Sir: In response to Sarah Thursfield's observation about feral youths being "made, not born" (24 January), I would like to assert that some youths, regardless of the opportunities presented to them in their young lives, will inevitably be seduced by the perceived glamour of a "feral" existence.
As an English teacher in a state secondary school, I see children from a variety of backgrounds. They are not all products of poverty-stricken homes, nor are they all "ill-educated".
The problem with this phenomenon is how a "feral" state of being is glamorised. Downwardly converging is no longer something we can merely see in language use; it is now embedded in every aspect of social status. Children are scared that they are not "cool" if they work hard, advertise their affluence or achieve, regardless of the opportunities that they are given. Likewise, many a child from a more difficult background will aspire to achieve and do exceptionally well educationally and, later on, economically because of their drive.
What we must not blame is the Government, but the way that "chav" culture is portrayed as being a positive life-choice for young people. Conservative governments cannot be taken to task for everything; it is the society within which we live that defines the norms children aspire to.
Sir: Sarah Thursfield is completely naive to blame the Tories for all the ills of this country. Kids who started school in Mrs Thatcher's day are now adults, not teenagers. Kids who started school when Labour came to power in 1997 are now the feral teenagers being complained of. So why didn't Labour reinstate all these services that Ms Thursfield complains the Tories destroyed, and ensure these kids had a good start?
What Labour has actually done is set out to destroy systematically the institution of marriage and the stability that kids need to grow up responsible and happy.
Many kids live with a mother who has had children by several different men, some of whom may give their child some parenting but who may also be trying to give parenting to several other kids by several other partners. Or may not care what happens to any of their offspring.
If you tell people, "You don't need to get married, you don't need to stay with that partner, you don't need to bother about the kids being upset because they'll cope," there's no restriction at all on how you behave when you have produced kids. The kids aren't coping. That's the problem.
London Mayor is a law unto himself
Sir: Steve Richards misunderstands the dire position of the London Assembly ("Ken Livingstone has been a great Mayor of London", 24 January). Equating the Mayor's relationship with London Assembly Members to the one between the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition fundamentally misses the point. Assembly Members are openly denied the very information they need to hold the Mayor to account in the way that MPs and opposition parties are not.
Like MPs, Assembly Members often hear of new initiatives through the media and not in the debating chamber – the difference is that MPs will be able to listen to the arguments, amend them and vote on them in the process. Assembly Members can only "hold to account" after the rules and structures are in place, having played no role in their formulation.
Can you imagine Parliament having no vote on the introduction of new Government transport initiatives, no right to amend or reject – and when things start to go wrong after their implementation, no right to the key information surrounding the chaos, on grounds of "confidentiality". That exactly is the position of the London Assembly, as my group has experienced time and time again in attempting to find out what is really happening.
Leader, One London Party, London Assembly, London SE1
Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (21 January) bemoans the calibre of the candidates for Mayor of London and asks why such an important job does not attract top-class candidates.
Perhaps the answer lies in the attitude towards local government across the country and particularly in the media. If elections in this country could attract the attention given to American elections, people might consider them to be significant.
Those likely to come third or fourth in the American primary elections have received umpteen column-inches of coverage in the last two months, far more than that devoted to the people who contest our own elections.
Local government, as such, is not covered in our media. The results each year of the May elections are reported as a sort of aberrant opinion poll. Although there has been some mention of the London Mayor, none of the other major cities features at all. Most journalists seem to have no interest and usually reveal that they are ill-informed about some of the basic procedures.
Maybe one day elections in this country will be treated as being worthy of serious attention, and then we might get better candidates. Then voters might be able to choose the best candidate rather than the one with the most party money.
Burgess Hill, West Sussex
Sir: So 60 per cent of London's business leaders think Boris Johnson should be London's Mayor, despite admitting that he is a "buffoon" (report, 26 January). Whoever would have thought that a bunch of City fat cats with six- and seven-figure salaries would back an Old Etonian Tory with right-wing views?
Next week: paint dries after being applied to a fence.
Sir: You are wrong to caricature the London mayoral election as a contest between a self-important controversialist and a clown (leading article, 26 January). There are fundamental policy differences between the candidates. Ken Livingstone has opposed the war on Iraq and the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system. Boris Johnson has supported both of them.
Chair, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, London N7
Eco-towns threaten vital green spaces
Sir: With the results of the Government's eco-towns competition about to be announced, it is a good time to ask ourselves about the problem to which they are an intended solution ("How to get permission to destroy the countryside: say you're building an eco-town", 25 January). There is a risk of a new environmental Hobson's choice between green homes or green spaces replacing the old dilemma of countryside or concrete.
The nation needs new homes and it needs its green spaces too. The National Trust is currently running a debate on the importance people place on green places – and the early signs are of an overwhelming call for them to be valued, protected and expanded in the future. Eco-housing in the wrong location isn't green at all. Valued green places in and around our towns which people can use and enjoy are vital to the health and well-being of all of us. Instead of releasing extra land for eco-towns, the spotlight should turn to making all new housing meet their environmental standards and harnessing it to regenerate and put life back into our towns and cities.
Director of Policy and Strategy, National Trust, London sw1
Sir: Only the most uncompromising of environmentalists could object to the eco-towns programme rightly described in your article as new settlements where "housing and infrastructure are zero-carbon, and where up to 50 per cent of the homes would be built as affordable housing."
It was local communities from Devon to Solihull that pushed new settlements back on to their rightful place among the portfolio of planning solutions that should be available. A decades-old ban on the concept was finally overturned by Minister Yvette Cooper who recognised – like the Councils concerned – that in some locations it is the most sustainable option. It is bizarre that well-meaning preservationists based hundreds of miles away can be so confident that they know better.
We have no involvement in Ministers' selection of sites but our advice to Government has been to prioritise public and sustainable transport as a key criterion for the programme. Former policy artificially held back locations that worked in transport and in carbon-reduction terms, and to return to this policy now would be irresponsible given that the number of households we are forming as a society is growing more than ever. Our priority must be to ensure that eco-towns deliver on their promise.
Chief Executive,Town and Country Planning Association,London SW1
Kangaroo meat won't solve global warming
Sir: I read with disbelief Rob Sharp's advocation of eating kangaroos as a way of fighting global warming ("Skippy for supper?" 24 January). Greenpeace did commission a report into reducing carbon emissions, but it categorically stated to Australian wildlife groups that it has never been its policy to support what is now the largest massacre of land mammals on the planet.
Each year, millions of kangaroos are shot for their meat and skins. Baby joeys are bludgeoned, shot or decapitated when their mothers are killed, the "worthless" waste of the industry. Over-hunting and the recent drought have decimated the numbers of kangaroos. Official Australian government figures show that there are now almost 33 million kangaroos fewer in the areas used for commercial hunting than just five years ago.
Viva! has long campaigned against the sale of kangaroo, and other so-called "exotic" meats. The revulsion at massacring the world's wildlife for meat has led to all of the UK's major retailers dropping kangaroo meat because of our campaign.
Campaigns Manager, Viva! Bristol
Sir: Methane is a more damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and its greatest source is our society's reliance upon lamb and beef. The serious greenie should therefore think about reducing their consumption of these animals in favour of alternatives.
To that end, "Skippy for Supper" is welcome as it highlights a meat which can help reduce these gases. However, your report fails to address one important question: is shipping frozen Skippy halfway around the world better for the environment than eating a flatulent cow from next door?
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
The shaky faith of unbelievers
Sir: Peter McKenna (letter, 26 January) asserts the right as a humanist to shield his children from a school's daily act of collective worship. As a parent, your correspondent is entitled to withdraw his children from the said act of worship: even if they attended a faith school, I doubt he would encounter much opposition. If however his real aim is the destruction of faith schools and the removal of other parents' right to choose them, he will encounter considerable opposition.
Of course, no ordinary school could guarantee humanists total immunity from all reference to religion. But does the annual nativity play or occasional display on a classroom wall represent such a threat to unbelief? Is the absence of faith really so fragile?
Hedon, East Yorkshire
Hain's election spending
Sir: Why did Peter Hain et al need to raise such large sums of money during Labour's deputy-leadership campaign? What was it spent on? I received three or four leaflets in the post, but made my decision on who to vote for on the basis of what the candidates said in interviews in the press and on TV.
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
Minarets of Oxford
Sir: Your headline "The screaming minarets of Oxford" (25 January) was as inflammatory as the views of Allan Chapman, to which you gave space. It is extraordinary that he can describe the call to prayer as "naked Islamic imperialism", in this country where Christians are free to sound their church bells and Christmas carols, and where we allow ice-cream chimes to invite our children to gluttony. The only serious issue is noise level, and Muslims should be subject to the same rules as everyone else, if necessary foregoing the use of amplifiers (which did not exist for the first 13 centuries of Islam).
P J Stewart
Sir: You mention the increased strength of some beers but not wines (report, 23 January). I checked alcohol levels of red wine available at my regular merchant. Below 10 per cent, one red wine is listed. From 10 to 12 per cent there are 28. From 12 per cent upwards there are more than 800. In the past most wine was 10 per cent or below; to drink 175ml at 15 per cent is half as damaging again. What's more, it overpowers the taste buds and so defeats one of the main aims in drinking.
Sir: The myth that England is being abolished in favour of nine regions is submitted to you by David Holmes (Letters, 25 January). May I reassure Mr Holmes that if what he fears were real then it would apply to all 27 independent sovereign member states of the EU, and so far I do not hear of any fear of dissolution coming out of France or Germany. The Government has, during my lifetime, dealt with the different regions of the UK and England for purposes of financial aid and other policies.
Chairman, East Midlands European Movement,Oadby, Leicestershire
Sir: I read with dismay of the fatuous actions of Craig Venter ("Playing God: the man who would create artificial life," 25 January). I wish that Dr Venter would focus his attention on more pressing human biological conundrums rather than esoteric synthetic life forms. I cannot understand why there is still no solution to the common follicular state whereby the hair in one's ears and nostrils grows at an inversely proportional rate to that on one's head.