While the expenses scandal has dominated the hearts and minds of MPs, the two major political parties appear to have overlooked the fact that an election is taking place next week which actually affects how we, the people, are represented in Europe.
To his shame, David Cameron has proposed that voters use the occasion as a referendum on the track record of the Labour Party, and in the Tory election broadcast on TV he managed to avoid the "E" word completely. On the other hand Gordon Brown appeared to whisper the dread word just once for fear of upsetting the Eurosceptic wing of his party too much and thereby avoided causing yet further dissent in the ranks. Of the three main parties in Parliament only the Liberal Democrats have been prepared to canvass on European issues.
Ironically it has been the myopic lunatic-fringe parties such as the UK Independence Party, the English Democrats Party and Libertas who have been only too happy to speak at length about Europe. Various spokes men have repeated ad nauseam well-known myths and explained how they intend to get "us" out of Europe and restore democracy to the UK, whatever that might mean.
The unfolding expenses scandal has already made the UK and its Parliament appear particularly undignified and UKIP have already shown what fools they can make of themselves in the European Parliament. If the Labour Party in particular, and other pro-Europeans wish to see the country dragged further through the mud they only have to sit back and do nothing for the next 10 days or so and their worst nightmares will be fulfilled.
Better a burglar than an MP
As a 94-year-old burglary victim and a taxpayer for nearly 70 years, I find the behaviour of MPs over their expenses disgusting.
The teenager who broke into my home and took a few pounds thought the house was empty and no doubt thought I could claim on my insurance. He caused no damage and was driven by an addiction, and when he was caught he admitted everything and has been sent to prison for his crime.
Compare that with our MPs, who have defrauded the taxpayer of tens of thousands of pounds, exploiting a system to line their own pockets. At worst they are playing the property market at our expense, at best they seem to be expecting us to pay for everything from dogfood to wide-screen TVs. These are educated, well-paid people in positions of trust and responsibility, keen to tell other people how to behave and able to make laws which affect every person in the land.
Who is the bigger villain?
Those electors concerned over MPs' expenses should realise that MPs are not paid as well as many other professional positions. A district judge in a county court earns around £75,000 per annum, and there are considerably fewer MPs than district judges. Most heads of district councils and health authorities earn in excess of £100,000 per annum. Wake up, some of you.
Newhaven, East Sussex
I think that people are fed up with hearing the continual message from MPs that they deserve to be paid more than the currently miserly £63,000, based on their skills and experience. This is patent nonsense.
The current parliament is probably one of the worst performing in history. All vacancies in Parliament are heavily over-subscribed; this suggests that, if anything, we are paying these people too much.
The idea that there could be some sort of terrible brain-drain to the private sector of highly able professional MPs is laughable. If they really believe that there are so many attractive options available, then let them go, if they can.
The allowances scandal has reassured me that the Tories are still the same old Tories. Unfortunately it has also confirmed that New Labour, in more ways than I had imagined, are really just another Tory party.
Relationships with students
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown ("A male poet wouldn't have been blamed for rough tactics", 25 May) is out of date in her picture of relationships between staff and students in higher education.
Since about the early 1990s, institutions have tended to have policies in place, not only on sexual harassment but on close personal relationships of any kind between a member of staff and a student.
Typically, these would have to be declared to a head of department, and steps would be taken to ensure that the member of staff did not mark or supervise the student's work. Not to declare a close personal relationship would be a serious disciplinary matter. Derek Walcott's "misdemeanours" took place decades ago, at a time when the cultural climate in academia was much more forgiving towards such relationships. It is somewhat unfair to judge him by the standards of today.
Lorraine M Harding
Steeton, West Yorkshire
Power to the people's peers
Richard Askwith cites the jury system as an example of direct democracy at work, but then, rather strangely, ignores the current role of citizens' juries in developing a new, more participatory, style of public deliberation ("People's peers can rescue politics", 25 May).
At present citizens' juries – panels of between 10 and 50 people randomly selected from the electoral register – tend to be used by local authorities as little more than glorified focus groups, a means of consulting community opinion on difficult issues. In this case the "jury" aspect is merely role-play. But, given teeth, for example, the power to subpoena witnesses and to reach binding decisions on planning applications, they could evolve into real instruments of direct democracy.
Citizens' jurors could be put on a special roll to be considered for selection as "people's peers". This would go some way to meeting the main objection to Askwith's proposal, by ensuring that those who did make it to the second chamber by this route were strongly motivated people with highly relevant experience
London N 19
Can Cheney be made to tell all?
Perhaps Dick Cheney ("The bruiser back from the political dead", 22 May) should consider placing himself on an an officially approved enhanced interrogation schedule. I'm not completely convinced that he is telling us everything he knows, and I would like to be reassured.
Stenton, East Lothian
If the interrogation techniques sanctioned at Guantanamo Bay are such a valuable tool and capable of "saving lives" from the evidence they produce, then why do those who hail the benefits not call for the techniques to also be made available to the US police for employment against suspects arrested for such crimes as murder and child molestation?
Cheney's support of torture as a way of preventing further terror attacks contrasts oddly with the operation by the New York police that demonstrably stopped a terrorist outrage, as described two pages earlier in the same issue. ("Undercover operation foiled Bronx bomb plot", 22 May)
The plot was foiled using intelligent policing; intelligence being the key concept. It is an element clearly missing from Cheney's brutal armoury.
Visa staff have a lot to put up with
Reading the succession of highly critical letters about visa issuing staff at overseas posts, I have vainly looked for a response from senior managers in this country.
Rudeness in any circumstances cannot be condoned, but rigorous inquiries and double-checking can easily be defended in the light of the extent of deception employed in order to secure a visa, including a high level of forgery and bogus documentation. When the scale of abuse, intimidation and threat of physical violence is taken into account it is not surprising that some staff do not always measure up to the highest standards of behaviour.
It should not be left to someone who has been retired for nearly 20 years to point out the facts of life.
When I was in charge of the Immigration Service I made a point of visiting pressure posts abroad on a regular basis. Perhaps my successors think they have better things to do with their time, but if any of them had taken the trouble to visit Lagos in particular they would not have found it difficult to refute the nonsensical claim by Avo Hughes (letter, 8 May) that expatriate wives fill in the time between the school run and the cocktail hour by dealing with visa applications.
Lagos was and still is a dangerous and intimidating place to work and live; I recall querying the need for toughened glass partitions between visa issuing staff and their clients, only to see the answer for myself while observing a typical working day.
It is true that evenings are spent socialising with colleagues, but there is not much in the way of alternative entertainment and there is the ever-present awareness of the necessity of retreating behind the very stringent security arrangements to ensure their personal safety. The school run is several thousand miles away in the UK.
(Head of the UK Immigration Service, 1981-1991)
Does it not occur to John A Fidler (letter, 12 May) that pulling rank is a most unsavoury form of bullying? Does it not occur to him that the questions that this "officious youth" asked were probably set out for him by his own Grade 6 superiors.
Probably he had a target time for the interview and trouble if he didn't meet it. If he was rude or inept, the constant battering from a rude, threatening and devious public encourages like behaviour in any but the best.
Good guys' nukes
While it is right that any nuclear test, including that carried out by North Korea, should be deplored, why is it that some countries, including Britain and the US, see the upgrading of their own nuclear weapons and delivery systems as being perfectly legitimate? The answer of course is that being in the hands of the self-styled good guys makes them 100 per cent defensive and hence perfectly legitimate.
Walsham le Willows, Suffolk
Plenty of help
May I suggest to Michael Foss (letter, 21 May) that having several MEPs representing him in the European Parliament has the advantage that he can write to all of them, whatever their political allegiance, to ask for their help in whatever problem he wishes them to address? If he uses post or email, he can even contrive to address them all individually. Finding out who represents each constituency merely requires access to the website www. europarl.org.uk.
I enjoy Janet Street-Porter's column, but I must disagree with her about becoming a mother at the age of 66 (20 May). Would Ms Street-Porter really have wanted a mother of 80 when she was 14? The likelihood is that this child will spend most of its teenage years either looking after an elderly mother or as an orphan. The case of older fathers is not the same, as most of them have much younger partners.
The car scrappage scheme, whereby owners of cars more than ten years old are induced to trade them in for a new one at a £2000 discount, is half-baked and should be changed to cars more than one year old. The Government must instruct the car makers to make the bodies out of low-grade chipboard so that even if the owners attempt to prolong the life of them by frequent applications of creosote, old chip fat, flattened beer cans and pop rivets etc, rain and damp will reduce them to pulp within about a year.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes succeeded in climbing Everest, a great achievement. He did not, as you reported (22 May), "conquer" Everest. Nobody has. Man cannot stay on the summit. He is dying at a faster rate than normal once he enters the death zone. All a climber can hope for is an ascent and a descent where Everest allows them to survive to tell the tale. She should be treated with respect.
Dundonald, South Ayrshire