As a retired British trade official I have long experience of transatlantic relations, especially the ingrained US habit of seeking to enforce US laws in other people's countries. So I was dismayed but unsurprised when it was first claimed in the Guantanamo-related High Court case that the US was threatening to restrict security co-operation with Britain if evidence related to alleged UK involvement in torture was published.
It is deeply ironic that the court's decision in that case was announced just as David Miliband and Mrs Clinton were reaffirming the much-vaunted "special relationship", whose hollowness is brutally exposed by the coincidence. The post-war special relationship was effectively destroyed by Britain's adventurism over Suez. For 50 years since then, it has been serially evoked by British governments to bolster their own international position, and selectively by the US when they needed the UK for some special purpose – whether as a base to bomb Gadaffi, or to provide respectable-looking support for the invasion of Iraq.
At other times it has never stopped the US from trying to subject the international activities of British companies to American anti-trust or export control laws, or from repeatedly imposing restrictions on imports of UK steel. This latest episode, exerting pressure on the heart of the British judicial system, is a gross example. It has been effectively confirmed both through the Foreign Secretary's intervention before the court and by the cynical White House statement thanking the UK for protecting US secrets.
This situation has obtained for decades, regardless of what party was in government in either country. There is no reason to think that things will be any better under Obama. The solution for Britain is to abandon "special relationship" delusions and to base relations with a vital partner on a mature and realistic appraisal of the true interests of either side, which in the UK's case includes at last playing a willing and central role in the EU.
Rate cuts punish the prudent
Does the Government read its own statistics? We know that there is a high percentage of citizens in this country who are retired. These people are spenders: many have no mortgages, they are not saving for their old age, most have no dependants apart from a pet. They are able to spend more freely than at any other time of their lives, and enjoy doing so after years of saving and acting prudently with their money.
These are would-be spenders who are being penalised and deprived of their ability to loosen their purse strings by drastic cuts in income from the interest on their carefully invested savings; savings husbanded with the intention of spending when retirement arrives.
Incidentally, this age range also provides a larger percentage of those who bother to vote in elections than any other age group. Is the Government giving sound advice to the Bank of England, and is the Bank itself heeding demographic facts?
You state in your editorial (6 February) that even after slashing the rate of interest earned by pensioners and others who live off their savings, "if the inflation rate turns negative this year, such groups will be better off."
The value of the capital held by such people might be maintained in such circumstances, but it is the income they receive which reduces hugely in absolute terms. Say somebody with £100,000 of capital had previously enjoyed an income of £5,000, a year ago, they would now, all things being equal, only receive £1,000 of interest income, a reduction of 80 per cent.
Many hundreds of thousands of retired people are dependent on their interest income to make ends meet. They are not concerned unduly about the preservation of the relative value of their capital; they just want to receive enough income to live on, without actually spending their capital, which clearly would represent the start of the slippery slope to further reduced income.
It does seem cruelly ironic that the people who have seen the biggest cuts to their income are the very people who have been prudent in the past. Those who have overspent and over indulged are being bailed out.
In any case, it is clearly not the cost of money that is the problem now, but the lack of supply of it, alongside a general lack in consumer confidence. Any attempts to cure the problem by interest rate cuts is now futile and hurting the wrong people.
Jeremy Warner's 10-point manifesto for saving the free market (5 February) could have included abolishing biofuel targets, since these have the distinction of harming the environment and economy simultaneously.
Excuses for not clearing the roads
Britain has once again been caught out by some extreme weather. The roads, railways and airports have been very badly affected. Schools have been closed and many people have been unable to get to work.
The excuse has been that as this is a rare occurrence we cannot afford to buy expensive snow-clearing equipment but then leave it unused for perhaps 20 years. This is a country that can afford to build two super-sized aircraft carriers that might never be used. If they are ever used they will not be used for the good of anyone.
J W Wright
Gordon Elliot (letters, 5 February) got off lightly in 1962/3. In Essex, where I then lived, the first heavy snowfall came on Boxing Day and the Arctic conditions continued until early April – rather longer than six weeks. And I didn't get a day off school either.
Our railways always get slated as failures in times of hard weather. This supports the big lie that somehow they are not up to operating in heavy snow.
The real culprit is the roads. These haven't been kept clear so the people who operate the railways are not able to get to work. The technology for trains to operate in snow (such as heated points and gritting equipment) has been around for decades. How do people think the trains operate in Russia, Norway and Canada?
Does anyone else feel a tinge of despair that one of the big weather stories is the need to get grit onto the roads (and the implications of crisis and mismanagement) and yet the plight of those sleeping rough in these conditions seems not to be? If a measure of a society is its response to those least advantaged, then don't we have a crisis of a more fundamental nature than whether or not the roads are cleared of snow?
Long Hanborough, Oxfordshire
Now the state of our nation can be summed up in two words: No Grit.
P J Davison
Richmond upon Thames, Surrey
How Clarkson should apologise
I have a 15-year-old son with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who has profound learning disabilities as well as challenging behaviours. He is in full-time residential care. Although he could not sustain a conversation, he has taught me many things. One of them is never, ever to use the word "idiot" as a term of abuse.
The BBC does not need to punish Jeremy Clarkson for his comments about Gordon Brown, but should insist that he spends some quality time supporting learning-disabled and visually- impaired people, preferably in Scotland. This could make a very fine TV programme, as it would be fascinating to find out what Mr Clarkson had learned from the experience.
The Rev Dr John Gillibrand
I'm not surprised Carol Thatcher declined the BBC's invitation to make a "fulsome" apology , which the OED would define as "excessive, cloying, insincere".
The horses that worked our farms
Your otherwise excellent article "Work horses of Britain's farms and battlefields face extinction within years" (29 January) tends to give the mistaken impression that it was the large Shire horse that was the dominant draught animal before the tractor. I am perhaps one of the last who experienced life as a carter, working six horses in the 1940s.
The horses we used at that time were quite a different animal from the Shires, apart from the excellent Suffolk Punch, which you mention. The general farm horse was quite a different animal from the Shire, being lighter of leg and smaller in stature; a dual-purpose animal capable of pulling a plough, easily harnessed into a cart, capable of great effort when required and of a decent trot when used on the road for deliveries.
They were much easier to handle than the Shires, being more delicate in their footwork, which was a great requisite in some types of cultivation and, being smaller, required less maintenance and were cheaper to keep. Feathering (hair) on the legs of Shires was looked on as a great problem, because it could get clogged up with mud and cause endless foot problems unless hours were wasted in cleaning it up.
Shires may have been the best known but they were a minority breed, apart from the clean-legged Suffolk Punch as a draught horse. Almost all of the old draught horses became extinct in the late 1940s and early 1950s and it is sad to see that even the wonderfully impressive Shires may now follow a similar fate.
Newton Abbot, Devon
Foxes as victims and perpetrators
Tim Bonner amazes me (letter, 4 February). He wishes to carry on with foxhunting, a sport where animals are set on other animals to fight or kill them. Yet he is squeamish about it being mentioned in the same breath as other sports with the same purpose, such as dog-fighting and badger-baiting. He admits that the latter two are cruel and should be illegal, so what special dispensation does he claim for foxhunting, aside from the fact that he and his cronies enjoy it?
Claybrooke Magna, Leicestershire
Adele Brand (letter, 5 February) thinks that foxes do not make difficult neighbours. Let her tell that to my dozen hens. But she cannot because they are all dead, slaughtered by a vixen. And slaughtered gratuitously, for she only took one away to eat.
David C Brown
Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire
Power of faith
It is curious that Tony Blair says the 21st century would be poorer and meaner without the guardianship, not of God, but of "faith in God" ("At last, Blair is free to 'do God' – and America loves it"', 6 February). It would seem that Blair does religion and God the same way he did war and WMDs: it is the belief that counts, not whether the object of that belief actually exists.
Lib Dems in Europe
Apropos the charge of Lib Dem treachery over the Lisbon Treaty (letter, 29 January), the reality is that the treaty has been rejected. Moreover, the treaty is secondary to the primary consideration of continued membership of the EU. The Lib Dems have, therefore, called for a referendum on UK membership.
Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex
Doubtless on his way from Bristol to beautiful Glen Affric, Tom Simpson (letter, 2 February) stops off at a few motorway service stations for food and fuel. It's not the artificial Slimbridge reserve that's at stake over the Severn Barrier, but the whole mudflat complex of the estuary. In both continental and global terms, these are known and vital stopping-off points for migrating birds. He can choose to travel when and where, break journey as and when; genetically programmed birds cannot, and if denied resources and facilities may well perish.
Don't stand for it
Whatever is wrong with Anthony Barnes ("Standing room only, even on crutches", 6 February)? Doesn't he have a tongue is his head? In the last two years I have had a hysterectomy, a mastectomy and a broken hand. When I was on public transport and I felt I needed a seat all I had to do was ask pleasantly. The seat was always surrendered cheerfully, and often the most gracious were teenaged boys.
I note from Will Wilson's letter (6 February) that Earl's Court was named "after the Court of the Earls of Warwick and Holland". It should therefore be "Earls' Court" – good to see they also couldn't get their apostrophes right in the past, as now.