Letters: Lib Dem leadership

Lib Dem leader hounded out by the media and the cult of youth
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The Independent Online

Sir: I think you really should turn your analysis of the cause of Sir Menzies Campbell's decision to resign on yourselves and the media in general, instead of poking around inside the Liberal Democrat party hoping to find a conspiracy.

Since Sir Menzies was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats the media (including newspapers and radio stations which usually pride themselves on serious news coverage) have fallen into using some astounding ageist language and attitudes to diminish any news story or comments from the Liberal Democrat leader. The level of abuse he has had on this issue would be unacceptable if dealing with race or sexuality but it seems to have been considered fair game because of the cult of youth-driven celebrity in this country.

I listened to a review of Prime Minister's Question Time on Radio 5 last week where Sir Menzies Campbell's contribution, the only one of the party leaders to address a policy issue in the session, was reduced to a 15-second dismissal of what he had said. It wouldn't have mattered if Sir Menzies Campbell had found the cure for cancer, most papers would still have given the news a couple of column inches on page 8 if he was lucky.

I feel truly sorry for Menzies Campbell but I can't blame the Liberal Democrats. The media decided increasingly to ignore any contribution from the party because of the age and image of their leader, and the whole message of what the party is about risked being permanently lost.

Chris Hunter

Farnham, Surrey

Sir: Sir Menzies Campbell's ousting had little to do with ageism. As with Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair before, the self-interest of his parliamentary colleagues was the actual prod – they feared for their seats at the next election. It's certainly amazing how deft invertebrates can be with a knife.

If support for the Liberal Democrats has halved over the past two years, it's because of popular revulsion at the behind-the-scenes manner in which these figures connived at Charles Kennedy's ouster. Charles Kennedy stuck his head above the parapet to oppose the British and American invasion of Iraq and, for his bravery, was pilloried as a coward by the tabloid press. If his drinking occasionally went into excess on account of the pressure, the public understood – a full quarter of the electorate.

Dr Yen-Chung Chong


Sir: Have the Lib Dems changed one leader because he was too drunk, and the next because he was too sober?

Pat Johnston

Hexham, Northumberland

Prohibition turns us all into drug victims

Sir: In view of the call for drug legalisation by the Chief Constable of North Wales, it would be useful to establish what "the drugs problem" is. Should it be seen in terms of the relatively small number of people who mess up their lives through drugs, or in terms of the 99 per cent of people in this country who live in fear of drugs-related crime?

If drugs were available and affordable, no drug user would need to kick in my front door and steal my TV. The authorities would also be able to increase the control on the drug-taking population and the funding for education and rehabilitation.

A final point to the people with their finger in the dyke. Drugs are freely available now. Legalising them will make them no more available than they are today. Anybody who wants to get hold of drugs is able to do so with impunity if they have the cash and the user will get his drugs by hook or by crook.

My wish is not to be the source of the cash, and if that means giving them the drugs, that's fine by me as long as we make sure they are informed of the dangers to their health and their social life and are helped to get off drugs when they want to. Pretending we can do more flies in the face of 50 years' bitter experience.

My guess is that an end to prohibition is inevitable because this war is unwinnable. The danger is that we waste a generation summoning up the courage to do it.

Philip Murtagh


Sir: The proposal to legalise drugs brings up a very important question. Is it the role of government to criminalise people who undertake activities that are considered detrimental to their health? After all, alcohol, tobacco and even unprotected sex outside marriage can be fatal, yet we end up in pointless arguments about whether a particular drug is class B or class C.

Governments need to realise that their role is to advise, educate, train and show people from a very early age that drug- taking is very, very stupid. This is likely to be far more effective than existing laws, which have proved utterly ineffective

Robert MacLachlan

Malmesbury, Wiltshire

Sir: Having dishonestly exaggerated the dangers of cannabis when only relatively harmless strains were available, politicians now find that no one believes their dire warnings about the stronger versions on sale today.

But it's thanks to prohibition's total lack of regulation that weaker strains have been replaced and are no longer likely to be offered. Added to this, illegal cannabis can only be bought from criminals keen to hook customers on something harder, the impurity of which prohibition all but guarantees; the cost of which invites an open-ended crime spree.

Clearly, the current approach is a disaster – whichever drug it's applied to.

Keith Gilmour


Sir: Rupert Fast (letter, 16 October) asks how the liberal left would respond to "capitalists profiting from the production and distribution of heroin". The fact is that capitalists already produce and distribute heroin and all other illegal drugs. They are called criminals.

The difference is that if drugs currently classified as illegal were legalised the capitalists producing them could be taxed and regulated, with the products they produce undergoing quality-control testing. This would help reduce harm to the end-consumer and to society as a whole.

Ross Moutell

Enfield, Middlesex

Stop this sneering at the Blairs

Sir: I have not voted Labour since 1979, but I am heartily sick of the continued abuse of Tony Blair and the sneers and jeers at Gordon Brown in your letters column. To call Blair a "Machiavellian mountebank" as one of your correspondents did (15 October) is not only insulting, it is also plain wrong.

During the 10 years of this "mountebank", the economy grew consistently; the Bank of England was made independent; inflation averaged approximately 2.5 per cent, a minimum wage was introduced; 600,000 children were lifted out of poverty; and, more than anything else (as I can testify) there were huge improvements in the NHS: dramatically more doctors and nurses, reduced waiting times – am I the only one who knows that 118 new hospitals were built in England?

Blair was right to intervene in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Kosovo (in the latter case, he persuaded Clinton, against the advice of his military). Yes, Iraq was a mad adventure, but even there it is not impossible that there is yet more to know. And what about Northern Ireland?

Now Brown is being derided for calling off an election he'd never called, the whole thing being a media frenzy. Even worse, the media continues to sneer at Mrs Blair. I invite you to compare her attainments with those of Mrs Cameron: a barrister and judge who rose by sheer ability, compared with a millionaire's daughter who works in a stationers. I'm sure it will not be long before Mrs Brown is criticised for being dowdy or frumpy, as was Norma Major.

"Dave" Cameron is now being portrayed as having the ability to demolish Gordon Brown. In that respect I'm reminded of Dr Johnson's aphorism: "A fly, Sir, may sting a horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still."

Peter Metcalfe

Stevenage, Hertfordshire

Housing solution: a new Venice

Sir: Since the south-east of England has a shortage of housing and also a problem of flooding, maybe it would be possible to build a new town on the same lines as Venice. All the internal roads would be waterways and the buildings would rise out of the water or else be supported on pillars. The town could be built in conjunction with the creation of a new natural Fenland full of wildlife and opportunities for recreation.

This idea must surely be practical as modern construction methods far surpass the capacity of medieval Italians. It would be a challenge, which is all the more reason to do it.

J Cadwallader


Political messages on climate change

Sir: Although Johann Hari tries to dismiss the flaws in An Inconvenient Truth on the grounds that the film is "broadly accurate" ("Gore tells the truth. His enemies smear him", 15 October), there are enough problems with the presentation of science in the film to raise questions over its use for teaching pupils about the evidence for climate change's causes and consequences.

Al Gore's film is a political call to arms, and the flaws arise from his attempt to motivate his audience by making the threat of climate change seem greater and more urgent. By distributing An Inconvenient Truth to schools, despite its many flaws, the Government is sending the dangerously unsound message to pupils that the misrepresentation of scientific evidence can be justified if the political cause is "right".

In doing so, it has given a green light to those who would create more confusion in schoolchildren's minds by distributing materials such as The Great Global Warming Swindle which present an even more distorted and inaccurate view of the science ("Climate deniers to send film to British schools", 15 October). School pupils deserve to learn the truth about the science of climate change without being treated as political pawns.

Bob Ward


Sir: If all the climate change DVDs currently on their way to British schools were spread face down on the ground, they would reflect sunlight and thus make a practical contribution to reducing global warming.

Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Aylsham, Norfolk

Sir: I am very impressed by the name adopted by the political movement that has been formed by a group of climate-change deniers: The New Party. I wonder how long it took their marketing advisers to think that one up.

Keith O'Neill


Ayn Rand's gospel of kindliness

Sir: Tim Riggins (letter, 15 October) and others fail to understand Ayn Rand's ethical philosophy. Rand was not opposed to acts of kindness towards others. Indeed, she upheld a "benevolent universe premise" based on "rational self-interest". What she opposed was a sacrificial moral code that turns men into either profiteers of sacrifice or victims.

She argued that by elevating the idea that helping others is an act of selflessness, altruism implies that a man can have no selfish concern for others, that morally an act of goodwill must be an act of sacrifice, in effect destroying any authentic benevolence among men.

D S A Murray

Dorking, Surrey


Postal monopolies

Sir: What precious little remains of the Royal Mail's monopoly cannot be blamed for the recent strike action, as Dominic Lawson alleges (12 October). Rather, responsibility lies with this so-called Labour government, and the opening up of Royal Mail's business sector to competition, leaving the much less lucrative area of private mail monopolised. What a surprise that settlements for workers are poor, as the company struggles to make a profit.

David Pearson


Incandescent with rage

Sir: I would like to invite all the people lamenting the imminent demise of the incandescent light bulb and its associated properties (clear glass; the capacity to be dimmed etc) to stop behaving like spoilt little children and instead consider how they are actually privileged to have electricity at all, given that most of it is currently derived from the relentless plundering of a finite supply of valuable natural resources. If there's anything to complain about, it should be the hundreds of different measures the Government is not taking to improve the state of the environment.

C Francis


Cheque this out

Sir: In "Money, Money, Money" (16 October) it is suggested that the National Westminster Bank produced pictorial cheques featuring images of "badgers and bunny rabbits". I have thoroughly researched my entire collection of 5,000 or more English cheques and can confirm that the badger, otter, kingfisher, wood mouse, wagtail, wren and stoat all featured on the pictorial cheques. However, the "bunny rabbit" apparently does not. An alliteration too far I fear.

Roger Outing

Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Grubby fivers

Sir: Why doesn't the Bank Of England produce polymer banknotes for the £5 denomination (letters 6, 16 October). Polymer notes are in circulation in other countries and in Northern Ireland for their £5 notes. Polymer notes are easy to keep clean, waterproof and difficult to tear. No more grubby fivers. The average lifespan of the current £5 note is between eight and nine months; this could be extended to nearer four years. They can be granulated and recycled into useful household and industrial plastic products at the end of their life.

Richard Quinlan

London SW2

Alternative creator

Sir: There is no fundamental schism between those who think of the Spaghetti Monster as flying and those who think of him as giant (letter, 16 October). His Noodliness is invisible. Whether you believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world with His Noodly Appendages, or whether you believe it was a giant Spaghetti Monster, it still remains an issue of fairness that if creationism is taught as alternative to evolution (which is after all just a theory), then Pastafarianism should also be taught, as this is just as scientifically valid as creationism.

Joanna Selwood

Thatcham, Berkshire