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Wednesday 20 May 2009
Letters: Sri Lanka
The war is over, but Sri Lanka still has to make peace
I agree with your leading article (18 May) that although the Tamil Tigers may be militarily crushed for now, the underlying causes of the 25-year conflict need to be urgently addressed. Otherwise supporters from the international diaspora and a younger generation in Sri Lanka will again take up the cause using violent means.
The formation of the Tamil Tigers in the 1970s had its roots in the complete failure of the Sri Lankan political system to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil minority through the ballot box and parliamentary democracy. Sinhalese leaders of both the right and left played to the majoritarian gallery from the late 1940s onwards in order to get their votes. Successive federal solutions for meaningful regional devolution were thwarted, leaving frustrated youth to reject the peaceful approach of their forefathers and take up arms against the Sri Lankan state, with the bloody consequences that have ensued.
The Sri Lankan armed forces have brought the war to a bloody end, with humanitarian casualties as yet unquantifiable. In the immediate future, however, unless President Rajapaksa commits to a constitutional settlement that is fully inclusive and respects the wishes of the island's minorities on ethnic, linguistic and religious issues, and avoids a victorious backlash against them, then it is difficult to see how longer-term problems and unresolved political and economic inequalities will be successfully resolved.
Dr Alan Bullion
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Speaker driven out by hypocrites
Necessary as the Speaker's departure may be, MPs' calls for his resignation amount to an exercise in collective hypocrisy.
Mr Martin did preside over an inadequate allowance system open to abuse, and indeed resisted moves for greater accountability. It is right that he should be held responsible for his actions and step down. But it is equally right that those who blatantly benefited from that very same system and defrauded the taxpayer in the process should also be held accountable.
By playing by the rules Mr Martin enacted, his colleagues have not only lost the right to pass moral judgement on him, but earned the duty to follow his fate. There is only one thing for the "Honourable Members" to do: call a general election.
The scenes in the House of Commons on Monday were disgraceful. It's amazing that in a chamber where so much scandal has occurred over the past two weeks there appeared to be so many righteous Honourable Members. While the Speaker is by no means free of blame in the expenses scandal, it is obscene that he is being made such a scapegoat.
By all means force the resignation of the Speaker but, Honourable Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you are all prepared to resign over your expenses. Oh, thought not.
I was fascinated to read that the Speaker wants to help his son to inherit his seat as an MP. I think that this is an excellent idea; it would save those few members of the electorate who may still be prepared to vote the trouble of going out. Seats could pass seamlessly from parent to child, along with all of the expenses so necessary to maintaining them; all strictly within the rules you understand, which we know we can trust members to write.
P S Braisby
In her perceptive opinion piece (18 May) Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes in a pained and justified way: "Tam Dalyell, whose voice was the conscience of Parliament tried, we are told, to claim thousands of pounds for bookshelves. Et tu Tam? Tell us, please, to save us from total cynicism, say it isn't true."
The fact is that I didn't "claim £18,000 for bookshelves" for my Hansards of the 1960s. I went to the Fees Office with the receipt and asked if I was entitled to a proportion of what I had paid. Correctly, the Fees Office made an estimate of what such bookcases would have cost from a supplier such as John Lewis. They arrived at a figure of £7,800.
Why did I require an expert craftsman to make the cases? Because they were to go in a room of the 1620s, in the first house in Scotland (my mother's) which was asked for and given to the National Trust of Scotland.
I have operated on the rule of principle mentioned by Mary Dejevsky (16 May) that anything I did in public life should not embarrass me if an accurate account was printed in the local paper – the Linlithgow & Bo'ness Journal.
The root of much of this expenses trouble goes back to 1963, when I was a very new MP. The Government Chief Whip, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Martin Redmayne, approached the then opposition, led by Harold Wilson, saying: "There is never a right time to put up MPs' salaries. Let us agree to compensate the boys with a system of expenses and allowances."
Successive governments of all parties have flunked implementing the recommendations of outside bodies such as the Senior Salaries Review Body and we are reaping the whirlwind of understandable public fury.
Linlithgow, West Lothian
I find it very difficult to understand why Sir Christopher Kelly and his committee need such a long time to propose a new expense regime for MPs. I suspect that the solution could be put together very quickly with help from HMRC, the Civil Service and a handful of representatives of major companies.
Many organisations have robust expense regimes for staff working away from their homes, which are acceptable to HMRC, cover legitimate costs and can be audited. In industry or commerce such a plan could be designed in a week or two.
Perhaps the committee needs so much more time because any proposal has to appear to do all of the above, while still allowing MPs to enjoy on-going profiteering. Squaring that circle may be quite tough, and who knows how long they will take.
I am appalled by the cynical attitude of David Foster in his letter (14 May). I have been a town councillor for more than seven years. For two of those I was Mayor. I have driven to many meetings, made hundreds of phone calls and even taken a visiting French mayor to lunch, but during my time as a councillor I have claimed precisely nothing.
The claims made by so many of our MPs, although thankfully not ours here in New Forest West, are frankly appalling. In the services if we were stationed away from home we lived in quarters if we wanted our families with us, or a mess if our families lived away. An MPs' estate and an MPs' mess would save this country a fortune.
Cllr Alan Lewendon (RAF, rtd)
I couldn't agree more with your correspondent Kenneth Wilson's assessment of human nature – "If we lay on a gravy train and hand out free tickets, it's going to take a special sort of person to resist the offer" (letter, 19 May). It's just a pity that this doesn't apply to MPs, who laid on their own gravy train and handed out their own tickets. We, the people who footed the bill, had nothing to do with it.
As a retired (junior) civil servant of more than 30 years, I have seen and had to deal with many letters from MPs. Several, though not all, were bullies. The suggestion that civil servants in the fees office, probably on a third of an MP's wage, led MPs astray is not credible. More likely the worst excess correlates to the worst behaviour.
The Leader of the Opposition seems to have concluded that the MPs' expenses scandal can be resolved only by a general election. Should his wish be granted, can anyone advise what criteria I can use to decide between one bunch of crooks and another bunch of crooks?
Limits of the giant Thames windfarm
For the London Array windfarm (report, 13 May) to be of any benefit against global warming it is imperative that the refurbishment of the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station be authorised as soon as possible.
In the Thames estuary there are long periods of light winds when the electricity output from the London Array will be insignificant and the power it is capable of supplying in strong winds will have to be supplied by a "partner" fossil-fuel station . When the winds pick up again the power from the fossil-fuel station will be reduced in proportion to make way for the wind power.
But since the load factor of a windfarm in the Thames Estuary will be only about 20 per cent it means that 80 per cent of the power from these combined "partner" stations will have to be supplied by Kingsnorth. In effect the London Array will reduce the carbon emissions from Kingsnorth by only 20 per cent.
Both "partner" stations could be replaced by a single nuclear-power station which would reduce Kingsnorth carbon emissions by 100 per cent and at the same time provide us consumers with electricity at one third the price. Are our politicians playing us for suckers?
Cameras put us all under suspicion
I'm pretty sure Graham Dare, like most of us, could not withstand the constant scrutiny that drivers suffer (letter, 16 May). Speed cameras do not exercise discretion or common sense, producing an over-policed community and the conditions required for civil disobedience.
Speed cameras are a system of automated discovery and punishment. The argument for speed cameras is that they reduce speeds and more people survive accidents. However, following the literature (I don't actually drive myself) the overwhelming evidence is that speed cameras reduce accidents in accident hot spots, but cause accidents in other locations. To avoid the automated punishment systems, drivers brake "just in case", turning readable, predictable situations chaotic and dangerous. Even innocent drivers do this.
In this context Terence Blacker's request is not for the freedom to break the law, but the freedom to drive safely and appropriately while not being treated like a suspect. It is akin to a teacher's freedom to teach, a parent's right to parent, basically to get on with life without being under constant suspicion.
Power to the people
Matthew Norman is absolutely right (Opinion, 14 May); we do need a written constitution – but he does not go far enough. It is nonsensical, in a country that claims to be a democracy, that those in power should be in a position to tell the people how they propose to govern. The constitution must be controlled by the people. Our leaders tell us that Britain is a leading democracy, but the British people have never had the opportunity to say how they should be governed.
How dare the BNP use a photo of an RAF Spitfire on their election propaganda leaflets? During the Battle of Britain, pilots of over 14 different nationalities – including 145 Polish and 38 Czech – fought against Hitler. That the British National Party has hijacked the RAF's symbol is an insult to those brave pilots who gave their lives to keep Britain free. On 4 June it is worth remembering that Hitler's party came to power at a time when people were disillusioned with the existing parties.
Good news from NHS
I sympathise with the feelings of Dr Hoare (letter, 18 May) regarding the lack of proper recognition of the NHS. As a patient, my impression of the service was completely contrary to that given by the usual stories. My dealings with the service could only be rated 100 per cent satisfactory, and I wrote to the chief executive of my local hospital to say so. I don't think that even achieving an overall rating of 100 per cent would it on to the front page. Good news is no news.
If John Walsh (19 May ) had paused longer in Burford, the first stop in his round-England quest for peace, he could perhaps found it by visiting the tomb of John Meade Falkner, author of Moonfleet. That extraordinary tomb was much admired by Betjeman. Falkner was one of the first to "discover" the place, in the 1880s, and helped its church considerably.Of course, Mr Walsh need never have left London to find solace but instead could have read Falkner's masterpiece, his third and last novel The Nebuly Coat (1903): a dozen readings do not exhaust its fascination.
The note by Nic Granda-Barton ("French Cricket", 12 May) suggested that France won the silver medal (losing to England) in the 1900 Olympic games. Indeed, this is technically true. However, it has to be borne in mind that the French team was composed of officials from the British embassy in Paris. Thus the French side's success is more nominal than real.
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