London Labour will be stronger with Ken Livingstone back
Sir: Nicky Gavron's proposal to unite the London Labour vote ("Labour close to welcoming Livingstone back into fold," 11 December) is a welcome step. Nicky is right to say that the best way of achieving unity is to combine the strengths of her campaign and Ken Livingstone's for the good of Labour and London.
The Labour Party National Executive Committee looks likely to discuss this issue next week. Labour needs a sizeable group on the London Assembly in order to continue investment in public services in the capital. London Labour Party members want a united campaign in order to maximise Labour's vote and promote Labour's values. Mr Livingstone's readmission would be the strongest basis for achieving unity in London.
JEANETTE ARNOLD, London Assembly member; TOBY HARRIS London Assembly member; VAL SHAWCROSS, London Assembly member; SAMANTHA HEATH, London Assembly member; JOHN CRUDDAS MP, (Dagenham); ROBERT EVANS MEP, (London); CLAUDE MORAES MEP, (London); RAJ JETHWA, London Labour Regional Board member; PAUL KENNY, Regional Secretary, London GMB; EDDIE McDERMOTT, Secretary Region 1 TGWU, and London Labour Regional Board member; NICK WRIGHT, London Regional Secretary, Unison
South Africa's duty to Zimbabwe
Sir: Your editorial, "South Africa should have taken the lead in condemning Mr Mugabe" (9 December), is a bit of an understatement. Thabo Mbeki refused to get to grips with Aids, and he is refusing to take the responsibility that South Africa has, as a regional power, for dealing with Mr Mugabe.
South Africa's approach to this question is getting a lot of innocent people killed. If Mr Mbeki wants a historical precedent he should note that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam removed Pol Pot by force of arms. No one in Cambodia was offended by their notional breach of international law.
The Democratic opposition to Mugabe could be installed in government and fair elections called and supervised by South African forces.
Sir: I agree that Robert Mugabe has reacted peevishly to the continued suspension of his personal fiefdom from the Commonwealth. However, I was rather surprised by one reference in your leading article. The Marxist regime that assumed power in 1981 was never held in high esteem for its championing of democracy and tolerance. The people of Matabeleland will not easily forget the ravages that very year of Mugabe's North Korean-trained 5th Brigade.
The ZANU-PF government has been an unmitigated disaster for Zimbabwe. It has had no redeeming features. The country has been in terminal decline ever since the Commonwealth handed power to Mugabe and his terrorist clique. With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that the Commonwealth should instead have supported Bishop Muzorewa's government.
Auckland, New Zealand
Sir: Mugabe is missing a trick; all he has to do is offer to send a token force to Iraq (a handful of "war veterans" would do nicely) and Blair and Bush will be fawning all over him, praising him as a bulwark of democracy and human rights. Not to mention supplying him with unlimited arms, dollars and other aid to remain in power indefinitely. This would also serve his expressed purpose in showing up the Blair government in particular as the hypocrites they are.
Business of war
Sir: US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz announcing that the countries that did not support the illegal war in Iraq will not be able to participate in its reconstruction bidding is absolutely absurd (report, 11 December). Firstly, this makes it obvious to the world that the war in Iraq was a business decision (oil and contracts galore) and not a security issue (again, where are the weapons of mass destruction?). Secondly, US control of contracts as well as Iraqi debt and oil is illegal.
Iraq is still a sovereign nation, which means that it is in control of its business dealings, not the US. When is the UN or some other international organisation going to stand up to Wolfowitz and the Bush cabal and take control of reconstruction contracts and give back the control of power to the Iraqi people?
GARY DOUGLAS SMITH
Los Angeles, California
Sir: It is unbelievable that the Americans have killed 15 children in Afghanistan in one week, and injured dozens of Iraqi civilians in Samarra last week while claiming a victory against terrorism on each occasion. Is this their much vaunted smart weapons, superior intelligence, gift of democracy and freedom to oppressed peoples?
To my shame our government continues to associate with this barbaric behaviour, and if Geoff Hoon's comments on the reduction of our armed forces is anything to go by, is eager to commit its own atrocities with smart state of the art weapons, rather than troops on the ground who we are told are behaving with some sort of decency in Basra.
If ever a government created conditions for world terrorism, Blair's and Bush's have succeeded with sickening speed. I suppose it would be naive to imagine compensation on the scale of the 11 September victims would be paid to Afghanis. A box of toys and an apology is apparently adequate for them.
Set Cornwall free
Sir: Pace S W Yorke (letter, 5 December), Phil Rendle's assertion regarding a common will in Cornwall for an elected Cornish Assembly (3 December) is substantiated by a massive petition (over 50,000 signatures) and a positive opinion poll. It is Mr Yorke who is in the minority.
The Assembly is aimed at simplifying and democratising government and empowering the people of Cornwall; not another layer but an alternative to at least two existing layers, one comprising a mish-mash of unelected quangos.
Cornwall's need for Objective One aid from Europe is not a comment about Cornwall but the totally unsatisfactory way she has been governed up to now. Cornwall was made by beneficent nature rich but by foolish man poor. The status quo is not an acceptable option but nor is a South West Assembly (we have had more than enough of southwesternism and its record of inefficiency and missed opportunities). The South West has always been a millstone around our neck. Free the spirit and see us move!
Sir: I share the impressions of 1940-1944 recounted by Ron Watts (letter, 9 December). I remember what would constitute my alarm clock each morning as May 1944 led into June.
At the beginning, it would be the thunder of the beautiful American squadrons heading east, later it would be the closer thunder of allied armour heading south down the Kingston by-pass towards D-Day. Then, just as D-Day actually came, it was a solemn radio announcer reporting the night-time arrival in our midst of something totally unheard of: an unpiloted bomb with a flaming tail, heading north! Our war had changed direction! I still have the drawing I hastily made in conformity with the BBC's description - not that this young observer could have achieved much by reporting a V-1 if he spotted it.
The novelty of that weapon has doubtless served to downgrade in memory the fact that the south of England was in previous months plagued by the hit-and-run tactics of German fighter-bombers. My Wimbledon school was half-destroyed by one such attack, which probably was the clincher for my evacuation and my first summer job in the countryside - as a Tiger Moth servicer. The pilots' habit of cutting the motor so as to land in a glide made my heart jump every time. Meanwhile my sister, having contracted TB in two years of night shifts at a tank factory, was left to languish in a Mitcham hospital and count the doodlebugs that flew past the window.
Of course, all that Britain went through fades in comparison with the horrors of our vengeance. But memory must be told as it was.
The Hague, Netherlands
Sir: Pensioners received scant attention from the Chancellor ("Brown goes deeper into the red, 11 December). The basic state pension - £77.95 a week, plus 25p for the over-80s - remains tied to the RPI, a parsimonious rule introduced by the Thatcher government more than 20 years ago. Restoring the link with average earnings should be a priority. But New Labour seems to live only in the future and can't understand why proud men and women baulk at the means-tested Pensioner Credit.
Veterans wounded in the Second World War are subjected to another humiliation. The Ministry of Defence refuses to back-date disability pensions despite the fact that demobilised service personnel were not informed of their right to claim when they handed in their khaki and went marching home in a shiny demob suit. Perhaps the MOD is looking at the actuaries' forecast and calculating that those left are indeed growing old and being erased from the books.
Sir: The appointment of a Director of Infection Control for each hospital trust in England and Wales (report, 6 December) is excellent news - for the satirists, that is. The first objective of each director, obviously, will be to establish an unassailable empire, guaranteed to give him or her a job for life. Secondly, and only if time allows between meetings, expense account lunches, and attending seminars, an action plan will be developed.
This will involve the director instructing his or her managers, logistics experts (they are the ones who make sure that the mop and bucket are in the right place at the right time), pen pushers, time wasters, administrators, bureaucrats, time and motion experts, and supervisors, to all ensure that the cleaner cleans properly. Note cleaner in the singular; the budget will not stretch to more than one. Watch out, superbugs, your days are numbered.
Hayling Island, Hampshire
Spam and children
Sir: Thursday's legislation is testimony to a fundamental flaw in all anti-spam law - it only seems to focus on adults and business ("Anti-spam laws will do little to stem the flow of junk email", 11 December)
There's no denying that unsolicited email is a pain and threatens business productivity. However the impact it can have on children, and thus on the nation's future, is of greater concern. I personally realised there was a real need for a comprehensive answer to the problem of unwanted and distasteful email when my nine-year-old niece inadvertently opened a pornographic spam email on her personal account. It's clear that this wasn't a one off.
Violent computer games and irresponsible marketing to kids are continuously lambasted for the effect they're having on our nation's children. Yet no one seems willing to stand up for six-year-olds who are being offered penis extensions.
Sir: Lest anyone should take seriously Bernard Sharp's suggestion to replace the Order of the British Empire with that of the British Commonwealth (letter, 10 December), it is worth pointing out that the British Commonwealth no longer exists. Far from existing "ad infinitum - if not longer", it has for some years been replaced by "the Commonwealth". Replacing OBE with OC might have unfortunate connotations of southern France.
South Kirkby, West Yorkshire
Sir: So Mr Dolby thinks he has heard it all (letter, 10 December). How about this amusing proposal: public libraries run by a regional manager (no library experience required) and some library assistants to shelve the books that machines issue and return. So much cheaper than using qualified librarians. This isn't the future - it has happened already at a public library near you. Teachers beware!
Sir: So D J Wathen is "appalled" at the prospect of 16-year-olds spending "our" taxes (letter, 9 December). Could I just point out that many 16-year-olds work and pay their own taxes and want a say in how "their" money is spent. No taxation without representation, D J Wathen?
House of Lords
Sir: I was astonished to read that the Home Office has decreed that immigrants who wish to become British citizens will be required to swear allegiance to the Crown and sing "God save the Queen" (report, 10 December). Is it now the case that in order to be a loyal citizen of these islands it is necessary to support the monarchy and believe in God? When do I get my deportation orders (together with a few million others)?
Lead by example
Sir: If Messrs Blair, Brown, Clarke, vice chancellors and other advocates and past beneficiaries of free university education were to repay their fees and maintenance allowances, the effect on university finances would be significant and immediate. This may also make the current proposals more acceptable to future graduates.
Kings Langley, Hertfordshire