Letters: Perspectives on Julian Assange

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Trivial journalism shamed

Contrary to Christina Patterson's assertion (22 December), the real revelation of the Assange-Humphrys interview was not the direction of Julian Assange's moral compass, but the sleazy depths now reached by mainstream British journalism.

You could almost hear John Humphrys' raincoat flapping as he repeatedly pressed Assange to reveal the number of sexual partners he has had. Now a number of other journalists, including Ms Patterson, have revealed themselves as being comfortable on that rather prurient bandwagon.

What is it that Assange has done to upset them? I suspect it is that WikiLeaks has revealed the obsequious and provincial nature of much British journalism. As reporters rant on about dreary stuff that isn't really news, rather than actually bothering to investigate something, I wonder whether they ever question the value of their work, or even ask themselves whether they are really journalists at all.

That is Assange's true crime so far as these tittle-tattlers are concerned: revealing the fact that people want truth, not salacious gossip.

Susan Roberts, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Public and private life

I am amazed that Christina Patterson suggests that Julian Assange has been hypocritical in not wishing to divulge explicit details of his private life. There is surely a very obvious distinction between the disclosure of decisions taken by governments that have a profound effect on many people's lives and the intimate details of personal relationships.

WikiLeaks has served a valuable purpose in exposing information that deserves to be in the public domain. Whatever went on between Mr Assange and two women in Sweden remains a matter for the parties involved until such time as criminal charges are brought.

Tim Matthews, Luton, Bedfordshire

Not nice, but important

You can write it on the walls, Julian Assange is a jerk. A vain, self-centred, monumental jerk, completely lacking in empathy.

He is however, internationally, the most important journalist since Woodward and Bernstein, and that is the story. Or it should be. Lesser reporters need to focus on the big picture.

You can't reduce the significance of his work by making him appear unpleasant. That's just Christina Patterson losing the plot.

Lawrence Norman, London SW19

We demand polite protests

So that nice Mary Ann Sieghart (Opinion, 20 December) professes instinctive, though qualified, empathy with "the challenges to authority from WikiLeaks, the student protests and the shop sit-ins". But then, being a grown-up, she dismisses these thus: "Much better, though, simply to boycott Topshop or Vodafone if you feel strongly about it than to take direct physical action".

What 99.9 per cent of protesters take is non-violent direct action. The only physical aspect, on the part of the protesters at any rate, is mere physical presence, which at the time of writing is still allowed.

So many articles by our "liberal" journalists seek first to establish their authors' radical inner core, before revealing that they have signed up to the full establishment slate.

I imagine Sieghart's advice to Emily Wilding Davison and the Suffragettes before the 1913 Derby might have been: "Much better, though, simply boycott betting on the King's horse."

Eddie Dougall, Walsham le Willows, Suffolk

Mary Ann Sieghart promulgates the myth that the deficit is the primary motive behind Government cuts. The Government is making most of its decisions not on the basis of financial necessity but on the basis of an ideological stance.

Its determination not to fund higher education to any meaningful level is based on its belief that the market and not the state should bear most of the financial responsibility for higher education. The raising of the fees will bring few financial benefits to the state, since we know the income from any loan repayments is based on very dubious forecasts about graduate earnings.

Sadly we, the electorate, have little choice in any of this; we exercised our choice at the election but as it turns out the parties either didn't reveal their true hand or, as with the Liberal Democrats, said anything to get a vote and now will do anything to retain their shabby political power. An angry and deceived electorate has no choice but to demonstrate.

Judith Kennedy, Hampton in Arden, West Midlands

Mary Ann Sieghart remembers things a little differently from me. Was there really a golden age when protesters were jolly good chaps who revolted responsibly?

I seem to remember Lewisham being a bit tasty as thousands confronted the National Front, and repeated cavalry charges by mounted police. The Brixton and Liverpool 8 riots were popular uprisings, and they set the inner city alight.

Alan Gibbons, Liverpool

Private profitin the snow

The pathetic response in this country to the bad weather underlines a social problem which has been apparent for some time – the running down of the public sector. This has been partly ideological, stemming from the Thatcher war against the public sector, and partly a desire to keep winning elections by keeping taxes down.

Under New Labour this policy was continued with further privatisations and a low-taxation strategy. Previous social democratic aspirations of the Labour Party were contemptuously referred to as "tax and spend".

Of course both major parties portray this low income tax strategy as a fiscal stimulus to the economy, rather than a deliberate ideological shift. The idea that taxation causes an economic slow-down is not necessarily true. Of course if funds raised by taxation are merely banked then the result could be recessive; but if taxation receipts are used to employ people to do the tasks required in our society – improving the health and education services, building green energy sources and of course snow clearance, then this would be a stimulus to the economy. If higher taxes were counter-productive to economic success, the Scandinavian economies would have collapsed long ago.

The airports were privatised as part of the Thatcherisation of the UK. Their strategy now is private profit rather than the public good.

I don't see much hope for a change of direction from this government, but hopefully Ed Miliband will have the courage to remind people that taxes could be a good thing and steer Labour back to social democracy.

Phil Nicholson, Glasgow

The chaos at Heathrow and St Pancras has shown us how incompetent private enterprise can be. BAA and Eurostar have treated their "customers" with a mixture of indifference and contempt and hung them out to freeze. Even when it snows the emperor has no clothes.

Stan Labovitch, Windsor

I am one of the lucky ones. I just managed to get home to Sussex from Bangkok in 60 hours by taking a flight to Frankfurt instead of Heathrow and then to London City Airport. Quite rightly, there are many questions now being asked about why the adverse weather has caused such prolonged disruption. There is also a need to explain the uneven abilities of the airports to cope.

However, I have another question for BA. How on earth could they allow BA8731 to fly out of Frankfurt leaving hundreds of passengers still stranded – but with about eight empty seats on board? No doubt the official reasons will be something to do with seats already sold, no shows, weight, or something similar, but it is incomprehensible that they did not offer these seats to others at the last minute.

I am certain that none of my fellow passengers would have begrudged a further 30-60 minute delay to allow for this. For us time had ceased to matter – we were just grateful to be heading home.

Richard Mabbitt, Chichester, West Sussex

As some apology for the snow chaos at Heathrow, the BAA chief executive has decided not to take his bonus for 2010. But what criteria did the BAA board decide that, notwithstanding the shambles on his watch, he was entitled to a bonus? And will other BAA managers receive bonuses for their part in this national disgrace?

Roger Morgan, Epsom, Surrey

A word of thanks to the gritters, out all night, to the postmen/women, the milkman, the newspaper deliverers, to the lorry drivers supplying our shops, to everyone trying to go to work and keep the wheels of the NHS, shops, offices and factories turning.

To those who help their neighbours and those who try their best to cope in spite of all the whining and blaming that goes on, thank you.

S Kinnersley, Alcester, Warwickshire

Same old Start on nuclear arms

Adrian Hamilton is correct to write, regarding, the new Start treaty, that "What it doesn't do is to take the general cause of nuclear disarmament any further forward" ("This is not the Start of something new", 23 December).

The new treaty between the US and Russia would reduce the number of strategic nuclear weapons from 2,200 to 1,550 for each country (many held ready to launch at the press of a button). A very conservative estimate of the average destructive power of each retained warhead is 100 kilotons. This is seven times the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people.

So, extrapolating from Hiroshima, each country would retain an arsenal with the destructive power to kill over 1,500,000,000 people. Two world leaders' Christmas gift to the world! If we, the people, want rid of these Armageddon weapons we must insist on it in massive numbers, and repeatedly.

Jim McCluskey, Twickenham, Middlesex

Cable has only himself to blame

Just look how well Vince Cable would have done as Lib Dem leader. If Ed Miliband wants a Liberal Democrat to join Labour, well here is one.

Vince hates success, ambition, assets, wealth, just about everyone. He blamed estate agents for the property boom and then changed tack on to the banks. He lost the Liberal Democrats seats because of his proposal for a mansion tax. He did not know whether to vote in favour of his own proposal over tuition fees.

But who does the media blame? For some reason, Nick Clegg, when it is they, the media, who go around recording private conversations and reading emails not meant for public consumption.

Cameron and Clegg have an almighty task ahead of them. We are billions and billions of pounds in debt. Give the Coalition until 2015, then decide who you want to run this country. It may be, by then, Nick Clegg.

Of the main three political parties, Liberal Democrats are the most realistic. Why on earth the media want to destroy that is beyond most of us.

Richard Grant, Burley, Hampshire

Although Vince Cable has made quite a faux pas, I find his sentiments rather reassuring. The general public rarely expect their feelings in regard to media barons and corporate power to be reflected by a politician; we are far more used to seeing them kowtow to rich friends who can either finance political parties or give them a good press.

It's nice to hear a bit of straight talking from time to time; heaven knows how much blatant hypocrisy we are subjected to daily.

C M D Joslin, Dorchester

Cuts in Olympic borough

Savage cuts being implemented by the Coalition Government mean that Newham – where two-thirds of London 2012 will take place – is being hit more fiercely than better-off areas of the country. Wealthy Richmond in south-west London, for example, is getting off relatively lightly.

London's Olympic bid said the most enduring legacy of the Games must be the regeneration of an entire community for the direct benefit of everyone who lives there. For centuries London's East End has been one of the poorest areas in Europe. The Games have provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the lives of residents.

Here in Newham we are doing everything we can to protect our residents and services. We want the Olympics to inspire people and raise their ambitions to be healthier and more prosperous.

Newham has been working hard to expand participation in sport and activity through investment in our sports facilities and our promise to continue offering free swims to young people. We are providing the largest programme of free sport and activity in London. We will do our utmost to defend these pioneering initiatives.

Inevitably, however, as we are having to make massive cuts our ability to do that will be limited. The Government is already taking the axe to our school sports-funding. We fear the Coalition's cuts may have jeopardised the Olympic legacy.

Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, London E16

Now boarding for Moskva

Guy Keleny cites with approval a reference to the Russian capital by the English form of its name – Moscow (Errors and Omissions, 18 December). I have always felt the opposite would be far better. How much easier it would be if everyone referred to towns by their local names. For example, London would be "London" to everyone in the world.

I first came across this particular issue when travelling around Europe in my youth using the Inter-rail facility where journeys such as that from Rome to Venice via Florence would have been so much easier had I been taught from an early age that these towns were actually Roma, Firenze and Venezia. Now we have millions of people travelling around the world with the same problem in departure lounges.

Mike Stevenson, Leeds

The culture of peace

It truly saddens me to read Jessica Duchen's negative view of the genuine efforts that some of the world's leading musicians are making, as the World Orchestra for Peace, to keep alive the vision and hope of our Founder, Sir Georg Solti (14 December).

Fortunately her scepticism is not shared by Unesco, from which our musicians were honoured to receive the designation Artist for Peace on the day of our BBC Prom this past August. The designation states: "In recognition of its outstanding dedication to promoting, through music, cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace".

We are the first major orchestra to be thus designated and we are proud to be led by such a committed humanitarian as Valery Gergiev, whose statement, as quoted by Ms Duchen, eloquently summarises our aspirations.

Charles Kaye, Director, World Orchestra for Peace, London, NW2

Defend our battlefields

While I am delighted to see that Historic Scotland has released a new inventory of 17 historic battlefield sites in Scotland to give them greater protection in future planning decisions, it is disappointing to note that this stops short of full legal protection.

The proposed "inventory of battlefields" will not provide local authorities with the power to block planning applications as the policy will be non-statutory and, as such, battlefields will still face the cultural vandalism that currently marks many.

For example, developments continue to threaten the likes of Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce famously defeated the English, and the Jacobite battle of Sheriffmuir. For a country with such a rich history, we take an astonishingly cavalier attitude to our past, unlike the US, for example, where battlefields are held sacred.

Alex Orr, Edinburgh


What a mess the Coalition is in – ministers briefing against and battling each other, back-benchers voting against the Government, disillusion in the ranks, infighting, principles thrown to the wind. Such a contrast to the last Labour government.

Pete Barrett, Colchester, Essex