Letters: Michael Foot's legacy

Michael Foot, a man too human for today's politics
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What a sad day for British politics with the news of the death of Michael Foot, the greatest prime minister we never had (in my 60 years at least).

His failure to win the 1983 election no doubt had little to do with his policies, but more to do with people's perception of him as a bumbling, unkempt bohemian with unruly hair and a duffel coat, not a slick, besuited power-crazed robot, barking sound bites, such as we have in politics today. He was too nice a man to be a prime minister anyway.

New Labour, coming to power in a Trojan horse, has achieved what Thatcher failed to do: destroy the last vestiges of Socialism in this country. What a disillusioned man Michael Foot must have been.

What we used to say in the 1960s – "Whoever you vote for, the Government always gets in" – carries even more weight now. The Green Party, for which I imagine he had a lot of empathy, probably offers us our only hope now.

Peter Brown


Perhaps Michael Foot's greatest legacy is the many workers alive and well today who might have been killed or maimed were it not for the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Jonathan Wallace

Newcastle Upon Tyne

I agreed, politically, with Michael Foot on few matters. I respected him on all of them.

John Axon

Petts Wood, Kent

Another reason for voting reform

The controversy surrounding both Lord Ashcroft's tax status and his donations to the Conservative Party raises another issue that should worry a lot of people. Namely, how the first-past-the-post voting system, in which the result of a general election may depend on a few marginal seats, can be so easily exploited by someone who wants to have a government in power that will follow their agenda.

The politicians being supported are happy to go along with it, because it gets them to their only objective – the attainment of power. The electorate, once they have cast their vote, are largely ignored, until their vote is needed again.

The case for PR is strengthened by the whole episode. Equally it demonstrates why so many politicians are against PR. They may actually have to work for the people, and not just pay lip service to them.

Joe Hulse

Gurnard, Isle of Wight

In fully supporting Dr Winstone-Cooper's call for at least one of the televised election debates to be held outside of England (letters 4 March). I would wish to develop his argument about the national nature of the election.

The effect of devolution is that almost all domestic issues such as education, health and social care are now matters for the devolved parliaments. Residents in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will have no real interest it sitting through 90 minutes of debate on the Conservative, Labour and Liberal policies for England on these matters, but the party leaders will wish to concentrate on them as they will form the major part of their manifestos, the UK Parliament being the "English" parliament for domestic affairs.

One of the debates should in fairness be limited to policies that affect the UK as a whole, namely taxation and the economy, foreign affairs and defence, immigration and social security, and of course devolution. In the other debates the person presiding should state after each question whether it relates to England only, so that those in the devolved regions can put the kettle on.

John E Orton


With the electorate sick of the morally corrupt main parties, it seems absurd to have a staged televised debate between just them, and exclude the opinions of all the other fringe parties.

Why does it have to be Labour or Tory to run the country? Both, who are taking money from non doms, ripped us off with their expenses, and have destroyed any pretence of the democracy we thought we had. After all, Blair got in with four people out of five not voting for him.

P Cresswell

Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

Britain's claim to the Falklands

Daniel Fox in Buenos Aires (letter, 2 March) says he tells Argentines there that Britain "has an extremely weak claim" to the Falkland Islands "just off your coast", and tells us that the claim is based on British blood being spilt there "within living memory".

In fact the Falklands are 600 kilometres from the nearest point on the South American continent and 2,000 kilometres from Buenos Aires. The British claim goes back to 1770, and British settlement to 1833.

Stephen Fisk (letter, 2 March) says Phil Nicholson (letter, 26 February) "may be right" in thinking a poll of Falkland Islanders would show a preference for the status quo, but he holds that their wishes should be disregarded because "they are there because in the past it has suited the imperial ambitions of the UK".

I suspect that the entire population would prefer the status quo to Argentine rule, and I suggest that the "colony" argument could equally be applied to the Argentines themselves on the grounds that in the past it suited the imperial ambitions of Spain to colonise South America.

C J Woods

Celbridge, Co Kildare, Ireland

It looks like a post-colonial delusion to characterise as a derogation of friendship between the US and UK Hillary Clinton's offer to facilitate talks between Argentina and Great Britain over the Falkland Islands dispute (editorial, 3 March).

The US position on this issue aligns with the UN and all states in the American continent in considering this question as disputable in terms of international law. Britain is isolated in its pretension that its "lack of doubt" on its sovereignty over the islands is a valid reason to prevent negotiations in search of a constructive solution.

It seems unrealistic to pretend that Britain's "help" to the US in the defective excursions to Afghanistan and Iraq is a valid reason to neutralise US efforts to facilitate negotiations between the parties to the longest-standing territorial dispute between a Latin American and a European nation.

Would The Independent have considered as a derogation of friendship the difficult balancing act performed by the US throughout decades in connection with the Irish question?

Agustin Blanco-Bazan

London NW8

Bickering between the UK and Argentina over oilfields in the South Atlantic is foolishness, since we can't afford the environmental costs of burning the stuff anyway. This will apply until it becomes feasible to capture and store safely all the released carbon. Meanwhile, we urgently need rules to put oil fields beyond exploitation, and prizes for those who find ways to prevent global environmental impacts caused by fossil fuel use.

Dr Julian Caldecott


Private schools, public benefit

It is quite wrong to suggest that the Charity Commission only takes account of bursary support in our public benefit assessments of charitable independent schools ("My first priority is to improve state schools", 18 February).

Public benefit applies to all charities, not just schools. We have published guidance for charities about the public benefit requirement, in which we include numerous ways in which independent schools can demonstrate public benefit, such as partnership working with state schools.

During our initial assessments we found lots of good practice. We have been very clear that much will depend on the circumstances of the charity and that, although fee reductions are an obvious way of making the services of a fee-charging charity more widely accessible, this is not the only means of achieving this. All the activity that charities engage in which is related to the charity's aims and meets the principles of public benefit is taken into consideration.

Andrew Hind

Chief Executive, The Charity Commission, London SW1

Spring is here – or perhaps not

There is another calculation for the start of each season that is older than the options offered by Michael McCarthy (1 March).

The pre-Roman Britons assumed that each season had the relevant equinox or solstice at its centre. The start of each season was therefore in between, making the festival of Imbolc, at the beginning of February, the first day of spring. This is the only calculation that makes sense of midsummer's day. If you make the solstice or equinox the start of each season, the first day of summer and midsummer's day arrive at the same time.

February, May, August and November might seem too early for the start of spring, summer, autumn and winter but they are times when the light changes noticeably, and this remains constant each year whatever the weather.

Michele Wood


We're actors, not politicians

In an otherwise admirable letter (4 march), Alan Aitchison writes: "Politicians have always been actors." Not so. When we actors are working on a part the most common word you'll hear in rehearsal is "truth" - what's the truth of a character? Good acting seeks the truth of the role and the situation.

Modern politics, on the other hand, is often about appearance and ambiguity. The media have often said that Tony Blair is a consummate actor. In fact, he has a few plausible mannerisms. Acting and politics have in common the force of communication, but where actors are transparent in their search for truth many politicians seek to present themselves as mere celebrities.

Ian Flintoff


Honour among team-mates

Philip Hensher compounds an error made by many in the past few weeks over the relationship between John Terry and Vanessa Perroncel ("Wayne Bridge's touch of Victorian values," 1 March) when he suggests Terry cuckolded Bridge. Ms Perroncel was Bridge's girlfriend, and mother of their child, but never his wife. By all the accounts published to date, Terry's involvement with Ms Perroncel began after her partnership with Bridge had ended.

Terry may well be guilty of betraying a friendship bond with Bridge for bedding his child's mother so soon after their relationship had broken up – personally I think he was – but Bridge was not cuckolded.

Dr David Lowry

Stoneleigh, Surrey


Sparrows are back

During the last few weeks I've seen more house sparrows in my urban garden than I have seen for several years. Does this mean that after the dreadful decline in their numbers during the past decade they are, at last, returning? Perhaps the recent RSPB garden watch will confirm this.

Ken Scutt

Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Potato danger

The remarkable thing about genes is that if a single gene mutates and survives to replicate you can end up with billions of them. This is recognised in your article on the new GM potato (4 March), which states that "stringent" controls would ensure none of the tubers were left in the ground, ensuring altered genes did not escape into the environment. None! Either the European Food Safety Authority is naive or they will require controls that are so stringent that they will not be economic.

Jon Hawksley

London EC1

Poverty wages

Aftab Jeevanjee (letter, 3 March) misses the point about low wages: it is not that British workers deserve better wages than migrant workers, but that migrant workers deserve the same wage as British workers. It is easy to say that this is not the way the global economy works – but the monstrous fact of world poverty suggests that the global capitalist economy does not work.

Peter McKenna


Staying behind bars

Whilst I sympathise with the view of David Barry (letter, 3 March) that Peter Sutcliffe should not be subject to further incarceration, if he is a reformed character, Sutcliffe will nevertheless spend the rest of his life locked up. No Justice Secretary would risk releasing him, for political reasons. Furthermore Sutcliffe has to remain where he is for his own safety. There are a lot of folk in our midst who would exact their own brand of justice on him if he ever were to be released.

John Krispinussen

Chippenham, Wiltshire

Handel masterpiece

Tamerlano may be less frequently performed than the (sadly tiny) handful of Handel operas in the regular repertoire, but it isn't "relatively obscure" (letter, 4 March); it's an acknowledged masterpiece. If instead of lamenting Placido Domingo's absence Gary Mills was able to feel that musicians are vessels for the music, not the other way round, he might find himself having a wonderful night out.

Michael Ayton