Letters: Perspectives on protest

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The Independent Online

The Fortnum & Mason revolution

Andreas Whittam Smith (Opinion, 31 March) may be wrong in his assumption that the possibility of ending up in court will deter "substantial numbers of people" from taking part in UK Uncut's peaceful demonstrations.

I was one of thousands of pensioners who walked past Fortnum & Mason as part of the TUC march. I am so horrified that the police chose to arrest such idealistic and thoughtful protesters while letting organisers of the mindless violence run free that I will now be joining UK Uncut.

I suggest that a "pensioners' wing" be established for those of us who have nothing to lose by being arrested and criminalised. A day out in court; a short time in prison when we refuse to pay our fines: bring it on – beats day-time television!

Angie Smith, Hull

Andreas Whittam Smith shows a blinkered naivety about UK Uncut second only to that of Johann Hari. He seems to be oblivious to the direct connection between the "peaceful" but still inconvenient and illegal trespassing on property by UK Uncut and the violent behaviour that others who claim similar aims engage in. The kind of civil disobedience that UK Uncut uses has inspired the violent acts against the same targets, and they have to bear some responsibility for it.

Obstruction and trespass are offences, and people who behave like that should expect to be arrested, especially when they are quite rightly seen as being part of a wider occurrence of illegal activity at the time.

If they want to push at the boundaries of acceptable protest, then they should expect there to be consequences. There were a half million of us who protested, legally and peacefully on Saturday, and the mindless self-promoting tactics of UK Uncut and the splinter groups' violent action has diluted what could have been a very strong message.

Paul Harper, London E15

So this is democracy

The protests in the Middle East and North African countries have been part of the struggle for the sort of democracy that we in the UK take for granted, yet our cuts march was against decisions made by our democratically elected government. Those Arab states where thousands of lives are being lost in the fight for democracy must not only envy what we have got but must be amazed at our violent protests against it.

John Rogers, London SW16

Defection points the way to a deal for Gaddafi

By all means let our intelligence services debrief Moussa Koussa, but after that there should be no question of offering Colonel Gaddafi's highest-profile "defector" asylum in the UK. If Gaddafi himself is ever brought before the International Criminal Court, Moussa Koussa should be alongside him in the dock, such has been his loyal service to the Libyan tyrant and his complicity in terrorism.

However, allowing Moussa Koussa to find refuge elsewhere in the world rather than send him for trial at The Hague might yet open the door to a similar deal for Gaddafi himself and his odious family.

Those of us who called from the start for international intervention to prevent Gaddafi slaughtering his opponents in Benghazi can be satisfied by what's been achieved on that front. But it has also become clear that the "rebels" aren't capable of toppling Gaddafi without a level of direct military intervention going beyond the current UN resolution and amounting to a strategy of regime change.

But such a strategy, inevitably involving equipping and training the rebels, as well as backing them with increased Tornado and Tomahawk attacks, would also hugely increase the chances of collateral damage to Libya's civilian population. It remains highly questionable whether the UN Security Council would support this partisan approach.

Increasingly the alternatives seem to be a stalemate and de facto partition of Libya, or intensive diplomatic and economic pressure to persuade Gaddafi to relinquish power in return for a safe haven somewhere in Africa or South America and, yes, a "grubby" but realpolitik deal removing the threat of a trip to The Hague.

President Obama was right to float that. It probably still represents the best way to break the Libyan impasse without the loss of thousands more lives. Further down the line, it could also save the West future embarrassment should the Arab Spring lead to the toppling of regimes we've championed but who have their own track records of brutal repression.

Paul Connew, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Moussa Koussa's defection to Britain is reminiscent of the solo flight of Rudolf Hess during the Second World War. Now the question is whether his ultimate fate will also resemble that of Hess.

Ramnik Shah, Epsom Surrey

Please can somebody tell me what is going on in Bahrain? It seems to have dropped out of existence. The last I heard was an impassioned plea for help from a young woman doctor trapped inside her hospital while the imported Saudi Army was busy slaughtering any Bahraini who dared to be ill or injured. They were also threatening to maim, rape and/or murder any doctor who attempted to attend the sick.

So, why is it permissible for one mad ruler to kill his own people in Bahrain – albeit with outside help – while we have to listen to self-justifying speeches from America and our own Prime Minister telling us that it is totally unacceptable to stand by and watch while another mad ruler slaughters his.

Please tell me why it is OK to help the Libyans but not the Bahrainis? I really would like to know.

J C Stevenson, Eccles on Sea, Norfolk

William Hague's suggestion that UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorises the supplying of arms to the Gaddafi opposition has many ramifications. The CIA, for instance, will be dismayed to learn that its past covert operations in arming insurgents in Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Angola, Iraq, Cambodia, Cuba, Peru and Vietnam, to name but a few, were all unnecessary and a simple UN 1973-type Resolution was all that the United States needed. Too bad that the more informed consider UN Resolution 1973 to be ultra vires under the UN Charter.

Patrick M Lavender, Taunton, Somerset

I would like to think that General Sir David Richards's statement that "killing Gaddafi was absolutely not an option" is made in our best diplomatic tradition. It is not an option; it is a necessity.

Malcolm Addison, Woodbridge, Suffolk

If the "allies" are looking for a safe haven for Gaddafi somewhere in a country that has not signed up to the International Criminal Court, they could try the United States of America.

B Emmerson, Selby, North Yorkshire

Labour charade on spending cuts

Christina Patterson (30 March) is absolutely right to challenge the hypocrisy of Ed Miliband's addressing a march against cuts when his own party was planning to make at least 80 per cent of the cuts that the Coalition is making, and would have, in the words of its then Chancellor Alistair Darling, "cut deeper than Thatcher".

She could also have pointed out that the people on the march should be asking themselves why Mr Miliband and his shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, continue with the ludicrous charade of denying their responsibility for our current financial plight. If, as they sometimes argue, it was the irresponsibility of British bankers that caused the recession, then why did they not install a stricter regulatory regime during their 13 years in power?

Or if, as they argue on other occasions, it was an international problem, then why did they not follow Gordon Brown's vaunted maxim of "prudence" and prepare for the eventual financial crisis by seeking to pay down the national debt during the boom years?

Steve Travis, Nottingham

Reality strikes hard on the vulnerable. Visiting the excellent Berkshire centre for adults with special needs where my daughter lives, I find that care staff are having to endure salary cuts for the next four years. Consequently, the most experienced long-term staff are leaving.

The effect on residents is like that of a close friend or relative departing. Why hasn't a freeze been enforced so that all such care centres and homes are excluded from such brutal treatment? The care staff deserve more.

Name and address supplied

AV slur about 'wasted votes'

Your front-page article promoting the virtues of the Alternative Vote system (30 March) repeats the slur that some electors votes are "wasted" under First-Past-The-Post. No one's vote is ever wasted, as the support candidates get is a clear indication of the popularity of their policies and is taken very seriously indeed – note the concern at votes for the BNP – and can and does influence policymakers. To say that anyone's vote is "wasted" is an insult to those who take the trouble to go to the polling station and cast their vote.

Where your article is spot-on is in the acknowledgement that "hung parliaments and coalition governments are more likely" under AV.

That means that political parties can promise anything they like during the election campaign and then ignore it afterwards. Witness the wheeling and dealing that went on after the last election and the backtracking and broken promises that followed.

That is why people should vote No on 5 May.

David Clelland, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear

Full marks for effort to Elliot Folan for his ingenious piece of sophistry on behalf of AV (letter, 31 March).

However at "AV Newsagents Ltd" they would be running a special offer whereby if sales of any one title failed to account for at least 50 per cent of papers sold then customers who purchased the least popular would get a second choice etc.

In a highly intelligent locality where The Independent and Guardian were the frontrunners, there might be a further problem, as readers of the least popular (probably The Sun or Star) would by now have become confused and be demanding their Beano or Dandy.

Steve Edwards, Haywards Heath, West Sussex

Elliot Folan says that under AV all votes count the same. That, to me, is the problem.

Suppose Voter A has as his order of preference Labour, Lib Dem, Conservative, Green, Bonkers 1 and Bonkers 2. Suppose that also happens to be the order of first-preference total votes cast for the respective parties. Suppose Voter B selects the parties in the reverse order.

The minority parties are then eliminated until Labour and Lib Dem remain. Voter B's fifth choice vote then counts the same as Voter A's first. Can that be right?

Alan Pearson, Great Ayton, North Yorkshire

Your front-page editorial (30 March) repeats the chestnuts that under AV, unlike FPTP, the winner must have majority support.

A single hypothetical, but not implausible, example both illustrates this claim and reveals its superficiality. Take a constituency in which voters are of three types according to their first [and second] preferences over candidates X, Y and Z. Thus: 45% X [Z]; 40% Y [Z]; 15% Z [Y].

Under FPTP, X wins here with only 45 per cent of the vote. AV instead eliminates Z and reallocates those votes to Y, who then wins with 55 per cent against X. But although a majority prefers Y to X, another majority (60 per cent) prefers Z to Y. Indeed, Z is preferred by a majority to each of X and Y, although eliminated first by AV.

Generally, the winner under AV must be preferred by a majority to at least one other candidate, which is more than can be said for FPTP. But any number of previously eliminated candidates could be preferred by a majority to the winner, possibly including one preferred by a majority to each other candidate.

John Bone, Department of Economics, University of York

AV is a step in the right direction, but wouldn't it be more logical and fairer to add second-preference votes at half value?

N M Waller, St Albans, Hertfordshire

High cost of death control

Venetia Caine is right to raise the question of population and food shortages causing or influencing some of the world's current problems and conflicts (letter, 31 March). There are two specific factors that must urgently be addressed – death control and water supplies.

Death control through medical and other advances in the past 150 years has greatly increased life expectancies in both the developing and developed worlds. Not only must effective birth control methods be accepted and adopted, but a major debate among philosophers, theologians, lawyers, medics, politicians and others needs to decide how far we can afford to go to prolong life – however difficult and distasteful that may be, to put it mildly, and despite the inevitable accusations of western cultural imperialism.

The UK's population is forecast to have increased by 50 per cent in the 100 years to 2050. But Egypt's population was 22 million in 1950, is 80 million now and is projected to be 120 million by 2050; Sudan's is projected to almost double from 39 million now to 70 million; Ethiopia's to more than double from 83 million to 183 million; and Uganda's to treble from 32 million to over 100 million.

These last four countries all depend on the waters of the White and Blue Niles for their existence, largely controlled by Egypt under a UK colonial-era treaty. Other examples pertain worldwide. The USSR's destruction of the Aral Sea shows how easily and quickly we can ruin livelihoods. Will water be the cause of the next major war?

John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife

Our happy life with sparrows

With reference to nesting sparrows ("Perspectives on sparrows and where they flourish", 16 March), many years ago we were in the process of renovating an old, Burns-type single-storey cottage, prior to moving in. My husband was unhappy about possible gaps under the eaves, but we ran out of time before having to occupy the cottage.

How thankful we've been ever since for this omission. From day one, we've been treated to countless generations of sparrow families living in very intimate proximity, entertaining us with their antics.

Over the past two decades we've learned to live with them and they with us. In summer we are woken at 3am (almost daylight up here) by the hungry cheeping of half a dozen sparrow families over our heads. We soon learned to ignore the noise and go back to sleep. They in turn, have to tolerate our attempts to police their squatting tendencies when the equally welcome house martins return to build their own nests under the eaves in spring.

Occasionally, scraps of ancient yellowed newspaper still drift down, evidence of fruitless attempts of previous tenants to evict the birds.

Of course we also have a few visits from the magnificent female sparrow-hawk, gliding swiftly through the garden at head height, bearing off a dove or blackbird. But she, too, has to eat and feed young.

A Martin, Kinrossie, Perth

Not all can see the bright side

I agree with Joan Allen's comments about depression bringing a sudden illogical loss of confidence (letter, 31 March), but depression can be mild, moderate or severe. One in four people have a mental illness at some time in their lives.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a really useful tool which Nice guidelines state can help people recover from mild to moderate depression. If we choose to see the good things in life it can help our mood, but when you are severely depressed you just can't see the good.

Linda Dickins, Wimborne, Dorset

Party line

Duncan Anderson's explanations of the lack of planned street parties on royal wedding day (letter, 31 March) – changing family and employment trends and so on – may be part of the reason, but he misses what seems to me a much more obvious one: that lots of us don't give a damn about the royal wedding.

Laurie Marks, Cambridge

Hitler house

One question about the "Hitler house" in Swansea ("Houses that look like people", 31 March): does the occupant sit down and watch TV in the Lebensraum?

David Ronder, London N11