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- Arts + Ents
Wednesday 9 June 2004
Reagan, Euro elections, Dalai Lama and others
The questionable aspects of Ronald Reagan's legacy
Sir: Ronald Reagan was a myth created by the right-wing and corporate media (reports, 7 June). The scary part is those most adversely affected by Reagan still don't know what happened.
Under Reagan the US became a debtor nation for the first time. The middle class shrank dramatically, which today threatens our whole democratic structure, politically and economically. Under Reagan the US had the second largest unemployment numbers since the great depression. Reagan budgets created the largest debt ever recorded in the history of US. The environment has yet to recover from the massive deforestation that took place in 1980s, and his programmes to put weapons in space are the ideas of mad men who still promote such nonsense under Bush.
San Diego, California, USA
Sir: Pavel Gonevski (Letters, 7 June) would have us believe that Reagan and Thatcher were principally responsible for removing the yoke of tyrannical totalitarianism from the Soviet bloc.
Does anybody really believe that such a historic shift in Soviet policy would have come about without an overwhelming will for change within the Soviet bloc and, most specifically, its manifestation in the form of Mikhail Gorbachev and "perestroika"?
Reagan and Thatcher did, of course, encourage and facilitate such change but, surely, the inherent inertia, paranoia and economic isolationism of the Soviet system which had become evident to Gorbachev, were more decisive factors.
Woodford Green, Essex
Sir: Ronald Reagan will be remembered for playing a major part in hastening the demise of the USSR and ending the Cold War, though the extreme poverty today which pervades much of the former Soviet Union shows that this was not an unmixed blessing. Nevertheless no one can doubt that tens of millions are free who were not so before 1991.
A more questionable aspect of his legacy is his encouragement of the religious right, which since his presidency have like an evil genie turned from a concern for "values" at home to foreign affairs, and specifically are hankering for an Armageddon-type ending of the world. To this end they are encouraging the most politically intransigent elements in the Middle East. Their views are endorsed by many of the senior members of the US administration. Is this a great legacy? Or is Dr Strangelove turning into reality?
Euro elections lack leadership and debate
Sir: The biggest irony of the current European elections, is that only Ukip - the party committed to a "screw loose" policy of taking Britain out of the EU - are raising the issue of Europe at all. Their poster campaign has totally eclipsed that of the other parties, with its negative and simplistic Say No to Europe message and they have shown verve in putting that message across to the voting public.
The mainstream parties have singularly failed to show leadership in making a positive case for Europe. Blair spoke of "Britain at the centre of Europe" in 1997 and yet we've heard nothing from New Labour about their current vision of Europe. Unsurprisingly, given Europe's potent ability in the last two decades to split the Tories, Michael Howard has been almost religiously mute on the subject. Charles Kennedy and his Liberal Democrat colleagues have, as the "on paper" most pro-European political party, the least excuse of all to remain silent about the EU and the possibility of future entry into the euro.
By attempting to convert these European elections into a referendum on Iraq they have undermined the good work of Graham Watson and his team of Liberal Democrat MEPs, sapped the enthusiasm of their own Euro-positive activists and run the risk of repeating the electoral humiliation that the party suffered at the hands of the Greens soon after its formation in the 1980s.
Given such failure to open an informed debate on Europe, the electorate's disillusionment with mainstream parties and their conviction-shy leaders is hardly surprising. The political establishment should therefore not feign surprise when the British people fail to vote and endorse their opportunistic pragmatism this Thursday. If Ukip do well it will reflect a collective failure of courage to put a positive case for Europe by those who should know better.
Sir: Charles Kennedy in his recent letter (5 June) is scornful about the democratic nature of the Butler enquiry. He may well be right. However, he destroys his case when he suggests that on Thursday, democracy will be served by us using our democratic vote to express our opinion of the Iraq war. Surely, what democracy is really about is voting for the best people to do the job in question - Mayor of London, local councillors, MEPs, etc - not a referendum on a completely different issue.
I look forward to the day when political leaders will assure us that such is the case. Or do they think it isn't really important who fills these roles?
The Rev JOHN NEAL
Sir: I am an ardent Europhile. I am desperately keen to see the whole project succeed.
However, all I see are the Eurosceptics carping on and seemingly doing their best to impede the whole process. I have therefore come to the conclusion that the UK is best out of it before we do any more damage. If we do not voluntarily depart, then I appeal to your EU readers to campaign to kick us out. Either way, I also appeal to Europe not to grant us any of the EU privileges which many rather curiously seem to think we could retain.
That done, I wish mainland Europe Godspeed whilst it watches the UK gradually being overwhelmed by the economic waves created by the global economic powerhouses both present and future and the Eurosceptics, like the Titanic captain, standing defiantly erect on the bridge still blaming the EU iceberg rather than their own monumental stupidity.
Sir: May I reassure John E Wright (Letters, 7 June) that he is not the only person in this country who recognises that European democracy can complement rather than undermine national democracy. This may be an unfamiliar concept to some of those who earn their living in and around the Westminster bubble. Perhaps this explains why so much reporting on this subject in the media is so unsatisfactory.
Federal Union has as its members people throughout the country who realise that the alternative to a fully-functioning European democracy is a continuation of the present weak and unaccountable system. I look forward to welcoming Mr Wright as a member.
Chair, Federal Union
Sir: No need for lonely hearts, Mr Wright. Here is another who believes as you do that a federal Europe with Britain firmly inside and deeply involved is what is urgently needed. I agree with you on every point. Except perhaps for one: Marmite. Might I be allowed Oxford Marmalade instead?
The Rev DEREK MATTEN
Missing Green MEPs
Sir: The Independent's map of the UK's Euro-election landscape today was seriously misleading. If it was intended to show the current situation, it omitted the two sitting Green MEPs, in London and the South East.
If it was meant to show predictions it was even worse, because current polls suggest the Greens will return at least three and possibly six or more MEPs. Tuesday's poll shows the Greens on 8-9 per cent. This is enough to guarantee the Greens seats in the bigger regions (London, North West, South East). It also means probable Green seats in Eastern, South West and West Midlands. Yorkshire and Scottish Greens are certainly within striking distance. It's important to note that the polls almost always show the Greens lower than our actual vote, and predict fewer seats than we actually win.
For example, in last year's Scottish Parliament elections the Greens were predicted to win 3-4 seats but won 7. In the last London Assembly elections we were predicted to win 2 but won 3. In the 1989 Euro-elections the Greens were on 7 per cent in the polls but won 15 per cent of the vote. If the polls are true to form in underestimating the Greens' prospects, there could be as many as eight or nine UK Green MEPs next week.
We must also remember factors such as regional variation - the 8-9 per cent Green average in the polls will translate into significantly higher votes in our best-prospect Euro-regions - and the effect of the regional list voting system. A Ukip surge from 7 per cent to 13 per cent would not be enough for 2 Ukip MEPs in any region, but would serve to lower the electoral threshold meaning Greens elected in a larger number of regions.
Dr SPENCER FITZ-GIBBON
Sir: Your coverage of the D-Day commemorations has been balanced and informative but, now that we have properly remembered all those who gave their lives then and you have penned your editorial on the justice of the war (5 June), it is surely the moment to reassess more frankly the way that conflict was ended.
The Allied decision to accept nothing less than total victory, inspired by many of the same emotions that have driven US policy since 9/11, had terrible consequences beyond the carnage in France. The slaughter in Hamburg, the holocaust of Dresden, the destruction of beautiful European towns and cities, the bankruptcy of Britain, the enslavement of vast swathes of Eastern Europe might have been avoided by a negotiated surrender, a feasible outcome given that the defeat of Hitler was patently inevitable by the beginning of 1944.
Your article on the bombing of Normandy (5 June) begins the process. It should be pursued in the interests of historical truth.
W J CARY
Sir: Complaints that the German Chancellor Schröder should not have attended the Normandy ceremony are surely churlish and misplaced. The Allies liberated millions of Germans, including world citizens such as Willy Brandt, not only friendly nations.
Burwash Etchingham, East Sussex
Sir: Unlike Johann Hari (7 June) I did not have a private audience of His Holiness the Dalai Llama but was an elderly member of a youthful crowd when he spoke at Westminster Central Hall on 28 May. However, I felt myself to be in a benign presence with exemplary lightness of touch rather than confronted by a compulsive giggler. In his opening remarks he told us to go straight home if we had come with unrealistic expectations of him. He emphasised the importance of being aware of and valuing the good small things that happen so as not to be overwhelmed by the large bad ones, he was scathingly ironical about that hare-brained phrase "friendly fire" and finished by answering a few questions. The last was - Your Holiness, when did you first laugh?
I can't remember - he said - I expect my mother tickled me!
Sir: I have just returned from a visit to Germany, Holland and Belgium. In these countries cyclists have a clearly designated part of the pavement. Cyclists use these lanes safely, slowly, and with due care for pedestrians. Here in the UK pedestrians swear at cyclists as they ride illegally on pavements and footpaths. If lanes were clearly indicated on pedestrian paths and a maximum speed and safety code set, cyclists should be able to ride in peace with their pedestrian neighbours as they do across the Channel.
Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes ("The new defenders of the British Empire", 7 June): "Those who claim Britain brought democratic values to their subjects need to name one colonised country where there was a credible democratic system during colonialism." Malta.
MEP for South East England (Con)
Great Bookham, Surrey
Sex for sale
Sir: While I sincerely hope the Home Office will allow local authorities to pilot safety zones for street sex workers (report, 8 June), I do hope they won't criminalize men who buy sex as well. Zones could not possibly work if the women's customers were kept away by fear of a jail sentence. Police need to be able to focus their limited resources on those who attack sex workers, or target children, not chase round after the hundreds of thousands of men who pay for sex.
UK Network of Sex Work Projects
Symbolic red tape
Sir: The Routemaster bus has for more than 40 years been an internationally recognisable symbol of Britain (report, 7 June).
Not for much longer though. They will all have been removed from London's streets by the end of this year, in the name of health and safety. Perhaps a more appropriate British cultural icon would therefore be a roll of red tape, representing our culture's aim to strangle our very souls by countless strands of futile legislation.
Sir: The Department of Culture, Media and Sport's proposed website display of "Britain's cultural icons" (7 June) might have carried more conviction among people from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland if a Department spokesman hadn't explained that it would form part of a debate about "what it means to be English".
St Andrews, Fife
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