How the EU is meeting the threat of the far right
Sir: John Lichfield is right when he says that "the containment of the far right in Europe is beyond the EU alone," but he does, perhaps, underestimate the contribution the EU can make to this fight ("Strong EU needed in fight against xenophobes", 16 January).
The Commission is determined to make full use of its powers to adopt measures that protect individuals and communities from racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Expected youth and education programmes aside, these powers are exerted through legislation. The Commission is striving towards the full implementation of the anti-discrimination Directive. The Television without Frontiers Directive bans hate speech and clearly prohibits incitement to hatred on grounds of race, sex, religion or nationality.
The Commission is also making all efforts to put the Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia back on the Council's table. One only hopes that the German Presidency will take up this challenge and facilitate the adoption of a meaningful text.
As for MEPs, the rise of extremism has brought racism into mainstream European politics. "No holds barred" debates can be counter-productive, especially when the media persists in allowing stereotypical extremist voices to dominate coverage. There is no question of derogating from the right to free speech, but moderate MEPs must take ownership of the diversity debate back from the far-right movements. Only then can we have a rational and sensitive dialogue; and only then will European society unite and flourish in diversity.
SAJJAD H KARIM MEP
(LIB DEM, NORTH-WEST OF ENGLAND), VICE- PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ANTI-RACISM AND DIVERSITY INTERGROUP, BRUSSELS
Will the Whitehall database work?
Sir: Johann Hari's article on a centralised Whitehall database (15 January) did not address one of the major reservations we should have about such a project. The civil liberty arguments might be challenged on the grounds of a greater good but the key issues are competence and security.
Could any government deliver such a project at a reasonable cost? Too many IT projects have gone over budget and then the Government pays the contractor even more to put it right! How long would the technology that stores the information last before it was rendered obsolete by new developments, and then how easily could the data be transferred? Could a system be devised that would not in time be corrupted?
If all data about an individual is stored in one place, does that not make identity fraud so much easier for the determined criminal? Dispersed information is a better guarantee of individual freedom that an information supermarket where everything is on display.
WOLSINGHAM, CO DURHAM
Sir: Almost all the oppressive regimes of past and present are very low-tech, most relying on paper files and informants. You don't need high technology to oppress people; and conversely, if you have the technology it doesn't mean you have to use it oppressively. It isn't that we shouldn't be wary, but it's more important to be wary of the motivation rather than the equipment.
Sir: A woman, of blameless character, is the innocent driver in a road accident. She is routinely asked to provide a breathalyser sample but, although trying her best, because of shock and anxiety is unable to complete the test. She is arrested and taken to a police station where a satisfactorily completed breath test is completely negative. Nevertheless, a record of her arrest, DNA and fingerprints are now held permanently.
Before retiring from general practice I had a small number of patients with medical histories and/or drug regimes of potential importance in the event of further illness or accident. Those who did were encouraged, using a well-known voluntary organisation, to obtain a bracelet or necklet carrying vital information. A wallet card with considerable detail was also provided.
No compelling arguments have been put forward to justify the need either to collect so much information uncritically or to hold it in the manner presently proposed. Data may be inaccurate or misleading; it will all be easily open to misuse. Experience tells us it will, inevitably, be misused, both by official agencies and by individuals.
DR GERRY JACKSON
Sir: Johann Hari quotes Isaiah Berlin in regard to negative and positive liberty, and applauds the new super databases as the state promotion of positive liberty.
Berlin's distinction comes in an essay on the great liberal thinker Benjamin Constant. Constant would never have endorsed handing over to the state the powers over individual lives proposed by the Government. On the contrary he exposes the sleight of hand involved in Rousseau's Social Contract - which is the foundation for this centralising Labour Government.
As he put it, "Party men, however pure their intentions, always find it repugnant to limit their sovereignty." And Berlin himself summarised the matter: "Unlimited authority in anybody's grasp [is] bound, sooner or later, to destroy somebody."
These Government databases are the scaffolding for a later full-blown dictatorship.
DR DAVID SPOONER
Sir: Johann Hari is missing one vital ingredient from his argument about the Government's proposals for a central database. I suspect that many people, like myself, would not want to make it too easy for the Government while we have an electoral system that can give rise to a virtual dictatorship after an election in which less than a quarter of the electorate vote for the winning party.
New Labour's 1997 election manifesto included a referendum to be held on reform of the electoral system for the House of Commons, but the new government reneged on that promise. If we had a fair voting system for the House of Commons, then there would be sufficient checks and balances to keep charismatic but flawed leaders in touch with reality. With our first-past-the-post system as it is, I and many others simply do not trust them and would not want any strengthening of their means to interfere in our lives.
Sir: The Government propose to keep personal details of everyone on a super computer. The government are also encouraging voting by computer in future national and local elections. We can be sure that there will be no link between these computers. Or can we ?
BURY ST EDMUNDS, SUFFOLK
Sir: Do you trust Tony Blair with changes that abolish your most vital human rights? Has his honesty and openness, his response to public concern, or his willingness to accept criticism impressed you enough to give him even more control over your lives?
If not, you should oppose the underhanded moves to bring in a database of personal data, a national identity register and ID cards which are only in use in a few undemocratic countries.
And if you think Gordon Brown will protect your rights better, you deserve what you get.
J R GAFFIERO
CPS embraces ethnic diversity
Sir: You suggest the Crown Prosecution Service has made "limited progress in combating racism" in the last five years ("CPS faces race discrimination claims from its own barristers", 15 January).
This paints a picture that is very outdated. The CPS has moved on substantially since then, as HM CPS Inspectorate recognised in its report on equality and diversity last November. That report concluded that "significant progress is being made" and that "the necessary commitment to change and leadership [is] in place at the highest levels". The inspectorate found evidence of strong leadership and commitment to equality and diversity and clear equality and diversity strategy and policies.
We have successfully tackled the under-representation of black and minority ethnic staff at senior grades. The proportion of black and minority ethnic staff that we employ is higher than the civil service average and above that of other criminal justice agencies.
A recent staff survey indicated the proportion of staff who feel they are treated with fairness and respect is higher than the benchmark for all organisations. Many of our new staff spontaneously mentioned that our approach to equality and diversity in the workplace was more comprehensive than previous employers.
We also have external endorsement of our work, including securing the CRE-Law Society race equality award for best public sector employer in 2005-06. I recognise there is more to do and we are confident that we will achieve it.
SIR KEN MACDONALD QC
DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS LONDON EC4
Flaw in NHS management
Sir: You are absolutely correct that GPs have been hugely over rewarded in recent years, and right to point out that a badly negotiated contract is near the heart of the matter (leading article, 12 January). Not only did we GPs whinge our way to such a bonanza but we have profited before and since from light-touch to non-existent contract managing.
This is why your conclusion, that a more free market is needed in primary care, is wrong. If we can do it, then the multinationals queuing to enter the fray will run costly rings around weak NHS "management". The stark contrast between profit and care will become even more shocking.
DR TIM WINCH
A fair formula for creating peers
Sir: There is a simple and immediate way that the Prime Minister could satisfy those critics wanting him to give up patronage powers with respect to the Lords ("Blair criticised for trying to keep PM's right to nominate peers", 12 January). This need not await the long-stalled package of major reform, or agreement over the proportion of the chamber that should be elected.
The current House of Lords Appointments Commission was established in 2000 by Downing Street press release rather than by legislation. Just as easily Tony Blair could announce that he was handing responsibility for choosing political appointees to the Commission, as was recommended by the Wakeham Royal Commission in 1999.
If this is too radical (it probably is) we could at least shift to a process whereby the parties provide a shortlist from which the Commission can choose. More importantly, Number 10 could surrender control of when appointments are made, and how many go to each party, to the Commission - it would be easy to agree a formula for this that was generally seen as fair.
In one step this would enhance trust in the appointments process, in the House of Lords, and perhaps even in the Prime Minister. If presented as a stopgap (as was the original creation of the Commission) it need not have any adverse effects on future more major reform.
DR MEG RUSSELL
SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, THE CONSTITUTION UNIT, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON
A Union nobody seems to want
Sir. Being English I find it hard to understand why Scottish independence would be such a disaster for us (Bruce Anderson, 15 January). Why are we propping up a Union that doesn't seem of much advantage to the English and many Scots apparently don't want?
A good example is the Balkans. People who didn't want to live together are now running their own countries with mainly a single religious or ethnic group in reasonable harmony.
Let the Scots go if they want. Gordon Brown can just run a single country - England.
Sir: If Great Britain were split into Scotland and England-and-Wales, how would territories such as Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and the Falklands be divided up? Would the citizens of those territories have any say? And what would happen if neither Scotland nor England wanted to remain united with Northern Ireland, or any other part of the ex-Empire still ruled by Westminster?
Sir: Mr Blair wants the British to be "warfighters" as well as "peacekeepers". Surely there is a third way: that of peacemakers ?
Sir: We've just lost the Ashes, our rugby team is in disarray only weeks before the start of the Six Nations championship and our footballers are a laughing stock. But according to Graham Sinclair (letter, 16 January), we can still teach the world a thing or two about hanging a man by the neck until he is dead. That certainly put a spring in my step.
J E S BRADSHAW
Sir: I share Mr Leney's annoyance at the impertinent familiarity with which one is now regularly addressed by strangers (letter, 15 January). Worst of all are e-mails that jump in with "Hi Andor". Surprisingly however, the "Dear Andor Gomme" form dates back at least to the early 19th century. Some of the letters written to his dealer-friend Colnaghi by John Constable, as upright a gentleman as one could find, start "Dear Dominic Colnaghi".
PROFESSOR ANDOR GOMME
Our own enemies
Sir: Martin Amis is right to be depressed at the slogan "We are all Hizbollah now" (You Ask the Questions, 15 January). Sympathy for "the enemy" is a disturbing consequence of Bush-Blair policies and actions - some of them outrageous. Bush-Blair's legacy - especially Iraq, Guantanamo and Israel's sustained attack on Lebanon - has politicised many. The sympathy won by Saddam Hussein because of the manner in which he was tried and executed is a measure of the absurdity of our current predicament. The "Hizbollah" protesters were being ironic; I imagine that they felt depressed too.
M L J BLATCHLY
Footprint over the ocean
Sir: I would like to support Tony Blair in his efforts to reduce his carbon footprint. When he travels to America to deliver his lecture tour, he could easily cut his emissions by half - by not coming back.
CHEADLE, CHESHIREReuse content