Letters: Perspectives on Ed Miliband

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Party turns away from success

What is it with the Labour Party and the rush to ditch New Labour? They have clearly forgotten the 18 years spent in the political wilderness. Had Tony Blair not dragged them to the centre ground they would not have captured the vote of "middle" England in the southern half of the country.

The absence of David Miliband from frontline politics will do nothing to repair the schism between those of the centre and those who want to return to the heady days of obscurity.

As for the electoral chances of Ed Miliband, I cannot imagine the country choosing a man who carries the mark of Cain.

G Barlow, Knutsford, Cheshire

Time for change

Historical evidence seems to suggest that attempts at revolutionary change, whether by direct action or through the ballot box, are more likely to succeed in times of relative austerity coming after a period of economic prosperity.

If so, Mr Miliband's "New Old Labour" doctrine may prove an electoral coup. And if not, it can still bring more variety to the British political scene than has, for some time, been imparted primarily by the colour of the ties worn by the leaders of the main parties.

Hamid Elyassi, London E14

End to consensus

Ed Miliband does not pretend to have all the answers, but at least he does understand the need for a re-evaluation of the politics of consensus which have dominated our political institutions.

Steve Richards (Opinion, 30 September) correctly exposes the myth that Labour chose the wrong brother. The reason it chose the right one was precisely because David Miliband was trapped in the politics of consensus, where the electorate reject rather than elect governments.

Terry Wilde, Rossington, South Yorkshire

Media's victim

Following the decision of David Miliband not to put himself forward for a Shadow Cabinet portfolio, the country is poorer to the tune of one experienced, intelligent and talented frontline politician. The responsibility for this lies clearly at the feet of a media, of all complexions, which has relentlessly serialised the Milibands as the only soap opera in town.

Was the country really best served in recent days by the ceaseless pursuit of David Miliband and the endless pages and airtime devoted to speculation on his future? So the agents provocateurs of the media, this newspaper not excluded, have their man – and now the crocodile tears.

Carol Washer, Hessle, East Yorkshire

Tell us more

We've waited years to hear the Labour leadership say it had got the balance wrong on counter-terrorism, and Ed Miliband's admission that Labour has seemed "casual" about human rights is encouraging and to be welcomed.

But listen closely and all he's actually said is that 90-day pre-charge detention was wrong and anti-terrorism measures have been over-used. We now need more detail. Will Ed Miliband's Labour Party oppose the invidious system of "control orders"? Will it concede that past attempts to deport people to places where they would be at risk of torture on the basis of "diplomatic assurances" were wrong and risked undermining the global ban on torture? Similarly, will Ed Miliband wholeheartedly support a robust and far-reaching inquiry into alleged UK involvement in the mistreatment of detainees held abroad?

The Labour Opposition needs to re-find its voice on human rights and I look forward to hearing Ed Miliband himself making this clear.

Kate Allen, Director Amnesty International UK, London EC2

Asylum-seekers

Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour conference included emotional references to his parents fleeing persecution to seek sanctuary in Britain and his belief that "this country gave them everything. It gave them life and the things that make life worth living: hope, friendship, opportunity and family". Stirring stuff – but it is a pity that when he was in government he did not ensure that asylum-seekers and refugees were treated with the humanity that was offered to his own parents.

Paul Twyman, Birchington, Kent

Entente could breach treaty

Your report, "Britain and France may share nuclear deterrent" (30 September) overlooks a serious impediment to an entente nucléaire.

We are regularly told by ministers that Iran has to live up to its obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. So too must France and the UK: indeed, the UK negotiated the treaty text, and is thus a so-called depositary state for the treaty.

Article 1 puts very important obligations on member states, including all nuclear weapons states parties to the treaty, these being, in addition to France and UK, the United States, Russia and China.

Article 1 reads: "Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices."

The inclusion of the phrase "any recipient whatsoever" coupled with the key word "indirectly", would render France and the UK in breach of their NPT obligations were they to share their nuclear WMD systems. What kind of message would that send to Tehran over the importance of compliance?

Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey

On behalf of all UK citizens who have homes in both Britain and France, I support wholeheartedly the concept of a shared nuclear deterrent. This sensible, pragmatic decision will save us a lot of worry about where we should be when the button is finally pressed.

John Evans, Pulborough, West Sussex

I can't see how we can share a nuclear deterrent with France. Suppose we want to use it on them?

Pete Barrett, Colchester, Essex

Back Huhne to save the climate

Congratulations for producing your supplement on the Lyon Symposium (29 September). It's quite understandable that the tone of many of your contributors was pessimistic, because so far there is no evidence that there will be enough international collaboration to deliver the changes needed.

However, a new knight in shining armour is already riding to the rescue. In his speech to the Liberal Democrat conference, Chris Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, claimed that the Coalition would be the greenest government and put forward "the most ambitious energy-saving plan ever".

He did no more than repeat what Al Gore has said: that reducing emissions would be based on four themes – conservation, carbon capture, renewables and nuclear power. The difference is that Chris has his hands on some of the levers of power and he has every intention of using them.

He will be up against the usual suspects, climate change deniers, Conservative MPs who do not think climate change is important, the industrial lobby, the Labour Opposition, the inertia of the Civil Service and the chuntering of people when their electricity bills go up.

Yet do you know what is most disheartening of all? When a minister has fought his way through all the opposition and achieved a small success, the environmentalists will be standing on the sidelines parroting, "Too little, too late." In the face of that, why should anyone bother at all?

So I have a challenge for high-profile environmental campaigners. For the next three years, suspend disbelief, suspend cynicism and scepticism and pile in behind Chris Huhne. Be robust in responding to consultation, criticise as much as you like in private, but in public trumpet every small success from the rooftops. It will make the difference between success and failure.

David Pollard, Blaby, Leicestershire

Rossetti and his wife

Michael Glover clearly doesn't like the Pre-Raphaelites. ("Lovely refit, shame about the paintings", 29 October).

Lizzie Siddal was not the wife of William Morris. In fact Lizzie Siddal was Rossetti's mistress and wife, and he also had an ongoing affair with Morris's wife, Janey.

Rossetti did not change his first names round to demonstrate his great love of Italy. He was given the name Gabriel Dante by his father, who was an Italian radical and a great Dante scholar. As the father's name was also Gabriele, confusion was thus avoided domestically and in print.

Rossetti senior was a wanted man in Italy and probably a British asset: he escaped to London because the British consul smuggled him out on a British warship. He was the only one of his radical group never to be pardoned. The Rossettis' London home was a meeting place for Italian radicals. There were probably good reasons why his son avoided visiting Italy: being "febrile" was not one of them.

Lizzie Siddal, Rossetti's early model, had thin lips, it is true, but "exaggeratedly liposuctioned" is a bizarre anachronism. His Beata Beatrix ("an unfathomably ghoulish representation of womanhood which reeks of emotional fakery") was in fact Rossetti's tribute to his dead wife, painted two years after her suicide, for which he felt deeply responsible, and from which he never quite recovered.

Rossetti was no saint, and it took him a while to learn to paint, but criticise him for his well-documented faults rather than project dislike into his work.

Dr Rob Brownell, Colchester, Essex

Amnesia over Iraq

Thank you to Adrian Hamilton for his piece "Those not against Iraq were with it" (30 September). I have been amazed and saddened by the collective amnesia that has taken over the country. Large swathes of the media, the general public and, of course, politicians have started to fudge around that Iraq business.

As I recall only two people from my village (myself included) marched in the 2003 protest against the invasion, yet now it is quite "OK" to be against it.

My deep worry is how ready we are collectively to rewrite history. How many keen supporters of Trident, for example, will be expressing their doubts in ten years' time?

Peter Whitby, Bossington, Somerset

I was surprised by your assessment (24 April) that Nick Clegg's veiled criticism of the Gulf War would not sit well with Americans.

Barack Obama has roundly criticised the war from the start. Far from being an unwelcome departure from Tony Blair's practice of being "hitched to George Bush at the hip", Clegg's comments on the Gulf War set him squarely in line with the current American President – and, indeed, with a majority of Americans, who now believe the invasion of Iraq to have been a mistake.

Clegg's forthrightness on this issue ought to be welcomed on both sides of the Atlantic.

Steve Crutchfield, New York

Fighting crime with forms

Detective Sergeant Miles Ockwell urges the Government not to cut numbers of police officers (letter, 17 September). Cutting out unnecessary paperwork would give the police officers more time on the streets.

Earlier this year I found a child's bike in the alleyway at the back of my house. I called the police and an officer arrived with a van to take it to the owner, who had reported it stolen. So far so good. But before he could do that simple task, there was the matter of the paperwork.

He had to fill in a large sheet of paper: name; address; date of birth; religion; occupation (retired); what did you do before you retired? Plus how I found the bike and the time I found it. All this then had to be read back to me and the form had to be signed.

He said he had to do the same when he delivered the bike and that he would rather be out on the beat.

George Heath, Harwich, Essex

Presumptuous presidents

Mary Dejevsky' column of 24 September failed to mention one serious problem with the US Constitution: the accumulation of power in the Executive Branch.

Since the Second World War, presidents have taken an increasingly expansive view of their power as commander-in-chief of the military. This became especially worrisome after the 11 September terrorist attacks, when President Bush relied on that power to hold prisoners at Guantanamo, order the rendition of suspected terrorists and eavesdrop on Americans in contravention of laws passed by Congress.

Barack Obama who, ironically, has taught constitutional law, has not only left the bulk of the expanded Bush powers intact, but has also invoked the so-called state secrets doctrine to prevent torture victims from suing the government for having violated their human rights. On his watch, civil liberties have taken another step backward.

Left unchecked, the commander-in-chief power could prove a constitutional black hole that devours the protections spelled out in the Bill of Rights.

Paul Ruschmann, Canton, Michigan, USA

A chance for the left

Mark Reed suggests that a party of the left would have "no chance" of winning the next election (letters 28 September).

David Cameron's Conservative Party were voted for by 25 per cent of the electorate, receiving 1.8 million votes fewer than Michael Foot's Labour Party (and this was before they announced cuts of up to 40 per cent in essential services that the private sector will never provide).

New Labour have been haemorrhaging votes since 1997 as they have moved farther to the right. After becoming a centre-right party overnight, the Lib Dems have disappeared off the electoral radar. Meanwhile, millions of people have given up voting altogether.

Where is there evidence (outside the Conservative-dominated press) of an appetite for yet another right-of-centre party to compete in cutting public services and increasing inequality still further?

Charles Hopkins, Norwich

Small hope for the Big Society

Andreas Whittam Smith's piece on "the Big Society" (Opinion, 30 September) highlighted the contradiction that lies at the heart of the Coalition Government's philosophy.

The Big Society calls for altruism in the vein of enlightened self-interest. David Cameron is at best an idealist and at worst a hypocrite, if he believes the British public will swiftly let go of embedded hyper-individualism. This hyper self-interest is central to the neo-liberal economic paradigm so brutally ushered in by Margaret Thatcher a generation ago.

I desperately hope the Big Society materialises – it needs to – but it won't. When it becomes obvious that it won't, Cameron had better not dare to blame us for being too selfish.

Morgan Phillips, London, N16

How to steer a Segway

In Jonathan Brown's Segway report (28 September), he refers to the machine's "intuitive controls".

One important element of riding the thing – changing direction – is anything but intuitive. Manoeuvring to the left or right involves not turning the handlebars, which are fixed, but rotating a twist grip.

In an absent-minded moment, it is all too easy to revert to one's bike-riding instincts, the consequence of which is not turning but unexpectedly heading straight on. This may well be the reason why, like many (myself included) during their first ride on a Segway, George Dubya fell off his.

That aside, they are great fun.

Jerry Uwins, Woodnesborough, Kent

Like, thinking

The reason young people pepper their conversation with the meaningless "sort of like" (letter, 30 September) is to give themselves time to think of their next word. It is the modern equivalent of "erm, err".

Alan Pavelin, Chislehurst, Kent

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