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Wednesday 4 October 2006
Letters: The Iraq war
Cabinet resignations came too late to stop the Iraq war
Sir: There is some justice in the heading over Michael Joslin's letter "MPs share Blair's guilt on Iraq" (2 October). However, it might be recorded that in September 2002 during the recall of Parliament, a number of us, not allowing ourselves to be deceived by the Prime Minister's claims on the dossier, voted against the adjournment of the House, to the consternation of the Government Chief Whip.
On 26 February 2003, 121 Labour Members of Parliament voted for the proposition that the case for military action was unproven. On the 18 March on a similar motion in the name of Chris Smith and moved by Peter Gilfoyle, 139 Labour Members of Parliament voted against the Government.
It's just a huge pity that Robin Cook and Clare Short, then Cabinet members, voted for the Government and not for the dissenters on 26 February. Had they done what they were to do three weeks later, many of my former colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party would have come with us. In those circumstances Blair and the Front Benches could hardly have taken us to war.
And if Britain had not joined the US, Bush would have been alone. Would the US have gone to war alone? The real tragedy is that Bush could say: "If a British Labour, yes, a Labour Prime Minister supports military action, I must be justified."
LINLITHGOW, WEST LOTHIAN THE WRITER WAS FATHER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, 2001-2005
Sir: Michael Joslin rightly blames careerism among Labour MPs for their not preventing Blair's foreign policy disasters, but at least many of them did vote against the Iraq war. Even worse have been Parliament's subsequent failures to hold the Government to account, for which Labour loyalists and compromised Tories share responsibility.
Despite Mr Joslin's hope, proportional representation (whatever its other merits) could not solve this problem, as the Commons would still be dominated by professional politicians. A better remedy would a powerful second chamber chosen by random selection from all members of the public prepared to serve for a single term. Such a Citizens' Assembly would likely have opposed the Iraq war; it would certainly now be pursuing all those Ministers who misled both Parliament and people into this criminal folly.
The mythical beast of new Toryism
Sir: David Cameron is trying to have us believe that he is a "Liberal Conservative". Such a self-evidently oxymoronic position has me thinking that rather than trying to brand him as a chameleon, Labour would have been better characterising him as David Chimeron - a chimera being "a monstrous creature made of the parts of multiple animals".
We have ample evidence from this week's Conservative conference that he has created a strange organism with a supposedly fluffy liberal head, and a scaly old Tory body.
Sir: All this talk about David Cameron's youth, charisma and star quality highlights precisely why politics has ceased to connect with so many people, particularly the young. By any standards other than those that prevail in the Westminster village, Mr Cameron is an affable but nondescript middle-aged bloke.
Sir: You invited George Osborne to answer readers questions (2 October). In response to Max Jarrett's request that David Cameron apologise for the Corn Laws, Mr Osborne replied "That is unfair - it was the Tories who repealed the Corn Laws". This is a rather shocking distortion of the truth.
The Corn Laws were introduced by a Tory government and maintained for over 30 years. The final act of repeal, though under a Tory Prime Minister, was achieved with Whig and Radical votes in the teeth of Tory opposition. Future Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli made his name leading the anti-repeal argument.
After the repeal act was passed, Disraeli and his allies avenged themselves on their own government by voting against it in a confidence-motion and forcing Prime Minister Robert Peel to resign. He therefore split from the Conservative party and formed the Peelites, which later merged with the Whigs to form the modern Liberal party.
If Mr Osborne's selective reading of history is indicative of his respect for the truth, his party has clearly learnt more from New Labour than I had realised.
Sir: The prize for clunking catch phrase of the day must go to David Davis for the "carousel of crime"'. Still, it could have been the "merry-go-round of menace" or the "roundabout of recidivism".
Sir: I have been watching the televised party conference speeches with increasing admiration. Doesn't a Shakespeare character say something like "All the world's a stage and half the people on it merely politicians"?
Business as usual is no cure for climate
Sir Your editorial "With a little bit of good will, we can still stop global warming" (30 September) is far too complacent. A business-as-usual approach, which you derive from the fact that emissions have reduced in the UK in recent years, ignores the fact that the UK is becoming more or less deindustrialised and we are exporting our pollution to places such as China.
Increased consumer spending in the UK and other western nations is fuelling the massive industrialisation in India, China, Brazil and other places. Also, air travel from the UK is increasing rapidly with airport expansion and a renewal of the road-building programme.
More severe measures are needed by the UK government and local authorities to end the oil-dependent growth-at-all-costs economy.
Sir: Your reader Jonathan Kebbe, in condemning the motor car as a negative and harmful influence in modern society (letter, 3 October), is predictably writing from the Home Counties. I wish that those in London and the South-east who regularly call for increased use of public transport would realise that this is simply not an option for those of us living in more rural areas.
I commute 40 miles each day from my home in Somerset to my job as an accountant, which is in the countryside north of Bristol. This journey would be impossible to make by public transport so I need to rely on my car. I do not have the option of living closer to my work, as there are few accountancy jobs in Somerset and a house prices prohibit me from living nearer my job.
Additionally, on a typical weekend I collect my children from their house on a Friday night, some 20 miles from my home town, maybe take them for a day out to the coast, and then return them to their mother on a Sunday night. This would also be practically impossible on public transport.
I do occasionally use public transport and would do more often if it became a viable option. I also work from home one day per week, which is environmentally beneficial. However, if the transport debate to stand a chance of addressing any real issues, people living in areas with better transport links and greater choice of jobs need to become more appreciative of how these options are much more limited in rural areas.
Based on poor English usage
Sir: Further to the recent discussion about English grammar (letters, 29 September), I notice that your correspondent Margorie Fisher quotes a letter she'd received from the Post Office as follows: "Unfortunately, based on this analysis, our criteria does [sic] not permit us to offer you a Savings product at present."
Another "sic" should have followed "based on", which is, of course, an error for "on the basis of". This confounding of participial and prepositional phrases is the most common blunder I encounter as a professional editor.
Some style guides object to the phrase "due to" unless "due" is adjectival ("the delay was due to ..."), preferring "owing to" - but then the constant bleating of adjectival "due to ..."s on railway stations is enough to make anyone long for a few straightforward "because of ..."s!
Destitution amid riches
Sir: I read The Independent because it makes my blood boil less than its rivals. Until last Saturday, that is. Rosie Millard's whingeing "Thrifty Living" had steam pressure venting from my ears.
Rosie declares: "I have had three direct debits bounce back this week ... my giant overdraft ... my bounced finances were heading off to repay debts on other cards." Poor old Rosie! What a pickle!
Hang on, I think I've spotted the solution in paragraph one: "I own a couple of flats in Whitechapel." Here's an idea - stop pestering us with your pathetic moaning and sell a flat.
Secular stamps for Christmas
Sir: Connoisseurs of political correctness will approve this year's Post Office stamps for Christmas: a snowman, Father Christmas sitting atop a chimney, a reindeer, and a Christmas tree. The brochure dreams of a white Christmas, celebrates the glittering lights and goodwill of the 2006 festive season, heralds the Christmas countdown. But nowhere even a hint of the fact that Christmas is, or ever has been, a religious festival.
This is a well-established tradition: in 2003 we had a selection of snow and ice, suitable as props for Dr Zhivago and in 2004 a cartoon strip of Father Christmas airborne with reindeer and sleigh.
But, last year, a lamentable lapse: eight different stamps, each drawn from a different tradition, but each representing the Mother and Child. Was this just an oversight? Or might there be a Christian mole at work within the Post Office design studio?
'Dangerous' dogs in need of exercise
Sir: Deborah Orr in her article "It's not the dogs people keep that are so dangerous - it's the lives they lead" (30 September), fails to mention that all dogs need regular exercise and mental stimulation to avoid aggression - how much more so with the breeds specially bred to enable them to be used as guard dogs. Sheer boredom drives them to become aggressive.
Deborah Orr refers to dangerous dogs being kept in brutal socially excluded communities. Two hours' mandatory exercise each day for these brutal dogs would be of far more use than calling for the redrafting of the Dangerous Dogs Act.
ST BRIAVELS, GLOUCESTERSHIRE
Poland's friends in Europe
Sir: In your article "Poland's ruling coalition rocked by allegations of corrupt dealings" (28 September) you claim that "nationalist, Eurosceptic and noted campaigners against gay rights, the Kaczynski twins have made few friends in European capitals".
During his last visit to Brussels the Polish Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, explained that the Polish authorities are neither nationalistic nor eurosceptical; they are not against gay rights, either. The good atmosphere of the visit and the warm words of the EU politicians are the best evidence that, despite your pessimistic formulation, Poland still has friends in European capitals. One of those capitals is London and we truly enjoy our close ties with the United Kingdom.
CHARGÉ D'AFFAIRES EMBASSY OF THE REPUBLIC OF POLAND, LONDON W1
Right to bear arms
Sir: It seems to me that those who go into schools in the US to shoot children are unlikely to be members of "a well-regulated Militia" - the sole authority, under the Second Amendment of their Constitution, for deranged people to walk around with machine pistols.
The final injustice
Sir: Now that it is illegal to discriminate against people applying for jobs on grounds of race, sex, religion or age, there is one group still left out in the cold: I refer of course to people who are rubbish. Just because someone is unqualified, has no relevant experience, no references and none of the skills necessary to do the job is no reason to discriminate against them. These people find it hard enough to find work without this kind of mindless prejudice. Isn't it about time we gave them a chance?
Sir: No wonder Rhiannon (Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas, 2 October) is having problems finding a man. Virginia remarks that Rhiannon's attitude seems to be " 'I want, I want', all the way through. Small wonder that men have taken one look at her and given her a wide birth." Maybe Rhiannon shouldn't limit herself to male midwives, who, under the circumstances, probably assume she's spoken for anyway.
Sir: For heaven's sake, call a spade a spade. A "bung" is a bribe, and that's all there is to it. Was there ever a human activity so enmired in half-truths and evasions as "the beautiful game"?
Sir: No, no, no - Tony Blair should not leave office on Ascension Day (letter, 2 October). Blair should step down on Good Friday, return à la Blunkett on Easter Sunday, and on Ascension Day should go to the heavenly White House to be with his Lord and Master.
Sir: Surely, in the light of last week's Labour Party conference, it can only be a matter of time before the miraculous appearance of an image of Tony Blair on a piece of toast and Marmite.
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