Peter Tomlinson criticises Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's description of Britain as being defined by dissipation and debauchery, and argues that Western liberal secular societies are happier and healthier than those based on religious puritanism and repression (letters, 15 January).
Yet in so doing, he glosses over the question of why it is only Britain which suffers from the licentious and uncivilised behaviour evident in our town centres on Friday and Saturday nights. The degenerate and moronic behaviour which Yasmin Alibhai-Brown rightly condemns is an exclusively British phenomenon, not a mainland European one.
Why is it that Berlin, Copenhagen, Madrid, Paris, Rome and Zurich, for example, are not afflicted with gangs of boorish lager louts drunkenly causing mayhem at weekends? Why are their streets are not filled with gangs of shrieking, drunken young women dressed like Barbie dolls and tottering around in stilettos, having to hold each other up? The only time you do see such idiotic behaviour in mainland European cities is when they are unlucky enough to be visited by a British "stag party" or "hen night".
Mr Tomlinson suggests that the choice is between living in a repressive religious society or a civilised one. The third alternative, sadly, is living in Britain.
Haiti: a long, slow disaster
The earthquake that hit Haiti was a natural disaster; most of the devastation suffered in its aftermath will not be. The poverty of the people of Haiti is the result of centuries of deliberate policies of many western nations. How did what was once France's richest colony in the New world become so impoverished ?
One of the major factors was the debt France made Haiti pay for lost income from slavery when Haiti gained its independence. The last payment was in 1947 and the total paid has been calculated as around $21bn in today's value.
A 20th-century occupation by the US led on to a military regime, and subsequent US- and French-supported regimes under the notorious Duvalier family and their death squads. The US continued military and "economic" aid, turning Haiti into a extended sweatshop for US manufacturing. All this led to a very small Haitian elite linked to US business enjoying a privileged life over the Western hemisphere's most impoverished country.
President Aristide came to power on the back of a massive 67 per cent vote in 1990 but his policies aimed at helping the poor were not popular with the elite and the US. Nor was his disbandment of the army, which had only ever been used to terrorise the population. The period since 1990 has been marked by coups and violence against popular democratic parties; western financial and military support to violent paramilitaries and the business elite; lowering sweatshop wages; aid contingent on disastrous liberalisation policies and the undermining of agriculture by flooding the food markets with subsidised US agribusiness rice.
My only hope is that, with the focus on Haiti, more citizens in the west will begin to understand their historical and ongoing responsibility for the misery that most Haitians endure every day. Change can come at the government level by removing support for the violent, elite opposition, by the French government repaying the debilitating debt it extracted from Haiti in return for its freedom, and people everywhere being more responsible in researching the working conditions of those who make the goods they consume and the clothes they wear.
I whole-heartedly support your leading article , "We should be better prepared to deal with such disasters" (14 January) . The scenes from Port-au-Prince are terrifying and tragic. Not even a developed country could completely withstand such a powerful shock.Yet the full extent of Haiti's devastation is a result of its broken state, where 80 per cent live below the poverty line. The infrastructure is non-existent, corruption is rampant.
Haiti had significant health problems prior to the earthquake: HIV, tuberculosis, malnutrition, intestinal parasites, anaemia and a host of other problems; from all accounts much worse is to follow. The completely destroyed nation requires not just a huge international relief operation, it requires a sustained, long-term global effort to get its flattened institutions functioning. The will must be there for the world to come to Haiti's aid and work with the millions of surviving Haitians to rebuild this country.
Dr Kailash Chand
Looking at the pictures from Haiti, I wonder whose idea it was to build a city out of concrete slabs right on top of an active fault.
Little Sandhurst, Berkshire
Until the next severe winter
It may not be possible for councils to grit all streets and roads that require gritting . However, it should be remembered that during the severe winter weather of January and February 2009 we were assured that such severe winters were very rare and it would be many winters before we had such severe winter weather again, and no extra precautions were required. I had a gut feeling that the next winter would be another severe winter. I did not think that it would be as severe as this .
In the 1960s we had two prolonged and severe winters after one another, the winters of 1961-1962 and 1962-1963. Looking through the newspapers of the period, I see that there is much comment about people's unwillingness to clear the snow outside their homes, unlike winters past.
The winter of 1963-1964, which came after the two severe winters, was mild. We cannot afford to presume that in the future winters are going to be mild .
Peter J Brown
Is there any chance our reservoirs will be replenished sufficiently during this snowy and wet spell to see us through our next drought?
I'm not sure why J Prior (letter, 14 January) needs rock salt to chlorinate his Australian swimming pool. I would have thought his crocodile tears would be more than sufficient.
A clean break from dismal politics
John Rentoul is right ("The biggest loser from this election will be positive politics", 14 January). None of the Westminster parties are able to offer a "clean break" from a political era characterised by reckless bank bail-outs, the damning MPs' expenses scandal and a failure of ambition on the climate crisis.
But Rentoul is too negative when he says that all we can hope for is more politics based on low expectations and austerity. The Green Party, along with a number of respected economists, is challenging the assertion that we should cut public spending during a recession.
To the contrary, this is precisely the time to tackle both the economic and climate crises, by channelling investment into public services, renewable energy generation and better public transport infrastructure – creating tens of thousands of new jobs.
By calling time on misguided vanity projects such as ID cards and the renewal of Trident, and levying fairer and more progressive rates of taxation, we can maintain the level of public spending necessary in order to support those in need, take credible action on the environment, and get people back to work.
In our target constituencies of Brighton Pavilion, Norwich South and Lewisham Deptford, we could see the election of our first three MPs in the next general election. Such an historic win would signal the beginning of a more inclusive, more positive brand of politics. A Green MP, especially in the event of a hung Parliament, would symbolise real and positive change.
Caroline Lucas, MEP
Leader Green Party
Chance to learn Mandarin
The wish of Ed Balls for schools to offer language classes in Mandarin, Polish and Russian (report, 4 January) is a wake-up call to those not yet realising our children are growing up in a truly global society.
As Europe's most ethnically diverse area, the east London borough of Newham is perhaps better placed than most for teaching alternative languages, since many pupils arrive at school bilingual. At our Kingsford Community School in Beckton, pupils learn Mandarin when they join aged 11.
Newham is one of the poorest areas in the UK, with high levels of deprivation. But we also have the highest percentage of young people in the country, and a strong commitment to ensuring youngsters benefit from opportunities in an area the eyes of the world will settle on in 2012 during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
As emerging nations such as China play increasingly important roles in the world, we must change our attitudes to learning languages.
Sir Robin Wales
Mayor of Newham, London E16
In a country where foreign languages in schools have not played a prominent role in recent years, the opportunity to learn Mandarin sounds like very good news indeed. I cannot help though feeling rather puzzled over how these aspirations can be put into practice.
From experience I know that in other European countries children learn foreign languages for seven to nine years (very often for four to five lessons a week). If they wish to become a teacher of foreign languages, they are likely to study for a further three or four years, probably even do some work experience abroad, before they are deemed qualified to teach the language.
This is where the British (or should I say English?) education system does not cease to amaze me. Some of my English friends who are primary school teachers are expected to teach a foreign language of which they have no or little previous experience after receiving minimal training (half a day per unit of work). It is fair to say that in addition they are being supplied with a scheme of work and a set of teaching materials.
For a long time I have had a lot of admiration for primary school teachers in this country who work extremely hard and with a lot of dedication and are expected to rectify all sorts of society's problems. But they surely must be geniuses to achieve this new task. Or is this just another government initiative which is doomed before it has even taken off?
Over my desk I have framed a ticket for Barbarians v New Zealand, Arms Park, 27 January 1973, South Upper Stand, price £2. Today this fell out of a book I took off my bookshelf: England v Ireland Saturday 15 March 2008, East Lower, price £75. The increase in price is hardly justified by the standard of today's game.
Buck stops where?
I wonder if others are as depressed as I am when I read, in your report (15 January) of the inquest into a patient given an overdose by a locum doctor: "An agency had supplied Dr Ubani to Take Care Now, the company that was running the NHS out-of-hours service in Cambridgeshire." Who is responsible? Not me, guv – or me – or me.
There has been much correspondence about threats from the TV Licensing organisation, but I bet no one can beat this. Today I received two communications from them: one was my TV licence (for which I pay annually by direct debit) and the other was a letter warning me that my address was listed on their database as being unlicensed and my details would therefore be passed to their enforcement team.
Andrew White's letter rebuking the Tories over energy (15 January) is timely. However, the other side of this coin has been the lack of will on gas and electricity by the Blair and Brown governments, too keen to ape the libertarian policies of Thatcher and Major. For over 12 years Labour has had countless opportunities to check and correct the decisions of the energy companies and has resolutely refused to, letting an emasculated Ofgem pretend it was tough on proper husbandry of energy supplies, tough on reining in costs to consumers.
It has occurred to me, on reading Shaaz Mahboob's "It's time for moderate Muslims to step forward" (13 January), that had "moderate Christians" restrained Messrs Bush, Blair and their co-religionists in 2001 and 2003, we might not need to be speaking today of "moderate Muslims".
Kingston upon Thames, SurreyReuse content