Welfare state reform is an issue on which a consensus among all three political parties has emerged. A few years ago, a City banker was approached by the Labour government to report on and come up with ideas for reducing the numbers claiming disability benefits, incapacity benefit in particular. He admitted that before he was approached he had no opinions on the issue and never thought much about it, and he wondered why he was approached.
Yet this former City banker was also approached by the Tories to come up with a report for them about cutting disability benefits. I wonder how many aspects of disability and employment he has studied. Has he investigated how people suffering the disabilities in the autistic spectrum could find and keep employment? Has he studied the problems of bullying in the workplace that many disabled people would endure?
Telling disabled people that it's their ability rather then their disability that counts is relatively modern thinking. Those of us who attended special schools in decades past often had it stressed to us how abnormal and disabled we were, and our abilities were either imagined or useless.
Speaking from personal experience, the services to disabled people who make an effort to try to find employment from the Shaw Trust and Job Centre Plus are good, and the staff are keen to help. But there is no evidence that employers are going to be more eager to engage disabled people in an increasingly selective jobs market.
People with disabilities who are going to have their benefits cut or withdrawn largely due to the recommendations of this former City banker have a right to ask what qualifications or expertise on the issues of sickness and disability he has.
Peter J Brown
Question Time and the BNP
Under electoral law, the BNP has the same right as any other party to stand for election, appear with equal prominence on a ballot paper, and have proportional access to party political broadcasts. No one is obliged to give the BNP any more than statutory rights.
The format of Question Time means that a likely result, if it goes ahead as trailed, is to raise the emotional temperature and give racists a sense of legitimacy, bringing increased risk of attack for individuals and communities. Cancelling Question Time would not, as you say "simply look mean-spirited and prejudiced" (Leading article, 20 October). It would be an acknowledgment of the damaging reality of racism and show a willingness to oppose it. Fair dealing includes more than a balancing act; it also involves looking at likely consequences.
The NoEU convenor Bob Crow, of the RMT, was refused a place on Question Time during the European elections. Now The Guardian and Independent have given the BNP and Nick Griffin saturation publicity but the NOEU, representing working-class interests and fighting racism and privatisation, got none. With Griffin invited on Question Time, it shows you what a rotten media and rotten economic system we have that does not represent working-class interests.
When you have to be middle class and cannot be a socialist, but must have establishment politics in the media, it shows how ordinary people are voiceless and disenfranchised. Socialists will protest at Griffin being allowed on Question Time. But with no socialists or left-wing voice to challenge his poison, he will make mincemeat of the establishment politicians who have no answers or way out of this capitalist crisis. All three main parties are calling for cuts in public spending and privatisation, which will hit working-class people the hardest.
Middle-class hand-wringing and calling Griffin a racist is not going to win an argument. Alternatives to the rotten free market have to be put forward to defeat the BNP.
The right of free speech, which does not cross certain boundaries, is enshrined in our laws. We have fought wars of which defending this right was one of the causes and we castigate other governments which deny the right to minorities to express opinions which do not match those of the ruling body.
We should have learnt that driving opinions underground and denying their promoters the right to be heard and, very importantly, to be challenged, enhances their status in the eyes of some folk and can increase their popularity.
The BBC is required to practise political neutrality provided that there is no law broken. If speakers anywhere break the laws pertaining to incitement to riot or discrimination, they can be punished. The hall, stage, public space or broadcasting body which hosts these speakers is not to blame.
Why are so many so keen to criticise the BBC of which we should, on the whole, be very proud?
Could somebody please tell me why the BNP are now unquestioningly referred to, across all media, as "right-wing" when there's so obviously nothing remotely right-wing about them?
They vehemently reject free trade, privatisation and globalisation, call for strong trade unions, nationalisation and protectionism, fill the "Policies" section of their website with numerous other Old Labour policies (some almost verbatim), and promote themselves, in their campaign literature, as "The Labour Party your grandad voted for".
The only real twist is that they are racist cranks, but so were Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and the National Socialist German Workers Party. Which end of the political spectrum were they on?
The BNP has a growing support – almost a million voters – because they discuss issues of real concern to many people. The mainstream parties refuse to acknowledge many of these issues, let alone discuss them, and this is disaffecting many people. Naturally, those people will turn to other parties who appear to share their concerns.
It is wrong and undemocratic to prevent those parties from obtaining a public voice.
As our politics move more and more into a presidential style, relying on looking and sounding good, let's see (and hear) the BNP and allow open discussion and debate.
The decision to allow Nick Griffin on Question Time is shameful. Google lets you buy online advertising on web pages that reference key words you choose, a fact not lost on the BNP. Not only are they now revelling in the media attention, they also profit from the revenue potential offered through the paraphernalia they can sell via adverts shown beside articles discussing the decision.
Lewes, East Sussex
The dangers of setting targets
The news that "prisoner swaps" have been done between London prisons in an attempt to project a skewed image to inspectors ("Governors face disciplinary action over 'prisoner chess' ", 20 October) is yet another example of the pervasiveness of a damaging target-led culture in UK organisations.
When scandals such as this arise, we need to look beyond apportioning blame to the individuals making the decisions and examine the reasons behind them. CMI research has shown that many managers take decisions against their better judgement; in this case there must have been overwhelming pressure to meet inspection targets. If not, would they really have been forced to take such drastic action?
The pressure to deliver is greater, as public service funding is increasingly squeezed, but too much attention on targets can force people to stop focusing on what's really important. Targets should never be put before people. It is the responsibility of managers to look after people first, staff, customers, or inmates. Failure to do so might lead to short-term recognition, but at what price for security and social well-being?
Chief Executive, Chartered Management Institute, London WC2
Postal dispute must be settled
While MPs are bleating on about repaying dubious expenses, we are facing a serious crisis in the postal service. Its workers seem to be between a rock and a hard place: rounds have been made larger, with required walking speeds being introduced. Walker friends tell me 5mph is an uncomfortable pace to keep up for any extended time. If unfair working conditions are being introduced, what can you do to get your point across, if the powers-that-be are simply not listening?
This is an especially crucial period, in the run-up to Christmas, with the increasing reliance of customers and businesses, in Britain and abroad, on the postal services particularly for delivery of goods ordered via the internet. It is estimated that billions of pounds' worth of business will be held up or lost, with many businesses, after this dispute is resolved, choosing not to continue to use the Royal Mail. It will be a lose-lose situation for all concerned.
We are faced with a government that is no longer governing sensibly when it needs to, showing not only a woeful lack of any sort of vision, but also sheer, downright stupidity. A generous attitude towards the postal workers caught in the middle of this situation, and settlement of this dispute, would result in all this business being saved, now and for the foreseeable future.
Bankers will continue to receive their shameful bonuses, because "You need to attract the calibre of staff to do the job", whereas another family of my acquaintance is facing the difficult decision whether or not to keep working against the interest of their colleagues in this situation, because they need to be able to afford to keep their family warm enough this winter.
Is there any chance that one day it will occur to the managers of British industries that when they are faced with a problem it would be a good idea to ask representatives of their workforces to join them on day one in seeking a workable solution, which would be owned by everyone in the organisation.
To date, they have preferred to work out a solution on their own, often in great secrecy, then feel bound to defend it to the death (possibly of the organisation).
Thus, confrontation between management and labour is forever entrenched, although both sides surely share the same objective, the survival of the industry.
Geoff S Harris
No jail for children
I was appalled by your article, "End the inhumanity of child detention" (20 October). If a private individual treated a two-year-old the way Ali was treated, he or she could be prosecuted for cruelty. Why should the UK Border Agency be exempt from accountability in what seems to be flagrant disregard for the mental and physical welfare of children? No child should be locked up. Full stop.
Not good for all
You headline a speech by Exxon Mobil's Rex W Tillerson, "Growing energy demand is good news for rich and poor alike" (19 October). No, it isn't. Nobody wants, per se, to buy the litres of oil or kilowatt hours of power his company and its rivals are selling. What they really want are the services such fuels may offer: heat, light, motive power. And the technology exists to deliver all these services using a fraction of the energy we burn today, most of it wastefully.
Director, Association for the Conservation of Energy, London N1
Much as one deplores the gender discrimination practised by the Catholic Church, it hardly has a monopoly of it among religions, or even among Christians. Where, for example, are the female bishops in our own established church? And Saint Paul is an unfortunate choice as a champion of equality: he may have said, "In Christ there is no male or female", but he also said, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church".
Future is nigh
There is no "end of the Mayan calender" in 2012 ("Relax, the end isn't nigh", 17 October). In the Long Count, one of the three ancient Mayan calendar systems, a 144,000-day unit called a Baktun will end on 20 December 2012. But it is Baktun 12 out of the 20 in the next larger unit, called a Piktun. So there will still be eight Baktun, or about 3,154 years, left till the end of the present Piktun.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Hold the Bacon
In your article on stammering (21 October), you describe Francis Bacon, the famous statesman, philosopher and essayist, as a "playwright". Exactly what plays did he write? Those ones that used to be attributed to a certain William Shakespeare?
George MacDonald Ross