Northern devolution, A real US empire and others

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The Independent Online

Northern voters want more than a pretence of devolution

Sir: Voters in the North-east have given John Prescott and the Government the black eye that they deserve. Asking people to vote for and pay for a toothless talking shop was always a non-starter.

To tell people in the counties of Durham and Northumberland that they had to tear apart their existing local councils as a price to pay for the regional assembly was a further act of folly insisted on by Tony Blair himself. If the Government had for once listened to Liberal Democrat common sense when the referendum Bill was going through Parliament they might have avoided these mistakes and had something better to offer. But the margin of almost four to one was an astonishing humiliation. Regional government must be something that people want, that they fight to wrest from Westminster and Whitehall in our ever more centralised country. When people are offered no more than a tame pretence of devolution by the very politicians who are taking more and more centralised control - Blair and Prescott to the fore - it is no surprise that they see it as a fraud.

Those of us who want to see genuine devolution to the regions of England, with effective regional government with at least the powers of the Welsh Assembly built upon a reinvigorated foundation of powerful and truly local and community democracy, must surely now go back to square one and a thorough rethink of what we want and how to get it.

The present campaign groups are paper tigers and the present government has lost the plot.

(Lib Dem)
House of Lords

Sir: Mr Prescott need not despair. There is only one part of the United Kingdom longing to embrace a regional assembly - Cornwall. Come on John: give us the chance!

Flushing, Cornwall

A real US empire wouldn't be so bad

Sir: I can agree with much of what Chris Efstathiu writes in justification of the vote for President Bush (Letters, 5 November), but Ray McCrary should be ashamed of himself, with his silly talk of "religious war" and "Islamo-fascists". And how dare he write to a British newspaper saying empire is "too much trouble"?

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of British people devoted their lives to giving countries such as India law, order, peace and good government, and many died doing so. To our shame, this was accompanied by quite ruthless economic exploitation, but American non-empire is far worse, and seems to consist of smashing up various countries a bit, with aerial and other bombardments, and then installing a compliant "native" government and introducing US companies to control their economies. As for the welfare and well-being of the inhabitants, well that's "too much trouble"!

Whitchurch, Shropshire

Sir: Niall Ferguson (Opinion, 4 November) draws attention to a senior Bush adviser who is reported as claiming: "We're an empire now and when we act we create our own reality... We're history's actors."

On a news broadcast I heard the PM say yet again: "This is the new reality. We must move on." No room for discussion there then, as he speaks on behalf of history's actors. Power is seen to be coming out of the barrel of a gun. Persuasion and fairness are Old Europe and we don't want any of that.

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Sir: The most horrifying realisation as the election returns came in on Tuesday was that Bush was winning because too many Americans were complacent and satisfied with fantasy.

Indeed, people voted based on fantasies of their safety (please note that the areas that had already suffered, and those most likely to experience, a terrorist attack voted overwhelmingly for Kerry), on some amorphous concept of "moral values" (opposition to all sex other than marital heterosexual sex) and on utter falsehoods about the war in Iraq and the US role in the world.

As an American, perhaps foolishly, I have difficulty accepting that much of the electorate is so misguided and intolerant. The reliance on electronic voting machines lacking a paper confirmation, and the lack of public outcry over this, is what has scared me the most. Someone can steal an election, claim a mandate, and then wreak havoc on the world for years to come.

New York

Sir: All those columnists and letter-writers who are sneering at the US electorate for re-electing George W Bush would do well to remember that the British electorate has twice elected the most shallow, false, hypocritical unprincipled liar in British political history.

North Yorkshire

Commons protest

Sir: I was sorry to read Philip Hensher ("How one man's protest backfired on us all", 5 November) doing the spade-work for a neo-con government by marshalling the arguments in favour of evicting Brian Haw, the lone demonstrator of Parliament Square.

One of Philip Hensher's arguments is that Brian Haw's protest makes the square look like a "shanty town". Well this fact precisely recommends it to me. It is a reminder to well-paid MPs that mown lawns don't necessarily produce justice. More attention to the voice of a protest from a loudhailer on a cold winter's night might produce better results.

While MPs continue to vote for their jobs in Parliament rather than with their conscience, I salute whatever drives a man to stay out in the cold and be a bloody nuisance in the name of democracy.

East Molesey, Surrey

Sir: Philip Hensher's treatment of Brian Haw is a good illustration of what Johann Hari has to say, on the same page, about privileged individuals' fear and contempt of the poor. Had Mr Hensher brought himself to speak to Brian, he would have told him he started his vigil in Parliament Square in June 2001, initially to protest against Iraqi sanctions which were killing over 5,000 Iraqi children every month.

Brian's steadfastness in his Christian belief that the life of a child in Iraq is as precious as the life of any of his own children is a striking contrast to Mr Blair's hyperbolic faith. Over the years he has been prosecuted, harassed, beaten up and terrorised but he remains there as a constant rebuke to MPs who voted for waging war on a defenceless people.

Two judges of the High Court have ruled that Brian is not obstructing public space. Having failed in the court of law, the state is now bent upon crushing him by draconian measures.

Incidentally, I am the Asian man Colin Brown mentioned in the earlier story on Brain Haw ("Blunkett changes law to evict Commons anti-war protester", 4 November) but I have no military connection and I do my vigil Tuesday evening, not morning.

London SE3

Divorced parents

Sir: In my letter of 18 October I was not for a second suggesting that divorced fathers should not have lots of access to their children, and I feel enormous sympathy for the grandfather (Letters, 3 November) who never sees his granddaughter.

My point was that children need a loving, permanent, stable home where they know they belong, come hell or high water. Flitting from one parent to the other will not usually give them that and also carries the risk of neither parent giving the job their full commitment. Further pitfalls include a lack of good, everyday communication between the estranged or warring parents and competitiveness between the two homes.

Of course civilised, selfless, enlightened, generous-spirited, divorced parents may be able to job-share their children successfully - but how many divorced parents does that describe? Where a spirit of friendly co-operation is missing, it's better that one parent should shoulder the responsibility and give it their all.

London SW14

Vulnerable prisoners

Sir: Your editorial "Our prison system is not working" (3 November) presents an outdated view of the Government's penal policy.

Reducing self-harm and suicide is one of the toughest challenges we face but one we are determined to meet. Recent improvements including court diversion schemes, improved detoxification units and partnership with the NHS to overhaul healthcare provision are designed to help the most vulnerable groups.

We are also working with sentencers to ensure that viable community alternatives are used for less serious offenders. We will continue to push forward reforms. We are not complacent; we simply cannot afford to be.

Prisons and Probation Minister
Home Office

Military duties

Sir: Government plans to curtail the Black Watch and other Scottish regiments are quite understandable in the light of the whingeing by soldiers and their relatives over current postings to Iraq. Soldiers should do what they're paid to do and relatives, if they really cared that much about their sons and lovers, would have done better to have dissuaded them from taking the Queen's shilling in the first place.

It is incumbent upon us to support those of our truly brave and professional soldiers who just get on with their difficult task and don't complain about the decisions of our elected leaders.


Sir: While I share your antagonism to the Iraq war and all things Bushist and Blairist, I sympathise with the friend who rang me seriously put off by your coverage (6 November) of the deaths of the three Black Watch soldiers.

Leaving aside the taste issues of exploiting these deaths for political point-scoring, let's remember that soldiers are professional killers - that is part of the job - and the quid pro quo is that they may be killed too. We saw last week where false sentimentality leads the politics of a country. I'd have thought you were the last newspaper to want to drag us in the same direction.

London SW9

Sir: Miles Pratt (letter, 8 November) suggests that British soldiers in Iraq are "lions led by liars". Maybe "lions led by poodles" would be equally appropriate.

London NW6

Casino culture

Sir: Las Vegas Sands completely refutes the reported allegations presented by Andrew Dismore, MP ("Overhaul of casino test raises Mafia fears", 5 November).

We have a very strong record at our Las Vegas casino, The Venetian, of being southern Nevada's leading employer. We have the best pay and benefits on the Las Vegas strip and we work closely with all our employees to ensure our mutual success is continued. In addition, we take very seriously any violation of our stringent compliance policies and the presiding gaming regulations. The event referred to by Mr Dismore in your article is a clear example of our integrity and responsible practice. In this incident from more than two years ago, The Venetian immediately "self-reported" the occurrence of improper behaviour by a small group of rogue employees to the local Gaming Control Board and they were swiftly and properly dealt with.

We are now striving to create successful partnerships with a number of football clubs to help bring more than £250m of regeneration and 3,500 new jobs to areas that will really benefit from our plans. Furthermore, The Venetian supports a wide range of charity groups and organisations in Nevada, and Las Vegas Sands looks forward to bringing this same commitment and dedication to supporting communities throughout the UK.

Head of UK Operations, LVSI
London SW1

Childish logic

Sir: Baroness Finlay (letter, 8 November) writes that a recent show of hands amongst schoolchildren suggests that they overwhelmingly prefer reasoning over smacking. Has she asked turkeys what they think of Christmas?


Level crossings

Sir: The solution to safety on unmanned level crossings lies in detection technology coupled with signals to warn oncoming trains. Laser and infrared scanning of the area between the closed gates would reveal any deviation from the normal pattern and indicate an obstruction. The principle is low-cost, proven in a variety of industries and home security systems and could be implemented on a trial basis quickly.


Royal lineage

Sir: In his article on the Royal Family (6 November), Allan Massie got it wrong about Prince Louis of Battenberg on two counts: first, Prince Louis was not Prince Philip's great-uncle, but his grandfather; second, Louis was not a grandson of Queen Victoria. His only connection with Victoria was that he had married her granddaughter, Victoria of Hesse-Darmstadt.


A woman's place

Sir: Jeremy Laurance states that "not a single woman is dean of a medical school" (Health Check, 2 November). I concede that the University of Cambridge School of Medicine is a little-known institute which may well have escaped his researches, but the last time I saw my Dean, Dr Diana Wood, I could have sworn she was wearing a dress.

Consultant Radiologist, University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke's Hospital