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Tuesday 2 December 2008
Letters: Terrorism, terrorists, them and us
Keep blaming 'them' and the terror will go on
The justification offered for attacks on innocent people in Northern Ireland was always that the attackers' community had been so persecuted that this was the only way to stop it. Hence the quiet and civilised IRA men and women who killed repeatedly in Belfast, London, Birmingham and elsewhere. And the backlash from the Protestant murder gangs who eventually exceeded their opponents in the number killed in Belfast and in Dublin. Always they said it was justified because of what "they" had done.
Each community refused to seek punishment for its own killers. When I was seconded as a Church of Scotland minister to work in Belfast, I heard a kind grandmother assure me that a group of Protestants were "only showing off their nice new guns" and that they were quite different from the men with guns on the other side.
Can this sad story be of any help after Mumbai? Who remembers that only six years ago Hindus murdered 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in a revenge attack? And in Pakistan how many extremists have been charged with whipping up hate against non-Muslims? Is our record any better? How often do British Muslims bring evidence against fellow Muslims who support terrorism?
Raging against "them" is futile . Healing begins when we rage against one of "ours". We should not doubt that the mind-set of the Mumbai killers would have let them set off a nuclear attack if they had the means – and against any target in any country. Time is not on our side. Clocks are ticking. Anger is rising.
Smith fails to rein in the police
By failing to condemn police action against a Member of Parliament, senior ministers are in effect condoning it – whether they knew about it beforehand or not. It is to her credit that the Leader of the House, Harriet Harman, has at least questioned the methods used by the anti-terrorist police.
Both Jacqui Smith and Jack Straw have peddled the misconception that the only kind of "police state" is one in which ministers direct police operations. A "police state" is also one in which the police can take action, particularly against democratically elected representatives, with impunity. Of course Britain is not yet a police state, but that does not mean that some actions of the police and Home Office are not characteristic of a police state.
New Labour have created a climate in which some sections of the police, particularly anti-terrorist police, believe that they can act with impunity, even against elected representatives. Gordon Brown, Jacqui Smith and Jack Straw sound like Henry II who asked "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" and then feigned surprise when some of his knights murdered Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.
New Labour has exhibited increasingly authoritarian tendencies, exemplified by ID cards and the 42-day detention fiasco. I won't vote for them again, until they return to an agenda that shows greater respect for civil liberties.
Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith should make it clear that, if the senior civil servant, or senior police officer who authorised the arrest and interrogation of Damian Green are found to have used "excessive power", or breached parliamentary privilege, they will be sacked.
The real villain in the Damian Green affair is the Speaker of the House, who, by now, should have forgotten that he used to be a Labour politician.
Because of Michael Martin's clumsy sell-out, questions are being asked about his political neutrality. Would he have acted in the same way had Damian Green had been Labour rather than Conservative? The answer is that we should not even be asking such a question. We should not be questioning the impartiality of the Speaker of the House.
The Speaker of the House of Commons not only has to be impartial – he has to appear to be impartial. Can you see Selwyn Lloyd, George Thomas, Bernard Weatherill or Betty Boothroyd accepting any nonsense from the police? One can only imagine what Betty Boothoryd's response would have been to a request from Scotland Yard to rifle through an innocent MP's documents.
The Speaker cannot appear to be an establishment lackey. The current Speaker has always looked uncomfortable and out of place and has consistently failed to provide leadership and direction. The time has come for him to be groomed for the House of Lords.
GLYNDE, EAST SUSSEX
The fundamental question is: who has ultimate authority in this country, Parliament or the police? If the Home Secretary didn't know about Damian Green's arrest, she should have known; her failure to know and her failure to condemn this unprecedented attack on a parliamentarian is grounds for resignation, and she should go.
We should keep a sense of proportion. At least Damian Green was not summarily executed.
Single parents forced to work
I was glad to see Deborah Orr raising concerns about the imminent "reforms" which would see single parents whose youngest child is 12 (and, at a later stage, seven) required to register as for work as a condition of receiving benefit (26 November).
Encouraging single parents into work is one thing. Attempting to coerce them using the "actively seeking employment" test is a different matter. This test is usually a rigorous one, requiring an almost daily search for work, ability to show that childcare arrangements are in place, preparedness to take almost any job, and so on.
How flexible and sensitive will the test be for single parents? Will allowances be made where children are sick or have special needs; where there are a number of children in the family; where travel-to-work time, travel-to-school time, and difficulties with care outside school hours, combine to make holding down a job, even for 16 hours a week, simply not feasible?
The normal penalty where a claimant is required to register for work as a condition of receiving benefit, but cannot in fact meet the "actively seeking employment" test, is a cut of up to 40 per cent in the adult's benefit. Is government really going to allow this penalty to be imposed, thus intensifying child poverty rather than alleviating it as is supposedly their objective?
STEETON, west Yorkshire
Legal aid in family cases
Rob Williams referred (Opinion, 21 November) to changes to the rates paid to legal aid lawyers in family cases. In every case where a local authority wants to apply for a care or supervision order, the parents have the right to a publicly-funded legal aid lawyer.
We have no evidence that solicitors have been unwilling to take on this work since we introduced the changes in October 2007. We have specifically asked judges and solicitors for information about any case where a client has not been able to get advice and representation on these matters and to date have not been given any.
The amount we spend on family legal aid has increased from £399m in 2001 to £582m in 2007. Our reforms are about ensuring the long-term sustainability of legal aid. We want to get the best value for the taxpayer, so that we can help as many people as possible within the resources available.
Chief Executive, Legal Services Commission, London SW1
Political folly and the fate of the tuna
The fate of the bluefin tuna (report, 29 November) is a metaphor for our times. Politicians, in thrall to business interests, short-term advantage, and a discredited model of economic growth, set aside the advice of experts and settle for a policy of extracting a resource beyond what is sustainable. The same politicians, faced with a global economic crisis fuelled by excess credit and debt, decide that the way out of the crisis is to expand credit and debt at the level of governments.
These are parallel follies. Bracing initiatives requiring us to change our lifestyle would be more responsible than soothing reassurances that every effort will be made to ensure that it will continue.
Bar on meat won't save the planet
The livestock industry has an important contribution to make in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but Sir Paul McCartney's idea of becoming vegetarian to save the planet (29 November) will not solve the problem and would lead to other environmental problems.
The livestock and dairy sectors take their environmental responsibilities seriously. Agriculture accounts for less than 1 per cent of the UK's CO2 emissions, and its methane emissions have fallen by 14 per cent since 1990. Measures to further reduce emissions from livestock are being looked at – changing diets, managing manures and slurries more effectively, improving productivity and using anaerobic digestion to produce biogas as energy.
If people eat less meat prices to farmers will go down. Lowland grasslands would be ploughed up to grow corn, and large parts of the uplands could be abandoned, leading to major environmental problems while having a negligible impact on world food supply.
Rather than arguing for gestures that ignore the understandable aspiration of people in other parts of the world for a richer and more interesting diet, we should address the root cause of the problem: 30 years of neglect of agricultural development.
Director of PolicyNational Farmers Union
Birthday song by Leonard Cohen
Like Howard Jacobson (29 November) I am of an age to return to Leonard Cohen's poetry. But on my 21st birthday, in January 1960, Leonard really did sing to me, just me.
At that time I was living in an attic in Hampstead and Leonard and another young tenant, Nancy, had rooms downstairs, all ruled kindly but firmly by our landlady, Stella. My mother had recently died and I did not feel like a party. But Leonard and Nancy brought me one, up to my garret. We sat on the floor and Leonard sang to me. I'm afraid I have no recollection of the words, but I still have my now brown-paged Penguin Book of Canadian Verse (three shillings and sixpence) with Leonard's dedication "with restraint and affection" in acknowledgment of Stella's strict 1950s house rules.
I too, recently bought a ticket to a Leonard Cohen concert. But I cannot get past his bodyguards and I don't suppose he is into a cuppa and a chat nowadays anyway. But I do remember the occasion, with restraint and affection of course, when he let some light into my sad birthday.
No hiding place
We are frequently told, "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." Not so. I fear having to prove I have nothing to hide.
East Grinstead, West Sussex
Bard on the box
David Lister (29 November) should have called his article "Putting the Bard back on the box". Our family did not own a black and white TV set until I was about 12. I remember being riveted to a series of Shakespeare's plays, featuring the stars of the day including Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier. It encouraged me to borrow the plays from the local library. Everyone was talking about that series. The TV companies should stop dumbing down and get the RSC on to the screen.
The article about the film The French Connection (1 December) fails to mention one of its great qualities. The opening credits last a mere 35 seconds. Modern film-makers should take note. The Superman film held the record once with a 13-minute run before the director's name appeared.
Grief for a dog
Grief is grief whether the deceased is an animal or a person. Being a dog owner, I absolutely understand the Currahs' devastation that their beloved pet's life was cruelly cut short by their neighbour. Yes, badly behaved dogs can be an irritant. So can badly behaved people. Perhaps Rupert Bullock (letter, 1 December) suggests that we might like to take a pot shot at the neighbours' kids when they are making too much noise outside. It might have been more effective if the Currahs' neighbour had discussed the problem with them.
Mind your language
Brian Viner (Opinion, 28 November) missed my own particular cringe-worthy bit of journalese; "pretty much" (surely a nonsensical pairing of words). Added to which (more nonsense!): "It's not clever and it's not funny."
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