Letters: Local democracy

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The Independent Online

Local democracy reduced to a cut-and-paste leaflet

Sir: I live in a Labour-controlled borough. Of the three ward councillors in our area, only the Tories ever responded to letters from myself and others on two serious issues we confronted. The Labour member remained silent, which was especially galling for me when I was still a member of his party. I have never voted Tory and probably never will, but the poor performance of the current borough administration has certainly prevented me from considering Labour this time.

Our Labour candidates' election leaflet landed on the doormat this week, providing another small but telling insight into the mindset of the party. On the front, three names under a photo of three men gazing at the camera as if they were under instruction from the passport office. Inside, a text which exhorted us to vote for them on the basis of what they believed about key issues such as crime and the environment plus a general statement about our borough's achievements under the current administration.

There is not one word about the candidates themselves, and yet I am supposed to trust that they are suitable people to represent me. I have never seen anything like it. It would appear that a "cut-and-paste"leaflet from national party headquarters is deemed to be sufficient to attract my vote. So much for local democracy, choice and control, and so much for any hopes that Labour will be able to avoid a hammering at the polls.



Prescott, prurience and public interest

Sir: Yet again the media in general and the "gutter press" in particular are poking their noses into a Cabinet minister's private life for the entertainment of the prurient. In my view prurience is not a legitimate public interest.

We need a parliament with the courage to take on the media and enact draconian privacy laws that will make it essential for the the media to obtain the written consent of both parties before publication. Unless and until this is done there will be a continuous stream of ruined careers and wrecked lives while the media moguls get fat on the proceeds.



Sir: How can anyone maintain that Prescott's affair is a private matter. If they had sex in his office with the door open, in a government flat above Admiralty House, at Dorneywood - none of them private houses - and Tracey Temple was ferried around at dead of night in a government car how can this all add up to a private affair?



Sir: If John Prescott and all politicians and leaders in public life want to enjoy the privileges of power and all the status that goes with it then they should not be surprised if the public demands absolute integrity, including honesty in marriage. If a man or women lies in small things they are not to be trusted in bigger things. You are either honest or you are not.



Sir: Your front page of 1 May suggests John Prescott should not resign because then he would be "hanging around at home all day". Surely the 17,602 people in Hull East who elected him their constituency MP last May will find something to keep him occupied?



Ministers felled by the curse of Iraq

Sir: Is there some kind of "curse" operating against the "Labour" party in the wake of their illegal and unwarranted invasion of Iraq?

When Blair gave his now infamous speech in the Commons, now known to be full of lies and misinformation, regarding "Saddam's weapons of mass destruction", I remember clearly his front bench nodding their support and approval. Since then his nodding donkeys seem to be affected by an uncontrollable set of events.

David Blunkett was the first to be affected, but this last week we have seen the "curse" develop into what can only be described as an epidemic. Charles Clarke was shown to be an incompetent fool for allowing foreign criminals out of jail only to offend again. We also saw the health minister humiliated when she addressed the health workers. But surely the most devastating "curse" was visited upon John Prescott, by his very public humiliation over his tawdry affair.

As if these scandals were not enough on their own, they followed closely on the heels of the "loans for peerages" scandal.

With their massive majority of 1997 "Labour" could have achieved so much, not only here but throughout the world. Instead we have seen the biggest betrayal of its supporters, its principles and its roots in the history of politics.



Whaling watchdog in a sorry state

Sir: Ben Bradshaw (letter, 27 April) is right that the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is in a sorry state - wrestled between the interests of conservation and pro-whaling lobbies. The IWC was originally set up to "provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry".

Deplorable as Japan's current tactics might be, the country has in effect only turned the tables on the environmental lobby. The invitation of "whale-loving" countries, without any previous interest in whaling nor custodians of any whale stocks, to join the commission in order to alter votes and ensure an outright ban on whaling (however sustainable), was a policy embarked upon by environmental groups from the late 1970s. It has effectively destroyed the IWC as a serious organisation for the control and management of sustainable whaling.



Sir: Referring to the article "The great betrayal" in your 17 April issue, as well as to Mr Ben Bradshaw's letter, I wish to reiterate that the allegation that Japan buys developing countries' votes in return for the aid it provides is totally inaccurate. This is obvious from the fact that Japan's aid has supported anti-whaling countries as well, such as India and Argentina. Countries that have determined that their stance is "pro-whaling" do so on the basis of their own beliefs, supporting the sustainable utilisation of marine resources.

Moreover, at the IWC meeting in 2004, commissioners of member states including the UK unanimously agreed that the document accusing Japan of buying developing countries' votes, which had been distributed to the IWC by an NGO, was unfounded, and that they would consider taking measures to prevent any similar occurrence in the future.



When aggression turns into 'defence'

Sir: I have not yet read Anthony McRoy's book From Rushdie to 7/7, but Ziauddin Sardar's review of it (28 April) is so parti pris as to demand some sort of reply. There is much in this review that is, to use terms of which Sardar himself is fond, "skewed", "ludicrous" and "half-baked".

His assertion that "jihad is never offensive" will come as a surprise to those of us who live in the real world, not the ideological fantasy-universe he prefers, in which language loses its meaning, aggression becomes "defence", and aggressors become victims. His claim that "all Muslims see themselves as part of the ummah" could have been uttered by a dedicated clash-of-civilisations hawk, and blithely ignores the profound divisions, political, intellectual, tribal, nationalist and theological, within the Muslim world, and the struggles of genuinely courageous Muslim writers and intellectuals against the repressive Islam that is so much in the ascendant everywhere in that world.

As for his cheap shots at me for being a "brown Sahib", something I have never been called, to my knowledge, by anyone in India, where, Sardar tells us, it is a "recognisable sociological type", I wonder if you would so readily publish an attack on a well-known black writer which used the term "Uncle Tom"?

Sardar describes me, bizarrely, as an "uncritical Anglophile", which suggests that it is he, not Mr McRoy, who "needs to read much more widely". By the immoderation of his tone and his argument, he goes some way to proving McRoy's point that "Islamic radicalism has become mainstream", which was not, presumably, his intention.



Bringing up a child with autism

Sir: I am in full agreement with Angela Riley's letter (24 April). I too have brought up a child with autism and know of the problems that arise through the years. I was lucky that I have a husband who helped me a lot and also a son and daughter who did what they could, but like Angela's children they have their own lives to lead.

I do agree with Angela when she says that autism is very low on the list of priorities. If you have a child in a wheelchair or some other noticeable disability then the help is there, but most autistic people look normal.

I wish Angela the very best of luck in finding somewhere residential for her son. It took two and a half years for us to find somewhere suitable for our daughter, but she has settled well. I did feel guilty in taking these steps and I suppose I always will but I know we did the right thing, as she is so happy.

I do hope things turn out all right for Angela, as she has earned a life of her own, as have her other children. In no way has she failed.



Hullabaloo about 'foreign criminals'

Sir: Foreign criminals, it seems, are impervious to the curative regime offered by our excellent prisons. Their release in a state of obdurate depravity is feared and deplored; we shall tremble in our beds until they have been jetted home, and Charles Clarke into everlasting night.

How different from our cleansed and purified native criminals, whose release poses no such threat public safety; the reoffending rate for adults is a mere 64 per cent, and for young offenders, a negligible 80 per cent. Only a mischief-maker would discern xenophobia in the present hullabaloo.



Sir: I do not detect panic in the air: I do not think it is likely that a foreign rapist lurks around the corner, or that a foreign murderer lives nearby ("Charles Clarke's removal would be the easy option for Blair, but it would achieve nothing", 2 May).

The affair of Charles Clarke has nothing whatever to do with the problem of reoffending. The reasons why so many reoffend are rooted in educational disadvantage, lack of employment, poverty, deterioration of standards - factors which, at least in part,explain why so many go to prison in the first place.

How far bureaucratic incompetence is responsible for the mistakes that have been made is a matter which merits discussion. Political will is more important. This is exercised by our politicians - of whom Charles Clarke is one - and seems to be directed to a large extent to securing votes. It is political will which has filled our prisons far beyond their capacity to keep prisoners securely, and to make any realistic attempt to rehabilitate them.

Whilst there is not panic in the air, there is justified concern that the Home Office has been found to have failed to do what it is supposed to do, and a feeling on the part of some that the sacking of Mr Clarke would help in preventing our leaders from reoffending.



Sir: Much of the criticism of ID cards and many other "big brother" initiatives coming out of the Home Office is that the Government will get to know far too much about the citizen and will abuse this knowledge.

What we now learn is that the Home Office is a huge lumbering inefficient administrative behemoth, presided over by a huge lumbering inefficient political behemoth, which has mislaid some 1,000 prisoners and clearly doesn't know what to do about it. I am reassured.



Political disasters

Sir: The report of the death of J K Galbraith recalls to mind something he wrote in 1962 which seems equally relevant to-day: "Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable."



Narrow science

Sir: Golly! "Astrology cannot be easily judged by the narrow instrument that is science", says Marlene Houghton ("It's in the stars. Really", 28 April ). And here's me: PhD in physics and maths, half a lifetime in astrophysics and now working in bio informatics, all the time needing a broader brush! Why didn't I read that in the stars when I was 18, I wonder?



Sir: Nick Barron mis-states his case on the "astrological" influence of Mercury (letter, 2 May). Rather than being "nearly 60,000km away", at its nearest approach to the Earth, Mercury is about 90,000,000km away. But Mercury is considerably more massive than the midwife, so its gravitational pull is still relatively large - about half that of a 75kg midwife one metre away. More relevant is the pull of the Earth itself, which is over 3 billion times that of Mercury.



Selective schools

Sir: I note the list of ten reasons that a school may not seek to give preference to a potential pupil (report, 2 May) do not include adherence to a particular religion. Why is that do you suppose?



Cameron's warning

Sir: David Cameron states that his modern political hero is Margaret Thatcher (Monday interview). The rest of us have been warned.



Historic moment

Sir: Are you aware that at two minutes and three seconds past 1am this coming Thursday the time and date will be 01:02:03 04 05 06.