St George for England - and let's keep racism out of it
Sir: I was very disappointed to read Peter Stanford perpetuating the myth that the flag of St George, and Englishness in general, are associated with racism and the BNP ("Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint who exactly?", 23 April).
This is trotted out every year on 23 April, and is quite distressing for those of us who see ourselves as English. The B in BNP stands for "British". Racists have always wrapped themselves in the Union Flag. To link Englishness with racism is grossly unfair.
I think that many of the inhabitants of England's two nearest neighbours see themselves as Scottish or Welsh first, and British second (if at all?) ... and there is nothing wrong with that. They celebrate their national flags with pride.
Equally, I think you would be very surprised to find out how many people see themselves as English these days, rather than British. It is the tag "British" that has become tainted with racism and xenophobia.
It would be nice, on St George's Day to see Englishness celebrated for once. St George may well be a purely fictitious character, but that doesn't matter a jot. His day is supposed to be one of celebration, not an excuse to drag up spurious slurs against Englishness.
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire
Sir: Philip Hensher (23 April) is showing his urban liberal prejudices by stating that the idea of holding a St George's Day parade is "perfectly absurd". I've just checked with my mother and she confirmed that the small north Lincolnshire town I grew up in is having its usual annual St George's Day parade (albeit next weekend because of a marching band shortage). As Brown Owl, my mother will be leading the 1st Broughton Brownie pack for about the 25th year in a row.
Sir: So St George wasn't a True Brit at all! So what's new? St Patrick, a mainland-born Roman Brit, captured by Irish raiders and sold as a slave in Ireland. St Andrew, a Palestinian fisherman who followed Jesus, preached the Gospel in Turkey and was crucified for it. At least St David was a Welshman born, a true Brit who became primate and died peacefully in his own monastery.
Fantasy of nations swamped by Brussels
Sir: Frederick Forsyth claims to know Europe very well - indeed with his history of visits, residencies and his obvious language skills he would seem to know it better than most of us. Yet it becomes clear once you get into his article (24 April) that he is viewing it through some kind of distorting prism.
Even though the eventual structures of the EU may end up fairly similar to those of the US, Europe's nation states all have centuries of separate cultural, linguistic and political history behind them in a way that the states of America do not. It is a fantasy to suppose that national identities could ever be subsumed in the way he fears, and the actual end result will probably be a sort of half-way house with which I personally could feel entirely comfortable: I don't hold much of a brief for Westminster after its record of the the past forty years.
He compares the old East German Volkskammer to the European Parliament: this is totally absurd. The European Parliament as currently operating is pretty toothless and ineffective but it is up to us as Europeans to fight for increased powers for it, not just to walk away. The Volkskammer was the democratic figleaf of a Communist state: the election procedures for the Strasbourg Parliament are fair and free and all political directions are represented. Indeed since most members are elected by proportional representation there is a case for saying that its composition is more democratic than that of Westminster.
If Britain were to vote No in a referendum it could start an unstoppable momentum for us to leave the EU altogether. In my view this would be voting for the past.
Dudley, West Midlands
Sir: The proposed intergovernmental European constitutional treaty merits support from sceptics such as Frederick Forsyth in that for the first time it quite clearly states in which areas the EU can operate and in which it can't.
Given this I fail to share Forsyth's fear of the EU "morphing into a single, fully integrated megastate". The whole point, surely, in this new century that may well be dominated by the US, China and later India, is to give us Europeans a structure in which through co-operation we might better defend our interests. Far from meaning the end of a thousand years of history, the voluntary confederation that is the EU can act as more than the sum of its parts - witness how combined action last year forced the Bush administration to back down over steel tariffs.
The EU is a voluntary venture like none before it. For Britain, a most singularly European country as well described by Roy Hattersley (24 April), to turn its back on the development of our continent because the power structure of the nation state cannot adapt to the social and economic realities of the 21st century seems to me at best short-sighted and at worst dangerous, and certainly cowardly.
Sir: Tom MacFarlane (letter, 21 April) is right to recognise that the key principle of subsidiarity will be enshrined in the EU's constitutional treaty (with a welcome new provision for national parliaments to ensure its compliance), but wrong to claim that the document includes no requirement for democratic controls on the European institutions.
In fact the nominees for both the President of the European Commission and the remaining Commissioners would be (as they are at present) subject to approval by the elected European Parliament, following hearings by MEPs. The Commissioners remain responsible to the Parliament, which can pass a motion of censure to sack them.
The other key institution of the Union, the Council, would continue to consist of elected government ministers from each member state (who are in turn accountable to their elected national parliaments).
There would be no "drifting" of power upwards as Mr MacFarlane fears, as one of the major innovations of the draft constitution is to limit the actions of the EU to those areas agreed by the member countries and set out in the document.
In terms of levels of openness and consultation, as well as the power of individual MEPs, the EU system is arguably already more democratic than Whitehall and Westminster.
Steyning, West Sussex
Sir: When I first came to England many years ago from Spain, I was patronisingly told that referenda were the weapon of dictators - as used by Franco - and that if we in Spain had had a proper democratically elected parliament, there was no need for them. So why is the UK now having a referendum on the EU constitution? Does Blair think that the present Parliament is not up to the job of taking a decision?
Victims of abuse
Sir: It would be a pity if the casual reader of Thomas Sutcliffe's review of the BBC1 drama May 33rd (22 April) came away with the belief that Dissociative Identity Disorder did not exist.
There is growing experimental evidence from cognitive psychology for the existence of individuals with separate personality states which are profoundly amnesic for each other. This is what was graphically depicted in author Guy Hibbert's script and in Lia Williams' performance, and is the core of the definition of DID in the standard diagnostic text. The experiments, I should say, specifically test for faking.
Given the existence of the condition, some explanation is necessary. The only account around is one based on early traumatic abuse. Nobody tells another coherent story. Mr Sutcliffe implies that the condition can be induced by therapy. However, no evidence has ever been put forward that therapy can induce personality states with mutual amnesia of the kind I and others have studied.
Professor JOHN MORTON
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
University College, London
Women in prison
Sir: I find it incredible that you are advocating different sentences for the same crime based purely on the gender of the offender (leading article: "Sending women to jail is inhumane and does nothing to keep us safe", 24 April).
This way of thinking would appear to date back to times where women were seen as meek, feeble creatures who were not responsible for their actions. Are you really saying that women don't know right from wrong or that male offenders don't suffer through imprisonment?
Your statement that "children deprived of their mother are more likely to be sucked into criminality" is similarly dubious, since the primary barrier to criminality is a stable family background (whether that be the traditional nuclear family or not) rather than the presence of an individual.
Given the finite number of spaces available in the prison system, the judgement as to who qualifies for non-custodial sentences should be based on the crime and on the propensity for re-offending, not on the gender, age or race of the criminal.
Sir: It was instructive to read two of your columnists' thoughts on Ron Atkinson and his racist outburst (24 April).
On the comment page, Terence Blacker tells us that while it would be easy to imagine Arsène Wenger and Gerard Houllier discussing the case for a European constitution, Sir Alex Ferguson and Peter Reid "would be more limited in scope" conversationally. And yet Arsène Wenger happily admits that he thinks and talks about nothing other than football, and has given no indication of a hinterland in his eight years in England; Sir Alex Ferguson is a well-known wine connoisseur and a public supporter of the Labour Party. (The fortunes of Arsenal and Manchester United this season suggest that Ferguson might have spent too much time thinking about a European constitution, rather than too little.) I agree, however - because this seems to be Blacker's point - that Wenger has a French accent and Ferguson a Glaswegian one.
Meanwhile, on the sports pages, James Lawton ends his piece by reminding us that Atkinson played for Oxford United, not Oxford University. Ah, yes - only posh Oxbridge graduates would know that calling someone "a f--- lazy n---" is offensive.
Prejudice - it's a tricky business, isn't it?
Sir: If Ron Atkinson had referred to Marcel Desailly as a "fucking lazy thick frog", would he still have his job?
RICHARD A BARTLE
West Bergholt, Essex
Sir: I am afraid that it is factually false that I met New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani during the last mayoral election and that we did not get on ("Nozza's feisty ticket", 21 April). I think I am right in saying that the only mayoral candidate who met with him during that campaign was Jeffrey Archer, who had defeated Steve Norris in the Tory selection.
In fact I did not meet Mayor Giuliani until after my election as Mayor. His international office kindly helped to organise my visit to New York in January 2001, during which I met with Mayor Giuliani and spoke at his daily press conference in City Hall, as well as meeting with Commissioner of the NYPD. My meeting with Mayor Giuliani was extremely constructive and I was therefore very pleased to meet him again on his visit to London in 2002, when I hosted a lunch for him to promote the cities of New York and London.
I have always found Rudi Giuliani to be interesting, friendly and enjoyable company, and at no time in any of these meetings have we ever failed to "get on" as you report.
Mayor of London
Sir: The Rev Peter Jameson (letter, 24 April) doesn't think that "back-to-backs" - terraced houses with a common back wall - exist today. Do none of his parishioners live in tower block estates?
Sir: Brian Finch, writes (letter, 24 April) that "If the Arab nations had not attacked Israel in 1948 ... then the sufferings might have been rather less." It would be interesting to learn what Mr Finch's actions and views would be had he been a member of one of those families dispossessed in 1948 by the influx of post-war Jewish refugees from Europe, in breach of the caveat in the Balfour Declaration (to respect the lives, property and religion of those who then lived in Palestine) that formed the essential basis for such a Jewish resettlement.
Take no notice
Sir: None of your correspondents on the subject of misleading signs have had the courage to raise the issue of the notice "Danger, men at work". I have never seen the equivalent sign "Danger, women at work" and have always wondered if women were recognised as being safer workers. Does the sign suggest that men are dangerous and are at work, or is it that men are generally safe but are something of a hazard in certain working situations?
Sir: A sign on the door of a delivery room at Royal Cornwall Hospital maternity unit reads: PUSH. My daughter did so, and now We are a Grandfather.