Sir: One has to wonder at the logic Johann Hari employs in his article denouncing the British National Party (Opinion, 5 May) while exonerating the voters who have made BNP their choice.
Immigrants by and large occupy rented accommodation (as Hari himself acknowledges), while the Tory Party in the main, and the Labour Party subsequently, are responsible for the lack of sufficient council properties. Hari's solution is not to attempt to better explain these facts to the "white working class" but instead a huge construction programme of council houses – at massive cost to the taxpayer (including those of the "white working class" who are actually working).
Immigrants contribute more financially to the country than they receive from it (to the tune of £6bn by Hari's own admission). Yet Hari calls not for better explanation of this fact to the "white working class", but for a higher minimum wage. Such wage inflation feeds directly in to further increases in food, utility and council tax costs – at the expense of all of us.
Furthermore, Hari's suggestion that the BNP will implode in the face of free and unfettered publication of their poisonous views is somewhat naive given the total failure thus far of the "white working class" to grasp the already well publicised facts on immigration. On the contrary, fuller publication of the Far Right's venom will simply lend it an air of acceptability, especially in the eyes of the less well educated.
Finally, to the woman who wanted to "tell politicians to fuck off", might I suggest a letter to her MP in future, rather than a vote enabling the BNP and their like to further poison the national discourse – or might Hari construe that as criticism of his beloved "white working class"?
Kings Lynn, Norfolk
Green message fails to reach voters
Sir: I was intrigued to read that Sian Berry's 3.15 per cent of first-choice votes in the London mayoral election was a "creditable showing" (leading article, 6 May).
I was further intrigued to read that "Greens . . . can console themselves on the way their influence has permeated the mainstream". This very interesting statement comes within four days of your report "Britons 'will not foot bill to save planet' " (2 May) in which you informed readers that seven out of ten of us will not pay extra taxes to combat climate change.
Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire
Sir: It is indeed disappointing that the majority of the population are not prepared to make the sacrifice to convert to a low-carbon economy, but it is hardly surprising given the lack of drive, inspiration and leadership on the issue from our too-little-too-late politicians.
This is the issue that requires a statesman, not politicians, and statesmen are sadly lacking these days. Your survey shows our politicians still do not have the political constituency needed to make the necessary changes. If the politicians will not work together on this issue and override public apathy then maybe the people could be offered the choice over the heads of the politicians.
Let there be a referendum on raising VAT to 19 per cent with absolutely all the extra proceeds devoted to converting the economy. We can then have an active debate about the issue and people can really focus on whether they will make the sacrifice for so long as it is needed.
If then they reject the opportunity to lead the world and show that it can be done then it will be their own funeral – or at least their grandchildren's. Is this a crisis of global-war proportions, or is it not? That will be the question.
Sir: What's with your new-found obsession with the Green Party? In last Thursday's local elections the Greens won a mere 43 seats out of the eight and half thousand which were up for grabs. This amounts to less than 1 per cent and less than residents' associations and community groups won across the country.
No, the Greens in this country, at least until we have a proportional voting system, are destined to live on the ultra fringe of UK politics, so please don't waste our time reporting them unless you are going to give equal coverage to parties such as the Barnsley Independent Group, which now has 22 seats on their local council, or the six-strong Independent group in Harrogate, which holds the balance of power there.
Why we are walking away from Labour
Sir: Brian Hughes (Letters, 6 May) rightly points out a number of New Labour's measures that have brought relief and improvement to many in British society. What he fails to deal with is that all these are glossy structures built on a bedrock that the Blair and Brown governments have been steadily undermining.
New Labour has tunnelled through many of our fundamental historic liberties: habeas corpus, fair trial and representation, the right of free speech, the right to protest. It has collaborated in and condoned torture; it has shown contempt for due process and the rule of law; it has weakened parliamentary and cabinet government. We are alienated from our European neighbours and have frittered money on a war based on macho strutting reinforced by lies.
New Labour has abandoned all humanity in its shameful treatment of the weakest in our society such as prisoners and asylum seekers. We have the highest level of surveillance of the citizenry in any democracy. Coherent intellectual vision of what a future Britain should be has been replaced by "listening" to the most vociferous rather than having the courage to explain to us where our government and country are going and why.
If the foundations of our society are eroded, none of the nice-to-live-in structures built on them is worth a damn. The electorate can see that New Labour is cowardly and obsessed with image, with the now rather than the future. And that is why voters, including many long-term Labour supporters like me, are walking away in disgust.
Sir: Gordon Brown will lose the next election because he has reduced politics to a debate about tax credits. No one has any emotional engagement with these fiscal instruments, no one understands them, and no one much cares about them. And what difference do they really make?
Marxists boldly declared, "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains." Gordon Brown shuffles to the podium, flashes his new veneers (he's the only person who can make a smile seem like a glimpse of hellfire), and mumbles, "People of Britain, I vow to transform your lives with, er, a detailed redistributive portfolio of prudent and equitable tax credits." Hardly a rallying cry that will have the workers rushing to man the barricades.
This is the "detail" that he loves so much. But no one cares about detail. People crave the vision thing. Engineers like to say that an expert is someone who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy. Brown is one of the people stuck in the land of the small errors. New Labour isn't a political movement. It's a group of well-meaning career politicians of the calibre of the bureaucratic tier of any large company.
The Tories, on the other hand, are the equivalent of dodgy, used-car salesmen. If politics are a reflection of the nation's character, we have to update Napoleon's statement that we are a nation of shopkeepers and face the truth that we are a bizarre mixture of middle management administrators and Del Boy moonshine-peddlers . We get exactly the politics and politicians we deserve.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir: I am pleased to know that the Prime Minister feels the hurt the voters feel. I think, however, he only feels anything when the hurt kicks him in the ballots.
When, I wonder, did he last buy a loaf of bread or any food essentials (presumably an allowable expense for the occupant of 10 Downing Street), or fill up the tank of his own car, or have his house(s) decorated (one the perk of his office and the other another allowable expense no doubt)?
D J Walker
New Tories from the Bullingdon Club
Sir: So your Conservative columnist Bruce Anderson (5 May) has finally admitted (after the election) that the Conservative Party has foisted on London a candidate he describes as having "a ruthless ambition and an almost complete lack of interest in anyone else's well-being".
I must admit I do feel rather puzzled that the Conservative Party should have chosen such a candidate in the first place and that their leader should have so keenly supported his candidacy. I am beginning to suspect that this says rather a lot about what Mr Cameron and the Conservatives really think of the people of London (and voters more generally).
I wonder if people will indeed begin to consider whether another former member of the Bullingdon Club might also be described "a man without core belief", when the promotion of such a candidate displays such contempt for the people of London.
How 'lesbian vice' arrived at the OED
Sir: Your article (6 May) on the current dispute in the Greek island of Lesbos over the word lesbian states that "the Oxford English Dictionary included the word with its modern usage only from the 1950s".
Not quite true: the entry for lesbian in the second edition of H W Fowler's Concise Oxford Dictionary (1929) recorded the phrase "Lesbian vice", cross-referring the reader to sapphism by way of explanation (alluding to the female poet Sappho who lived on Lesbos). In turn, Fowler defined sapphism as "unnatural sexual relations between women".
But it was not until 1976 that the sexual sense of lesbian got into the multi-volume OED itself, with quotations attesting usage from 1890 onwards. Oxford University Press had considered inclusion in 1933 but decided against, in the teeth of protest from one of the lexicographers, C T Onions, who maintained that "Lesbianism is no doubt a very disagreeable thing, but the word is in regular use, & no serious Supplement to our work should omit it".
The story is told in my book Treasure-House of the Language: The Living OED (Yale University Press, 2007).
It should also be pointed out that Mr Lambrou is in a long line of language critics who have tried to make words mean only what they want them to mean.
Dr Charlotte Brewer
Hertford College, Oxford
Nothing evil about Austrian identity
Sir: As an Austrian who has lived and worked in England for many years, I was appalled to read Andreas Whittam Smith's highly tendentious and historically questionable piece on the Fritzl case, "This Austrian shame is compounded by history" (5 May).
Among other things, he said: "What is striking about the Austrians is that they have the weakest sense of their own identity of any people in Europe." In fact, it is the British Prime Minister who has recently had such difficulty in coming up with a definition of what it means to be British. There is no such debate in Austria.
Much worse, however, Whittam Smith concludes with the extraordinary statement: "Austrians have a question to ask: are we really the same people as Herr Fritzl?"
What exactly does this question mean? Is he saying that every Austrian is potentially an evil child abuser? By the same rationale we should have to ask whether every English person is potentially a Yorkshire Ripper or a Harold Shipman.
Why Mr Whittam Smith should be so hostile to Austrians, I do not know.
Sir: It might be well to consult the Australians before importing alien species to fight Japanese knotweed (report, 5 May). They are now unwilling hosts to cane toads, European rabbits, fire ants, European wasps and many others. The law of unintended consequences applies.
Donald S Hoskins
Hove, East Sussex
Maths in the bath
Sir: I offer Peter Coghlan simple definitions of differentiation and integration (letter, 6 May). Differentiation is determining the slope of a graph at a particular point, such as, how fast is the water flowing out of my bath when I first pull the plug out? Integration is determining the total area under the slope of a graph between two fixed points, such as, how much water flows down the plughole during the first minute after I pull the plug out? Easy, isn't it? Personally, I found the classification of dinosaurs much more confusing.
Michael K Baldwin
Price of fish and chips
Sir: You can still get fish and chips with a glass of wine for two down the road at Aldeburgh for less than £20 (letter, 5 May), in spite of the Areyouups – as in "Are you up for whole Bank Holiday weekend?" And yes, as it happens, I am.
Snape, Suffolk and London WC1
Sir: I am shocked that the Virgin Media call centre worker would call Tom Cunliffe "Tom" and not "Mr Cunliffe" (letter, 6 May). Mr Cunliffe is also right to be concerned at the spying technology to be used by Virgin Media and others. I will be taking the matter up with my own provider – the same one.
Blue sky over Moscow
Sir: In his "Rainmakers" article (30 April), Rob Sharp says that Russian aircraft will "disperse clouds to ensure good weather for May Day". We lived in Moscow between 1997 and 2002, and never once did it rain during the May Day celebrations. It was an open secret that the Russians seeded the clouds before they hit Moscow, in order to ensure blue skies over the capital. In fact, anyone with the right amount of money (I think $100,000 was the going rate) could apparently pay to ensure it didn't rain on their parade.
Spot the difference
Sir: In the article "After 40 years, real life begins for Livingstone" (5 May) you inform us that Ken Livingstone has "five children by three different women". Well of course they're different, otherwise they'd be the same woman wouldn't they? You dunderheads, see me after class.