Sir: As a long-standing member of the Conservative party, I received a ballot paper to select my European candidates today. As the European elections use a convoluted form of proportional representation, I am asked to list my candidates in order of preference, with the top-ranking candidate being given the No 1 slot on the list and the least popular candidate being given the No 8 slot. Fair enough, your readers might comment. However, the bizarre thing is that I have to rank the existing MEPs as No 1 and 2 on the list, even if I am of the opinion that they have done a bad job.
Your readers may think it is fair that sitting candidates should get a preference over other candidates, even if the other candidates are better. But the Conservative party, intent on compounding matters and devaluing my vote, has told me that even if I and other electors pick a male candidate as our third-choice preference, this third slot will be guaranteed to go to a female candidate. In yet another undemocratic twist, I am not allowed to abstain either – if only five or six of the candidates are acceptable to me, I still have to vote for the two or three that I find unacceptable.
I'm sure I heard Conservative front bench spokesmen commenting on the unfairness of the recent Russian elections, which seems bizarre given that this selection has all the hallmarks of the old Two Ronnies' joke: "There was a shock last night when someone broke into the Kremlin and stole next year's election results."
Cllr Simon Fawthrop
London Borough of Bromley
Business is eager to go green
Sir: If the Government wishes to reduce the UK's carbon emissions by 2050, it will need to do more than what the Chancellor proposed in the Budget. You report that environmentalist campaigners were not satisfied with the Chancellor's green measures (13 March) – yet neither is UK plc.
Our recent research among more than 600 UK firms shows that an encouraging 26 per cent now measure their overall footprint. Furthermore, 37 per cent of British companies have invested in some form of low-carbon, energy-efficient equipment, and 41 per cent have implemented carbon-emission reduction rules in their organisation. That is no mean feat.
Yet a lack of tax incentives from the Government, coupled with a perceived higher cost and limited range of "green" equipment, is dampening this enthusiasm. In order to help UK businesses go "green", there needs to be a much wider range of "green" business equipment that is eligible for enhanced capital allowances.
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire
Sir: Stephen Hale is right to point to the importance of European action on climate change (Opinion, 12 March). Given the cross-border nature of global warming, the problem demands an international response. The EU has taken a lead in establishing targets for reducing emissions and in establishing a market for carbon through the Emissions Trading Scheme.
The business community supports the need for European action, and in a survey last year, 86 per cent of businesses in Europe said that more regulation was needed to combat climate change. European business is ready to work with the EU to play its role in tackling the environmental challenge of sustaining our planet.
Chairman, Business for New Europe, London EC2
Oath of allegiance to a conglomeration
Sir: The proposed oath of allegiance speaks volumes about the confidence of a nation that is increasingly disparate.
Britain is simply not a nation; it is a conglomeration of several. The Celtic nations have maintained distinctive, cohesive identities that they have been easily able to share with their immigrants. It is the largest country, England, that has identity troubles and feels a diffusion of who actually is English. However, the proposal that the oath should be centred on the monarch makes it especially English, and that raises questions for those of us who have never considered nationalist options.
This proposal is a reaction to the perception that the peoples of the United Kingdom are increasingly uneasy with their own society: devolution and recent immigration, some crimes and terrorist incidents have shown how the country has changed, but it is that change we need to deal with – chanting oaths will not make one jot of difference.
Sir: My congratulations to Lord Goldsmith: he has shown himself to be master of the Government's diversionary strategy. With this spurious nonsense about swearing an oath, he has successfully shifted public attention on to a citizen's obligations and away from the current attack on the citizen's civil liberties. Well done, sir.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Chippenham rejects the BNP
Sir: Readers of your 8 March report on the BNP and Conservative parliamentary candidates in Chippenham will be relieved to learn that local residents resoundingly rejected the BNP at every opportunity in elections last May. In fact, the BNP candidate came eighth of nine candidates who stood in the same district council ward, securing less than 5 per cent of the votes cast.
It was unsurprising, therefore, that I had the chance to speak to literally hundreds of people who came out to protest against his claiming for the BNP of an uncontested seat on a local town council.
Independent and academic analyses of the new parliamentary boundaries conclude that the Chippenham constituency will be a very closely fought contest between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Local voters, whether of a liberal or conservative outlook, should have no cause to stray into the arms of the BNP. We have the task of choosing the best person to represent our area in Parliament, and racial prejudice should play no part in that.
Prospective parliamentary candidate for Chippenham(Liberal Democrat)
No favours for Ferrovial
Sir: You state that, "By allowing BAA to raise landing fees, the Civil Aviation Authority (most likely under gentle pressure from the Government) is bailing out BAA's Spanish parent company, Ferrovial" (leading article, 12 March). This is categorically not the case. The increases in airport charges that the CAA has permitted is driven by the need for increased investment, enhanced security requirements and improved service quality.
In line with the CAA's long-standing policy in this area, no adjustment has been (or will be) made to accommodate the particular financial arrangements that have been (or might be) put in place by BAA. We made this policy abundantly clear to all parties prior to the Ferrovial-led takeover in 2006, and set it out in the decision document that the CAA published on 11 March.
Group Director, Economic Regulation, Civil Aviation Authority, London WC2
Mamet suffers a reverse epiphany
Sir: It is strange how many who were radical and leftwing when young and in their prime become blinded by conservative thought and market economics when they reach late middle age ("Mamet's new work: Why I am no longer a brain-dead liberal", 13 March).
Is it mere coincidence that this reverse epiphany happens just as their muscles and joints creak and groan, their teeth and hair fall out, their eyes dim and hearing dulls and their cerebral arteries narrow and clog? It is at this point that the temporary nature of existence becomes all too apparent and the illogicalities of religion and eternal life become so seductive, just like market economics, which says the rich at least can have their cake and eat their fill, as growth miraculously goes on for ever, even on a finite planet such as our own.
The Independent is quick to make allowances, and is right to do so. Mamet wrote some very good plays and possibly three great ones – when his mind was still young and quick and vigorous and when he was proud to be a liberal.
Haywards Heath, Sussex
Fat rewards for incompetence
Sir: Adrian Hamilton, in "Now was not the time to pick a fight with the City" (13 March), misses the point about why we ordinary mortals are so angry. The fight is not primarily about the amount of money "financial engineers" make, or even about how little tax they pay. It is about the lack of retribution when they mess up.
If surgeons, or engineers, or most other professionals, are found to have made a catastrophic error, their career ends. They do not leave with hundreds of thousands of pounds of "contractual entitlement", usually to walk into equally lucrative employment elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of the population, for whom one City bonus represents years of earnings with no scope for tax avoidance, has to find the wherewithal to keep the City afloat.
The fight to right that monstrous wrong needs waging now and remorselessly. Winning it will result in stronger financial services and will not prejudice our economy at all.
Shooting to blame for hares' decline
Sir: I read with concern Michael McCarthy's article on the decline of the brown hare population in England (13 March).
However, Dr Stephen Tapper of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust omits to mention that hares are still classed as "game" and, while it is now illegal to kill them with dogs, it is perfectly legal to shoot them between August and the end of February. While most people might find it very hard to believe that anyone could gain pleasure by shooting these beautiful animals, it undoubtedly still happens and must be one of the prime reasons for their decline.
This is even more relevant as spring appears to be arriving earlier in England every year, and hares, as with many other animals, are now quite likely to breed outside their traditional breeding season.
Intensive farming methods are not particularly harmful to hares, as their natural habitat is open farmland, with a growing crop such as winter wheat, which is undisturbed in the spring, providing plenty of cover for them.
The easiest and simplest method of ensuring the survival of these most beautiful of creatures is to put them on the protected list so that it is illegal to shoot them at any time.
Simon W Yorke
Sir: You suggest brown hares are threatened by the end of the "set-aside" system which leaves farm land fallow. It is reassuring therefore that their mountain cousins are flourishing. It is now usual to see upwards of 25 mountain hares during a day's walking on the dark peak between Manchester and Sheffield. Their white winter coats stand out against the black peat. No doubt mild winters suit them.
SALFORD, greater manchester
Brown's slur on family businesses
Sir: In many family businesses there is a natural division of labour: one member goes to the client site to generate directly a revenue stream, while another deals with the office, the authorities, forms, sourcing supplies, etc. In some cases other family members take on specialist tasks such as marketing, writing programs/managing the IT, or just manning the phone.
Which of these activities, in Christopher Clayton's opinion (letters, 14 March), is not a legitimate business activity? Who, in his opinion, should not be rewarded for their labour?
Gordon Brown's government is smearing small businesses, freelancers and independents in order to make a tax grab appear justified.
Sir: The Catholic Bishop of Lancaster's demand that books critical of the Catholic faith should be banned from school libraries (report, 13 March) is a perfect illustration of the reason why churches and other religious bodies should not control schools in the public sector.
Chief Executive, British Humanist Association, London WC1
Sir: No need to refurbish kitchens and bathrooms in MPs' second homes in London to John Lewis Partnership standards (report, 14 March). Hostel accommodation should be provided in the Westminster/Victoria area with the addition of canteen facilities for breakfast and supper. The cost of such an arrangement would sit more lightly on the tax payer and would improve the image of Parliament in the public gaze.
HORSHAM, West Sussex
Wearers of bearskin
Sir: "The brutal trade behind the Army's headwear" (11 March) makes no reference to the Canadian Governor General's Foot Guards, who wear the same bearskin hats. We have corresponded with the Canadian Governor General, Michaëlle Jean, for quite some time and her reply is always the same – she appreciates hearing from Canadians about issues that are important to them, but responsibility for dress lies with the Guards regiment. The bears are killed using cruel traps, so that the pelts will not be damaged; bullet holes would decrease their value.
George V Clements
Director, Fur-Bearer Defenders,Vancouver, British Columbia,Canada
Children need schooling
Sir: No, Janet Street-Porter ("Not every mother is from Middle England", 13 May), it is a crime to keep your children out of school. Mrs MacKeown may claim that her daughters are receiving an education in India, but is it one that will equip them to find work once they return to Britain and reach school-leaving age? As adults, her children may want to imitate their mother's lifestyle, or they may not. Depriving them of formal schooling robs them of that choice.
Sir: I disagree with John Mackenzie (letter, 8 March). Surely the first group that should be made to carry ID cards is not terrorists but members of the Houses of Parliament.