Letters: Working-class MPs

No voice for the working class in British political life
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Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 19 January) has hit the nail on the head when he argues that all politicians belong to an elite. That elite is a middle-class elite. The parliamentary system and political debate on television and newspapers is controlled and represented by the middle class and occasionally the upper class.

For a working-class person to become an MP he/she must convert to middle-class behaviour. Working-class people who join the political/media club and do not conform are mocked, as happened to Lord Sugar after his maiden speech in the House of Lords and to Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary, at the hands of Ian Hislop in a recent Have I Got News For You.

On BBC's Question Time of 14 January, Ken Clarke said that class was no longer an issue in Britain. Yet all four male members of the QT panel, plus the chairman, attended public schools. It is difficult to see how they and the programme truly represent and speak for all classes in a country where only 7 per cent of schoolchildren go to independent schools.

Since the disappearance of trade-union leaders from the public eye and with no obvious replacement, the working class has been left with no political voice. The media needs to make a special effort to enable working-class views to be represented. An exception is local radio, where BBC stations make an effort to give the people a voice.

Nor can the mainstream parties ignore 30 per cent of the workforce or they run the risk that these voters will withdraw from the voting system altogether or join extremist parties like the BNP.

Terry Pugh

Baildon, West Yorkshire

The disease of cheap alcohol

Minimum pricing of alcohol has so many benefits that a political innocent like myself is agog that both main parties have dismissed it so lightly (The Big Question, 20 January).

Excessive drinking is, like obesity, a disease of plenty; the best corrective is to make alcohol more expensive. A bottle of cheap vodka costs about £8 and contains 30 units of alcohol; at 50p a unit it would cost at least £15, and even the most hardened drinker would think twice about glugging a bottle a day. It would also, crucially, be beyond the reach of most teenagers.

As for the argument that minimum pricing would "penalise" moderate and "responsible" drinkers, it's the rising consumption among these very people, not the binge drinkers, that is causing most alarm. Bingers are always with us; it's when moderate drinkers are routinely putting away 30-40 units a week that the wards start filling up.

Minimum pricing would also reduce the imbalance between on and off trades. Even at ridiculous promotional prices, alcohol in pubs and clubs costs far more than in supermarkets.

The alternative that the Government proposes – the mandatory code of practice – is cumbersome, intrusive, and difficult to police. Minimum pricing, by contrast, is cost-free and virtually self-enforcing. The code of practice also hits the on-trade harder than the off-trade, which is the actual villain here.

One pernicious myth that you ought not to continue to foster is that the "drinks industry" is implacably opposed to minimum pricing. Drinks producers make derisory margins in the off-trade and would (though they dare not say it openly) rejoice in a policy that meant they no longer had to foot the bill for promotional pricing. The lobby that seems to have won the battle (as it always does) is the British Retail Consortium.

Ted Bruning

Sandy, Bedfordshire

Forget about increasing the price of alcohol to reduce consumption. Tax alcohol to the hilt as a method of starting to refill the Government's coffers. While at it, extend VAT to all foodstuffs except wholemeal bread, unprocessed fruit and raw vegetables. Miserabilism is the new happiness.

David Burton

Wellington, Shropshire

Terror and human rights in Yemen

The international concern over whether Yemen is becoming a "safe haven" for terrorists is understandable, but we must be wary of the signal being sent to the Yemeni government (report, 12 January). There is a real danger that the Yemeni authorities will simply use this heightened concern as a pretext for cracking down on those they term "dissidents".

In recent years Yemen has jailed hundreds of people after unfair trials, its security forces have reportedly tortured countless detainees, and journalists attempting to cover events in the country, including ongoing crackdowns, have themselves wound up in jail on trumped-up charges.

The challenge then, is not just to prevent the mountainous badlands of Yemen from becoming al-Qa'ida's latest launch-pad, but to do so without plunging this troubled country into a new wave of repression and human-rights abuse.

Kate Allen

Director, Amnesty International UK, London EC2

Having exercised responsibilities for the Abyan region from 1961 to 1967 under the colonial regime, I was intrigued to read Donald Macintyre's account of his visit to Zingibar in Yemen.

My successor, the current governor of the Province, made his point courageously – by bombing an alleged terrorist centre in December and killing 45 innocent civilians the government and its American advisers will have recruited far more new supporters of al-Qa'ida than it succeeded in killing.

The British colonial regime exercised effective control over huge swathes of what is now Yemen by means of a handful of dedicated Political Officers, who lived and worked within the Arab communities and shared their hardships, commanding tribal military units and working with the tribal leaders. Aerial proscription was deployed in the most remote areas and with absolute minimum casualties. Tribes who harboured "dissidents" were punished by the destruction of property after warnings were dropped from the air; this almost invariably had the effect of securing the expulsion of the troublemakers. Our intelligence was excellent.

Far from being the badlands of Yemen, the Abyan region was the most developed and peaceful of any area of the territory up to the eve of British withdrawal in 1967. The Fadhli Sultan, father of Sheikh Tarek, was the most effective of the tribal leaders under British protection, and Tarek follows in his footsteps. He has never been associated with al-Qa'ida and has struggled to improve the lot of his impoverished people, neglected by central government and more so by the West.

The British government has an honourable record of trying to help Yemen develop, providing desperately needed finance and technical advice. Military aid, as offered by Washington, is the last thing Yemen needs; the country is sinking under the weight of armaments. Let us pray that the forthcoming conference in London achieves a saner approach to Yemen's problems, and that the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan have been learned.

Stephen Day

Leatherhead, Surrey

The writer was Senior Political Officer, Western Aden Protectorate 1961 to 1967

Illegal file-sharing destroys UK jobs

Nicholas Jones (Opinion, 21 January) blatantly disregards the very serious threat that illegal file-sharing (or more rightly, digital theft) is posing to our creative industries.

Mr Jones is absolutely right in admitting that it is unprecedented for rights holders and trade unions to come together under one banner (through the Creative Coalition Campaign), and that this is a sign of how alarmed we are by "online piracy". If action is not taken, job losses will be felt across the country, for recording artists, technicians, manufacturers, musicians, writers and photographers, among many others.

He refers to our claims that illegal file-sharing is putting jobs at risk as "pure conjecture". But a report published by Europe Economics in 2008 found that up to 800,000 people work in the UK TV, film, music and software sectors alone, and with piracy depriving their businesses of up to 20 per cent of their revenues every year, many of these jobs will be at serious risk without action.

Christine Payne

Chair, the Creative Coalition Campaign, General Secretary of Equity, London WC2

How best to help Haitian children

Sarah Cassidy's "Haiti Q&A: the ethics of disaster adoption" (20 January) rightfully highlights the dangers of rushed-through international adoptions.

Experience has shown that international responses to almost every single major catastrophe in poor countries in recent years have resulted in child abuse, exploitation and the unnecessary separation of children from families. As an international charity focused on children without parental care, EveryChild would also urge caution in investing in large-scale residential institutions to house children left vulnerable by the disaster.

As Haitians begin to rebuild their lives and homes, every effort must be made to protect and provide for children who have lost their parents. Emphasis must be placed on tracing and supporting extended family members to care for these defenceless and traumatised children. The unprecedented scale of the disaster must not be allowed to leave Haitian children vulnerable to child traffickers, or promote a massive proliferation of unregulated children's homes that divert funding away from families and communities.

Anna Feuchtwang

Chief Executive of EveryChild

London EC2

Sierra Hutton-Wilson asks how the media reach the quake zone first (letter, 19 January). It's simple. The media only have to get themselves there. The relief agencies were trying to get in food, water, medical supplies and mobile hospitals, with no port, through a small airfield, along non-existent roads, and with no civil administration to liaise with.

David Foster

Ipswich, Suffolk

Lift the ban on gay blood donors

Nick Clegg is right to challenge the ban on gay men donating blood (report, 13 January).

The National Blood Transfusion service is running a recruiting campaign, because many current donors are affected by colds and flu. Yet it excludes a proportion of society by refusing to accept blood from gay men. It is happy to accept blood from men who have had or are having sex with multiple female partners but not from any man who has been in a monogamous same-sex relationship for many years. The NBT should look again at its donation criteria; it might then not be facing shortages.

This particular gay man, in a partnership of 14 years, would like to donate, but is prevented from doing so by a judgmental and outdated policy.

Richard Quinlan

London SW2


Any answers?

I propose changing the title "Prime Minister's Question Time" to "Prime Minister's Answer Time", in the hope (probably vain) that we might get some replies in place of the childish point-scoring attempts to which we have sadly become so accustomed.

Peter Wilkinson


Land Registry cuts

Could I point out to Diana O'Bryen (letters, 19 January), with regard to the Land Registry Office questionnaire she was asked to fill in, that I understand it is proposed to close Croydon, Stevenage, Peterborough, Portsmouth and Tunbridge Wells Registry Offices, thus obliging members of the public in those areas to seek information in central London. All the staff in these offices will be redundant. Hence, possibly, the questionnaire which might be used to provide information to support non-closure of some of the offices.

Hilary Mobbs


Tories unmasked

Formation of a Conservative government would require at least 132 new Tory MPs. Those new MPs, constituting a minimum of 40 per cent of the resulting Parliamentary Conservative Party, would be drawn from the group which placed global warming 19th of 19 priorities (report, 19 January). Anyone who still thinks husky-hugging David Cameron is anything more than a smarmy salesman for a party increasingly dominated by right-wingers is simply refusing to face the facts.

Alex Black


All votes count

Steve Mainwaring (letters, 20 January) will vote Green for the environment and I'll do the same for animal welfare. He says it'll have no effect. I suppose he expects the usual voters' lurch to Labour or Tory. But our vote does have effect. The vote is not wasted. It encourages the Greens and it attacks the complacency of the mainstream three. If only the British voter were more adventurous and chose a party he/she really agreed with.

Mike Maas


Ending poverty

I applaud Gordon Brown's continuing campaign to abolish poverty in the world (Opinion, 15 January). What would reduce poverty most is population control. Why does he never use these two important words?

H D Shah

Harrow, Middlesex