Nuclear weapons, Tories and others

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The Independent Online

Nuclear weapon states lower the first-strike threshold

Sir: John Lichfield's article citing a shift in French nuclear strategy towards a first-strike policy contains distressing, albeit hardly surprising news ("France may allow 'first strikes' on rogue states in policy shift", 28 October).

In a recent policy paper, the French government updated its military strategy to boldly argue that France "must assume its role as a member of the Security Council and a nuclear power". Apparently, the shift in its nuclear doctrine is an attempt to assume these two roles. It should also be noted that Prime Minister Blair and Defence Secretary Hoon prior to the war in Iraq both implied the existence of a similar British nuclear option to counteract Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

This may lead to pressure on Nato member states to bring the alliance's nuclear policy into line with the US counter-proliferation policy, which implies first strikes against nuclear, chemical and biological weapon systems and facilities controlled by "rogue states".

As John Lichfield points out, the British and French policy mirrors the current US nuclear weapons doctrine which, in effect, will lower the threshold for nuclear use. An alternative is to show sincere commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, due for review in 2005, by extending to those states that do not possess nuclear weapons a credible assurance that nuclear weapons, under no circumstances, will be used against them in a first strike.

Analyst, British American Security Information Council, London N1

The 'nasty party' turns against itself

Sir: In 2002 Theresa May told the Conservative Party conference: "You know what some people call us: the nasty party." In 2003 Conservative MPs managed to prove they are the nastiest party. How 80 MPs think they have the right to overturn the decision of the 300,000 grassroots activists raises the question: do they care about the party, do they care about the country or do they just care about themselves?

Bridlington, East Yorkshire

Sir: The words Conservative MP and disloyalty go together like fish and chips. All we are now witnessing is the transfer of those traditional disloyalties from the leader to the party membership.

Chichester, West Sussex

Sir: May I be the first to express my lack of confidence in the new Tory leader, whoever he may be? It is clear already that he cannot unite the party or lead it to victory in the next election, so I suggest that a new leader be elected as soon as possible. May I be the first to express my lack of confidence in the new Tory party leader ...

Narberth, Pembrokeshire

Sir: Michael Howard, already anointed as the new leader of the Tories, is, we are told, "very good at the despatch box". I wonder if those who tell us these things ever ask themselves what percentage of the electorate even know what the despatch box is. What they do know is what he's like on TV - unctuous, evasive and without a shred of humility. In fact he is the archetypal politician.

Southport, Merseyside

Sir: Michael Howard is 62; he will be 64 or so by the time of the next election. If the Tories lose, he would be unlikely to hang around for four to five years as leader of the Opposition in the hope of spending his 70th birthday in Downing Street. No wonder ambitious rivals such as David Davis (54) are happy to let Howard have his way; as a hangover from the Thatcher/ Major years he will just be yet another interim Tory leader.

Waverton, Cheshire

Sir: Among the contenders for IDS's vacated post, there seems to be one name missing. Tony Blair must be the strongest candidate to lead the Tory party. He already leads a party that has stolen all the Tory policies, so why not lead two? Cost effective.


Useless runway

Sir: Your story about Gordon Brown's and Tony Blair's disagreement on new runways (24 October) ignores the real issues about airport expansion. Tony Blair reportedly favours a new runway at Stansted , while Gordon Brown prefers Heathrow. But the real issue is whether we need any new runways at all before 2030.

As part of the work for the forthcoming consultation on airports, the Government carried out a series of calculations using a computer model called SPASM. Most of the runs showed economic benefits from extra airports at various locations in the South-east, with the biggest benefits at Heathrow. But these computer runs ignored the huge tax exemptions enjoyed by the industry and the fact that it does not pay for the environmental damage caused by air travel. The one run that allowed for these taxes and environmental costs showed that there is virtually no economic benefit in building extra runways at Heathrow or Stansted.

London W7

Sir: The Government's consultation paper on expansion of runway capacity in the South-east makes an important point. While there is a specific claim that there is more to be said in favour of a third runway at Heathrow than for any other possible site, this claim is immediately followed by an admission that there is more to be said against the Heathrow option than any other.

We are not talking of people in west London having to put up with a bit more air pollution, a bit more noise and a bit more traffic congestion. We are talking of nitrogen dioxide levels so excessive that, according to the Government, 35,000 people would potentially live in conditions simply unacceptable in emerging EU law. To avoid this, some 10,000-12,000 homes would need to be demolished.

London SW13

Village time bomb

Sir: I have read your article about the village of Plockton with interest and sympathy ("Demand for holiday homes drives locals out of idyllic village", 28 October).

Rising house prices are steadily forcing young people out of villages in many parts of the country, but especially in the South. Incomers have emigrated from London or bought second homes. Their ability to pay substantial prices even for modest properties means that communities in attractive rural areas are fast becoming dominated by the older retired people, and by middle-class families for many of whom life in the relevant village is likely to be temporary as the principal income earner in the family advances in life.

All sense of community is steadily disappearing: villages are becoming factionalised, and pride in local institutions is often non-existent. There is no interest in keeping young people in the environment in which they would prefer to be, and consequently no truly affordable housing is made available to them. £100,000 for a starter home may be commercially sustainable, but is beyond the reach of most younger members of the community.

This is a time bomb, which no politician or local authority seems to be willing to defuse by taking some effective action. There will soon be a substantial disenfranchised underclass.

Hook Norton, Oxfordshire

Map data for sale

Sir: Ordnance Survey is resting on its laurels (Technology, 1 October; letter, 17 October). It is true that Britain is very well mapped as a result of OS's position as a publicly funded mapping agency. This was entirely justified in the days when the cost of creating and maintaining maps was greater than the market for them. However, the cost of creating and maintaining maps has shrunk dramatically with new technology, and the market for the information is expanding rapidly.

Duncan Shiell, OS's director of strategy, defends the position of OS by stating that OS maps are not paid for by the taxpayer but through the income that OS receives from licensing the maps. This is misleading because over £50m per annum of OS's income comes from government licences and other government funding, which is taxpayers' money. This represents about half of OS's total income.

But taxpayer funding is not the key issue. The vital point is that in a rapidly expanding geographic information market, OS's business partners should have easy and fair access to OS's data so that they can develop new products and services. As the national mapping agency one of OS's chief duties is to make mapping data available to the private sector. However, since 1999, OS has been a trading fund and is required to make a profit in the geographic information market. To do this OS has to regard its business partners as competitors. All too often OS seems to be putting its commercial interests before its duty to make its data easily available.

The experience of our members is that it can be difficult and very slow to deal with OS. Some partners have been trying to negotiate licensing deals for several years without success.

Director, Geographical Industry Forum
Wintney, Hampshire

Price of glamour  

Sir: The frivolous comments by Jeremy Warner (Outlook, 30 October) about "boring BOC" and its lack of "glamour" typify our society's view of industry and people who make useful things. That is why we end up buying German and French cars, and Japanese cameras and television sets. Personally I don't feel very excited about City men in suits talking about boring things like banking and insurance.

Ruthin, Denbighshire

Rural cure

Sir: Poor Mark Steel. Judging from his ranting (30 October) he really is in a state. Stressed, perhaps? Maybe he should have a short holiday in the countryside which he so clearly has no knowledge of.

Bardsey, West Yorkshire

Abbott's choice

Sir: Whatever the rights or wrongs of Diane Abbott's decision on her son's education, it is a crying shame that it is no longer possible for children of a less than privileged background to win local authority funded scholarships to schools such as the City of London, which I was fortunate enough to do in 1954. The number of children now living in the row of small terrace houses in south Ealing where I was brought up who have the same educational opportunities 50 years later must be small indeed. Hurrah for progress.

Pinner, Middlesex

Bold illustrations

Sir: First 450 nude women on your front page and now copulating dolls on page nine (29 October), in contrast to Rosie Millard's BBC breakfast news piece which kept the camera off all the Chapman brothers' allegedly shocking Turner Prize exhibits. The Hutton inquiry has made the BBC too cautious.

Richmond Surrey