Of course Al Murray, “The Pub Landlord”, has a democratic right to stand for election in Thanet South (report, 15 January), but the cynic in me suggests that this is more about reviving a stalled career than a serious effort to engage in the politics of one of the most deprived parliamentary constituencies in the country.
True, Murray’s candidature may provide huge comic potential, which might undermine Ukip’s angry Little England appeal, but conversely irony and satire can sometimes lend credibility to the target.
However, the important point is this: Farage and the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem candidates are all firmly tied to an austerity programme of draconian cuts to public services. Not one of them is campaigning on the extremely serious issues facing many people living in the constituency. These include: tackling the massive health inequalities in a district served by a hospital in special measures; dealing with significant educational underachievement in a constituency with its major comprehensive school also in special measures; regenerating an economy with the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest wages in south-east England; calling to account an out-of-control Jobcentre, which is sanctioning benefits at twice the rate of anywhere else in the county; providing more social housing for the 6,000 people on the longest housing waiting list in Kent; campaigning to reform a council described by the Local Government Association as “toxic” and by Eric Pickles as a “democracy dodger”. Sadly, Murray’s candidature will detract attention from these issues.
In fact, there is already a pub landlord standing for election in the constituency; Nigel Askew, who runs the Queen Charlotte in Ramsgate, is standing for Bez’s Reality Party. My fear is that, rather than campaigning about social justice, public services and regeneration in one of the most deprived areas of the country, we will have the spectacle of two pub landlords and a well-known pub regular vying for votes in a contest which, with the help of the media circus which is already gathering in Ramsgate, will soon be reduced to a piss-up in brewery.
Councillor Ian Driver
Thanet District Council
Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, Thanet South
Al Murray’s announcement that he intends to stand against Nigel Farage in Thanet South is a breath of pub-toilet air. To make it a really fair contest, instead of holding a democratic election through the ballot box, it should be a drinking contest. This will save both the public purse and the time of the electorate going to the polling booth.
Murray vs Farage, pint for pint, the last man standing becomes the new MP for Thanet South. It will be a fiercely contested battle, with both candidates having near-legendary hard-drinking reputations. For the loser, there is a position in my shadow drinks cabinet as minister for culture.
Lord Toby Jug
Leader, The Eccentric Party of Great Britain
St Ives, Cambridgeshire
Pope overlooks the duty to speak out
His Holiness’s remarks (“Pope Francis says if you swear at my mother – or Islam – ‘expect a punch’”, 16 January) make me reflect that I abstain from commenting on people’s religions on much the same basis that I abstain from commenting on their children. They are mostly harmless or at most an annoyance even if they are not as lovely, gifted and talented as the parents (or believers) think they are.
However, when the little darlings are tearing around the neighbourhood, stealing, bullying and hurting people, it becomes a positive obligation to say and do something about the matter. The commandments (which one assumes his holiness is in favour of) tell us to eschew false witness. To fail to bear witness at all, when there is harm being done, is also, I would suggest, a sin.
I hope Pope Francis will continue his work in improving the modern church without expecting anyone’s actions past or present to go unexamined or uncriticised.
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Mark Steel’s article highlighting the hypocrisy of many of the world leaders attending a march in Paris for free speech and against violence was brilliant (16 January), in particular, his comments regarding Raif Badawi’s punishment of 1,000 lashes for setting up a liberal website in Saudi Arabia. This punishment is so monstrous as to be unbelievable in a modern world.
It is nauseous that Western governments kowtow to Saudi Arabia for fear of losing oil and influence in that area; they bear moral blame for Badawi’s treatment in that they condone such barbarous practices by saying nothing.
The Pope “believes there should be limits to offending and ridiculing the faiths and beliefs of others”. I am offended by people who follow such ridiculous, irrational belief systems, and force their delusions on their children.
Ordinary fans have no chance against touts
John Rentoul (16 January) misses the point about with ticket touts. Genuine fans simply cannot compete against the industrialised touting industry, which is able to employ sophisticated computer programmes with hundreds of ghost accounts and credit cards, cosy relationships with promoters, and all sorts of sharp practices, to jump the queue and buy up vast numbers of tickets before fans ever get a look in.
According to Ticketmaster, up to 60 per cent of available tickets go straight to the touts. One only needs to look at the hundreds, if not thousands, of tickets that appear on sale on secondary resale sites within seconds of them going on sale to realise just how distorted and unfair the secondary-ticketing market has become.
Few would object to buying tickets from a genuine fan who can no longer use them, even if it cost them a bit more. It is the rank profiteering, the unscrupulous practices and the large-scale exploitation of fans that people are sick to death of. And by opposing the transparency measures in the Consumer Rights Bill, once again the Government has shown itself to be working in the interests of a wealthy minority, rather than in the interests of ordinary people, who are being priced out of musical and cultural events by secondary sellers.
Honour for a true heroine
Anne Keleny’s fine obituary of Sonya d’Artois (14 January) sheds a telling light on today’s honours system. D’Artois, an agent of the British Special Operations Executive in occupied France during the Second World War, delayed the progress of a Panzer division heading towards Normandy after D-Day, acted as a courier, and gained the admiration of “tough communist maquisards” as a “de facto second-in-command and weapons training officer”.
She was just 19 at the time. Not much later, d’Artois was sent behind retreating enemy lines to relay intelligence about enemy positions. That was when she was beaten and raped by enemy soldiers. Undaunted, next day she delivered the information she was carrying.
The obituary ends: “For her war work, she was appointed MBE and mentioned in dispatches”. At a time when so many people were displaying often unimaginable courage, this recognition was possibly considered commensurate, though this is hard to grasp now. It certainly highlights the vacuity of the UK’s present-day honours lists, which routinely allocate more elevated awards to people who, compared with d’Artois, have achieved nothing particular. There is a case for reviewing the benchmarks for national honours using the example that d’Artois, and people like her, once set.
The story of Sonya d’Artois’s exploits in occupied France was one of incredible heroism. I despaired to discover that she’d only ever been awarded an MBE for bravery. According to BBC News, that’s the same honour as bestowed on DJ Pete Tong for services to broadcasting and music.
Not disenfranchised, just disorganised
“The missing million voters” (front page, 16 January) – what twaddle. No one is being “disenfranchised” by the electoral-roll changes. Students simply have to register, in the same way as anyone else.
New Malden, Surrey
Unwilling enforcer of the speed limit
Peter Rogers (letters, 16 January) is wrong about 20mph zones not being enforced. I enforce one such every day – for myself, and by default for everyone behind me. I invariably lead a parade of angry and abusive motorists and I am heartily sick of doing the police’s job for them.