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Wednesday 23 April 2008
Letters: Labour's core principles
After the 10% tax row, Labour must rediscover its core principles
Sir: It's not the tax rebels who have dragged this government to the edge, but the Government themselves. Misjudgement on key issues has squandered any goodwill which could have been gained by a break with the Blair legacy. Instead, the Government appears tired and timid, and by Gordon Brown's own calculus, never less Labour. Whipped this week and beaten next, Labour must rediscover its raison d'etre. If not, the party is finished.
Sir: What the five million people adversely effected by the removal of the 10p tax income rate want to know is why they should be treated so differently from the stakeholders in the Northern Rock bank. People do not elect Labour governments to reward the rich at the cost of the poor; that is what Tory governments do.
If the Labour government wants to stand any chance of electoral victory it needs to reconnect with these basic principles and seek to redistribute wealth from rich to poor. A good first step would be to retain the 10 per cent tax rate but increase the top rate for those earning £100,000 from 40 to 50 per cent.
Sir: While I find John Rentoul's article "Gordon Brown has summoned up a deep, dark fear from the souls of Labour MPs" (22 April) illuminating, I think he is not aware of when and where the media first covered the problem of low-paid workers being affected by the elimination of the 10 per cent income tax band.
For the past 10 years I have learned to ignore the Budget speech and to take any subsequent comments with a large pinch of salt, as the devil is likely to be in the ever expanding and confusing detail. A complete tax guide is at least 4 inches high, close-printed, and about A4 format.
The first instance I heard of the problems that would be encountered by the lower-paid through the abolition of the 10 per cent tax band was on BBC Radio 4's excellent Moneybox programme the day after last year's Budget, when Paul Lewis introduced a lady who had taken early retirement, but who did not qualify for the age-related increased allowance. It caught my attention as a case of gross injustice, not least because there have been times when I, like many women, have been among the lower paid.
For the past year I have had the very strange feeling that I was the only person who was aware of the problem.
Sir: Could not the cost of a reversion to the 10 per cent tax rate be paid for by the cancellation of the ID card scheme? Not only would a sense of social justice be restored, but Labour would rebuild its lost liberal middle-class support.
Fuel poverty policy lies in tatters
Sir: Ofgem, government ministers and all the energy industry chiefs will attend a fuel poverty summit on 23 April . We fear they will just dance around the edges of a scandal that worsens by the day. Rising energy prices have condemned 4.5 million households to fuel poverty, spending over 10 per cent of a tight household budget just on gas and electricity.
Also attending the summit will be a handful of organisations who represent consumers most vulnerable to this scourge. We are clear about what a summit worthy of the name must deliver. Get rid of premium price levied on those who need to use prepayment meters. Require all suppliers through the Energy Bill to follow the example of the best, and introduce proper social tariffs. Reinstate the funding to the flagship Warm Front home energy efficiency scheme. Make a permanent increase to the winter fuel payment and target a package of financial support to people eligible for cold-weather payments.
The Government's fuel poverty strategy lies in tatters. There is a clear strategy available that tackles the major causes of fuel poverty, and this strategy needs to be implemented as soon as possible. Wednesday's summit will be a real test of the commitment of the industry and the Government. Britain's most vulnerable households can't afford for them to be found wanting.
Allan Asher, Chief Executive, energywatch, Dave Prentis, General Secretary, Unison, Mervyn Kohler, Help the Aged, Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive, Save the Children UK, Gordon Lishman, Director General, Age Concern England, David Orr, Chief Executive, National Housing Federation, Liz Sayce, Chief Executive, Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, London SW1
Sir: Dominic Lawson (22 April) rightly highlights the unavoidable reality that more and more British households will slide into fuel poverty if the Government seeks to generate more electricity from renewables such as wind.
The grave consequences for Britain's poorest families, and millions of pensioners, are clear if the Government pursues policies to move away from cheaper baseload sources of energy such as nuclear and clean coal and rely more on renewables. The Renewables Obligation will need to take more and more money from electricity bills in order to subsidise more and more wind farms, thereby pushing up costs.
The recently announced EU plan to boost renewables, especially wind, will result in a family of four paying £465 a year more for energy by 2020, on top of any hike caused by rising oil prices and the general cost of food and other essentials. This will inevitably plunge more and more households into fuel poverty, which has more than doubled in the last four years to an unacceptable five million households. Fuel poverty is when 10 per cent or more of household income is spent on energy bills.
The Government needs to come clean on the real cost and benefit of wind energy and admit that fuel poverty and energy policy are intrinsically linked, and act accordingly. Otherwise, it will be guilty of consciously implementing policies which consign more and more families to fuel poverty with all the social and economic implications that will follow.
The Bow Group, London, SE1
Sir: Dominic Lawson reckons energy prices will increase by 40 per cent if we hit our target for renewable supplies. What does he estimate will happen to prices if, as the non-renewable sources expire, we do not?
Barford St Michael, Oxfordshire
Victims of settler violence in Hebron
Sir: I have worked as an observer three times in the Tel Rumeida district of Hebron and immediately recognised the portrait of injustice and casual brutality by members of the Israeli army, police and settlers (report, 19 April). The need for outside observers was also highlighted by the article: as long as Israeli authorities are responsible for the safety of all residents and property in areas of Hebron, but act only to protect the settlers, one of the few options is for observers with cameras to film settler and army violence and to try to bring these events to the attention of the media.
On many occasions, I have been attacked by settlers from the Beit Hadassah and Tel Rumeida settlements in Hebron, often in front of Israeli soldiers or police, who on every occasion except one did nothing to stop the attacks or to attempt to apprehend the perpetrators.
The most common response from Israeli soldiers was that they could do nothing to prevent the attacks and to imply that the attack was my fault, as my mere presence as an observer was a "provocation" to the settlers.
As long as such fanatical settlers are supported by the Israeli government with army protection, financial support and near-immunity from prosecution, the situation will not improve for Palestinians in Hebron, and anyone whose presence in Hebron is considered a "provocation" by the settlers risks being attacked.
Last week, the Israeli media reported that a delegation of German politicians to Hebron were forced to cut short their visit after they were attacked by settlers. The army did not intervene.
Sir: It is a tribute to the courage of some of the soldiers, and of Donald Macintyre, that the brutality of Israel's occupation of Hebron has been revealed. The lesson of their testimonies is that occupation, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine, corrupts and dehumanises the occupier, even as it terrorises the occupied. Our duty should be to work towards the termination of this and other occupations.
But in this case, the occupier has encouraged foreigners, few of whom are even Israeli-born, to colonise the city and vent their fury on its defenceless citizens, against the tenets of the Geneva Conventions. The time has come to hold Israel to account by, at the minimum, making its privileges, such as the EU-Israel trade agreement, which gives Israel special export rights to the European Union, conditional on evidence that international human rights protocols are being observed.
Diana Neslen, Martine Miel, Carolyn Gelenter
Sir: What an extraordinary world J Obrart, H Sela (letters, 22 April) and other apologists for Israel's occupation live in: the simple Palestinians require just a little re-education to escape from the influence of their evil, manipulative leaders, and soon they would be thanking the kind IDF soldiers who visit them daily to sweep out their houses.
I think perhaps such apologists should seek education themselves, and spring-clean their views by visiting Gaza and the West Bank in the company of the natives.
A bus ride back to sanity?
Sir: A company has started running a bus service in Nottingham, using a red double-decker vehicle with a conductor.
Is this the first step back to a time when we saw police on the beat, Sunday postal collections, waitress service, porters at railway stations, good manners, good education, actual industries, park-keepers, television programmes worth watching and turn-ups on trousers? A time when political correctness meant knowing that blue stood for Conservative and red for Labour, and health and safety meant using common sense
Are the three red buses that travel from Nottingham city centre to Arnold the first small step in reversing the ridiculous state of affairs in which we find ourselves today?
Drawn to an article about spiritualism
Sir: I had never bought The Independent until last week. I am a spiritualist, and one day I was inspired to purchase this paper from my newsagent, without really knowing why. Then I turned to page three and read the article by Jonathan Brown; then I turned to the leading article entitled "High Spirits".
Let this be proof that there is indeed awareness outside the material and, as a writer awareness and matters of the spiritual in relation to the material, I think I was rightfully drawn to the things being said about spiritualism.
The comment "shouldn't they have seen it coming?" is a fair one, and the true spiritualist will not be concerned about the apparent threats to spiritualists in connection with the new EU directive.
Shoppers faced with a flood of facts
Sir: The report (21 April) on "water footprints" provides interesting comparisons of the amounts of water used to produce various crops and the amounts used by different countries to produce one particular crop. However, the complex operations involved in manufacturing, say, a cotton shirt must be very difficult to model and the figures should only serve as a very rough guide to water consumption.
My main concern is for the food shoppers who, faced with wrappers providing data on GM and conventional foods, calorie, sugar and saturated fat contents, E numbers, carbon-footprints and now water-footprints may develop a psychosis. This will perhaps be known as "supermarket madness", with patients showing symptoms of starvation caused by entering stores and leaving with nothing.
Bank takes a risk
Sir: So now the Bank of England is going to accept portfolios of mortgages as security for its bail-out loans to the mortgage lenders. Is there any evidence that civil servants will be any more astute than the bankers were in spotting the risky loans?
Sir: Your banner "Why hard times needn't mean a fashion crisis" on the front page of the Extra (22 April) makes two assumptions: first that we are actually suffering hard times, and second that we are actually worried about keeping up with the latest fashions. Maybe if so many people weren't worried about keeping up with the latest fashions they wouldn't be suffering hard times. Oh gosh, I am starting to sound like a Marxist.
Sir: You are right about the cuckoos ("The great migration crisis", 21 April). My daughter is 16 today, 22 April. Here in Sussex every year since she was born the cuckoos have arrived on or just before her birthday. For the past two years there has been a deathly hush.
Fairwarp, East Sussex
Plane common sense
Sir: It is a mistake to mix two entirely different uses of aircraft: mass transport for the public, and the forcible deportation of single individuals (Letters, 22 April). There is a solution. The CIA has recent expertise in flying unwilling victims from one country to another. This practice has stopped (or so they say), so the CIA probably has spare aircraft and crews. Perhaps British Airways could subcontract rendition – sorry, deportation – flights to the CIA. This would cost less, reduce passenger flight delays, and improve the public image of both organisations.
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
Teach them a lesson
Sir: I hope the teachers who are planning to take strike action get what they deserve: a Tory government.
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