Letters: Perspectives on the burkha

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Pot calling the kettle...

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown yet again claims she is speaking out against racism ("Sixteen reasons why I object to this dangerous cover up", 4 April). She says that despite the British people being racist "minorities have in general progressed to the middle classes".

Does she live in a parallel Britain? We have no segregationist policy, no race-dependent laws or schooling and very robust anti-discriminatory legislation, so why does she set up non-white Britons as victims? She accuses the entire French nation of being racist and oppressing Arab migrants, but what would her reaction be if another columnist or newspaper was to characterise minorities in a negative way?

Surely her one valid argument is that judging somebody ignorantly, based on a racial stereotype, is wrong.

Mark Curtis, London SW15

Don't single out the French

I'm sorry if Yasmin Alibhai-Brown suffered from racial contempt in France or anywhere else but, for a lifelong anti-racist, her railing against the French echoes the mindless stereotyping and generalisations of racists themselves .

Not all French people are guilty of "cultural supremacy and arrogance and hateful attitudes towards Muslims", nor are they all "ignoramus Gallic folk". And the comments about France not having reassessed its history are just plain wrong; try watching recent French films.

Tunisia and Turkey have also banned the burkha; Belgium's lower house has passed a draft law to do so, and other countries are considering the possibilities. Are they all guilty of similar foibles, or do different national stereotypes apply?

It seems that francophobia has become the acceptable variant of racism for many supposedly liberal commentators in the British media these days.

Rod Chapman, Sarlat, France

Veiling is a sign of subservience

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is courageous in what she says about the burkha. She is wrong in one thing only. The burkha and face-covering should be banned. Veiling of women in all religions is a sign of subservience and should be resisted. It puts at risk the rights of all women and girls and fosters a culture of misogyny.

When my daughter was still at school she saw a woman in a burkha being struck on the ankle by her husband, because she had scratched it and thus exposed a little flesh in a public place.

This single incident undermined my daughter's self-esteem and every effort her father and I had made to persuade her that she was the equal of any boy.

Schoolboys who saw the incident would have learned a quite different and very dangerous lesson.

I do not understand the present policy of liberal appeasement in the face of faith fascism, for this is what it is. Women are at greatest risk, but ultimately it endangers us all.

Jean Calder, Brighton, east Sussex

Pre-election deceit on NHS

Neither the Conservative nor the Liberal-Democrat election manifesto proposed a reorganisation of the NHS on the scale that England is now faced with. Moreover, it has already commenced despite the fact that the Bill has not yet been passed by Parliament.

Thus the Coalition is behaving in a thoroughly undemocratic way. All the indications are that this reorganisation is against the wishes of the majority of the people.

John Lohrenz, Godalming, Surrey

I find it intriguing that while Government does not, apparently, trust GPs to administer its invidious testing regime for incapacity benefit, it does trust them to manage £80bn of taxpayers' money under its commissioning regime for the NHS.

The Government will not allow an individual's own GP to pass judgement on that person's fitness to work, but it is quite happy to hand huge administrative and financial responsibility to non-administrators with very little management experience, virtually no real business experience and practically no negotiation expertise.

The intellectual inconsistency inherent in the Government's treatment of GPs simply points up the real agenda behind the reforms, a classic case of political "divide-and-conquer"; atomising the NHS and the unions, undermining any ability to use the organisation's purchasing power to drive down or control costs, while undertaking a Stalinist purge of all the managers who might have been able to drive hard bargains in the new system.

The net effect will be fat profits for (mainly foreign) healthcare providers, such as the one which paid for the Secretary of State for Health's private office, with little sense of what the precise benefit will be to patients, or indeed those taxpayers who don't happen to own shares in healthcare providers.

Mark Brandon, London EC1

Apart from the likely three-month cooling-off period regarding the proposed changes in the Health Bill, I hear today that there is a suggestion from some MPs of replacing emerging GP consortia with larger local commissioning groups to include other healthcare professionals and local councillors.

The hackneyed metaphor of the deckchairs on the Titanic is perfectly apposite; the fundamental issue is that central government has decided on a level of societal spend on healthcare which is insufficient to meet the ever-rising demand brought about by, among other things, rapidly increasing technology and accessibility of information, and no one knows how to square the circle.

At least with GP consortia we had the possibility of losing the shackles of bureaucracy and effecting significant change. The culture might have moved towards one of greater openness and inclusion, fostering a greater sense of ownership, and thus responsible use of the NHS, including an acceptance of necessary changes.

Dr Adrian Canale-Parola, Chair, Rugby GP Consortium, Warwickshire

Andrew Lansley has been trying to tell us that the pause in the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill through Parliament is a natural one, but this just is not true. The Bill has not completed all its Commons stages as it still has the Report Stage and Third Reading to go.

Normally, these would happen about seven days after the end of the committee stage (completed last week) to allow the revised version of the Bill to be printed and then there would be a pause before the Bill goes to the Lords.

If Andrew Lansley cannot tell the truth on this simple issue why should we believe anything else he says about his Bill?

Christopher Anton, Birmingham

Maternity audit saves lives

When women die during or after pregnancy or childbirth, (leading article, 4 April) the tragedy has widespread impact. Between 2006 and 2008, 261 women in the UK died in this way, and 331 existing children lost their mothers.

In the 21st century, the commonest direct cause for this maternal mortality was infection, and the UK has the highest stillbirth rate in the developed world. Scrutiny of maternal and newborn serious illness and deaths is an essential part of a healthcare system that focuses on safety.

The UK has a proud record in this respect: the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Mortality has run for 60 years and was the longest unbroken clinical audit in the world, globally admired.

Jeremy Laurance's article ("Britain's maternity wards in crisis", 4 April) highlights the under-resourcing of maternity services and the associated risks to pregnant women and their babies. Despite staff shortages, midwives and obstetricians remain deeply committed to this audit programme, and to ensuring that lessons learnt are fed back into improved clinical practice.

There is universal clinical concern over the recent decision to suspend the Confidential Enquiry programme, pending a review of its objectives. With maternity services under such pressure, it is now more important than ever to maintain the unbroken nature of this critical programme, and to ensure that lessons for improved clinical practice continue to be learnt.

Dr Imogen Stephens, Clinical Director, Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries, London W1

Reform of maternity care must allow the family of the mother and baby to have a much greater role in providing routine and straightforward care, looking out for the mother 24 hours before the birth, helping at the birth, providing routine care after the birth, particularly when the mother has had an operation.

We see birth only as a medical event and we see only the medical risk, so we push highly qualified professionals to perform a whole range of simple routine tasks (or we blame them when they just cannot stretch to them because of other emergencies).

In maternity services we can do much more to enable people to look after each other, improving quality of care and reducing costs at the same time.

Duncan Fisher, Crickhowell, Powys

Value cap beats 'mansion tax'

Your correspondent David Watson (letters, 30 March) is exactly right in his critique of a "mansion tax". It would require an entirely new collection system, with consequential disproportionate costs, and would give rise to all sorts of avoidance mechanisms, including splitting large properties into separate units.

But he is less perspicacious in his proposed alternative of higher stamp duty, which is a charge on a purchaser, not a vendor.

At present, a principal private residence is exempt from capital gains tax, an exemption limited to a specified land area. This dates from when top-range properties were country estates, and was, in effect, a mechanism to prevent the wealthy avoiding capital gains tax by over-investing in property.

Nobody conceived at the time that there would be £20m properties in London standing on very small areas of land.

So it would be logical to extend this mechanism accordingly, so that the principal private residence exemption applies only up to a specified valuation ceiling, with the excess being within the capital gains tax net.

Philip Goldenberg, Woking, Surrey

Danger lurks in Education Bill

In the Education Bill 2011, now before Parliament, it is proposed that state education in England becomes a free market, in an attempt to drive down costs and increase competition.

This will have the effect, wherever viable, of turning schools into individual self-regulating businesses, accountable not to a local authority (with decades of experience and expertise behind it), but to the head teacher and the governing body alone. These governing bodies will no longer have any requirement to have teachers or local authority representatives as members. The only redress that parents will have after the school's complaints procedures is directly to the Secretary of State.

The "English baccalaureate", introduced retrospectively this year by the Coalition Government to measure school performance in five important but very traditional subjects, contains no ICT or computing, no vocational options, no PE and no creative subjects.

The Government's programme of academies, although not as popular as Mr Gove claims, is set on casting adrift schools that are being sold a dream of financial and educational independence.

Teacher pay and conditions agreements will be reneged on, parents will not be able to expect that their children be taught to the national curriculum, and may be charged for so-called "optional extras" (potentially, lunchtime supervision of pupils; books and materials; and access to some subjects, particularly minority, creative and expensive courses).

Schools will not be able to make long-term planning arrangements, because their numbers will no longer be managed by a central organisation.

This will further undermine the ability of all schools to create a rich and vibrant curriculum that nurtures our youngsters. The education system that has served this country well for many decades is at risk.

Ian Maynard Smith, Rothley, Leicestershire

Another 'fair' look at AV

In answer to Peter Garside's letter (5 April), I don't agree that his figures show that AV is not fair. Mr Garside uses an example of a three-way election where 40 voters express their preference as Tory, Lib Dem, Labour; 35 prefer Labour, Lib Dem, Tory; 20 prefer Lib Dem, Labour, Tory and five prefer Lib Dem, Tory, Labour.

In a first-past-the-post election the Tories obtain the largest share of the vote but not remotely a majority, since most people do not want them to win. This outcome therefore satisfies 40 per cent of the electorate and dissatisfies 60 per cent. But this result occurs only because a third candidate split the vote.

Consider what would have happened if the Lib Dems had not stood. In the same example, the Tories would have had five more votes and Labour 20 more (the second preferences of the Lib Dem voters). In a two-way election the outcome would have been 55 for Labour and 45 for the Tories, a clear Labour win, satisfying 55 per cent of the electorate and dissatisfying 45 per cent.

It seems to me that AV is therefore much the best outcome: effectively, it has reduced the contest to a choice between the two most popular candidates, with the more popular of these winning the election.

Andrew Crompton, London NW1

As the referendum for the AV voting system fast approaches, it is becoming more obvious that the three main parties have colluded with each other on this long-overdue electoral reform issue.

When Gordon Brown realised his discredited government was on its way out, few had even heard of this system, and in his desperate attempt to cling to power he offered Nick Clegg a referendum on AV if he would throw in his lot with Labour. David Cameron also offered this tit-bit to Clegg.

With the sniff of power going to his head Clegg ditched the long-held Lib Dem demand for the more democratic proportional representation system and accepted this compromise from both Brown and Cameron, realising it was this or nothing.

The truth is that PR really is one man, one vote, and the democratic will of the people. Yet our two-party state dares to bang on about democracy to the Arab world.

Stephen Cooke, Manchester

Colour usunhappy

Your description of the protester camp on Parliament Square pavement as "a rather special example of local colour" (Viewspaper, 29 March) is sadly flawed.

There are many pieces of colour in Westminster including Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Theatreland and the Royal Parks. This camp is not one of them. Rather, it is a collection of tents and graffiti-covered constructions, obstructing the highway and cluttering what is a World Heritage site that should be enjoyed by everyone.

And while it does seem increasingly unlikely they will be removed in time for the Royal Wedding, we will continue to pursue legal action through the courts to return the square to ordinary Londoners and visitors once and for all.

Cllr Colin Barrow, Leader, Westminster City Council, London WC1

No chance

As a retired inspector of taxes who spent almost 10 years of my service dealing exclusively with evasion I can respond only with a jaundiced "some hope" to Mr Du Boulay's suggestion (letter, 30 March) that the Government should "crack down heavily on tax evasion". The conclusion I had drawn, long before I left the Revenue, was that there was never any serious intention to tackle the financial cancer of either evasion or avoidance. Neither the resources, nor the legislation, were ever there. They still aren't.

John O'Sullivan, Ludlow, Shropshire

Zimbabwe in fear

Has Mugabe's autocratic regime gone off the radar of international scrutiny already? A silent genocide is being perpetrated in Zimbabwe right now. The army and the militia are terrorising the people in preparation for possible elections this year. Go, look out and you will see that Gadaffi's Libya is child's play. Mugabe capitalises on the inaction of the world to commit his atrocities. Zimbabwe badly needs outside help.

Hasani Hasani, London SW2