Letters: Time for Clegg to speak up for Europe

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Matthew Norman's attack on Nick Clegg was ridiculous (14 December). The fiasco of the EU summit was very largely due to David Cameron's preoccupation with appeasing the Tory party's militant tendency. Nothing bulldog about that. Given the vital need to keep the Coalition alive, Clegg was entirely right to stay away from the debate to show his disapproval.

The concessions the UK was seeking were not so unreasonable, but the other 26 members of the EU didn't want to listen. They're fed up with the vile xenophobia of the gutter press and with the endless anti-European braying of those donkeys on the Tory back benches.

The problem was compounded by the failure to use Clegg and our better diplomats to present our case ahead of the summit. The foolish withdrawal of the Tories in the European Parliament from the centre-right group has also been damaging to real British interests. The only hope now is quiet and skilful diplomacy to mend fences and get agreement on revisions to the EU treaty all can accept.

A further point: if highly capable individuals such as Clegg – who could earn 10 times as much outside politics – are constantly to suffer this sort of highly personalised sneering abuse, no wonder it is so difficult to get capable people to stand for parliament.

John Landell Mills

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

I have been a Liberal Democrat member since the party was formed in 1988. At the core of the party is the belief that Britain's best interest lies within Europe, and that working with European partners increases our influence in Europe and gives us more sovereignty than being alone and isolated.

Since Britain joined the EU, for the first time the UK has vetoed an agreement all other countries wanted to sign. It is a failure of our Government that this was allowed to happen when we could have used our influence to gain an agreement and achieve the objectives in relation to the City of London that was wanted.

Nick Clegg, as Deputy Prime Minister, agreed for the veto to be used, so he has to take responsibility for this failure as well. For years, pro-Europeans have wanted a politician to step forward to put the case for Europe. I hope it is not too late now for Nick Clegg to step up to the mark and find the pro-European voice that we elected him to use.

Alex Mannings

London SE1

Given that Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister, if David Cameron had been indisposed and unable to attend the Summit would Mr Clegg have attended in his place? That would have been interesting.

John Hempson

Gomersal, West Yorkshire

Could out-of-town malls help revive the high street?

James Thompson's article about Mary Portas's suggestions for "saving the high street" (14 December) showed that both have missed an obvious way of addressing the imbalance between high streets and the out-of-town shopping centres.

The answer is to tax the out-of-town centre car-parks by giving them a high rateable value. The money raised would then be used to reduce the high-street rates and provide a fund to help refurbish/ update shop premises.

Our town of Richmond has benefitted from more than £1.5m of regeneration money for the town centre, and there are currently no empty shops.

John Harris

Richmond, Yorkshire

I read with great interest the Mary Portas review of high streets, which mirrors the work we have been doing in Crouch End. The Crouch End Project was set up four years ago in response to the rapidly declining town centre where an independent bookshop had closed and rates had risen.

Last year, Thorntons Budgens in Crouch End was joined by a new neighbour, Waitrose, and found that its membership of the Crouch End Project helped the store to thrive despite the new arrival.

We have introduced a range of initiatives to encourage businesses to adopt new ways of working and give customers good reason to come to the town centre. These include late-night events, promotions, launching a website and introducing a loyalty-card scheme.

Our success has attracted interest from other town centres, and we have now devised a marketing "tool kit". This includes an online community website (including Twitter/ Facebook) that creates a community brand; free listings, mentoring and networking for businesses; and access to the database and a loyalty card for customers.

Clare Richmond

London N8

At the risk of being accused of wearing rose-tinted spectacles (leading article, 14 December), while I entirely agree that the high street should be a focal point in which communities can flourish, I disagree with your suggestion that expanded choice is necessarily a good thing.

Our high street in a market town of 7,000 inhabitants sports 26 women's clothes shops and not one exclusively men's clothes shop. It is well known that providing too much choice to people can cause depression.

Professor Markus, from Stanford University's Department of Psychology, says: "Even in contexts where choice can foster freedom, empowerment, and independence, it is not an unalloyed good. Choice can also produce a numbing uncertainty, depression, and selfishness." It is also well known that the consumption of antidepressants has risen hugely in the past 20 years, and more are consumed by women than by men.

Could there be a connection here? And what of the politicians banging on about giving choice to patients? Could they be harming the very people they are trying to benefit?

Dr Nick Maurice

Marlborough, Wiltshire

No threat to our abortion law

I agree with the Jeremy Laurance headline, "The truth is that abortion isn't as traumatic as people make out" (13 December), but I feel you have been successfully misled by anti-abortion propaganda about concern that this study threatens the foundations of UK abortion law. It is important to be specific: the ARMC study demonstrated that women who choose to have abortions have no worse mental-health outcomes than women who choose not to have abortions.

That is significantly different to comparing women who request abortion and have their request denied to women who request abortion and have it granted.

We already know from large studies done in Europe that denying a woman's request for an abortion negatively impacts mental health, and this is the foundation of the UK's abortion law. As such, it is not connected to the study released by the Royal Medical Colleges.

It should not be news to anyone that having an abortion does not improve mental health; nor that denying a woman's request for abortion has a negative effect.

Dr Richard Lyus

Doctors for a Woman's Choice on Abortion, London WC1

Computer skills widen education

I support Ian Livingstone's plea for computer-science teaching in schools (29 November). As the early IT employers discovered, a narrow interest in mathematics is never enough to produce well-rounded IT professionals.

Mr Livingstone stresses the need for training so our young people can enter an industry in which the UK already excels, but I should like to add its potential value in educating those whose ambitions are far from the IT and video games industries. The subject can provide a grounding in disciplines as diverse as logic, grammar, algebra, project activities and team-working, thus nurturing those polymaths that the Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, accuses us of abandoning.

Terry Lloyd

Chorleywood, Hertfordshire

With disrespect, greed caused riots

Last year, I retired after 30 years as a probation officer, 13 of them working in a prison. While acknowledging the possible causes of the summer riots that have been highlighted by the recent Guardian/LSE study (report, 5 December) I would like to suggest another factor.

Regarding the "resentment" of the police: nearly all of the young males (I hardly ever dealt with females) with whom I came into contact were constantly talking about how they were entitled to "respect". When one went into this a little deeper, it became apparent that what they meant was they wanted to be able to get whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it by imposing fear on some and coercing others.

They saw the police as a major obstacle to this goal and thus felt that the police "disrespected" them. When I tried to introduce the concept, in one-to-one interactions and group discussions, that respect was something that should be earned by positive example I might as well have been speaking Klingon.

Consequently, I think it reasonable to speculate that for many the riots presented an opportunity to achieve en masse what they were not able to achieve individually, and nothing more complicated than that.

Colin Field

London NW7

Rural bus routes won't survive

The means-testing of bus passes (letters, 13 December) is likely to be an academic exercise because of the imminent slashing of the Bus Service Operators' Grant (the "fuel-duty rebate") and the pensioners' bus-pass reimbursement scheme.

This will make the operation of bus services in all but the most heavily populated areas too expensive. Commercial fares would be forced to rise and operating costs would be beyond the limit of any local authority subsidy.

R A Flower

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Shy boson genius

It needs to be mentioned that the boson bit of the Higgs boson particle (Leading article, 14 December) is named after Professor Satyen Bose (1894-1974), the Indian physicist from Calcutta. He shunned honours and titles and being tagged to the ultimate particle does seem something of a divine irony.

Aroup Chatterjee

London E8

Taxing question

I was concerned by your article about the rise in cyber tax fraud (2 December). Could this increase be partly due to Gordon Brown's decision when Chancellor to sack a load of tax inspectors? Could this have been a false economy?

Marc Hurstfield

Northfleet, Kent

Mugging us mugs

The Olympic security costs have doubled because of the uncertain international situation. Presumably, the international situation was certain when the costs were estimated, or are we, the taxpayers, being mugged again?

A Phillips

London N8