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Tuesday 28 July 2009
Letters: Democracy in Iran
Iranian elections put UK democracy to shame
One needs no better proof of Mr Average Briton's abdication from reason than the reaction of your correspondents to Darius Guppy's letter of 21 July in praise of Iranian democracy. In a country where practically no one is without a mobile phone, would not at least one opponent of the Iranian regime have recorded evidence of vote-rigging, or the burning of ballot boxes, or the intimidation of voters at polling stations?
As a democracy Iran puts Britain to shame; during an eight-year war with Iraq, Iran held three elections, whereas during a five-year war with Germany, Britain didn't hold one. In comparison with other Europeans, much less Iranians, we evince a gullibility that is yet another symptom of our national decline. Bereft of the healthy scepticism that once was a hallmark of the national character, we take our opinions on matters of foreign policy ready-made from a discredited political class and a press parasitic on that class.
Mendacious politicians who lied about weapons of mass destruction now pontificate about Iran to create a climate of fear like that which preceded the assault on Iraq and its execrable leader, whose usefulness to the West had by that stage been all used up. We are the victims of a consumerist culture that makes sure we swallow lies with the same voracity as we shorten our lives by munching Big Macs.
Dr James Dickie
Pay true respect to Harry Patch
Bruce Anderson ("We have every reason to grieve for Harry Patch and his time", 27 July) misses the point about Harry Patch's passing.
We may remember him and his generation, but there is nothing implicit in this act of remembrance which makes war less likely. We might want to think of Patch as a hero, but we wilfully ignore his sentiments and those of perhaps most First and Second World War soldiers, which was their hostility to war-making in the first place. Patch once said: "War is organised murder and nothing else".
This truth makes a mockery of the act of remembrance. While we wear poppies, act solemnly and wave Union Jacks, we are ignoring the fact that we are still murdering other Harry Patches – whether from the UK or not. So Patch is a hero we would rather honour than listen to. This is the real reason to grieve.
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
The death of Harry Patch has given the establishment an excuse to indulge in an orgy of nationalism and flag-waving. Yet it is clear from his statements on the First World War and other conflicts that Mr Patch had little in common with the war-mongers who lead us today.
Nor did his experiences in the trenches transform him into a nationalist. He was adamant that: "It's important that we remember the war dead on both sides of the line – the Germans suffered the same as we did."
Gordon Brown has proposed a memorial ceremony to mark the passing of Mr Patch's generation. But the best tribute that could be paid to Harry Patch and to the generation that fought in the trenches of the First World War would be to bring home the troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
With the sad passing of Mr Harry Patch, following the deaths of Henry Allingham and Bill Stone, we have lost all three remaining British veterans of the First World War.
What is equally sad is that though both France and Belgium honoured them, Britain chose not to. I suspect that had they been officers, the situation might have been different. The appalling lack of any UK honour is another indicator that the class system of this country is very much alive and well.
J W Hulse
Gurnard, Isle of Wight
I must take Bruce Anderson up on his claim that "if we were able to choose our date of birth, there is a good case for 1820".
My great-great-great grandparents Margaret and Edmund Freeman, landowners in Suffolk, had seven children born between 1814 and 1821. Edmund died in 1821 and five of his seven children died while in infancy, at least two from smallpox.
Only one, my great-great grandfather, lived to have children of his own. It is a matter of some pride that the two surviving boys both had brilliant success as classicists at Cambridge, but their childhood experiences must have haunted them and their indomitable mother, who lived to 1849, for ever.
Professionalisation of parliaments
I have worked with parliaments in Western and Eastern Europe over the past 30 years and it is apparent that there are issues that all modern parliaments are suffering from which are not being addressed.
One is the professionalisation of politics. The resulting narrow occupational experience of MPs is compounded in the UK because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, of getting selected as a candidate, by any of the major parties, if you are aged over 40. As a result, successive parliaments show a steady lowering of age level and narrowing of occupational experience. In turn, this results in a decreasing number of individuals willing to regard being an effective backbencher as a fulfilling career.
The second issue is even more fundamental. All European parliaments operate in a period unique in human history; of constant change; of global economic interdependence; of issues that are increasingly complex and many-faceted and with reduced opportunity for consideration, such is the media and public demand for immediate legislative answers.
All European professions now have support and development services to help them deal with this changing and increasingly demanding world, with the exception of parliamentarians.
It takes eight years to train a doctor, who then takes major decisions affecting people. On average it takes, in most European countries, 30 days to elect an MP who is then expected to make decisions on legislation and regulation affecting everyone in society.
Much more thought needs to be given to the type of professional support MPs require to meet the constantly changing demands of the 21st century.
Fredrick R Hyde-Chambers
The Government's proposal to let life peers resign and be elected to the Commons would lead to more career politicians jumping between Houses ("New peers face time limit in House of Lords", 18 July). We need people with diverse experiences in both Houses; not a small political class alternating between unelected and elected positions to suit themselves.
An MP facing electoral defeat could be appointed to the Lords as a stopgap. When his party is later facing a return to power, he could resign and return to the more powerful Commons. Should he become unpopular again, he could go back to the Lords. One need only look at Lord Mandelson to see the worrying possibilities.
If you accept a life peerage, you have some power for as long as you want. The responsibility that comes with not being accountable to voters is that you cannot later resign and rejoin the more powerful Commons. Mandelson and other peers should not be allowed to have their cake and later eat it too.
Wadham College, Oxford
Your leading article "A by-election that obscures as much as it reveals" (25 July) said that the Green Party doubled its vote in Norwich North. In fact, we more than tripled our vote share from 2005, and it was our best national by-election ever. This was despite two-thirds of Norwich North being outside the city (where we are very strong, and the opposition group on the council), in the Broadlands suburbs.
What is clear from Norwich North is that the by-election was a boost for ourselves and UKIP, and another bad result for the "big three" parties in Westminister.
Councillor Rupert Read
Norwich Green Party
New faces at the National Gallery
Your report and particularly your headline, "Penny admits he was wrong on blockbusters" (22 July), were very misleading. Since taking over as Director, I have consistently asserted that National Gallery exhibitions should present both familiar artists and less well-known names, according to their intellectual value. First and foremost, our exhibition programme aims to encourage visual curiosity, not the crude chasing of visitor figures. The Gallery's exhibition programme for 2010 is entirely in keeping with this belief. "Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals" will indeed present the work of a very popular artist. More importantly, however, the exhibition will examine Canaletto's work in an entirely new context and introduce visitors to a group of artists they may never have encountered before.
Dr Nicholas Penny
Director, The National Gallery,
Payments to sperm donors
You report that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has recommended that the ban on paying sperm donors should be lifted to address the supposed shortage of donors (27 July).
In fact, since MPs voted last year to remove the need for even a nominal father in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, a substantial number of those receiving fertility treatment on the NHS will be single women exercising their newfound reproductive rights.
In calling for payments to sperm donors, the head of the HFEA is thus calling for the state to bankroll the inception of misbegotten children, as well as their conception, gestation and expensive nurture. Our society's appetite for social and economic self-destruction would appear to be inexhaustible.
Too busy working to go to the pub
Andrew Marsh (letters, 27 July) is forgetting one tiny thing in his lament over the demise of the British pub. The British are the most overworked of all European nations. Every year the number of British workers working two jobs, or in a job with antisocial hours, continues to rise. As the CBI continues to insist that this modern slavery keeps us "competitive" is it any wonder few of us, aside from the very comfortably off, have time for the pub any more?
Tour de force
I write to congratulate you on your coverage of the 2009 Tour de France. It has been refreshing to find a sports section not completely devoted to the premiership (even out of season). A major international sporting event with strong British interest deserves attention and the articles and photographs were of a high standard. You are ahead of the "pack" in recognising the growing interest in cycling.
Aid to Africa
Dominic Lawson's critique of aid to Africa was spot on (Comment, 14 July). In the 1960s, nearly all African countries achieved independence. In the ensuing half-century, billions of pounds worth of aid has poured into the continent in the form of cash, projects, equipment and skilled personnel. Yet today, Africa is immeasurably worse off, and the plight of its poor more desperate than ever. We need to acknowledge that, for whatever reason, aid isn't working.
As Manchester City continues its spending spree on players, Sepp Blatter, world football supremo, says no to a salary cap, claiming that it would be declared offside by the EU. What a cop out! Any restrictions imposed for sporting reasons – in this case, to provide a level playing field financially speaking – would be allowed, provided they were proportionate. In other words, did not go any further than reasonably necessary to achieve their sporting objectives.
Prof Ian Blackshaw
International Sports Law Centre,
The idea that the tax levied on aviation is having a damaging impact on tourism is extraordinary. Are we to believe that anyone has shelved plans to go on holiday because of the passenger duty tax or that the £1 increase this year will be the final straw that means millions will postpone planned holidays? Perhaps budget airline bosses have evidence to back this assertion, or maybe they should face the reality that people have more important things to spend their money on right now.
Bling is back
I've seen the green shoots of recovery, in The Independent's "Ten Best" of 27 July. Only in a land of milk and honey could anyone contemplate spending money (and lots of it) on "cocktail rings".
Kingston on Thames, surrey
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