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Friday 14 September 2007
Letters: Parliamentary democracy
Parliamentary democracy stifled under Brown's tent
Sir: A very big thank-you to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (10 September) for expressing so passionately and cogently the conclusion which I, like, I am sure, many others of your readers, am reaching about the emerging Gordon Brown administration.
Our much-deferred joy at Tony Blair's departure was bound to be muted, with Mr Brown in the wings, but for many of us that joy is already ashes. Party political democracy in Great Britain appears to be dead. Mourning for its passing and its fine traditions – in which not just parties, with their differing outlooks and agendas, but many independents used to play their parts – can now begin.
Tony's big tent has given way to that of Gordon. Who needs politics? All that has now changed seems to be style – would-be rock star (guided by God) has given way to "son of the preacher". It is apparently popular. So out with the ballot box and in with "citizen juries", cosily ensconced in the embracing tent. And if the Government fixes the evidence to be presented to the panels – there already are cries of foul regarding the nuclear power debate – then it will be no surprise.
The no-politics of big-tentism is inevitably market-consumerist and right wing. We need not be startled that Mr Brown has just praised the "conviction politics" of Margaret Thatcher.
Sir: No, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is not the only one feeling discomfort at Gordon Brown's one big tent idea . It certainly fits with his mode of operation at the Treasury, which involved building an unassailable position of power across government, from which he handed down decisions.
It is beginning to look as though he is now searching for the political version of the Ring of Rings described by Tolkien: "One ring to bind them all. . . ."
Yasmin thinks that "only a hung parliament can rescue our democracy". Really? The New Labour party has shown the other two parties a model that works well for those inside the tent. It is difficult to believe that they will resist the temptation to grab the one big tent approach for themselves.
McCanns face trial by mass hysteria
Sir: I frequently disagree with Dominic Lawson's opinions (on abortion, euthanasia and Conrad Black to name but three) but I wholeheartedly concur with him in his column on 11 September ("This tidal wave of emotional tyranny") regarding the sorry situation that Kate and Gerry McCann find themselves in, victims of a feeding frenzy by the tabloid media and the bloodlust of the baying crowds who are led by them.
While it is not impossible that the McCanns were responsible for the death of their daughter, it is so improbable as to be risible. The investigation should be left in the hands of professionals who, hopefully, will continue to uphold the principle that innocence is presumed until guilt, beyond reasonable doubt, is proven.
I lived in Australia throughout the Lindy Chamberlain saga and also took great interest in the trial of Joanne Lees. Both, as Mr Lawson points out, were pilloried by the media, which fed the salacious appetites of the masses who get their kicks from the misery of others, particularly if they are middle-class. The amateur lawyers of the pubs and the gossip columns condemned as murderers both of these women as a result of their composure in the face of intense emotional trauma. Both deserve our deepest sympathy for their ruined lives and respect for their integrity. I fully expect Kate and Gerry McCann, by virtue of their courage, to be similarly delivered from the nightmare they are currently experiencing.
The same venom was levelled at the Queen when she retained her dignity and restraint throughout the mass hysteria following the death of the Princess of Wales. It would now appear that we cannot be believed to "care" unless we blubber, preferably on television; and leave flowers, teddy bears and football jerseys as proof positive of our emotional superiority – as well as our forensic ability.
This country was built and made great by the ability of the people to stand steadfast in the face of trial and tribulation. A large percentage of the population seems to have forgotten it.
Sir: Dominic Lawson is entitled to pontificate on the nature of grief by contrasting the composure of Kate McCann with the emotion of Rhys Jones's mother. He is even entitled to use my brief comment on Sunday's Broadcasting House as a peg on which to hang his views.
But a competent journalist should also check his facts. Far from being a "one-time" darts commentator, I have already broadcast over 150 hours of darts on Sky Sports this year, with many more to come. Nor have I ever screamed "180!" for the benefit of darts fans, blind or otherwise; that's the job of the caller on stage.
It's for the programme's producers to explain why I was invited to take part, but I like to think that my views are as valid as those of Greg Dyke or Brian Sewell.
Do I detect a whiff of elitism running through his column? Mr Lawson obviously thinks that a Geordie darts commentator – even one with a Cambridge University degree – is too plebeian to be heard on a serious posh radio show.
Pudsey, West Yorkshire
Send the children out to play
Sir: At last a panel of "experts" are warning of the detrimental effect lack of play has on the development of children (report, 10 September) – particularly, I might add, on their appetite.
All the extra government money and the ridiculous posturing of celebrity chefs does not undo the wanton disposal of playing fields, even playgrounds, which has deprived hundreds of thousands of children of the facilities in which to play.
Even when ground is available, free play is restricted by overzealous health and safety, which is throttling all activity in this country. Children are forbidden to play on wet fields by most councils in case the children slip over.
Children from two to 20 need vigorous exercise every day to stimulate their development and their appetites. Well-exercised children will eat whatever is put in front of them. Fancy "celebrity" menus are not required. Let the children play with minimum restraint and become hungry and healthy.
Power of the Israel lobby exaggerated
Sir: Ehud Olmert's supposedly damning quote "When America succeeds in Iraq, Israel is safer" was made in 2007, not before the invasion. A minor quibble with Richard Ingrams ("It's about time someone spoke out", 8 September) but it points to a larger issue about the Israel lobby. It certainly exists, but its determining influence in the invasion of Iraq is more manufactured than real.
With all our good intentions, it's tempting to look for a single factor that led to the Iraq quagmire. The Israel lobby concept fits the bill nicely, meshing with the high profile of many Jews in Anglo-American public life. But can a single clique of people so dominate opinion that a nation goes uncritically to war? Can any group, Jews, evangelical Christians, etc., pre-empt debate on any subject in a post-Watergate, blog-addicted global society? Not even governments of entire countries can do this, much less particular interest groups within countries.
This isn't to justify hysterical ad hominem attacks against Mearsheimer and Walt, Tony Judt and Jimmy Carter. It is meant to promote a second look at the Israel-bashing currently in vogue. Mearsheimer and Walt can be factually correct, yet still arrange those facts in such a way as to create a Frankenstein's monster, not quite human in its ignorance of historical Western tension with Iraq, of bona fide US affection for Israel, of other interests probably intended to be served by the invasion (such as those of the House of Saud), of the negative outcome of the invasion for Israel in the form of a resurgent Iran.
The lesson of Iraq is not to charge at one windmill instead of another. It is to put everything in perspective, including the relative influence of the Israel lobby vis-a-vis other influences and national predispositions
Adam S Glantz
Herndon, Virginia, USA
DNA database too wide already
Sir: The proposal by Lord Justice Sedley to introduce a universal DNA database in the UK would be a logistical and ethical nightmare. It is a step too far. We should in fact be moving in the other direction. The UK has the largest DNA database in the world, with 2.5 per cent of its population on record, many of whom have not even been found guilty of a crime.
There is no justification in keeping innocent people's information on file. It is important that the current review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act is considering the value of such information. There is also a concern that, following the admission in August that over 500,000 names on the DNA database are incorrect in some way, any further extension of the database will only exacerbate such problems.
In addition, there is also the possibility of this information going missing, as it did on 13 August this year with the theft of a computer server, which contained information relating to forensic work, from the premises of Forensic Telecommunications Services Ltd in Kent.
Keith Vaz MP
Chairman Home Affairs Select Committee, House of Commons
Labour big guns under fire
Sir: I thank Henry Deedes (Pandora, 10 September) for highlighting the fact that Martin Salter MP has seen fit to become a patron for a body which supports the shooting of animals for sport, a move which has been rightly attacked by Animals Count (who are not a "colourful outfit" but a serious and moderate political party with several seats in the Dutch parliament and now gaining a presence in the UK).
They echo the feeling of the vast majority of people in the UK, which is one of revulsion that any human being can gain pleasure in inflicting pain on living creatures. All political parties will soon have to wake up to the fact that their records on animal welfare are a key factor for many people when deciding for whom to vote at elections, partly because the key mainstream policies of the major parties have become quite similar, so people look to other deciding factors.
Sir: The spokespeople from the UK's small animal rights lobby obviously don't read Labour Party manifestoes. If they did they would know that the Labour Party has pledged its support for shooting and fishing in every manifesto since 1979 and at the last election produced the first Labour Party Charter for Shooting Sports. Other political parties take a similar line.
Many Labour ministers and back benchers have gone out of their way to stress their support for shooting and I've had the pleasure of introducing some of them to clay-pigeon shooting, wildfowling and driven pheasant shooting. Martin Salter MP has made no secret of his support for well-regulated, legal and responsible shooting and fishing; he's also very accurate with both a shotgun and rifle.
British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Wrexham
The old game of blaming prostitutes
Sir: Tim Lott ("One law for prostitutes, another for their clients", 11 September) makes a lot of sense – but misses one key point. How do you define "payment"? The situation of someone in a massage parlour paying by credit card may be straightforward but are magistrates and juries really going to have to decide if a present of a fur coat, a piece of jewellery or a swanky meal was motivated by magnanimity or in payment for sexual favours?
Politicians are playing the old game of demonising prostitutes, when there are few of us that haven't been one at some point in our lives. They should start thinking through the idiocy of what they are proposing.
Andrew C Blundy
Good food grants
Sir: In principle, the Government's plan to introduce "good food" grants to pregnant women is highly admirable. However, the recipients might not even purchase food with this extra money. If the grant were given out in the form of vouchers which could only be spent on approved healthy items of food, the potential corruption of this benefit would be significantly reduced.
Voting with our feet
Sir: Is The Independent obsessed with an anti-Crocs campaign? Having read two articles on these resinous and colourful foot protectors in the last two days, I wonder if your journalists appreciate that some of us prefer to walk the wards, or even put out the rubbish, in comfortable attire rather than risk dirtying our Jimmy Choos? For most of us practicality and comfort override fashion.
Sir: In Monday's Media section I was astonished and horrified to see a photograph of James Lawton, chief sportswriter, epicurean and bon viveur, apparently eating an apple. Surely this is taking the "airbrushing" a step too far.
Sir: For the same reasons as Janet Street-Porter(13 September), my wife and I are regular visitors to the Bamburgh area. We live close to the Lake District, but the tourists can keep that for themselves (overpriced, overcrowded). I would like to remind Janet, however, that by telling thousands of readers what a fantastic place the Northumberland coast is, she may be causing its downfall. So Janet, keep quiet – and long live the deserted beaches of the North-east.
Sir: The presentation to Congress by General Petraeus has had a much more profound effect than you reported. Our parish clerk has just received the following email from the community police officer: "I will need to come to your meeting on 26 November, we are doing a surge in your parish January-March 2008."
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