Letters: Continental angst and malaise

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The Independent Online

Sir: Tony Blair, in his Brighton speech, compared Britain favourably with "the malaise of France and the angst of Germany".

Leaving aside his obvious rudeness, this would be the same France, would it, whose health and general public services, schools infrastructure, road and rail transport systems, labour productivity, family stability, general population health, teenage pregnancy rates, drug and alcohol abuse levels, to name but a few measures, all remain significantly better than ours in the UK; and the Germany that has similar high standards of public services and productivity and has recently, according to Hamish McRae in The Independent, become the biggest exporter in the world, overtaking the US, despite having to overcome the crushing and continuing costs of reunification?

To be sure, both of those countries are having something of a crisis of confidence at the moment and will no doubt have to undergo some economic reform to sustain the current standards achieved for their citizens. But the problem remains for Blair that, despite significantly raising public spending since 1997, UK public services and the public transport infrastructure still do not compare with most of continental Europe. In local government we have become used to having to "trade-off" investment in roads against investment in school buildings or other services. In France and Germany they seem to be able to have excellent roads and schools and hospitals all at the same time. Until Blair cracks that nut, his legacy will essentially be one of failure.

There, and I didn't even mention the war.



Anti-terror law used to stifle dissent

Sir: In the furore over the expulsion of an 82-year-old protester from the Labour conference, we are overlooking a second malpractice, that the police used anti-terrorist laws quite inappropriately to prevent his re-entry to the building.

It is clear that the man was a protester and not a terrorist, so how can these laws have been applicable? We have one of the first examples of how this new legislation will be used to stifle dissent. This legislation was intended to protect the people; in this case it was used to protect the establishment against a harmless member of the people. The police officers concerned should be disciplined, but what is the likelihood of that?



Sir: Blair, Clarke and all ask us to trust them with our civil liberties, as their draconian attack rumbles on. Ask Walter Wolfgang and Steve Forrest if they trust them.

We have been warned that an erosion of our civil liberties is more dangerous to our society than any outside threat, and such a suppression of the right to heckle at a mass meeting is living proof of that.

And the fact that anti-terrorist legislation was used to block re-entry to the conference shows that no matter how well-meaning, such legislation will be used by petty officials to their own ends.



Sir: I'd hoped that New Labour's anti-terror legislation wouldn't be used oppressively against the public within my lifetime. We were assured that these powers would be used carefully, and only where appropriate to ensure public safety. Sadly, Walter Wolfgang's treatment seems more like a chapter from Animal Farm than from a conference in one of the oldest democracies in the world.

Thank goodness for people like Steve Forrester who have the decency to protest against the manhandling of an 82-year-old man by the New Labour goon squad.



Sir: Wednesday was a day when those who wanted to could learn a lot about the party that governs this country.

Ruth Kelly claimed the credit for a New Labour innovation in tackling the problem of junk food in schools, when, in fact, we all know that the Government has been deeply shamed by Jamie Oliver's valiant crusade into grudgingly adopting his healthy food regime.

At the same venue, New Labour allowed its stewards to eject a veteran party member in order to stop him gently dissenting from the views of the Foreign Secretary on the Iraq War.

Finally, away from the conference, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes came to see where this unfortunate young man met his death and must have thought that our Government and police force are quite content to find excuses for this most shameful of killings in the almost certain knowledge that nobody will ever be held accountable.

Honesty in politics, freedom of speech and the rule of law, which were once all paramount to the Labour Party, all seem now to be very "negotiable".



Sir: If I had any lingering doubts about leaving the Labour Party after nearly 40 years of active membership and a lifetime's support, they were dispelled by the sickening events at the party conference on Wednesday.

The public have now witnessed first-hand the increasingly undemocratic and intolerant nature of the Labour Party since the New Labour heresy was foisted on a largely trusting and unsuspecting membership more than ten years ago - a philosophy far distant from Harold Wilson's "broad church that owes more to Methodism than socialism".

Walter Wolfgang may perhaps be forgiven for thinking that he had entered a time-warp where brown shirted thugs had re-entered his life in the form of T-shirted bruisers masquerading as democrats. This is a sad day for freedom of expression.



Sir: We should not be surprised that Mr Wolfgang was bundled so energetically from the hall at the Labour Party conference for telling the Foreign Secretary he was talking nonsense. Mr Straw's assertion that the only purpose of our invasion of Iraq was to impose democracy there is clearly nonsense, but we are now used to the manipulation of the truth by this government.

What is surprising is that Mr Wolfgang was apparently the only person in the hall to spot this. But then he is a refugee from the excesses of the Third Reich and so has a longer memory than most. His treatment in Blackpool exposes the nasty side of the stifling of honest opposition.



Sir: It was surely correct that Mr Wolfgang was ejected from the Labour party conference. That he was 82 years old and had fled Nazi Germany was irrelevant.

Here was a man heckling the Foreign Secretary over such an irrelevant sideshow as an illegal and unnecessary war, the consequences of which are daily deaths in Iraq, when this was a day the Labour Party was concentrating on the vital issues of the day such as the banning of crisps and fizzy drinks from our schools.

Thank goodness New Labour has its priorities right, After all if Iraq was important they would have had a debate on the issue.



Sir: In a long-ago election I remember watching Harold Wilson being vigorously heckled on television. The presenter asked the Soviet ambassador, sitting next to him, whether the fact that this could take place was the sign of a properly democratic country. The ambassador looked somewhat sheepish and confused.



Sir: My admiration of and sympathy for Mr Wolfgang is tinged with envy. If I was considered sufficiently dangerous at the age of 82 to have the anti-terrorist laws used to protect members of the government from me, I would die a happy man.



Deaths of children in custody

Sir: We are working with the families of children who have died in penal custody (letter, 28 September).

Families' distress at the deaths is exacerbated by the serious delays in completing the investigation and inquest process - delays of up to two years. In the interim families are not able to play a meaningful part in the process. As there is no public scrutiny of the death for such a long period, the opportunity for identifying what went wrong and to seek to prevent recurrences is seriously delayed.

Following the death of 16-year-old Joseph Scholes in a prison in 2002, Inquest along with Nacro co-ordinated a campaign calling for a public inquiry into his death because of the very disturbing issues his death raised. This inquiry call is supported by the coroner, all key penal reform, child welfare and human rights agencies, the General Synod of the Church of England, 111 MPs and many peers and the Joint Committee of Human Rights.

The Government has to date refused to hold such an inquiry and a judicial review of this decision will be heard this November. We urge all those concerned with this serious human rights issue to support this inquiry call.






EU must not snub secular Turkey

Sir: In response to Michael and Nora Courtney's letter (27 September) denouncing the Turkish application for the EU, I urge us all to remember that the significance of Turkish membership is far greater than narrow geographical concerns; Turkey's integration into Europe will be a beacon to liberals, secularists and democrats across the Muslim world.

Turkey has been a secular state for eighty years thanks to Kemal Ataturk, who also converted the Hagia Sophia -once the pride of Eastern Christendom - from a mosque into a religiously neutral museum. We face a choice: either allow Turkey to join, encouraging the efforts of Turkish liberals to further improve human rights; or block her membership and leave the road open for odious nationalists and Islamists to take over Turkey and undo all progress.



Tory MPs fail to hold Labour to account

Sir: Why anybody in the Conservative Party hierarchy could think the membership would easily give up the one tiny bit of democracy they have in electing the leader of the party I can't imagine ("Boost for Davis as Tories reject change in rules", 29 September).

The mind boggles that they could even think the members would just pass back that right to MPs, who are far from representative of the constituency associations across the country, who have undermined at least three of the past four leaders of the party and have singularly failed to hold Blair and his government to account both in Parliament and the wider nation.

And foremost amongst those MPs who have been conspicuous by their absence in standing up to Blair and his government is Kenneth Clarke. How could we forget the way he cuddled up to Blair in his "big tent" on the euro?



Sir: Never has the official British opposition party been under such intense scrutiny as the Conservative party is today. Surely after eight years of Tony Blair's rule the British public deserves a coherent Opposition, with a leader who has the hunger to win.

As a candidate who fought in an inner city target seat at the last general election, I can say it's not what we do but what the Party Leader does that counts ultimately. The public in the urban areas are crying out for a strong Opposition to take on an autocratic Labour Party.

The Conservative Party needs to understand that it is no fun being in opposition, especially after being in government for the most part of the last century. We need to elect a leader the country can unite behind and a leader the electorate would like to see as Prime Minister. Ken Clarke is the leader most popular among the electorate. We must sacrifice our ideologies and put country first.



Will Blair really stand down?

Sir: I am surprised by the ready media acceptance that Tony Blair is really committed to handing over before the next election.

My impression is that he hasn't the slightest genuine intention of stepping down voluntarily - soon or ever. Any promises wrung out of him at times of pressure in the past count for nothing as soon as he feels his position is stronger again.

What's the betting that if he makes it through to the next election, and his position seems reasonably strong as it approaches, there will then be a "spontaneous" chorus from his supporters pleading with him change his mind, to which he'll graciously agree?



Up the wrong hill

Sir: Your First Night review ( 29 September) tells us that the Kinks' last masterpiece was Multiple Hillbillies - er, do you mean Muswell Hillbillies? Perhaps you have got it confused with the porn movie Muswell Orgasms?



Who reaps? Who sows?

Sir: Brian Inerfeld says environmentalists believe that when tragic natural disasters hit the US "we've reaped what we've sown" (letter, 24 September). It all depends on what you mean by "we". Broadly speaking, it's been poor Americans reaping what rich Americans have sown. Katrina - like Dresden or Hiroshima - loses any resemblance to justice when it's considered at the level of individuals, rather than nations.



Consumer power

Sir: Johann Hari's article "Beware the advance of the Wal-Martians" (20 September) misses out one vital thing that we can all do to stop the global take-over at Wal-Mart: we can simply stop shopping at Asda.



Resonant names

Sir: Verity Brown, writes about the use of place names by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd(letter, 28 September). That in turn reminds me of the late, great but alas now forgotten Paul Jennings, for whom many words had wholly unexpected resonances. Just a couple of examples to give the flavour: "Lowestoft, an underground grain store"; "Man Erith, woman Morpeth".



Dangerous missiles

Sir: With reference to the boiled sweets confiscated as missiles at the Labour Party conference, is there any truth in the rumour that if thrown they could could hit Cyprus in 45 minutes?