Your editorial comment (25 May) on the warning given by bishops concerning the BNP is, I feel, misguided. Working in one of the areas in which the BNP may well gain a foothold in the forthcoming European elections, I can assure you that it is not a matter to be dismissed lightly. There is grass-roots support for these vigilantes in suits.
Alienation and effective disfranchisement of the white working classes in some areas appears to have become almost endemic: it is difficult to argue with what some articulate and intelligent people, who are now solidly BNP voters, say about provision and preference with regard to local services, as well as the way in which their regions were, long before the current economic downturn, denuded of industry or initiative.
The MPs' expenses scandal is driving many ordinary voters into the arms of extremists on the right and the left; or, almost as bad for the country, into not voting at all. There is every reason to at least try to alert people to the dangers of extremists. Their policies are paper-thin veneers of hate, that feed off misery, and the perception that our political leaders are not to be trusted.
Should the BNP win any seats in the European Parliament, however much they may be against it, they will not turn down the finance associated with such a victory. To underestimate the threat is, I believe, to unwittingly nurture it, and, in this instance, the clergy is right to warn. Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, was pilloried before the last parliamentary election for suggesting that the BNP was a danger, and she was right, given their gains in voting share. In an election in which turnout is likely to be very low, which will help such parties, we cannot afford to be complacent again.
I am troubled by the impotent hand-wringing of the great and the good over the rise of the BNP and the threat they represent in the European elections.
Collective indignation of this kind, however righteous, does nothing to address the swamp of cynicism, fear and negativity from which political movements of this kind emerge. The energies of churchmen and chattering classes alike would be better directed to the abuse of the asylum system, and the milking of the legal aid budget by immigration lawyers exploiting loopholes in the Human Rights Act. Only once scandals of this kind are rectified and control regained over Britain's borders will unsavoury movements like this abate.
Voting BNP does not come naturally: it is usually the last desperate act of people whom political correctness has silenced, and whose ability to debate the issues that matter has been stifled by a bourgeois and sanctimonious media elite who don't have to live on sink estates.
Sympathy for an MP under siege
Dudley Dean (letter, 25 May) strikes the nail on the head when he says that David Cameron and others "are being totally dishonest . . . criticising fellow MPs for using the allowance for its intended purpose", that purpose being to compensate MPs for the failure to increase their salaries appropriately.
Despite a long-standing political opposition to Andrew Mackay, I found myself sympathising with the poor man at his hostile public meeting on Friday evening. One had to admire his fortitude, to which in fairness a couple of his tormentors did draw attention. I don't recall a single speaker arguing in Mackay's favour, just a barrage of opposition, accompanied by loud cheers and catcalls, not least when he was, outrageously, called a "thief".
Mackay's defence was to say that he merely did what he did at the suggestion of the Fees Office. This was not enough to prevent his being hung out to dry by Cameron for not meeting the latter's "test of reasonableness". How many of the rowdy public, so ready to condemn MPs, would, if told by an Inland Revenue officer that they had no tax liability for a particular item, argue that the officer's decision did not meet a "test of reasonableness", and simply hand over cash?
Having purchased leaked information, The Daily Telegraph could have thoughtfully examined it and presented clear examples of dishonesty and excess. This would have been a public service and produced important changes.
Instead, every claim is presented in the most unfavourable possible light, ignoring the real need for many MPs to run two homes, which involves not only purchase but furnishing, cleaning and maintenance costs.
Let's consider the outcome of the witch-hunt. Only the independently wealthy will be able to stand as MPs – admittedly, they will now have to clean their own moats, but unless it is possible to cover the real (not imagined) costs of running an extra London home, this is the only group that will benefit from the media-driven hysteria.
Commercial forces will destroy NHS
An integral part of the commercialisation and fragmentation of the NHS is the dehumanising of the interactions between patients and healthcare workers. Commerce cannot care: it's only currency is profit. Adrian Hamilton's experience ("I'd rather see my own doctor, please", 25 May) will become universal, despite the wish of healthcare workers and patients for the personal dimension to prosper.
Contrary to Hamilton's assertion, most doctors would prefer to have personal lists, to provide continuity and to have the long view of a patient's history. Doctors who are preoccupied with gaining ever larger pay packets are recognised in professional journals to be often not very nice people and not much good as doctors either.
I have retired prematurely from general practice specifically because it had become impossible to provide safe personal care because of the "must dos" with which we have been smothered – none of which have to do with caring for the patient: just tick the box and take the money. I am standing as an independent at the next general election, with health being one of the key themes to my campaign, rather than simply let the destruction be made complete.
If you want personal care in the NHS you dare not vote for any of the three major parties because they are all committed to its destruction.
Haydon Bridge, Northumberland
Keys to peace in the Middle East
Murray Fink is being extremely naive in his assertion that the Hamas rockets fired into Israel are the main obstacle to peace in the Middle-East (letter, 22 May). Does he really think that if Hamas stopped the rockets it would make a blind bit of difference to Israel's continuing expansion of settlements in occupied land, or its ruthless stranglehold over Gaza? Stopping the rockets has already been tried by Hamas, after all.
The overwhelming obstacle to peace is Israel's refusal to withdraw from the occupied territories. Withdrawal to the 1967 borders is what the whole world is calling for, and is in line with official US policy since 1967. All the Arab states have indicated that they would then recognise Israel, and there is good evidence to believe that Hamas would do the same. I cannot see how anything else could work.
While the firing of rockets into civilian areas is unacceptable, Mr Fink should also be aware that those Israeli towns in the line of fire, such as Ashkelon, were once Palestinian, until the inhabitants were expelled in the fighting of 1947-48, seeking refuge mainly in Gaza.
Shakespeare and Dan Brown
In comparing Angels and Demons with the works of Shakespeare, Veronica Lee (Opinion, 21 May) asserts that "one isn't better than another".
Then nothing is better than anything else and everything is a matter of "taste". Admiring Shakespeare more than Dan Brown is no more rooted in analytical rigour than, say, preferring Pepsi to Coke. The ability to distinguish between the imaginatively rich and the imaginatively impoverished, between the lasting and the ephemeral, doesn't come into it.
I saw The Da Vinci Code and found it a very watchable piece of flummery – but it's important to keep a sense of perspective.
Why should PR be any better?
One of the consequences of the disgraceful behaviour of our MPs coming to light is that a number of influential figures across all parties have started to talk up the merits of PR in elections.
One reason that MPs have behaved so badly is that they care little for the views of their constituents or local party activists, provided they keep national party bosses sweet. This is evidenced by the numbers of front-benchers across the House who have led the charge to the trough, and expressed contrition only when Gordon, David or Nick called for it.
Could somebody explain how any electoral system involving party lists, and therefore strengthening party leaders and apparatchiks, would make this better? What we need is a system that strengthens the link between MPs and constituents, and gives us better mechanisms to throw our particular rascal out.
You might expect just a little humility from a government which has thrown billions of our money at bankers it neglected to regulate, waged an illegal war and allowed MPs to feather their nests. Instead, up jumps Alan Johnson to propose a referendum to kindly allow the electorate to rubber-stamp the new voting system which would best serve his comprehensively discredited party.
I suggest voters approach constitutional changes rather in the way Lady Bracknell dealt with a daughter's attempt to become engaged without consulting her. We should tell Alan Johnson very firmly that when we have decided which voting system and other constitutional reforms we want (preferably, after a randomly-selected citizens' jury has mulled over all the options and made recommendations) we will inform him of the fact and he can arrange the referendum on them. Until then he can wait downstairs in the carriage.
Geoffrey Robertson (Opinion, 26 May) makes a powerful case for our emulating those legal structures which in Australia deal with politicians and their "rorts". It is instructive to ruminate on the fact that Australia – admittedly a country not crippled by a class system – has two houses, elected by proportional representation, for fixed terms. Federal politics, at least, are far healthier, and more democratic than anything we have here. In addition, Australia is a more civilised and decent a place than England. Are there further lessons to be learned?
Dog in a tent
The dog shown in the dog tent in your "Ten Best Tents" feature (26 May) is a Bichon Frisé, not a Poodle; and no Bichon Frisé would ever consent to spend a night in their own tent, not when there's a nice, warm human nearby.
Backing the EU
I read Peter Coghlan's letter (26 May) with interest, particularly as I was unaware that I was a lunatic. I don't really mind that slur, but I do resent the statement that Libertas is anti-EU. Libertas is a Pro-EU party. We believe that the EU needs reform to bring it closer to the people it is supposed to represent, and we oppose the Lisbon Treaty as we believe that it makes the EU more undemocratic.
Chief Operations Officer, Libertas EU, London SW1
Woman in space
I was fascinated by the headline of your report "Lift-off for first British astronaut" (21 May). Exactly 18 years ago last week, a British chemist was working aboard the Russian Mir space station. But perhaps Helen Sharman was only doing women's work, while becoming Britain's first astronaut?
I can sympathise with Christopher Tiller (letter, 25 May) in his horror at the thought of an unwanted infant circumcision. I chose to be circumcised at the age of 38. I have never regretted the decision, and most men I have spoken who have taken similar action in adulthood feel the same. Perhaps it is unreasonable to perform this procedure on infants who cannot be consulted, but please don't vilify it. Rather than being like having one's eyelids removed, I find it more akin to having cataracts removed.
Gender of a mountain
The letter "Unconquered peak" (26 May) refers to Mount Everest as "she", which seems ludicrous to me. Actually I believe the convention of calling ships and countries "she" is also overdue for abandonment.