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Thursday 23 March 2006
Letters: Foreign policy
Blair's 'moral' foreign policy fails to convince the world
Sir: Tony Blair's foreign policy speech on Tuesday again shows the false dichotomy that he has set up between democracy and terrorism, as he tries to persuade us that the two are polar opposites. They are not. The two are different sorts of things. Terrorism, according to some definitions, has been, on occasion, a pathway to democracy, as in South Africa. Terrorism is what is apt to occur when normal political dialogue collapses between an oppressor and a liberator.
In all the Prime Minister's neo-liberal speechmaking, the concept of imperialism never appears; nor does the idea that emerging democracies might not particularly want to be in the pocket of American capitalists. Blair just does not see that the time of British and American hegemony over the world is passing. Neither power is seen as an idealistic party any more: American foreign policy is heavily influenced by right-wing Washington think-tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute; neoconservatism is heavily weighted against Arab and Muslim political rights; and New Labour Britain will grovel as far as it can to support far-right America. This is a long way from President Woodrow Wilson's disinterested idealism, or Fenner Brockway's Movement for Colonial Freedom.
The imperative at this time is for Britain and America to put their own houses in order, not to unleash weaponry around the world to impose their unconvincing moral values.
Rich donors and the cost of politics
Sir: Bruce Anderson's desire to turn the House of Lords into an out-and-out plutocracy ("What's so wrong with making peers of rich men?", 20 March), though perhaps not surprising given the current fashion for the blind adulation of businessmen, is surely retrogressive - as his own admiring reference to the political views of an 18th-century prime minister suggests.
"Mightily successful" businessmen may well have something to contribute to the Lords' debates. However, they are totally unrepresentative of most of the country's population; the very rich live lives which are completely out of touch with the experiences and needs of most of the electorate, as the sorry saga of Tessa Jowell and her husband demonstrates. Wealthy businessmen already wield ample influence over government. Why should they be over-represented in Parliament as well?
DR ANDY KING
CARRVILLE, CO DURHAM
Sir: Robert Edwards (Letters, 22 March) does well to remind us of the pernicious effect marketing techniques have had on the very nature of politics. General elections are now fought mainly on television, in national newspapers and from countrywide hoarding sites. Such debate as there is comes via "star" performers chosen largely for their appearance and an ability to make the anodyne banalities of election manifestos meaningful. Local constituency participation appears to consist mainly of pushing centrally produced leaflets through letter boxes, with a photograph of the local candidate on the cover.
The entire event is perceived by the voter as happening entirely in a media-world to which he has access only through a switch or via the pages of a probably partisan newspaper. Politics, like soap opera, is something that happens in a parallel universe.
The abandonment of marketing methods would do much to re-establish a real public discourse in the political arena, and perhaps strengthen the position of each locally known, locally chosen and locally valued Member of Parliament.
Sir: All credit to Jack Dromey for standing up for accountability and transparency by lifting the lid on secret party funding. With millions donated to all three Westminster parties, the public will not be conned into thinking that money doesn't buy influence. Tory, Labour and Lib Dem credibility and independence has been thrown into serious jeopardy and the message must be to stop the rot.
The Green Party's income is based on membership subscriptions and we reject corporate sponsorship. This certainly puts us at a financial disadvantage, but by refusing to risk compromising our principles, we can retain our core values. A cap should be imposed on party donations and party spending, and state funding of all political parties will ensure a fairer system which won't favour the party with the biggest bank balance.
In the current climate of voter apathy, sleaze does nothing to convince the public to visit the ballot box. State funding offers an opportunity to strengthen UK democracy so that the electorate can choose from a wide range of parties whose policies are based on genuine and committed strategies to address social and environmental injustice.
Let us hope that this episode is sufficiently embarrassing to induce the necessary political will to combat financial corruption for good.
GREEN PARTY PRINCIPAL SPEAKER LONDON N19
Sir: The Labour Party's hypocrisy in using "loans" to avoid its own much-trumpeted legislation on political donations is properly to be condemned. However, so is your headline and Mark Steel's cheap attack on Sir Gulam Noon ("The Gulam Noon curry paste Labour Party", 22 March). His food factories are state-of-the-art, providing good jobs largely for ethnic minorities from otherwise deprived communities. His insistence upon the proper treatment of women, his encouragement of home ownership, and his stand against Islamic extremism all deserve our praise.
I may not agree with his politics but that's nothing compared with my visceral anger at the lazy leftie arrogance of columnists who equate public service unions with the public interest and make snobbish foodie jibes at decent employers whose major crime seems to be their success. Gulam Noon would make a thoughtful contribution to the House of Lords and should be given the opportunity to do so.
JOHN GUMMER MP
(SUFFOLK COASTAL, CON) HOUSE OF COMMONS
Sir: If the three main political parties will publish estimates of their proposed election expenses in advance of the next general election, we promise to vote for whichever party says it will spend the least.
GIGGLESWICK, NORTH YORKSHIRE
The only answer to Sudoku puzzles
Sir: Andrew Horsman (letter, 22 March) is mistaken if he thinks that the "advanced" Sudoku puzzle on 20 March has an ambiguous answer.
After reading his letter I entered the puzzle into my own computer program so that I could analyse its solution. In the penultimate stages of its simplification Mr Horsman is correct in saying that the "5 8" pair occurs in columns 4 and 5 of row 5 but incorrect in saying that this pair also occurs in the same columns of the bottom row. Indeed, at this late stage, the possibilities for column 4 of the bottom row are "4 5 8", but this triple ultimately resolves into being a "4" as a result of simplifications of pairs and triples elsewhere in the puzzle.
Ambiguous solutions to Sudoku are certainly possible if the initially given pattern of numbers is "under-specified" in some way. However, I am fairly confident that the puzzle compiler, Mark Huckvale, will be using a computer program for help in setting them and also in checking the solutions very carefully before they ever get printed.
PROFESSOR DAVID BRAILSFORD
SCHOOL OF COMPUTER SCIENCE AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM
Sir: Andrew Horsman is right to suspect that some sudoku puzzles have more then one solution. But while it is possible to create puzzles where digits in the solution can be swapped, these are just bad puzzles. I can confirm that The Independent's puzzles only have one solution, and this includes the Advanced puzzle of 20 March. I understand how Mr Horsman made a mistake, but if the readers lose faith in the puzzle setter, what future is there for a puzzle based on logic?
Sir: Unlike Andrew Horsman, I'm not too bothered by the uniqueness or otherwise of the solutions; what bugs me is that I often (as today) steam through the Advanced version but can't solve the Elementary! Do you sometimes mis-label them or am I going slightly mad?
Water shortage down the drain
Sir: The current preoccupation with saving water is very commendable, but the public should be made aware that there could be a downside. Our drainage and sewage systems are designed to operate efficiently at an optimum flow rate of water relative to the amount of solid matter and paper. If this flow rate is too low, especially in older systems, then solids may accumulate and cause blockages.
So if you have fitted water-saving devices to all your flushing systems and if you follow all the other well-intentioned advice, such as sharing a bath and then using the bath water on the lawn, you could be subjecting your drains to drought conditions and risking a nasty blockage.
Now might be a good time to invest in the manufacturers of water meters and water butts, but don't forget to invest also in a selection of drain cleaning companies.
CHICHESTER, WEST SUSSEX
Ethical dilemmas for doctors in war
Sir: Dr John Brooke (letter, 21 March) supports Flt Lt Dr Kendall-Smith in his brave refusal to obey orders relating to returning to Iraq.
All professions have a regulatory body to oversee the behaviour of members. What is the role of the General Medical Council with regard to a doctor in the armed forces obeying instructions to perform acts illegal or contrary to the principles of his profession? Is working with the military in an illegal war a justification for striking a doctor off the register?
The GMC should speak out as to the correct behaviour for a doctor in these circumstances. I am sure I am not alone in feeling shame in the lack of support Dr Kendall-Smith is getting from the GMC and his colleagues. If all military doctors had refused to serve in Iraq, the UK could not have gone to this illegal war and occupation.
C J BURNS-COX MD FRCP
CONSULTANT PHYSICIAN WOTTON-UNDER-EDGE, GLOUCESTERSHIRE
Sir: I note that Dr John Brooke (Letters, 21 March) renounced his British citizenship three years ago in protest at Britain being a "criminal" country, his view presumably being that Britain acted in breach of international law in taking part in the invasion of Iraq. While his principled stand is commendable, it is interesting to note that he should choose to take citizenship of France, a country that is famous for its ability to ignore any European Union laws it does not much care for.
A thousand years of England's history
Sir: Peter Arnold (letter, 16 March) says that the North-east began to be part of England only in 1603. But the first history of England was written by the Venerable Bede in Jarrow in the eighth century, and Bede writing in 703 certainly had no doubt England existed and that Northumbria was part of it.
And when William the Conqueror came in 1066, he certainly had no doubt that he ruled Northumberland and Durham.
For Mr Arnold to suggest England should be broken up into competing regions as part of a British devolution settlement ignores that England is a nation and has been united for more than 1,000 years. As such, England's national identity should be treated with the same respect as that of Scotland or Wales.
Scotland and Wales are not regions. Northumbria is not a nation. To try to regard regionalisation of England as somehow equivalent to Scottish and Welsh devolution is insulting to all three nations.
Sir: I'm not surprised that the National Museum of Photography, Film and TV has suffered a 30 per cent drop in attendance if it has the world's first negative image (report, 22 March).
Sir: How the times have changed. Simon Turnbull's triumphant piece deriding the failure of the Australian males in the pool provided a window to the English sporting soul ("Hosts sink from sight as Britannia rules waves", 20 March). It was the Aussies who previously hid their lack of confidence in the world with their sporting bravado. Now the English are gloating about the failure of another team, rather than the success of their own. The medal table makes it even more embarrassing.
Sir: David Harris asks (letter, 22 March) why it is acceptable to neuter animals but not to dock their tails. Apart from the thousands of unwanted animals there would be above what we already have, there is the irrefutable evidence that neutering prevents uterine infections, mammary tumours, ovarian tumours, prostatic tumours, testicular tumours, all of which are potentially fatal, not to mention prostatic hyperplasia, prostatitis, anal tumours and perineal hernias, which all require medical or surgical intervention. There is no scientific evidence at all to support tail docking.
EMMA MILNE BVSC MRCVS
FOUNDER, VETS AGAINST DOCKING YORK
Sir: In the 19th century, Queen Victoria ordered the deletion of Bolivia from Foreign Office maps at the time of a conflict in which Britain helped Chile divest Bolivia of its coastline. Times have changed, but today, in an article on that unfortunate country (21 March), your journalist referred to the "tiny Andean nation". Bolivia is five times the size of the United Kingdom. I can only imagine the indignation if the UK were described as a "tiny European country" (which it of course is).
Sir: I was intrigued to read about Susan Sarandon and "her acting husband, Tim Robbins". Sadly, your article (21 March) did not enlighten us as to whether Mr Robbins hopes to secure the position on a more permanent basis.
DUDLEY, WEST MIDLANDS
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