Letters: Livingstone affair

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Sir: Your attempt to link the "present travails" of Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell isn't convincing (leading article, 25 February). Cabinet posts are the gift of the Prime Minister, and Tessa Jowell may be removed at any time. This would not prevent her continuing to represent the electors of Dulwich and West Norwood. Ken Livingstone has been elected Mayor twice and Londoners should not be deprived of his services unless they tire of him.

It was unwise of Mr Livingstone to discuss the history of the Third Reich late one evening with a newspaper reporter, especially one armed with a tape recorder, but the religious leanings of that reporter are irrelevant, as are the political sympathies of the Daily Mail in 1936.

Every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, the public has become aware of an organisation with the lofty title "The Standards Board for England ". Those of us who serve on local councils have been aware of the creeping menace of this organisation for a few years.

It spends a disproportionate amount of time investigating the trivial. There is no sanction on anyone who makes a frivolous or vexatious complaint to the Standards Board. There is a growing custom developing of councillors declaring a prejudicial interest in an issue where none exists "just to be on the safe side". The result is that local electors may be deprived of representation by their ward member on issues which effect them.

Allegations of sleaze and corruption damage all of us who strive to serve our communities and should be investigated, but the activities of the Standards Board add to the problem by creating a climate of fear. At the present rate, it won't be long before someone is shining a torch into my eyes and asking me: "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of your local council?"



Sir: I should like to report David Laverick, Peter Norris and Darryl Stephenson for having brought their offices at the adjudication panel into disrepute when they suspended Ken Livingstone. Where do I send my complaint?



The voters need lessons in politics

Sir: One of the recommendations put forward by Baroness Kennedy, who chairs the Power inquiry, is to lower the voting age to 16. As things stand, I do not see how this would make any difference to the apathy demonstrated by the young people in this country.

Until we can teach our young people to understand how politics work, and the importance of being able to participate in a democratic election process which could shape their lives, I see no change in attitude.

If we want to encourage young people to vote, I feel we have to teach them the basic understanding of politics during their secondary education. Perhaps it should be made part of the school curriculum.

This will give them time to acquire the necessary knowledge, and hopefully the will, to make an informed decision when the time comes.

Having a vote foisted on them at 16 without this teaching seems to me utter madness.



Sir: The Power Commission provides welcome food for thought. But its suggestion that public money be allocated to parties in line with general election preferences does not allow for changes of opinion in the years between elections.

A more responsive system would be to allow people to become "registered" party supporters each year, via the electoral registration form.

Funds could then be allocated - from general taxation and/or through each individual's tax payments - to parties in proportion to their current popularity. In turn, registered supporters would be able to vote in party elections, US primary-style, for national leaders and local candidates. The funding link would deter entryism we may see under a system of free registration.

This proposal not only addresses problems of party funding, but also promotes broader and more regular two-way engagement between parties and ordinary people.



Sir: John Rentoul ("Voting reform won't bring a different result", 27 February) obviously thinks it clever to make snide remarks about " right-thinking people who write letters to newspapers". As a right-thinking person, who gets riled by arrogant columnists, may I assert that uncritical worshippers at the feet of Tony Blair's New Labour are misguided zealots, lacking in exegetical skills.

Parliament voted for the war because Mr Blair lied to it. One million people marched because they sensed this, and were not prepared for their sons and daughters to be killed so that Mr Blair could be friends with George Bush.

Mob rule is a government in power on a minority vote, a power preserved by spin, lies and nepotism.



Sir: Localism is at the heart of the Liberal Democrat agenda. Steve Richards, in his "Labour must win the battle to restore public confidence in the role of the state" (23 February), fails even to mention the only party committed to "empower[ing] people and local communities", namely, the Liberal Democrats.

The reason they do so well in local elections is because they reject the Labour-Conservative consensus that for the past 25 years has held that localism is merely the gift of the centre rather than the right of the community.



Sir: As your eminently sensible campaign for democracy would largely depend on politicians' participation, I'm afraid the words turkey and Christmas come to mind.



Prescott's climate of opposition

Sir: The Environment minister, Elliot Morley, is right in saying: "It is essential that we all, industrialists, public sector and individuals, play our part" in dealing with climate change (report, 23 February). Would that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) felt the same.

At present, 92 per cent of local authorities are not prioritising climate change, as shown in a recent survey by the Government's official advisers. The Energy Review revealed that the Government is likely to undershoot its CO 2 reduction targets by 50 per cent. So urgent action is needed.

Yet ODPM officials are opposing two important clauses in the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill that would achieve just that.

One clause, tabled by Mark Lazarowicz MP, would require local authorities to consider how energy efficiency and microgeneration could help them achieve climate change objectives. The ODPM's view is that this is an onerous " new burden" on local authorities, so they oppose the clause.

The second, tabled by Gregory Barker MP, would require local planning authorities to consider, when deciding planning applications, whether to specify requirements for on-site renewable energy generation or greater energy efficiency.

The ODPM's view is that they might consider amending planning law via a process that would take effect in 2009; and regards energy efficiency as not part of the planning system.

So Malcolm Wicks, the Department for Trade and Industry minister, will be instructed to oppose these clauses when the Bill is discussed in committee on 28 February, and on the floor of the House on 10 March.

Could someone please tell the ODPM that climate change is a matter of urgency?



Sir: So Robert Fisk ("Problem weather", 25 February) is " tired of hearing about global warming" but might be able to muster some interest if it can be linked to a conspiracy of silence about the effects of war-time bombing with uranium?

Come on, Mr Fisk, just because the only tool that interests you is a hammer, it does not mean that everything in the world is a nail.

The causes of global warming are well-documented, widely accepted and date from long before 2003. They might be less titillating than a world-wide sci-fi conspiracy theory, but they are a lot more real.



In prison? Then you're guilty

Sir: The headline on your report on Afghanistan, "Kabul jail is taken over by rioting al-Qa'ida prisoners" (27 February) is a statement of, at best, wild assumption.

How do you know all the detainees are al-Qa'ida members? Have any of them have been convicted of terrorist action by a court, or are we relying on the word of a local warlord?

Do any of them have names, access to lawyers, visitation rights? Do any of them know the charges they are being held on or have access to any of the evidence used to detain them? Does the writ of the United Nations extend to this prison?

Or is this just another piece of the global gulag administered by the US with its various local puppets and reported on by the US through its global media assets?



Scandal among the New Labour elite

Sir: The scandal involving the Secretary of State for Culture is just another example of the huge void that has opened up between Labour voters and distant New Labour elite whose job supposedly is to represent them.

Tessa Jowell is married to a man who helps billionaires minimise their tax obligations. That tax burden is then inflicted either on low or middle-income taxpayers in the form of extra taxation or inadequate social provision. How could you be in tune with Labour values and find merit in that?

Labour membership and voter turnout is plummeting. The party's long-term future could be in doubt. The hypocrisy of a distant and privileged group of representatives is playing no small part in this.



We need a Prince who speaks out

Sir: As one who has experienced the work of the Prince's Trust in areas of youth enterprise and special needs education, I venture that the Prince of Wales is a considerably more positive influence on social well-being than any of the columnists who have criticised him.

When major issues such as climate change or energy policy demand unpalatable solutions, our elected politicians are unlikely to confront reality. Doing so would amount to political suicide.

We have in the Prince of Wales a serious-minded and caring heir to the throne, willing to use his uniquely independent position to raise public awareness in difficult policy areas. There is no constitutional impropriety. Provided he avoids party politics, he should be free to let his views be known.

Let us be grateful and applaud his sense of public duty, or is that too unfashionable in this age of air-headed celebrity?



Policy paralysis on green issues

Sir: I am pleased to see progress towards compulsory water meters in the South-east. But a crisis point had to be reached before action was taken. That reflects our general unwillingness to take individual action to protect the environment unless we are directly confronted with the consequences of doing nothing. Voluntary recommendations, guidelines or other soft incentives are clearly not enough.

My wider concern is that action on more serious environmental problems such as fisheries and climate change will suffer from similar paralysis in action and, in these cases, there may not be such an easy or direct technical solution.



Spin diagnosed

Sir: So much for the ballyhoo surrounding the government's anti-MRSA drive. The incidence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections, far from falling, has significantly increased. Was this because spin doctors rather than medical doctors were put in the driving seat?



All Dutch to her

Sir: Our daughter moved to Holland a year ago. She speaks French and English and has a working knowledge of Spanish, so she decided to learn Dutch. Her attempts meet with failure, because when she tries to use Dutch in shops or restaurants, the reply invariably comes in English, which is frustrating. Dutch is a difficult language to learn and, from her experience, it would seem they do not want foreigners to bother trying.



Actual bodily arms

Sir: We are assured that the IRA have decommissioned their guns. In the flickering light of the recent riots against an attempted demonstration by relatives of their victims, can we discuss the decommissioning of their petrol bombs, pickaxe handles and baseball bats?



Nappy solution

Sir: Verity Brown (letters, 21 February) is uncertain of the benefits to the environment of using washable rather than disposable nappies, largely because of the energy, water and bleaching products she uses. These could all be reduced by using an eco-friendly nappy soak (Google gives a choice of sources): washing is not necessary. An extra rinse cycle once every couple of days is far less wasteful than the resources squandered in making disposable nappies. Disposables also release methane from landfill sites.



One fell move

Sir: Michael Rosenthal (letters, 27 February) says "life for Iraqis is now demonstrably worse than it was under Saddam". The remedy is in our hands. We could return Saddam to power in Iraq with the same fell swoop we used to remove him. That should appease Mr Rosenthal, George Galloway, the insurgents and the anti-war lobby overnight.