Tough time for a prime minister under constant attack
Sir: Your editorial "These are dangerous times for the Labour Party" (9 May) states that Blair won a mandate from the British people at the last general election. He did no such thing. He lost the mandate to act for the people - two-thirds of the people who voted did not vote for Blair.
The Independent has run a campaign on proportional representation. While you can give credit to Blair for getting re-elected under our appalling first-past-the-post system you cannot keep trotting out that the people voted him in and want him to continue. The majority, by far, did not want him to continue. It is an appalling state of affairs and should be rectified immediately.
Sir: Your persistent, predictable and uncompromising criticism of the Prime Minister has gone too far. As scribblers it is easy for you to churn out abuse every day on your front page. You decide nothing; you are as worthless as a crow squawking from the tree top. What you fail to appreciate is that a prime minister has to make decisions on the best information available to him at the time.
In the case of Iraq the Prime Minister may have got it wrong when he committed British forces to the war, but he acted honestly in the circumstances as he saw them at the time and it is unfair and unproductive for you, with the benefit of hindsight, to go on lashing him.
I am not a Labour Party supporter . I do however feel that the Prime Minister has long deserved a much better press than you have given him.
D H O OWEN
Sir: On a recent day out by car accompanied by my grandchildren, after a shortish distance into the journey the usual incessant requests to know "when will we be there?", "how long now?", "are we there yet?" met my ears.
The car radio was reporting demands made to the Prime Minister to know when he would hand over his job, having been given it by the people just one year ago. His request to be left to carry on doing it for a little while yet, seeing as he was busy doing things that the people had endorsed, was apparently being ignored by insatiable demands to know "when will it be?", "how long now?", "will it be soon?"
At that moment, I felt some affinity with the PM. Large sections of the public are now thoroughly sick of hearing the questions over and over again.
Gay sex, sin and Kelly's principles
Sir: There has been a consistent media attempt to portray Ruth Kelly as unsuitable for office simply because she is a Catholic and a member of Opus Dei. This happened when she was Education Secretary and the attack has been repeated now that she has another government post.
The whole drift of the article on your front page (10 May) is about morality, and the specific moral question that is being asked is "Do you think homosexuality is a sin?" According to current Catholic teaching, which is what Opus Dei and many Catholics (more than you think) subscribe to, homosexuality is a tendency and a "disorder", not a sin. Genital sex between members of the same sex, not the orientation itself, is what would constitute an objective wrong, and the seriousness of this is left up to the consciences of those involved.
It is still Catholic teaching, by the way, that genital sex between any persons outside of marriage is objectively wrong. This would be extremely foreign territory to Catherine Townsend!
I suspect that anything other than an evasive answer from Ruth Kelly is impossible in the present climate, since she also holds to a morality that excludes lying as a way out. It is because she refuses to lie (also good Catholic morality) that I think she is a good politician.
Sir: I am deeply concerned about the continued presence of Ruth Kelly in the Government. Here we have a woman of extreme religious views consecutively in charge of departments where her personal views must be in direct conflict with the requirements of her offices. If she claims this is not the case then surely she must be a huge hypocrite.
Democratic government should not be about having extremists of any description in power.
Sir: Your front page attack on Ruth Kelly confuses crimes and sins.
Crimes are breaches of the rules governing life in society, in our case a pluralist society in which each individual is free to live according to his/her conscience subject to not harming others. Sins are breaches of the rules governing life within the church community and are deviations from holiness.
Often the two categories overlap in practice: for example, murder is forbidden by both church and state. However, the overlap is not total, as in the case of homosexual practice, which the church regards as a sin but which the state does not see as a crime. Miss Kelly may well regard homosexuality as a sin while still affirming the civil rights of homosexuals within society. There is no contradiction in her position.
STRETFORD, GREATER MANCHESTER
Sir: You quote Jack Valero of Opus Dei saying: "The Catholic Church would be opposed to civil partnerships in the way they have been enacted in Britain, but it is for each Catholic to work out for themselves." I don't think the Pope would agree with that.
The Vatican's reaction to civil partnerships and gay marriage has been nothing short of hysterical. In Spain when gay marriage was legalised, the Catholic bishops organised large-scale street protests. During the US elections, Catholic bishops repeatedly tried to pressure Catholic politicians into supporting Catholic dogma in legislation. The Pope has issued a continuous stream of defamatory and insulting statements about legalised gay partnership arrangements.
And yet Ruth Kelly claims that she will be able to be even-handed in her treatment of homosexual equality in her role in government. We doubt it very much. She has made it clear from her voting record, and what she has said in interviews, that her conscience is dictated by an ultra-conservative mindset represented by her attachment to Opus Dei. No wonder gay people are worried.
SECRETARY, LESBIAN AND GAY HUMANIST ASSOCIATION KENILWORTH, WARWICKSHIRE
Success without a university degree
Sir: Terence Blacker may regard them as similar, but in fact the message that can be inferred from the two finalists in The Apprentice is the exact opposite to that being put across by the Government ("Stupidity offers unrivalled rewards in modern Britain," 9 May).
Ruth and Michelle demonstrate that success in business can be achieved without academic qualifications. By contrast, the Government's misguided target of 50 per cent of young people in higher education implies that a university education is and should be the be-all and end-all of success in one's career. Yet shoehorning young adults regardless of their suitability into the "academic" route is not necessarily beneficial to either their personal or professional development.
The prejudice against people without qualifications that the wannabe Apprentice Michelle has observed may be due to government policies that have devalued the currency of an academic qualification, from being an indicator of specific skills to something that is simply expected of an entrant into the job market.
Horrific devastation of roadside trees
Sir: In the past couple of months I have noticed a horrific increase in the cutting down of healthy trees by local councils. In the small town of Hinckley, Leicestershire, it has been decided that trees by a main road are dangerous and so, despite warnings from the RSPB about nesting birds, we see enormous logs and piles of sawdust where for up to 150 years horse chestnut trees stood.
Do these people need the most basic training on environmental issues? The roads and their cars produce CO 2 which we all know is detrimental to us and our fragile planet; the trees soak up CO 2 and so surely we should be planting more trees on our roadsides, not cutting them down.
Maybe in Hinckley the remote possibility of being killed by a conker or falling leaves is more common than respiratory disease caused by poor air quality.
The overlooked glories of Blackburn
Sir: Using an unnamed Foreign Office source, Guy Adams (Pandora, 9 May) does Blackburn a great disservice. It is in fact a brilliant place for a day trip.
It contains an undiscovered cathedral, where visitors can view the most significant contemporary artistic commission in any church in the land: a set of 15 life-size paintings by Penny Warden, entitled The Journey. It has a fabulous museum, the glories of Whitton Park, vibrant Asian heritage culture, local theatre, fantastic classical music, wonderfully welcoming people and, if the visitor plans accordingly, the chance to see one of the finest football teams in the world.
What more does the FO expect?
CANON CHRIS CHIVERS
CANON CHANCELLOR BLACKBURN CATHEDRAL
Balancing power in the Middle East
Sir: Johann Hari's article (8 May) makes a number of perceptive points regarding Israel, particularly in articulating the existential threat facing the country from Iran. Yet Hari's call for a "morally defensible" Israel as a means of stemming that threat is disingenuous to say the least.
A peace deal is in the interests of all; but for Hari to argue for a peace deal where Israel cedes its capital and its borders to a Hamas-led Palestinian government that refuses to even recognise Israel's existence demonstrates his political naivety. Israel does indeed need to be "morally defensible" if it desires to be a major partner in international politics; yet it has to be physically defensible as well. Balancing the two is not easy, but it is a balance that commentators often fail to take into account.
GONVILLE & CAIUS COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE
Sir: Peter Bourne (letter, 2 May) writes an apologia for Hamas, but also comments that "the West Bank must be cleared of all those who don't want to become Palestinians". Why would it be acceptable for this area to be rid of peoples of other nationalities, whereas if the same were to be proposed for any modern Western country, including Israel, cries of racism and apartheid would pour forth. Why this double standard, and why is this a measure of peace having been achieved in the region?
Sir: Since before the founding of the State of Israel, the Jews have always sought peace and accommodation with our Arab and Muslim neighbours. However, this has always been answered by war and terror. How can Israel, a modern democracy, be mentioned in the same sentence as Iran, led by fanatical, backward-looking religious leaders, who have made their intentions clear to "wipe Israel off the map"? If the world learned nothing from thinking Hitler was just "mad" maybe we should have learned to take threats from fanatics seriously.
MAALE ADUMIM, ISRAEL
Sir: Now that Israel plans to annex (that is, steal) large areas of the West Bank permanently, can we look forward to other countries embarking on similar unilateral land-grabs? Perhaps Iraq would like to reclaim Kuwait, Argentina the Malvinas, and of course Britain could return to Ireland in similar force. This regressive trend in international law might not go down so well in Poland or the former Sudetenland, but then Bush and Blair have spent the last three years teaching us that might is right. Still, never mind, Margaret Beckett is on the case, God help us.
Green route to Italy
Sir: In his interview ("You ask the questions...", 8 May) Sir Menzies Campbell advises us to "drive less and fly less" in the need to "make hard choices for the good of the planet". He later talks of how he likes to spend "a week's fishing in Scotland followed by a week in Italy". I suppose that, by now, Sir Menzies must be well accustomed to the Scotland-Italy cycle route?
Sir: Julia Stephenson, in her praise of Green councillors and their actions in Norwich and Kirklees (The Green Goddess, 4 May), forgot to mention that both these local authorities are controlled by Liberal Democrats.
LIB DEM COUNCILLOR, BATH AND NORTH EAST SOMERSET, RADSTOCK
Votes for women
Sir: As a New Zealander who is tired of Australians always coming first, I can't help but point out that New Zealand achieved universal suffrage in 1893, the first country in the world, I believe ("Suffragette in Australia", letter, 10 May). One of New Zealand's leading suffragettes was Kate Sheppard, who was born in Liverpool to Scottish parents. She now appears on the NZ $10 note.
Make friends with rooks
Sir: Alex James must not be distracted from his rural bloodsport of shooting rooks (The Great Escape, 10 May) but he is obviously unaware that rooks eat leather-jackets, so he is depriving himself and his lawn of natural predators. Maybe he could invest some of his cartridge money in a few chimney cowls to prevent the rooks falling down his chimney and use the time he saves peppering them with lead shot to enjoy watching their neighbourly activities in the rookery.
Sword of justice
Sir: Your striking cover shot of 27 April set me wondering: why does the Old Bailey's statue of Justice still clutch a sword in her right hand? As we no longer despatch cold-hearted killers - opting instead to "punish" them with a decade or so of free room and board - shouldn't she nowadays hold aloft an oversized key?