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Wednesday 14 October 2009
Letters: President Blair
Save Europe from this American stooge
There must be millions of EU citizens who would do more for Europe than Tony Blair, if only there were some sort of democratic process to elect one of them as President. Blair never lifted a finger to lead from the front and promote the European ideal when he was Prime Minister, and so we had 10 years of stagnation on one of the critical issues of our time.
Since then, he has not exactly covered himself with glory as Middle East peace envoy, and has had to pass the job over to George Mitchell, who was also the brains behind the Northern Ireland peace process, the one success of the Blair premiership, for which Blair takes all the credit. But EU President, especially at this time, is too important a job to be handed over to this self-regarding lightweight.
The EU is on the point of an important change. The American Empire is starting to die and the EU will, slowly and surely, be taking over its role and influence. It is already happening financially as the euro emerges as the world's most reliable currency. Politically too, the EU with its "soft power" is becoming a major diplomatic force. We Europeans are, after more than 60 years, finally ridding ourselves of our dependence on and subservience to the US, a fact already recognised by serious politicians on the European mainland.
Tony Blair has shown by his record that he does not see the world this way. If appointed President, he would seek to strengthen American influence in Europe as demonstrated by his Iraq war record, his agreement to US plans for Nato expansion into eastern Europe and his support for self-interested American ambitions to have Turkey accepted into the Union.
We need a President who can be relied upon to put Europe first, and Tony Blair has shown that he will not do that. I am afraid that when (not if, I fear) he is given the job that so few of us want him to have, he will be little more than an American stooge. Why doesn't he just stay home and spend more time with his money?
MPs get a bitter taste of real life
So MPs are upset that the rules on expenses have changed, are they? Welcome to the world of the lowly, where goalposts move all the time.
Dustmen, policemen, teachers, unemployed, those in receipt of various benefits, all suffer, financially and in many other ways, as their goalposts are moved and they can do nothing about it other than bleat like an MP but never be heard.
A friend of mine had child tax credits overpaid to her. She was on the brink of being taken to court to force her to repay, something she couldn't do, until she was rescued by a family member. From the bottom rung, government directives feel like a tidal wave against which there is no protection.
You quote an anonymous MP as saying that the change of rules in the Legg audit "is just bizarre". The old rules – or the Fees Office's interpretation of them – permitted serial home-flipping to extend claimable expenses to a second property.
At some point, every MP who did this must have made the intellectual judgment to call their first home a second home and their second home a first home, either to the Commons authorities, or HMRC, or both. No matter what the rules said, this was a dishonest judgment. If this is one of the old rules that Legg has decided to ignore or reinterpret, he has my fullest support.
Has no one ever told Jacqui Smith that "Home is where the heart is"?
D A Reibel
One thousand pounds' gardening allowance, two thousand pounds' cleaning allowance and three months' summer holiday. Should we not be thinking about similar allowances for servicemen fighting overseas? Or are wives and family expected to do these usual chores?
K C Gordon
Anarchy: let's get the facts in order
I wonder if Johann Hari ("The world's first terrorists", 12 October) had considered that Big Bill Haywood was acquitted of the murder of Frank Steunenburg because he was actually innocent?
The only evidence put forward by the prosecution was that of Harry Orchard, the confessed bomber who was not an anarchist. During the trial Orchard admitted that he had acted as a paid informant of the Mine Owners' Association. Besides, Haywood was never an anarchist but a syndicalist.
Johann Hari seems to have swallowed the propaganda of the time in attributing all violent attacks to anarchists. Yes there were anarchists who advocated "propaganda by deed" and the use of dynamite, but there were also many more who promoted organising in unions and bringing about change by direct democracy.
Johann Hari is wrong about the method used to assassinate President McKinley by the anarchist Frank Czolgosz in 1901. McKinley was not "stabbed . . . hard in the gut". He was shot.
Czolgosz carried a revolver, fired and hit McKinley twice. One bullet was removed, but doctors felt it safer to leave the second, which had penetrated the President's kidney and pancreas, in place. McKinley appeared to be recovering, but relapsed and died eight days later as a result of gangrene from the second bullet wound.
The killer, who had been saved from an angry mob which almost beat him to death, was found guilty of murder and executed in the electric chair seven weeks after the assassination.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Which "Austrian head of state" does Johann Hari believe to have been assassinated by anarchists? Kaiser Franz Josef, the head of state throughout the anarchical years, died in his bed. His estranged wife was stabbed by an anarchist, his son committed perhaps anarchical murder and suicide, then finally his heir was shot by a Serbian nationalist, but FJ himself remained alive.
P G Urben
Keeping energy prices low
Your report "The Great Energy Rip-off" (7 October) asserts that, this year, suppliers "would make £170 per customer". This is completely untrue; this figure, published by Ofgem, is a reference to gross margins – not profits – and it is wholly misleading to confuse the two. At British Gas, our profits after tax are just 4 per cent, which equates to £2.36 per customer account per month.
The article suggests that fuel bills are a "scandal" for "Britain's 20 million families". It is important to remember that British customers have, for many years, benefited from the lowest energy prices in Western Europe – and they continue to have the lowest gas prices and among the cheapest electricity prices in the EU15.
While wholesale prices on the spot market are now around 35p per therm of gas, we cannot buy all the gas we will need for our 10 million gas customers this winter from this market. To ensure we have all the gas we need, we buy months or years in advance, only sourcing a very small amount from the Spot market.
Managing Director, British Gas
Perhaps we need a Central Electricity Generating Board?
Ian K Watson
Speed cameras do not save lives
S McBride (letter, 7 October) clearly believes that speed cameras perform magic. If anyone can find me an example of someone "killed or injured by a speeding driver" where it could be credibly argued that a speed camera would have prevented the tragedy, then I'll be amazed. In two years of research, I've not been offered such an incident.
The reality is that people are hit by drivers who are not concentrating, drunk, drugged, tired, in stolen vehicles, not being observant, making misjudgements and so on, and a camera can never prevent or mitigate such situations. The ugly and shocking truth is that more people have been killed and injured by collisions contributed to by speed cameras than have been "saved" by them (I can supply details).
The Tories have recognised the abject failure of speed cameras to make a positive contribution to road safety and also the misleading statistics and propaganda used by the partnerships and others to prop up the £100m per year speed camera industry. That is why they propose disbanding the partnerships and halting spend on more new cameras.
Cameras address a symptom of bad driving (exceeding the speed limit) but collisions are prevented by addressing the root causes of bad driving, and that can be done only through driver education and increasing police patrols.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Heading for a postal disaster
The postal union is following the wrong strategy. Going on strike makes them a lot of enemies. Better would be to refuse to handle the mail from so-called competitors, which the Royal Mail seems to be forced to do.
The present situation is leading inexorably to the demise of the Royal Mail. We can look forward to a system similar to that in Venezuela, where you rent a mail-box in the main post office if you want to receive mail and you post your letters at the same place. The main post office is open during business hours, Monday through Friday. Is this what we all want?
Delivering mail to every house and collecting it from mail-boxes is very labour-intensive and therefore expensive. That Royal Mail seems to be forced into delivering its competitors' mail is madness. A truly independent Royal Mail would be at liberty to refuse to carry its competitors' mail or would be able to charge them a reasonable price for this costly service.
Port Solent, Hampshire
Too much fun for the Olympics
Rambling already exists as a sport with the features Andrew Marsh (letter, 13 October) envisages; it's called fell running.
"Extreme rambling"? Try the Bens of Jura race or the Bob Graham or Ramsey rounds. "Downhill rambling"? Most fell races fluctuate; we don't do downhill only – too easy – but do have a few uphill only. "Multi-day event rambling"? Any of the mountain marathons (running, navigating, camping with minimal gear).
We don't do grandstands at the finish but we do do "tussles at bottlenecks". I still feel indignant at being flattened on the last corner of a 13-mile race by an eight-stone fellow club member (female) to whom I had shown the way.
So, fell running for the Olympics? No, its too characterful, idiosyncratic and just plain fun. Let's keep it that way.
Feelings of birds
If John Stagg (letter, 10 October), really believes "the meadow pipit is thrilled to bits at the decline of the unwanted lodger, the cuckoo" he's in cloud cuckoo-land. Such a Walt Disney view of nature is quite disturbing, but alas not uncommon.
I wonder why a rugby union player who kicked an opponent was described merely as a "rugby" player, while Sam Huihahau, who ran drunkenly into a crowd, was described more specifically as a "rugby league" player in the same article ("Something for The Weekend," 10 October). Presumably The Independent does not have one descriptive rule for misdemeanours committed by union players, and another rule for league players?
Take a seat
Gilly Usborne should be grateful for every seat offered her on public transport and accept with grace (letters, 12 October). My daughter is seven months pregnant with her first child – and very visibly so. She has a 45-minute daily commute to work back and forth across London on the overground train. On average, she is offered a seat once a fortnight – and always by a woman. What's going on here?
All the talk about whether or not the Tories have any policies is irrelevant. We do not elect parties to power in this country. We become disillusioned with the governing party and throw it out, with the other, Labour or Tory, slipping into the vacuum, as we have forgotten how awful they were last time. No doubt we will hear the slogan "Time for a change" in next year's electioneering. The only real change would be if everyone voted Liberal Democrat.
Steyning, West Sussex
Men of peace
The Nobel award to President Obama was deserved if only because it must have made Tony Blair livid.
St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex
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