Letters: Terrorised by 'security' jobsworths

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The Independent Online

Nicholas Lezard (Opinion, 28 February) bemoans the death of banter thanks to the jobsworth attitudes of airport security. Sadly it's far worse than that.

Even the Gatwick staff who held David Jones for over an hour because a Muslim colleague was offended weren't claiming that he was a risk to security. But their behaviour is typical of the humourless mindset which prevails in so-called security personnel.

They do not publish statistics, but I doubt any actual terrorists have been caught because they failed to keep their toiletries below 50mm. In fact, I suspect the best anti-terrorist measure is intelligence from concerned citizens. What really bothers me is that the petty behaviour of airport security alienates everyone and probably makes us less likely to try to help them.

When I witnessed an unfriendly operative at Stansted send back a passenger to buy a plastic bag to put her small lip balm in, it was hard to see this as anything other than petty and obnoxious. If I'd seen the passenger slip the lip balm into her pocket, I'd probably have thought, "Go on, why not?" And that is a real security risk worth taking seriously.

Can we please rein in these numpties before they do any more damage?

Tom Stewart

London WC2

Nicholas Lezard is right to identify the problems at airports. Unfortunately this is a symptom not just of anti-terrorism over-reaction but of a whole approach to law-enforcement started by the previous government and not abandoned by the Coalition.

Two major changes have occurred. The first is the introduction of the victim-defined crime. Well-meaning no doubt, but it is surely wrong that a crime is committed simply because the "victim" feels insulted or aggrieved in some way. Crime should be defined objectively.

And whoever detects a crime should not be responsible for punishing that crime and must not benefit financially. Consider local authorities and parking, and the powers of regulators. The whole concept of civil enforcement is just plain wrong. The Government has given powers of punishment to practically every state employee in uniform. No wonder there is an atmosphere of intolerance and humourlessness.

John Henderson


"This looks like the death of banter," says Nicholas Lezard regarding remarks to airport security staff, but when a female security person at Gatwick demanded that I remove my belt before going through the metal detector, I asked her what would happen if my trousers fell down. "It would make my day," she said.

Professor David J Miller

London SW4

Stephen McBride (letter, 28 February) rightly draws our attention to a seemingly small, but highly significant, change in both the title and demeanour of many public bodies. There is surely all the difference between an organisation that seeks to be a "service" in its values, ethos, and dealings with people, as opposed to one that describes itself as a "force", such as the UK Border Force.

The Rev Charles Chadwick

Bridgwater, Somerset

Parties must unite to reform the Lords

Reports that Ed Miliband has decided not to play party politics on the House of Lords, and will honour Labour's historic commitment to democratic reform, are welcome. The non-elected and elitist Lords have more often been a block on progressive and popular legislation than its champion.

It is important that all three party leaders make it clear that they will stand up to peers who threaten to blackmail the Government and block its legislative programme. There is no convention or point of principle which can justify this kind of behaviour. It would amount to not only thwarting the will of the Commons but blocking a manifesto commitment made by the three major political parties.

These threats merely highlight how profoundly dysfunctional the current situation has become. The alternative to reform now is successive prime ministers appointing ever increasing numbers of cronies to push their agendas through.

Peter Facey

Director, Unlock Democracy, London N1

I agree with your leading article and David Ashton's letter (28 February) about the need to reform the House of Lords. I also agree with Mr Ashton about the problems of an elected upper house and the value of non-party experts.

How about this? Choose half the upper chamber at random from the electoral register. Random selection, as the ancient Athenians realised, is more democratic than election because elections give the rich, powerful and famous an unfair advantage.

Then have the other half of the House appointed in a similar way to how crossbench life peers are appointed now (with no party political appointees), recommended for renewable terms by an appointments committee for their eminence in academia, industry, the arts and so on – but have their appointment confirmed not by the Prime Minister, as now, but by vote of the 300 randomly chosen members at the beginning of each term.

This would balance a supremely democratic element against a non-political expert one.

Laurie Marks

Harrow, Middlesex

David Ashton is entirely right about the House of Lords having done well without being elected. The idea of voting being an incontrovertible good ignores the existence of political parties, tightly knit under a whipping system which makes resistance to an agreed party line punishable by denial of promotion, or even by deselection.

The unelected House – bishops, chiefs of staff, academics and good, difficult minds – should be judged by what it does. An elected house will come custom-built for compliance, a second layer of outer-office special advisers and local councillors on second incomes, a House of Hacks.

Edward Pearce

Thormanby, North Yorkshire

Justifications for abortion

Dominic Lawson's article on gender-based abortion (28 February) raises questions about the ethics of aborting babies for non-medical reasons; that is, because they are simply unwanted.

During a recent BBC Radio 4 discussion between two eminent gynaecologists, one pro-abortion and one pro-life, both agreed that over 90 per cent of the 190,000 annual abortions in England and Wales are not "justified" by medical problems with the baby, but solely by the possible danger of a baby to the mother's mental health.

Either British women have very poor mental health, or babies are aborted simply because they are unwanted. No wonder gender-based abortion is happening.

Matt Pallister


As a GP I have no problems referring unhappy women who feel they cannot look after a baby for a termination of pregnancy. This represents poor education, bad luck, bad judgement, or a failure of family planning on the poor woman's part.

A woman who is happy with her pregnancy until she finds out it is a girl, I would suggest sees a psychologist. A man who forces a woman to have an abortion because he doesn't want a daughter surely should be seen by the police. A daughter who is born to parents who are unhappy because she is a girl is going to need her friends.

Dr Colin Bannon

Yelverton, Devon

How social "morality" changes with ideological fashion!

On the one hand, self-styled liberal progressives advocate the painful extermination of any helpless unborn babies unwanted by their mothers, while on the other they condemn voluntary contraception or genetic engineering that painlessly improves the health, intelligence and self-reliance of future generations.

Political pathology, or what?

Jason Robertson

Sheringham, Norfolk

Gay marriage may be just the start

Catherine Bennett (Letters, 24 February) wants to legalise gay marriage, but maintain the laws against incest, bestiality, paedophilia and necrophilia. I don't fancy her chances.

It seems that the basis of the argument for gay marriage is that we should be free to do what other people are free to do. Ms Bennett herself suggests that by this line of reasoning polygamy should be legalised. It doesn't take a legal genius to work out how, over the course of time, the paedophilia lobby will turn the same argument to their advantage. In some countries, the incest lobby is already visibly at work doing that very thing.

As a liberal I am generally in favour of people being free to do what they want. But there are other moral values at work in society as well, and freedom and equality aren't always the trump cards.

Nigel Halliday

Liss, Hampshire

All aboard for the gravy train

I suspect Jonathan Poole (letter, 29 February) is wrong in his belief that the bankers and the press just don't get it. I am pretty sure they do, but other than a few cynical concerns about PR, why should they care? It's a gravy train they share with most politicians and many media celebrities. Gallingly, the rest of us are paying for it.

I agree that independent regulation would help, but who might have the power and the trust to deliver it?

Philip Brown

Bridekirk, Cumbria

Why children take the bus

I assure Mary Dejevsky (Notebook, 29 February) that most primary schools cannot afford a few hundred pounds to hire a coach to take Year 3 to a museum without severely cutting back on trips for all the other pupils.

Once the dictates of the National Curriculum, Ofsted, the Department for Education and LEAs have been taken into account, there is very little left in the school budget to fund coaches. In fact most London schools can't afford to pay for any transport and rely on the bus network, where children travel free, for visits and events.

Mark Blackman

London SE14

NHS will need an alert watchdog

Your correspondents of 27 February are right to highlight how vital it is that Healthwatch is able to carry out effective scrutiny. As a type 2 diabetes sufferer, I am aware of the importance of social care provided by local authorities. Proper diabetes care and management in the community prevents costly hospitalisation and potentially life-threatening complications.

An oversight body accountable to the people who use or may need these vital services will not be able to make the positive impact it should if it is hamstrung by conflicts of interest.

Keith Vaz MP

House of Commons

Christian way?

Jesus Christ overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple courts. Now bailiffs, acting on behalf of the money-changers in the City of London and "Christ's Church" have overturned the tents of those protesting against the money-changers on the temple forecourt.

Julius Marstrand