Letters: French media

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I agree with John Lichfield that the French media is unwaveringly supine ("Dominique Strauss-Kahn: what's in a reputation?", 17 May). Several commentators here were saying yesterday that they shouldn't even have been allowed to show the "violent images" of DSK in handcuffs.

But before we get too smug, we should remember the performance of the British and US media on Iraq, the biggest international story of recent years, of which recent revelations have reminded us. With few exceptions such as The Independent, the media heavyweights on both sides of the Atlantic allowed themselves to be totally duped by their governments and spin doctors on the crucial (non) elements of WMD and the (non) link between Saddam and 9/11. Oh, and they also lied about the position of the French government.

Even on the DSK story, the front pages were reporting his allegedly precipitate rush to the airport for a flight to Europe, while the business pages reported that he was to attend a Brussels meeting of EU finance ministers the following morning (which, erm, might have entailed his flying out of New York on Sunday) – yet precious few reports made the link.

Rod Chapman

Sarlat, France

Now that the position of IMF chief executive, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is looking untenable, and the search for a new head of the IMF will intensify, would David Cameron act in a statesmanlike way and accept that if Gordon Brown is nominated then he will not be vindictive enough to block Mr Brown's candidacy?

He needs to be reminded and so does the country that if it was not for Brown, the UK would have been in the eurozone long ago, and it was Brown's strict conditionality and commitment that saved us from having the euro as our currency. And after the global financial crisis, history will judge Brown and Alistair Darling as saviours of the UK banking system and the economy.

A T Noorani

London NW9

Has the United States been having a collective nervous breakdown and descending into barbarism ever since water-boarding at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? Two weeks ago we had the President and Hillary Clinton staring goggle-eyed at an execution. This week we have the French head of the IMF dragged unshaven in handcuffs into a courtroom that resembled a scene out of a Hogarth picture.

One lesson to be learnt is never to go to America, especially if you are French or a socialist; you might end up in chains.

Nicholas Wood

London NW3

Vilification of Clegg must stop

The Coalition does need to change, as Nick Clegg said in his speech on 11 May. We must make it clear what we agree and disagree on, but people need to see that Liberal Democrats are not Tories and not a party of the right. We can work together on tackling the deficit, while still taking forward our own party's priorities and values.

And yes, the Liberal Democrats were in the lead in identifying what was wrong with the economy long before the last election, as Vince Cable warned Blair and Brown about the banks in 1997.

The Liberal Democrats are curbing Conservative policies, much to the Tory right's dismay. Their promises to replace Trident in this parliament, cut inheritance tax for the most wealthy, renegotiate fundamental elements of the Lisbon treaty on social affairs, build more prisons, and replace the Human Rights Act have all been prevented by the Liberal Democrats.

But more important are the achievements made by the Liberal Democrats, which have been overshadowed by controversy over other issues. These are fundamental achievements, including cutting income tax, ending child detention, increasing pensions, free nursery education for disadvantage two-year-olds, more apprenticeships, increasing capital gains tax, reining in banks and creating a green bank. For a minority party to still get 75 per cent of our manifesto through in a coalition is certainly a feat on its own.

The vilification of Nick Clegg must stop now. There are two parties in this coalition. I look forward to having the old Nick Clegg back, confident in making clear the Liberal Democrat position, as well as being pluralist enough to work with the Conservative party on tackling the deficit.

Tracy Connell

Newcastle upon Tyne

The compiler of your concise crossword (16 May) seems to think that "unison" and "harmony" mean the same, whereas they are exact opposites. In harmony several voices sound different notes, making a pleasant sound. In unison all voices sing the same note. Perhaps Mr Cameron (and possibly also Mr Clegg) would do well to understand the difference.

Denis Ward

Reigate, Surrey

Andy McSmith (16 May) reports that Chris Huhne "is seen as a highly ambitious politician with his eye on Mr Clegg's job". A non sequitur, surely?



New dangers in Libyan impasse

The Libyan no-fly zone authorised by UN Resolution 1973 is for the purpose of protecting the lives of Libyan civilians. The resolution didn't authorise collateral damage, the term generals hide behind when their actions cause the death of the civilians they are fighting to protect.

So far Nato has been fortunate that little collateral damage has been caused by the bombings. However if General Richards and Liam Fox get their way and Nato starts bombing civilian infrastructure there will be a significant numbers of civilian casualties.

Gaddafi, by allowing foreign correspondences to report from Tripoli, is setting a trap for Cameron, Sarkozy and their junior partner Obama. He is allowing the reporters to remain so they would be able to report the deaths of civilians caused by Nato bombing. So far they have had few to report. Hopefully, Nato will not fall into his trap and will continue the policy of bombing only military targets and will not extend the air campaign to the bombing of Libyan infrastructure.

No one can deny the war is at an impasse. However, attempting to bring the impasse to an end by bombing civilian targets and causing the deaths of the very people the resolution was supposed to protect would cause world outrage. It would also strain the relationship of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. France, the UK and the US voted for the resolution, while Russia and China abstained.

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northamptonshire

Since being elected to power, Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party has had a fair press. How could that not be, after their massive victory? But once the referendum on independence is under way, there will be one almighty "No Independence" campaign to prevent the break-up of the United Kingdom.

The way things stand at the moment, or even in the next few years, there doesn't seem much of a chance of a Yes vote. But things could change quickly with remarks from William Hague that we should move in and remove Colonel Gaddafi. Have they learned nothing from Iraq and Afghanistan?

If this results in the UK being targeted by suicide bombers, and Mr Salmond then making the point about an independent Scotland being a safer place to live, with a good policy on immigration, Scottish public opinion could swiftly change.

John Connor

Dunfermline Fife

Hungary accepts Holocaust shame

Tony Paterson's disparaging article on Hungary is misleading (Notebook, 16 May). Before criticising the Hungarians for failing to acknowledge their country's part in the Holocaust, he should have done more than make a passing reference to the Holocaust Museum in central Budapest.

I visited it last month and was deeply moved and impressed. It is perhaps the best historical museum that I have ever visited, and almost certainly the most beautiful. Yet it shirks nothing of horror and shame. No one, after seeing it, could decently accuse the Hungarians of evading the truth. Why didn't Mr Paterson go there?

Hugh Brogan

Research Professor of History, University of Essex


Photos in the digital age

Fair point about photo albums ("Memories destroyed in a flash", 16 May). It has to be said, though, that the accumulation of generations-worth of photo-albums can be overwhelming.

I have now taken on albums that belonged to my great-grandparents and am getting seriously pushed for space. Not quite at the tunnel-burrowing stage, but it may not be far off. Maybe the cloud is what we all need in the long-term to free us from the tyranny of things.

Tom Elliott

London SW8

Digital photography and web-albums do not have to be the end of printed photographs. In the new digital age many companies offer photobooks. These come in a variety of sizes and cover options, and can be designed at home on the PC. I have been making them for almost two years now. They have a professional feel and appearance and take up far less space than the traditional album.

Christa Clemmetsen

Newcastle upon Tyne

Big problem with little horrors

Harriet Walker's piece on "parenthood" and unruly children (14 May) was the best thing I've read in months.

My favourite memory from a long list would be from a rare recent visit to the local vegan co-operative. As the three-foot monster dispatched another can down the aisle, mother was heard to inquire, gently from a distance: "Now, Justin, why don't we throw tins of beans at people?" Aaaagh!

Howard Davies


Those desiring quiet enjoyment of their lives, in public, free from unruly children, are neither right, nor wrong. Irritating noise and activity is simply a mark of a healthy toddler, a child who will one day have the misfortune to support us all in old age.

Perhaps your correspondents (16 May) should be urging all parents to do as I have and withdraw from life, in public, until the blighters are old enough to know what manners are for.

George Cooper


Southern hospitality

I agree with John Walsh's comments on the friendliness of the American South (Notebook 12 May).

This month my husband and I accidentally got on the wrong bus back to town from the New Orleans Jazz Fest grounds. The driver instructed us to "stay on the bus till everyone gets off". She then told her supervisor that she was "just taking some folks home". And she did; we rode the bus in splendour to our street. How's that for service?

Patricia Charvonia

London N14

End of the peers

I do not take as much interest as perhaps I should in the composition of the House of Lords. I am exercised, however, by what its members are called.

All the main political parties say they want to build a modern Britain. In this context it is absurd that members of the Upper House should become peers for life and wear opulent robes, while (if they are male and married) their wives become Lady and their children Honourable.

Gyles Cooper

London N10

Life and death

I was going to live today as though it were my last. However, having discovered that I have 38 years, two months and 24 days left ("The £400 test that tells you how long you'll live", 16 May), I think I'll just go back to bed.

Tony Mitchell

Twickenham, Middlesex

Second choice

Britain's second city (16 May)? Liverpudlians have no worries: they know it's London.

Terence Duffy


Perspectives on NHS reforms

American recipe for bureaucratic waste

I spent 35 years in the US, about five years as a consultant to the Federal Government working on medical issues.

The US medical system is very, very expensive. Medical expenditure in the US is around 15 per cent of GDP, as compared with around 7 per cent in Britain and our European neighbours. Any suggestion that privatising the NHS will lead to cost savings is absurd. The only people who benefit from a private system are large private hospitals, well-paid doctors, drug companies and insurance companies.

I was involved with the payments made to doctors and hospitals. The insurance companies want to ensure that they pay the minimum, so there are armies of bureaucrats to examine every claim with the view to "denying" it. Around 10 per cent of doctors and nurses in the US are employed to carry out this task. Any attempt to bring in private enterprise in the NHS will require the same kind of bureaucracy, with a corresponding increase in cost.

Having doctors "in charge" is an excellent idea, but this can be done very easily – just get rid of all the top managers in the primary care trusts and replace them with health professionals. A wise man once said to me that he could teach a doctor to be a manager in three months but he could never teach a manager to be a doctor.

However, as a patient, I certainly want my doctor to be "in charge" arranging my care in my interest, using medical judgement. This happens in the US because doctors are independent. In the NHS they are controlled from Whitehall by paying them according to how well they adhere to bureaucratic guidelines. They are therefore under pressure to conform so everyone gets the same treatment, suitable or not, so long as the statistics look good. Doctors need to be released from this overweening treatment.

John Day

Port Solent, Hampshire

A bad Bill forced through Parliament

The Government rejected all amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill during its committee stage. Further, the Liberal Democrats' Orange Book explicitly called for a social insurance scheme with private providers replacing the NHS. Yet now the Conservative leadership and the Liberal Democrats insist that there must be substantial changes to their Bill.

So the Government has wasted time and money forcing through an apparently defective bill. Would it not be refreshing if they owned up either to political expediency or to a genuine change of heart? Either way, the Health Secretary is shown to be incompetent, for he either misjudged the mood of medical practitioners and loyalty of colleagues or failed to grasp what is best for the NHS.

Peter Cave

London W1

Money can't buy you real care

Since January, my father-in-law has been eased through the final stages of his illness by an absolutely superb team of NHS carers and nurses, who enabled him to die peacefully at home. It was clear throughout that time that the standard of service provided by frontline staff was hugely enhanced by their obvious sense of commitment and connection within our community.

I contrast this with our government's pathological timidity in the face of our rapacious bankers, with their petulant threats, strategic mis-selling and craven dependence on "bonuses". Surely it is now time to reassert the idea of a social contract existing between the citizens of our nation and to recognise that those making a real contribution to our society do not measure reward in crude cash terms.

Gerron Stewart


Private not perfect

If the NHS in England is to become a purchaser from private providers it is worth reviewing past experience. With minimal exceptions, the NHS has always purchased pharmaceuticals from competing private industry using doctors as their agents. This comprises some 10 per cent of total NHS expenditure. Readers can look in their own bathroom cabinets and decide if this led to an efficient use of resources, elimination of waste and minimal prescribing.