Blair is right to blame the Sixties for the collapse of society
Blair is right to blame the Sixties for the collapse of society
Sir: Tony Blair's criticism of the "1960s liberal consensus" for helping create the social problems of today has provoked predictable outrage from the current generation of liberal opinion-formers. Their response has been to blame the 1980s instead, with their culture of selfish acquisitiveness, for the loutishness encountered today. However, liberals need to consider the possibility that the social reforms of the 1960s may have paved the way for the "me first" Thatcherism of the 1980s.
The 1960s saw the start of a shift in the balance of power from society to the individual, which continues today; we were all told that we could do as we pleased, and that society had no right to constrain us or even to judge us. From being a cohesive society of people who took into account the consequences of our actions on others, we gradually became an assemblage of disconnected individuals selfishly gratifying our own wants and desires with no regard to anyone else. Was it therefore any great surprise when these attitudes started to take hold in the economic sphere? That same society that had no right to tell individuals how to behave, logically had no right to tax individuals to any great degree, which would deprive them of their right to spend their money as they saw fit. Hence today's problems with run-down public services, the ever-widening gulf between rich and poor, and rampant consumerism masquerading as self-expression.
The social individualism of the 1960s spawned the economic individualism of the 1980s and beyond. Rather than simply condemning Thatcher for saying "there is no such thing as society", perhaps liberals ought to reflect on the part they played in bringing about this state of affairs.
'Narrative' of a war for global dominance
Sir: Adrian Hamilton ("A mistaken sense of smugness at Number 10", 22 July) refers to the "narratives of war". Thanks to Robert Fisk's reports, I have asked myself a simple question: "What if this was the predicted and desired outcome of the invasion and occupation of Iraq?"
Bush and Blair are both quite clear that this act of war was a continuation of policy by other means, and we should not forget that policy before the war was to degrade Iraq through severe economic sanctions. We have simply taken direct control over the degradation while ensuring best access to oil in the ground and as a geostrategic tool. A "narrative of war" concluding that Mr Blair seeks for his country a place at a table it was occupying about a century ago, albeit tucked in the pocket of Uncle Sam's waistcoat this time, may not be far off the mark. No doubt the Foreign Office has a long institutional memory and takes a long historical overview for its remit.
This is in our best interests. Cheap fuel and a destabilised Middle East are morally questionable, but economically and geostrategically desirable to an American/European society as yet unable to transform reliance for all its material pleasures on slave-populations around the world into something worthier.
Mr Blair does not find it in his or our best interests to offer us grown-up, real-world choices: if you want to continue to live like this, we will need to do certain unpleasant things on your behalf; if you don't like those things, start preparing for a materially less comfortable future. The language of personal morality (Saddam is a bad man and has gone away, so rejoice) is simply inadmissible in these greater narratives, and as long as politicians use it they must expect raised eyebrows, at least. Even from those of us who accept that we are direct beneficiaries of the prizes they have won for us.
Sir: Like Rod Chapman (letters, 23 July), I am glad that Tony Blair's distortion of the French government's position in the lead-up to war is now being exposed. Luckily for those interested in the truth, the website of the French Foreign Ministry has preserved several important documents, including M. Chirac's formal declaration of 18 March 2003, the very day of the House of Commons debate, and M. de Villepin's interview with the BBC's Newsnight programme on 14 March.
M. de Villepin's comments are clear - the French government did not rule out military action if the UN inspectors were unable to complete their task. It rejected only "the logic of an ultimatum" - that is, the approval of an immediate war. He also revealed what must have been the British argument of the time: "Nous devrions donc partir en guerre parce que nous avons une armée sur place? Nous devrions nous en servir?" (So do we have to go to war because we have an army in place? Do we have to use it?) The British had trapped themselves in an American logic of deployment and war - the railway timetables of 1914 in miniature.
Tony Blair has always denied that Britain has to choose between Europe and the US. But in March 2003, he made his choice. We will only be able to choose differently when he is gone.
Sir: Once again you have manipulated the evidence to create a anti-Tony Blair front page, and grab headlines (21 July). Under the title "Cause for rejoicing?", you listed all the prices we've paid in Iraq, and none of the gains we paid those prices for.
We've given the Iraqi people an opportunity for freedom, democracy and progress, and a chance to use their country's natural resources to gain wealth. There's a chance to end the poverty and resultant high death rates that reigned under Saddam and the UN sanctions. Hospitals are rebuilt, children are in school. And yes, we've made certain that countless lives aren't at risk from weapons that really could have been there, as far as we knew. Better that than sit back and take the chance that Saddam didn't have weapons, even though he refused to comply with the UN.
In an imperfect world sometimes it's proper to take actions even when we can't be certain that they'll be proved to be the right actions at a later time. And things aren't always black and white, which means that we are left with both causes to rejoice, and causes to despair, in the wake of military action in Iraq. There is no clear right, and no clear wrong here, so how can you be so one-sided in your pursuit of a juicy headline?
JAMES C BUCKLEY
Rotherham, South Yorkshire
Sir: Many must have viewed with disgust the self-righteous triumphalism of the Prime Minister in scoring cheap political points off an inadequate opponent in Tuesday's debate on Iraq in the House of Commons. In no other walk of life would it be possible to cause the death of thousands on a false prospectus and walk away scot-free. If, as now seems likely, party interest rather than justice prevails and Mr Blair is retained in his post, we will have a prime minister who is held in contempt by a majority in the country he purports to lead.
Sir GEOFFREY CHANDLER
Left in a siding
Sir: Anthony Sampson's article (17 July) comparing the French railway system and our own was spot on, except he missed one key point. Not only do the French (and Germans) have railway systems that are superior to our own in every respect, but the continued investment by their own governments has meant their railway supply industry has always been kept up to date. Hence, when those countries need new trains or infrastructure, they need go no further than their own shores to find world-class suppliers. By contrast, Virgin have has to buy its new trains from Italy!
And if you think that's not worth the multibillion-euro investment, then remember that China is only considering German and French suppliers for its high-speed Beijing-Shanghai link - a contract worth many billions in lovely foreign exchange. Still, the UK was always better at thinking up ideas and then letting other countries capitalise on them!
UN must act in Sudan
Sir: How many more innocent people must perish in Darfur before the United Nations can be convinced of the need for action?
The UN must deploy a peace-keeping force immediately if the current crisis is to be prevented from developing into a full-blown catastrophe. The international community must also put increased pressure on the government in Khartoum to disarm the Janjaweed militias and fulfil its duty to protect all of its citizens.
The people of Darfur should not have to wait until the Security Council decides whether or not this is genocide before they are given protection. The million and a half people who have been driven from their homes and left to rot in the desert or so-called displaced persons camps need rescuing, not a debate. To them the distinctions between ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and genocide are irrelevant. They need assistance and they need it urgently. The time for deciding who is to blame for their plight is later.
The whole Greer
Sir: Women's lives have indeed "changed radically" over the last 30 years, yet Minette Walters (Magazine, 17 July) is still nailed to 1970. Throughout her attack on Germaine Greer, she refers constantly to The Female Eunuch, yet neglects to mention Greer's follow-up study, The Whole Woman, published in 2000.
Walters cannot shake off the notion of equality. The idea that freedom could be achieved by assuming a pseudo-male identity was not one promoted by Greer in 1970, and is not one promoted by her today. In Greer's own words, "women could never find freedom by agreeing to live the lives of unfree men". Liberation, allowing the recognition and celebration of differences, was the point. Equality was not.
Walters calls for Greer to "advocate motherhood", claiming (quite rightly) that "without it, we're in trouble". If she had taken the time to flick through a copy of The Whole Woman, a chapter entitled "Mothers" might have been of interest.
In it, Greer states that we need "all the mothers we can get". She describes motherhood as "a full-time job", even arguing that it should be regarded as a "genuine career option" and therefore constitute paid work. If this does not advocate motherhood, then what does?
Walters says Greer "got it wrong". Her personal view of feminism appears to be the "have it all" approach, which, in effect, states that any woman who doesn't successfully juggle career, husband and children has failed. Having it all is a myth which is already becoming outdated. The "true feminist" is the confident woman who resists pressure to conform to a fashionable ideal.
F J McKENNA
Colby, Isle of Man
Design for living
Sir: Why do you continue to use the misleading term "designer babies"? (report, 22 July). What designer would create a few models at random and then select the best? This is no way to design anything whether it be a car, a building, a bridge or an iPod, let alone a human being. The technique to which you refer is where one from a group of embryos is selected on the basis of tissue-typing. Why not use terms such as selected embryos or chosen babies?
Ottery St Mary, Devon
Sir: It appears that Bob Geldof was badly briefed in relation to TV licence evasion ("A lost opportunity to give children their human rights", 22 July). We would like to clarify to your readers that you cannot be imprisoned for non-payment of the TV licence fee. A custodial sentence may be imposed by magistrates after non-payment of fines, but this is a matter strictly for the courts. According to the Home Office only three women were imprisoned in 2003 for non-payment of fines related to TV licence evasion.
Sir: Trevor Roberts writes, "The winter solstice is a secular festival which should not be Christianised" (letters, 21 July). Actually the winter solstice is a pagan festival which should be enjoyed by all.
Sir: Peter West (letters, 21 July) repeats the old formula that "respect has to be earned". It would be a saner and pleasanter world if we all treated each other with respect and courtesy as a matter of course.
Lone star status
Sir: In the interest of accuracy, I want to mention a line in Andrew Gumbel's article on the censorship of Linda Ronstadt (21 July). Gumbel states that the Dixie Chicks' singer Natalie Maines "told the audience she was ashamed to come from President Bush's home state of Texas". According to the transcripts I've seen, Maines said, "We're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." As a Texan myself, born and raised, there's a big distinction from being ashamed you're from there (which I'm not), and being ashamed George Bush is from there.