YORK, USA
Sir: Now that Tony Blair's retirement is nearly upon us, we must anticipate his elevation to the House of Lords. Would it be impertinent of me to wonder out loud which party he will choose to sit with?
PROFESSOR ALISTAIR McCULLOCH