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Tuesday 22 December 2009
Letters: Liberal Democrats
Lib Dems take lead in new politics of ownership
Steve Richards fails to mention the Liberal Democrats in his opinion piece "The politics of ownership" (17 December) even though they have already proposed a John Lewis solution for the Post Office.
The Lib Dems have been leading on the accountability of banks and the financial and commercial sectors generally. Because, of course, the concomitant of ownership is accountability.
The evolution of democracy has been driven by the abuses of unaccountable private interests. But in the UK over the last 30 years we have witnessed the biggest peacetime shift of power from local to central government and from both to the private interests of transnational corporations, interests arising out of privatisation, and to an army of quangos.
Local councils are virtually powerless to represent the wishes of local residents on the big issues, while central government more often than not defers to powerful lobby groups. Yet the first people locals go to for help are councillors and MPs.
There isn't much prospect of a change since if the Tories win the general election they will further limit the activities of local councils, for instance by establishing state-funded private schools. Indeed, when the Tories were last in power local government came close to extinction.
Lack of accountability and control is the biggest single reason for the pitiful turnouts at both national and local level. Liberal Democrats are committed to reversing this trend.
Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex
Now vote for a green future
I agree with Johann Hari (21 December) that the Copenhagen summit has proved an abject failure.
He is also right to encourage people to join campaigning groups and to urge those that can to take direct action against the immoral inaction on the part of our elected politicians. But it is wrong to deny that political change is possible. To do so will reinforce those already disenchanted by our badly tainted political system.
We know from painful electoral experience here in the North-west what happens when decent people fail to vote or engage with the political process. When two out of three voters stayed at home it enabled a climate change denier and leader of a racist political party to gain election as an MEP by the narrowest of margins.
It is time for wider recognition that the election of Green MPs in Brighton, Norwich and elsewhere, even under first-past-the-post is now a real and desirable outcome for the next parliament. To maximise the impact of direct action and campaigning work, we will need Green politicians in Westminster.
Thank you to Johann Hari for giving me some ideas for keeping my own campaign against climate change going, despite the cop-out at Copenhagen.
My new year resolution is to support Greenpeace and to work on my own carbon footprint by following the 10:10 campaign. As Johann says, this is where a "mass movement of ordinary democratic citizens" must succeed.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Although it hasn't snowed for a while here in south London the icy conditions are hanging on and a strange phenomenon has appeared: people walking along the roads.
Yes, the streets have been gritted and are pretty much ice-free but the pavements are covered in a sheet of ice which makes them like skating rinks. So in order not to fall over, the few people that do decide to walk are forced to walk on the road.
With precious little agreement having been found in Copenhagen, this reflects poignantly on our relationship to the private car and to our own bodies, and so, to misquote George Orwell: "Four wheels good, two legs bad."
Whether or not it is the local authorities or the residents themselves who should clear the pavements, this "road-walking" phenomenon is an interesting litmus test telling us that we value petrol-burning, CO2-emitting cars above using our own legs.
Until this basic trend changes, climate meetings, treaties and agreements will have very little effect, as we have built emissions into the very core of our lifestyle.
So China was holding the world to ransom was it (headline, 18 December)? What then has the United States been doing for the last few years, refusing to engage with the Kyoto Protocols and denying climate change itself?
Then Mrs Clinton flashed a $100bn bribe and made it conditional on the good behaviour of China and other recalcitrant Southern countries.
The effects of climate change require far more radical change than we are currently considering. It's the growth model that's the problem. That's not going to be solved by inviting the "developing" world to bear the effects of the "developed" world's lifestyle – as always.
The (non) events last week show that we are now entering the century of China. The extraordinary sight of President Obama and the EU leaders being frustrated in their ambitions by Chinese obstinacy is one that we can expect to get used to on a regular basis.
How a country reacts to a loss of global influence is as important for the world's future as the manner in which a new power copes with its newly acquired status. It remains to be seen how successfully and peacefully both China and the US will face up to the new political reality of a twin-superpower world, and one in which their relative standing is evolving in China's favour .
We should not be too despondent. Copenhagen is, after all, the first comprehensive international conference to attempt to deal with a global problem, and it is a start. There will have to be many more.
Furthermore, global warming is not the biggest threat to the planet. Mankind itself is the biggest threat: the ever increasing population must be brought under control, but when are we going to see an international conference seeking to achieve that?
King's Lynn, Norfolk
Am I the only one to find something gloriously positive in the Copenhagen talks? In the face of potential global disaster, people of all races, creeds, genders and nationalities came together. They argued – but they did not fight. Next time will be a bit easier. And one day (hopefully before it is too late), they will agree, and realise that this is the only way our world is going to survive.
The debacle in Copenhagen reminded me of Rosa Luxemburg's comment of a hundred years ago: that the future for humanity is either "socialism or barbarism".
World capitalism offers us economic crisis, war and environmental destruction. Our state and corporate rulers put short-term profit and power before people and planet. If the ordinary people of the world do not take democratic control of society on an international scale and plan for a sustainable future, then the prospects for humanity are bleak.
This peer looks like good value
How does The Independent expect me to react to the story "£74,000: the cost of the most expensive peer" (10 December); shock that he costs the taxpayer so much, or so little?
We are told that last year he attended the Lords on 145 days (that must be every day that the Lords were sitting) and asked more than 700 questions (more than anyone else), which suggests that he treats it as a full-time job of holding the government to account. For this employment his pay is £200 per day of attendance (which must also cover office costs), plus £174 per night to stay in London. Few but the rich could manage that without some form of extra remuneration.
I hold no brief for John Laird, and I don't defend the current system of expenses, but I do think we need a more grown-up debate about what kind of people we want in our Second Chamber, what and how we pay them, and what we expect them to do.
Monument to Scott's folly
While the Scott hut should probably be preserved as a time capsule of Antarctic exploration (report, 18 December) it should not be preserved as a memorial to what was a massively incompetent expedition.
Scott had access to the best Scandinavian advice from men with vast experience of Arctic travel and yet insisted on using ponies, whose diet of high-volume fodder made them completely unsuited for purpose, and whose hooves would break through anything but the hardest snow.
The result was the terrible epic of man-hauling sledges to the pole, resulting in the needless death of himself and all his companions, while Amundsen had a comparatively trouble free journey using dog sledges.
A letter from TV Licensing
We were interested to read John Miller's letter about demands by TV Licensing (15 December) since we have recently received what is obviously the first letter in a sequence.
Like Mr Miller we were not prepared to spend 30p to advise TV Licensing again that we do not have a television. We have lived at the same address for 38 years and have received several cycles of these letters. Once we even had a visit to the house; the inspector was satisfied that we had no TV, having looked in our lounge, and did not need to check that we did not have one secreted in our bedroom.
Why do they not send out a reply-paid envelope with the first letter?
WALTON ON THE NAZE, ESSEX
Carer's thanks to those who help
In these sometimes depressing times, I'd like to spread a bit of cheer by congratulating some of the great people who help in the community.
Because of my wife's illness, I have had to restrict my hours in employment, with the financial hardship that it brings. I'd like to voice my praise for Swan Housing Floating Support, Greenfields Community Housing, Mind, North Essex Mental Health NHS Trust, and Essex police for all doing their bit to make the life of carers better.
The life of a carer is a hard one, though rewarding, and those with disabilities want and deserve to be in their own home with family rather than institutionalised. We can't thank those who have helped us enough.
A R Wainwright
There is a simple solution for dealing with those bankers who go abroad so as to escape the one-off 50 per cent tax on their bonuses – once abroad, they aren't allowed back into the UK until they pay the tax (with interest of course).
Copt Hewick, North Yorkshire
When VAT was decreased from 17.5 per cent to 15 per cent, all the comments from the experts said that it was a waste of time, "too small to make any difference". Now it is going back up to 17.5 per cent, apparently it is going to "stop the recovery in its tracks". Is this just the congenital depression of economists?
Sean O'Grady seems to be under the misapprehension that Paul Samuelson was primarily an econometrician: he wasn't, he was a first-class theoretical economist (15 December). His greatest contribution to the subject was his seminal work The Foundations of Economic Analysis. In 1970 I suggested to my first-year students that they buy Samuelson's Economics, the book that O'Grady seems to be familiar with. One of them arrived with the Foundations. I suspect that Sean O'Grady made a similar mistake, but in reverse.
Having been an educational researcher for six years I find Michael Gove's proposal to maintain tests and league tables on the grounds of "sharp accountability" ironically superficial. The issue of school performance is far more complex, involving certain elements which you can measure and many which you cannot, such as the ability of schools to help create happy children.
West Bromwich, West Midlands
Like Damien Maguire (letters, 17 December), I too rue the "intermsofication" of the English language. He might like to savour this pearl from a BBC Radio Wales football commentator: "It's easing off now, in terms of the rain."
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