Respect in a fragmented society, Europhiles need to start the fight and others

Click to follow

Children cannot learn respect in such a fragmented society

Children cannot learn respect in such a fragmented society

Sir: Twenty-five years ago a politician said: "There is no such thing as society". Children of that generation have grown up to be the parents of the children and teenagers of today.

Those children of 25 years ago became part of the era that saw communities and the neighbourhood spirit of caring and sharing torn apart. Those children grew up seeing so many of their own parents losing their jobs. Working opportunities for those children were wiped away, leaving vast expanses of derelict ex-factories. Lost were the range of training opportunities, notably apprenticeships.

Apprenticeship not only provided skills training, it also saw young people working alongside older craftsmen, their elders, where young people learnt about the society they were part of. The discipline that went with working with potentially dangerous machinery and tools. The discipline that went with being a member of a trade union. Apprenticeships turned out well rounded individuals who had grown to respect those older people who passed on their skills and life experiences, that could never be learnt in a classroom.

All of that has been lost, to an extent that politicians have never recognised. Today job insecurity is what most families face; both parents having to work to grasp a lifestyle seen in glossy magazines or television. Respect cannot be taught in a classroom; respect cannot be bullied into young people; it has to be earned.



Sir: In the debate about respect the omission of reference to self-respect is noticeable.

Our world is dominated by messages telling us that if only we could achieve a changed state - be that younger, thinner, richer - then we'd be fulfilled. So we live in a constant frenzy of trying to be someone or something else: and cannot respect ourselves or anyone else who doesn't conform to these perfect stereotypes. Who then can we blame when those around us appear to reflect this behaviour by disrespecting us?



Sir: Children reflect the behaviour of the adults in their lives. What's the difference between children heckling their teachers and MPs heckling each other? Children will show respect when adults model it.



Europhiles need to start the fight now

Sir: It's screamingly obvious why the "Yes" campaign in Britain is lagging ("The Battle For Europe", 23 May 2005). The singular failure of both the New Labour and the Liberal Democrat leaderships to take the fight to the Europhobic right beggars belief.

The result is a sublime public ignorance of the benefits of the European Union, clearly illustrated at a recent general election parliamentary candidates' debate in Salisbury where only five out of an audience of 200 had actually perused the proposed constitution, let alone read it cover to cover!

Your editorial is right. It's time for the "Yes" campaign to have the courage to take the gloves off and expose the lies and European mythology of UKIP and the Tory dinosaurs. The "Yes" campaign needs to develop some attitude, and quickly.



Sir: Recent articles in The Independent on Daniel Cohn-Bendit and by Denis MacShane demonstrate the intellectual poverty of much Europhile discourse. They characterise (probably) 53 per cent of the French electorate as stupid - dupes being misled by the lies of political extremists.

What is stupid about wishing to defend one of the best health and social security systems in the world against the powers to destroy or vitiate them contained in the proposed constitution? One of the objectives in the constitution is "a highly competitive social market economy" - "social market" being a windy phrase that means little more than maximally competitive.

What is stupid about wanting to protect employment and wages against Articles 1 -13, which would give the EU sole legal power to decide policy as regards trade tariffs and quotas, monetary policy for the eurozone, competition rules for the internal market, fisheries conservation and trade agreements with other countries?



The real victims of oppression

Sir: I wholeheartedly support those, like Della Petch (letter, 21 May), who feel England needs its own political arrangements to manage its own affairs. But I must question the idea that Wales and Scotland "rule over their neighbour, England".

If English people were beaten in school for speaking English, if their courts operated solely in a foreign language, if they were forced to speak a foreign language in order to survive, if their magnificent language and culture were judged to be the cause of immorality and worthy only of extirpation, if their lands were flooded to provide water for Wales or if they were banned even from their own towns, then they might have cause to complain about Welsh "rule", as all these have been features of England's long rule over Wales. Happily, England does not suffer such iniquities from Welsh "rulers"; English rule over Wales is far more benign these days, and we are in any case gradually gaining a little more power to govern ourselves at last.

So can we forget all this nonsense about England being "ruled" by Wales or Scotland? There are legitimate questions over the role of Scottish and Welsh MPs in deciding policy for England, but even a resolute anti-Blairite like myself would not compare the current situation with the history of English rule over pretty much anywhere else, or indeed with the 18 years of devastating misrule by English-elected Tories endured by Wales and Scotland from 1979 to '97.



Nothing brave about coping with cancer

Sir: Deborah Orr's article about Kylie Minogue's breast cancer (21 May) is the first sensible, wise and truly useful response I have read to the news. There is, as she suggests, nothing "brave" about dealing with cancer: in my experience, you just have to get on with it as best you can. And allowing yourself to feel miserable and cowardly sometimes is part of the process.



Sir: Deborah Orr is right about the numerous clichés that are aired with tiresome regularity each time breast cancer hits the headlines. The one I hate most of all is, "Luckily the cancer has been caught at a very early stage and you should make a full recovery."

Loved ones and friends rejoice at this news and you get heralded as one who has beaten breast cancer. My "very early stage" has returned three times now and sometimes I feel a bit of a failure.



Public money for private health care

Sir: After the Queen's Speech and Patricia Hewitt's announcement of £3bn to be spent on new independent treatment centres, we should return to the underlying facts about the NHS and its future.

There is current lack of capacity, the result of decades of underfunding. Additional resources have been provided since 2002 which should, over the next few years, correct the deficit, if they are used for that purpose. Until then there is a problem of waiting lists and, let's not forget, shortages in many other less publicised parts of the service.

To deal with the short-term problem there is a case for the carefully monitored use of existing spare capacity in the private sector but to spend public money on developing new private rather than NHS facilities commits us to dependence on them in the long term and acceptance of an undercapacity NHS in perpetuity.

Unfortunately that is the Government's declared intention. The post-election "listening" period has been remarkably brief.



Taxman turned into a bogeyman

Sir: I have received a letter from my bank inviting me to a meeting - complete with refreshments - designed to help me "prevent my hard-earned money going to the taxman in inheritance tax". I object to the content and tone of this letter.

Throughout my life I have benefited from taxation - in medical and police services, education, transport and all the other benefits of a civilised and co-operative society. So also have our four children, whom we have been able to help during our lifetime and who now explicitly do not look for inherited money, and also our grandchildren and great-grandchild. My salary and my husband's have been paid out of government funds as are now two of our children's. The work may be hard but it was, and is, worthwhile. I look to see all of these younger people continuing to live in a society where taxation is seen as a necessary and rational way of collecting money for public spending; collected by servants of society, both taxmen and -women, who dutifully pass it on to where it should go.

To make "the taxman" a bogeyman and public enemy is a shameful ploy on the part of those whose sole aim is to get rich at others' expense; I am enraged that my bank should make such an assumption about me, presumably as a cover for selling executor services.



Our third-world voting system

Sir: Congratulations on taking the initiative with your much-needed campaign for electoral reform.

Despite some 64 per cent voting against Blair, he is back in office with an overall majority of 67 seats. So much for British democracy! Had this been a third world country, imagine the fallout that there would have been - with possible talk of sanctions etc. We need to emulate the Kiev demonstrations, and demand democracy in Britain. Let us get on to the streets!



Sir: I find it ironic that many of the letters crying out for electoral reform bemoan the lack of accountability of our Prime Minister. If the recent election had taken place under a proportional system, Tony Blair would surely still be Prime Minister, supported by the Liberal Democrats.

It seems inconceivable that the Liberals would ever form a government with the Conservatives, so unless the Conservatives were able to produce a remarkable result in a subsequent election, we would never be able to replace a Labour/Liberal government. Is that really the more accountable system everyone wants?

The present system has many flaws - my proxy vote for Labour in a safe Conservative seat had little effect on the overall result - but the ability to throw out an unpopular government is one that any reform should seek to maintain.



Sir: Some of the implications of a more representative voting system really don't bear thinking about.

The adversarial structure of the existing House of Commons really wouldn't work with a greater spread of parties of different gradations of left to right, though it would be interesting to see where smaller parties put themselves in relation to the two big ones. Would the Lib Dems sit left or right of New Labour? So we would need a new horseshoe-shaped chamber (heaven forfend) suitable as a workplace for the 21st century, with desks for members, microphones, etc.

Where on earth would it lead? Next thing we knew we would be updating the National Anthem with words which made sense in the 21st rather than the 18th century, and redesigning the national flag to one which anyone could fly the right way up without training. (Is it broad white stripe at the top nearest the flagpole? My days in the Girl Guides are a long time ago.)



Abuse of the Koran

Sir: Steve Crawshaw (letter, 24 April) may be London Director of Human Rights Watch, but his letter reads more like one from "Koran Rights Watch". Can it really be a human right to not see a book damaged? By concentrating on acts which are at worst offensive, might we be missing real abuses of human rights?



Mobile mimic

Sir: I was woken this morning as usual by the loud alarm tone from my mobile phone. This time however I was aware of a bird outside my window copying exactly the mobile phone tones. It was then I thought gratefully I had not downloaded the "Crazy Frog".



Horrors of sex trade

Sir: The tragedy of sex slavery (Johann Hari, 20 May) goes to the heart of successive governments' failure to rationalise policy on prostitution. Men and women should be able to buy and sell sex within the law, but only in licensed premises where there are health and other safeguards for both buyer and seller. Any other arrangement should be illegal, with both parties equally liable to prosecution. Until then, men will abuse women - and other men - without fear of reprisal and trafficked women will suffer depths of misery that should horrify and shame us all.



Adventures by bike

Sir: Nikki Vandenbergh is too complacent about cycling in Holland (letter, 24 May). The splendid, but quite narrow, cycle paths are shared with small but quite fast motor-scooters. The speed differential must be about 40mph. These scooters do not like to slow down and are equipped with a curious warning device which emits a sound which I have never encountered before. By the time one has worked out what it means the scooter has passed by.



Chemical scare

Sir: I read with great concern your article about the prevalence of chemicals in the human body ("Toxic shock", 24 May). But things are worse even than you describe. No less than 100 per cent of my body (and yours) is made of chemicals. Something must be done!