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Thursday 29 November 2007
Letters: Political funding
Tax funding for political parties? Why not try popular support?
Sir: Your leading article of 28 November calls for an increase in state funding of political parties: "This would be a tiny price to pay for democracy." Does state funding really increase democracy?
The parties' financial problems stem from their deep unpopularity with the electorate. There are very good reasons for this. We suffer from two right-wing neo-liberal parties who are in fundamental agreement on nearly every major political question acting as the USA's poodle in foreign policy, undermining the public sector through constant privatisations, featherbedding the super-rich and big business at the expense of the rest of us, undermining pensions and conditions at work in the name of "modernisation".
The result is that a Labour government elected on a massive wave of popular support in 1997 has haemorrhaged members and votes since then. Only 21 per cent of eligible voters supported Labour at the last general election. Both parties are widely despised, and the result is the fall in financial contributions. No one can say that this is not democratic. How is it in any way democratic to take money from taxpayers to fund parties inflicting deeply unpopular policies upon them?
If political parties are suffering financial problems then it is up to them to find the solution, not the taxpayer. Why don't they just try abandoning unpopular policies and listening to the electorate for a change?
Don't hold your breath waiting.
Sir: Crikey, the members of this government act "in good faith" an awful lot, do they not? ("Harman haunted by 5,000 gift", 28 November). The odour of sanctity is overwhelming. Perhaps good sense might be more advisable, as faith seems to get some of them in a mighty pickle.
Sir: David Cameron says: "There is a time in the life of every government when they've been in power for so long that complacency tips over into arrogance, and arrogance even becomes indifference to the law." Will he commit to this in the next Tory manifesto and can he give us a target date for achievement?
Darlington, Co Durham
Media onslaught against Islam
Sir: Johann Hari lets his atheist bias (and his thirst for a quoted superlative) lead him to produce an article which reinforces so many of the negative connotations associated with Islam and Muslims in the western world today ("My life under a fatwa", 27 November).
It is his undoubted right as an author to reproduce the quotes from the interview that he sees fit, but with so many insulting and blatantly inaccurate statements present is it really that sensible to do so?
Ask a hundred Muslims from all walks of life what the "Sixth Obligation" of Islam is and you would get blank looks, because there is no such Sixth Obligation (in contradiction to Miss Hirsi Ali's inference that it is "Jihad").
Soundbites such as "a Muslim girl does not make her own decisions or seek control" may be appropriate for certain isolated areas of rural Sudan, but its inclusion and context in this piece could allow many to make such assumptions about Muslim women in the UK.
To suggest that the events of September 11 were the "core of Islam" is a gross insult to its millions of global adherents like myself, who were shocked, appalled and saddened by the events that day. And the inference that non-violent Muslims "do not really follow Islam" is the most hysterical of the lot.
As a British-born Muslim aged 26, I am finding this country an increasingly hard place to live in, because of the daily onslaught of media hype relating to my religion and fellow believers. Articles like this, whatever the intention, sadly serve to ram home negative stereotypes which are all too common.
Sir: Joan Smith's argument that Islamic attitudes and laws are incompatible with treasured Western freedoms and rights is compelling (Opinion, 28 November). It is ironic that our respect for toleration has made it possible for ideas directly opposed to toleration to flourish within this country, and with devastating consequences.
Attitudes can change over time, and the mingling of different peoples and religions tends to lead to the softening of rigid and outdated ideas within opposing groups. The last thing we need, however, is the promotion of more Muslim faith schools, where Muslim students are not exposed to other value systems and to intellectual argument.
The flipside is, of course, that students of other faiths and of no faith will also not benefit from the everyday contact that would increase understanding and toleration. I believe in secularisation of all schools, but, at the very least, this dangerous policy should be abandoned
Walberton, West Sussex
Sir: Let us not get too "holier than thou" with Sudan over the arrest of Gillian Gibbons for calling a teddy bear Mohammed.
In England we have had the police called in to threaten shopkeepers with prosecution because they displayed a gollywog in their window; and had Miss Gibbons been a teacher in England who showed her class a "mummy and daddy bear" she would probably have been questioned by the police over her "homophobic" attitudes and sent off for a re-education course on diversity.
All that has happened in Sudan is the Islamic version of "political correctness gone mad". Personally, given a choice between 40 lashes and attending a government-approved diversity course, I would prefer the lashes.
Obstacles to a Severn barrage
Sir: Controversy is raging over the obstacles that hydro-electric dams on the Rhine create for salmon, eels and other fish trying to return to their spawning grounds ("The return of the real Rheingold", 21 November).
Construction of a costly 10-mile barrage across the River Severn would create a similar problem, blocking the path of thousands of fish returning to the Severn, its tributaries, and the Rivers Wye and Usk.
A barrage to generate tidal energy would also destroy wild bird habitats, formed naturally by the Severn's huge tidal range and protected by European law. The Government would have to recreate these sites elsewhere, making sure they were of similar value to wildlife and on a similarly large scale. Scope for creating new mudflats and saltmarshes is limited because of rising sea levels and the building of new homes.
Helping fish adapt to the plugging of the Severn by creating a new pathway from the sea far up river will be even harder, particularly after the Government itself nominated the Severn estuary for EU protection because of its importance for fish.
It will be impossible to replace these fish stocks elsewhere, and their disappearance will have significant economic and social consequences for angling and commercial fishing in the whole region. A tidal barrage will also impact on marine species including sea bass, flounder and smelt.
The French have suggested trucking salmon around the Rhine's dams at a cost rejected by EDF Energy. The chances of the UK government and barrage operators also dismissing that idea seem high, which means that salmon-filled rivers could soon be an uplifting natural phenomenon that we unnecessarily consign to the past.
Dr Mark Avery
Conservation Director, RSPB Mark Lloyd Executive Director, Anglers' Conservation Association Paul Knight Director, Salmon and Trout Association, Sandy, bedfordshire
Taliban no longer a credible threat
Sir: I take issue with your analysis on Afghanistan (leading article, 22 November). Nato has refuted the suggestion by the Senlis Council that the mission in Afghanistan is failing. Recent polls from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Asia Foundation show a different picture, with a majority of Afghan people believing that the Afghan government is moving in the right direction, and feeling that the presence of international forces in support of the Afghan government is a good thing for the country.
The Taliban do not pose a credible threat to the democratic Afghan government. The Taliban do not control a single province or have the ability to hold territory, showing they are far from being a resurgent force.
You are right in saying that the solution is not purely a military one; that is why we support President Karzai's efforts to reach out to those prepared to renounce violence and back the Afghan Constitution.
Our troops are not involved in destroying the poppy crop. A balanced counter-narcotics strategy, which involves tackling the drug traffickers and providing alternative livelihoods for farmers, is led by the Afghan government. Licensing opium production would in fact lead to an increase in opium poppy cultivation.
Much progress has been made since 2001 but we recognise that many challenges remain. We and our international partners are working in support of the Afghan government to improve their institutions, build up the Afghan security forces, step up the efforts to tackle the drugs trade and bring about the economic and social development the Afghan people so desperately need. We do not believe the Senlis Council conclusions are accurate or offer the right way forward.
Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London SW1
Identity cards aretoo high a price
Sir: Home Office minister Meg Hillier (letter, 26 November) quotes year-old British Social Attitudes Survey findings suggesting that 71 per cent of us think ID cards would be a "price worth paying"if they helped to combat terrorism. The same survey suggested that 22 per cent think the same about torture.
To the extent that these upsetting findings might still be true, it is shameful that Ms Hillier seeks to bolster the beliefs underpinning them, instead of opposing them. Anti-terrorism specialists have repeatedly said that ID cards are not the answer to terrorism.
Only in the direst emergency would I and most people I know surrender the rights and liberties Ms Hiller wants us to give up.
No way out of the need to cut flights
Sir: Neil Pakey of the Airport Operators Association (letter, 28 November) refuses to engage with the fact that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are absolute rather than relative. Modest gains in aircraft fuel efficiency will not even hold emissions constant, let alone reduce them, unless flight numbers are restricted.
Further, to suggest as he does that the reduction in time spent stacking will reduce carbon emissions from existing flights is disingenuous, in the context of the enormous increase in flights envisaged by the proposed expansion at Heathrow.
This government can have unrestrained aviation expansion or it can tackle climate change, but it cannot do both. It's a few extra trips to the holiday home in the south of France, or the lives of millions in the developing world.
Far from Oxford, the BNP gains ground
Sir: Preventing the BNP from speaking at the Oxford Union does not prevent its message from spreading on the streets.
While working as a supply teacher in schools in the North-west of England, I have spoken to a significant number of young people who support the BNP because they feel that it stands up for whites against political correctness and anti-white racism; and the BNP's support seems to be growing.
No left-wing mob ranting outside the Oxford Union is going to prevent the creeping advance of the BNP in parts of our country. The way to tackle this advance is twofold: first tackle its ideas in open discussion to reveal their nasty character; second, try to stem the sense of grievance which feeds it. Otherwise we might one day have a BNP government, and then what would we do?
Stretford, Greater Manchester
Sir: The Annapolis peace process must have something going for it if it has been condemned by both Hamas and Netanyahu.
Sir: As an octogenarian, I can sympathise with Philip Moran (letter, 26 November). He mentions the 300 heating allowance. Has he forgotten the 10 Christmas bonus he will soon receive? And if he lives until 2012, his pension will be linked to average earnings. What pensioners need is an adequate pension, not handouts, like charity.
Sir: Tony Palmer's story about the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams's arrest during the Second World War under suspicion of writing coded notes on military manoeuvres ("Just Williams", 28 November) had, as I heard it, a further twist. It was a boy scout on the lookout for spies who spotted VW, made a citizen's arrest, then marched him off to the local police station, where the great man was let off with a caution.
Sir: Terry Saunders (Letters, 24 November) calls for a boycott on Japanese cars until they cease commercial whaling. Hondas for the UK market are manufactured at its Swindon plant which employs about 4,900 British men and women. Toyota has a vehicle assembly plant at Burnaston in Derbyshire, and an engine plant at Deeside, North Wales, employing a total of 4,800 people. Toyota also has a Design centre in Belgium. Nissan has manufacturing plants in Sunderland and Spain. Nissan Micras built in Sunderland are exported to Australia.
Sir: I am concerned that my missing child benefit details may have been used to make a donation to the Labour Party. How should I proceed?
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