Letters: Youngsters learn to take a dive

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You report on stories of cheating on the school playing fields (26 April). A football school for youngsters is run near our home every holiday; as well as skills tuition there are games for the various age groups to practise what they have learned.

During one such game two weeks ago, involving five- to six-year-olds, a lad was running with the ball, which was taken away from him with no contact whatever. The youngster went down in a heap and clutched his leg, moaning in agony. The coach/referee, aware of what had happened, ignored him. A second or two later the ball rolled towards the "injured" player, who leapt to his feet and chased it, but, failing to get within a yard of it, promptly collapsed in another display of agonised injury.

It is good to see that the televising of football is helping to educate our future stars.

Mike Wood, Thornton, Lancashire

It's a game for everyone

As Alex James (21 April) watched his football match from his box, I fear he was missing the point about football. I regularly attend games and have sat next to the twisted, snarling faces on many occasions.

Football, like no other sport, belongs to everyone, from factory workers to accountants. It binds the most diverse people together and gives everyone a chance to offer opinions. It can bind a family, forge friendships and create a sense of loyalty, perseverance and community in a way that the elitist sports of rugby and cricket can never manage.

With football, you have to take the rough with the smooth. It is everyone's game and you will have to accept the limitations of that, whether it be bad language, temper tantrums or supporters soiling themselves, which disgusted Alex so much.

Paul Severn, Milton Keynes

'Bigoted' and proud of it

At last we see them for what they are. Mr Brown turned to one of his aides and called a woman a bigot because she had concerns with immigration. I too have the same concerns; we are now approaching 70 million in this country, and there seems to be no end to the magnanimous way our politicians encourage foreigners to come here.

This is what we get for speaking our minds; insults from those of a politically correct persuasion. Now we see from where it all stems, from the highest in the land, the Prime Minister. Where he leads others follow. If he wishes to call me a bigot because I say that there are too many immigrants coming into this country, then yes I am a bigot and proud of it.

This is New Labour's utopian ideology: bring in as many immigrants as possible and pour scorn on all those who oppose it.

J H Moffatt, Bredbury, Greater manchester

Much will be made of Gordon Brown's remark that Gillian Duffy was a "bigoted woman". Brown has got down on his knees to beg her forgiveness and Lord Mandelson has stepped in to say he knows Brown "is mortified by the hurt caused to her".

I wonder how many will consider the "hurt"' caused to immigrants, asylum-seekers or refugees who have been vilified almost daily by unscrupulous journalists and opportunist politicians.

They have scapegoated these groups to such an extent that immigration, a marginal issue in the 1997 election, is now one of the main concerns with voters such as Ms Duffy, with many convinced that immigration is at the root of all their problems.

Actually, I think Brown got it right. Gillian Duffy is a bigoted woman. But who fed her prejudices and let them flourish?

Sasha Simic, London N16

One awaits with dread the canonisation in other papers of the blessed Gillian Duffy of Rochdale, whose reasoned remarks about immigration from eastern Europe brought about the Prime Minister's catastrophic misspeaking. Perhaps you could afford me a little space to cheer his accurate assessment of her views and assure him that he's now got my vote.

Richard Jeffcoat, Birmingham

The bigger mistake Gordon Brown made was to apologise.

Eddie Dougall, Walsham le Willows, Suffolk

'Savings' may prove elusive

Ahead of the party leaders' debate focusing on the economy, I must say I am not impressed with any of the political parties.

Labour say they have to increase National Insurance to fund £6bn in cuts. This represents less than 1 per cent of total spending. Can't such a small amount of cuts be found somewhere? Nor am I impressed with the Tories' "efficiency" savings, which aren't clearly defined. I disagree with their marriage tax-break on principle.

Both these parties have ring-fenced NHS spending. Why? Much of NHS spending is on highly paid managers and excessive admin posts. There should also be a debate about self-inflicted health problems such as obesity and lung cancer and whether people should make a contribution themselves.

The Liberal Democrats don't seem to have the answers either. It seems bizarre to want to cut the deficit while at the same time have a £17bn across-the-board tax break. Their "tax avoidance" plans seem as illusionary as the Tories' "efficiency" savings.

I hope this debate will be illuminating.

John Boylan, Hatfield, Hertfordshire

What killed Blair Peach?

So, finally we get the truth on what happened to Blair Peach. Not that we didn't know all along. It's just taken three decades to drag it into the daylight. You have to wonder why it has taken so long. Why is it that politicians are so scared of upsetting anyone in a police uniform?

Are we really so insecure in our democracy that when the forces of law and order get out of hand, as they have done regularly since the Tolpuddle Martyrs and beyond, much is said, but nothing is done?

As a photography student back in 1977, I witnessed the Special Patrol Group in action at Grunwick, and even managed to get a few photos off before being collared and threatened with arrest if I took any more. Meanwhile, the SPG were going about their business like pit-bulls off the leash, wreaking the kind of bloody havoc – including a vicious instance of "kettling" – that was shocking to witness at first hand.

Predictably, the front pages next morning all carried a shot of a policeman on the ground after being hit by a bottle thrown by some idiot in the crowd. But about the police's own actions, virtually nothing was said.

Thirty-three years on, with police behaviour at demonstrations once again under a worryingly feeble spotlight, it's clear that nothing, really, has changed.

Will the new government finally make good the right to demonstrate freely (and non-violently), without risk to life and limb, by outlawing "kettling" and the newly fashionable police tactic of removing identity tags? I would like to think so. But I'm not holding my breath.

Rob Prince, London SE13

Diane Abbott (Opinion, 28 April) is right that the police have always had a tender regard for the civil liberties of the racist right, not matched by their attitudes towards egalitarian demonstrators.

Back in the 1930s the Cable Street fighting was mostly with the police, who were trying to batter a way through for Mosley's fascists.

Another continuity is that the culture of dumb insolence, denial and entitlement exemplified by the statements in the Cass report into Blair Peach's death retains a solid hold in today's police. The feeble efforts of the hilariously named Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service have resulted in no prosecutions for police- inflicted deaths since 1998 except for a couple of fatal car crashes and the procedure beyond parody of the Health and Safety action about the death of Jean Charles de Menezes.

The powers that be, the legal establishment and the inbred, toothless watchdogs all fail to assert effective accountability over the police. It is left to the bereaved to mount campaigns.

Nik Wood, London E9

Catholic Church and its critics

Some of your correspondents have been using the insulting Foreign Office memo aimed at the Pope as an excuse to further their hate campaign against the Catholic Church. It is very important that the following facts are made clear.

Far from being exceptionally numerous abusers, Catholic clerics in fact have a lower rate of involvement in child abuse than the general population. This is a well-attested fact, yet it is stated in virtually no media reports on this issue, or by the Church's constant detractors.

All organisations, including other faith bodies, secular schools and institutions, until very recently adopted similar policies to those for which the Catholic Church is currently being vilified with respect to the handling of child abuse allegations. Allegations were handled internally and confidentially. Very few allegations were reported to the police – and if they were, they were rarely acted upon.

This has been shown in scandals that have occurred in other faiths, and in government reports such as that into the US public school system, where known abusive teachers were habitually passed on to new school posts.

It would seem that some persons are more interested in attacking the Catholic Church than protecting abused children.

A Richardson, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

As a practising Catholic, I am not outraged by this stupid incident. Rather as a citizen I am appalled that such puerile behaviour is rampant in the Foreign Office.

We Catholics should reflect whether we need our leaders to be treated as princes and rulers or whether we should prize in them humility and absence of ostentation. We must differentiate between absolute duties such as eradicating pederasty from our ranks, and traditions such as a male celibate clergy.

Brian Macnamara, Kenilworth, Warwickshire

Things have come to a pretty pass when the Emperor can't plan a visit to this country without badly behaved little boys drawing attention to his nakedness. Still, it could have been worse. They could have mentioned the war.

Godfrey Marriott, Ware, Hertfordshire

No majority for the liberal left

In Johann Hari's piece "The forces blocking British democracy" (23 April), he claims that "Britain is a country with a large liberal-left majority", citing opinion polls on issues such as the minimum wage, wealth redistribution, Afghanistan and Trident. This is over-simplistic at best, and disingenuous at worst.

The British people's political views aren't as easily pigeon-holed as Johann Hari would like to believe. On a range of issues such as immigration, Europe, capital punishment, multi-culturalism, equal rights for homosexuals, welfare, funding for overseas development and the environment, the prevailing public view is considerably to the right of those expressed by the mainstream political parties.

Will Mr Hari also be campaigning for "the silenced majority" to be heard on these issues? Or should majority rule apply only if it backs his own liberal world view?

Simon Prodger, Horsham, West Sussex

Johann Hari makes the common claim that a "split left" allowed the Tories to govern for much of the 20th century, and that proportional representation would automatically mean that the so-called "liberal-left" would have formed coalition governments. But this is simplistic.

For most of that time, voters of the centre party seem to have slightly preferred the Conservatives over Labour as party of second choice. At times, the difference in ideology between Labour and the centre party has been massive.

In particular, it is not immediately clear how Labour and the SDP/Liberal Alliance could have formed a workable coalition in the 1980s, given Labour positions such as withdrawal from the European Community and opposition to practically all private enterprise.

Liberalism and socialism are separate, independent political traditions. Proportional representation is a good thing because it would ensure that all political traditions are properly represented. But it cannot be assumed that any particular pair of political traditions would naturally form an alliance, and such a situation would be undesirable if it led to political hegemony.

Alex Macfie, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

Feeble backing for human rights

Your correspondent praises Hillary Clinton's use of "smart power" in place of "military might"' and says the "struggle for human rights"' is a 'Hillary issue' (The Monday Essay, 26 April).

Very few in Latin America would recognise this depiction of US policy. Since Obama has come to power, the US has signed a deal to use seven military bases in Colombia, the country with the worst human rights record in the hemisphere. Almost all South American governments have expressed concern at the growing US militarisation of the region.

The Obama administration also failed to take strong action against the military coup in Honduras last year. Now the opposition in Honduras is suffering kidnappings, arbitrary detentions, torture and sexual violations, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Of particular concern is the murder of journalists; seven have been killed this year and Honduras is now one of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism. Sadly, Obama and Hillary Clinton do not appear to be pursuing the "struggle for human rights" in their own backyard.

Grace Livingstone, London N6

Not in front of the teenagers

I'd go even further than Greg Darby's comments on John Walsh actually caring what teenagers think (letter, 21 April). The whole point of being a parent is to be as uncool as possible and to embarrass your teenage children as often and as publicly as you can.

I found one of the best ways to do this was to say – very loudly – the word "jolly" at every possible opportunity in any sentence uttered in front of their friends. There's something about saying "Jolly good" or "How jolly" that makes teenagers cringe. It's extremely gratifying and one of few joys of being a parent to teenage offspring.

Jane Moyo, London N15

Diagnosis by computer

I have been writing computer programs for the high-speed digital computer since I was introduced to it at the Victoria University of Manchester in 1959. In 1964, after I was the victim of a few misdiagnoses by GPs (more annoying and time-wasting than life-threatening) I came to the conclusion that the role of the GP could be improved, if not considerably reduced, if some of the best computer programmers and medical doctors got together and produced a computer program which could diagnose most illnesses in a few seconds.

Thus, I was interested in Jeremy Laurance's article, "Computers beat doctors at diagnosing child illnesses" (21 April). If computers are used in this way, it may be the "saving" of the NHS, together with similar institutions in the first world, from the financial viewpoint, and may also revolutionise medical treatment in the second and third worlds.

The cost of training the operator of the computer and computer program may not be as high or as long as that required to train a medical doctor, the latter probably well over £20,000 a year. But the patient will have access to the best medical brains in the world at the push of a button.

Professor Carl T F Ross, Department of Mechanical and Design Engineering, University of Portsmouth

Too much truth

Why don't politicians treat voters like adults, and tell them the truth about the coming austerity (Andrew Grice, 28 April)? Because the majority will not respond to hard truths like adults; that is, being willing to accept responsibility for foolish past actions and the necessary harsh correctives in the future. Politicians peddle illusions or half-truths because that is what most voters respond to. Our affluent society does not foster truth-telling but wishful thinking – an indulgence we can no longer afford.

Jackie Hawkins, Bedford

Patriotic song

Cecil (actually Sir Cecil) Spring Rice, who wrote the words of the hymn "I Vow to Thee My Country" (letter, 27 April), was not an American, though he was British ambassador in Washington during the First World War. He was born in England, but he was Irish, his family having its seat at Mount Trenchard, Co Limerick.

C J Woods , Celbridge, Co Kildare, Ireland

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