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Saturday 28 June 2008
Letters: Henley election
Henley poll gave ultra-cynical New Labour what it deserved
Sir: At Henley, New Labour failed not only to beat the Tories, but lost even to the Greens and the BNP. This was despite New Labour's lunging out to Green voters with digi-bins and windfarms and to BNP-backers by blaming foreigners for crime, bleeding the NHS and over-crowding prisons.
New Labour has no principles. As I was told by an election expert at a Labour-party activist meeting last year, "principles without power are worthless" – ie do and say any and everything to get votes, then do anything when in office to keep hold of power – no matter how authoritarian.
It is against that insidious tide that David Davis is standing on 1 July, and when he is comfortably returned for his stand on principle, we may hopefully see the final nail hammered into the coffin of New Labour's ultra-cynical, amoral megalomaniac strategies – unless Brown feels sufficiently threatened to put into effect the Civil Contingencies Act.
Sir: The Prime Minister has adopted Mr Blair's thinking on charity management replacing a decent state commitment to the social services. He has embraced his abjection towards the US and its interesting collection of wars. The party miserably identified with him and his actions has now come fifth, behind the BNP, in a by-election.
Does Mr Brown recall his labours in happier days writing a life of James Maxton? And does he remember what Maxton called out in the Commons to an equally lost and forlorn Ramsay MacDonald: "Sit down man. You're a walking tragedy"?
Thormanby, North Yorkshire
Sir: How the Blairs must be laughing their socks off, as Gordon hits the buffers. While dour Gordon goes greyer, Tony and Cherie are filling their boots with cash. No matter what anyone says about the golden days of the double act, Tony knew exactly when to jump and leave Gordon in the hot seat. Yes, the kid had timing.
S T Vaughan
Mandela speaks out – at last
Sir: I attended Nelson Mandela's honorary doctorate acceptance speech five years ago at Galway University. He spoke of not shirking from our responsibility to criticise our friends when they are making mistakes or involved in wrongdoing. In keeping with this principle, he condemned the war in Iraq, despite the assistance George Bush had given African leaders in setting up Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.
Mr Mandela expanded vociferously on these sentiments in the international media while maintaining complete silence about the disintegration of democracy and human rights under Mugabe's regime. His brief reference this week to the violence in Zimbabwe and its "tragic failure of leadership" is shamefully tame and belated.
Sir: The UK could quite readily intervene in the present crisis in Zimbabwe, since the constitutional independence of that country from the United Kingdom derives from the Southern Rhodesia Act 1979 of the British Parliament which by virtue of section 1(2) of that enactment could legally be revoked by Order in Council at any time.
Section 3 (1) (b) of the 1979 Act also empowers the Queen in Parliament by Order in Council to make provision for or in connection with the government of Zimbabwe "as appears to Her to be necessary or expedient", especially in consequence of any unconstitutional action taken.
The UK government would be able to promulgate legislation in exercise of its powers under the 1979 legislation which would have the effect (at least under English law) of restoring Zimbabwe to the status of a British colony, with its subjects entitled to the protection of the Crown and thereby legally permitting the UK's military intervention for the purposes of restoring democracy, good governance and the rule of law to that tragic country.
The irony of such a proposition is of course that the UK government would be highly unlikely to do any such thing, given the appalling outcome of its recent military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the UK's obligations to the people of Zimbabwe have much greater legitimacy, and if the legal argument I have advanced is for any reason flawed, it is at least a lot stronger than it was in the case of the wholly unlawful invasion of Iraq.
W J C RHYS-BURGESS
Nottingham (The writer is a partner in the Law firm of Schuman Cassin)
Minister's meetings with lobbyist
Sir: Your front-page article ("Exposed: the arms lobbyist in Parliament", 26 June) portrayed a completely inaccurate and misleading picture of my relationship with Mr Robin Ashby. You incorrectly state that I "frequently" meet with Mr Ashby, when in fact, to my knowledge, we have met only three times, all at parliamentary receptions for Armed Forces personnel returning from operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.
These events, which I always try to attend along with many fellow Parliamentarians, are opportunities for Parliament to show its support for our brave service personnel. They are organised by Mr Ashby's company on behalf of the Army All Party Parliamentary Group. To insinuate anything more is plainly wrong.
Furthermore, your article also strongly implied that Mr Ashby was using this "access" to me to lobby on behalf of the clients of his defence consultancy. This has never happened. Mr Ashby, with whom I have probably exchanged 100 words in my life, has never lobbied me about anything, all of which you would have been able to ascertain should your reporter have had the courtesy to check his facts with me first.
For completeness I have asked Mr Ashby to remove my picture from his website. I have never been one of his "contacts". A basic tenet of journalism should be to ensure accuracy and balance – this article which is full of innuendo is fundamentally flawed on both counts.
Des Browne MP
Secretary of State Ministry of Defence, London SW1
Next government will stay green
Sir: Your article "The Eco Crunch" (Extra, 25 June) is right to point out the detrimental impact an economic slowdown could have on the environment, as the backlash from voters begins against rising fuel prices and so-called "'green" taxes. But politicians should be very wary of dropping the environmental agenda to gain favour with voters. Three pressures will ensure that whoever wins the next general election will have to deliver on environmental goals.
First, the Climate Change Bill will require significant reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions, with the first carbon budget due to be met by 2012. Hilary Benn has claimed that the Bill will "fundamentally change our entire economy, and affect each of our lives". There is no doubt that he is right. Second, demanding targets from the European Union will force the United Kingdom vastly to scale up renewable energy generation. Finally, the successor to the Kyoto agreement will undoubtedly require tougher action from the UK on cutting our emissions than we have seen to date.
Meeting these targets will be very challenging and will be even more so if the public are led to believe that environmental issues can be sidelined because of concerns about the economy.
Politicians must show leadership by highlighting ways members of the public can use energy more efficiently. This will not only ensure people are not left out of pocket, but will also set us on the right course to meeting our carbon commitments.
Associate Director, Climate Change, Institute for Public Policy research, London WC2
Sir: I am astonished that you should declare in your leader (17 June) that David Cameron has become "the first senior political leader" to "push through green policies at a time of economic downturn".
It was barely two weeks ago that Nick Clegg and I launched a radical transport policy that commits the Lib Dems to the introduction of trunk road charging, a surcharge on domestic flights, the building of a high-speed rail network, and the undoing of much of what Dr Beeching did in the 1960s. By any accounts, these are far-reaching proposals, but sadly they went unreported by your paper.
Second, I fear you have failed to read the Tory small print. Mr Cameron may like to give the impression he is against the expansion of Heathrow, but in April, he and his Conservative MPs voted against a Lib Dem motion in the Commons that would have ruled out such an expansion. If pushed, he talks of tests that have to be met before expansion proceeds, a policy which equates more to the Government's stated line than the unequivocal opposition of the Lib Dems.
Nor is he committed to the creation of high-speed rail, only to examining it, and we all know what that means.
Your readers can be assured that after he has evoked the small print and rowed back, the Lib Dems will still be around to make the green case, as we always have.
Norman Baker MP
Lib Dem Shadow Transport Secretary, House of Commons
Heartfelt tributes to Miles Kington
Sir: When the Miles Kington Memorial Service was over, the family, the friends and the swarm of fans stumbled outside to blink in the sunshine.
A rather fierce-looking schoolgirl glared at an elderly man who was sniffing noisily beside her. "Are you crying, Uncle?" she demanded. "These days, a memorial service is supposed to be a time of celebration..."
"...And absolutely not a chance to wallow in self pity," added a spotty youth in hiking boots. "I was studying my programme and..."
But his words of wisdom were lost in the general hum.
"Is this the bit where we walk quietly away?" whispered the woman with black-and-purple hair.
"Probably," said the man with the dog. "Do you think anyone will miss us?"
"Oh, definitely. Insofar as anything can be definite in this world. Or, indeed, the next," boomed a bearded gentleman. Pinned to his nightgown was a name-badge which appeared to say "Chair God", but no one could be quite sure as he had already vanished.
"An old Albanian Proverb states that: When it's time to go, it's time to go," mentioned an Old Albanian Personage kindly.
"Woof", agreed the dog. So they did that.
But just as they turned away, a chilly gust of air set one small person (known only as "A Reader") shivering. "Ah," she murmured to no one in particular. "Nothing will ever be quite the same again."
And, of course, it won't be.
N C Bevan
Rowan Williams in the wilderness
Sir: The position of The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams (The Big Question, 25 June) is no longer tenable. The Anglican Church is clearly crying out to him for guidance and leadership in crucial areas of morality where he has singularly failed to provide any so far.
The conservative bishops are so desperate that they have organised the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem to try to come up with ideas to resolve the issues. They will fail. The solution to the debate lies with Williams and with him alone.
He should follow Christian tradition and do the modern equivalent of retiring to the wilderness for 40 days. If no guidance is revealed to him in that time, he should accept that he has been wrongly chosen as the head of the Anglican Church and resign. If he does receive divine guidance, he can return in confidence and announce his revealed knowledge to the church.
The alternative of allowing two churches to develop, as he is doing at present, shows weakness which cannot be sustained.
Sir: Do Harriet Harman's proposals to encourage gender equality mean that men will be positively discriminated for in professions such as medicine, where women dominate undergraduate programmes?
Dr Kinesh Patel
God's works, all of them
Sir: The Rev John Williams (Letters, 27 June) is quick to bask in the reflected glory of things he ascribes to God (science, natural history, philosophy etc) but makes no attempt to explain the flip side of God's "achievements" – cancer, earthquakes, piles and Osama bin Laden. The clergy is notorious for this. Many years ago, when John Mortimer asked Robert Runcie, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, to explain the Holocaust and children with leukaemia, he replied "I'm agnostic to God's purpose". That's that settled then.
Not up for discussion
Sir: Adrian Hamilton, commenting on militant Islam (Opinion, 26 June), tells us that religious matters are "a question for theologians", and that unbelievers would not be "wise" to discuss them. As a subscriber to a range of ideologies, including socialism and humanism, I am keen to learn how I might similarly ring-fence my own beliefs so that others may not criticise them. Socialism, my conservative and liberal friends, is a matter for socialist parties: it would be unwise for you to argue with me about it.
Sir: I'm one of many people struggling to keep my ahead above water, because of constantly rising prices. I was sickened to read that MPs might be given another £40,000, in lieu of their expenses. Wouldn't it be better to get them to reduce their expenses rather than work so hard on trying to hide them from the public?
Sir: It is unfortunate that Joan Smith (26 June) should name Shelley as an example of "a tradition begun in the 19th century" of creative artists inviting their own early deaths by their reckless lifestyles. Certainly some did, and do; but not Shelley. He was drowned a month before his 30th birthday when a boat in which he was sailing was sunk by a storm, being in good health prior to that.
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