You quote the Prime Minister: "What happened is completely unacceptable. This is not the way that we raise money in the Conservative Party. It shouldn't have happened. It's quite right that Peter Cruddas has resigned. I will make sure there is a proper party inquiry to make sure this can't happen again."
Are we supposed to believe that David Cameron did not know what Peter Cruddas was up to? Are we supposed to believe that Cruddas was acting alone against Cameron's express orders? Are we supposed to believe that when some millionaire turned up for dinner with David and Samantha, the Prime Minister did not know why he was there and how he had got his invitation?
If David Cameron expects us to believe that, then he is too naive to be Prime Minister. Either that or he considers the electorate to be too stupid to understand the way favours are bought and sold.
I believe the statement issued by Peter Cruddas after his resignation as co-treasurer of the Conservative Party was deeply unsatisfactory. Cruddas said that he deeply regretted any "impression of impropriety" arising from his bluster in his conversation with the Sunday Times reporters.
He is not sorry that he has done wrong: simply that we might think that he has. Is it any wonder that many voters no longer have confidence in the politicians elected to represent us?
Why should anyone be taxed 50p a year to fund political parties which command so little enthusiasm that their membership is now one seventh of what it was in the 1960s (Mary Ann Sieghart, 26 March)? Tiny, too, in comparison, with the support enjoyed by organisations such as the National Trust (4.7 million members) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (1 million).
Is there a message here? These are campaigning organisations, with recognisable ideals. The National Trust, for instance, is among those with serious misgivings about the Government's planning "reforms". Perhaps if the ideals, and visions, of the political parties were more in evidence, they would enjoy wider spontaneous public support, and nobody would be forced to help fund them?
Military culture and the murders in Afghanistan
There is no justification for the slaughter of innocent people, and Sergeant Robert Bales should be tried for murder. But questions of "deranged" or "not deranged" are not black and white. (Robert Fisk, "Madness is not the reason for this massacre", 17 March.)
Sgt Bales clearly made a deliberate decision to kill Afghan civilians. He did not point his weapon at fellow soldiers because – "deranged" or not – there is a vast difference between American comrades and Afghan civilians. In the military, your battle buddies are more than comrades; they're people you trust with your life. When Sgt Bales saw his buddy's legs blown off – probably by a roadside bomb planted by an "innocent civilian" – he witnessed the near-death and serious maiming of one of the most important people in his life.
War heightens emotions, and the military restricts their expression. I served in Afghanistan from June 2009 to March 2010 as a public-affairs officer, and part of my job was controlling emotional outbursts. In the military, you can grumble to your buddies, but not to your superiors or your subordinates. You can talk to mental-health workers "confidentially", but even if your unit is lucky enough to have one available, seeking help is steeped in a stigma perpetuated by a hyper-masculine, suck-it-up-and-deal-with-it culture. (I self-reported to mental health and felt the shame first-hand.) And you must never spill your grievances to the media or by any means that might be open to public channels.
Pent-up emotions are a loaded weapon. And war provides a lot of ammo. The military knows this. They knew it before Sgt Bales massacred 16 civilians. What concerns me about General Allen's statements is not that he had to lecture a "supposedly well-disciplined, elite, professional army" but that his words acknowledge a military that has become so tired, so frustrated, so battered, bruised and scarred that it is necessary to plead with soldiers not to commit murder. Sgt Bales is not the first, and if the military culture does not change, I doubt he will be the last.
Lauren K Johnson
Former Captain, US Air Force
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
As a mother of two sons, one who left the army with post-traumatic stress disorder and the other still serving, I felt the need to put the soldier's perspective forward. They are not always in a position to do this themselves. (Archie Bland, "Shooting Dilemma presents an ugly double standard", 14 March).
My youngest son joined up at 18 years old and fought in the Bosnia war. He saw things that no human being should see. He did things that no human being should do. And, as a consequence of this he is damaged.
We train our soldiers to become machines of war. Then, we expect them to behave normally in civil society.
The American soldier should not be punished; he is mentally damaged. He needs help, not prison or worse. If he were handed over to the Afghans to be executed, he would then become another victim.
We now know the name of the US soldier who – it appears – murdered what your paper described as "16 Afghan civilians". We now the name of his lawyer and where the soldier comes from. We have heard from his family and others about why he probably did it and how nice he really is.
I suspect we will never be told the names of the men, women and children he killed and burnt because no one outside their village can be bothered to ask.
Thatcham, West Berkshire
The UK assists the US in sending drones to rain high explosive on to our ally Pakistan, in the certain knowledge that many civilians will be killed or maimed. Recently the dead included 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The best estimate of the number of deaths (about 3,000) suggests that it will shortly match the number of deaths caused by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001. Yet no Western media outlet dares to refer to these bombings as acts of terrorism. Why?
The rich who shirk responsibility
Your reporter (22 March) found a broker who says "people buying £2m houses are going to be stung" (by the 7 per cent stamp duty). I have absolutely no issue with people earning large amounts of money but the (monetarily) successful person who's buying a £2m house and now has to pay an additional £40,000 in duty can afford that extra money.
In contrast the hard-working person at the other end of the spectrum really is affected by small increases in prices of goods and services in general. With monetary success comes a burden of social responsibility and frankly most high earners don't acknowledge it – that's the real ideological issue here.
By and large the Chancellor's plans and the City's response to the Budget reveal a fundamental confusion between "wealth creation" and "wealth acquisition".
The systematic transfer of public assets into private hands continues with the relaxation of planning, the introduction of road-pricing, the proposed sell-off of the Royal Mail, and the future disposal of the Olympic infrastructure in Stratford.
This does not create wealth. It arbitrarily takes it from the hands of the many and gifts it to the few. Profit maximisation for short-term gain ensures ever-increasing charges upon the public and the degradation of finite resources. The City may be all the richer for it, but as a nation we are infinitely poorer.
Child benefit is for children
Dominic Lawson (20 March) appears to have forgotten that child benefit replaced child tax allowances as well as family allowances. Would he apply the same logic to the remaining personal tax allowances? In particular, would he suggest that they should be means-tested? A universal child benefit is now the only way that the tax-benefit system can recognise the impact on taxable capacity of children throughout the income scale.
I am all for asking the better off to contribute more but there is no justification for asking only the better off with children to do so. And Lawson's solution of merging child benefit with child tax credit would also mean that when the latter is replaced by universal credit, there will be no guarantee that the money will still be paid to the caring parent, usually still the mother, because the whole of the credit will be paid into one account. Research suggests that the money would then be less likely to be spent on children.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett
Labour, House of Lords
Victim of shock treatment
My mother, a beautiful, extremely talented woman who was also, sadly, a manic-depressive, was given electroconvulsive therapy several times in the 1950s (letter, 26 March).
She was a painter, who worked as a special effects technician, a "matte painter", at Pinewood, in the days when British films were great. She worked on (among others) Olivier's Henry V, The Red Shoes (the ballroom), A Matter of Life and Death (the trial scene), The Guns of Navarone and The Dam Busters. The ECT not only destroyed her memory but also her talent, reducing her to penury.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
I am incandescent about the latest controls placed on travelling to countries bordering the US. I would not dream of going to the US, with the current draconian visa controls, but for such restrictions to be placed by the US on Brits visiting Canada and other countries is unacceptable. Presumably it is because US immigration is incapable of controlling access via its land borders, so UK citizens are being penalised for that incompetence.
I take issue with Simon Gosden (letter, 23 March) accusing the Government of "rank hypocrisy". From the privatisation of the NHS and the supply of free labour to multi-national supermarkets, through to last week's decision to take money from pensioners to fund tax cuts for millionaires, the Government has been both consistent and utterly transparent in its policy of providing for the super-rich at the expense of everyone else. It has never once attempted to disguise this policy, and any accusations of hypocrisy are unfair.
Pig of a problem
I don't know what Will Dean was expecting to find in his pork pies in Melton Mowbray ("My hunt for great British grub", 23 March) but if it was "bovine delights" he must have been sorely disappointed.
Robin J Bulow
Paul Dunwell (letter, 20 March) from the Altons in the Hampshires doesn't seem to know much about Orkney.
Kirkwall, OrkneyReuse content