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Monday 31 August 2009
Letters: Elected Lords
Who would stand for election to the Lords?
If, as you advocate, the House of Lords is to become a mainly elected chamber, a number of problems appear to arise (leading article, 27 August).
Apart from the small number of appointees, all other members will have to fight elections, a vigorous procedure which enthusiastic politicians may enjoy, but in which eminent academic and more dignified persons may be unwilling to participate. Can you really envisage an archbishop, a chief rabbi or a High Court judge trotting round a constituency at election time kissing babies?
Secondly, since it is accepted that the lower chamber will have to be the more powerful, does this mean that upper chamber members will tend to be mediocrities who were unable to be elected to the Commons? It is hard enough these days for a prime minister to form an adequate government from among members of the existing Lords and Commons. If his future choice is restricted to the Commons and a second chamber of the kind you envisage, he will have problems.
Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire
Jack Straw's acknowledgment that further Lords reform is necessary is welcome, but it is a major disappointment that his timetable is so cautious and his plans so unambitious. There may be a case for taking time to get reform right, but public expectation demands a swifter and wider response than Mr Straw's limp proposals.
Planning for an 80 per cent elected House of Lords phased in over three parliaments fails to appreciate the urgency for change which has been determined by a collective realisation that the way we do politics now is unacceptable.
The Justice Secretary's caution plays straight into the hands of the many people who were cynical about whether MPs really could reform themselves and the institutions they have created. Had he set out a quicker timetable and more radical agenda, he would have been paving the way for an impressive legacy and for achieving lasting reform of our democracy and systems of governance.
As it is, his plans will be passing the buck to future parliaments.
Director, Power2010, London SE1
James Murdoch's attack on the BBC
I like The Independent and wish it long life. I can also understand your concerns about threats to the survival of the printed press in the face of challenges from other media. But that is hardly a reason for you to give editorial support to James Murdoch's crusade against the BBC (leading article, 29 August).
The BBC sometimes gets things wrong. From time to time, I find that its way of presenting news shows a conservative, pro-governmental point of view. Peter Hitchens, from the right, says the opposite. Our mutual, occasional dissatisfaction rather strengthens the case in favour of the BBC.
The question is: would you rather that the BBC, whatever may be its failings, have a large share of the market, or do you prefer that we be inundated by the idiocies of Murdoch's Sun with its pandering to the basest forms of curiosity, and by his Fox Network, currently playing host to the quasi-fascist ranting of Rush Limbaugh.
The Murdochs, with all their talk of competition and "freedom", want not only profit, but control of our minds. They must be resisted at all costs.
James Murdoch's statement that "the only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantee of independence is profit" sounds a knell for quality and integrity in the media. Just as we have seen the pursuit of profit without principle lead to a race to the bottom in the treatment of employees and the environment in other industries, so it would be with the quality of journalism.
The lack of accountability that the media has to consumers for the objectivity and accuracy of its daily news would mean an acceleration of the trend towards trivia and political bias that we have seen over the years as ownership has been concentrated in fewer hands. That the attack should come from so clearly interested a competitor of the BBC should invalidate its worth.
Profit is a necessary condition of survival, not a purpose nor a guarantee of independence. Nor can independence be provided by the state. At the end of the day, this, and the integrity of the media, will be dependent on the individual journalist and editor working to explicit principles, monitored by a body less toothless than the Press Complaints Commission, and liable to meaningful sanctions when these principles are breached.
Sir Geoffrey Chandler
Your editorial criticises the "unhealthy dominance" of the BBC, and asks for a level playing field for broadcasters. I have recently returned from the USA, where the field is already level. My host had 729 TV channels available. Almost all broadcast material which would offend the intelligence of an Independent reader.
The BBC's output drives up broadcasting standards in Britain, and wins worldwide respect for its accurate and impartial news broadcasting. Long may its healthy dominance continue.
The realities of NHS care
What a brilliant article on the NHS from Ian Birrell (21 August), but I am so sorry the catalyst was problems experienced by his daughter.
The article makes a mockery of recent statements from politicians, lauding the NHS. Of course they would know how to "play" the system, and they have the luxury because of "security issues" to get private attention from the top consultants.
But the reality for the average patient is very different. Friends with disabled children, those with elderly parents fighting to get them fed and attended to, those trying to get cancer treatment, are either frightened to be marked as a whistle-blower if they speak out, or don't have the ability to fight for their entitlement.
Verite Reily Collins
My heart goes out to Ian Birrell; my head is spinning after reading his piece. One of the problems I find with the discussion of such topics in the media is that we are regaled with specific instances from which we are invited to draw general conclusions. As in this case, the instances are usually of an appalling nature, with the implication that radical reform is necessary.
Recently I was referred, within a few days, by my GP to a consultant. The consultation went according to plan and the outcome was satisfactory. I could cite other instances all of which lead me to conclude that NHS services are very good.
Are both these views extreme snapshots of the NHS landscape, or is one a more accurate picture than the other? My local NHS trust produces an annual report, the latest of which runs to 88 pages. It contains discussions of surveys which the trust has carried out to ascertain the level of patient satisfaction.
It discusses the number, though not the quality, of complaints made against the trust. It would appear that satisfaction is high and the number of complaints is decreasing. The overall picture is that the service is of a high standard and improving.
Obviously, the report is produced by the trust's management. I could not find a statement in it from a disinterested party to say the account was an accurate description. An independent audit of a trust's report would allay fears of bias.
Profit from the opium poppy
Esther Barton believes that legalising heroin would bring benefits to Afghanistan (Letter, 27 August). The opium poppy is not grown in Afghanistan because of some comparative advantage derived from soil conditions, climate or the specialist knowledge of farmers. The poppy is cultivated in Afghanistan because of the country's remoteness from the reach of law enforcement.
If the heroin trade were to be legalised opium poppy cultivation would move immediately to the fertile and accessible fields of Europe. Afghan farmers would face ruin.
Port Louis, Mauritius
Britain deserves Arabs' contempt
Settler violence and intimidation (Donald Macintyre, 27 August) has been widespread in the West Bank for decades. Britain and the vast majority of UN member states consider all these settlers to be illegal under international law.
So why in the past 40 years has no British prime minster had the courage to tell Israel the settlements must be dismantled unconditionally, in accordance with the Geneva Convention? What is Gordon Brown frightened of if he takes a stand for vulnerable people who suffer robbery? That he'll be accused of antisemitism? Or of failure to fall into line with Uncle Sam?
Or is the real truth that our leaders could not give tuppence for the fate of the Palestinians, even in the remnant of Palestine they inhabit? No wonder Britain is viewed with such well-deserved contempt across the Arab world.
John Strawson's argument that "the creation of Israel was the recognition by the international community that the two nations legitimately existed on Palestinian soil" reflects an oversimplified historical picture (letter, 21 August).
When Balfour promised Jews a homeland in Palestine in 1917 the Palestinian Arabs outnumbered the Jewish population by at least 13 to 1. In its infancy, therefore, the enterprise to found a Jewish state in Palestine faced a major dilemma: the territory was already populated.
One of the proposed solutions was the "transfer solution", a euphemism for the removal of Palestinians to neighbouring lands. That this was embraced at the highest level of leadership, including Ben Gurion, is well documented. They got their opportunity during the fighting in 1948. I have not yet come across a dispassionate historian, including the Zionist Benny Morris, who does not agree that Israeli paramilitary groups made it their business, sometimes using terror, to evict Palestinians from their homes.
There may be some who look forward to the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine problem. However the great pleasure I have of living on a multi-cultural island is undergirded by the realisation that the happiest states are plural, despite their problems. The strength of India lies in the fact that its Muslims rejected the two-state solution.
Countries that seek to impose racial and religious uniformity cannot flourish. At some point Israel and Palestinians need to grow up and live together.
The Rev Stephen Griffith
Titles for all
You comment on the German love of academic titles (26 August). As a student in Germany during the 1950s, I earned pocket money by giving English lessons. One of my pupils was the elderly widow of a pharmacist and her glorious title was Frau Doktor Apotheker-Witwe Weinbuch.
Westminster Councillor Daniel Astaire (letter, 28 August) said: "If we didn't have any CCTV cameras there would be a public outcry at the lack of security." I wonder what planet Cllr Astaire has been living on. The only support I suspect he hears for his millions of cameras is from his colleagues in council chambers. If he removed the cameras he would hear from the general public something quite different: it would sound initially like a huge sigh of relief and then would become a prolonged round of cheering.
Cricket in films
David Lister (26 August) wonders if there are any films about cricket. He might not have heard of Wondrous Oblivion, a film based on cricket made in 2003, because it contained no well-known stars, Delroy Lindo being the best known, and disappeared soon after release. It was well thought-of at Cannes, and part of it was filmed in a street around the corner from where I live in St Albans. I watched them filming for several days.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
First day of Christmas
This business of when we can start preparing for Christmas (28 August). Well, there must be a day in their diaries when the Pope, the Archbishop and Tony Blair plan to sit down, alone or with their spin doctors, to have a first shot at the messages of Peace and Goodwill which in due course will decorate our newspaper columns as surely as tinsel decorates our Christmas trees. If they would care to reveal their diary dates, we could regard that as the start of the season.
This summer, I cycled from Middlesbrough to St Tropez and back. In France, in every town and village, there are public taps supplying the traveller with potable water. In England there are none.
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