Unchecked misrule is beyond the reach of our democracy
Unchecked misrule is beyond the reach of our democracy
Sir: Trust and accountability have emerged as the dominant issues of the election campaign, but we have heard precious little from the political parties and media on how the people can secure both.
Obviously, the vote next Thursday is the principal instrument of accountability and that at least is in the hands of the people. But what else is on offer? It is just not good enough for Mr Blair's opponents to say, "Trust us instead". A mature democracy checks its elected rulers once they are in power so that the public is not reduced to having to "trust" them.
Our rules for government are too flexible. For example, any future Prime Minister will be able to take the UK into war by use of the unchecked powers he or she has under the Royal Prerogative. Governments conduct all our international and European dealings out of sight using the prerogative, but these deals affect every nook and cranny of our daily lives. Only the Lib Dems promise to tame this instrument of power, but they don't highlight this; the Tories (and, amazingly, Respect) are silent on this point.
There are demands for the publication of the Attorney General's original advice on the legality of going to war against Iraq, but no proposals for reform of the weak Freedom of Information law to make government more transparent and deceit less possible. Parliament can't employ its own legal adviser nor even commission a legal opinion on such an issue, but there are no proposals to remedy this.
Our democracy is dangerously vulnerable to the kind of misrule that we have experienced over the past four years. But we are not having a grown-up discussion about strengthening it during a democratic forum open to the nation which takes place only every four years or so.
PROFESSOR STUART WEIR
DIRECTOR, DEMOCRATIC AUDIT HUMAN RIGHTS CENTRE UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX
Why we must not 'move on' from Iraq
Sir: Blair and his sycophants are replying to the latest revelations of the illegality of Iraq with the line, "You've got your views and I've got mine. I had to make a decision and that's that. There's no point in going over old ground."
I'm afraid Mr Blair can't so flippantly dismiss the enormity of what he has done. Many lives have been sacrificed, vast sums have been squandered, and a country has been ruined. He didn't have to make that decision (though it seems likely that he made it long before discussing it in Cabinet or Parliament). Britain was not threatened (at least by Iraq). Therefore the war was one of aggression. He can't be presented with these very serious charges and just shrug his shoulders as if to say "So what?"
There is no graver issue for a national leader than taking his country to war, and if it turns out to be illegal, unnecessary and based on deception, then he is unfit to continue in office. The electorate should also take this issue very seriously. For without honesty, integrity and good character at the top, the economy, social justice and the quality of life will also suffer in the long term.
Sir: I am fed up with the opposition pontificating on Iraq. Yes we are pleased to see Saddam Hussein removed, but we should not have invaded, say the Liberals; Blair lied to the country, say the Tories. The truth is they can all sit back now the deed is done.
Tony Blair was right to remove Saddam from power. Had Saddam been left to exploit Iraq's vast oil reserves, he would have posed a real and unacceptable threat to Middle East stability. Controlling Saddam through sanctions was never a long-term option, given the willingness of France and Russia to trade with Iraq. Neither France nor Russia would have supported continued sanctions at the UN.
With new wealth at his disposal, equivalent to that of Saudi Arabia, Saddam Hussein would have renewed development of WMD and threatened not only neighbouring Arab states but also Israel. War with Saddam's Iraq was inevitable and would have been infinitely more destructive, possibly nuclear, had Blair and Bush not invaded.
Using existing UN resolutions to justify invasion shows Blair to be an astute and strong leader, in contrast to those in opposition.
Sir: I heartily applaud Steve Richards' article "Here is an unpopular truth: politicians are not all weak-kneed, two-faced liars" (26 April), particularly in relation to the legality of the invasion of Iraq and the supposed furore over the Attorney General's advice to the Government.
Anyone who has experience in large organisations of taking advice from in-house lawyers over contentious situations will know it is normal to receive a "first shot" review of the potential issues, characterised by caveats and "on the one hand, on the other hand" statements - no doubt driven by a desire not to be too clear-cut in a decision which may come back to haunt the lawyers. It's called "covering your backside".
The reaction of any senior manager receiving such advice is to say, "Make your mind up!" The "first shot" is then overtaken by the final advice. Surely this is what happened in the case of Lord Goldsmith's advice, and it is pointless seeking to set any great store by his initial outline.
WELWYN GARDEN CITY HERTFORDSHIRE
Sir: Those who question the integrity of Tony Blair in taking us to war on a false pretext must recognise also that he was staunchly supported by the great and the good of his Civil Service advisors at the time.
In evidence to the Hutton inquiry, Sir David Manning, the PM's former foreign policy adviser, was indignant at the BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan's "pretty direct attack on the integrity of the Prime Minister". Sir David Ormand, the PM's Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator, said the Kelly issue was of concern to him personally "because it was directly challenging the integrity of the process for which I was responsible".
Sir Richard Dearlove, Head of MI6, said he was confident the "45 minutes" claim was "well-sourced intelligence" and "accurate"; he had gone so far as to propose a vote of thanks to the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett, for "the way in which he and the assessment staff had conducted a difficult exercise, and the integrity in which it had been done".
I believe that history will show Tony Blair to have been prisoner to a climate of opinion in the upper reaches of the British establishment - a climate from which our senior civil servants seem only to emerge in retirement.
Sir: Tony Blair should stay calm, as Adlai Stevenson did when smeared by desperate Republicans in the 1950s. He offered them a pact: "If they will stop telling lies about me, I will stop telling the truth about them."
Voters meanwhile should remember that the Tory leader who fulminates about deception and MRSA is the same Michael Howard who endorsed one of the worst political lies of the 20th century - Margaret Thatcher's "The National Health Service is safe in our hands."
PROFESSOR GORDON MCGREGOR
Public services and the value of taxation
Sir: I live in a small village where for many years there has been a field devoted to allotments, tended by about 20 locals .
Each paid a small annual fee, which included payment for someone regularly to mow the pathways into the field and between the allotments. Over the years , more people have bought weekend homes here and some have gone for the complete rural experience by taking allotments. One, a banker, has taken his share of responsibility by joining the committee and a couple of years ago proposed that fees could be held down or reduced by eliminating the communal mowing service. Instead, everyone would do their own share. This was supported.
Now the pathways are overgrown and even those people who are motivated to do their share, and who own a mower, find it difficult to mow because the main pathways are so overgrown.
I can't help feeling this is a very simple allegory for much of the current political emphasis, from Labour and Conservative alike, to hold or reduce taxes. Cost is one thing, but value is quite another.
KINGSTON BLOUNT, OXFORDSHIRE
Sedgemore turns his back on Hackney
Sir: I fail to see how Brian Sedgemore's actions can be described as honourable (leading article, 26 April). To turn his back on the party that has given him a career in Hackney for the past twenty years knowing that he will not have to face his former comrades across the floor of the House is cowardly in the extreme.
A Tory government under Michael Howard might not be a threat to Mr Sedgemore with his MP's pension, but the same cannot be said for the people he purports to represent; one of the most deprived parts of the country.
It is areas like Hackney that most need the investment in public services, the New Deal and the tax credits that the Labour government Mr Sedgemore so despairs of has brought in.
Bleak future for British scholarship
Sir: It is pleasing to note that there are still some principled academics who are willing to stand up to the neo-liberal managerialism which has been allowed to take such a hold in our universities ("Academics revolt at 'plan to run Oxford like business' ", 26 April).
While many universities continue to pay lip service to academic freedom the reality is completely different. Those who refuse to concentrate on "safe" or popular topics that attract large research funds are told by bean-counting "line managers" to change their area of research. In addition, it is becoming increasingly rare for undergraduate students to be taught by leading scholars in their field because of the demands of the Research Assessment Exercise and the general downgrading of teaching.
Unless there is a rapid change in the way our universities are run the future for scholarship in Britain will remain extremely bleak.
READER IN DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM AND SOCIAL POLICY UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM
Funding proposals for Science Museum
Sir: You report ("Science Museum's financial crisis", 7 April) that financial pressures led Science Museum trustees to agree to a review of its financial situation and that this was after a meeting with Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, to appeal for more support. That is not the case. No such meeting has taken place.
On the other hand, discussions with the Department at ministerial and official levels have been going on for a very long time. They do not just relate to the Science Museum but also to the National Railway Museum in York and National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford.
We have consistently made clear the consequences of long-term erosion in the real value of our operating grant in aid. These, in effect, are cuts to the funding of our operations in London, York and Bradford and have been under way since 1994. As Louise Jury points out in her report, we have also been hit by significant further uncompensated costs of free admissions. It is NMSI that now has proposed a thoroughgoing review of its funding.
Your correspondent claims that we have been less successful than some in raising monies from sponsorship and trading. That is not accurate, as last year's National Audit Office report on National Museums and Galleries underlines. Our performance is rated second only to the Tate.
DR LINDSAY SHARP
DIRECTOR, NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY LONDON SW7
Sir: You report David Blunkett saying, "The real danger of a big abstention [is that it] could lead to a parliament where the disaffected determine the policy of the country" (27 April). Presumably this outcome is less desirable to him than the one his party is trying to engineer, i.e. a continuing Labour government elected by trimming to and targeting a few thousand voters in key marginals while the rest of us can be ignored again.
Sir: Haringey Council which covers the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency is certainly not "dominated by Liberal Democrats" ("Where anti-war vote could bite", 26 April). The council is in Labour control, and I am confident that on 5 May our voters will be mindful of the backing successive Labour governments have given to vital public services in our area and will vote to keep Hornsey and Wood Green in Labour control as well.
CLLR CHARLES ADJE
LEADER, HARINGEY COUNCIL LONDON N22
Costs of nuclear power
Sir: So expanding nuclear energy instead of green energy could "save billions" (report, 25 April). I wonder. The article does at least admit that "the figure for nuclear does not include the cost of public liability insurance". It is silent, though, on the question of whether there is any fiscal provision at all within these headline figures for the decommissioning of life-expired plants and/or dealing with spent fuel safely. Given the very special problems of nuclear power I think we should be told.
Pioneers of flight
Sir: The Scots can tell a good tale, but Paul Kelbie ("Honoured at last, Scotland's answer to Wright brothers", 27 April) takes his too far. Flying, yes, but time travel? The Wright brothers' first flight was on 7 December 1903, not just two years before the Barnwell flight in Scotland in 1909. Frank Barnwell wasn't even Scottish; he was born in Kent. He actually died on the second flight of one of his own monoplane prototypes in 1938.
MICHAEL K BALDWIN
Sir: As a business traveller between London and Manchester, I regularly use the (in)famous Virgin Trains service. Today, their website was offering a cheapest day return ticket for £147. Their call centre, which advertises its number on the website, was offering the same journey for £34 - including a first-class seat on the return - all you have to do is have a pleasant conversation with a telesales person. Presumably, if I got really old fashioned and went to a station, I'd be able to buy the ticket for even less.
WENDOVER, BUCKINGHAMSHIREReuse content