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- Arts + Ents
Monday 18 February 2008
Letters: The right to violence
Planned changes to bailiff law allow the right to be violent
Sir: The Government's aggressive approach to the reform of bailiff law has been out of proportion to the need to improve the enforcement of payment of debts and fines. Instead of simply following the advice of bailiff companies, advice sector and creditors to improve the quality of bailiffs, train them and regulate their activities, they have complicated the work by adding extra and dangerous powers.
For 400 years, no bailiff has been allowed to force entry into our homes; they had to enter peacefully and, that done, they could re-enter by breaking in. In the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, they can now break in without a warrant to enforce a fine but not council tax or other civil debts. Most debtors do not know this; unscrupulous bailiffs make legally unsupportable threats.
The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 says, "A power to use force does not include power to use force against persons, except to the extent that regulations provide that it does". Regulations allowing violence by bailiffs are being written by the Ministry of Justice. The right to self-defence of both bailiff and debtor has done for 400 years and should not be undone. Many bailiff companies are content with the way it is.
These powers will be used only as a "last resort". We have asked the Ministry of Justice to tell us the circumstances under which a last resort has been reached and who will make the decision? They will not tell anyone.
If bailiffs are given lawful permission to be violent then somewhere, sometime in the UK, normally without independent witnesses, they will be. Our advice to vulnerable debtors will have to be, "When you know the bailiff is coming, invite friends with a camera to witness how he, or they behave".
Rev Paul Nicolson
Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, London SW1
A new cycle of Balkans bloodshed
Sir: The illegal declaration of independence for Serbia's southern province of Kosovo and Metohija (report, 16 February) has lit the touch-paper on a new cycle of violence in the Balkans. Every right-minded individual sees the declaration for what it is, illegal and without any basis in international law.
Britain's role in this morally bankrupt enterprise shall not be forgotten. Tony Blair and his successors have sacrificed the foundations of world peace and stability, ridden roughshod over Serbia's religion and national and cultural identity, and shown an arrogant disregard for international laws in place to protect sovereign nations' territorial integrity and preserve world stability.
And for what? A province with 44 per cent unemployment, a land that has ethnically cleansed more than 70 per cent of its non-Albanian inhabitants since 1999, a land that orchestrated a province-wide, anti-Serb pogrom in 2004, a land with no economy, a land ridden with crime, a land that exists only through massive EU and US payouts, a land that has never been independent or owned by Albanians.
Kosovo and Metohija will always be Serb, and the sickening declaration of independence will not change that.
Sir: Your headline "Kosovo edges closer to historic declaration of independence", uses "historic", ostensibly a neutral word, but I can't be the only one to detect a certain congratulatory feel to it.
But celebrating Kosovo's secession and UDI would be a great mistake, and the reasons why are practical, legal and ethical. Kosovo's action may have the backing of the EU and "the West" generally, but it does set a dangerous precedent.
Despite our Western predeliction for taking the moral high ground and despite our conviction that we are on the side of the angels and that thus our every action is blessed, not everyone in the world – and especially Russia – sees it that way.
In our modern and un-0ashamedly relativist world, it is intellectually flabby to insist that in some areas there are absolutes. But that is precisely what we are doing in the case of Kosovo. We claim that in the face of recent abuses such as the Milosovic-instigated ethnic cleansing of the 1990s, Serbia has somehow forfeited its right to a province which was an intricate part of itself for at least 700 years.
By what legal right can the secession be justified unless it be on the abhorrent principle of "might is right"? Serbia is in no position to counteract the secession, "the West", at present, having the military upper hand in the area.
Practically, Kosovo's secession is also foolish. Rightly or wrongly, Russia is already fretting considerably about being encircled by "the West", and seeing the US and the EU backing an action which rides roughshod over the sensitivities of its Serbian ally will do nothing to calm the Kremlin's paranoia.
How would we react if a future, more nationalistic, Serbia chose to regain Kosovo by military means, and Russia, arguing that the best defence is attack, agreed to support its ally by sending troops?
Of course, neither the ethnically Albanian Kosovars nor the Albanians themselves are exactly poster boys for democratic and tolerant probity. "The West" would be best not to take sides in this particular Balkan tragedy in the making.
St Breward, Cornwall
Read all about it
Sir: The former political editor of The Observer, Kamal Ahmed, claims that my book about media falsehood, Flat Earth News, relies on unchecked, second-hand hearsay for its account of The Observer's publication of a sequence of high-profile falsehoods in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, falsehoods which I traced back to a campaign of manipulation by intelligence agencies and Downing Street (Media, 11 February).
What Kamal does not know (because he did not ask me before he spoke to The Independent) is that that chapter is based on interviews, not only with him but with a dozen of his colleagues; extensive research on the content of the false stories; some internal Observer documents, and a detailed conversation with the deputy editor responsible for coverage of foreign affairs. I stand by it.
He claims that I paid no heed to what he himself told me and, in particular, he quarrels with my account of what happened when, on a flight to Washington DC, Alastair Campbell called him forward to the Prime Minister's private section of the plane and showed him the unpublished "dodgy dossier" on Iraq's supposed weaponry. That account is based directly on one key source, Kamal Ahmed himself, in a conversation with me last year (which I taped). He also claims boldly that my entire account of the problems in The Observer newsroom was distorted by my opposition to the paper's pro-war leader line. If he had checked with me, he would have discovered that, for better or worse, I was pro-war. You really cannot believe everything you read.
c/o Chatto and Windus, London SW1
Sir: The book, Flat Earth News, by Nick Davies, claims that journalism is overly reliant on PR and lacks rigour. In the Media section last Monday, you asked eight people, "Is Nick Davies right?".
Seven of the people interviewed were journalists and one a former journalist turned PR. Given that PR is a key element in the Davies thesis and there are in the UK far more PR people than journalists, do you think the piece might be seen as a tad insular?
Visiting Professor in Public Relations, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Westminster
Did Saudis threaten our rule of law?
Sir: I am still blinking in disbelief at the information given to the High Court by Philip Sales, QC for the Serious Fraud Office, about why the investigation into the BAE arms deal was stopped.
According to your report (15 February), he said there was a threat of non-co-operation from the Saudis which he could not disclose but which was "of critical importance to our national security", and was wider than Britain not being given intelligence by the Saudis about possible terrorist attacks. I can only surmise that this implies a withdrawal of oil supply. (If I am wrong, perhaps the SFO would be good enough to enlighten me.)
How has Britain reached a point where our democratic rule of law can be suspended because of the threats of a country which happens to sit on an oilfield? This case, more than any environmental impact of burning oil, highlights the urgent need to introduce alternative energy forms. We must not allow these bullies to blackmail our country.
Beijing Olympics are an easy target
Sir: So Steven Spielberg and the media have suddenly realised the 2008 Olympics are being held in Beijing, the capital of China. He, along with everyone else now, also seems to have realised that China's government actually has a foreign policy, since its Great Wall no longer keeps the foreigners out, and the Cultural Revolution no longer casts its shadow into the 21st century; it can even be slightly derided in the restaurant cum theatre, The East is Red, and apologised for in the postcards featuring Chairman Mao.
Of course, Mr Spielberg did not know this when he signed up with Beijing, and he, along with all of us, can also comfortably ignore the fact that we are very happy to enjoy the cheap imports into the West from China, as well as revelling in the use of its technology via our mobile phones, etc.
The Olympics makes an easy target precisely because it is one which will not in the slightest way inconvenience any of us, including Mr Spielberg, because we could hardly afford to go there anyway, and it is unlikely that British athletes will win very much for us in the UK to be proud of.
The moral high ground stance now being taken is shot through with the usual hypocrisy of people, media and governments who should know better and who should look to their own policies, past and present, before condemning others.
I look forward to the Olympics along with President George Bush who, for once in his career, appears to have spoken some sense on the matter, and Gordon Brown, who asked for, and got, his invitation in his recent high-profile visit to improve our trade relations with China.
Sir: Given the recent invective heaped upon the Chinese government from every quarter, it may not be a popular move to ask why anyone, least of all China, should heed demands from the Unied Kingdom and the United States to alter their behaviour towards Sudan.
The present governments of these two Western countries have not only illegally invaded a sovereign country to effect regime change, an illegal act in itself, but have also been directly and indirectly responsible for up to one million deaths in Iraq since 2003.
Tessa Jowell will no doubt continue to harangue the Chinese government up to the day the Olympics begin but until she and her colleagues own up to the carnage they have created in Iraq and learn a little humility, she can rest assured that nobody in Beijing will be listening.
Sir: Roger Dean says he plans to stock up on 100-watt light-bulbs because he struggles to read in the evening using low-energy bulbs (letters, 14 February). Perhaps he should give up reading, since it does not seem to be doing him any good.
Spread the word
Sir: The article "Marmalade: Why it isn't yet toast", (16 February) quoted the food historian Ivor Day as saying there is evidence we had quince marmalade from about the time of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. It also said Mary Queen of Scots and Mary Tudor enjoyed quince marmalade. What the article failed to mention was that the Portuguese word for quince is marmelo, and marmelada is a thick quince jam, and it is usually served with cheese.
Sir: The Peppercorn-designed A1 Pacific locomotive class (report, 11 February) was not the last steam locomotive to be built for British Rail. The last A1 loco was built in Doncaster and Darlington in 1948-49. The last class of steam locomotive to be designed and built by British Rail was the "9F" 2-10-0 "Evening Star" class, built up to March 1960.
Sir: I was shocked to see the list of The Ten Best Televisions (Extra, 14 February). The list should have come with a climate change warning. The environmental advice is to avoid plasma TVs because they typically use up to four times as much energy as the old-fashioned cathode ray-tube models. Also, the bigger a TV screen is, the more electricity it consumes. For instance, a 30ins LCD screen will consume more than twice as much as a 20ins display.
Hove, East Sussex
Sir: I agree with the Rev Julian Wilson's concern (letters, 16 February) that giving GCSE marks purely because an opinion was written without regard for the facts is a sad indictment of our examination system. I fully expect that, as an assistant examiner for GCSE oral Spanish, I may yet be obliged to give a mark for the English statement, "I like chips in brown gravy".
Cowling, North Yorkshire
Put a sock in it
Sir: Mark Steel made several excellent points in his piece, "A taxing problem: should the rich pay for cheese?" (Comment, 13 February). Among them, I see that he recommends the legalisation of armed robbery as a boost to the stocking industry. Should there arise a need to make armed robbery legal, as Mr Steel suggests, surely the need for stocking masks to conceal one's identity would decline, or is there something I am missing?
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