Wednesday's Budget was little more than a grunt of contempt at the British people. We all know this country is on the brink of bankruptcy and that very serious measures will have to be taken immediately to start getting us out of the hole. Alistair Darling could have told us that.
Instead, he chose to tell us, "Don't worry, the good times will soon be back". The British people know the scale of the problem, and we would prefer to be told the truth instead of a politician's fairy stories.
Now aged 68, I have lived under four extended periods of Labour government. Each of the four was characterised by a major financial crisis caused by their over-spending, usually for what they, in their arrogance, call "fairness".
Each crisis was followed, as this one will be, by slow recuperation under the Conservatives. It is the historic pattern of Labour governments.
For that reason alone, if not for the many other wickednesses committed by them this past 13 years, I am looking forward to seeing the Labour Party not only lose the next election humiliatingly but to being finally extinguished as a force addicted to inflicting regular financial damage on the UK, its economy and its people.
Yet again the Darling-Brown axis has implemented another "soak the poor" Budget.
If the total tax collected from the higher-paid increased when Lady Thatcher reduced the top rate to 40 per cent, why does Darling not recognise that the opposite will take effect when he raises it to 50 per cent?
Top-rate tax should be rebranded "tax on the lower paid", because people on lower salaries will have to fund the gap when higher-earners move abroad, evade the penalties or simply retire.
Darling neglected to mention that his "gradual removal of personal allowances" on those earning more than £100,000 will put people such as me on a punitive marginal tax rate of 62 per cent; why would anyone want to pay that?
I will now put £20,000 of my £120,000 salary into my pension, thus losing the Government £8,000 of tax revenue if they had kept my tax rate at 40 per cent. Further, the Government will be compelled to contribute £4,000 in tax relief into my private pension and give me £4,000 in cash. In total, the Government is £16,000 worse off.
I will end up with £4,000 in cash and £24,000 in my pension instead of the comparatively paltry £7,800 I would have taken from my salary after tax. Can Darling explain why any of the 750,000 people earning £100,000-plus will not do similarly?
This "brilliant" initiative could reduce the net take into the Treasury by £12bn. And it will be the lower-paid who will suffer the most.
Now let's ban all smoking in public
What Nicholas Lezard (Comment, 25 March), David Hockney, and others of the "We should be able to smoke anywhere we like" brigade choose to ignore is that they don't keep their smoking to themselves.
The smoke, the ash, the cigarette ends, the cardboard boxes and the cellophane are spread all around. When was the last time you saw cigarette smoke breathed into a bag and sealed? Or ash and dog-ends deposited into a personal fire-proof container for disposal later? Exactly. It's a dirty habit and they want to inflict the debris on everyone else.
Banning smoking in public areas outdoors will come before long, giving a higher level of cleanliness to both town and country. Roll on that day.
The other aspect that doesn't seem to have been mentioned (even in class-conscious Britain) is that a sharp class divide that has opened up between smokers and non-smokers, rather like the parallel class divide over taking sugar in tea or coffee.
It's a shame you can't put a cigarette on hands-free when driving. While I support the doctors' call for a ban on smoking in cars for the sake of children's health, I'm far more concerned at the real danger to the road-using public.
Smoking a cigarette while driving a motor vehicle is just as much a distraction as using a mobile phone. Indeed it can be much worse. You don't put a mobile in your mouth to free your hands, allowing acrid smoke to drift into your eyes while you're trying to manoeuvre. And no mobile I know drops hot ash in your lap while you're negotiating a roundabout.
By all means consider the children's wellbeing, but that's not all that's in peril.
Nicholas I Kerr
Adrian Durrant (letter, 25 March) compares the proposed ban on smoking in cars with that already imposed in pubs. He notes that the pub trade was adversely affected by fewer people going to pubs. The inference was that if people could not smoke there, they would not go.
So one conclusion about the proposed ban could be that if people cannot smoke in cars they would not drive them. This would have added benefits to the environment through less emission, to improved health through increased walking and greater use of public transport. Oh no, it is not possible to smoke there, so ignore that last one.
Ottery St Mary, Devon
Earl's attack on European warrant
William Dartmouth rails on your letters page (24 March) against the "Liberal Democrat-authored European arrest warrant" (EAW). Could this be the same mechanism that brought to justice London bomber Hussain Osman, the procedure used to bring back to the UK about 1,500 fugitives each year, and which has cut the average time taken to bring them back from nine months to just 43 days? The EAW has become the EU's most effective tool in securing justice in a world in which a criminal can be half-way across the continent before the policeman has put his boots on.
There should be changes relating to the procedural rights of those accused, and this is finally being addressed five years after the Liberal Democrats started campaigning for it. But the alternative backed by UKIP and the Conservatives would lead to the impotence of national authorities and a return to the chaos of yesteryear.
If letting criminals sip sangria on the Costa del Crime is William Dartmouth's idea of British patriotism, it is going to be a hard sell on 6 May.
Graham Watson MEP
(Lib Dem, South-west England)
European Parliament, Brussels
I did not, as the Earl of Dartmouth claims, have him "thrown out of the chamber" of the European Parliament for making a "political comment". I turned the earl's microphone off when he continued a stream of personal insults, not political comment, directed at the High Representative, Cathy Ashton, who was sitting directly across the chamber from him. His speaking time had, in any event, almost concluded.
He then started to create a disturbance, so that we were unable to continue our work, at which point I merely indicated that the assistance of the ushers might be required. In fact he left the chamber of his own volition.
Diana Wallis MEP
(Lib Dem, Yorkshire and the Humber) Vice President of the European Parliament, Brussels
What happens in a hung parliament?
The phrase "hung parliament" is a useful and universal shorthand for the situation where no party has a majority. The phrase implies a parliament which is deadlocked or inactive, but many countries – and some of our past history – demonstrate that coalition or minority government can work well.
That leads to a second point. The Liberal Democrats are, rightly, questioned about what their approach would be if no party has a majority.
Should there not be more questioning of the two main parties about what their approach would be? Would they, for example, respect what the electorate has done and co-operate with the third party, or would they try to forge ahead with their own agenda?
Prison for misuse of airport scanner
The (no doubt first of many) case of an airport scanner being misused for sexual gratification is troubling (report, 24 March). As more and more of UK citizens' rights are eroded or ignored, it is a simple matter to redress the balance between citizen and state; if ministers and officials assure us that misuse of our private data or images is "impossible" due to safeguards, enshrine it into law.
A simple statute stating that misuse of private images or information is an "absolute" offence (such as having no car insurance or tax evasion) with a compulsory minimum of 12 months in jail for the miscreant and the head of the agency responsible for the data, would reassure the people that their right to privacy actually counted for something.
If the staff or heads of such agencies complain of such a draconian measure, one can point out that "if they do nothing wrong, they have nothing to fear". Let's see if the gander enjoys the sauce as much as the goose.
Was usher guilty in jury error?
In your report "Blunder by jury could see appeal in dog murder case" (20 March), I was most surprised that the jury returned to court before it was confirmed they had not reached a unanimous verdict.
When I have been on a jury, the court usher is summoned by the jurors when they have reached a verdict. He checks with them before they leave the jury-room that all 12 are agreed. Then he informs the judge a decision has been reached. Your article implies the jury foreman was at fault, when in reality it was the usher.
Pan-fried furore boils up again
Much culinary vocabulary – and thus menu terminology – comes to the English language from French, sometimes in translation. The French for "frying-pan" (letters, 23 March) is poêle and the French for "fried" is poêlé or "frying-panned". I suspect that the commonly used menu expression "pan-fried" results from an over-eager, and perhaps over-precise, first-time translator.
One alternative to pan-frying is sun-frying. For this you need a very hot country, the midday sun, a flat rock and an egg.
Party has changed
Graham Teager (letters, 23 March) asks,"What is wrong with a political party representing hard-working British families being tied to trade unions?" Nothing wrong with that; it's just that Labour (or, more correctly, New Labour) isn't that kind of party.
Crawley Down, West Sussex
A-levels fail test
Richard Sykes's proposals should be warmly welcomed ("Conservatives plan 1950s-style overhaul of A-level exams", 24 March). Scrapping AS-levels is an important step toward rebalancing our system away from constant testing and towards a more rounded education, giving lower-sixth pupils more freedom to engage fully in school and extra-curricular life. For teachers, these proposals will mean more freedom to inspire and challenge young minds, two essential but often neglected ingredients when testing dominates our pupils' education.
Headmaster, Bradfield College, Reading, Berkshire
Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways, was apparently paid a basic salary of £735,000 last year, yet it is BA's cabin crew, trying to resist cuts to their less-than-£30,000 salaries, who are being vilified for being greedy and overpaid. As ever in Britain, "competitiveness" means enormous salaries for those at the top, and pay curbs or redundancies for the people who actually do the work.
Reader in British Politics, Cardiff University
Much to chew over
The research at Cornell University about the food at the Last Supper is questionable, since not even the greatest artists portray the meal accurately. None seems to realise this was the Passover (Seder) meal, when loaves would not have been eaten. Some paintings accurately show the Pascal Lamb, but none shows the traditional Matzah (flat, unleavened bread), believed to form the basis of food prepared for the Exodus from Egypt, which the Passover meal commemorates.
Life's Great, Richard
One's heart bleeds for poor old Richard Ingrams (Comment, 20 March), helplessly "fed a diet" of a "ridiculously complicated" and useless language from the age of seven. But then, oddly, he added ancient Greek, chose to do Latin and Greek at A level and went to Oxford to read Greats.
Friends of Classics, Newcastle upon Tyne