In her excellent piece on Monday, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown refers to Nigel Farage’s “veil of respectability”. What kind of respectable person casually stigmatises those who are HIV positive, or indiscriminately demonises eastern European immigrants, or suggests that leaving the EU will miraculously cure the country’s ills?
It is precisely because Nigel Farage has managed to convince so many people that he is respectable that he is so dangerous. His carefully cultivated man-down-the-pub persona is designed to persuade voters that he is one of them, when what he really wants, lower taxes for the rich, more NHS privatisation etc, is the exact opposite of what they believe.
Like other right-wing populists who have preceded him, he is a legitimiser and normaliser of prejudice and a malign influence on democracy. It is the duty of all of us, especially progressive politicians, to denounce him as such in the strongest terms.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown appeals to the main political parties not to roll over in the face of the Ukip “malignancy”, and she mentions the Conservatives and Labour as having already done so. What she did not say was that one of the main parties – the Liberal Democrats – is by no means rolling over.
At their party conference last week, Nick Clegg gave the speech of a lifetime. He stressed that the Lib Dems must continue to stand up for basic freedoms, economic fairness, the advantages of the EU and the European Court of Justice, freedom of movement and social justice in this country.
I am one of those Lib Dems who have been unenthusiastic about the Coalition and unsure about where I stood now. The Tory conference demonstrated an unpleasant lurch to the right which made me very uneasy, and Labour’s produced a lacklustre performance.
But at the Lib Dem conference, the conviction and, yes, the fire in Nick Clegg’s voice as he stressed the need for this party of the centre to stand up for fairness and freedom, brought tears to my eyes and reminded me at long last of why this is still the only party I can vote for.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s assertion that many indigenous Britons are content to live alongside citizens from other parts of the world who have settled here is correct, but isn’t the full picture. Those same British-born people still have concerns about the financial cost of this cosmopolitan society, welcome as it is.
It is clear that the eastern European immigrants come to Britain to work, but the work tends to low-paid, and therefore any taxes they may pay are likely to be repaid to them in benefits to enable them to survive and support their families. They also tend to be young, and the overcrowded maternity wards bear testimony to another national expense that their meagre taxes cannot possibly cover, not to mention all the cost and infrastructure required to keep these children healthy and educated. There has been much in the media about the NHS budget, and whatever any politician may say to win votes, there is a limit to how much we can afford as a nation.
Of course we should have open borders and encourage harmony among all who have chosen this great nation as their home, but let’s do so on a sound financial basis.
Woodford Green, Essex
I saw a glaring example today of immigrants “stealing the jobs of UK workers”.
In a supermarket car park some Bulgarians had a mobile car washing set-up. They had found a niche market. People who were too busy to take time out to go to the car wash or wash their cars themselves were happy to let these guys do it while they shopped, and they did not have to drive their cars anywhere.
I watched them beavering away, doing a great job with enthusiasm.
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
The political establishment has received a sizeable jolt from the Clacton and Heywood and Middleton by-elections. The fundamental conclusion that can be drawn from the inexorable rise of Ukip is that many people in Britain simply do not consider themselves European, and see the isolationist stance of Ukip as a strength, not a weakness.
The reason for this may be rooted in a combination of history, emotion and pride, but to counteract it the main political parties are going to have to address this matter head on.
Dr Shazad Amin
To save Britain from Ebola, Help Africa
As the Government introduces measures to try to prevent the arrival of Ebola in Britain, it would be fatal to forget that the best way to help the UK is to help West Africa. This outbreak needs tackling at source, and in order to change the course of the crisis, we mustn’t simply hunker down in developed nations.
Donors must co-ordinate action to tackle what has become not only a health crisis, but an economic crisis and a human tragedy. The people of West Africa need massive assistance. They need it now.
Of course it is important for the UK government to protect people here, but the only truly effective way of doing so in the long term is to bring this crisis under control in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. We must break the chain of infection.
CEO, Plan UK
That isn’t actually what the Minister said, was it? (“Minister: We need to start screening for Ebola”, 8 October). As the complete quote within the article makes clear, he actually said the case for increasing screening had to be examined and we need to consider whether existing controls are adequate. Examining or considering things are different from starting to do them.
Homeopathy could save NHS money
Jo Selwood points out that the expenditure by the NHS on homoeopathy is £4m to £12m and that this treatment, which has no scientific basis, is no more effective than a placebo (letter, 9 October). However, she fails to complete her cost-benefit analysis.
The placebo effect is a powerful one and appears to occur even when patients are told that the treatment has no detectable therapeutic effect. Placebos do work and the majority of doctors do prescribe them from time to time – either genuine treatments that are not needed (such antibiotics for viral infections), or inactive substances such as sugar or water.
By having the freedom to divert certain patients into homoeopathy doctors could be saving the NHS money overall. Homoeopathic remedies have the advantage of being as cheap as water. Some of these homoeopathic patients, the attention seekers or those who are simply hyper-vigilant about their wellbeing, might otherwise be clogging up the expensive diagnostic processes and therapies needed for those who have genuine serious health problems.
Before abandoning NHS homoeopathic treatments, we need a thorough cost-benefit analysis, including a study to establish the additional costs of having to treat with conventional medicine those patients who currently use homoeopathy.
Chatty machines in the kitchen
I am reassured that, in the future, kitchen appliances will be able to communicate with each another (interview with Simon Segars, 13 October).
I would still like to know what a washing machine and a fridge could possibly have to talk about. I can only imagine that the washing machine would want to get to the bottom of that age-old kitchen puzzle: does the light really go off when the door is closed ?
You may not win, but your vote counts
I have been voting for 39 years and have never cast my vote for the politician who has been chosen to represent my constituency. Unlike Frances Gaskell (letter, 10 October) I do not see that my vote has ever been wasted or that, because I failed to get what I voted for, the process was undemocratic or unfair. All votes are counted, and the number of opposing voices are also part of the historical record.
It seems to me childish to say that if the game isn’t played according to rules that suit me I’ll not play at all.
Beverley Southgate (letter, 9 October) enthuses about getting a passport in five working days.
Mine took just four (application posted in afternoon of 6 October and received back at home by post on 10 October). It wasn’t an urgent application. Owzat!