Sir: In this week of the Conservative conference I wish to point out one or two home truths to them.
The Conservatives have absolutely no vested interest in maintaining the fiction of "Britishness" or the "Union", which Gordon Brown, as a Scottish constituency MP, has. It is also embarrassingly clear that the party, despite David Cameron's bleatings about his Scottish blood, is not attracting support north of the border and will be lucky to retain its remaining single seat there.
It is just as obvious that, in order to walk into office with a huge majority, all his party needs is to promote itself as the party of England. This radical idea would reflect the feelings of the majority population who have until recently been studiously ignored.
Poll after poll in the past year has shown that at least 61 per cent support an English parliament, not the feeble fudge suggested by the Tories of English votes on English matters whilst maintaining the status quo within a "British" Parliament. The electorate are heartily sick of seeing MPs elected in Scottish constituencies trooping in and casting votes that will affect such things as top-up fees for English students, the NHS in England, and the provision of care for our elderly as well as the availability of free life-saving drugs.
It really is time for the Tories to drop obsolete unionism. England is a country with a silenced majority who desperately need a voice.
Crawley, West Sussex
Our asylum system flouts human rights
Sir: Your front-page report on Britain's asylum system (2 October) is 100 per cent accurate. If "human rights are universal", we should have profound concerns about the return of refused asylum seekers not only to Burma, Zimbabwe and Darfur, but also to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and Iraq.
Ten days ago, I spoke with a Burmese democracy activist of awesome courage who had been refused asylum in Britain. The tears ran down his face, not because he was afraid to be returned to Burma, where he had previously been imprisoned, but because of his experiences when he claimed asylum in Britain.
How does the British asylum system abuse human rights? It denies people access to Britain to make their claim; it denies them adequate legal support to present their case; it keeps them in limbo without the right to work; through maladministration it reduces some to complete destitution; it subjects others to unremitting fear of dawn raids, handcuffing, detention, and summary return to their country of origin; it denies to young adults tertiary education; it denies to the sick the health care that they need.
If we are to have an asylum system worth the name, it must be undergirded at every point by a thoroughgoing respect for human rights.
Canon Nicholas Sagovsky
Sir: When dealing with asylum applications, the Home Office must ensure that its decisions are humane, fair and transparent. There is a clear consensus that those seeking asylum from particular countries, such as Burma or Zimbabwe, have escaped from serious persecution by the state .
The Home Office has improved in recent years, but it would provide better value for money if it concentrated on returning fraudulent asylum seekers, rather than continue with unjustifiable and expensive attempts at returning human beings to countries where most agree they will face torture or even death.
Keith Vaz, MP
(Leicester E, Lab) House of Commons
Nothing will shift the Burmese junta
Sir: I wish I was wrong, but there are still a few governments left in the world today which we simply cannot influence. One, in all probability, is North Korea; another, which your many correspondents and readers may not be aware of, is my own country, Burma.
We all hoped, and assumed, that China would be able to force the Burmese junta to budge. However, whether China really does wield the power everyone imagined or whether the generals simply don't care any more, who can be sure? As someone who has met both parties, it soon became immediately clear to me that the men in green have never had any intention of lessening their grip, let alone of actually handing over control to a woman they despise.
Comments made to me, and others, by members of the junta, such as "in 20 years, the only Kayins [Karens] you will see, will be those in a museum" sum up their heinousness, ignorance and total lack of flexibility. Other than the unthinkable – an invasion – nothing will change in Burma in the foreseeable future.
Kyaw Kyaw Win
Sir: The proposition, if it be such, hinted at in Professor Chakravarty's letter (2 October) that Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith was responsible for the assassination of Aung San is wholly false and without any historical foundation whatsoever.
The historical fact of the matter is that Sir Reginald had a very high opinion of Aung San and specifically stated such in his notes to Sir Henry Knight, then Governor of Madras, who was to stand in for Sir Reginald when he returned to the UK in mid 1946. In those notes Sir Reginald said with regard to Aung San: "He is Burma's popular hero and without a shadow of doubt he has the biggest personal following of any man in the country . . . I look upon him as a very sincere man . . . I think he is out for peace and tranquility".
Clearly Sir Reginald had a very high opinion of Aung San' character.
Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith arrived in the UK on the 13 July 1946 and never returned to Burma. Major-General Sir Hubert Rance was gazetted Governor of Burma on 31 July 1946. Aung San was assassinated, in Rangoon, by Burmese on 19 July 1947 a full year after Sir Reginald had ceased to be Governor of Burma and had retired to the south of England.
The proposition that Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith had anything whatsoever to do with the assassination of Aung San is a slur without historical foundation.
C P D Dorman-O'Gowan
Misplaced fears of low-energy bulbs
Sir: I would like to reassure Independent readers that the health and aesthetic concerns currently circulating about low-energy light bulbs are misplaced (letter, 2 October).
In recent years, we've seen a dramatic shift in production – with consumers now being offered a wide choice of technology and designs. The spectrum of light produced is ever-closer to a traditional bulb and prices start from 39p.
While it is true that each low-energy bulb contains a small amount of mercury, the level is less than that released into the atmosphere by generating the extra electricity needed to operate a traditional bulb.
I am aware that there is a small number of people for whom the use of fluorescent lights is a problem and Defra is working to consider how to avoid any unintended consequences from the phase-out of inefficient light bulbs. I am not aware of any studies on the impact of low-energy light bulbs on "sensory development" – but I am all too aware of the threat of climate change to the natural world and future generations.
We need to cut emissions now, and switching to eco-friendly light bulbs is a small change that makes a big difference – saving up to 5 million tonnes of UK CO2 a year by 2012. The Government is committed to helping people tackle climate change, and we welcome the drive led by retailers and energy suppliers on this.
Minister for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London SW1
Sir: Rather than bamboozling us into using fluorescent light bulbs (which ought, in my opinion, to contain a Government health warning: "Do not break."), could not the Government engender a greater saving of energy by requiring shops and offices to switch off their lights between, say, 6pm and 6am?
R A Holden
Science and faith at peace together
Sir: Apropos the most recent flurry of Dawkins-related correspondence, may I say that it was a lovely coincidence to see on your obituaries page (2 October) a New Testament scholar remembered alongside an early "big-bang" theorist, not to forget a master cricketer too.
Each interprets life from a particular perspective, and there will inevitably be some degree of personal spin. Would that we might celebrate them together with equal integrity in life as in death.
The Rev Peter Sharp
Sir: Surely it can only be a matter of time before a religion is based on the teachings of the ubiquitous and omniscient Richard Dawkins.
Hard to 'demonise' these Iranian bigots
Sir: Whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Zionism should "vanish from" or be "wiped off" the map is neither here nor there (Letters, 2 October). If you care to keep tabs on Iranian gay, feminist and left sources, it is hardly his greatest crime, and the idea that the poor man is being "demonised" begins to look pretty sick.
I share the strong belief that any attack on Iran would be both criminal and disastrous – but opposition to war and imperialism does not have to entail abject apology for a clerical-fascist regime that hangs gays, stones women and murders socialists and trade unionists.
Just as outside aggression can only bolster the regime, if we throw away principle, our opposition to war becomes worthless.
Sir: I wonder if it would be a good idea for the Americans, before they attack Iran, to publish the target locations and the times of attack. This would enable local people to escape and greatly reduce the loss of life. The unmanned American cruise missiles could destroy uninhabited Iranian buildings; it would be very expensive, but few lives would be lost. Perhaps the UK government could urge this course on their American allies.
Professor Ian Smalley
Geography DepartmentLeicester University
A funny sort of democracy
Sir: I could not agree more with the remarks of Phil Janes, on his sense of disenfranchisement under our current electoral system (letter, 3 October).
Consider these numbers: in May 2005 the Labour Party polled 35 per cent of the votes, and obtained 55 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons. The equivalent figures for the Tories are 32 per cent and 31 per cent, and for the Lib Dems 22 per cent and 10 per cent.
To a greater or lesser extent, similar (but not so striking) distortions have occurred – to the benefit of both main parties – in previous elections.
If this happened in Ukraine, or Iran, or Zimbabwe, doubtless our politicians would be full of righteous indignation, denouncing their elections as unfair and illegitimate. Yet as a country we put up with this gross unfairness year after year without murmur.
There are some benefits in a first-past-the-post system, but these are now manifestly outweighed by the damage that is being done to the legitimacy of our entire electoral process. It's a funny sort of democracy where a minority of voters is routinely rewarded with a majority of the parliamentary seats.
Sir: It is facile and rather conspiratorial to talk about the major religions possessing their own nuclear weapons (letter, 3 October). I am certainly unaware of the Pope, for example, maintaining a nuclear deterrent. That is, of course, unless Dan Brown knows otherwise.
Change of voters
Sir: It will come as no "shock" at all to the Liberal Democrat MP for Rochdale that his is a seat which Labour must hold, as he will be aware, unlike Lynne Thompson (letter 1 October), that the next election is being fought on new boundaries, which would have meant that Labour would have won the seat by a majority of 35 back in 2005. There are plenty of other seats in the same category.
Fashion for failure
Sir: Grumbles about uses of the English language have spread from Guy Keleny's Saturday column to the daily main letters page. Here's one. It is the ubiquitous use of "failure". Things do not just not do things; they always fail to do things. "The rain failed to reach the east coast." "Because it was raining, the family failed to go out of the house on Saturday." I had always thought failure meant not achieving something one set out to do – not just plain not doing it.
Sir: Clare Soares' article "The languages of extinction" (19 September) implied that the loss of languages was a matter of some regret. People speaking different languages leads to barriers to understanding. Any reduction in the number of languages should be welcomed. There are plenty of means available to document these endangered languages. The same argument could be applied to many parochial languages, not endangered but not widely used. For example, why are the Welsh so keen to preserve a language that only enables them to communicate with some Welsh people?
R V Watts
King's Lynn, Norfolk
Sir: Mark Lawson's interview with Philip Roth (3 October) touched on the cultural shift from John Updike through Roth to Dan Brown. On vacation in 2005 I finished Zuckerman Unbound and was handed The Da Vinci Code by my wife. The literary gulf between these two works was remarkable even to a cultural lightweight like myself. It is truly a sad reflection on society that Dan Brown should become a Time magazine icon.
Chesham Bois, BuckinghamshireReuse content