Liverpool, complementary medicine, Darfur and others

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Despite both critics and friends, Liverpool is actually happy

Despite both critics and friends, Liverpool is actually happy

Sir: A difficulty we face in Liverpool is that people who have no direct knowledge of the city or its people feel that they can insult us, and then others equally ignorant seek to support us.

Boris Johnson's Spectator leading article starts with a false premise, that we feel victimised. Twenty years or so ago times were hard in Liverpool, but I don't know anyone who feels we had it tougher than most other cities. Many of us moved to other parts of the country, or of the world. It is heartening to see so many returning to enjoy Liverpool's success.

Bruce Anderson (Opinion, 18 October) states that the decline of the shipyards, the docks, and the car industry was caused by militant trade unions. Liverpool has not had a shipyard in over a hundred years. Birkenhead did have, but if you think that is part of Liverpool you are rather confirming my point. The Port of Liverpool handles more freight than at any time in its history. There is only one car manufacturer in Liverpool, Jaguar, which has just announced a £115m investment in its Halewood plant, and indeed holds up this factory as one of the top Ford establishments.

Anyone who knows Liverpudlians also knows we are happy and have much to be happy about.

Hoylake, Merseyside

Sir: I visited Liverpool shortly after the death of Ken Bigley. What struck me was that the local media coverage showed him as a family man, a son, a brother rather than just the haunted figure chained in a cage. The coverage humanised him in a way little of the national coverage attempted to. There was also a feeling that the man was "one of their own" - this can only happen somewhere with a strong sense of its own identity.

As to the criticisms of the people of Liverpool by The Spectator and some previous correspondents in your letters page, I abhor them. It is the people of Liverpool's misfortune that its strong identity and sense of community enable others easily to ascribe characteristics to them both negative and positive - a form of discrimination that should be called "accentism". For people without any true sense of regional identity and pride - the majority of the South-east and Middle England - Liverpool becomes an easy target.

Haywards Heath, West Sussex

'Cures' based on faith, not science

Sir: Peter Hain's endorsement of complementary medicine (Opinion, 19 October) is important. He is in the Cabinet. But his arguments are contradictory, and wrong.

He supports homeopathy, and "looking not just at symptoms but at causes" - but the essence of homeopathy is looking at symptoms. He says antibiotics "may affect our natural immune systems" - but the one that does this, chloramphenicol, is hardly ever used in the UK. He asserts that "a diseased appendix needs to be removed ... but recovery is likely to be aided by complementary care" - but doesn't explain why it only comes into play after danger has passed.

The reason is that complementary medicine has never cured a gangrenous appendix. It only "works" for non-lethal conditions that come and go naturally, the sort that wise doctors have always managed by "masterly inactivity". It is based on faith, not science. The taxpayer should not fund it.

Department of Medical Microbiology
University of Aberdeen

Sir: The fact that the Secretary of State for Wales has to advocate complementary medicine, rather than a practitioner, says it all. If there is one rule that applies in medicine it is that the more treatments there are for any particular condition, the less effective any of those treatments is.

As Peter Hain states, if you've got appendicitis there is only one treatment - have it out, and quickly.

If you've got backache you can take your pick between your GP, an orthopaedic surgeon, a physiotherapist, an osteopath, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, a reflexologist and probably a range of herbalists (usually at considerable financial cost, which he doesn't mention) ... or you can do nothing. Backache is generally a self-limiting disease and doing nothing apart from some gentle exercise to maintain mobility is probably as effective as any of the above treatments.

We live in an age when we want instant gratification and instant cure. So when conventional medicine doesn't work we grope around for alternatives.

But the backbone of conventional medicine is the double-blind controlled trial. Until complementary medicines and treatments are subjected to properly conducted trials and the importance of the placebo effect is recognised and separated out, let's appreciate them for what they are, expensive props (whether to the individual or the taxpayer to the Welsh Assembly) whose efficacy is unknown and about which the theories of how they work are boundless but certainly not scientific.

Marlborough, Wiltshire

From Iraq to Darfur

Sir: What's this I read about moves to encourage the UK and UN to put pressure on the Sudanese government over the treatment of the people in Darfur? Start with sanctions and then ramp up the pressure with UN inspectors, perhaps. Do readers hear the echo of Iraq before the war?

In Iraq, fulfilling our obligations as a member of the UN Security Council in respect of ensuring nations comply with UN resolutions has brought a rain of condemnation down on our government. UK involvement was a correct moral and legal choice based simply on the failure of Iraq to comply with Security Council resolutions following the threat of military force.

In the current climate, opponents of the Iraq war must accept that they sow the seeds from which governments like Sudan's will reap a bitter harvest of exploitation, ethnic cleansing and genocide of their minorities. Without the UN we have no international mechanism to act against such injustice and without Blair's support of the US decision to invade Iraq, the Security Council wouldn't be worth a candle.

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Sir: I think it would be justified to keep news of kidnappings in Iraq out of the media because it makes tactical sense. We would have happily let a leader like Churchill do so because our trust in him remained intact. We worry about letting Blair's government do so because, rightly or wrongly, we feel we could not be sure what else they may censor.

Michael Howard says that our lack of trust in Mr Blair may prove a problem if he ever again has to ask us to go into conflict. It may already be a problem in this conflict.

London SE23

Animal rights row

Sir: Terence Blacker (Opinion, 15 October) bemoans name-calling while describing animal rights activists as bullying, emotional, heartless, cold, hateful, violent, sobbing, psychologically dysfunctional, eccentric, fanatical, cruel, fundamentalist nutters.

He is furious about the very limited cruelty inflicted by the desecration of a grave, yet is dismissive of concerns regarding the vast, systematic cruelty inflicted on millions of animals in the name of human welfare.

He complains about the impossibility of dialogue, yet indiscriminately lumps animal welfare activists together into a homogeneous group of menacing, ecologically reckless, and downright stupid people. Who is making dialogue impossible?

Frankfurt am Main

Sir: The overwhelming majority of our society has been happy to use the benefits of the work that comes from animal experimentation, while keeping our heads down when people like the Halls are attacked. The Government and the police give inadequate protection to such people as the Halls, while they provide thousands of police officers to protect government ministers from angry hunt protesters or fathers denied rights to see their children.

It is time that those involved in ensuring that we have our health and welfare protected and improved were given appropriate protection from an infinitesimally small minority of violent animal rights fanatics, who see themselves as prosecutors, juries and judges of people like the Halls, and who carry out sentences that would have been considered barbaric in medieval times.

Duns, Berwickshire

Gambling by phone

Sir: You report (14 October) on Camelot using the latest texting technology to boost ticket sales. While I have no concerns about Camelot, who are one of the most socially responsible gambling operators, there is the ever-present danger of more unscrupulous operators targeting young, vulnerable individuals via their mobile phones.

Many pre-teen children now have mobile phones and they are already bombarded by cons and junk mail. We cannot "put the genie back in the bottle", but operators who run gambling services will need stringent checks by the proposed Gambling Commission and to have social responsibility policies at the heart of their services.

Professor of Gambling Studies
Nottingham Trent University

Debate within UKIP

Sir: The continuing speculation in the media about the leadership of the UK Independence Party has not been helped by the recent Mugabe-style telephone poll of branch chairmen conducted by paid employees of the party (report, 20 October). Branch chairmen and activists are unlikely to express their views openly to a member of staff over the telephone.

There is a perfectly legitimate debate to be had about the political future of the party. Robert Kilroy-Silk represents the view that UKIP should develop into a mass movement capable of winning seats at Westminster and taking a major role at the heart of British politics. A small element of the Party, with disproportionate power, seem to prefer that UKIP should be just a vehicle for changing the Conservative Party's policy on the European Union. This is contrary to UKIP's founding principles and the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its ordinary members, as demonstrated at our recent party conference when a motion not to stand against "Eurosceptic" candidates was not so much defeated as annihilated.

UKIP faces a tremendous opportunity in the coming general election as the only party advocating British political, national and economic independence. The debate is not about personalities but about how best to maximise UKIP's chances in the election and forward the cause of the country we all love.

(London Region)

Leader, UKIP Group, London Assembly

National Vice-Chairman

NEC member

Chairman, London Region

London SE1

Hazardous chemicals

Sir: Dr David Giachardi and Michael Baldwin (letters: "Chemicals in children need not be a cause for concern", 11 October) are still working to the old theory that the dose makes the poison, which has proved to be inaccurate with the chemicals WWF was researching. Timing has also been shown to be a vital factor.

Chemicals found in the bodies of developing foetuses and children can affect their development. This view is not only held by WWF but also by well-respected foetal and paediatric toxicity experts around the globe, including the UK's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. In addition, there is no doubt that chemicals are contributing to childhood diseases such as eczema, asthma and malformation of the male reproductive tract in baby boys.

How many more eminent scientists need to speak out before the chemical industry takes full responsibility for the chemicals it manufactures? The only solution is better regulation, where these hazardous man-made chemicals are replaced with safer alternatives.

Director of Campaigns, WWF-UK
Godalming, Surrey


Parental guidance

Sir: Apropos Prince Harry's art coursework, Dinah Ellis (letter, 20 October) wondered what happened to parents doing it. Well, Diana was not around and Harry's abstraction is hardly Charles's pot of acrylic: more Stud at Play than Stag at Bay.

Settle, North Yorkshire

Subjects of the Queen

Sir: So David Soul had to swear allegiance to the Queen to become a British citizen ("I vow to thee my country", 20 October). I recently renounced my British citizenship as a consequence of the British government's illegal and immoral war on Iraq and became a German citizen. To do this I had to sign a statement confirming my commitment to the principles of democracy. What does this tell us about the relative value of democracy in the two countries?


Beer and logic

Sir: Your article "The best British beers" (18 October) divided beers into "In the pub" and "In the supermarket" categories. However, I heartily praise those sensible brewers who sell their own bottled beers in their own pubs to take away at supermarket prices. Off-sales cut out the retail middle-man and the brewer can pass on this saving to the customer. However, in a market where the cheapest place to buy British beer is usually France and "foreign" beers marketed on their exoticism are brewed in the UK, logic is often a very rare tipple!

London SW11

Is it art?

Sir: Now that the Turner Prize has come round I am reminded of Marshall McLuhan's dictum that "art is anything you can get away with".

Tunbridge Wells, Kent