Bitter hate between political tribes
Sir: Philip Hensher ("The timewarp tribalism of those on the left", 23 January) has obviously never been to a former mining community. If he had, he would know why thousands of people will be celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher. It is nothing to do with the tribalism of the left but is an anger that will never go away at how that woman destroyed so many families and communities.
We will certainly be having a party and Mr Hensher will get an invitation. You never know; we might even be polite to him.
TRANENT, EAST LOTHIAN
Sir: Philip Hensher's observations of left-wing prejudice ring true. But such closed minds are not found only on the left.
All my life I have encountered people who habitually use "Labour" and "socialist" as terms of abuse, and speak of the Government in terms that imply that because it isn't a Tory government it has no right to be there and doesn't belong to them.
The same cast of mind runs down the NHS, the European Union and any governmental agency because it is state-run, and the state, as we all know, tries to extend its tentacles into areas which God intended to be the preserve of private enterprise. These people see no moral stigma in cheating the taxman. In conversation all this is done in passing, probably with a sneer, so that unless you interrupt the speaker you subscribe by implication to the calumny.
I think Mr Hensher was describing a universal human trait rather than one unique to old-fashioned lefties.
Sir: The party I will enjoy when Margaret Thatcher kicks the bucket will be nothing compared to the one I'm planning when Tony Blair joins her in Hades. If the sanctimonious Philip Hensher doesn't wish to join the celebrations, he can rest assured he won't be missed.
Sir: As a Lib Dem who now finds his views to the left of New Labour, may I assure Philip Hensher that few of us lefties share the "degree of loathing and hatred" of Tories which causes him such distress. I have several friends misguided enough to vote Conservative, and my daughter has, with my blessing, married the son of a Tory MP.
RIPPONDEN, WEST YORKSHIRE
Ofwat acts to plug those leaks
Sir: Philip O'Donoghue (letter, 22 January) asks what Ofwat has done to compel water companies to meet leakage targets. I am pleased to tell him that the action we have taken has reduced the amount of water lost through leakage form the network by around 30 per cent since the mid-Nineties, enough to meet the daily needs of 10 million people.
Almost all the water companies in England and Wales now meet their leakage targets and we are taking action against those few which have failed to do so. That is why we are requiring Thames Water to spend £150m of its own money, which cannot be recouped from customers, to repair an extra 368 kilometres of water mains.
HEAD OF CORPORATE AFFAIRS OFWAT, BIRMINGHAM
Packaging: how to fight back
Sir: I have adopted a new shopping policy. I walk about three times a week to my local Asda (the nearest shop) and carry my purchases home in a back-pack. This gives me regular exercise and reduces my carbon emissions. So far, so virtuous. But I still bring home unnecessary amounts of cardboard and plastic.
Encouraged by your campaign against wasteful packaging, from today I will go one step further. I will return all the packaging generated from my last trip on my next excursion to the supermarket. It is light enough to carry easily. I will dump it in the bins located in the car park outside the store.
I would encourage as many supermarket consumers as possible to do the same. Perhaps when their bins, rather than ours, are overflowing with rubbish the supermarkets will begin to realise the scale of the problem they are generating.
Sir: Your campaign against waste comes rather too late, I fear. The main reason for the vast amounts of packaging is that most food shopping is done in supermarkets.
It makes me realise how privileged we are where we live. We can still have milk delivered in glass bottles, which can be reused. We can walk to local shops where we can buy fruit and vegetables and place them either direct into our basket or in paper bags, which are made from recycled paper and which themselves are recycled in our compost heap. In one of these local shops we can have containers for washing up and laundry liquids refilled.
We have fortnightly recycling collections of newspaper, glass, cans (mostly other people's picked up in the street), cardboard (including juice cartons), and garden waste. Across the road there is a packaging dumpster where we take plastic (unfortunately only bottles) and envelopes for recycling. This takes mainly forethought and organisation, rather than extra time.
Our excellent MSP introduced a bill in the Scottish Parliament to tax plastic bags, like in Ireland. The bill has had a very rough time, because of opposition from packaging manufacturers. Some areas of Edinburgh have successfully opposed supermarkets, through local organisation.
Sir: Laudable as your campaign is, it is preaching to the converted. Your lucid and clued-up readership is aware of the problems. In the food industry there is an underlying agenda based on consumer disempowerment.
Manufacturers and retailers peddle cosseting blandishments along the lines of, "You poor, stressed-out, overworked thing. Let us do all the nasty, dirty hard work." Instead of preparing food to personal tastes, in amounts that suit them, many people abdicate those responsibilities and accept whatever the manufacturers and retailers put on offer.
How do you intend to overcome these attitudes, both of producers and consumers? Compulsory old-fashioned school cookery lessons, emphasising basic skills, would help.
Rail system fails to rival the air
Sir: Marika Sherwood calls for the banning of all short flights and the upgrading of railways (letter, 20 January). Actually we need to complete the latter first.
Whilst I very much agree that short flights are undesirable, I have reluctantly had to choose this option this coming Saturday. I am attending (unpaid) a charity meeting in London which finishes at 3pm. There are apparently works on the line from King's Cross which result in a lengthy diversion, meaning that I would not get home to family until 10pm. By flying from Gatwick (slightly more expensive) to Newcastle, I can be home around 6pm. Getting home to my family four hours earlier is important to me.
Vulgar heart of the English psyche
Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, commenting on Jade Goody and Big Brother ("The view from India: horror at these barbarians", 22 January) is making the common mistake of taking a phoney idealised image of the English as genteel and polite, comparing that with the contemporary reality and finding the latter wanting.
Rudeness, crudeness and vulgarity have always been a significant part of our psyche and behaviour and is something to be celebrated. Societies that place much emphasis on politeness and hospitality invariably reek just below the surface - Afghan society, for example, is supposed to be one of the most hospitable on earth.
We've always preferred the ferocious satire of a Gillray to works of reverence - I think we instinctively feel they serve far more purpose.
Sir: While Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, on her recent visit to India, was busy consulting her Indian friends on what, in their view, was wrong with the UK and how we could be saved from "degenerate Western values", I was indulging my preference for trashy Indian television.
The reality show in question is called Big Boss. A Bollywood starlet called Rakhi Sawant was being roughed up by her obviously upper class co-contestants. Bitchy remarks include the starlet's poor upbringing, lack of fashion sense and unfamiliarity with the English language. The starlet breaks down in floods of tears, bares her soul to the audience, asks why she is so hated but firmly rejects suicide as a way out of her misery. Sound familiar?
Few Muslims will rebuff a handshake
Sir: When Sarah Waseem (Letters, 24 January) writes about "Muslims" and "Islam" she is in fact referring to an ultra- conservative section of the Muslim community. I believe that the majority of Muslims in the UK do not have any issue with shaking hands with someone of the opposite sex.
Just as Ms Waseem asks Sir Ian Blair to understand the values of her brand of Islam, I would ask Ms Waseem to try and appreciate how offensive it may feel to Sir Ian to extend his hand in greeting and be rebuffed in this way.
On a purely practical level it is difficult to see how someone who refuses to touch people of the opposite sex could perform some of the functions of a police officer. How would the PC in question propose to help an elderly man who has fallen in the street or restrain a male criminal?
Shameful failure to hold US to account over detention and torture
Sir: You report that Claude Moraes, a member of the European Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, says that a report into CIA-controlled extraordinary rendition has produced "compelling circumstantial evidence but no smoking gun" ("Ministers 'knew about rendition flights' ", 24 January).
This is like discovering something in one's house that looks like an elephant, smells, sounds and even feels like one, but presuming that it might after all be a fluffy teddy bear. Nevertheless, the European Parliament is to be commended for doing what it can in the face of continued obstructionism and obfuscation from member-state governments.
The failure to bring the United States to account for the illegal kidnapping and torture of terror suspects is shameful. Countless victims are still without charge and awaiting trial. They remain confined in prisons and torture chambers, including Guantánamo Bay, without access to family or legal defence, and with little prospect of due process being applied.
This situation damages the international reputation of the United States, but also undermines European governments' credibility in respect of human rights and natural justice. The campaign against terrorism must uphold the highest standards. If we tolerate or condone illegal detention and torture, if we collaborate with vile regimes, and if we acquiesce in the bullying hypocrisy of the United States government, we besmirch the values we purport to hold.
At issue is not only the failure of European governments to uncover and admit the truth, but also the hollowness of the European Union's supposed common foreign and security policy. While the Union remains hamstrung by the short-termist and self-seeking obsessions of individual member states, it will never achieve the clarity of moral purpose that is demanded by the European Convention on Human Rights, now enshrined in European law. Even a common position on upholding natural justice will remain unattainable.
HEAD OF PROGRAMME, M.A. INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, YORK ST JOHN UNIVERSITY
Briefly... Gay parents
Sir: I am a Catholic mother of a gay son who, with his partner, would make a wonderful parent. Cardinal Murphy O'Connor may state that the Roman Catholic Church upholds family values, whatever they are, and so refuses to allow gay couples to adopt children. I cannot recall that Christ preached this message.
Sir: Helena Kennedy ("Hand over some power to the people", 23 January) apparently finds it worrying that "76 per cent of us believe our vote makes little or no difference to Westminster's decisions". But in a democracy in which some 27 million of us voted at the last general election, why should anyone think that their individual vote will (or should) make more than a minuscule impact? To think it should be otherwise is surely to misunderstand the nature of mass democracy.
PROFESSOR PHILIP COWLEY
SCHOOL OF POLITICS AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM
Same day service?
Sir: Andy Burnham (letter, 15 january) claims that NHS patients are experiencing shorter waits to see a family doctor. At my surgery, if I ring up to make an appointment today and there is not one available, I have to ring again tomorrow. When I manage to make the appointment (the line is always very busy in the early morning) I am recorded as seeing the doctor the same day but I might have been waiting two or three days. From speaking to friends I believe this practice is now widespread.
SELBY, NORTH YORKSHIRE
Sir: I refer to your article regarding the increased French birth rate (22 January). Since many scientists have expressed concern at the current human population size, I would have though that this was a cause for concern rather than joy. If we wish to have a future worth looking forward to, we need to reduce consumption, as pointed out by your headline on excess packaging, and also the number of consumers. Simply reducing carbon emissions will be a waste of time if the numbers producing them constantly rise.
WOODFORD GREEN, ESSEX
Sir: According to your article "British explorers recount 'agony' of Pole trek" (23 January), "the Pole of Inaccessibility lies some 870km north-east of the South Pole". Surely, in common with every other point on the Earth, the Pole of Inaccesibility lies directly north of the South Pole.