Sir: It is all very well to expose Blair's blind acceptance of Bush's policy on Iraq, despite the apparently contrary advice, earnestly pressed, of those around him best placed to give it. Surely, given the grave consequences for our own service men and women, not to mention the Iraqis, the first duty of those advisers was to make their reservations public, and resign if necessary, rather than be complicit, as they are, in the disastrous and deadly consequences.
It seems curious to accord them some honour based on the earnestness of their entreaties. Jack Straw and the British ambassador in the US were in positions of privilege, and totally failed to honour to the British people the obligations that go with those privileges.
Sir: An interesting letter from Stefan Simanowitz about the US build-up of troops near its Iranian border (29 October). It seems that getting control of Iranian oil is top of Bush's list of "things to do before I retire".
With US troops in Iraq on one side and in Afghanistan on the other and a build-up of warships in the Gulf, it seems that Iran has been the main target from the beginning.
But surely they are not going to use the WMD routine again. Not even the American public will fall for that one again – or will they?
George L Heath
Sir: So, thanks to Colin Powell we now have it confirmed. It was Blair and Bush's war and Blair was Bush's poodle.
Smirking elite greets the Saudi despot
Sir: Robert Fisk ("King Abdullah flies in to lecture us on terrorism", 30 October) is, if anything, quite restrained in his condemnation of Saudi Arabia's despotic theocracy.
However, his criticisms say more about the state of global political discourse than mere criticism of a corrupt and brutal dictatorship. Offering the fig-leaf of legitimacy to a regime that routinely tortures its citizenry and practices judicial murder is an insult to any nation that purports to profess democracy.
Support for the political process in this country has been eroding for decades, and this obscenity merely confirms the smirking greed and self-serving sycophancy that characterises the British political and economic elites.
Sir: Your veritable orgasm of condemnation of Saudi Arabia, its monarch and its relationship with Great Britain is distasteful, misleading and counter-productive. The vituperation is as inappropriate for a guest as was that of Columbia University's President's insulting introduction of Iran's President Ahmadinejad some weeks ago. Most Middle Easterners and those who study the region strongly disapprove of the Iranian President, but they nevertheless were outraged by President Bollinger's caustic remarks.
The same is even more true in this case because King Abdullah has played a progressive role in his own country and in the Middle East generally. He has expanded the political role of the Kingdom's quasi-parliament, held elections for municipalities for the first time in a generation, moved to create a modern legal-judicial system, institutionalised royal succession, eased media censorship and stimulated reform of outdated educational curricula. Within the region he has defended Palestinian rights more forcefully than most other Arab heads of state and has worked to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon.
That The Independent has chosen to overlook his accomplishments and focus on shortcomings must cause him and progressive Saudis to wonder: if this is how Arab reform is greeted in the UK, why bother? As for UK citizens, if the Saudis choose to take offence, we stand to lose materially, with regard to our political influence in the vital Middle East, and as regards our stated intent to encourage Arab political reform. The Independent's readers deserve better than this.
MBI Al Jaber Chair in Middle East Studies and Director, London Middle East Institute, School of Oriental and african studies London, WC1
Sir: I can never forget the horror I experienced as a teenager watching the controversial 1980 docu-drama "Death of a Princess", based on the true story of the public execution of a member of the Saudi royal family and her lover.
Margaret Thatcher was quick to discredit the film. The British Foreign office got down on its knees and appeased the barbaric Saudi regime. Nothing has changed.
The British Royal Family and the al-Sauds have a lot in common: finance, size, ethos, princesses, the list goes on and on. There is no surprise (or apparently shame) in the Queen laying on the full monty for King Abdullah.
But will the Queen be required to cover her head, face, wrists and ankles in case she incites lewd behaviour in the 30 times married King? How does royal protocol cover this event? According to Saudi law, the Queen as a woman will only have herself to blame.
Sir: Kim Howells says Britain and Saudi Arabia have shared values. I have been contemplating what values we may share. Torture? Detention without trial? A desire for a pointless and unnecessary war against Iran? Or is it cash for honours? Here, people pay cash to get the honours, in Saudi, if you have the honour you get all the cash.
MPs get seen, but MEPs can do more
Sir: The profile enjoyed by Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg since their election to the Commons illuminates points made by Deborah Orr ("Who will speak up for Europe?", 24 October). But I suspect both my colleagues would also accept that by leaving the European Parliament they risked sacrificing real legislative influence for the chance to express their views on Newsnight (plus, of course, the opportunity to form a Liberal Democrat government).
I was a member of the Commons for two years. I made 30 speeches, asked hundreds of questions, and introduced four parliamentary bills. Yet the Westminster system provides few opportunities for opposition MPs and, with hindsight, I cannot think of a single thing I actually achieved. But I can point to scores of changes and improvements I have made to European environmental legislation applicable in 27 countries since becoming an MEP eight years ago.
Few of the seven million people in the North-west know my name, but as one MEP in a nine-member regional constituency I regard myself as representing the Liberal Democrat interest, and I am pretty sure that almost every party member will know who I am.
Legislation amended and approved by the European Parliament is far from irrelevant to our daily lives but it is mostly unreported . Most EU laws take on a national guise before they are applied here. So good luck to Chris and Nick; they made their choice, but they are welcome to Westminster.
Chris Davies MEP
(Lib Dem, North-west)Brussels
Sir: I take issue with Ms Orr: MEPs already have considerable powers to shape EU rules, whether by cutting the cost of mobile phone calls abroad, banning the testing of cosmetics on animals or producing the draft for liberalising the provision of services in the EU. These democratic powers will be further extended if the new EU Reform Treaty is ratified in all 27 member states.
The European Commission is ultimately accountable to the European Parliament. Commissioners regularly appear before committees to argue for their proposals, and interventions by the European Parliament led to the resignation of the whole team of Commissioners in 1999 and to a reshuffle of proposed Commissioners in 2004.
If this is not more widely known, it is perhaps because our media tends to focus almost exclusively on events in Westminster. If Ms Orr would like to start the ball rolling in a different direction, I would be happy to invite her over to Brussels to see her MEPs in action.
Head of the UK Office of the European Parliament, London SW1
Who delivers a profit on the post?
Sir: I have just received a letter the envelope of which, instead of bearing the likeness of Her Gracious Majesty, is stamped with the logo "UK Mail – express parcels and mail". Who they? Investigation via the internet establishes that UK Mail is a subsidiary of something called "Business Post".
The letter contains a demand from TV Licensing. No doubt UK Mail offered a cheaper deal. But wait on. UK Mail operates what its website describes as "downstream access". There is a semi-helpful definition of this term on the website.It is that UK Mail collects (presumably in bulk), sorts, "consolidates" (whatever that may mean) and delivers to Royal Mail Inward Centres.
From one of which my letter from TV Licensing made the final, and probably least profitable, part of its journey to my door carried by an employee of the Royal Mail. No wonder the postmen are spitting tacks. They know who is picking the cherries.
King's Lynn, Norfolk
True responsibility for abortions
Sir: Of course men are responsible for abortions (Comment, 26 October); but the "responsibility" advocated by Joan Smith is a travesty of true responsibility, and simply drives the abortion rate up further. Our experience of trying to reduce the rate by aggressive contraception programmes in this country has been one of dismal failure, apart from the fact that many methods are themselves abortifacient.
It seems that, rather than prevent surgical abortions, contraception may increase their number, by encouraging casual sex, and a view of children as an unwanted intrusion on our relationships. All methods of family planning fail, including highly effective natural methods, but some are very much better than others at encouraging respect for sex, and welcome for any child conceived.
Ms Smith's promotion of commitment-free sex and ever-speedier access to abortion will do nothing to decrease the number of women and men who bitterly regret the young and innocent lives they were invited to curtail.
Rather than encouraging men, in particular, to welcome their new role as fathers, we are giving them the message that their responsibilities for abortion begin and end with contraception. This is damaging both to them and to their partners, who are likely to suffer more from the abortions that all too often result.
Is it not time to think a little harder about the human meaning of the sexual act, which can and should include a positive reference to children?
Dr Helen Watt
Director, Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, London NW8
Shabby treatment by Eurostar
Sir: What a disappointing response by Eurostar (29 October) to the splendid letter by Richard Thomas about the cutting of services from Ashford International. Residents of Kent endured several years of severe traffic disruption while the high-speed link was built. Now that it is operational Eurostar have decided to cut some Ashford trains. As a result of this shabby treatment I must get in my car and drive 62 miles to Ebbsfleet for a full Brussels service. Hardly very environmentally friendly.
Sir: Mr Montague's letter provides a very unsatisfactory justification for Eurostar's decision to reduce the number of trains stopping at Ashford. The correct approach would be to continue service at Ashford, after Ebbsfleet has been opened, and analyse the results after six and 12 months. Then if the the passenger numbers are insufficient Eurostar would have the justification to reduce the service from Ashford.
Sir: I am disappointed to see that Tony Blair has signed a deal with Random House for the publication of his autobiography. As a poptastic New Labour man I would have thought he could do a Radiohead and offer his book on the web with people choosing how much to pay for downloading it. But would he receive as much as Random House have advanced?
Time for a vote
Sir: There has been comment on a referendum about the EU treaty, some saying that it is too complex for a simple yes/no vote. A topic that is very suitable for a referendum is whether we put the clocks back in winter. At the moment it seems that the debate (as referred to by Richard Ingrams on 27 October) is decided by a few people in Scotland. I believe most people in England (or indeed Scotland) would vote not to put the clocks back, as it has a detrimental effect on all our lives.
Sir: Colin R Merton (letter, 19 October) points out the difficulty of assessing the relative intelligence of separately evolved human races. If a small group of European academics could be isolated, naked, in the middle of the Australian outback, and a corresponding group of Aborigines set down in some western urban housing complex, it is interesting to speculate how intelligently the two groups would acquit themselves in order to survive.
R A Soar
Scotland and Ulster
Sir:If Scotland were to go independent, what would happen to Northern Ireland, which is a short ferry crossing from Scotland but a longer haul from England or Wales? Would it join with Scotland on the basis of common Presbyterian ancestry for half its population, or would it join with Eire on the basis of common Catholic ancestry for the other half, or would it too go it alone? To stay joined to England and Wales looks to me to be the least logical of the possibilities.
H Trevor Jones
Sir: Further to letters about safety gone mad, I have just acquired a vegetable steamer. The first sentence in the instructions reads: "Do not use in a bathroom or any other room where there is a risk the unit may get wet."
Richard J Holloway
Great Salkeld, CumbriaReuse content