Swearing allegiance, Bush and others

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Swearing allegiance to Queen and country is downright barmy

Swearing allegiance to Queen and country is downright barmy

Sir: So Charles Clarke is drawing up plans to ask all 18-year-olds to pledge their allegiance to "Queen and Country" (20 January). If he goes ahead with this hair-brained scheme I hope that he has the good sense to separate the two requests.

As an 18-year-old I would have refused, as indeed I would now, to swear allegiance to anyone whose only claim for my allegiance is that they are the descendants of blood lines which, over the centuries, have included gangsters, thugs, robbers and murderers. That they "legitimised" their tyrannies in the concept of monarchy does not mean that any of us should be prepared to go along with such an abhorrent nonsense in today's world.

Swearing allegiance to my country is a more difficult matter and would depend very much on the nature and form of the oath put before me. I would not, for example, be prepared to swear allegiance to my country "right or wrong" and I would be fearful of any of my fellow citizens who were prepared to do so.

I might be prepared to swear that I would always seek to act in best interests of the citizens of my country, ideally of the world. However, as I would demand the right to say what I see as these "best interests" when my "allegiance" is called upon, the whole thing starts to get very problematical, if not downright barmy. Is this in reality just another ploy to reward conformity and subservience?

Winterborne Stickland, Dorset

Sir: Whatever the pros and cons of the idea of citizenship ceremonies for 18-year-olds, I hope that this idea does not indicate the rejection of a more fundamental reforming step in recognising the rights and responsibilities of young citizens: reducing the minimum voting age to 16.

Currently, 16- and 17-year-olds can work, pay taxes, join the armed forces and get married, but they cannot elect those who govern them. According to a recent British Social Attitudes survey, where a decade ago 38 per cent of 12- to 19-year-olds had some interest in politics, now the figure is 31 per cent. Sixty eight per cent have little interest at all. This is not a healthy basis for a life as fully engaged citizens.

Votes at 16 is an essential step in rebuilding interest in politics among young people and for helping to reinvigorate local democracy.

Chief Executive, Local Government Information Unit, London WC1

No celebration over Bush's inauguration

Sir: I did not celebrate Bush's inauguration day ("Pomp and circumstance", 21 January). It had nothing to do with sour grapes as many Republicans would have us think of those who protested in Washington. Instead I was thinking about how much I fear for my country at the hands of a president who has done more damage to this nation than any single individual in recent memory.

I was thinking of all the opportunities missed after September 11 to address the causes and effects of this event and its meaning for the US and the world. I was thinking of how a "war on terror" is a practical impossibility but a very useful political concept. I was thinking of the illegal war in Iraq. I was thinking of the more than 100,000 Iraqi men, women and children who have had to die and the countless thousands who have lost their homes and livelihoods needlessly for someone else's vision of "freedom".

I was thinking of the dead US soldiers and the troops who are being used to fight what is, in reality, one man's private war. I was thinking of all the young Arabs who, because of our government's arrogance and stupidity, will be eager to continue fighting - and dying - to be rid of an occupying power. I was thinking of how in this nation of free speech and equal opportunity our government has pursued its policies by means of obfuscation, propaganda and deception with the support of and for the benefit of the wealthy.

I was thinking how that silence from all responsible free-thinking Americans is resonating throughout the world. I was thinking of how, for the first time in this nation's history even our friends are afraid of us. No, I did not celebrate this inauguration day.

Kingston, Rhode Island, USA

Sir: I am an American living in England, for the last two and half years. Although I miss my country a great deal, I have found many good friends here. I am a firm believer in freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. However, I often read your paper and see many opinions about America and especially President Bush that are not only negative but brutally ignorant.

The most recent articles I have read are about the inauguration and how many Americans are fleeing to Canada ("Canada here they come", 20 January). President Bush has done many great things for America and for the world, and not to recognise this is just short sightedness. The British have no room to criticise anyone with all the problems you have.

Within the European Union you have the highest rate of single families, teenage pregnancies, mothers on welfare, abuse to children, destruction of the family by family courts, the evisceration of fathers and their importance in children's lives, and decline of family values.

As for the increase of Christianity in the US and the move to a Conservative leadership, well America needs this at the moment. As for the liberals and the so-called progressive thinkers, it is their ideology that has ruined many of the traditional values that as a whole were not that bad. I commend your freedom of speech but you should respect the opinions of the other side.

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Sir: The picture on your front page (21 January) of the American President's inauguration reminded me of the Soviet stage-managed displays of the Politburo in Moscow which, at the time, reminded me of the Nazi rallies at Nuremburg in the 1930s. As a statement of purpose it should make the world very nervous indeed.

Beckenham, Kent

Sir: "Our belief in human dignity will guide our policies..."; "No justice without freedom..."; "There can be no human rights without human liberty..."

Guantanamo Bay to be maintained and extended?


Youth clubs

Sir: How sad to read of a Labour politician, Margaret Hodge, condemning youth clubs, especially unstructured ones ("Children would be better off watching TV than attending youth clubs, says Hodge", 20 January). I have been involved as a volunteer in them for 25 years, in part as an attempt to repair the damage done to local communities by politicians such as her.

At one time we looked to the Labour Party to promote such activities. Now, with false logic and poisonous NewSpeak words, she undermines our efforts. I would like to ask her to come down to our "unstructured" youth hut, where young people meet and talk with adults who are interested in them, and want to help, but not in the rigid puritanical way that Mr Blair's government favours.

Stay at home, though, Ms Hodge. You would do us more good by watching TV than destroying community activities with your wrongheaded ideas.

Alcester, Warwickshire

Comedy history

Sir: Historical revisionism now appears to have even reached the world of alternative comedy ("The Comedy Store: 25 years of one-liners, hecklers and gongs", 11 January).

As the life insurance salesman who founded the Comedy Store, I am proud of my achievement. So just to set the record straight: I went to the Comedy Store in Los Angeles in 1978 whilst on holiday. I came back to London determined to open a similar club here.

I went around the West End looking for a venue to put it in. I was introduced to Don Ward who ran the Nell Gwynne Strip and Gargoyle club in Soho. He agreed to let me use his premises, and we would open it together as partners.

My role was to find the comedians, audition them, promote, advertise and open the club. Just weeks before opening in May 1979, as I was despairing of finding anyone with any comedy potential at all, in walked a Liverpudlian called Alexei Sayle; and the rest is comedy history.

London W9

Aids in Namibia

Sir: I commend you on your front-page story on the impact of the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Africa (13 January). We welcomed Chancellor Gordon Brown's visit to Africa, as well as the commitment of the British government to campaign for increased development aid, targeting strategic areas of need in Africa.

However, it would have been good to have more information about the efforts of the countries you have mentioned in dealing with this disease. For instance, in the case of Namibia, the government, churches and a number of NGOs are working together to address the issues of education, prevention, testing, counselling, treatment and care. There is a new focus on the care of orphans, and anti-retroviral treatment is now being extended to Aids sufferers. According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Health and Social Services, the rate of increase of people infected by HIV and Aids is slowing down.

We will continue with our own efforts, but we do need the concrete support of the international community in order to overcome this disease and enhance our development potential.

Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of Namibia, Brussels

Phone-scam victim

Sir: In response to Ian Gardner's letter (15 January), I have also been a victim of premium rate calls made from my computer without my knowledge.

When I queried the calls, the BT representative expressed great surprise that so many premium-rate internet calls had been charged to my account, and promised to investigate them. Several weeks later I received a reply informing me that although the calls were due to a computer virus, the calls were made from my computer and I was liable for the charges. They offered to waive £25 of the bill as the investigation had taken some time.

BT should have detected these calls and stopped them before any of their customers were affected; it also occurred to me that if BT sent out their bills on a monthly basis instead of quarterly, the customers themselves would have spotted the problem. In the meantime, I have upgraded to broadband to prevent this happening again.

Nantwich, Cheshire

Curbs on drinking

Sir: Perhaps local authorities could be given powers to place pubs that promote irresponsible drinking (Letters, 21 January) on "special measures": more seating, so drinks can be put down from time to time; lower sound levels, so conversation becomes an alternative to drinking; and for persistent trouble spots, a "no-rounds rule", so that only one drink can be purchased in a single transaction.

Our drinking culture will change as soon as it is profitable for those who own it to change it, and not before.

Chelmsford, Essex

Principled Westerners

Sir: Stephen Parkin (letter, 18 January) points out that Osama bin Laden and the "insurgents" in Iraq don't seem to accept that "freedom from inhuman treatment is a natural right".

True, but does that mean that we need not accept it either? Many of our enemies believe that we, in the decadent West, are hypocrites who only care about our own safety; that our commitment to freedom, to justice and to human rights is just a pose.

Do we want to prove them right? Instead of chucking our principles overboard, we should be nailing our colours to the mast.

Hampton, Middlesex

Royal deaths

Sir: Louise Jury, in her article "My kingdom for a battlefield: researchers to look for the site where Richard III really died" (21 January), stated that the Battle of Bosworth was the last time that a British king was killed on the battlefield.

It would have been more accurate to say English king; King James IV of Scotland was killed at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, along with most of the Scottish nobility.

Beverley, East Yorkshire

Birthday surprise

Sir: In "You Ask The Questions" (20 January), Bruce Forsyth mentions that Cyd Charisse is dead. This might come as a surprise to Ms Charisse who will be celebrating her 82nd birthday on 8 March.

London W3

MEP morals

Sir: I was under the impression that elections to the European Parliament were by proportional representation and therefore votes were cast for the party rather than the individual.

As Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk has resigned the whip of UKIP (report, 21 January) and stories suggest he may leave and start his own party, it is interesting to speculate whether he has either the moral or legal right to remain an MEP.

Bredbury, Stockport