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Monday 25 May 2009
Letters: MI5 tactics
MI5 blackmail shows up a danger to democracy
Robert Verkaik's exposé of MI5 ("How MI5 blackmails British Muslims", 21May) demonstrates how the "war on terror" is taking us into Stasi-land. I am surprised and shocked that Frank Dobson can criticise these persecutions merely as "counter-productive".
It beggars belief that the new power of travel restrictions, passed into law with barely a murmur from most MPs in the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, can be used to force people to undertake work which may put their own safety and relationships at risk. It is quite intolerable that the secret services are completely unaccountable for the accusations they have made against the people they tried to blackmail. If those individuals did not feel confident of their innocence, they would not have come forward in this way.
Even if the bulk of anti-terror legislation was repealed, as it now should be, MI5 could still use "tip-offs" based on hearsay or invention to have people persecuted overseas. Parliament should set up without delay a stronger and publicly accountable watchdog over the work of the security services. So-called "sources we cannot reveal" should never be allowed to blacken people's lives and reputations in this way.
With this sort of incident, powers of punishment without trial are revealed as arbitrary tools to attack people of particular opinions, beliefs or nationality – democracy is truly in danger.
Robert Verkaik's report on MI5 left me deeply disturbed. Not only has the "war on terror" led to endless wars in the Middle East but it has resulted in a siege on the Muslim community, with stops and searches, house raids, arrests without warrants and 28 days' incarceration before charge. A disproportionately large number of innocent people have been criminalised on the basis of suspicion only.
On top of this, our security services have set about recruiting spies within the communities through blackmail and inducements. This is indefensible, and the intelligence services have lost their moral legitimacy.
MPs not to blame for expenses mess
So now we know. First Tam Dalyell (letter, 20 May) and now Nadine Dorries ("This is a witch-hunt", 23 May) have said it. The payments which the Telegraph and others have turned into a scandal never were intended to cover expenses incurred by MPs in the course of their duties.
New MPs were told that the additional costs allowance was intended as a lump sum entitlement for all MPs. Apparently the Government created this mess of a scheme to compensate MPs for the failure to increase their salaries appropriately. The money was intended to be part of MPs' income and theirs to do as they liked with.
So now who is in the wrong? First successive governments for not having the nerve to do the right thing. Second the media. The media were the reason for the initial governmental timidity and apparently they have always known the real intended nature of the additional costs allowance. This puts the Telegraph in particular and many others in a totally different light.
The other group who are being totally dishonest are the politicians, Cameron and others, who are criticising fellow MPs for using the allowance for its intended purpose.
I now have very great sympathy for the Speaker, who was put into a totally impossible position, being criticised for defending a government system which was operating as intended.
Maresfield, east Sussex
Before too many MPs are crucified on College Green, there are some home truths that need to be faced.
The culture that maximises expense claims within the rules is the same one which minimises contribution to the public purse within the rules. It is the culture which maximises allowable expenses against tax. That which allows employers to remunerate through untaxable perks rather than taxable income. Or to designate Jersey as "home", because less income tax will be payable. It is the culture which has bred an army of tax professionals perfecting avoidance schemes.
As long as we regard it as acceptable – even admirable – to maximise our individual finances at the expense of society, people will work the system as hard as they can. MPs have done the same. Indeed, how many of them had their expenses filled out by accountants who advised their clients to claim because "it was allowed under the rules"?
Shame on them, but shame also on us.
Now that we are subject to the spectacle of our elected representatives scrambling over each other and the body of the Speaker to reach the moral high ground, may I suggest one way in which they can demonstrate their collective leadership towards openness and honesty.
They should rush to the front of the queue to purchase our, soon to be compulsory, identity cards ahead of aircraft cleaners and pilots. After all if, according to them, you have nothing to hide , then why not get one?
Darlington, Co Durham
Now we know the name of the whistleblower. Let me, through your columns, urge Her Majesty to knight John Wick immediately, for services to the British nation.
The new body to be set up to examine MPs' expenses and salaries should be made up of people on or below average earnings. For example, they should be teachers, nurses, postal workers, construction workers. There should also be some people on the minimum wage, some pensioners (not Fred Goodwin) and some unemployed people. The last thing we need is one lot of fat cats passing judgement on another lot of fat cats.
SELBY, North Yorkshire
Maverick Tory with a big house
Just when the whole country was turning against the Labour Party and being won over by David Cameron's swift action against MPs who have abused the expenses system we have been brought back down to earth by an old school Conservative MP who thinks that the only reason the public are up in arms is because we are all jealous of his big house.
Along with the vast majority, I don't begrudge him a large house at all but I do begrudge the abuse of public expenses. This attitude only reinforces the concerns of the electorate about serial spongers in Westminster.
P J Anslow
I have had recent experience of working with Anthony Steen MP. He is a "maverick".
I run a voluntary organisation that supports single parents. Despite sitting on the benches of the party that traditionally views single parents as an economic nuisance, as our local MP he has continually offered support and encouragement, and helped to organise and launch our first lone-parent open day, where single parents were able to access free first-class advice and support from a range of professionals and organisations. His help has proved invaluable.
Recent headlines have left us confused more than upset. But being confused by a maverick is nothing new.
Sir Anthony Steen is nearly right when he says that the majority of the population think his house is "like Balmoral". The word was actually "immoral"
Forest tribe faces palm-oil peril
Orangutans are not alone in losing out to the palm oil industry ("Government 'greatly concerned' by palm oil production", 19 May). The Penan tribe in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, are struggling to prevent what remains of their rainforest being razed and replaced with neat rows of oil palm trees.
When the forest goes, the hunter-gatherer Penan lose the animals and plants they rely on. Everything they know is destroyed.
Let us not allow industrial appetite for this totally unnecessary commodity reduce yet another tribe to abject poverty and dependence. Development is supposed to help people, not destroy them.
Director Survival International London EC1
India bears burden of corruption
Hamish McRae (Opinion, 20 May) has given an excellent account of the situation in India, except for his understating the impact of corruption on Indian industries.
Corruption appears to be rampant, especially in the construction industry in Mumbai. Most contractors have visible and substantial allowances in their quotations for building works, listed as "miscellaneous".
It is an open secret that "miscellaneous" means bribes, without which the contractor would have no hope of success in getting the work and executing it gainfully.
A modest bribe is often termed as a petee (casket) worth 100,000 rupees (£1,200) and a serious one is known as a khoka or a tea chest, which is 100 times greater. During my visit to Mumbai in January 2009, I heard that petees had almost disappeared in the background and khokas were becoming more common in large construction projects.
India is doing well in spite of some corrupt politicians and not really because of good government. Rewards for hard work are modest compared to what one can get through misconduct and illegal practice. Hamish McRae has got it right when he says, "It would be naive to think of corruption as the prime issue but it is partly that." Corruption is a large problem that is chronic and ingrained, and a debilitating pain for Indian industries.
South Croydon, Surrey
A close-run thing at Hastings
Brian Viner (Last Night's Television, 19 May) states that "the effort expended in defeating the ferocious Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge might have had something to do with [the Saxons] getting a fearful hiding from the Normans shortly afterwards, at Hastings".
Far from the Saxons getting a fearful hiding, the Battle of Hastings was one of the longest, closest fought and bloodiest battles in medieval history. It started around 9am and didn't finish until after the sun had set. Throughout the day it was on a knife-edge and could have gone either way.
Indeed, if King Harold's army had managed to hold out on Santlache Hill for just half an hour longer until darkness had fully descended over the battlefield, William the Bastard and his men would have had to retreat to their camp by the coast, and would likely have been driven into the sea by the Saxons over the next couple of days.
Michael W Cook
Four hours of queuing, cucumber sandwiches, excruciatingly stiff conversation, brass bands and no alcohol, probably in the rain – it's the least Nick Griffin deserves.
Those who have been circumcised don't know what they're missing (letter, 21 May). I have lived for 65 healthy years in possession of a foreskin; the idea that it might have been removed without my consent fills me with horror. I have always thought of the procedure as somewhat akin to having one's eyelids removed.
Now that the words "bank" and "banker" have been so sullied and disgraced, is it not time to change the term "bank holiday" to something more decent? It has been an obsolete term for so long anyway. Make it part of the package of reforms being proposed which are going to drag this country's discredited democracy into the 21 century. Add in St George's Day as well.
Walsall, West Midlands
Xavier Gallagher (letter, 20 May) complains that speed cameras do not exercise discretion and cause accidents elsewhere. I assume that next he'll be complaining that traffic lights, unlike policemen on point duty, are incapable of discretion. If accidents are caused elsewhere, it is not the fault of the cameras, but of impatient and speeding drivers.
As the only child of an older mother, I am struggling with the logic of Ken Campbell (letter, 22 May). Apparently, for biological reasons, the interests of the child of an older mother are best served by preventing its biological existence. His argument applies also to mothers with sub-optimal circulation, liver or lungs.
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