Letters: Save the Planetarium

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The Independent Online

Sir: Around thirty years ago, a group of us took a cohort of 150 first-year social science students, at what was then Middlesex Polytechnic, to the London Planetarium ("Planetarium show is eclipsed by star culture", 31 Jabuary). We were trying to get them to understand some of the methodological problems of the physical sciences by studying the Copernican Revolution in astronomy. Few of them had ever looked seriously at the night sky, and indeed it had hardly been visible in London since the Three Day Week.

We were privileged to have John Ebdon do us a special show, using the full facilities of the then already aged "epicyclic projector". Years of observational experience under cloudless skies were packed into minutes in the comfort of the auditorium. And the quality of the simulation, based as it was on the principles of Earth-centred Ptolemaic astronomy, underlined the philosophical issues we were exploring about the interplay of observation and theory. It was simply the largest and the best teaching aid in the whole of London.

It would be tragic if Londoners were to be deprived of exploring the night sky, or even of seeing it until the coming energy crisis makes the capital dark again. However one cannot expect a commercial organisation to subsidise a cultural treasure indefinitely. If it cannot be moved to South Kensington, should it not really be supported and exploited as an annex of the Science Museum? The contents of this dome are worth preserving.



The Tory future lies with New Europe

Sir: Your leader (31 January) asserted that David Cameron's policy of withdrawing British Conservative MEPs from the European People's Party was "difficult to explain". Please allow me.

David Cameron has recognised that the Conservative Party needs to modernise and that we need to be consistent in order to be credible. Withdrawal from the EPP is an essential step towards that change.

When it comes to Europe, nothing could be more outmoded than the post-war, social market, ultra-integrationist model still peddled by the EPP. To read the EPP's manifesto is to travel back in time: a single EU seat at the United Nations, a pan-European income tax to be levied by MEPs, a European army and police force, limited working hours.

Where the EPP is centralist, the Tories ought to be localist. Where the EPP believes in "ever-closer union", we should champion its precise opposite: the Jeffersonian doctrine that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the people they affect.

In taking the Conservatives out of the backward-looking EPP, and allying us with centre-right parties from new Europe, Mr Cameron is making the Conservative party a fit force to govern Britain in the 21st century. Doing so was always bound to unsettle a few MEPs wedded to the perks they get from sitting at the top table in Brussels. But it is striking to note how many of those dissenting voices come from those who entered politics in a different era.

If we want to build a new model Conservative Party, we need to be contemporary, and there is no better way to begin that process than by breaking with the Christian Democrats of Old Europe and embracing the free-market parties of New Europe.



Sir: The naïvety of Adrian Graves beggars belief. Any other Liberal Democrat tempted to follow his example and defect to the Conservatives is making a grave mistake.

The National Liberals did the same more than 60 years ago when they joined with the Conservatives "in order to defeat socialism". Over the following decades, the Conservative Party moved steadily to the right. The Labour Party reciprocated by moving steadily to the left, thus polarising British politics.

It was only after more than a decade of successive defeats, and the challenge posed by the Liberal/SDP Alliance, that Labour reinvented itself and sought the middle ground. Now a trio of successive Conservative defeats and the onset of three-party politics has caused David Cameron to seek to reinvent the Conservative Party in the image of New Labour. If the strategy succeeds and the Conservatives are returned to power, no one should be surprised if it subsequently sheds the veneer of "liberalism" and reverts to its true colours. Cameron, or his successor, is likely, before long, to find himself as far removed from the rest of his party as Blair is from his.



Wrong signal to the Palestinians

Sir: Double standards cause resentment and invite terrorism. All countries in the West, particularly Britain and America, call upon Hamas to renounce violence and obey the law. But not one voice has been raised to suggest that Israel should do the same. Far from it.

Indeed, both Britain and the US have given tacit, unspoken, approval to the criminality and violence of the Israelis in the West Bank. The occupation, the settlements, the invasion of settlers, the killing of children for throwing stones, the imprisonment without charge or trial, the reign of terror by the Israeli army with curfews, road-blocks and check-points, and the freedom to ignore international law.

Tony Blair says, "The Israelis are our friends." He doesn't say they can do as they please but that is the result of turning a blind eye to their criminality and violence, which is a thousand times that of Hamas. If you want to create bitterness, hatred, and terrorism this is the way to do it.



Sir: I am at a loss to understand what is going on. We are striving to introduce democracy in the Middle East, and the Palestinians have just done what we want them to do; not only that, but they did it with a much larger turnout at the polls than we achieve here.

But we do not like the government they have so enthusiastically chosen, and what do we do? We threaten these electors with the withdrawal of financial support which they have enjoyed for a long time. Can we not see that this will have the effect of alienating them when our objective should be to persuade them that, in spite of the past history of the party they have elected, we are not in any way hostile to them as Palestinians? The effect could be to increase support for military action, just when we want a move in the other direction.

What does this say about our love of democracy?



Sir: In voting for Hamas, Palestinians were rejecting the "two-state solution", a new name for partition, which has failed completely to solve anything. The best it has ever offered since 1967 was a patchwork bantustan under an authority with fewer powers than an English local authority.

The alternative is to join all the people between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean sea in a democratic, pluralist and highly devolved state, with equal rights for all citizens without distinction of religion or language. In melodramatic language this could be called "the destruction of Israel", but it does not require the destruction of Israelis. Jews, Muslims and Christians lived peacefully together in historic Palestine until the British invaded and foolishly promised to develop it as a "national home for the Jews", which evidently could not be a national home for anyone else.



Sir: Does anyone recall the United States ever making the cessation of violence a condition of aid to Israel?



Labels for people with disabilities

Sir: I cannot agree with Dominic Lawson (27 January) on the phrase "mentally handicapped". For the people with learning disability we support, this term is stigmatising, does not see them as real people and implies low expectations. We need to have a language with which to discuss learning disability while ensuring that, as far as possible, a person with such a disability is able to make decisions about how they define themselves.

The debate over terms and language should not, of course, divert attention from the more serious problem of how society treats those who are socially excluded. People who have a learning disability, whether mild or severe, should be treated with respect and have a chance to make decisions about their own lives. Nobody should be defined solely in the context of their disability.

At Turning Point, we work with people who have a learning disability. By focusing on the person, rather than the problem, we enable people to feel part of their community and that they have some control over their life. Only by seeing the person behind the label can we become an inclusive society. Stigma and discrimination go beyond labels, and these are what need to be challenged.



Sir: I am pleased to see the recent correspondence on the label of "learning disabilities". I am myself on the autistic spectrum, having Asperger's syndrome, and as such am labelled as having learning difficulties. Whilst it is true that I have my human needs, the one thing I do not need is a label.