Sir: You rightly describe Trevor Phillips's latest speech, in which he calls for a "national agreement" on a series of provocative questions, as appearing to be "pandering to the tired 'political-correctness-gone-mad' agenda of the right wing press" (leading article, 5 October).
The blunt truth is that any chair of the Commission for Racial Equality who does not know whether councils should print documents in several languages, or whether holy days like Yom Kippur should be respected, or whether "coloured" is an appropriate term, should seriously consider whether he is in the right job.
MAYOR OF LONDON'S DIRECTOR OF EQUALITIES AND POLICING, GREATER LONDON AUTHORITY LONDON SE1
Sir: The controversy over multiculturalism ("Phillips's challenge to ethnic minorities sparks row", 5 October) is overshadowing the real issue underlying the seeming lack of integration of Britain's minority ethnic communities, namely, poverty.
Multiculturalism is a fact of life in modern Britain. Yet despite three decades of equality legislation and more than five decades of governmental initiatives aimed at tackling poverty, we still live in a society blighted by deep-seated socio-economic inequalities, where the divide between the "haves" and "have nots" continues to grow. The latest Home Office figures moreover reveal that the UK is a class-ridden nation where the circumstances in which we are born, and not what we may do about them, will largely determine our outcome in life. Against this background, the well-documented depravation, disadvantage and prejudice disproportionally affecting the country's minority ethnic communities brings into sharp focus the realities of multiculturalism in Britain.
As the 21st century dawns, we seem to be going backwards. Instead of moving ever closer to the ideal of a diverse, inclusive British society that provides opportunities for all, we are in the midst of a polarised, class-driven nation, where the accident of birth seems to prevail over personal ability. There is indeed a debate to be had on multiculturalism and the state of community relations in Britain. But if we are serious about bringing those at the margins of society into the mainstream, we need to look beyond the ideology of "political correctness gone mad" and start seeing what everyday life in multicultural Britain really looks like.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, COUNCIL OF ETHNIC MINORITY VOLUNTARY SECTOR ORGANISATIONS LONDON E15
Can we really trust the new Tories?
Sir: Part of me welcomes the things Conservative Party figures have been saying this week. Slogans such as "change to win" give the impression that the Conservatives are finally beginning to wake up. "Compassionate Conservatism" does roll off the tongue nicely.
But is this just rhetoric? I fear that exchanging Labour for a re-branded Conservative Party will be to exchange substance for nice words. When Tony Blair, in his conference speech, gave his list of achievements, the repetition of the phase "Only a Labour government. . ." was appropriate. The Conservatives might match Labour on a few headline issues, like funding for health and education, but only a Labour government will bother with caring for the public in wider and less recognisable ways (consider debt cancellation, the New Deal, Sure Start, the Human Rights Act, and 2.1 million children out of absolute poverty). This is because only a Labour government truly believes in a future of prosperity, opportunity and social justice for all.
I want to welcome the caring side of the Conservatives, and I am even slightly excited by the appearance of David Cameron, a leadership contender who seems genuinely likable and forward looking. And yet, when Cameron explains, even in fair and balanced terms, his belief that growth in the economy should be shared between the public services and tax cuts I feel a chill. At least in recent years we have known that the Conservatives are the "nasty party". I fear that the caring brand will be no more than a brand, and a smokescreen for introducing tax cuts for the rich, and an extension of the private sector.
JAMES C BUCKLEY
THORPE HESLEY, SOUTH YORKSHIRE
Sir: May I congratulate the MP for Monmouth, David Davies (Pandora, 4 October), for reminding us what the Conservative Party really stands for.
His attacks on gypsies and other vulnerable groups in society are a timely counterblast to the soft-headed blather about "compassionate conservatism" that has reared its head at the party conference. I trust the party's hierarchy is marking out Mr Davies as a future leader in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher and granting him the attention he so obviously craves.
Mr Davies and I frequently attend the same church. I wonder if he has ever come across the parable of the sheep and the goats in St Matthew's Gospel. Jesus said that those who serve him are those who show compassion to the vulnerable - such as the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless and the needy. I suppose gypsies, pilloried and harried from one place to another, might come under that heading. I offer to lend Mr Davies a Bible to look up the parable for himself if he cares to make contact.
THE REVD DERRICK W COOLING
ST BRIAVELS, GLOUCESTERSHIRE
Sir: When Mr Moore (letter, 5 October) wakes up he might like to consider whether being out of touch with the zeitgeist is such a bad thing after all.
Kenneth Clarke clearly and cogently opposed the war in Iraq and has spoken eloquently about the erosion of civil liberties and the frankly contemptuous attitude to parliamentary democracy that have become the accepted norm of New Labour politics. His weight and love of jazz and tobacco strike me as secondary considerations in searching for an effective opposition to this most disingenuous of governments.
Sir: Rob Moore worries that "as a middle income, open thinking, life-enjoying 32-year-old I find it no surprise at all that people within my age group find it difficult to relate to any political group on offer today", and Gee Law that one of the Tories' main leadership candidates looks like a "chauvinist pig" (letters, 5 October). There is no cause for either to be unduly concerned, as other options are available. The youngest MPs in Scotland, England and Wales are 25, 27 and 31. Jo Swinson, Julia Goldsworthy and Jenny Willott are all women - and all Liberal Democrats.
WEST BRIDGFORD, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE
Sir: Ken Clarke says he is the best man for the job. The last time the best man led the Conservatives she became Prime Minister.
Medicines for poor countries
Sir: The accusation that the pharmaceutical industry is responsible for "rapacious pricing" does not stand up to scrutiny ("The big lie", 26 September).
In the UK, prices that companies can charge the NHS for their medicines are strictly limited by a voluntary agreement between the industry and the Government, the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS), that caps each company's profits. Nor are "extraordinary sums" spent on marketing medicines to doctors, although healthcare professionals must be made aware of the clinical benefits of each innovative medicine. Under the PPRS, there are strict limits on how much marketing expenditure is allowable, and industry's UK expenditure on R&D outstrips that on marketing.
We should all, however, share the concern to spread these clinical benefits to the developing world. From this standpoint, one piece of good news is that more than 95 per cent of the medicines in the World Health Organisation's Essential Drugs List are out of patent, and so low-cost generic medicines are available. Unfortunately, to the poorest nations on earth, even the cheapest is unaffordable.
The pharmaceutical industry also participates in a host of schemes for tackling developing world diseases, ranging from malaria to HIV/Aids and from sleeping sickness to elephantiasis, in a whole range of different countries. In some cases, individual companies have pledged to give medicines free of charge until the disease is eliminated - lymphatic filariasis (GlaxoSmithKline) and leprosy (Novartis) are just two examples.
Industry is hard at work with governments, international bodies and non-governmental organisations to bring affordable healthcare to people across the globe. Unfortunately, good medical care is more often the barrier than the availability or price of medicines. Making the pharmaceutical industry a scapegoat does not move us forward in this global challenge.
DR RICHARD W BARKER
DIRECTOR GENERAL, THE ASSOCIATION OF THE BRITISH PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY, LONDON SW1
Overrun by gangs of stray pheasants
Sir: Pheasants and partridges do not stay conveniently in their breeding territory (letters, 4 and 5 October). They have achieved pest status in our garden, where gangs of them ravage the flowers and vegetables. The grain hoppers which feed the wretched birds encourage rats and we need the services of the ratcatcher increasingly frequently.
The artificially large numbers of these birds must be upsetting the balance of nature. Perhaps pest control should be extended to getting rid of the surplus of gamebirds which invade private gardens and maybe those responsible for the oversupply should pay for this on the principle of polluter pays.
Bring in Turkey and the EU will collapse
Sir: It has been the implicit if not explicit objective of the UK government and Washington to push for unqualified expansion of the European Union. To what end? Well so far, one by-product of the inclusion of the Eastern lot has been the defeat of the first-draft constitution. Accommodate Turkey, Croatia and Serbia and soon enough we will achieve the ungovernability that the UK seeks with such gusto. And presto, the UK would have its economic common market, unfettered by the political needs of the social budgets of Old Europe.
Is this really what The Independent supports? And is a country like Britain, still so uncomfortable about its own position on asylum seekers/immigrants, truly willing to accommodate the restless ones among Turkey's 70 million into its embrace? I suspect the UK is banking on the majority of these ambitious young Turks imposing upon those economies they have already adopted so eagerly - like Holland, Germany and Austria. And I suspect that The Independent has simply joined the cheering band of Thatcher survivors in this country that are somewhat amused at witnessing the collapse of the hard-fought benefits of the European lower-middle class. It can only mean cheaper foreign holidays and properties abroad.
Magical mystery of creative genius
Sir: The former lecturer Brenda James and Professor William Rubinstein ("Much ado about identity as scholars claim a diplomat was the 'real' Shakespeare", 5 October) have persuaded me that William Shakespeare, lacking an elite education, could not have produced "Shakespeare".
Thanks to this insight, I realise now that the similarly unschooled Beatles were far too unsophisticated to have created the works attributed to them. As the Victorians did with Shakespeare, I have arbitrarily declared the Beatles' lyrics to be the highest form of English. It logically follows that no northern working class schoolboys could have crafted such lofty and immortal phrases as "It's been a hard day's night", "I wanna hold your hand", and "I am the walrus, goo-goo-g'joob".
Clearly, someone else was behind it all; someone widely travelled ("Ticket to Ride", "Back in the USSR"), with a naval background ("Yellow Submarine"), wealthy but romantically inept ("Baby You're a Rich Man", "Can't Buy Me Love"), attached to an Elizabeth ("Dizzy Miss Lizzy") and given to outbursts of utter nonsense ("Come Together", "Ob-La Di, Ob-La-Da"). Could it be any more obvious that the Fab Four were merely fronting for Prince Philip?
NILE D MESERVY
HARROGATE, NORTH YORKSHIRE
Dying of the light
Sir: RIP Ronnie Barker. Only now, in death, can his fellow comedians hold four candles to him.
Sir: George Miller (Letters, 4 October) accuses Tony Blair of changing Labour "from a party with 400,000 members to one under 200,000". He conveniently forgets how appallingly low the membership was before Blair was responsible for increasing it to that number. Most of those who write to say that they will never vote Labour again or who proudly proclaim their resignation from the party only voted and joined Labour because of him in the first place. Selective amnesia!
Cheap power for all
Sir: Like Will Anderson (Diary of an Eco-Builder, 5 October) we are in the process of having a photovoltaic power source installed. In contrast to him, however, we have opted for a battery system to allow us to use all our own electricity and then top up at very low overnight rates from the grid. Consequently our grid bill will be one ninth of its previous value. Everyone could have an overnight-charged battery bank, even without another power source. No one anywhere needs to pay full price for domestic electricity any more.
HAYDON BRIDGE, NORTHUMBERLAND
Rely on the old guard
Sir: Is climate change affecting the older generation in this country? We are now seeing 70-year-old vicars and ex-social workers jailed for non-payment of inflation-busting bills; an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor manhandled and ejected for daring to disagree with a government minister. What are the older generation coming to, daring to stand up to tyranny for a third time in their lifetimes! They have my total support and admiration. The British Bulldog has only been dozing, after all.
Sir: Elizabeth Meakins says (From the Therapist's Couch, 4 October) "Sex won't heal the pain for ever" whilst Catherine Townsend (Sleeping Around) obviously sees it as a prescriptive necessity. Am I the only person to find it all a bit curious?