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Saturday 16 May 2009
Letters: Freedom and speed camera technology
When sane men become 'beleaguered motorists'
Terence Blacker's article of 12 May apparently discusses "freedom" in relation to the proposed use of speed-control devices on cars – and by inference to the apparent impact on freedom of what he calls, "spying" speed cameras.
He states: "Here is a small but perfectly formed example of the way modern technology seduces us into giving up one freedom after another." Later he refers to the "freedom" to drive one's car and states: "The arguments used for greater regulation in this case are becoming worryingly familiar."
He does not seem to understand that regulations relating to speed limits already exist and have done for many years. The new technology does not propose new regulations, or impact on our freedom. It merely assists drivers in conforming to existing regulations.
If Terence Blacker believes that a driver should have the "freedom" to go at whatever speed he or she likes on the roads then he ought to argue for the removal of speed limits, rather than knock a piece of technology which will assist in adherence to the existing, approved and sensible laws on speed limits.
It never ceases to amaze me how, when considering the driving or parking of our beloved cars, the normally rational individual becomes completely irrational and, as he states, a "beleaguered motorist".
Political idealists – we're not extinct
Your recent correspondence on MPs' expenses suggests a general view that MPs are not paid enough and there is no longer any such thing as disinterested public service. I disagree.
MPs should be paid at a level where they would understand how people feel when council tax goes up 2 per cent above inflation, where they might have some inkling of what it is like to be a single parent and where they cannot be tempted to come into the job to make a killing. I believe we would still get sufficient, genuine and effective applicants who want to do something worthwhile for society, perhaps more women even.
Pay for higher-level managerial jobs has gone mad in the UK; the doctors' £100,000 pa for no longer working week-ends was an incredible mistake, and local authorities have been conned into paying wildly over the odds for chief executives et al. They will always claim they will go to a mystery place called "elsewhere" if not paid enough. Well, why not test it out.
County councillors are mainly paid an allowance equivalent to about one sixth of an MP's salary, and most do many hours of demanding and stressful constituency work, much of it face to face, and tackle difficult issues in committees and working groups, too. They get nothing else except travel and subsistence, unless they are leaders of groups. Parish councillors get nothing at all but do the job to support and improve their locality. (Well, I did get some good nibbles and a beer when we met neighbouring parish councillors recently; talk about sleaze). Neither category gets much thanks, if any, but are satisfied if they achieve something worthwhile for the community.
The furore over MPs' expenses hasn't yet focused on the payments which many MPs, government ministers and shadow ministers get from private firms. For instance Labour MP Adam Ingram has accepted payments of at least £145,000 a year from firms. Some of these got contracts from the Ministry of Defence while he was a minister in that department. These payments create a conflict of interest which may well result in governments granting contracts to these firms which are very favourable to those firms and very unfavourable to the taxpayer – PFIs and "Public Private Partnerships" being one example and the semi-privatised rail network another.
If we really want to clean up parliament then we need a law making it a criminal offence for MPs and ministers to accept payments other than their salaries and reduced expenses. We also need to ban "revolving door" syndrome where former company executives and advisers become MPs, ministers or special advisers to ministers – or vice-versa. A law banning any former government minister from working for or receiving payments from a firm their ministry gave contracts to for five years would be a start. You can sign a petition online at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/MPsconsultancy/
Carluke, South Lanarkshire
Given that when MPs are elected they are "sent" from their constituency to serve their constituents at Westminster, their primary home should always be in that constituency. Any home in London is temporary.
I am appalled by the scale of mainstream media's coverage of MPs' expenses and the resulting widespread public anger and outrage.
What is far worse morally and financially, by any standards, was MPs voting to take us into an illegal war in Iraq, with the appalling humanitarian consequences. Yet the extent of media coverage and public outrage over this war has been far less. There is something seriously wrong with our society's values.
For David Cameron to claim that there has been a lack of leadership from the PM over expenses beggars belief. In a panic about the "grandee revelations", Cameron, tactically, attempts to shift attention to make this a matter about Brown's leadership.
Had Cameron wished to show leadership he might have given up the right to £80,000-worth of taxpayers' money over four years, to pay for mortgage interest on his second home. When everyone else in this country is means-tested when they want to claim financial support from the state, wealthy politicians like Cameron could cover second home costs from private sources.
Transparency is a word Mr Cameron uses rather a lot, but the main relevance of the word at the moment is that the public are beginning to see right through him.
David Cameron shows his class and background, and that of his colleagues, when he insists that they pay back large sums of money as if this is an example that all party leaders should follow. What about those MPs who live on their salary and have no other income, or access to private funds? Let them eat cake?
Politicians are more hated now than at any time within living memory. There is a real danger that the extreme right will gain significantly from this. I only hope that before it is too late, the genuine Labour people can seize back control of the Party from these slaves to free-market capitalism in the leadership of New Labour, and turn it back to the honest political party committed to fairness and equality that its founders intended it to be.
It's very worrying to think that, in this environment of mistakes, accounting oversights and inadvertent errors on the part of our esteemed leaders, many of them may have been too busy or confused to claim all of the monies for which they are eligible.
Let's hope that any inquiry into matters of expenses reveals these oversights and remedies such a state of unfairness as rapidly as possible.
Zionism and the Jewish state
It is vacuous to assert, as Howard Jacobson does (9 May), that "Zionists agreed only on the necessity to escape the grinding fretfulness of an unceasing anti-Semitism etc". This would have been insufficient to distinguish them from the Bundists and Jewish Bolsheviks, who also opposed anti-Semitism.
What united early Zionists was the project of a Jewish state. Mainstream Zionism accepted anti-Semitism as an ineluctable fact of life – to be accommodated through flight and not actively opposed. What was obvious to Zionists then was that there could be no recruits to the project on the basis that Jews should uproot themselves in order to go and live among Arabs rather than Russians or Poles – why bother? In any case one cannot have a Jewish state in any meaningful sense in a place where the majority of citizens are not Jewish. In other words the Jewish state had to be more or less exclusively Jewish, the dispossession of Arabs being a necessary and implicit, and occasionally explicit, part of the project.
Admittedly, Zionism was a diverse movement early on, but it was above all practical. The logic of Jewish statehood, coupled with an acceptance of anti-Semitism as an essential part of the gentile makeup, meant that the purely cultural, religious or idealist forms Zionism fell by the wayside.
Contrary to the claims of David McDowall's letter (11 May), transfer has never been an aspiration of mainstream Zionism, which aims to create a democratic, Jewish state in Israel in which Arabs have equal rights. This is a central theme of Herzl's utopian novel, Altneuland. It is a principle enshrined in Israel's 1948 Declaration of Independence, and remains at the heart of Israeli consensus.
It was rather the Arab states around Israel who for many years wished to forcibly remove the Jews and eradicate the Jewish state, and sought to do so in 1948 and in 1967.
It was the British Labour Party NEC that adopted a policy to encourage Arabs to leave Palestine to make way for Jews in 1944. The Zionist movement never took this up as a serious proposal, and welcomed the UN partition plan of 1947 to create Jewish and Arab states in mandatory Palestine – which the Arabs rejected. The Palestinian refugee problem is an unwelcome consequence of the war the Arabs started with the aim of destroying Israel.
CEO, Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre), London W1
Smart utilities meters will not help stop climate change (report, 12 May). A revision of the charging system for use of energy would be more effective. If the standing charge were eliminated and the payment system started at a low threshold increasing incrementally with the amount of energy consumed, the economical user would benefit and the "gas guzzler" pay heavily.
Vince Cable and others are calling for bank bonuses to be given in shares, redeemable some years in the future rather than in cash payable now. But this won't work because the recipients will simply hedge against movements in their company's share price, ensuring that they win whatever the outcome. Better would be to insist that bonuses are paid as a percentage of the tax paid by their companies over that period of time. These highly paid people are very keen to point out how their work benefits the country's economy, so they should be delighted by this proposal.
Stone Age Venus
I find it interesting that Paul Mellars of Stony Brook university describes the characteristics of the recently discovered "Venus figurine" as "sexual" (report, 15 May): I would have said "generative". Yet again, I wish I could go back in time and speak to the Stone Age artist, to ask what word she would have used.
Police causing crime?
You report that the police have had success in reducing the smuggling of drugs into the UK (13 May). The next day I read in your pages about a possible crime wave. Could these two events be connected? Since much crime is drug-related and a reduction of supply increases the price of drugs on the street, it is clear that the drug addicts will need to steal more to satisfy their habit. So maybe any increase in crime will be the effect not of the credit crunch, but of the success of our war against drugs.
One can only ruefully agree that Mesdames Gandhi, Meir and Thatcher were just as warmongering as their male counterparts (letters, 15 May). Sadly, the male voice is still predominant and women who are willing to rattle the sabre are the only ones with any chance of election to the highest offices. But this situation is changing, albeit with glacial slowness. The raising of female consciousness and the beginnings of equality over recent decades are bringing about profound cultural changes that are leading to respect for women's values and ways of resolving conflict, including cooperation instead of confrontation.
BBC head of religion
Surely the post of BBC head of religion should go to someone truly independent: an atheist (report, 13 May).
Dr David Wheeler
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