Letters: Gordon Brown's 'national service' scheme

Brown's 'national service' scheme is badly flawed
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Yet another would-be vote-catching scheme has emerged from No 10, less offensive than other recent emissions, it's true, but just as ill-thought-out and just as desperately manic.

Mr Brown says Labour's election manifesto will include plans to force every young person to complete 50 hours of compulsory voluntary community work before the age of 19 (report, 13 April). This, of course, begs the question: "How can work be voluntary if you are forced to do it by law?" In this context, voluntary obviously means unpaid.

But, in the unlikely event of Labour returning to power, they would not be able to enforce this across the whole of the UK. Mr Brown always claims to speak for Britain when making pronouncements of this kind but, as he well knows, when it comes to education and training, he has no jurisdiction over Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. It would appear that only English youngsters would be enslaved under this silly scheme, and it is dishonest of Mr Brown to continue with the fiction that he is speaking for the whole of the UK in this.

There may be a good case for introducing some form of compulsory "national service" for our young people but important decisions such as this should be reached only after wide-ranging consultation and debate, and not thought up on the spur of the moment, in a backroom at No 10, to provide the PM's next soundbite.

Anne Palmer

Stapleford Tawney, Essex

How absurd. Our Scottish Prime Minister is proposing to make our English children do 50 hours "voluntary" work through the National Youth Service.

Only English children will be affected. Maybe he's planning to use them to clean Scottish chimneys?

Derek Marshall

Romsey, Hampshire

Political parties should pay aides

What disgusts me most about the abhorrent antics of the disgraced Prime Ministerial aide Damian McBride (report, 13 April) is that he was being paid from the public purse. How can it be that someone working apparently solely for party-political purposes is paid for by us and uses public resources?

Apart from the media, who monitors, audits or oversees the activities of such people? Shouldn't they be paid by their own party and, if not, be accountable to the country in some way since they are essentially public servants? Knowing they receive only party political funding would at least soften the blow when their inappropriate activities are exposed.

On the radio, the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, defended the robust way the McBride affair was handled. He ignored the central point that this was not just politics, since Mr McBride was paid from the public purse, that being an aide to Gordon Brown also raises questions about how well he monitors and handles those who work in his name and why McBride thought it acceptable to do what he did.

For different reasons, I think David Cameron is right to demand an apology from the PM. Gordon Brown should apologise to us, the people, for failings in a public servant directly under his management whom he failed to control.

Laurence Williams


Recent events have shown that politicians fail to understand how we see them, they have little idea of our day-to-day concerns and worries, and can't see the gulf opening between them and us. But what is even more dispiriting than all this about the McBride business is its tribalism. Scoring points over electoral – not necessarily ideological – opponents is to politicians more important than the interests of the country.

They piously claim that they are there to make a difference to us, their electorate. But at a time when consensus – or at least conversation – between political idealists is the least we can expect, when a national sharing of views will reflect our shared crises and troubles, our "leaders" concentrate more on confrontation and on infantile contempt of others.

It's not about what's best for the country, for us, it's about what's best for the politicians' own egos and futures. Altruistic and public-spirited? No. Selfish and power-hungry. That's the way it looks.

Richard Hanson-James

Caversham, Berkshire

While the slurs are reprehensible, patently without foundation and totally fabricated, it is equally as interesting to question how the emails "jumped" from a trusted coterie of Labour insiders to the right-wing Guido Fawkes. Guido knows, the email he received will have the sender's ID on it. Can we now be told how he got it?

Tim Brook


The most shocking thing about the Damian McBride affair is that I'm not shocked.

Jan Tate

Hayling Island, Hampshire

The nanny state is now a bully state

A vulnerable man ambling home with his hands in his pockets is thumped in the back and sent sprawling by a policeman, masked and armed with a baton (letters, 13 April). The nanny state has become the bully state, not just for poor Ian Tomlinson but for the rest of us.

In New Labour's paranoid view of the world, we are all potential terrorists or criminals to be "kettled" into a zone where we can be watched, managed and neutralised.

Let's hope that film of Mr Tomlinson's humiliation turns out to the tipping-point at which ordinary citizens began to take control, not just of the police but of all the agents of the state, who should be our servants, not our masters.

Jeremy Walker

London WC1

If the officer who appears to strike Mr Tomlinson from behind in the G20 protest footage felt confident he was doing the right thing, it is important to understand why he felt obliged to remove the personal identification strip from his outer clothing and pull the face mask over his mouth and – perhaps more to the point – why did no senior officer appear to notice or take appropriate action?

It seems there was no riot in progress or other pressing business that might explain this failure, in the face of which it is difficult to escape the conclusion that, far from an error, these acts were part of a predetermined plan executed with the full knowledge of senior officers and, more importantly, politicians from the Home Secretary downwards.

Jon P Baker


Last month, I stopped at the police memorial near Horse Guards, London, where the names of officers killed on duty are recorded, with outlines of the circumstances of each fatality. Has the time come to set up a memorial to those whose deaths are associated with police action, such as death in custody or mistaken identity or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

The names would be listed with a brief description of the police action associated with that death. It would be a useful place for the families of the innocent, such as those of Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson, to come together. If an appropriate human rights organisation were to sponsor such a memorial, I would be happy to donate.

Rob Farman

London E17

Will Obama keep Armenian pledge?

The Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, recently suggested that Barack Obama has a "stench" of George Bush about him and all the signs so far, culminating in his visit to Turkey, indicate Mr Chavez may well be correct.

In the first instance, the new President approved the continued use of rendition. So far so bad. On the Gaza atrocities, Mr Obama was quick to "blame the victims" as so many before him have done , by suggesting that Hamas was at fault for the disproportionate slaughter inflicted upon the Palestinians by the Israelis.

In Turkey, the President who spoke so unequivocally about the Armenian genocide before his election, fudged the issue in the live debate in Istanbul. Worse, by invoking the tried and tested deflective mechanism of the Turkish state, in suggesting that the issue of the Armenian genocide is a matter best left to the historians, President Obama has made a first step into the camp of the denialists.

As Robert Fisk pointed out (Comment, 6 April), Mr Obama will find it far more difficult to skirt the issue on 24 April when Armenians across the globe will be expecting him to fulfil his campaign promise and remember the Armenian genocide by its correct terminology.

Gregory Topalian


Electric vehicles endanger the blind

Your front page "Brown's electric dream for Britain" (report, 8 April; letters, 13 April) could be a nightmare for blind and partially sighted people. Guide Dogs congratulates Gordon Brown for thinking of the environment and helping the car industry, but quiet hybrid vehicles are difficult for people with sight loss to detect.

Mr Brown's vision may be revolutionary, but electric cars need an engine sound, an easily recognisable audible system, which makes them detectable for people with sight loss. Many local authorities are introducing shared surface streets, removing the traditional kerb, so pavement and road are at the same level.

It's already easy for people with visual impairment to lose their bearings and walk into the path of approaching traffic. If they can't hear the traffic either, Mr Brown's electric dream could become a nightmare for many vulnerable pedestrians. Let's have a bit of noise with the green car revolution.

Sue Sharp

Guide Dogs, Reading, Berkshire

UK also guilty of animal cruelty

The Pentagon is not alone in deliberately subjecting live animals to weapons injuries ("US military blows up live pigs to test body armour", 9 April). In the UK, tens of thousands of harmful experiments have been inflicted on animals in the name of national defence.

These include: monkeys being shot in the head; bacteria-laden faeces introduced into pigs' abdomens to induce peritonitis; guinea pigs driven to uncontrollable defecations and convulsions after being exposed to the poisonous gas soman, and dogs reduced to shivering wrecks thanks to riot control gas.

All this from a party whose spokesperson for animal welfare stated while still in opposition, "It is Labour policy to forbid the use of animals in the testing and development of weapons".

Kate Fowler

Head of Campaigns, Animal Aid, Tonbridge, Kent

Put paid to pirates

We defeated the Spanish Armada, Napoleon's fleets and Hitler's U-Boats; surely a combined naval force of the world's sea-powers can put paid, once and for all , to a few score selfish, millionaire Somali pirates who are holding the world to ransom?

Jeremy Q Sleath

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Mad about football

Hurrah for Dom Joly ("Ah, the beauty of hating football", Sport, 13 April). It's about time someone stood up for those of us like him. I usually throw the Sport section away unread because I know it will be full of football, (On Monday, 11 pages out of 24; would have been more if not for four pages of Masters golf). Nothing about women's sport or more minor-interest sports. There must be lots going on out there, and you should cover it. When is sports journalism going to offer a proper service?

Rosie Challis

Reigate, Surrey


On 16 March, my wife and I finished paying our mortgage with the Woolwich, a division of Barclays Bank. We overpaid the final instalment by £47.11 which, together with a final repayment charge of £50, left a balance to pay of £2.89 on 31 March. On my prompting, we received a statement and a repayment schedule which informed us of the daily rates to clear this debt, ending with £14.37 if not paid until 30 April. How can the financial institutions excuse these dreadful rates of interest?

Niall McCormick

Sittingbourne, KENT

Really final score

In David Goldblatt's review of Jason Cowley's The Last Game (10 April), he states that, "In their penultimate game, Liverpool could have secured the title, but were beaten by West Ham". In fact, Liverpool beat West Ham 5-1 and, thanks to that one goal scored by West Ham, Arsenal had to win by (only) two clear goals rather than the three that would have been required had Liverpool kept a clean sheet.

Richard Barnes

Holmer Green, Buckinghamshire

Thank the forgers

Why the concern about forged £1 coins (letters, 11 April)? The forgers are providing a public service by implementing quantitative easing at no cost to the public purse.


EVESHAM, Worcestershire

Curiouser and ...

In Westminster the other day I witnessed a strange sight: one of our politicians with his hands in his own pockets.

R Johnston

St Agnes, Cornwall