Letters: David Miliband

Forget policies, Mr Miliband – we need to debate personalities
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According to David Miliband, his vision of the beleaguered Labour Party, outlined in an article this week, is not concerned with "debating personalities but winning the argument about our record, our vision for the future and how we achieve it".

I would have thought that any kind of leadership (particularly of a country) should be precisely about "debating personalities". In fact its seems that the qualities that make a person distinct from another is what Labour's cabinet is currently distinctly lacking.

Where is the charisma in British politics? Where is the Obama-style rhetoric that has inspired the whole world ? All I can see (across the whole political spectrum bar Boris Johnson) are bland ego-driven men and women treading on political eggshells. Instead of encouraging diversity in Britain, New New Labour seems desperate to foster a homogeneous colourless infighting forum with little room for real leadership.

Rupert Eden

Seville, Spain

With the Government's recent dire by-election results, it is widely being assumed that any new leader of the Labour Party would be a short-lived incumbent. In fact, a replacement for Gordon Brown could attain and retain the leadership for several years to come.

A new prime minister who held on to the bitter end in 2010 would indeed be ditched as Labour leader in the aftermath of electoral defeat; but one who went to the country quickly – on the grounds that it would be undemocratic to have two changes of prime minister in a single Parliament without an election – could hardly be blamed for an outcome which was not of his (or her) making. After the defeat, there would be every prospect of the new Labour leader being allowed to stay at the head of the party right through to the following general election.

Labour should send the "men in red coats" to visit Gordon immediately. The party could benefit from a more graceful exit from government; its new leader might survive to fight another day; and the country would gain the Conservative prime minister for whom it is ready and waiting.

Dr Julian Lewis MP

(New Forest East, C), House of Commons

Abuses of the DNA database

Your front page headline, "Curse of the DNA register" (30 July) assumes that those whose DNA is held in the national database are "criminalised", and you back a call for the database to be taken out of police hands. But there is an obvious way to de-stigmatise those already on the database. Join them. Those of us with nothing to hide should volunteer our DNA and flood the police with the stuff.

I can think of only two ways in which a comprehensive national DNA database might be abused, and neither abuse would be by the police. Actuaries could forecast our health and adjust our insurance premiums accordingly. And DNA could be used to establish – or deny – paternity, including that of prominent or even royal people.

So, far from calling for the DNA database to be taken out of the hands of the police, we should be asking the police how they are going to protect it from insurance companies, paternity lawyers and gossip columnists.

Richard Dawkins

Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University.

You report a Home Office spokesman as saying of the National DNA database: "It provides the police on average with almost 3,500 matches each month. . . . There had been 41,717 crimes in 2006-07 which yielded DNA matches, including 452 homicides, 644 rapes, 222 other sex offences and more than 8,500 domestic burglaries."

These figures are very impressive and are to be welcomed. They are also however utterly irrelevant to the debate on retention of DNA profiles from people who have never been charged or have been acquitted. The only statistic which is relevant to this policy is that of the number of persons, if any, who have been convicted of a serious offence on the basis of stored DNA from an unconvicted person. To date, I have seen no published evidence that this has ever happened.

The report also quoted unnamed ministers as opposing destruction of samples on the grounds that "they have proved vital to solving a succession of 'cold cases'." This is clearly not true, as in cold cases, by definition, the crime scene DNA is already in the system and samples taken at the time of arrest can be compared before being destroyed. This was standard practice with fingerprints over many decades before DNA testing had been invented.

I would again challenge the advocates of wholesale retention of DNA to cite a single instance in which a cold case was solved on the basis of a stored DNA sample from an unconvicted person, as opposed to a sample taken, and tested, at the time of arrest.

Ken Campbell

Kettering, Northamptonshire

I will believe the DNA database isn't a threat to the innocent when every serving policeman and every Labour Cabinet minister volunteers their samples. After all, we are told only the guilty should fear it, and that being on the database isn't a presumption of any guilt.

Andrew Calvert

Ruislip, Middlesex

I heartily agree with Janet Street-Porter (31 July) that the DNA profile of innocent people should be deleted from government files.

But how could she be certain that they had been deleted and how could the Government convince her? It's easy to make copies of files.

Bob Perry


Drop pointless school tests

The current marking fiasco provides an excellent opportunity to consider the role of Standardised Assessment Tests (SATs) in English schools.

Surely the money expended on marking them, as well as preparation and printing, which apparently runs into many millions of pounds, would be much better spent on staffing and equipping actual classrooms.

There seems to be an idea about that children's futures are somehow affected by these tests, but this is not so. No child is denied a place at secondary school because his or her SATs results do not come up to scratch. Professional teacher assessment provides secondary school teachers with all the information they need about the children in their new intake.

SATs are simply a waste of time and money. They exist only to provide the Government with flawed data which is used to churn out the wretched and divisive league tables. They divert resources away from schools and, worst of all, condemn our children to weeks, and in some cases months, of boring, pointless cramming.

We need to return to real education which provides challenges and stimulation for our young people. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland seem to manage very well without SATs so why are they still being inflicted on English schools?

Anne Palmer

Stapleford Tawney, Essex

Families of disabled seen as a nuisance

In her letter of 31 July, Mary Harris laments the sad attitude towards families and their learning-disabled children.

My 17-year-old son is learning-disabled, and our family journey alongside him has been fraught with obstructive behaviour on the part of the National Health Service and social services. Partnership with carers is clearly stated in current policies, but we have been made to feel inadequate and fussy about wanting the best for our child. Our views have been rarely sought and when we voice our concerns professionals close ranks and ours is a very lonely, vulnerable position – if you ask for help you risk your child being taken into care.

Families want to work in partnership and their expert knowledge of their child's condition should be welcomed and acted upon. My youngest son seems to know more about his older brother's condition than the professionals – he's read evidence-based material and attended family conferences.

We are a valuable resource but are treated as little more than a nuisance, as we are asking for money to be spent. The medical and social care budgets will never be large enough to cover all the need, but the refusal to assess need is unforgivable. In the absence of timely assessments of need, crises occur and then vast amounts of money are squandered to find emergency placements in the private sector.

Our family has been badly let down, but we live in hope that findings such as Sir Jonathan Michael's report will help to shift attitudes towards families. A seismic shift is long overdue.

Mary Gameson

Retford, Nottinghamshire

Curb the anarchy of the internet

Andy Burnham (Opinion, 25 July) is right to reject, in the name of the progressive left and "the vulnerable, the poor and the weak", the arrogant elitism of John Perry Barlow's A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. We now understand that an unregulated internet is open to exploitation by terrorists and child abusers, as well as those who believe that creators should be happy to see their work exploited for nothing.

However, it is disappointing that the Memorandum of Understanding signed recently by Government, ISPs and the creative industries seems only to apply to music and motion pictures. The problem is much wider than this and growing with every advance in technology. There is already massive unpaid-for exploitation of television, photography and text, soon to be hugely expanded as Sony and Kindle hand-readers come on to the market with access to thousands of books, which hackers are already gearing up to download without payment. While there are those who may baulk at paying £400 for such a device, millions brought up on texting and on-screen learning will see nothing strange in these "bookpods", especially as the prices fall.

The new initiative needs to be extended at once to take in all vulnerable content, coupled with licensing schemes that will provide legal access to would-be users, and life and creation-sustaining payments to authors in all media.

Maureen Duffy

President, Authors Licensing and Collecting Society, London SW6

Andy Burnham wants young people to agree with him that the best way to keep their music real is to stop sharing it with one another. Apparently sharing in this context is wrong and we all need to accept greater restrictions on the way that we use the internet because musicians are missing out on their rightful royalties.

My simplistic interpretation of free-market economics is that the most successful businesses are those which adapt best in a changing environment. The internet has probably been the biggest change in the way we do business over the past two decades and some of the most successful organisations have been those that have embraced it.

Is the Andy Burnham approach about helping impoverished musicians or the music-industry executives who are struggling to adapt to a technology that is cutting them out and undermining their profits?

I am sure that dedicated, passionate musicians will continue to find different ways of making money from their art, performing live seems like a obvious starting place.

Polly Simpson

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire


Property boom

Credit crunch? What credit crunch? Not on Planet Independent, it seems, where your Property supplement (30 July) describes a three-bedroom £335,000 house as a potential holiday cottage. Surely those days are long gone? A three-bedroom house, only a few miles from significant towns with shops services, schools etc, is a family home.

Kate Jones

Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys

No quitter

Pandora said on 29 July that I was quitting medicine. I am not quitting medicine. I'm joining Virgin to gain valuable experience helping them set up health clinics, working with NHS doctors here in the UK and also to help the charitable foundation Virgin Unite to set up medical clinics in Africa. I will then decide in a year's time whether to continue with this as a career or go back to more conventional medicine.

Holly Branson

London W8

Dangerous inflation

As one utility company after another announces gruesome price rises while declaring macabre profits I find myself obsessing over the enigma which is the official inflation rate. Most people of lower income are not spending money on electronic goods or furniture because they can't afford them. The inflation rate for people who are not buying a new sound system or digital TV is actually 25 per cent. In my opinion, if the current inflation trend continues we will have civil unrest within the next 12 months.

Shahriyar Saeb-Noori


The new Blair

Those you say will vote for Cameron though they don't know what he stands for ("Tories ready to rule, say voters", 28 July) are no different from those who voted for Blair in 1997. With a government in terminal exhaustion we voted for someone we didn't trust in hopes that his dynamism would at least correct some of the imbalance in society. Disillusion was not long coming. Social division is worse than for decades.There will be the same disappointment for many who vote Conservative.

John Pelling

Kedington, Suffolk

Mystery explained

Perhaps it's something to do with the obsession of British men with soccer that makes 26,000 women a year think it is a good idea to have imitation footballs implanted in their chests ("Double trouble", 31 July).

Francis Kirkham

Crediton, Devon