Princes' dilemma and the cult of Diana
Sir: As an avid reader of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's articles and an admirer of her honesty and sense of humour, I was all the more shocked to read her article of 30 August.
What right has she or any of us to be telling the Princes what they should be feeling about their mother, or who they should or should not be inviting to her memorial service?
The press is free to create and to pander to public opinion, but surely interference in the private emotions of public figures is not part of its mission.
Sir: May I thank Yasmin Alibhai-Brown for so succinctly expressing the view my wife and I share? We too were disgusted that her sons could not respect their mother's memory and feelings as regards the woman most responsible for the failure of her marriage. I doubt there are many women who would wish their nemesis to be present at any event supposedly a tribute to their memory. And to think of our heir to the throne, who is to be defender of the faith, considering such an insult.
Lee on the Solent, Hampshire
Sir: The article by Suzanne Moore, reprinted on 31 August, is wrong to dismiss the reaction of some commentators who saw echoes of fascism in the mass reaction to Diana's death.
Think about the similarities: the attribution of charisma and powers well beyond those that they really possess to quite ordinary and often talentless individuals; mass public displays of emotion expressing love for and loyalty to the individual; abandonment of common sense and reason for an imitative collective hysteria; blanket media coverage with iconic images of the individual.
View Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will and you might see the connection.
Sir: Your correspondent Robert A Dodd (letter, 31 August) expresses my views exactly on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
A lasting memorial to the Princess would be a road safety campaign in her name highlighting the dangers of driving whilst drunk and/or speeding and the necessity of wearing a seat belt. Such a campaign could help reduce the deaths of young people on the roads and be a truly worthwhile memorial to those who died in that accident on 31 August 1997 in Paris.
Sir: If Andrea Nicholson (letter, 31 August: "Diana's fate in the Royal snake pit") so "deeply resents" that she and her progeny are subjects rather than citizens, she ought to look in her passport, where she will find that (like me) she is described as a "British citizen". Does that make her feel any better?
Would she rather be (a) a grovelling subject of our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth, the second of that name, by the Grace of God etc, or (b) a free citizen of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea? (You can tell I mean North Korea by the "Democratic People's" bit.)
An asylum-seeker from Mars, free to choose where on this planet he could settle, but only by reference to its constitution, would unhesitatingly have chosen the USSR (in its day) which had, on paper, the most liberal constitution imaginable.
Every dweller, no matter what you call him or her, within the jurisdiction of a state is "subject" to its laws (or executive disregard of them). Every bloodthirsty tyranny gives its subjects cuddly, euphemistic names. "Citoyen" and "comrade" spring to mind.
Grow up. What matters is not what you call it, or even what it says, but how it works in practice.
Athlete at fault for missing drug tests
Sir: Your athletics writer Simon Turnbull considers that Christine Ohuruogu's recent triumph in the 400m at the World Athletics Championships gives Britain reason to be proud in spite of her infringement of drug-testing laws ("Golden Ohuruogu is a true heroine of our time" , 30 August).
To support his claim, he romanticises events by suggesting that "the staging of a school sports day was ultimately responsible for Ohuruogu being banned" and that "the UK Sport testers turned up at Mile End Stadium in London, unannounced".
I take umbrage at this tone on two accounts. First, Ms Ohuruogu alone was ultimately responsible for being banned. Her failure to take seriously enough the necessity to inform the authorities of her whereabouts resulted in her missing not one, not two but three tests. Second, what benefit in the fight against doping does Mr Turnbull think would be gained by the testers giving athletes advance warning of their schedule?
European migration goes both ways
Sir: As many people return from their summer breaks on the Continent, it is an interesting time for David Cameron to be raising concerns about immigration ("Immigrants put public services under pressure, says Cameron", 30 August).
Of course the largest influx to the United Kingdom has been the migration from eastern Europe. Typically, the migrants are young, hard-working and plugging gaps in our labour market, and working in public services. This free movement has also enabled British people to live, work and travel overseas.
There are now thought to be three-quarters of a million British people living in Spain. Many of them have moved to seek fresh economic opportunities. The migration has not been confined to western Europe with, for instance, an estimated 10,000 British people living in Bulgaria.
Over 2.2 million British people own holiday homes in Europe and elsewhere. Thousands of British students participate in student exchanges such as Erasmus. Millions take advantage of cheap flights to take their holidays in Rome, Paris or Barcelona.
As well as considering the inflow of people to the UK, we should be mindful of the movement in the other direction, and all the opportunities now available for Britons in Europe.
DirectorBusiness for New EuropeLondon EC2
Prison used to work – until they brought in market disciplines
Sir: Your editorial "An impossible task for a beleaguered institution" misses the significance of the prison officers' strike. In 68 years there has never been a strike because running prisons is not actually that difficult a task. The mission statement sums up precisely the role of prisons, without any contradiction between punishment and rehabilitation. It says: "Her Majesty's Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them to lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release."
What this statement means (as any good prison officer will tell you) is: prevent escapes; provide a decent, humane and purposeful regime; and keep the rule of law (discipline and control) within the prison. A prison must provide a safe, orderly place, where fair and reasonable authority is respected and enforced – before any meaningful rehabilitation can take place.
It is the safety and control of prisons that has been eroded to the point that staff are demoralised and the regimes totally ineffectual. The chief culprit in this decline is the application of market disciplines to prison service provision. Contracting out services such as prisoner canteens leaves prisoners and officers alike powerless to deal with complaints and discrepancies, adding to disorder and bullying for tobacco etc. Prisons are compared on market disciplines too – the "weighted scorecard" (much favoured by New Labour) forces governors to strive to deliver ever more quantifiable measures of their regimes, with no regard for the quality of the regime.
Another source of problems is a very cautious interpretation of human rights legislation, to the extent that not just officers yield significantly less authority, but the entire system does. The prison service no longer deducts remission from young offenders, having only the authority to award earlier releases. The net effect is prisoners with "nothing to lose". Hardly an incentive to lead the law-abiding life in custody and after release. There are too many examples to list of prisoners overturning long-established prison practices in out-of-court settlements with the Prison Service.
Of course, population pressure adds to the burden, and relentless change to sentencing policy adds to confusion in staff and also in prisoners. The prison system of 10 years ago, however, was much better equipped to deal with those pressures, and prison staff were too – and wouldn't have gone on strike.
Senior Officer, Manchester.
Flood of guns
Sir: While our politicians are publicly bewailing the shooting of yet another British boy, would they spare a thought for all the small innocents worldwide who will suffer from the flood of small arms that we export each year under the plea of "jobs"? This arms tsunami must rebound on all of us.
Price of climate change
Sir: It's so unfair of Aidan Harrison (letter, 29 August) to upbraid Dominic Lawson for his adherence to economic principles. Surely this GDP devotee will soon convince us that the only way to tackle the consequences of climate change is to cast currency notes to the wind to appease the weather gods, and build coastal and river defences out of gold bars.
Sir: With reference to Richard Dawkins' claim that the book most often left in hotel rooms is the Gideon Bible, when my parents married in 1953 and honeymooned in Edinburgh they stayed in their first ever hotel. They found the Gideon Bible, thought it had been left there as a wedding present by the hotel staff and, despite being non-religious, took it with them. Dad still remembers the confused look on the manager's face when he thanked him for the kind gift.
Sir: Miles Kington (30 August) reinforces an image of successful Welsh comedians being notable for their scarcity. In fact, (in addition to usual suspects he mentions such as Max Boyce and Harry Secombe), Wales has produced a range of talents including Dawn French, Tommy Cooper, Terry Jones and Rob Brydon. With Charlie Chaplin and Bob Hope also of Welsh parentage, the principality might even be worthy of the title Land of Laughs, or should that be Comic Cymru?
Sir: While I agree with much of what Mary Dejevsky (Opinion, 28 August) has to say about Bank Holidays, I think she should reconsider. I propose we have a new one around 6 December, called the St Nicholas Bank Holiday. It would be illegal for shops to display Christmas goods and decorations before this date. I dread the early onset of the commercial cancer that signals the start of the "Christmas season", usually visible as soon as the school summer holidays have finished
Sir: Have our "children" adopted more aggressive behaviour since they became "kids"?
Amnesty claims the right to kill
Sir: Thomas Wiggins points out that Amnesty International was set up to prevent human rights abuses (letter, 30 August). The European Court of Human Rights may well have stated that unborn children are not, in its opinion, entitled to human rights. It is however difficult to see on what basis anyone can now justify a denial that unborn children are manifestly human, clearly unique individuals and also alive, with beating hearts and the ability at an early stage to feel both sensation and emotion. These facts have been known for a long while, but have in recent years, with the advent of sophisticated ultra-sound, become impossible to deny.
Amnesty was set up to protect human rights; to prevent the vulnerable from having to suffer pain and torture and killing, in other words from having their humanity denied and ignored, their identity as a unique human being removed and their very existence extinguished. This is precisely what abortion does to unborn children; it denies them their individuality and assumes the right to inflict severe pain and death upon them. An individual cannot be denied protection on the grounds of race or colour. Neither should they be denied this protection because of their age.
If Amnesty is to live up to the values of its founders, it will retreat from promoting abortion as a human good,
Sir: Many popes have over the centuries issued decrees not all of which have over the passage of time proved wise judgements. The responsibility of all Catholics must be to use their own discrimination as to what edicts to follow and what to discard. While the Pope and his bishops are entitled, as we all are, to hold an opinion, that doesn't make it a right opinion.
It saddens me that the Roman Catholic church cannot just quietly withdraw its support for Amnesty International rather than knowingly conducting a destructive and damaging campaign against a much-revered charity that does so much good work. In my opinion, this action places the Catholic Church and its hierarchy in a very distasteful light. I for one will be dissociating myself from the church and gifting much money to Amnesty.
Sir: I'm a member of an Amnesty International group in West Dorset. Unlike Neville White (letter, 30 August), everyone I've talked to believes that Amnesty's stance is long overdue. The controversy reminds me of my former group in South Carolina. There, members dropped out after Amnesty opposed the death penalty.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
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