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Saturday 20 March 2010
Letters: Labour's tax policy
Red tax-and-spend socialists? If only they were
Michael Gove's description of "Labour" under Gordon Brown is a fantasy ("Deep red is the new black", 17 March). He accuses "Labour" of "Seventies socialist nostalgia" two days after Gordon Brown condemned a union for striking, which it is doing only because the management refuses to negotiate. Brown has repealed none of the Tories' anti-union legislation.
He complains of a rise in the top rate of income tax (which hasn't actually happened yet), but it is still lower than it was for most of Thatcher's time; the tax system as a whole remains regressive. Brown robs the poor to feed the rich by giving billions of pounds of our money to the banks, useless private railways and the like, and continues Blair's insane PFI privatisation scheme, effectively a £100bn-plus free gift to big companies; hardly "higher costs on businesses".
Gove attacks Brown on inheritance tax, not for increasing it but merely for leaving it alone, even though only the top 6 per cent of inheritors pay so much as a penny.
Brown hasn't re-nationalised any of our industries or utilities, abolished university tuition fees, taken away private schools' absurd "charitable" status, adopted the full EU Social Charter, made any more than a token effort to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor (while doing plenty of the opposite).
Gove speaks of class warfare being "resurrected"; it never died – Brown, like Blair, has continued the Tories' war on the poor on behalf of the rich.
If my Lancastrian mother were here to see the special treatment accorded to Lord Ashcroft, and his party's proposals on inheritance tax, she would not be surprised. Over 50 years ago she defined Conservatism for me: "To those that have shall be given; the rest of you can make your own arrangements."
Power of religion for good or ill
Tell you what. Next time you want Johann Hari to write a rant against religion ("The Pope, the Prophet and the religious support for evil", 19 March) save yourself some money and I'll write it for you ... for free!
The plot is as predictable as an episode of EastEnders. First, find a few religious nutters who hold the most extreme views. Second, create a conspiracy theory implicating many more people of faith in holding those views. Finally, use this theory to rubbish all believers and dismiss them as fantasists.
And, of course, ignore the fact that people of faith do the most voluntary work, give most to charity, fight for fairness and justice, set up our most ethical businesses and have produced some of the greatest art and culture the world has ever seen.
But you wouldn't want to print something so extreme and intolerant, would you?
I could not agree more with Johann Hari, except when he says: "Nobody says I should 'respect' conservatism or communism and keep my opposition to them to myself – but that's exactly what is routinely said about Islam or Christianity or Buddhism."
As a Buddhist practitioner, I have to differ. You can say whatever you like about Buddhism, or the Buddha. We won't mind. In fact, an old Zen story tells us that a monk once asked a teacher "What is Buddha", and the teacher replied "A dried shit stick", which was an implement used in ancient times in Japan before the age of toilet paper.
I will leave you to ponder what that might mean; but you can rest assured that no Buddhist will mind your saying whatever you like about the Buddha. You won't have to worry about any axe-wielding monks trying to murder you. Nor you will you find any paedophile monks being shuffled from monastery to monastery.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Grotesque though Johann Hari's examples of religious wickedness are, almost as baleful are the everyday examples of petty spitefulness – as this week when the manager of a Cornish village hall (renovated with £150,000 of Lottery money and offering its facilities online for hire to the "whole community") refused to hire it out for a gay disco because she had regard for the "sensitivities" of local Christians.
When I edited Capital Gay in the 1980s we would normally receive two or three reports of attacks on gay Londoners each week. This rose to some 14 a week when a religious zealot spoke out. The effect lasted two weeks for a Pope, just one week for a Widdecombe or a Carey.
Peter Pophams's critique of the dismal incumbency of the current pope (15 March) is timely.
The Catholic Church is now complaining about being the victim of a conspiracy to malign it over its sexual abuses, well documented all over the world. The Irish Bishop of Elphin has finally come clean in admitting that the church has been covering up its routine sexual abuse of minors "for centuries", while he simultaneously claims that everyone else has been doing so too.
But the part played by the Pope for 24 years, when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican, is a historical fact: he personally ordered all investigations of sexual abuse to be made in secret, and for that secrecy to be maintained long after the inquiries were over. The purpose of this was to preserve the reputation and power of the church.
So the current mess he presides over is very much of his own making, as well as that of his predecessors, who have always been willing to accommodate the sexual excesses of the "celibate" clergy.
The Catholic Church has shown no compassion for the children entrusted to its care. Its cruelty was institutionalised, and abuse of all kinds was endemic to its culture.
You report on a Catholic adoption agency's exemption from legislation that would have forced it to consider homosexual couples as parents (18 March).
When evaluating the total impact on child welfare of the closure of a major adoption agency, on balance one might judge that the subtler impact on our society of permitting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was less damaging than the loss of opportunity for children and young people to attain a place and a life in a stable family.
But what is the emotional risk to the gay children who will grow up in adoptive families selected by such an agency? Are we really to accept as a positive influence in a child's life agencies whose starting point must be to tell some of those children that they are themselves unfit human beings? Can that be good work?
How tactful of you to place your report "Catholic group granted gay adoption exemption" (18 March) a safe 18 pages distant from the other one headed "Cardinal 'sorry' for covering up abuse".
Professor Chris Barton
Johann Hari's comment on the importance of not giving religion a privileged place, immune from criticism (Opinion, 19 March) is in some respects a commendable one, but as usual he goes a little too far. In your Arts & Books on the same day you have Gerard Gilbert – a Battlestar Galactica fan – slagging off Dr Who. Surely this sort of thing cannot be tolerated?
Errors in data bode ill for ID cards
Last year I received a letter from the State Pensions people telling me when I shall be eligible to receive my pension. I was concerned to see that, according to their records, my birth-date is May 1950, rather than the correct month, which is June. The letter gave a phone number to ring if any details were wrong.
I rang, thinking it would be simple to rectify this mistake, but was met by confusion. It seems that I must send my passport, birth certificate and other proof of my birth date to the appropriate address.
I did not want to send the originals of these documents but was told photocopies would only be acceptable if I first took them to the Job Centre to be authorised.
I protested that I would hardly be in a position to fake these documents, nor would there be any reason for me to do so, given that the incorrect birth-date is in my favour. Has common sense completely disappeared? Roll on ID cards...
Inbreeding of pedigree dogs
There is a simple solution to the problem of unhealthy pedigree dogs ("Campaigner with a bone to pick about inbreeding", 13 March). If the Kennel Club had a system of registering and cross-referencing reports of unhealthy animals it would be a simple matter to inform breeders that puppies bred from a suspect line would not be Kennel Club registered.
This system works very well in many European countries, which is why people who really care about a particular breed are so keen to import from those countries.
It may suit breeders to point the finger at puppy farms, but pups purchased from these places generally do not have bona fide Kennel Club Pedigree certificates – documents which breeders hold in high regard, but which are worthless if you have no information about the health and temperament of the antecedents.
Victims' role in the justice system
Just as Jeremy Clarkson does not represent all motorists, nor does Denise Fergus represent all victims ("Victims should not be allowed to shape the law", 16 March).
RoadPeace, the national charity for road-crash victims, has campaigned for over 17 years for an improved response by the justice sector, including thorough investigations, effective inquests, fair compensation and appropriate prosecution, and for proper recognition and rights of road-crash victims. But we have never called for victims to have a determining or even disproportional say in sentencing; we believe changes in policy should be based on evidence, not emotion.
Executive Director, RoadPeace
What has Obama done for us?
Bruce Anderson says Obama has failed to bring peace to the Middle East (Opinion, 15 March).
He has also failed to fix the world financial crisis, to end poverty and hunger, to stop nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, to get politicians in the US (or elsewhere) to use polite discourse instead of incendiary invective, to stop global warming, to get women treated as the equals of men around the world and to stop people fighting in country after country.
I mean, we gave him a loaf of bread and three fish, and how many people has he fed?
James C Lange
Pompano Beach, Florida, USA
In the shade
Belize's motto, Sub umbra floreo, seems to me to translate as "Where it's shady, I thrive". Messrs Ashcroft, Hague and Cameron seem to take this rather too much to heart.
Music misses out
I very much enjoyed Hannah Duguid's article on Kenneth MacMillan's The Judas Tree ballet (18 March) but was sorry that no mention was made of the superb orchestral score by Brian Elias, who collaborated with Sir Kenneth in this marvellous work of art. Surely ballet is an aural as well as a visual experience?
Save the tuna
Many people will be disappointed to learn that proposals to safeguard the future of species on the brink of extinction, such as the bluefin tuna, were rejected at the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species meeting (report, 19 March). However, people who care about the fate of the bluefin tuna and other ocean species do not need to wait for governments to make decisions. The best way to save the animals in our oceans is to simply stop eating them.
Campaigns Officer, Animal Aid,
In "Day the Vikings got their comeuppance" (report, 13 March) I read that in 1002 the English government allowed rebel Vikings to settle in south-west England. On page 15 of the same paper, I read that in 2010 the Labour government needs the Lib Dems to do well in south-west England. Just a millennium, and the same old game.
Stephen Usher (letter, 18 March) warns that putting junk mail into post boxes risks "bringing the whole system to a grinding halt". Seems the most likely way we powerless consumers can get noticed. Get stuffing those post boxes, folks.
Horsham, West Sussex
BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
Srebrenica: A son's quest amid the bones of Europe's worst massacre since World War Two
Faith leaders demand that detention period for immigrants is limited to maximum of 28 days
Scotland Bill: Alistair Carmichael takes on SNP as he demands devolution of property
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