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Monday 4 April 2011
Letters: The pointless 'war on drugs'
I hope Matthew Norman is wrong ("Rule by the right-wing press dooms sensible debate", 30 March) . Will it really take more than seven generations before we are finally shocked and sickened by the "war against drugs?"
Should we really not bother to give our opinions about plans to revise sentencing for drug offences before 20 June? Do we really believe our politicians are so terrified by the right-wing press that they won't see how damaging, expensive and pointless their present drug policies are? How depressing.
Freedom of speech is wonderful, and even the red-tops have the right to air despicable views. But if our political leaders are cowed by these papers, it's up to all of us to give them courage and support. We must demand, over and over again, to have a constructive debate about how to reduce the harm caused by drugs and the even more serious harm caused by our laws.
There is nothing new, it's all been said before, but those with the political clout must be forced to admit that their stance defies common sense and humanity.
I won't be giving "a shrug of defeatist indifference" and I hope you won't either. Write to your MP. Contact the Sentencing Council. Send a letter to the press. Don't give up. Matthew Norman must be wrong. He has to be wrong. Let's make sure he is wrong.
It is good to see an investigative approach to the contradictions and complex political evasions associated with drugs legislation. The supine and apparently feeble political debate conceals, as these things often do, a more devious and opaque driving force.
This is not a national debate but an international one and the main players are the United Nations, its committees and member countries with strong positions and commitment to maintain the status quo, the War on Drugs. The cannabis debate exemplified the problem.
Our committee, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs under its previous very talented chairman, preceding Professor Nutt, was encouraged by the then Home Secretary David Blunkett to advise on the correct scheduling of cannabis in the Misuse of Drugs Act legislation.
The principal interest of the Home Secretary was to change the unnecessarily hostile tariff for simple cannabis possession and to reduce the number of young, mainly men from disadvantaged backgrounds, in custody.
After a seemingly balanced debate amonst the experts the case was accepted and the drug was rescheduled from class B to C. What happened next was clearly political expediency and poor advice to a rapidly changing party. Charles Clark was by then in the Home Office and the transition was being made from Blair to Brown.
But behind the scenes, the UN International Narcotics Control Board was being driven, by the USA and Sweden particularly, to pressure Britain to reverse what they considered to be a reckless decision.
The pseudoscientific debate on the damaging effects of cannabis which was used to excuse the reversal decision concealed another process, and pressure on our Government was from outside the UK.
The important lesson is that change in policy has to be driven by the United Nations without which we can talk as much as we like and make no progress.
Reader and General Practitioner, University of Edinburgh
Matthew Norman is wrong to suggest that the best response to the Sentencing Council's proposals on sentencing for drug offences is "a shrug of defeatist indifference" (Opinion, 30 March). In fact, the work of the Sentencing Council to promote consistency in sentencing is important and the proposals contained in this draft guideline to reduce the draconian sentences given to drug "mules" are particularly welcome.
These sentences are frequently disproportionate and unjust, while there is no evidence that long sentences act as a deterrent in these cases. The Sentencing Council has taken the right approach in looking to cut the length of these sentences significantly, and we hope and expect to see these proposals retained when the final guideline is published.
Director, Criminal Justice Alliance, London SW8
Take a fair look at AV results
While AV may produce different results to FPTP, it's difficult to see that, in principle, they would be any fairer, democratic or logical.
Here in Watford, we voted last May Conservatives 35 per cent, Lib Dems 31 per cent, Labour 27 per cent, BNP 2 per cent, UKIP 2 per cent and Greens just under 2 per cent. Under AV, Greens would be eliminated first, then UKIP, then BNP: the second preference votes of their supporters could not have taken any other party past the 50 per cent threshold, so next Labour would be eliminated.
The result could therefore have turned on the second preferences of Labour voters, if only just more than two-thirds of them had expressed a second preference for Lib Dems then we would have had a Lib Dem MP.
The vagaries of AV might have led to a different result but Conservatives might have felt aggrieved that that Labour voters had, in effect, not only a second bite at the cherry but also a determining vote. Is this really any better than FPTP?
David Cameron urged his Tory supporters to vote No to AV voting. He said it was an obscure system used by only three countries. The public didn't ask for a referendum on AV, David. We want a PR system (which you refused to give us) to get rid of both the Tory and Labour cartels for good, and real change. It was you who came up with this costly charade. And when it fails to turn out the voters you will use that as an excuse to never have another. Do you think we are all so stupid we can't see through you ?
Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
Robert Davies (letters, 31 March) only needs to acknowledge that without the opportunity of this referendum, forced on the Tories by their lust for coalition power, the selfishness of Conservative and Labour MPs would prevent any just reform.
Jonathan Phillips (letters, same day) has grasped the key point that at present many, if not most, votes are essentially tactical, against the "other" party. AV will favour, not any particular party, but impressive candidates, especially from parties which would presently rank second or third in a constituency. It will enable a much-needed improvement of the quality of the Commons.
Johann Hari wrote, "Most people in the United States agreed with Al Gore's policies, but most of them voted for Bush" (Comment, 1 April). No, they didn't. In the 2000 presidential election, Gore got 50,999,897 votes and Bush 50,456,002. Bush became President because of the rigged electoral votes system in Florida, leading to his appointment by a Republican-dominated Supreme Court. In a first-past-the-post system, Bush would have lost and the world and the US would have been saved many horrors: a warning for British voters.
House of Commons, London SW1
Fancy facing a 30-year debt?
Your correspondents who calculate that many graduates will never have to pay their student loans in full are no doubt correct (letters, passim), as long as a future government doesn't decide to change the rules in some unforeseeable way. Unfortunately, we may be allowing the present government to evade the point on several counts.
The repaying the debts themselves may not much affect the next generation, but 30 years of the knowledge of (possibly unpayable) debt would have a persistent, wearing, psychological effect. It will certainly dampen the will to save or invest.
Are the students being expected to contract into loans which they fully expect, and which they are told, that they'll probably never be obliged to repay? It hardly strikes me as an excellent start to life, to be educated by the government that commitments don't really count.
There will, of course, be those who believe they are under a moral obligation to pay their debts. Some of them, still in debt, will not feel able to avail themselves of the amnesty, after 30 years or so, to which your correspondents refer. They may pay a heavy price for living a life of principle.
NHS is unsafe in their hands
Despite all the rumours of mind-changing, before the election David Cameron said: "I will cut the deficit, not the NHS" yet now he is embarking on a massive reorganisation costing £3bn. Plus the government is demanding £20bn in "efficiency savings" which only ministers believe can be achieved without affecting patients.
This is being taken from patient care and will lead to job losses, including clinical staff, across the NHS. Waiting times are already on the increase.
The Health Bill opens up the prospect of far more NHS services being organised and delivered by private companies. Taxpayer money destined for NHS patients will be diverted into shareholder profits. The Bill also takes the cap off the amount hospitals can earn from private patients so NHS patients risk being pushed to the back of the queue for care.
The Government wants to run the NHS through competition between different health providers and market forces. Bureaucracy, lawyers and contracts will replace co-operation and joint planning.
It will create a huge postcode lottery. The care patients could expect will vary from place to place, increasing costs and health inequalities and hurting vulnerable people the most. No one voted for this: before the election, we were told there would be no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS. Now, when public satisfaction is at an all-time high and the NHS is about to become the most efficient health service in the world, it faces its biggest upheaval.
Thomas Wiggins (letters, 29 March) is correct in saying that in future GPs will be forced to choose the cheapest means of treatment. Sadly, this means that patients will no longer be able to trust their GPs to make the best choices of treatment for their patients. Obviously they will have to think about their pockets first; as happens already with the choice of drugs they prescribe.
Peddling a Red Ken bike myth
The Independent diary repeats the myth that the bike-hire scheme was somehow Ken Livingstone's achievement ("Boris and Arnie bond on bikes", 1 April).
During the eight years of Ken Livingstone's mayoralty he showed a remarkable lack of interest in introducing a scheme in London. In 2001, Lynne Featherstone MP, then a Liberal Democrat London Assembly member, was pushing him to introduce a bike-hire scheme.
Livingstone's response was to take six more years to even get around to asking Transport for London to examine a scheme.
Caroline Pidgeon AM
Leader, Lib Dems, London Assembly, London SE1
Forget Libya. It's a UK emergency
The Tories and their stooges in the Mini-Tories have been quick to point out that the cost of the war against Libya will not come out of any existing budgets from Government departments already cut to the bone, and beyond for some.
No, it will, apparently, come out of a "contingency fund" in the Treasury, kept for emergencies and dire situations, said Danny Alexander, on BBC's Question Time.
The country is allegedly so stony broke that the church mice are having a whip-round for us and yet, all the time, we're all in this together (though clearly some of us are "in it" up to our necks and sinking fast, while others haven't even had their expensive shoes splashed, yet) and all this time, the Treasury has a secret slush fund, a giant piggy bank in the underground car park?
If this money is supposed to be used for "emergencies", when is an "emergency" not an "emergency"? If we have got to the stage where we're shutting hospital wards, Sure Start centres and libraries, that is an emergency.
If we have got to the stage where we're cutting police because we can no longer afford to keep our streets safe, that is an emergency. If we've got thousands of people being laid off that is an emergency. If we've got people having their houses repossessed and being turned out onto the streets, that is an emergency.
Forget foreign adventurism and posturing on the world stage. We have little or no idea who these Libyan rebels are, or, whether the situation there would be better or worse for our intervention.
Professors being "forced" to undertake education and research ("Voices of protest that deserve to be listened to", Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, 28 March). Is there no limit to the iniquities of our Coalition Government? They'll be forcing doctors and nurses to care for patients next.
Ripponden, West Yorkshire
The i has it
High-street shop-owners continue their battle to attract customers against the competition from out-of-town trading estates. They might improve sales using the Apple example and get the main shopping thoroughfare renamed "istreet".
East Grinstead, West Sussex
Perspectives on child eating disorders
Thin support for suffering children
Jeremy Laurance's article "More help needed for anorexic children, say experts" (1 April) points out that anorexia nervosa is a far more complex than the media would have us believe.
It's easy for tabloids and magazines to point the finger at thin celebrities for the rise of eating disorders in our society but an anorexic six-year-old has a far deeper psychological problem that goes beyond looking up at supermodels.
To have an eating disorder is to have a genuine mental illness and whether that be linked to emotional, physical and/or social factors, the reasons for developing such an illness are different for each sufferer.
An anorexic might look in the mirror and realise they are not "fat". They might be able to see an emaciated and severely undernourished figure staring back but even acknowledging a problem does not mean they are able to seek help, especially if they don't meet the criterion of being a teenage girl.
Ten per cent of cases of anorexia will arise in boys and men yet there are treatment centres that don't even have separate services to treat males.
We all need to realise anorexia is not just about weight and self-image, nor is it confined to one age-group or gender.
It also has the highest death rate of any psychiatric disorder, and for many people not enough help is being provided for recovery.
Cuts threaten the specialist centres
The research by Dr Dasha Nicholls and colleagues from the Institute of Child Health clearly highlights the health risks associated with childhood eating disorders and the significant consequences these can have throughout life.
Much work is being done by researchers at specialist treatment centres in the UK, and elsewhere, to establish the causes of such disorders and to develop better treatments.
Only the specialist centres experience sufficient cases to build up the expertise required to improve outcomes. It is encouraging that the coalition government's emerging mental health strategy, "No health without mental health" appears to recognise the importance of this area.
But there is an immediate risk that the small community of dedicated services supporting children with eating disorders will no longer exist by the time that the strategy comes to fruition.
Clinical experience shows that the uncertainty over the changes to commissioning bodies, coupled with the squeeze on all budgets, has resulted in an increasing reluctance to commission treatment for many young people with severe illnesses from specialist eating disorder service providers, either in the NHS or independent sectors.
Not only are children being denied the specialist care these complex and serious conditions require but specialist services are in danger of losing their capacity to develop and maintain their expertise.
Dr David Wood
Clinical Director, Ellern Mede Service for Eating Disorders, London N20
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