Letters: Televised political debates

Election debates? A real clash would be more honest
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Rather than televising political debates to show which party leader sweats the least, has the wittiest prepared "ad libs" and is best at avoiding a direct question, it would be more revealing for the voters to see the three in a cage fight. The winner wouldn't necessarily be the last man standing but the man showing the most determination and courage. At least we would see an honest contest.

By the time the debates take place, the already over-coached trio will have been schooled in how to look confident without appearing arrogant, how and when to smile, even how to stand. If the coaches do their jobs the candidates will be oozing sincerity and passion like Hollywood's finest.

Politicians have always been actors, but for many cynical voters the thought of three men responding to questions like contestants in the Miss World Q&A may be too much to stomach. Perhaps the only good thing about these phoney contests is that there won't be a swimsuit section.

Alan Aitchison

Wakefield, West Yorkshire

I welcome the opportunity to observe all three party leaders in the election run-up and I understand why the regional parties are not involved in televised national debates. However, since this is a national general election, I am extremely disappointed that all three televised debates will be held in English cities.

This is an election for the United Kingdom not just England and while Bristol is close to Wales, it is not in Wales. Neither are there any debates in Scotland. May we interpret this as a subliminal message that the Scottish and Welsh electorates do not matter?

Dr Nick Winstone-Cooper

Bridgend, South Wales

Why we still don't trust Cameron

If David Cameron wants to know why his lead has diminished he only needs to look at the recent media emphasis on political donations. The Conservatives have reportedly received over £16m from specific interest groups in the City, while the Labour Party received approximately £4m from trade union sources.

The Tories look as if they have been bought by the City on a "no regulation" ticket. The Labour Party looks equally purchased, but at least on the basis of potential social policy; an increase in the minimum wage maybe, or more statutory sick pay. The one over-riding terror that crosses party lines is the fear of further financial meltdown, yet the Tory leader decided to ally himself with those in the City who see financial regulation as an obstruction to profit.

Cameron had an opportunity to clarify and put all these ambiguities to rest at the party conference. However like most opportunists of recent political memory, he blew it. When the country wanted to know his detailed plans to regulate the City to prevent more empty shops on the high street, Cameron wanted to clarify his position on tax breaks for married couples.

The electorate is scared; we loathe the incumbents and we fear the alternative. Cameron still has the opportunity to commit himself to a root-and-branch reform of the City.

Owain Dew-Hughes

Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria

David Cameron is right that the public wants change, but mistaken in his understanding of what change is desired.

We are all aware of the issues that have eroded our sense of trust in our politicians, the Iraq war and MPs' expenses being my particular favourites. We may differ in our political allegiances, but what we want more than anything is politicians with an internal moral compass, who know what they believe and tell us what they believe, and whose behaviour is congruent with those beliefs. We do not want politicians who need a rule book to tell them that it is immoral to use public money to build a nest egg or a duck pond.

We want politicians who have the decency to resign in shame when they break trust with us, and we want those who claim to be trustworthy to voice their outrage and demand resignations.

David Cameron offers a smorgasbord of policies to tempt us, and fails to see that this only confirms our worst fears, that his motivation is political gain and not the greater good. The public wants politicians with integrity, in whom they can place their trust, and like many others I feel despondent at the thought of the coming election.

Julie Howorth


Prosecutions for assisting suicide

Keir Starmer's published policy on assisted suicide is a step in the right direction, providing a clear framework for prosecutors to decide which cases should proceed to court and which should not. However, seriously ill patients who wish to end their lives will continue to be denied a humane death.

As a GP for over 25 years, I know from experience that there is clearly a desire, whether we like it or not, among some patients at the end of often terrible battles with debilitating, incurable diseases to end their suffering, with the support of their relatives.

Many people remain opposed to legislation that would allow "end of life" choices. But their concerns relating to abuses and protection of the vulnerable can be addressed by ensuring certain objective conditions are met prior to allowing a terminally ill individual to exercise the right to die. In this context, Sir Terry Prachett's proposal of establishing a tribunal comprising two independent physicians and a solicitor is worth exploring.

If we do not address this issue head on, we will have continued uncertainty and the unregulated practice of euthanasia, with the fear of prosecution hanging over the heads of all concerned. The goal of the medical profession should still be to save lives, but not at the expense of compassion and the right of the terminally ill to choose to end their lives with dignity.

Dr Kailash Chand


Julian Baggini (Opinion, 27 February) makes the point that where a decision for suicide is based on a calm and rational decision it can be justified.

The more difficult, and surely relevant, question is whether a "justifiable suicide" includes a person (maybe with mental-health problems) who has mental capacity but nonetheless makes what we would consider to be an irrational or unwise decision to end their life.

It is too easy for Baggini to draw a clear blue line between the depressive and rational suicide. Surely the possibility that they can be one and the same is the real reason why we're so unwilling to tackle the issue?

Tim Spencer-Lane

London W4

Careers have come a long way

Poking fun at careers professionals has recently become something of a national sport. It kicked off with Alain de Botton in The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. Now Philip Hensher has joined the scrum (1 March).

In the time that has elapsed since Hensher left university, there has been enormous growth in the scope and sophistication of support provided by the university careers services. In my own role I work alongside colleagues from the University of London Careers Group to provide a careers support service to all doctors in training in London.

We also offer in-depth careers counselling to doctors who present with a range of mental and physical health problems.

Recent examples include helping a young doctor with a serious psychotic disorder build a satisfying career beyond medicine as a scientific librarian, and helping another accept that following their recovery from transplant surgery they needed to revise their lifelong ambition to train as a paediatrician.

I love my job, and feel enormously privileged to be able to help people find a way through the complex career dilemmas that they face. Hensher's experience may have been that careers advice is a complete waste of time. That's not the feedback we get from our clients.

Dr Caroline Elton

Head of Careers Advice and Planning

London Deanery

London WC1

BBC can never placate its critics

The BBC can't win. When it broadcasts mainstream entertainment it's criticised for encroaching into areas that should be left to the market; when it produces programmes appealing to smaller audiences it's accused of failure to serve the general licence fee payer. The corporation needs to understand that it can never placate its critics, for whom public service broadcasting is anathema.

In its proposal to axe 6 Music it is holding a gun to its own head. With its unique mix of new music and classic rock, offering playlists that are not available on commercial radio, its nurturing of new talent and rejection of ego-driven presentation it's just the kind of channel the BBC should be championing. If the BBC is to abandon this kind of programming one wonders where that leaves its public service remit. Perversely, it provides more ammunition for its critics in the commercial sector.

Charles Hopkins


You report that BBC director-general Mark Thompson praised 6 Music for its "distinctive output" but he is to close the radio station down because it is "expensive" to run given its audience size (3 March). If this is now BBC policy, why is Radio 3 not facing the axe as well?

Martyn P Jackson

Cramlington, Northumberland

BBC 6 Music's playlist of young musicians has led me to support the British music industry by buying many CDs.

I never believed the theory that Britain always tries to destroy what it does best. Now, thanks to the tone-deafness of BBC management, alas, I do.

Alison Sheppard

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Place of theology in the world

The irony of the argument that theology is not a valid academic discipline is that it requires a knowledge of theology, such as could only be garnered under its academic study, to inform it. Otherwise our arguments are limited to attacking straw men, like the idea that theology is as Robin Orton (letter, 25 February) states, "learning about God". Certain theologians reject the existence of God altogether.

This agnostic would say theology has far more to do with the place of God in the world. It enables the internal renewal and reassessment of religious norms, which is a vital function from every imaginable perspective.

Mark Goulden

Preston, Lancashire


Justice for Sutcliffe

Now that Peter Sutcliffe has served the 30-year tariff imposed at his trial, there is only one criterion to be to be addressed when considering his release (letter, 3 March). That is whether or not he is still a danger to the public. If Mr Sutcliffe is deemed to no longer be a danger to society, any further incarceration is vengeful and has no place in the justice system.

David Barry

Bexhill-0n-Sea, East Sussex

Trouble with Tesco

Just for the record, perhaps Joan Smith could spell out exactly why she "loathes Tesco" (Opinion, 2 March). We country folk need to be kept up to speed on the latest prejudices of the metropolitan chattering classes. And am I correct in supposing that this view will render her unlikely to win Tesco Magazine's latest award (Pandora, also 2 March)?

Anthony G Bridgewater

West Wittering, west Sussex

Opera refund

I hope David Lister (27 February) is wrong in his belief that the Royal Opera's 20 per cent credit note due to the illness of Placido Domingo sets a precedent. The Royal Opera House promoted the relatively obscure Handel opera Tamerlano with Domingo's image and there can be no other reason for the sell-out. His enforced absence constituted a substantial alteration to the production, requiring a full refund. The credit note is derisory.

Gary Mills

Witham, Essex

Room for Farage

Has the Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder (letter, 1 March) ever laughed? Having been a low-grade bank clerk myself, I have good reason to be offended by Nigel Farage's remarks to Mr van Rompuy. Rather, I haven't laughed so hard since Ms Bearder's old party leader told his troops to go back to their constituencies to prepare for government. There is surely room in politics for Nigel Farage. The good people of Buckingham could do worse than to elect a man with the looks of a bank manager and the wit of Nancy Astor as their MP.

Peter Bradshaw


Speak up

Colum Gallivan (letter, 3 March) reminds me of the story of Wilfrid Hyde-White, who drove a theatre director to distraction by not speaking up in rehearsals. The director finally cried out: "Willy, I still can't hear you", to which the actor replied: "Don't worry, dear boy, I've been inaudible in smaller theatres than this one."

Nigel Stapley

Brymbo, Wrexham