There has been much speculation in recent years about exactly what it means to be British. I feel that if a demonstration were needed, it was amply provided by Question Time on Thursday night.
I watched as people of all faiths, creeds and political persuasions came together to passionately defend the principles of tolerance and decency in a forum that was a tribute to the notion of free speech. It made me very proud indeed to be British.
I switched off Question Time after only a short period because I found it deeply unsettling. A plausible, slippery rogue was being given far too much publicity, even if he didn't perform well. The lack of the usual balance in the programme gave a sense of him being ganged-up on, which will have seemed unfair to many even beyond his hard-core supporters.
The real issues behind racism and xenophobia have for decades been sidestepped by mainstream politicians. Griffin and his associates have stepped into the gap and appear to provide answers, however daft and unpleasant they can be seen to be by the majority.
There are solutions to these problems which are not primarily about immigration control, but they involve subtle and complex educational processes, industrial renewal and the rebuilding of shattered communities, arts projects, cultural exchange projects etc. But all that is usually just parked in the "difficult" tray; shouting self-righteously at Nick Griffin is so much easier.
In my home town of Leicester there are thousands of white families who live in very tough circumstances but remain at their core good, community-minded people who despise racism and are well used to living in one of the world's most multicultural cities.
But day by day they see jobs snatched from under their noses by recently arrived economic migrants, many of whom leave as soon as the opportunities dry up and the value of sterling drops.
The problem is also cultural. At Christmas, we Leicestrians have witnessed street decorations erased of Christian references with the substitution of Christmas lights to secular "Winter lights", supposedly to avoid causing offence. In an act of supreme hypocrisy, there is no attempt to erase the word "Diwali" from Leicester streets during the Hindu Festival of Light. Most Asian Leicestrians find this a baffling insult to their intelligence and tolerance.
The real threat to our endangered cultural landscape is not from white people on tough housing estates, but an unlikely union of big business and misplaced liberality.
Employers are happy to have a cheap and easily exploitable immigrant workforce. And our PC-obsessed regional councils have nothing better to do than suppress indigenous UK culture to alleviate their class or racial guilt complexes.
Steve Richards (Opinion, 22 October) seems to suggest the British public, together with the media, should stop giving our politicians a hard time lest we drive people into the arms of the BNP. That is exactly the argument I have heard all my life against changing the electoral system.
I, for one, am prepared to run the risk that the BNP, with all its loathsome views and barely disguised thuggery, gains a couple of parliamentary seats through a reformed voting system. Why? Because it would also mean that more of us would feel inclined to go and vote for mainstream parties if we felt that it was going to actually count in the area we live in.
As a British-born Asian I was hugely reassured and impressed with the grilling handed out to Mr Griffin on Question Time both from the panel and the audience.
But as a British Muslim, I was disappointed that Mr Griffin's comments on Islam, which were about as accurate as his comments on race, were not received with the same abhorrence and actually drew some applause. People are a lot better informed now on race, but still largely ignorant about what Islam really stands for.
Nick Griffin has made his intellectual level known with his comment that "a lot of people find the sight of two men kissing to be creepy". Grow up!
The only way homophobia is to be eradicated is if homosexuality becomes a normal, everyday thing: on the telly, in the street, in books, magazines, schools. This will never happen if simple expressions of love between gay people are to be kept out of sight.
How many people were mildly homophobic until it emerged that a close friend, sibling, or relative, was gay? Certainly some of my friends and relatives. Then, for those people, it's all of a sudden part of their lives, something they have to think about, something that applies to them and not just to strangers. Soon they become desensitised, and eventually cease to find it at all remarkable. This is exactly what gay people want. But it will never happen if Griffin has his way.
Andrew M Pisanu
The reasoning behind Nick Griffin's refusal to explain his views on the Holocaust was a legal nonsense and revealed far more about himself and the views of his Party than he might have hoped.
Those who deliberately misrepresent and manipulate historical evidence on the Holocaust have a hidden agenda to promote division and hatred. Griffin's performance on Thursday night, and the publicity he has received over the past few weeks, are a warning to us all that we must prevent the BNP making further inroads, and underlines why Holocaust education in schools is so crucial – to educate students on the dangers of allowing the politics of hatred to gain a foothold in society.
Lord Janner of Braunstone QC
Holocaust Educational Trust,
My position on the Nick Griffin row is simple: I love our democracy and freedom of speech more than I loathe the policies and mouthings of the BNP.
Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire
Deeds, not words, matter to Christians
In "The new breed of bossy vicars" (21 October) Terence Blacker laments that the faith of the Church of England, "once a welcoming and inclusive faith has become self-important, defensive and censorious". No it hasn't. Most parish churches up and down the land are still welcoming and inclusive. Their clergy, congregations and related organisations continue to do the work of Jesus by "giving food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison" (Matthew). Only those clergy seduced by doctrinal certainty are likely to fit Blacker's profile.
Jesus had little time for religion. In the end it doesn't matter what doctrines you believe or ecclesiastical practices you engage in; what matters is what you do. So the only real question for a Christian is: "Am I doing the work of Jesus?"
Canon Tony Chesterman
The Church of England just can't get it right. If it remains silent or ambivalent in its response to social or political issues it is accused of being wishy-washy and lacking in backbone. If clergy make their views plain and state that being Christian should and does make a difference, they are accused of being aggressive.
I am a 62-year-old middle-class woman (none of which I can help) and a Christian who happens to find the Church of England the most inclusive and therefore most attractive place to worship. Our parish team is outward-looking and welcoming to anyone who comes to church for whatever reason. Which is why, despite an attempted burglary, our church is open, to everyone, every day of the year.
Of course there is a firm Christian message in baptisms, weddings and funerals but that message is one of hope and love.
Ripon, North Yorkshire
You are right to suggest smart meters would be the nail in the coffin for estimated energy bills ("Bill estimates? We don't need them", 17 October). Energy suppliers are taking the lead in the roll-out of this smart technology to all homes in Britain by 2020, but the Government first needs to provide clarity on the delivery plan, including the details of meter specification, timetable for delivery and governance structure. Smart meters will save money for both customers and suppliers.
Garry Felgate Chief Executive,
Energy Retail Association, London SW1
Human rights in Colombia
The suspension of UK co-operation with Colombia proposed by Mark Donne (1 October) would put at risk our recent advances.
President Uribe's Government is committed to safeguarding the human and civil rights of every Colombian. A priority has been to strengthen the judiciary, which is independent of the executive, to aid our fight against impunity. The Prosecutor General's Office established a human rights unit to investigate the murder of unionists. Between 2001 and April 2009, 281 persons were convicted for crimes against unionists; compared to only one conviction before 2002. This summer, a new law established tougher penalties for these crimes.
The Democratic Security Policy has produced positive results in reducing violence – murders by 44 per cent; kidnappings by 88.5 per cent; massacres by 75 per cent. The security of unionists has improved significantly since 2002, with the number of homicides falling from 205 (2001) to 38 (2008). We will not rest until this is zero.
Ratifying this, consider what 14 Colombian TU Presidents wrote to the EC: "We strongly disagree with those who present a distorted picture of reality. It is simply not true that the terrible human-rights situation which characterised the country in the last two decades of the last century has persisted and even further from the truth that it matches the catastrophic dimensions described, nor that the government and employers are to blame."
The State has reacted with zero-tolerance to issue of crimes presumably committed by some armed forces members, acting illegally and against our institutions' policies. Under the watch of former defence minister Santos, following a presidential order, an unprecedented 27 servicemen, including three generals and 11 colonels, were dismissed in October 2008 for administrative reasons. Other measures include a Supreme Court sentence reassigning all cases from military courts to ordinary penal courts; and obligatory human rights training and certificates for all servicemen.
Fernando Alzate Donoso
Chargé d'Affaires a.i.
Embassy of Colombia, London SW1
Modernising the Royal Mail
With regard to the dispute at the Royal Mail, I struggle to understand exactly what new technology will turn up at my door to deliver letters. I also am at a loss to know how making the Royal Mail deliver letters for its competitors increases efficiency.
Thornton Hough, Merseyside
What does Inspector Derek Carroll expect a policeman to do with his gun when faced with the armed 14-year-old he describes (report, 23 October)?
Time to change clocks
Once again comes the setting of clocks to GMT, European central time, penguin's preference time. No matter what time the clocks are set at, today Glasgow will have nine hours 47 minutes of daylight.
Time by the clock is an arbitrary human development. It affects daylight not a jot. If you like light mornings, get up later, if you like light nights, get up earlier. Noon will still occur when the sun is at its zenith.
Glyn Ceiriog, Wrexham
May I draw attention to the fact that we are not emergent or shrinking economies, rather that we are human societies at risk in a world endangered largely by ourselves?
If it is any consolation to Dr Mikdadi (letters, 21 October), after two centuries of critical studies and archaeological excavations we now understand the Bible to be a wholly fabricated work underpinned by a fictitious theology of salvation, which one may or may not believe. In contrast, all such study of the Koran is forbidden or repressed, which is why it tends to give rise to uncritical adulation.
Would more people take up the offer of swine flu vaccination if the media called it an "inoculation" rather than a "jab"?