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Monday 13 April 2009
Letters: The virtues of Dubai
Dubai does have faults, but it also has many virtues
I have lived in Dubai for nine years and, while it has its faults and mistakes have been made, most people living here have benefited hugely from its growth, and have a very privileged lifestyle. In real life, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Makhtoum is a discreet and low-profile ruler, and his picture is no more evident in everyday life than is the Queen's. He often drives himself in an old Range Rover and is regularly spotted in ordinary places around town.
Of course, I would prefer to live in a fully fledged democracy but we keep making the mistake of thinking the only way is our way, endemic of the supreme arrogance that has tarnished our reputation around the world. A democratically elected leader marched Britain into an unpopular war in Iraq on the back of being economical with the truth in support of an unpopular American leader who behaved like a cowboy in a B-movie; democracy's finest hour. Furthermore, the UAE made its first steps towards a fully fledged democracy in 2005 when Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced that half of the Federal National Council would be elected.
Christian values are similar to Muslim values and most of the population in the UAE live by these simple values. I work in a small company with 10 other nationalities in perfect harmony, which is more than can be said for the blatant racism I encountered in England.
Dubai is a tolerant and safe place to live and I'm delighted my children are growing up here, far from the knife culture in Britain. My maid is taking six weeks' vacation this year to visit her brother in Switzerland, and she, of course, has her own passport with her at all times.
Dubai Media City, United Arab Emirates
MPs' pay up 940% over 30 years
Andrew Grice's incisive article on MP's expenses (11 April) repeats the oft-quoted observation that MPs' lavish expense claims were, by implication, a quid pro quo for decades of having their salaries held back. This spin is now being widely touted by our parliamentarians as they seek to strengthen their negotiating position later in the summer. The facts do not bear out this version of reality, which is rapidly becoming accepted across the media.
The figures show clearly that MPs have done rather well over the past three decades. Much of this is due to a series of one-off adjustments paid to them every few years, in addition to their annual increase.
In 1978, an MP had a salary of £6,897. Today it is £64,766, a hike of 940 per cent. By comparison, an old-age pensioner was getting £19.50 a week, or £1,014 per annum, in 1978. This year, the old-age pension stands at £95.25 or £4,953 a year. Their income rose by only 490 per cent between 1978 and today. Had their income kept pace with that of MPs, they would now be paid upwards of £180 a week.
Pensions are a good yardstick precisely because they have risen in line with inflation, allowing for the odd fiver sweetener from the Chancellor a few years back. Had MPs' salaries moved in line with inflation, their present pay would be just under £35,000 per year. Should they get the £10,000 extra they are angling for, their pay will have increased at considerably more than twice the rate of inflation since the 1970s.
Brighton, East Sussex
Andrew Grice is kidding himself. He says our MPs are "honest and honourable" because many of their foreign counterparts (including MEPs) are even worse, and staffing costs account for two-thirds, or less, of the missing money.
This is hardly logical. It leaves more than £50,000 a year per MP tax-free, essentially unaccounted for. This is far more than the income (gross of tax) of most of their constituents, those called on to make further sacrifices to pay for the results of Parliament's policies. The surprise is not that people are cross; it is that their reaction has been, hitherto, so moderate. I fear this will not remain the case, unless there is a marked change of direction.
PM's green plans must be bolder
If Gordon Brown is to deliver on his promise that Britain will emerge from the recession as a "low carbon economy", he is going to have to be an awful lot bolder ("Brown goes green for votes", 8 April). For example, Denmark is already committed to 20,000 recharge points for a nationwide system of electric cars, while Brown is still at the tentative stage of introducing a pilot programme. Without greater ambition, including plans to reduce the overall number of cars on our roads through investment in affordable and reliable public transport, the "revolution" Brown promises will remain rhetoric.
And his announcement of 400,000 "green" jobs stretches the definition of "green industries" to include nuclear. But even if nuclear were green, renewable energy sources generate many more jobs per unit of energy than nuclear. Since it takes at least 15 years to build a new power station, nuclear will have no effect on the recession.
Finally, Brown and Darling need to abandon projects such as the third runway at Heathrow. The gains from a green industrial revolution will be severely undermined if the government persists in the greatest expansion of aviation in a generation.
Dr Caroline Lucas MEP
Leader, Green Party, London N19
'Filling stations' for electric cars
The answer to the problem of the time taken to recharge the batteries of electric cars (letters, 10 April) was propounded by George Monbiot in his book Heat, quoting "energy expert Dave Andrews" as the author of the idea. It is a network of "filling stations" around the country where one pulls in with a depleted battery which is replaced by a recharged one. Recharging can take advantage of off-peak periods when grid usage is otherwise low.
This does require that all batteries are the same, or there are just a few types and sizes, otherwise the problems of stocking become too great.
Sean O'Grady has the right to mock electric cars (article, 8 April), but it's a pity he can't take a more positive view, especially on a day when The Independent reports major financial support for electric vehicles from the European Investment Bank and incentives from our government to invest in the technology. It will not take two decades for electric vehicles to become a viable proposition.
Now that the PM is talking about creating thousands of "green" jobs, the government will be promoting green transport. There is a good range of electric cars in production or, like the Mini E, almost ready for the market. A nippy and reasonably speedy car with a fair range which escapes tax and congestion charge will soon be desirable for many people.
I hope the government will push the power generators to install charging points as soon as possible, because seeing them will give people the idea that electric cars are "normal".
Helping children to roam free
Terence Blacker is right to say that it is "blindingly obvious" to encourage parents to let their children roam free (Comment, 3 April); but if it's so obvious why aren't we doing more of it?
Natural England's report, Childhood and nature: a survey on changing relationships with nature across the generations, shows that 85 per cent of parents fear giving their children too much unsupervised freedom, yet 81 per cent of children want more freedom to play outside. What's more, playing outdoors is free, no bad thing in the present economic climate.
Natural England is funding farm visits, educational visits to national nature reserves and connecting children, particularly from deprived urban communities, to the natural world. It's blindingly obvious to us that there is a need.
Acting Chair, Natural England, London SW1
Horrified by the police violence
I have been horrified to witness the behaviour of our police towards protesters and passers-by. This is no way for a supposedly democratic country to treat its citizens. How is it permissible for officers to charge and strike and use dogs on innocent people? Does someone have to be killed before this behaviour is deemed wrong? There was no violence evident among those in the climate camp. Only a small part of the other demonstration became violent.
And how is it permissible to contain innocent protesters and passers-by, including children, for seven, eight, nine hours without access to water, food or toilets? This is irreconcilable with the right of peaceful protest. And why are police allowed to disguise their identity, using balaclavas and removing their badges?
All this smacks of police out of control, officers picking a fight because they are prejudiced against anyone expressing their views in this way. Is this happening because those at the top encourage this? And where are our elected representatives who should be protecting the people from over-zealous policing?
Perhaps new kinds of people are starting to protest, especially about things like climate change, a younger generation of educated people unused to being treated in this way.
It does no credit to the Labour party to allow this and will only increase Labour's present un-popularity as the government increases the amount of public surveillance about which some people were there to protest. But perhaps it can serve as a timely warning. Because if the danger of sliding into a police state is to be avoided, people must be allowed to express our concerns without fear of being terrorised.
Hove, East Sussex
The involvement of police surrounding the death of a man which is now the subject of an inquiry prompts me to ask if a proper investigation could now be made of the killing of Blair Peach, the 30th anniversary of which falls on 23 April?
Is the person who took pictures of the police attacking Mr Tomlinson going to be prosecuted under the new legislation making it illegal to take photographs of policemen?
In the light of the recent behaviour of the Metropolitan Police, it would seem people should take as many photographs as possible of officers.
JOHN GIBBS MBE
Your provocative leading article (10 April) tells us, "Even liberal secularists must acknowledge the welcome the [RC] church has extended to immigrant groups and its consistent championing of anti-racism". These are Trojan horses. They build a constituency for the intolerance of people whose views are inimical to millions who see the assaults on ways of life of which the RC church disapproves.
Israel blocks peace
I am puzzled by Adrian Hamilton lamenting that "if only the Arab world could unite ... on its plan to proffer total Arab recognition of Israel in return for Jerusalem's agreement to return to the pre-1967 borders ... then there might be some hope of peace in the Middle East" (Comment, 9 April). The Arab world has reiterated its support for the plan time and again since it was launched seven years ago. The only thing likely to erode this common stance is Israel's continued refusal to adopt the plan.
Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi
Chairman, Arab Media Watch, London SW7
"Wounded soldiers win priority for social homes" (9 April) tells only part of the story; the other part would be best described as, "Victims of serious accidents or industrial injuries go to the back of the queue". In a just society, no category of people eligible for special housing and other state benefits, would get priority over others with similar or more urgent needs. Why should the manner in which someone suffers an incapacity bear on how they are treated by the state?
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
The Independent has introduced me to a new word, "uptick" (9 April). That linguistic introduction, in an article about the growth of high-definition TV services, was hammered home in an unrelated piece on the following page, dealing with Mr Ben Bernanke's search for economic green shoots. The second mention confirmed that I had not spotted a misprint. I am not sure of the meaning of "uptick", but it appears to be a synonym for upturn. Any more precise definition?
Heart of the matter
John Walsh's first paragraph (Life, 7 April) misses one important detail among the snippets of information; I read then that the design of Mary Quant's shaved area was in the shape of a heart.
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