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Tuesday 2 June 2009
Letters: The 'special relationship'
British troops sacrificed to the 'special relationship'
Now, thanks to General Sir Richard Dannatt ("Army fury at refusal to bolster Afghan campaign", 1 June), we know the true reason the British Army is being sacrificed daily in Afghanistan. It is not because of any vital British interest such as justified the disastrous retreat from Kabul under Lord Elphinstone. It is not "to restore stability and democracy", the ludicrous excuse given by a White House spokesman after 9/11 – how can you restore something that has never existed?
Instead, our troops are dying to uphold our credibility in "maintaining military strategic 'partner of choice' status with the US [that] offers a degree of influence and security that has been pivotal to our foreign and defence policy". Simply translated from the politico-military gobbledygook this means that Britain was, is and expects to remain Washington's poodle.
Since it can hardly be argued that slavish pursuit of this policy has been beneficial to Britain in the 21st century it must be time for a fundamental review. The first potential benefit would surely be the saving of tens of billions of badly needed dollars from scrapping our "independent" nuclear weapon upgrades, which any thinking general would recognise make no military sense anyway.
Here we go again: we may dent the "special relationship" if we do not send more troops. The UK gets no credit from the USA for close co-operation while, for example, Germany and France are continuously courted like a girl playing hard to get – and then don't give.
One cannot help presuming that the top brass in the Army are dying to put their years of training and practice into action before they retire. I feel sure that most of the electorate don't even know why we are there. I don't. What advantage to the UK are the deaths and maimings of our young troops?
Eric V Evans
Old rituals hamper our democracy
The MPs' expenses scandal has brought calls for parliamentary reform. It is insufficiently appreciated that our democracy is based not on the principle of popular sovereignty ("We, the people"), but on the principle of the Crown in Parliament. As a consequence, we have a political culture centred on "Her Majesty's Government" – not "our" government, even though as taxpayers we fund it and as voters we elect it.
At no time is this principle better exemplified than at the State Opening of Parliament, when our elected representatives are summoned to the House of Lords to stand to hear the Queen's Speech ( "my government" ).
Just a bit of harmless, pre-modern parliamentary theatre? No. Symbols are important and the whole ceremony is the very antithesis of how a modern democracy should present itself. Answer? Discontinue it in its present form. Invent an alternative tradition which recognises the primacy of the House of Commons but which cuts out arcane rituals. The latter should fool nobody any longer.
A related issue is the absurd requirement for all MPs to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen at the start of each new session of Parliament, in order that they may take up their seats. MPs should not be treated as Crown servants, but as our representatives. If an MP is to swear an oath to anyone it should be to his/her constituents – to serve them diligently and honourably.
I had to laugh when I read Dave Cameron's latest attempt to convince us he has always been bent on overhauling our political system. "A Conservative government will seriously consider fixed-term parliaments when there is a majority government" (report, 27 May). Now which of us really believes that if, as seems likely, the Tories win a majority at the next general election they will consider any such thing?
We all know the idea will be shelved in the same way Blair did when Labour got their massive majority in 1997 (ditto all the then talk about PR). I am 52, have always voted Labour (but will not at the next general election) and live in Dave Cameron's constituency, where they would vote in a monkey if it wore a blue rosette, so I am getting tired of the likes of Brown and Cameron pontificating on the urgent need to "engage" with the voting public, when there are millions of people like me who have absolutely no electoral influence.
Real change isn't going to come from the cosy Labour-Tory cartel, but from a hung Parliament with a strong Lib Dem presence. I'd feel more confident in that latter outcome had the Lib Dems opted for the very impressive Vince Cable as their leader, but I'm afraid it's our only hope of radical electoral reform.
Alan J Fisher
I enjoyed the feature "Campaign for democracy: Brown vs. Cameron vs. Clegg" (27 May). They appear to be proposing reform of parliament as if it is their idea. In 1787, as a criticism of the parliamentary system, the new United States constitution arranged their political system around a simple and rarely mentioned truism, that only a separate executive, legislature and judiciary can provide adequate checks and balances on each other. All the proposals mentioned so far are typical of our very British "muddling through" approach. Welcome, yes, but not nearly enough.
Gosh. It's amazing how slipshod our elected representatives freely and in mitigation admit to be at managing their own affairs. How confident then can we be at their ability to cope with the nation's affairs?
D J Walker
You won't defeat BNP by agreeing
Frank Field's article "Demonising the BNP is not going to defeat them" (27 May) is an appalling appeal for Labour to defeat the BNP by pandering to racism.
Field repeats the old canard of "a political class who won't talk about non-PC issues like immigration"; the political class have done little else but vie with each other as to who can be "hardest" on asylum-seekers, job-seekers from abroad and anyone else who can be casually described as "immigrants", primarily to deflect attention from the real reasons for the crisis.
But Field goes one step further when he argues that the Government's alleged open-door policy "has exposed those hard-working families . . . to a downward push in wages and greater competition for decent housing and schools", and that immigration "has neutered Labour's efforts to shift resources to poorer people and poorer areas".
By doing so, he repeats the "Big Lie", that poor housing, education, health care and the greater imbalance between rich and poor that has occurred under New Labour is the fault of immigration and immigrants. Bad housing? Blame the blacks. Poor schools? Blame the Asians. No jobs? Blame the Jews. Sound familiar?
Field's argument is a kick in the face for all of us trying to fight the BNP by exposing its lies rather than pandering to them. The cuts in public spending affecting schools, health and housing that ordinary Labour voters and working people will face over the years are not the fault of "immigrants" but the fault of a failed belief in a free market free-for-all.
The depiction of a Spitfire in the BNP publicity material (letter, 22 May) is appalling.
My first husband, Geoffrey Smither, was a DFC Spitfire pilot, decorated in the Second World War. Geoffrey and those of his time are heroes. They would rise from their graves at the very thought of the BNP, whose forbears they defeated in the war to defend democracy.
Acupuncture with no strange ideas
I am glad to read that Christina Patterson obtained relief of her symptoms from acupuncture (Opinion, 28 May). But she is wrong to say that the treatment necessarily involves taking on board a lot of strange ideas about meridians, chi and the rest of it. There is a version of acupuncture, often called Western medical acupuncture, which largely ignores all the traditional apparatus and seeks to explain the effects in terms comprehensible to a modern health professional.
This version was being practised in Britain as long ago as the beginning of the 19th century and is still popular today; there is a British Medical Acupuncture Society with over 2,000 members. I have myself taught modern acupuncture to health professionals for 28 years and I am happy to say that none have choked over their almond croissants.
The current endorsement of acupuncture by Nice is largely due to several large-scale clinical trials in Germany, which have shown that the treatment works much better than no treatment for certain disorders, especially back pain and headaches. These trials also found that it made little or no difference where the needles were placed or how deeply. That is what I would expect from my own experience.
The conclusion has to be either that needling works but it doesn't much matter where it is done, or else that acupuncture is a complicated and effective placebo. Both possibilities remain open, although there is a fair amount of physiological research to show that there are plausible reasons why needling might work.
Dr Anthony Campbell MRCP
Time to stop the luxury watches?
I am constantly amazed that people will pay fortunes for wristwatches such as the £112,000 one bought for Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink by his players (report, 1 June).
The thought of wearing, and possibly losing, such an expensive piece of bling does not make sense to those of us who would fear having an arm hacked off by a desperate thief trying to steal it, and I suspect the owners of such valuables leave them locked in a safe somewhere.
In this time of growing unemployment, for the price of his timepiece, Mr Hiddink could have paid somebody £11,000 per year for the next decade to be constantly by his side, to whom he could ask, "What time is it?" and the reply would come: "Twenty past ten, sir" or whatever. Far more sensible.
Mark Taha (letter, 28 May) wrote advocating people's peers. He could add to the list Lord Beckham, Lord Cowell, Baroness Jordan and Baroness Jade (posthumously). That would really sum up how far the people of this country have travelled politically and intellectually over the past few generations.
Gordon Brown tried patriotism, the last refuge of a scoundrel ("British jobs for British workers") and now has fallen back on religion. His "Presbyterian conscience" has been offended by the expenses debacle. It didn't seem to worry it when so many pledges made in Labour manifestos he co-wrote were blatantly broken. Perhaps he has seen the light and now rejects the Machiavellian antics of New Labour politics and is preparing to cleanse his soul by falling on his sword – when hell freezes over.
Solihull, West Midlands
When Eton closed
Indeed Eton never closed during the Second World War ("Swine flu does what the Nazis couldn't", 29 May), despite a bomb which would have killed the Precentor, the distinguished organist Dr Henry Lay, had he been on time for dinner, and a time-bomb which destroyed all by the outer wall of one end of Upper School, a fine building of 1694. But the school was closed in the spring of 1947, after I went home to Oxford to sit a scholarship exam. By the time I was due to go back, Eton was flooded out.
John Peter Hudson
Nick Lezard is entitled to his opinion about what constitutes a great song, as opposed to the "rank aural slurry" that was the choice of Susan Boyle (Opinion, 1 June). Many "show tunes", when stripped of context, can appear nonsensical. However, Susan Boyle, and all the other contenders on Britain's Got Talent can do things that many of us cannot, and chose to brave public opinion and perform before a national audience. Perhaps Mr Lezard could enlighten us on what is a "proper song", and why his views on "cheap sentimentality" should prosper over our own.
What was that?
I was delighted to read (1 June) that a study has been initiated to investigate the problem of background noise and music. As an "older viewer" I often find it impossible to hear what is being said. The latest outrage, as far as I am concerned, has been in the wonderful BBC Poetry Season; beautiful poems made incomprehensible by the background music.
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