Letters: Labour Party conference

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Voters watch from outside the Manchester Green Zone

Sir: Watching reports from the Labour Party conference in Manchester is strangely similar to hearing media reports from inside the Baghdad Green Zone.

Thirty thousand people take to the streets outside to demonstrate against the Party Leader's foreign policy, and they are all but invisible. The Party Leader and his acolytes tell us they want to discuss the issues that concern the British people, but no debate is allowed on the renewal of Trident or the position of our armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The media never venture outside the bubble to talk to real people about real events but nervously await their safe transport back to Westminster.

We, the voters, sit outside the barriers and ring of police, watch the tearful adulation of the Party Leader and hear the endless reassurances of the Party hacks, and are told that we are privileged to live in a democracy.



Sir: Well done, Cherie! After the truly nauseating spectacle of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown chatting together and pretending to be the best of friends, which surely no one is fooled by for a moment, she has brought a breath of fresh air and reality to the proceedings in Manchester.



Sir: If, in his fulsome tribute to the Prime Minister, Mr Brown was guilty of the terminological inexactitude suggested by Cherie Booth's reported comment, then it is almost certain that, as is the New Labour way, he was acting in "good faith".



Sir: In his conference speech Gordon Brown said, "It has been a privilege for me to work for the most successful ever Labour leader and Prime Minister."

"Well, that's a lie," replied Cherie. Perhaps she's just a big fan of Clement Attlee.



Does Putin hold key to saving the planet?

Sir: David Stephen's proposal (letter, 22 September) that this is the time to involve political scientists in dealing with the problem of climate change is surely the triumph of hope over experience. Those, like me, with a scientific background see the problem differently.

Most of us believe that climate change is a fact. But what we are not sure about is whether it is already irreversible. The serious risk is that we may be at that point, unless new technologies can be devised. The safe response is to focus on the latter. But the scale of the effort required is as big as anything mankind has ever attempted. We need a commitment to and timescale for research into climate change and control of the type JFK set when he aimed for the moon. Which succeeded because of the ideological competition between the then USSR and the USA.

I wonder if Vladimir Putin might leave his mark on history by setting such a challenge, and in the process show up the crass insensitivity of the Blush-style market economy to the long-term fate of the human race?



Sir: I have just come out of a Marks and Spencer store. It was pouring with rain outside. The customer at the adjoining checkout to me was purchasing one item: an umbrella. One can probably deduce what is was for and how soon it would be used. The checkout operator placed the umbrella in a carrier bag. Having made her purchase the customer walked one metre, took the umbrella out of the bag and placed the bag in a rubbish bin before leaving the store and putting up her umbrella.

How did we become such a wasteful society? While this one isolated incident might not seem worth putting pen to paper, when one adds up all the carrier bags that are so unnecessarily and unthinkingly dished out each day - both the energy used to produce them and the years it takes them to decompose while they clog up landfill sites - it becomes a scandal. Of course it's not just M&S - we are a country swamped by plastic bags, branded and non-branded alike. The sooner Mr Brown slaps a tax on them the better.



Sir: Richard Marr (letter, 26 September) is misinformed about ExxonMobil. We know that carbon emissions are one of the factors that contribute to climate change - we don't debate or dispute this. We agree with scientific assessments which conclude that climate change poses risks that may prove to be significant for society and ecosystems.

Consequently, we should take, and ExxonMobil is taking, steps to reduce and minimise carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions from our own operations. As well, we support approaches to reduce emissions more broadly in ways that are cost-effective for society and that consider the uncertainties that remain.



Sir: With regard to the recent interest in green issues shown by the three main parties, I would like to know what sort of fuel consumption one could expect from a bandwagon.



Humane solution for Palestinians

Sir: Dr F H Mikdadi (letter, 26 September) finds it "unbelievably arrogant" to suggest, as Professor Brian Reuben (letter, 20 September) does, that Arab states should spend just a fraction of their vast oil wealth resettling their Palestinian compatriots. In fact, Professor Reuben's is the only realistic and humane solution.

In the 1950s virtually the entire Jewish community of Iraq was expelled from a homeland they had lived in for 2,600 years. Their assets were frozen and they were allowed to take with them only three summer and three winter suits, one pair of shoes, a blanket, six pairs of underwear, socks and sheets, one wedding ring, a wristwatch and a thin bracelet. Some spent up to 12 years living in tent camps in Israel. But none would still describe themselves as refugees.

Face it, Mr Mikdadi, history is cruel. Millions of Hindus fled Pakistan; millions of Pakistanis left India. Greeks fled Turkey and Turkish refugees fled Greece. Almost a million Jews fled Arab countries. The tragedy of the displaced Palestinian Arabs is not unique. The world should find it supremely unnatural, and an obscene exploitation of human beings for political purposes, that Palestinian "refugees" should still exist four generations later.



Sir: It is less shameful to deny the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israel than it is to deny the Holocaust of the Jews by the Third Reich. Yet is shameful nonetheless. The myth that somehow the Palestinian people were not compelled to leave by Jewish forces (Jeremy Woolf, letter, 14 September) was debunked years ago by Israeli as well as other academics.

"A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them," as Professor Benny Morris of Ben Gurion University has candidly put it.

It is similarly shameful to propose, as Woolf does, that "Israel has made it clear that it is prepared to accept a Palestinian state in most of the territories occupied in 1967", as if someone whose house has been burgled should be reasonable and waive the law in favour of settling for the return of only 60 per cent of his or her property.



The generation that missed out

Sir: Virginia Ironside (19 September) and Geoffrey Payne (letter, 21 September) may be right about the good life enjoyed by the over-60s, but let us not confuse these with the many thousands of over-70s, -80s and -90s still alive who: fought in the Second World War, and then in Korea and Malaya; left school at 14 to work a six-day week; qualified for grammar-school education only if they were one of the small percentage to pass the Eleven-plus (the taking of which was, I believe, at teachers' discretion); left school without any qualification unless they passed the School Certificate in at least five subjects; remained chaste until married; paid for their own medical care; never earned enough to qualify for a mortgage to buy their own home, or to save for their old age beyond a bit of "life" insurance to cover funeral costs; and now spend their remaining years struggling to pay local authority, gas, electricity, dental and other bills.

We mustn't underestimate the enormous economic, moral and cultural gap between the "lucky" over-60s and those born 10 years or more earlier.



No 'reason' on the Pope's side

Sir: I hope someone will remind the Pope that his predecessors, much more recently than Mohamed, forced conversion not so much by the sword as by fire. In the process they destroyed at least two South American civilisations and two European ones (Islamic Spain and Albigensian France). Let us not forget the preaching of the Crusades and the massacre of Jerusalem.

It is inconceivable that he can argue any kind of "reason" for it, especially when it was at its worst at a time when civilisation was achieving new heights. The horror of what his church did at least powered the Enlightenment from which our world was born, arguably with Islam as the midwife. He must make no attempt to take any credit for how we live today.

In the "conversion by violence" league his church is considerably ahead of Islam. Neither can be proud.



Not all gay people want to 'get married'

Sir: I am speechless at Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger's assertion (Letters, 25 September) that the establishment of civil partnerships "is a direct consequence of the Government's homophobia".

Why are some gay people so keen to ape heterosexual ways and "get married"? Marriage is a contract between a man and a woman. Even if the legal requirements and advantages are almost the same, a gay partnership is not marriage but something distinctive and different (not inferior), and as a gay man I am happy to keep it that way. In this, if in nothing else, our Government has got it right. Let's be grateful for this, rather than complaining that it doesn't go far enough.

It may be that something should be done for brothers and/or sisters living together, but that is a different question.



Time to take our place in Europe

Sir: In times of political navel-gazing, Denis MacShane's article (Opinion, 26 September) on the peril of not recognising the importance of our wholehearted involvement in the evolution of the union of European nations is salutary.

Tony Blair abandoned pros-pects of playing a leading and reforming role in the enlarging EU. Tragically, he judged our transatlantic ties more important. It is not too late, though. With recent and forthcoming enlargement, the EU is crying out for reform and consolidation of the rules largely established by the Treaty of Rome when our nostalgic absence allowed France to dominate the agenda.

Our grandchildren would not forgive us if, once again, Britain had to go on bended knee to a future de Gaulle.



Marmite without goat's cheese

Sir: Complex gourmet constructions involving goat's cheese and peanut butter are all very well, but in my experience, by far the best way to eat Marmite is simply on freshly boiled corn on the cob.

Once one has melted generous quantities of butter over the cob, evenly spread some Marmite on top so that it mingles with the butter and seeps tantalisingly through the gaps between the niblets. The saltiness of the Marmite perfectly complements the richness of the butter and sweetness of the corn. People don't believe how good it is until they try it.

Yours, messily,



Biblical bears

Sir: "Gladly", my cross-eyed bear (well, my friend's actually), was named gleefully after that line in the hymn. But Jon Summers's wife (letter, 25 September) should have been paying more attention to the sentiments expressed in it - your cross must be borne gladly, not sadly. Bear up!



Sir: While at a hymn-singing school we were all greatly amused by the one with the lines, "Can a woman's tender care, cease towards the child she bear?", having visions of a bear cub in a frilly dress being held by its human mother.



Afghanistan's future

Sir: If it ever turns out that the Taliban get to win the war in Afghanistan, here's what to do. Offer asylum to all Afghan women and girls, on the grounds that they are being persecuted by reason of their gender (Leonard Doyle, 26 September). They'll be out of there so fast that Afghanistan will rapidly become a men-only country with no new children being born, while the men slaughter each other like flies.



Metric index

Sir: Maxine Frith poses the question of what is Body Mass Index (The Big Question, 21 September), describing it as "your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared". Her article is then illustrated by two diagram charts in stones, feet and inches. The big question for Ms Frith is why weren't kilograms and metres put on the other two sides of the charts? Machines in my gym are exclusively in kilos and I can't remember what I am in old stones.



Nameless dread

Sir: "It's anonymous," says the heading of an article in Monday's Extra. But the very next sentence refers to "Toyota Corollas". So that is its name. How is it anonymous?