It must have been a great relief to many world leaders when Barack Obama recently won the presidential race. The many congratulatory calls that he received are testament to this. But from Zimbabwe, there was little more than sullen silence.
For years, Robert Mugabe has maintained that "neo-colonial" powers, that is, the "white" governments of the UK and US, have been plotting to usurp him. But with Zimbabwe slowly sliding towards civil war, beset by cholera, with five million at risk of starvation, and a black man now at the helm of the US, how long can this fiction be maintained?
During the 1970s, my father, Jack Edward Jones, was among the many mixed-race senators in the government of Rhodesia, as the country was then known. He predicted with unerring precision what would happen if Mugabe and his ilk came to power, the destruction of the country.
This was based on the knowledge that the narrow and primitive mentality of tribal politics would slash at the roots of democracy being nourished by the then prime minister Ian Smith and senators such as my father.
It's a year since Smith died, and that fine man must have been horrified to see what was happening to his beloved country. He has been much maligned and falsely accused of being racist by people who had little if any knowledge of the country. Like many people who govern successfully, he was a hard-headed pragmatist who took the long view, and proved all his critics wrong. He hauled that country out of internecine tribal conflict to become the envy of its corrupt, bankrupt neighbours. Mugabe has taken it back to the Dark Ages by destroying what was once an advanced, all-round society and committing genocide on his own people.
Barack Obama said last year: "For years, it has been increasingly apparent that the Mugabe government is interested only in its own survival and enrichment, not the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe."
How it must irritate Mugabe to see a black man in power in the US, who recognises his regime for what it is, corrupt, greedy and criminal; and who can't be accused of racism.
No kick-starting into spending
I'm not sure I want to be kick-started into spending. During the past few years, my family, like many others, has become more aware of climate-change issues and we have reduced our consumption considerably. We have never had a car, but now we don't fly and we use water, gas and electricity sparingly. We do splurge on wine and theatre tickets, and the quality of our life is just as good as before, thanks to friends, radio, gardening etc, and the enjoyable extravagance of two baths a week.
Generally, we have got into the habit of not buying anything we don't need and with that has come the realisation that, like ourselves, half the population already have too many possessions, which is why Christmas shopping is so burdensome for them. I mistakenly thought that we were being responsible citizens. Now we are in danger of being booed in the street for not being profligate enough.
While I welcome the conversion of Darling and Brown to higher taxes for the wealthy, the announcement of a 45p income tax band comes as too little, too late. In the first seven years of Labour government, the richest 1 per cent increased their share of national wealth from 20 to 24 per cent. That it has taken the greatest economic crisis since the Second World War to shake Labour's seemingly indelible faith in free market capitalism is a shocking indictment of a supposedly social democratic government.
We should not allow Brown to bask in the glory of his Keynesian resurrection. Rather, we should draw sharp lessons about the failure of his neo-liberal policies that brought us to the edge of catastrophe in the first place.
Sadly, you cocked up the savings obtained from cutting the VAT rate by 2.5 per cent in all your examples (graphic, 24 November). To get to the pre-VAT number you need to divide by one plus the VAT rate, not multiply by one minus the VAT rate as you did.
This means that the savings on a new Mondeo are only £340.34, not £819.74. This is easy to pick up because the saving will be less than 2.5 per cent, not over 5 per cent as per your calculations, so no excuses for the sub-editor either (especially obvious for the £110 coat example, with a saving of £5.64). Evidence of steady decline of maths standards, or just journalistic arts bias?
A closer look at Somali piracy
There is a dimension to the seizure of the Sirius Star that may have escaped attention (report, 21 November). Piracy off Somali waters effectively ceased during the period when the Union of Islamic Courts held control over Somalia (June 2006 till December 2006). The pirates then voluntarily ceased their activities of piracy with ships ferrying relief supplies. It recommenced after the retreat of the Union of Islamic Courts and their apparent defeat.
There appears to be a correlation between piracy and governance within Somalia. At present, there is an intense civil war in which a Western/ Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is pitted against a coalition of an Islamist radical movement, Al Shabaab, local militias and the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia. Compounding the situation, there are more than 3.2 million people in humanitarian crisis. The TFG is predicted to fall within weeks if not days.
Piracy of the magnitude of the Sirius Star may be a signal that elements within Somalia are taking a more geo-strategic position and are thinking of a Twin Towers-type event, based on oil-trade routes to the West. Uncertainty leading to a re-routing oil tankers around the Cape would have substantial add-on costs to Western econ-omies in recession and also put pressure on liberal Islamic oil producers in the Gulf. It would also have an impact on the distribution of power within the Somali clan militias.
It is also significant that the port of Eyle where the pirated ships anchor, lies within the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, the area of origin of the present TFG Somali President, Abdullahi Yusuf. It is unthinkable that such events could happen in Puntland without the tacit collaboration of local political figures. It may also be an act of undermining the authority and legitimacy of a pro-western and avowed anti-Islamist figure.
The Robin Hood actions of a dedicated group of ex-fishermen with basic arms, successfully taking on the marine might of the world, captures the imagination and empathy of many of the poor of East Africa in a more imaginative way than Barack Obama being elected US President.
Dr Joseph Mullen
Senior Fellow (Hon) University of Manchester, Expert Nationality Witness-Somalia, Eastbourne, East Sussex
Nonsense about the cancer jab
I was sad to see the article, "My girls won't have the cancer jab" (16 November): to use its own words, the article was unnecessary, reckless and ridiculous. The back-of-the-envelope economic analysis was naïve. The UK model shows the NICE criteria were passed at a range of prices, including the list price used. Government contract prices can be significantly lower.
The safety concerns raised come from an anti-vaccine website. Analyses show no significant increased risks of serious adverse events; it is irresponsible to raise such concerns when there are no grounds to do so. Presentations on the safety of Gardasil cover 20 million doses under passive surveillance and more than 375,000 doses under active surveillance. And to refer to "a healthy immune system that hasn't been challenged by too many vaccinations" to prevent cervical cancer is just nonsense.
Professor David Salisbury
Director of Immunisation, Department of Health SW1
Energy suppliers are ripping us off
The wicked overcharging by the energy suppliers for pre-payment meters is not the only area where these companies are part of "rip-off Britain".
The pricing structure for gas and electricity is grossly unfair to the thrifty, the poor and the pensioners who have to be thrifty. The two-tier system, with the first block of units at about twice the price of the rest, means the thrifty are subsidising the profligate.
With so-called energy suppliers (they really only send the bills) having different two-tier rates, different cut-off points and different start dates and minimum contract periods it is difficult to find the best "buy". The internet sites that do the comparisons with a computer can give only the cheapest option at that moment. With so many price changes, the chances are 50-50 that a user will save or lose over the next year.
It would greatly simplify any comparisons if a single price were to be charged. Clearly, the price would have to be about 20 per cent higher than the present lower rate so the total charged for the average user would be the same. But this would mean that the thrifty would pay much less and only the biggest users would pay more and they can afford it or have more scope to economise.
Then there is the way the suppliers encourage us to make regular standing order payments, which they frequently change so we are in credit almost all the time unless we spend ages on the phone listening to Vivaldi to get the regular payment made more reasonable.
Dr E John Dixon
No doubt about end of pontiff
To compare the cases of Eluana Englaro and Pope John Paul II simply will not do (Rome Notebook, 17 November). The late pontiff decided against further treatment, which would be burdensome and might or might not have any significant effect. That is quite in keeping with Church teaching, as is the case of Hannah Jones who has refused a transplant.
The Church does not consider nutrition and hydration to be medical treatments but rather the basics for sustaining life. If Eluana Englaro were being kept alive solely by machines there would be no problem with the idea of switching them off.
The problem comes with the proposals to starve and dehydrate her body so that it will die. There may be arguments about such an approach, but it does not represent double standards.
Fr Jonathan Hill
Quid pro quo
Given the concern Chris Davies has for prisoners held without trial (letters, 24 November), I trust he is using all his influence with Hamas in Gaza to allow visitors to determine whether Gilad Shalit, a prisoner of war for two years, is alive and well. If he is not doing so, he should be thoroughly ashamed of himself, as should all his colleagues.
Dr Tom Weinberger
Wheels of misfortune
With cars lasting longer than they used to and the economy in a recession, is there is enough of a market to keep all of America's "Big Three" automakers in business. Maybe instead of having all three burning through taxpayer money we should let them start to fold and give a few billion to the last one standing. If GM and Chrysler, said to be the weakest, were to fold, Ford and other US automakers who employ Americans in the south would get a boost. Why pay Detroit to make cars no one is going to buy?
San Bruno, California USA
Nice to know the van Dyck portrait of Lady Stanhope has come to light again (report, 22 November) but isn't it a bit cavalier to call the court painter of Charles I "the outstanding painter of the 17th century". In which century do you put Velazquez, Hals, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Poussin?
Mersea Island, Essex
L E Shubert (letters, 24 Nov) asks, "Is Canary Wharf more important than the Queen?" The real question is, which does us the least harm, the greed culture of the former in playing a major role in bringing the country to its knees, or the latter, whose dysfunctional family perches on the monstrous supporting pyramid of privilege and patronage which perpetuates such inequality of opportunity?
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Witch-hunts are off
I have no sympathy for the BNP. But to suggest a witch-hunt of BNP members (report, 20 November) is similar to the McCarthy witch-hunt of so-called communists in the US in the 1950s. Both are to be deplored.
C Douglas Goode
Draughton, North Yorkshire
It's for you-hoo
The report on baby-buggy research (21 November) stated that 25 per cent of parents using a face-to-face buggy were likely to be talking to their baby. Were the other 75 per cent using their mobile phones?
East Grinstead, West SussexReuse content