Letters: Debating with BNP

Straw is wrong to debate with BNP on 'Question Time'

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Jack Straw has made a serious error of judgement in agreeing to sit with Nick Griffin of the BNP on national television. There are times when it's just too simplistic to validate a political movement, purely on the basis of it having a measurably "significant" minority of votes cast in its favour.

For instance, Paul Kagame, when preparing Rwanda for the first open elections since the 1994 genocide, banned any political party whose agenda included any degree of ethnically based "divisionism". Kagame was criticised internationally for this, because he outlawed high-profile and popular political parties, but his view was that after decades of ethnic hostility, culminating in the horror of 1994, there was no room in government for promotion of social or ethnic divide. His policy has been vindicated by Rwanda's relative stability.

In Uganda, when Museveni came to power in the mid-Eighties, he set out to form a government not based on sectarian divides. He implemented a non-party government, whose members were individually democratically elected, in theory at least. This resulted in almost all communities having some representation in government. Museveni was commended internationally for his policies, although things became more difficult with the rise of unrest in neighbouring Congo and Rwanda, which permeated Uganda. In Northern Ireland, sectarian divisions have been reinforced for decades by multi-party democracy. For years, the minority Catholic community was denied any position, power or influence, by the majority Protestant voters. We're all familiar with the resulting Troubles.

Although it's desirable in an ideal world to support the concept of "western democracy", there are situations where this is counter to the general good. A political party such as the BNP, whose agenda is based on enforced ethnic division, should not be further validated by being allowed to propagate its hate-based views on a respected, publicly owned platform, such as BBC's Question Time.

Tim Terry

GV Media Group Ltd, London E14

Corruption in the arms industry

Quoting the late former foreign secretary Robin Cook as saying that BAE Systems had the "back-door key to Number 10" (2 October), The Independent rehearses the familiar argument that the arms industry is vital to the UK economy. But Mr Cook was keenly aware of both the "moral and economic disaster of arms sales" (New Statesman, June 1978).

Unfortunately, he was overruled by his boss, Tony Blair, and the arms industry has continued to enjoy massive government support and subsidy. Military exports account for just 1.5 per cent of all UK exports, yet more UK Trade & Investment staff work specifically to promote them than are allocated to all other industrial sectors combined.

For many years, BAE topped the list of companies using the government's insurance through the Export Credits Guarantee Department; it took a whopping 42 per cent of all the cover in 2006-07. It is a similar story with government-funded research and development. In 2007 the arms industry got 28 per cent of it, more than £2.5bn. Yet, even after all this support from the public purse, the 210,000 jobs in military industry account for less than 0.7 per cent of the UK workforce.

Climate change is arguably the biggest threat to global security. In 2007, government-funded R&D for renewables was under £50m. The subsidies for military industry should be redirected towards such vital requirements, a move likely to be advantageous for the economy, human rights and security.

Ann Feltham

Parliamentary Co-ordinator, Campaign Against Arms Trade, London N4

With cynicism, I read of the desire of the Serious Fraud Office to pursue BAE Systems (as an arms dealer) with charges of bribery and corruption.

So is this company corrupt if it did pay prospective customers various "bribes" to sell its products and find outlets for British goods made by British employees? Would the same attitude have been taken with a charity that feels the need to bribe an official in a desperately hungry country, to get its food distributed? I seem to recall "cash incentives" being offered with domestic cars to "grease" the sale of one marque over another: is the purchaser being bribed and the dealer corrupt?

At a time when Bernie Madoff has defrauded billions, and our bankers are involved in bonus payments over fraudulent deals involving misleading descriptions and false credit ratings, with the world perilously close to bankruptcy, what is the SFO doing?

To me, it seems to be taking a position of its own partiality and self-absorbed sanctimoniousness in inflating the significance of the unwilling party who may be obliged to bribe, while disregarding those parties who are, by inclination, corrupt.

M J Benning

Wellington, Somerset

Rewriting Emperor Trajan's history

In your note on the Emperor Trajan, with the article "Luxury Roman amphitheatre unearthed" (1 October), you say the Praetorian Guard deposed Nerva. This is not correct.

Nerva was appointed Emperor by the Senate after the assassination of the Emperor Domitian, hated by the aristocracy but loved by the army. Nerva was an innocuous old man.

The Praetorian Guard forced him to execute the assassins of Domitian. Then, to secure the succession (and his own safety), Nerva adopted Trajan, the most popular army commander, as his successor. A year later, Nerva died peacefully and Trajan became Emperor.

Guy Arnold

London W1

Mayor opposes museum charges

Ben Bradshaw is wrong to claim that Boris Johnson is advocating mandatory charges for national museums and galleries ("Bradshaw's warning to the BBC: you must change to survive", 30 September).

The Mayor believes such charges could deter visitors and is opposed to them. Only a couple of weeks ago, we announced that the Museum of London's learning sessions for primary school would now be free, bringing them into line with the free entry it offers to secondary, special education needs and hospital schools.

The Mayor considers free entry for educational purposes and for pleasure a valuable resource, but is suggesting more voluntary donations by visitors who can afford them.

Munira Mirza

Mayoral Adviser on Arts and Culture, City Hall, London SE1

Happy news from Ofsted

Thank goodness for the Ofsted report which praised 20 schools in deprived areas for their innovative approaches in inspiring and motivating their pupils ("Perform with the Halle", 2 October).

Extra-curricular activities such as playing in concerts and taking part in organised dance classes is an essential element of education already used by the independent sector, and our experience at IAPS schools shows that it makes a hugely positive impact on pupils.

What a shame then that government league tables focus so squarely on literacy and numeracy targets, rather than giving credit to creativity and recognising the benefits these broader educational experiences give to children.

David Hanson

Chief Executive, Independent Association of Prep Schools, LEAMINGTON SPA, Warwickshire

The danger of BBC product placement

Johann Hari writes a cogent and timely piece ("If we care about the BBC we must fight to defend it", 2 October). I'm ready to fight. The deep issue involves the preservation of truth in our public culture. The latest and last straw for me is product placement, a vision of an alternate future.

I remember the shock and sense of betrayal that I felt years ago when I first tumbled to a product placement in a film, and I feel uncompromising about this. Product placement compromises integrity and will be the death of serious truthful drama or insightful documentary on television. If I cannot trust that what I see is the result of the programme-makers' intention, then any impact it may have had is destroyed, and no amount of post-mode special pleading will change that. It is the phone-in scandal translated to art work.

And product placement's cousin, the hidden commercialisation of news output, is equally serious. Editorial values are a different matter; the viewer can identify and allow for those. Compare how we work so hard as a culture to maintain the probity of scientific knowledge; is our public media of less importance? To have a BBC to stand out against this alternate future is more than enough reason in itself for the licence fee, almost at any price.

Professor Jonathan Green

Chorltonville, Manchester

Truths about the fanzine world

Interesting article by Jessica Bateman about the resurgence of fanzines (Arts & Entertainment, 25 September). But I would disagree that there is a resurgence. As a zine editor who has been doing one for about 16 years (Black Velvet, which has gone from a photocopied black and white thing to a glossier magazine-style zine) I've seen many zines come and go and, although there may be a couple of new zines popping up here and there, there are equally as many calling it a day.

I think it's harder than ever to do a printed zine now, due to, of course, the internet, unless you are just doing your own small photocopied zine and don't care too much about sales.

But it's getting harder to make a zine a success and even some of the big national mags are suffering hefty sales drops. It's always good to see an article that reminds people that there is such a thing as fanzines. Maybe a larger list of zines next time would be better. Listing just three at the bottom hardly confirms the supposed "resurgence".

Shari Black Velvet

Editor, black velvet, Redditch, worcestershire

Bravo on Barwell

I have just read Julian Baggini's article on the tragic events in Barwell (3 October), an incisive and accurate analysis when everyone else went for the instant reflex response. Quite superb. Perhaps it is time we had a few more philosophers involved in policy-making.

Derek Mitchell

Ashford, Kent

Good move

It is fantastic to see 24 of the Lewis chessmen from the British Museum go on tour in Scotland next year (report, 2 October), but it is now time for the full return of the 12th-century chessmen to the Western Isles. The pieces, crafted from walrus ivory and whales' teeth, were unearthed in 1831 in Ardroil, Uig and, of the 93 chessmen, 11 are in Edinburgh's National Museum of Scotland and 82 are in the British Museum. Ownership of the collection should pass to the Isles, where they should be on permanent display. The economic benefit to the Isles would be immense.

Alex Orr


Who is hostage?

Surely your headline, "Women prisoners go free in return for a glimpse of hostage" (3 October), should have read, "Women hostages go free in return for a glimpse of prisoner". The women were, in the main, victims of Israel's illegal policy of collective punishment, and the soldier is a member of an army that has only recently been condemned for crimes against humanity, and is engaged in an illegal occupation.

Professor John Newsinger


Huntley myth

In your otherwise sensible leading article, "Crude barriers between children and adults serve the interests of no one" (3 October), you repeat the myth that Ian Huntley was a caretaker at Holly Wells' and Jessica Chapman's school. In fact, he was at Soham Village College, a state secondary school. The girls attended St Andrews Primary School. The only connection was that Huntley's girlfriend was their teaching assistant.

Elizabeth Norman


Get in line

Madonna stated that, "I'd rather get run over by a train" [... than get married again], "Quotes of the Day", (3 October). When I was a young child, I had an ambition to be a train-driver. Funny how that ambition should return in later life.

Brian Crinion

Whitby, North Yorkshire

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