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Tuesday 6 November 2007
Letters: Defeating terrorism
To defeat terrorism we must admit our own mistakes
Sir: When I read the reports of the speech given by Jonathan Evans, the Director-General of MI5, to a Society of Editors conference, two thoughts sprang to mind: firstly, until Tony Blair took us to war in Iraq, I don't recall there being a terrorist threat to this country (other than the IRA) and secondly, I thought this must be the beginning of a softening-up process for more repressive measures in the Queen's Speech.
It seems to me that if the Government admitted its foreign policy mistakes and apologised to the Muslim brotherhood for the devastation and carnage in Iraq, it would go some way to lessen the threat to this country and would be a better way of fighting against those who believe we should experience some retribution for our culpability.
The threat also won't be diminished by further erosions of our civil liberties. The end to that road is what's currently happening in Pakistan.
Sir: The Ramadhan Foundation expresses its concern at Jonathan Evans' statement about the current threat from terrorism. What he has failed to say is that the number of potential terrorists of 2000 is from 1.6 million Muslims. It is a very small minority and this sort of inflammatory language is not helping the campaign to rid our country of terrorism. Having said this there is a real and present threat to the nation from terrorism; only together can we defeat it. Terrorism is evil and anyone who is involved must be engaged and convinced of why there path is wrong. We have seen a sea change in the past few years but we still have a long way to go.
We are ready to talk to the police and security services about how we should move forward, but we have to be honest about why this threat has appeared: mainly foreign policy. Only then will we be able to defeat terrorism.
Ramadhan Foundation, Manchester
Why Tories should back voting reform
Sir: Andrew Grice's report (30 October) is partly correct in its evaluation of why we Tories have opened an 8-point lead over Labour. Yes, it is Gordon Brown's indecisiveness over the general election fiasco, which showed him in his true light as an opportunist and spinner who played a dangerous media game. But I would also suggest it is our policies on inheritance tax, immigration, social breakdown and the EU treaty, to name but a few. We are the party that is offering solutions and providing effective opposition and a government-in-waiting.
However, it is interesting to note that although we have an 8-point lead, this only gives us a two-seat majority. In order to win a comfortable majority, we need to be 11 points ahead. At the moment, the first-past-the-post system is startlingly biased towards Labour, something that is admitted in the Government's unpublished and long-awaited review of Britain's voting systems. Rather than just gerrymandering its own preferential voting systems in the devolved legislatures, there should be a sensible discussion on how marginal seats could become a thing of the past and making every vote count.
Most Tories think that the answer to our problems is boundary changes. This admittedly has some impact and we will gain around seven extra seats from the current changes. But it is also demographics and the spread of the vote. It takes around 26,000 people to elect a Labour MP and 45,000 to elect a Conservative MP.
The single transferable vote system would correct this anomaly. It would make marginal seats a thing of the past, make MPs directly accountable to the electorate rather than the party hierarchy, and end tactical voting. We would also have representation in the northern cities, which we need in order to win an outright majority. But turkeys are not going to vote for Christmas unless there is a hung parliament, something that seems a real possibility at the moment
Conservative Action for Electoral Reform, London SE1
Sir: I'm fed up with the expression "the West Lothian Question". It was never a West Lothian question, but rather the "Tam Dalyell Question", asked repeatedly by our former MP, who could have done much better by applying his formidable intellectual powers to seeking a solution. The most sensible response – setting up an English Parliament – has been that of Alex Salmond, who is a West Lothian lad himself.
What is the real West Lothian question, then? It could be: "How has this fairly small council reached such an elevated position in Scotland?" It was Council of the Year 2006, and has just become the first council in Scotland and the only unitary local authority in the UK to receive a Corporate Charter Mark, the highest recognition for excellent customer service.
This is a West Lothian question with an answer. West Lothian has a council elected by proportional representation, with councillors who accept that compromise and providing services are more important than making cheap political points. Staff know that they and their political masters are working to the same agenda.
Maybe it could be tried in England. It's not so difficult really.
Linlithgow, West Lothian
Migration figures: hold census early
Sir: The new government team is losing credibility as quickly as the old one over its statistics for migrants in this country, although it has been honest enough to admit a mistake over the number of overseas nationals taking up jobs here in the past 10 years.
The Federation of Poles in Great Britain is as anxious as everybody to obtain accurate, verifiable statistics on the number of visitors and workers, where they are and what their economic status is, so that we can best assess our priorities in seeking to help them. Without clear data, the figures can get mutilated by those with a more radical agenda.
The only statistics that the public are likely to trust are those of the National Census. The figures for the 2001 census are completely out of date, as the pace of inward and outward migration has increased dramatically in a globalised world. It would be wise for the Government, if it wishes to retain the initiative on immigration and employment matters, to bring forward the next Census to 2009 rather than 2011, ensure a much quicker publication of its findings and then hold them every five years.
Research officer, Federation of Poles in Great Britain, London W5
Free English lessons face funding cuts
Sir: Inspired by Alan Jones's "Free English lessons would help refugees to integrate" (29 October), we are writing to let you know that free English lessons have indeed been helping refugees to integrate in Kingston upon Thames for the past 25 years, but the lack of funding might put an end to it all soon.
Learn English at Home is a local charitable organisation established to befriend and give one-to-one English lessons to the most isolated and vulnerable residents of Kingston and Richmond (76 per cent of whom are refugees) who for various reasons are unable to attend regular English classes. Our trained volunteer tutors visit the learners in their homes and teach them what they need to know in everyday life: when registering with a doctor, when talking to their child's teacher and when applying for a job.
Like Barbara Roche of the Metropolitan Support Trust, we also know that "those we help want to integrate into Britain", because more and more of our learners take citizenship tests and attend citizenship courses we run. Over the years, many of our learners have moved into employment, voluntary work or further learning, or have started their own business, have joined our committee and, most importantly, have become capable of living a fulfilling life in our local community.
We helped 137 people last year and currently have 36 on our waiting list, with a further 30 referrals that we have not been able to visit this year because of the cuts in our funding.
If we all know that free English lessons help refugees to integrate, how is it then possible that our project is finding it so difficult at the moment to attract funding?
Sanja Djeric Kane
Acting Co-ordinatorLearn English at HomeKingston, Surrey
Drug denied to arthritis patients
Sir: In your article "Arthritis sufferers' anger as drug is denied on NHS" (26 October), the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) implies that rituximab is an option for all patients who are no longer benefiting from anti-TNF therapy.
In reality, some patients will not be appropriate for the rituximab therapy because of the type of disease they suffer from, while from published data around 50 per cent of patients will not be responders. Thus there is a population of patients who will have active disease but will be unable to receive appropriate therapy. These relatively small numbers of patients will suffer most from Nice's decision to reject abatacept.
The clinical adviser to Nice spelt this out in evidence to the Appraisal Committee: "The alternative [to abatacept] is oral corticosteroids in high doses." This treatment is associated with serious side-effects and associated costs with diminution of quality (and quantity) of life. Therefore, it is critical that such patients with the most severe rheumatoid arthritis are not denied treatments that have demonstrated clinical effectiveness.
Professor Paul Emery
Clinical Director (Rheumatology), Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
Israeli example for the Met
Sir: In August 2005 an Israeli soldier was sentenced to eight years in prison for killing Tom Hurndall, a British student shepherding Palestinian children away from a tank in Gaza.
The presiding judge said: "The court is required to express a clear message that although Israel is currently defending itself against ongoing murderous attacks, and while soldiers are fighting in grave danger . . . they are still required to use their weapons appropriately and proportionally."
Jean Charles de Menezes was gunned down in cold blood. Three police officers had him pinned down, totally immobilised. How can blowing his brains out at point-blank range be in any way appropriate or proportional?
Sir: On page 4 of The Independent (3 November) Sir Ian Blair is quoted as saying that he would not resign as the judge had emphasised there had been no "systemic failures". On page 5, Jennifer Jones, Green Party member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, argues that he should stay because "the failings exposed are those of the system, not individuals". It's all a bit confusing.
Wrong way up the food chain
Sir: Richard Ingrams (3 November) blames birds of prey for declines in the numbers of the species they eat. He seems to lack a basic understanding of ecology, in that food chains run from the bottom up, and the populations of birds such as sparrows are not controlled by sparrowhawks but by the amount of food available to the sparrows, amongst other things.
A healthy ecosystem depends on raptors to weed out the weaker items of prey. Evidence for eagles and kites taking healthy lambs is unsubstantiated and they act as important carrion feeders, rather like vultures in Africa.
Man in Britain has managed to wipe out populations of raptors since early times because of the attitude of people like Mr Ingrams. The only "savage" creatures are the blood thirsty shooting brigade who regard it as their right to mow down grouse and pheasants and any bird that has the temerity to feed on one.
Sir: I suggest Richard Ingrams gets his facts right before he rants about birds of prey. Thousands of red kites, lambs being attacked, all those hens being eaten by hen harriers? Maybe sparrow hawks are responsible for the decline in sparrow numbers? Mr Ingrams obviously lives on a different planet from the rest of us.
Mottos for politicos
Sir: Gordon Brown should consider my own school motto, from Worthing High School for Boys: "Be honest".
French in Britain
Sir: Marc Levy's love of London might be sincere and charming ("The accidental Englishman: France's other ambassador", 2 November). but he doesn't mention once why so many French artists, sportsmen and businessmen have chosen to live partly in the UK: to escape the heavy French income taxes. When he was running for president, Nicolas Sarkozy even came to London to address the French diaspora, promising them huge changes in the taxation to lure them back to France.
The price to park the car
Sir: It was mentioned (Letters, 2 November) that the car park at Ashford Eurostar station is usually three-quarters empty. This is hardly surprisingly as the advertised charge is £11.50 per day or £69 per week. While Eurostar has made great play of the fact that there will be 2,500 parking spaces at the new Ebbsfleet station the company is being remarkably coy about the cost, with only two weeks to go. Let us hope that this time they will adopt a sensible pricing policy rather than one that leaves the facility mainly empty.
Early birds hit back
Sir: On behalf of all early risers, may I say how much we are enjoying the lighter mornings now that we are back in "real" time. I agree with Peter Martin (letter, 31 October) that changing the clocks is nothing but a nuisance, but unlike him I feel that we should now leave they as they are – permanently. It is impossible to increase the hours of daylight, whatever we do, and I find the long summer evenings, when it is difficult to sleep, depressing. If half of us are larks and half owls, then it is time that we larks had our say.
C Mary Catt
Business of sport
Sir: I suggest that all articles concerning association football be transferred to the business pages, leaving the sport section free for sport.
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