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Thursday 3 March 2011
Letters: Libya points up the ironies of the UN
I am concerned about the UN Security Council resolution, recently passed unanimously, recommending that Gaddafi be tried by the International Criminal Court for crimes against his own citizens. It is further evidence of what is becoming increasingly obvious: the one-sided use of international law, which runs the risk of discrediting the whole concept.
It is not only that the US, which was clearly in the lead in pushing for this resolution, does not recognise the ICC and is determined that no US citizens, whatever they may have done, should appear before it, but their zeal for the prosecution of Gaddafi contrasts with their determination to suppress the Goldstone report, which found Israel guilty of war crimes in Gaza that were just as serious as those of Gaddafi.
And if Israel tried to justify its crimes by pleading provocation, so could Gaddafi. It is clear that though the revolution has elements which align it with the, on the whole, non-violent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, it is also, in part, an armed rebellion.
The essence of any properly functioning legal system is uniformity of application: when this fails, law becomes an instrument of oppression. The Security Council Resolution may not in itself be objectionable: it is the political climate in which it appears that makes it so.
Malcolm Pittock, Bolton, Greater Manchester
The UN has suspended Libya from its Human Rights Council. The council is "responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe".
With Gaddafi's long history of subjugation and ongoing human rights abuse of his own population, does it not make absolutely clear the absurd irony of the United Nations that Libya was promoted to such a position in the first place?
Jeremy Crane, London N3
I am really touched by David Cameron's compassion for the Libyan people and fully understand his anger towards a regime that opens fire on peaceful demonstrators. I seem to have missed his condemnation of the Iraqi government for doing just that on the 25 February. The body count so far is 45 and rising. People were simply demanding dignified living conditions and release of detainees and declaring their disgust at the corruption of the politicians in theGreen Zone.
The riot police fired on peaceful demonstrators in Sulaimaniya, Huwaijeh, Basra, Amara, Wasit, Karbala, Mousel, Ramady, Tikrit and other places. The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Usama al-Nejaify, said in a TV interview that a total of $40bn is unaccounted for from the Iraqi treasury. Remind me again please, why did the UK and US get rid of Saddam Hussein?
Tahrir Abdul Samad Numan, Orpington, Kent
The events now taking place in North Africa and the Middle East, which hopefully will lead to more democratic regimes, must surely signal an end to Turkey's claim to join the European Union.
The argument that Turkey would act as a bridge between the West and the Arab world would no longer be of any significance. Otherwise the same logic would apply to all the new regimes around the Mediterranean. This would come as a relief to the European Union politicians and the vast majority of the European people who oppose Turkey's entry.
Would it be too naive to imagine Turkey forming an economic union with its North African and Middle East neighbours, including perhaps one day, Israel?
Peter Fieldman, Madrid
The latest news suggests Gaddafi is fighting back. I hope western leaders will remember the Marsh Arabs and not abandon the Libyan freedom fighters to his "mercy".
John Miles, Perranporth, Cornwall
Stop bashing the banks
The economic recovery depends to a very great extent on the recovery and success of the British banks. Contrary to popular belief peddled by many including the current government, British banks were not a major cause of the financial crisis; the crisis was caused by a handful of huge institutions in the USA indulging in gross malpractice.
Some British banks were vulnerable to the global mess and had to be bailed out. Some were less well run than others, but by and large British banks are extremely well run and provide a much better service to customers than most people in other countries can hope to receive, as well as contributing huge wealth to the economy in normal times.
When bailing out the banks, it did not occur to the Labour government to place conditions on the banks over and above the existing regulations, and quite rightly so. If they had not mounted the rescue the financial crisis would have become an almost irrecoverable disaster. They knew that, within reason, the right people to decide how to run the banks were the banks, even though the banks were dependent on state money to help them survive the crisis.
On the subject of bankers' bonuses, the ill-feeling caused has been understandable but irrational. Yes, the size of these bonuses is grotesque, but the higher these bonuses the better for the country, because it boosts the tax take to the Exchequer. If the bonus pots were slashed and the money was kept as part of the banks' profits, it would be subject to corporation tax, which is at a much lower rate than income tax paid on the bonuses.
Stop bashing the banks, unless you want the recovery to take much longer than it needs to.
John da Silva, Lewes, east Sussex
Nice women of the old SDP
Steve Richards' column "In the long shadow of the SDP" (24 February) was like finding familiar names in an old school magazine, and what struck me, as a founding member of the SDP, is how well it has turned out for the boys.
I have a New Statesman cover from April 1986 on my wall, showing a cartoon of a smiling woman with her SDP rosette and her husband and two smiling children, also smiling, in front of the Volvo. It's captioned "The women of the SDP – decent, caring and nice". Whether this stereotype was true or not, the profile of women was high in the party, and many of us stepped up for selection as candidates in national and local politics. Now, with the exception of Shirley Williams and Polly Toynbee, when I hear about the women who were active in the SDP – Rosie Barnes, Anne Sofer, Helena Kennedy, Lesley Abdela, Julia Neuberger – it is because of their achievements outside mainstream politics, usually in careers they had maintained and returned to after the SDP.
When I joined the SDP there was an exhilarating sense of the possible – especially for women. Now 30 years later there are only 144 women MPs and the Liberal Democrat party, successor to the SDP, was the only party to put forward fewer women candidates in 2010 than at the previous general election, something I would have found unbelievable then.
I can't help feeling it's a pity the shadow isn't a bit longer.
Jennifer Darnley, Oxford
I welcome Steve Richards' perceptive piece on the SDP legacy, not least given that he has been consistently and disappointingly lukewarm, not to say cynical, about the Coalition.
The spirit of the SDP has indeed been at work, not only within the fascinating melting pot of the Coalition itself but also in the subtly shifting emphases within all three main political parties in this parliament.
As a founder member of the SDP, and not having joined a political party before or since, I was depressed but not surprised at the time that it failed to break through the tribal barriers. But if the SDP legacy rather than the dead party itself is now transforming British politics into something less tribal and more fluid, my pounding of the unwelcoming streets of Peckham in the early 1980s was perhaps not wasted effort after all.
Gavin Turner, Gunton, Norfolk
Punching above our weight
Matthew Norman is wrong to call Britain a "third-tier power" (Opinion, 2 March).
To the extent that objective comparative measures exist to rank the 200-plus nations in the UN, the UK remains in the "top 10" or "top 20" by most measures. The exceptions to that rule are that our physical size, reserves of natural resources, and population are all comparatively small – and we also fall down in some essentially subjective league tables that attempt to somehow measure ideas like "happiness".
That may not make us a "great power", but it certainly does not make us third-tier – unless Mr Norman believes that the 180 or 190 Countries who trail us in most league tables barely count at all, however big or heavily populated they might be.
The facts show that in most respects we do actually punch above our weight, assuming weight to be defined by population, area and resources. Thoughtful people need to think about how best we exercise the considerable power that we do still have, not stick their heads in the sand, and simply wish that the moral and other choices that we need to make as a medium-sized world player would just go away because it's all so horrid and difficult.
That, or move somewhere small enough to suit them.
R S Foster, Sheffield
Who needs chaplains?
Two correspondents (Letters, 2 March) have listed some of the duties that hospital chaplains have fulfilled and referred to their broad skills and experience. It is facile of them to point out that many people in hospital require emotional support that could potentially have clinical value, but your correspondents notably fail to explain why this must come from a chaplain.
Of course, people who practice a particular religion might like a visit from their own spiritual leader, for religious and other reasons, and no doubt this should be arranged. But the general emotional support that people in distress might need should come from people specifically trained to provide this, such as counsellors or psychologists.
Of course, in the days before nursing was reorganised and staffing reduced because of funding cuts, nurses of all grades had the time to relate properly to their patients and provided much of this support alongside their physical caring. Personally, I would much prefer this to an interview with the strange man in the dog collar.
Ian Quayle, Fownhope, Herefordshire
EU has only the powers we gave it
By all means let's have a serious and informed debate about whether the United Kingdom is on balance better off inside or outside the European Union (letter from Dr Mark Campbell-Roddis, 1 March), but it's ludicrous to suggest that the EU's powers have expanded "like a creeping dictatorship" all on their own.
The EU has the powers that its member states, through the medium of their national representatives, have chosen to give it. The "unwanted and ill-fitting legislation and regulations" he refers to has come into existence as result of the political choices of the Council of Ministers, followed by extensive negotiations involving national civil service experts working in committees to give effect to those decisions, in which the UK plays a very effective role.
Moreover, many business people are grateful that freedom of movement has opened up the markets of Europe to British business. The whole point of protectionism is to enable "less efficient" businesses to survive. Whether that is desirable in any particular situation is a separate discussion, but if the UK no longer has a significant manufacturing industry that is as a result of choices made by big business and domestic politicians.
If I were Dr Campbell-Roddis I would be far more concerned about the influence and impact of decisions made by global corporations, who are the real modern superstates.
Stuart Hathaway, Oxford
Learn to type
You report that the use of pens in written examinations "cannot go on" (25 February). Perhaps any move to online exams will finally encourage the alternative – good keyboard skills.
Despite the keyboard being almost universal, it amazes me that typing is so rarely taught in schools. In business, I have always been impressed by those who have sufficient proficiency with a keyboard to update documents in real time but have rarely found anyone capable of doing so. In this country we seem to somehow see this as just the domain of PAs and journalists.
Geoff Dennis, St Albans, Hertfordshire
Jonathan Allen, in his letter about public consultation on the high-speed rail line (2 March), makes reference to what could be described as the Blair Doctrine. It works like this: continue to put all the necessary pieces in place while insisting to the public that no final decision has been taken, until an overwhelming momentum has been achieved that the dissenters are powerless to stop. It worked with Iraq; it was well under way with ID cards; and now the powers-that-be seem savvy enough to have borrowed it for the implementation of the HS2 line.
Guy Cooper, Reading
Work it out
Opposed as I am to the idea of Lockheed-Martin being contracted to undertake the analysis of the upcoming census, I cannot bring myself to not complete the form, as suggested by Sue Berry (letter, 24 February). Doing so would be letting them off lightly. I shall endeavour to make my form as difficult to interpret as possible.
David French, Edinburgh
I would love to be as self-deprecatory as Colin Firth was in his Oscar acceptance speech; it's just that I'm not very good at it.
Mark Thomas, Histon, Cambridgeshire
Perspectives on university fees
Ministers rush to destroy humanities
Peter de Bolla and his co-signatories (letter, 2 March) must be most warmly thanked for articulating such principled objections to the Government's proposals to destroy university education in this country; for to deny public funding for the teaching of the humanities undermines the very idea of the university.
As they so properly point out, these policies are being implemented precipitately, and without proper discussion. Is it impossible that the vice-chancellors might now take on that duty of care that they owe those institutions over which they have custodianship? After all, they have nothing to lose but their knighthoods.
Michael Rosenthal, Banbury, Oxfordshire
Poor students like me will shun Oxford
Forty years ago I went to Oxford University to read physics. I came from a working-class background and had been educated at a local state school. But Oxford did not admit me because I was poor, underprivileged or disadvantaged. Balliol offered a place because I had good A-levels. Although those from state schools were in a minority there were quite a lot of us.
Could I have gone to Oxford today? Almost certainly not. Nowadays the school would have refused to enter me for the S-level papers (or their replacement) that differentiated between candidates with good A-level results. After all, why should the school spend money seeking grades higher than government targets?
My school was no intellectual hothouse. Although it started as a grammar it turned comprehensive in my second year and the head teacher had not encouraged me to consider Oxford or Cambridge. "Not really for people from this sort of school," I remember him telling me. Fortunately not all teachers were like that, and I shall be grateful for the rest of my life to the two in particular who encouraged a few of us to consider Oxbridge and assisted with our applications.
Lastly of course I would have looked at the £9,000 per year tuition fees. The thought of each year borrowing several times what my widowed mother had to live on would have discouraged me from going to university at all.
The Government's approach to the universities and their funding is madness. It will destroy the best universities as centres of excellence and simultaneously remove the opportunities they provided for social mobility. What an achievement!
Keith Wilkinson, London E9
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