Letters: US voters show the way

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American voters show the way for Labour MPs to follow

Sir: With the news that the Democratic Party have gained control of the US House of Representatives on the back of discredited foreign policies and the recent accounts describing how the neoconservative architects of the Iraq War have turned against the Bush administration, the question arises as to how much longer Labour backbenchers will continue to lend their support for their own leadership.

Thus far only a very few rebels have had the courage to stand up against the pressure from their own party whips and vote against the many repressive measures that have been proposed by this Government. Those Labour backbenchers who have continued to lend support for unjust and unbalanced measures such as the recent extradition treaty between the UK and the US, are merely sowing the seeds for their own eventual demise and departure from Government.

It is to be hoped that they may learn something from the experience of the US Republican Party.



Sir: The American people have sent a message to the party of their warring President. Let us hope that we emulate them at the first opportunity by ousting both of our war-condoning main parties from power. If we turn out in large numbers to vote neither Labour nor Conservative we might stand a chance of electing the hung Parliament which Clare Short supports and which is probably our only hope of achieving democracy through voting reform.



Sir: The US has a population of over 300 million and 453 people in the House of Representatives. The UK has a population of fewer than 60 million and 628 people in the House of Commons. It is very clear that the Americans get much better value for money. Could it be that as well as having too much law we have far too many law-makers?



Pension funds invest in the planet's future

Sir: Johann Hari's scepticism about "corporate social responsibility"(Opinion, 6 November) may be justified in many cases, but he is wrong to assume that there must be a conflict between "the interests of the environment and the interests of ... shareholders". On the contrary, many long-term investors, such as pension funds, are increasingly aware that their objectives are best achieved if the companies in which they hold shares pursue environmentally sustainable policies.

Partly, this is because such companies are likely to provide better returns in the future. Also, however, most larger funds are invested across the entire economy and for them it is pointless to make short-term profits from environmentally harmful activities if the related externalised costs will affect other sectors in which they have a stake.

Rather, the short-term perspectives of many fund managers and CEOs, with pay structures to match, are often the true enemy of corporate responsibility.



Sir: James Andrews' practical suggestion that fuel use be limited by draconian taxation (letter, 6 November) could be extended to the total abolition of vehicle tax.

For the purpose of recovering the same amount of revenue, a simple calculation based on the total amount received from vehicle tax under the present system divided by the total national annual sale of fuel would produce an appropriate figure to add in tax on a litre of fuel. This "pay as you drive" system would discourage the use of gas-guzzlers and unnecessary car use, favour fuel-efficient vehicles, car-sharing, cycling, walking and public transport where available, and virtually eliminate the administrative costs of the present vehicle licensing system.

Heavy lorries use a lot of fuel, but their annual tax is very high, so they might not necessarily be out of pocket in such an arrangement. The present vehicle licensing and insurance costs are quite unfair on the motorist who uses a car for only a few miles a week but nevertheless needs one because of the lack of public transport.



Sir: Michael O'Leary's claim that aviation accounts for just 2 per cent of EU carbon emissions ("Ryanair boss labels flight critics 'eco-nuts, idiots and headbangers' ", 7 November) masks the facts where UK carbon emissions are concerned. Aviation already accounts for 10-15 per cent of the UK's yearly contribution to climate change, and UK aviation emissions growth is currently 11 per cent a year. The UK cannot cut its contribution to climate change unless the growth in aviation emissions is halted.

In suggesting the shooting of the world's cow population as an alternative, Mr O'Leary is right to point out that the methane produced by excessive meat consumption is also a climate change issue. But he is wrong to imply that farmers' livelihoods the world over are more expendable than corporate profits.

Seventy per cent of Africa's people depend on farming to survive. It is already the case that the biggest impact of climate change will be felt in the global south by the world's poorest people. Is Mr O'Leary suggesting that the world's poorest people must sacrifice even more so that his profit margin is maintained? It doesn't take much "headbanging" to see the injustice in that.



Sir: May I congratulate our political establishment and the media on catching up with the Green Party at last in talking about the enormity of the challenge facing us as climate change gathers pace.

People are used to operating on a precautionary principle in their lives; they protect their homes from fire and theft on the chance that these things might happen. We should have adopted this approach towards our planet, at very little cost, for the past thirty years or more, after we had the earliest warnings of climate change.

Despite the probability implied in the scientific consensus that it is man-made climate change that is happening, many people want to back the slim chance it's all going to be OK, the boffins have got it wrong somehow and we can carry on as usual. Would they treat scientific opinion from their doctors, vets, engineers or pharmacists in such a cavalier fashion?

We must move away from fossil-fuelled energy sources. The mantra of fixing the environment once we've got economic growth must be reversed. Stern gives us a ten-year window to fly the planet through by the seat of its pants. Do we have the right hands on the controls though? I hope so, but fear not. These issues need far-sightedness beyond the horizon of the next election.



Sir: Rev Mike Haslam neglects an important consideration in his letter on the slave trade and climate change (2 November). William Wilberforce did not rely on moral example alone: opposition to slavery became the policy of the world's most powerful country, which used all the means at its disposal to implement this idea.

The European Union is the world's largest economic power, the world's largest aid donor, and the world's only international democracy. A Britain that engages fully in the EU can turn the fight against climate change from pious hope to effective reality.



The wrong plans for Stonehenge

Sir: "Troubled Stonehenge 'lacks magic' " you headline a story (3 November). Four hundred "conservation and tourism experts", we are told, working for the National Geographic magazine, give our grandest monument only 56 points out of a possible 100 in their survey of World Heritage Sites. Stonehenge is "in moderate trouble", they say, "over-loved" and "lacking magic", because of the numbers of people and the proximity of busy roads.

Responding, English Heritage tells you that its plans for a £67m "revamp" have been repeatedly delayed: they want "to persuade the Government to approve a new underground visitor centre and remove all traffic from the area".

In fact English Heritage's plans do not include letting people get among the stones, which is where the magic is felt; nor do they propose limiting numbers. They want to have "land trains" all over the grassland of the World Heritage Site; and, actually within the World Heritage Site itself, they propose deep cuttings for entrances to tunnels for a newly dualled A303, slicing the western part of the WHS in two.

These plans are deeply wrong, and objected to by most of the relevant, well-informed, bodies. What is being suggested instead is something far less aggressive: closing the A344 (the road immediately by the stones); improving the existing (neglected) visitors' centre; and, in line with thought about global warming, avoiding needless expenditure on new roads. This would give time to consider how to deal with the A303, which in any case is not an urgent matter.




Why party funding is a police matter

Sir: I read Steve Richards' column "Surely the police could make better use of their time than investigating party funding" (7 November). I read it three times, disbelievingly.

The chief political correspondent of The Independent believes that "whatever happens next, the whole investigation is way over the top". No mention that the alleged selling of peerages is illegal. No mention that a peerage gained by a cash donation to a political party means that the UK would have lawmakers who have bought the right to create new laws .

Mr Richards claims that "Mr Blair has always disliked raising money." So, that's all right then.

In the last paragraph Mr Richards answers the question that he neglected to ask - why is a thorough police inquiry necessary? Because its absence or abandonment would manifestly "reinforce prejudices about the corrupt tendencies of those we choose to elect".



Remember all who fought for freedom

Sir: On Remembrance Day, those who gave and still give their lives in war are rightly remembered. However, after nearly 90 years since the end of the First World War, this concept of remembering those who fight for freedom should be extended. What about the suffragettes who fought so that women could have the vote? What about those who fought and still fight so bravely to combat racism and homophobia?

This Remembrance Day I will remember all who have given their lives in service for the greater good, not just the brave young men who died and still die so tragically in war.



The Roman army's retreat from Iraq

Sir: Robert Fisk says that the Romans never retreated ("Echoes of the Roman Empire", 4 November). In the second century they did retreat from Iraq after a misconceived intervention which opened the way to a new Iranian power much more dangerous than any previous eastern neighbour.

Virgil had feared that the hot and cold nations would unite against the temperate empire of Rome. In addition to a serious enemy on their hot frontier in Asia the Romans had often faced hostile coalitions on their cold frontiers in Europe. In the fifth century they failed, despite much manoeuvring, to deal with two great armed forces in cold Europe, the Goths and the Huns. So their great empire fell.



Risky experiment

Sir: As an occasional listener to The Archers, I read your report (8 November) on the 15,000th night with interest. I was fascinated to learn though that taking a nude shower on radio was a "risqué" storyline. I will get dressed before taking my morning shower in future.



Loss of life

Sir: Does Blair not realise that it is the British people whose questions he is refusing to answer at his press conferences, and what a fraud and hypocrite he is. He very reluctantly said he did not approve of the death penalty even for Saddam, but has been happy to see over 600,000 Iraqis die as a result of backing Bush's blanket bombing of Iraq and the ensuing mess they have left the country in.



Privilege of wealth

Sir: It's good to see that Barclays Bank has understood the essentials of a post-Stern world so quickly in its advertising. Question: "Wealth. What's it to you?". Answer: "It's being able to tell the world to get lost."



Gay anthems revisited

Sir: James Whitelock (letter, 7 November) may not have enjoyed the recent "gay anthem" article but I certainly did. It reminded me of my first decade as an out lesbian. In fact, so inspiring did I find it, I immediately reorganised the cupboards (or should that be closets?), dug out the vinyl and the turntable, and on Saturday afternoon we had a vinyl fest.



Muslim police

Sir: Your report "Muslim officer sacked from guarding Blair" (7 November) states that PC Alexander Omar Basha was "prohibited from guarding the Israeli embassy" in London. PC Basha in fact asked to be relieved of this duty.



Offensive images

Sir: Mr Brownsword complains that you published a picture of a beautiful, dignified cow, on the grounds that we all know what they look like (letter, 8 November). I think we all know what a dopey-looking woman wearing very few clothes looks like (about six of them in the paper just today) so why doesn't he complain about that? At least the cow is inoffensive.