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Friday 9 May 2008
Letters: Voting for the BNP
If the 'white working class' vote BNP, it is because they are ignored
Sir: With regard to Bob Askew's comments (Letters, 7 May) on "white working class" support for the British National Party (BNP), there can be little doubt that the main impact of immigration over the last 40 years has been felt by the "white working class", who have been inundated by alien cultures and surrounded by foreign languages. They, more than most, have endured cultural dilution, communal breakdown, overcrowding in schools and hospitals, suppressed wage levels and (often unfair) competition for housing.
Since they were never asked if they wanted these irrevocable changes to their homeland – there has been no "national discourse" on immigration, whatever Mr Askew might like to think – the wonder is not that so many, but that so few, of the "white working class" have voted BNP. Ignored for a generation, their legitimate concerns largely dismissed by people who should have known better, always at the back of the queue and accused of intolerance if they complained, it would be unsurprising if the "white working class" voted in droves for any party which they felt would give them their own voice. They have not yet done so, but who could blame them if they did?
Mr Askew could help by not presuming to tell people what is good for them. Otherwise, he might, with some justice, find himself told where to go, along with the politicians he refers to in his letter.
E G Jones
The best cyclone defence: mangroves
Sir: The disaster of Cyclone Nargis in Burma's Irrawaddy delta, which may have cost 100,000 lives, has its origin in the clearance of thousands of square kilometres of fresh-water swamp, forest and mangroves in favour of rice plantations, which was encouraged by the British colonial administration and continued after independence. Remaining mangroves in the area are sparse and quite unable to resist the winds and storm surges of a severe cyclone.
Compare the impact of last November's Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh. This was stronger than Nargis, with a storm-surge at least twice as deep, yet it killed far fewer (some 4,000 people) and did far less damage. Sidr made its landfall in the Sundarbans, a 6,000 sq km area of mangrove that has been preserved for over a century. This protection was first put in place under the British administration, but it has been maintained by the Bangladesh Forest Department.
These mangroves sustain millions of fisherfolk (as well as the world's largest tiger population), and in the case of Cyclone Sidr they absorbed enough of the storm's energy to make it relatively harmless.
As global warming provokes ever more violent storms, the time has come to help Burma reverse the destruction of its mangroves. These forests can be replanted, and once re-established can maintain astonishing levels of fish and prawn production, while providing security for people who live and farm further inland.
This kind of ecological reconstruction is going to be needed all over the place, as we humans try to restore the world to a condition in which it can sustain us permanently. Given Britain's role in deciding the different fates of these Asian mangrove forests, we should be taking an urgent lead in putting these particular pieces back together again.
Dr Julian Caldecott
Sir: When natural disaster strikes, governments are mostly overwhelmed. This was true even in the United States with Katrina and it is true today in Myanmar. Lots of assistance was given to New Orleans by foreign nations and aid organisations. Yet in Myanmar, as so many times before, we experience a totalitarian regime which dithers on receiving aid for its own perverse reasons. Well-meaning people around the globe are aghast, but almost all seem to think that it is the sovereign right of Myanmar to refuse aid.
The law of human rights speaks clearly to this. Leaders must know that if they cannot take care of their populations then there is no moral or legal choice but to let others assist.
The International Bill of Rights, that is, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, mandates that governments ensure that the human beings entrusted to them will have adequate food, shelter and medical care, and that governments do so by deploying all means at their disposal. When national means are inadequate, but adequate means are available internationally, it follows that the government of a stricken nation is legally obliged to allow international aid. If it does not, it is in breach of its human rights obligations.
At this time, neglecting to provide for a stricken population by refusing foreign aid is perhaps not an international crime, yet for the international community to realise that law speaks with a clear voice in defence of the defenceless in these cases is the first step towards internationally criminalising such avoidable misery.
Legal Adviser, The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation, Vienna
Drugs policy driven by cheap headlines
Sir: Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown's decision to upgrade the classification of cannabis highlights not only the bankruptcy but the sheer dishonesty of New Labour's whole political approach. The issue of a drugs policy is too important and affects too many lives for it to be guided by Brown's search for favourable headlines in the tabloid press.
All the evidence is that increasing penalties for possessing a drug increases its attractions, whereas the decision to reclassify cannabis as a Class C drug actually resulted in fewer people using it.
Even if there was clear evidence, which there is not, that there is a causal link between schizophrenia and cannabis use, that would still not be an argument for increasing the penalties for possession of cannabis. Since the taking of one's own life has not been a crime for 45 years, why should the smoking of a drug?
One of the key arguments in favour of legalising homosexuality was that people should be entitled to do what they wish within the privacy of their own homes, as long as they don't harm others. What we are seeing is yet another example of the sanctimonious hypocrisy which led to the legal persecution of gay people.
Perhaps Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown could let us know just exactly what successes have been achieved by making heroin and cocaine possession illegal? It would appear that drugs policy is now being made solely for the sake of cheap headlines. Is it any wonder that this government no longer commands any respect?
Sir: I have a huge amount of sympathy for the letter writers (8 May) whose son has mental health problems which appear to be caused or exacerbated by the use of cannabis.
However, in the letter, one could easily replace "cannabis" with "alcohol" and the letter would still make sense. I suspect most of us know people who have destructive relationships with alcohol. Misuse of alcohol has a far heavier impact on UK society than misuse of cannabis. So, why the different legal position of the two drugs?
Sir: The Home Secretary wants to send a message about cannabis. Now just what would this be?
We can see that prohibition hasn't stopped the use of drugs that we've chosen to make illegal, but we're going to continue with this policy anyway. We can see that prohibition is wrecking developing countries, poorer communities in the UK and the lives of drug users who are dependent on illegal suppliers, but we don't care. It's the votes of the uninformed majority that matter more than the Government leading a mature and rational debate about drug use and drug prohibition.
This is utter madness.
Sir: To seek solutions to an important but complex problem, a government appoints experts to examine the evidence and make recommendations. It then ignores their advice in favour of populist grandstanding. The sands really are shifting; which is the Stupid Party now?
Don't dismiss a man who does good
Sir: I read your article on Jimmy Savile (6 May) with increasing incredulity and dismay. I have never met the man. He may be a weird man. He may have odd friends. He has even run several marathons. He has kept a low profile for the last 20-odd years, so can hardly be called "very famous". I bet that few under the age of 30 know who he is.
What I do know is that he has raised many, many millions of pounds for the building of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital near where I live, and from which a friend received great benefit. To describe this as "commendable work for a good cause" really is damning with faint praise.
He may be friendly with the Thatchers and the royals – about which I couldn't care less – but he has done more good (and, as far as I am aware, no harm) in his life than you with your weasel words will ever approach.
English football in a global market
Sir: Sam Wallace makes some valuable points in his feature about the state of English football (The Big Question, 2 May), yet it is worth noting that English domination of the Champions League is no different from what we have seen before. From 1988 through to 1998, an Italian side appeared in every European Cup or Champions League final, bar one.
Yet the significance of what is happening now is made more telling when you compare the English teams of today with those of English European Cup winners in the 1970s. Their players were often natives, revenue from TV contracts was small, and owners were more likely to be local small business owners than global billionaires. We now have a completely different sporting model in place, one that implicitly encourages inward overseas investment, the free movement of players within and between continents, and the proliferation of television rights and their associated values.
Through a mixture of history, judgment and luck, the Premiership finds itself enjoying a strategic advantage in this respect. Indeed, in some markets across the world, such as China, one could argue that our teams have enjoyed a first-mover, and extremely lucrative, advantage. However, just as in other industries throughout history, where companies have seen their first-mover strategic advantages eroded, the chronicle of English football's decline can already be foretold.
This leaves three much more important issues: how long will the English boom-time last, what will be the collateral impact of our clubs' current domination of European football and are we ultimately going to be happy with the consequences of this?
Professor of Sport Business Strategy and Marketing, Coventry University
Sian and Ken: the rainbow fades
Sir: Sian Berry could have at least doubled her 3.15 per cent of the vote as Green candidate for London mayor (Letters, 7 May) if she had not made a Faustian pact with Ken Livingstone.
By telling her supporters to vote "Sian 1, Ken 2", she confined herself to a left-wing ghetto, a green stripe in a fast-fading "rainbow coalition". Sian would have been better to appeal to voters of conservative and liberal disposition as much as to disillusioned left-wing voters. Many conservatives and liberals are active environmentalists and are profoundly worried by the consequences of unbridled economic expansionism.
Unfortunately, the Green leadership place their nostalgic commitment to the left before ecological principles.
Through the loophole
Sir: Robert Verkaik is wrong; Andrew Flintoff's reputation is not unblemished ("Don't blame Mr Loophole", 8 May). If he drove at 87mph on a road with a 50mph speed limit, then that was irresponsible and illegal, whether or not he was found guilty in a court of law.
Reduce your footprint
Sir: Calculating your home's carbon footprint (Donnachadh McCarthy, The Home Ecologist, 7 May) may only require primary school maths but if you've got a PC you may find it easier to go to www.direct.gov.uk/actonco2. This government calculator will enable you to measure your individual carbon footprint and provide ideas on how to reduce it. With 40 per cent of UK CO2 emissions down to individuals, we can all make our contribution to avoiding dangerous climate change.
Minister for Climate Change, Deparment for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London SW1
Sir: It's good to see our government taking responsibility for its actions. Presumably the requirement for 2.5 per cent biofuel is intended to offset the extra carbon we generate taking our own rubbish to the local tip, now that the councils are having every other week off. So what if it causes food prices to rise? We'll eat less, weigh less, and be less of a drain on the NHS. Them politicians are cleverer than they look.
Bowness on Windermere, Cumbria
Peace, love, Thatcher
Sir: Steve Travis (letter, 6 May) accuses the "hippie generation" of saddling us with right-wing governments in the UK, France, and the US for most of the following three decades. Can he provide evidence that the majority of those who voted for Thatcher in Britain in 1979 or for Reagan in the US in 1980 belonged to the generation who had been of the ages 16-29 in 1967? As for France, 1981 was the year the Socialists came to power for the first time since General de Gaulle inaugurated the Fifth Republic in 1959.
Whitby, North Yorkshire
Sir: I'm not shocked that a Virgin Media call centre worker addressed a caller by his first name (Letters, 6 and 7 May). Last week I had an email from Virgin Mobile about changes to my phone tariff. It was headed "Hey You!"
St Albans, Hertfordshire
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