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Tuesday 12 January 2010
Letters: The anti-Brown plot
Plotters against Brown did not speak for the voters
On whose behalf were Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt acting when they took their action to destabilise the Labour movement and unseat the Prime Minister? Certainly not mine, nor that of many Labour activists here in Exeter and around the country steadfastly working for a fourth Labour term.
Just as the Party began the year with growing confidence, a narrowing of the Conservative lead over Labour and 16 weeks to a general election, who did they think would benefit?
On the doorsteps and on the telephone, my experience is that the electorate is not questioning the leadership of Gordon Brown. The only way our political performance can be challenged is if we appear disaffected and divided. Until they threw their tantrum, there was no distraction; we were giving the impression of a serious, determined and united party.
I hope they are proud of themselves. I plead with them to do the honourable thing – retract their statements, atone for their mistakes and throw their weight behind the Labour Party. Please help us win – for we can win – the forthcoming general election.
The people did not vote for Gordon Brown. Labour MPs, who did, have dithered ever since over whether to ditch him. Half-baked efforts to remove him have failed from lack of courage and conviction, implying that ministers and Labour MPs place self-interest above the needs of party or country.
We are helpless: we have no say about Gordon Brown; in the upcoming election we cannot vote for electoral reform, or make known the depth of our distrust of all politicians, the party system and the reduction in Parliament's power to hold the Government to account. We have been lied to, cheated and deceived. We now face five months of patronising indifference to the anger and contempt this discredited parliament and its members fully deserve.
We are denied the democratic choice every politician has on every parliamentary bill: the choice to abstain, and for this to be recorded and quantified. A low general election turn-out will be spun to suit each party. Our anger and disgust will be called apathy. Spoiled ballot papers will be treated as silly mistakes.
The one democratic necessity before the general election is for all ballot papers to contain an abstention option.
St Albans, hertfordshire
Snow reveals a nation in decline
The current troubles can be laid squarely, if carefully, at the iced-up doorstep of the Government. Bit by bit they have cheese-pared away the structure of this country, forever demanding that more be done with less.
Possibly on a balmy May afternoon, a local authority working group is reviewing "options appraisal" papers and trying to "deliver efficiency savings" in the wake of some latest government diktat. What passes for the Works Department is asked whether it could make do with five gritters instead of seven. Well, yes, but there would need to be a limit on the amount of grit laid. Since we now have a "hierarchy of gritting" (A-roads first, followed by shopping centres – councillors know who their friends are) it is easy to do an "outcomes feasibility study" to show that seven were not needed in the first place.
And the target-setters and accountants whom the Government have chosen to run the country would then look at the piles of apparently unused grit and demand that no more than six days' supply be held, enabled by "just-in-time" deliveries from a contractor for topping up.
So, efficiencies delivered, brownie points gained, people move on and May turns to winter. This sort of approach has happened all over the country, in all sorts of public services from the NHS to the Coastguard.
When I was a boy (in Queen Elizabeth's day, since you ask) our toboggan runs were routinely ruined after about a day, whether on the pavement or the road, as the council gritted everywhere. Now, the side street we live on has seen no grit since this snow started.
The country is running on empty.
We live in a rural, but far from isolated, area. The A and B roads have been treated, but the untreated lanes are now packed snow and a bit slippery, so we all have to take care.
However, life goes on; the paper man gets here each morning, parcels are delivered, farmers trundle back and forth. But not the post, which I have just been told was suspended three days ago for everyone living outside the built-up area of Tenterden. Too dangerous. Health and safety. But we are welcome to come into Tenterden, if we like, to pick up our mail from the sorting office.
I asked about the letter boxes, into one of which I entrusted some cheques to pay various bills a couple of days ago. Some of them – unspecified – will "probably" be cleared. And no, there's nothing on the boxes to say that normal service has been suspended. We just have to guess.
The postman to whom I spoke was exasperated. "It's crazy. Some high-up rang up to say that with immediate effect we weren't allowed to take the vans out, not even to put warning notices on the letter boxes." Our postmen are hard-working, helpful people, friends to all. But suddenly, because of a couple of inches of snow, they're not allowed to be their normal selves in case one of their vans skids.
Is there no end to the Royal Mail's decline? Pathetic.
Stone, Tenterden, Kent
No critcisms of four-wheel-drive owners this week then?
Cowes, Isle of Wight
Sued for clearing the pavement?
Yet again I heard on the TV this morning that if you clear the snow off the footpath by your house you are in danger of being sued. From all the comments in the press this is clearly the received wisdom and a focus for anger about "health and safety".
However, before I put padlocks on my shovel and brush I would be interested to know if any individual has ever been successfully prosecuted or sued for clearing snow off the pavements around their home.
I see that 2010 has started with a silly season. The fear of being sued for clearing snow and ice is an urban myth usually exploited by those who are too lazy to clear their paths.
The last Tory government opened a Pandora's box of claim and blame. And a lot of solicitors like to propagate the idea that you can get rich quick if you submit a claim. The only people to get rich are the solicitors.
East Halton, North lincolnshire
For those people who are terrified of being sued for clearing snow and ice from the pavement in front of their houses the solution is perhaps not to clear the full width of the footpath, but to clear a narrow way through. Then, when they get taken to court by victims of their public-spiritedness, they could argue that the victim had the choice of walking on uncleared ice or walking on the cleared footpath.
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Tory plans for the planet
While reducing the carbon footprint of those of us already on this planet may be half the issue of combating global warming, a reduction in population growth is equally important. So are the Tories daft to suggest financial bribes to those who get married and set up families, or are they just crafty to suggest it during the current freeze, when most voters have forgotten about global warming?
I was delighted to hear that Michael Gove and the Tories are going to "eliminate" weak teachers from the classroom. Can he also inform parents what the pupil-teacher ratio will be under the Tories? Or have they got a few tens of thousands of "good" teachers in a secret location?
Bad place to play a football match
Anyone who is familiar with Angola's political situation will have foreseen the tragic events of Thursday's gun attack on the Togo football squad. It beggars belief that the country's authorities could ever have conceived the idea that Cabinda was an appropriate place to hold international football matches.
Although the mainland of the country has become relatively safe since the end of the civil war, and is, in my opinion, suitable to host a major football tournament, the enclave of Cabinda is a very different picture. Angolan government forces are seen by many there as a hostile occupying force, there to ensure the exploitation of the considerable oil and gas resources.
The Angolan government naively hoped that hosting matches in Cabinda would have a unifying effect on the local population, who would forget their grievances and come together to support the beautiful game. They made a terrible miscalculation, with predictable and tragic consequences.
Entry to France's top colleges
It is correct that to attend a French grande école a student undergoes two further years of studies in preparation for competitive exams. But these two years - called classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles – are run mostly in state secondary schools ("Revolt at Sarkozy's attempts to open grandes écoles to poorer students", 6 January).
Most students attending the grandes écoles do come from privileged backgrounds. I firmly believe that it is mostly due to differences in culture and values rather than to social segregation within the selective system, which is based on potential alone. Fixing a 30 per cent quota is unrealistic and would not democratise the grandes écoles.
As a graduate of a grande école, I believe that what would help access to students from modest backgrounds would be to make the selection procedures transparent and provide information to all secondary schools in France. I attended a secondary in a working-class suburb of Paris; only a handful of students wanted to go to a grande école. I had to find the information myself on how to apply and was not given any help from the school on either entry procedures or grant system; as a result, I was denied opportunities. This is social segregation. But after the application was completed, the selection was on merit alone and my social background was not part of the equation.
The argument that "Jews and Christians have their schools, so Muslims should too" is not indisputable (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, 8 January). Equality, freedom of religion and freedom from religion are all noble goals. They can be achieved with fewer faith schools rather than more. Britain should be a secular nation, not a sectarian one.
It is distressing to hear that schools are using rap and football crowd chants to introduce poetry to children. It was bad enough before, when the great Wordsworth was reduced to "I wandered lonely as a cloud", but at least he was a poet. Is English taught in England any more? A BBC News presenter signed off recently with, "That's all from Jack and I." How has this been allowed to happen?
Simon Carr ("I read the news today, oh boy", 30 December) says, "The news is getting worse . . . if you believed it all you'd top yourself." NHS statistics show that the incidence of suicide increased from 6.8 to 9.5 per 100,000 people between 1994-98 and 2005-07, the latest dates for which figures are available. The catalogue of more recent causes for concern reported by Mr Carr seems certain to have made things worse since then.
Dr Robert Heys
Halifax, West Yorkshire
Cost of the war
I suggest that the real reason behind the protests against the Islamic demonstration in Wootton Bassett is that it highlights the fact that thousands of Afghans, including many women and children, have been killed. Any such protest serves to focus the mind on the true human cost of the war, which is opposed by a majority of the British people. This, in turn, would be deeply distressing for those people who have lost their loved ones, not for a noble cause, but for US global ambitions.
Police brazen it out
Michael W Cook is right to express disbelief that Cressida Dick should be honoured in the New Year Honours list (letters, 7 January). But, after her promotion, it simply marks the establishment's further attempt to brazen it out over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. The "honours" system does not require an overhaul as suggested in other letters: it deserves summary execution.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
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