Working mothers, Feeble Blair the bully and others

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Age of the hard-working mother - and the new skivvy class

Age of the hard-working mother - and the new skivvy class

Sir: In 1997, as Labour were ushered into power, I celebrated a future with better financial recognition for working mothers. As a recent divorcee on a professional salary, with two toddlers, I didn't expect much from the absentee father or the Child Support Agency (not claiming benefit), but I did look forward to good quality subsidised nursery places and tax relief on live-in childcare.

Seven years on, the promises look like being delivered (" £200 weekly tax break to pay for nanny", 17 May). My daughters are now old enough not to need live-in "nannies" with strange culinary habits. This move is a huge step forward because it at last takes professional middle-income mothers who work unsociable hours into consideration. It will finally recognise the significant tax contribution made by working mothers and enable them to afford decent in-home care for their children. And of course thereby avoid some of the black-market alternatives to which we have all had to resort.

Or as my daughters would put it: "No more Yorkshire puddings with ice-cream."

Radlett, Hertfordshire

Sir: How can Deborah Orr (Opinion, 18 May) appear to champion a system which once again designates women as the best candidates for household chores, washing, ironing, baby-feeding and nappy-changing ?

For every liberated diva there is another woman forced to do her dirty work. How can this possibly be liberating for women as a whole? A new class of paid skivvy is being created - and you can bet your ironed shirt that it'll be a class of females.

London SW6

Feeble Blair and the school bully

Sir: What, asks, Michael Moore, is Tony Blair "doing hanging out with a guy like George Bush"? He also makes the observation, "The one thing you can say about Blair is he's smart." ("Moore unveils his new film with Blair jibe", 18 May.)

Sadly, our Prime Minster has shown little sign of either intelligence or political vision. All his actions, including his obsequious body language when in the presence of the American President, suggest a weak and intellectually feeble man. Like the child who seeks to impress the school bully, Blair appears to be propelled by psychological inadequacy rather than any coherent strategy.

By embroiling this country in ill-advised and bloody conflicts abroad, Blair has alienated Britain from world opinion and created an unprecedented wave of cynicism in the political process at home. How "smart" is that?

Newton Abbot, Devon

Sir: I was infuriated by the letter from Timothy Greenhill ("Anti-war sniping will only help the Tories", 18 May). It is immaterial whether we punch above or below our weight. What concerns me is whether we throw our punches at the right opponent at the right time.

For the first time in my life I voted Labour in 1997, then again in 2001. Although I have been generally satisfied with Tony Blair's domestic record, whether we are slightly better off or worse off under this government is of no concern to me now. Tony Blair, in my mind and the minds of millions of others, made an appalling error of judgment in deciding that it was necessary to invade Iraq. The main arguments put forward by Blair and Bush were WMDs and a link with the atrocities of 11 September; the first was laughable and the second an outright lie.

Like Mr Greenhill, I would hate to see Michael Howard benefit from the difficulties that Labour are in thanks to the Iraq war. The Tories were even more bloodthirsty for this war and their attempts to make capital out of Tony Blair's impalement are pathetic.

I will be "wasting" my next vote on the Liberal Democrats. I hope that millions of others who were against this war will be brave enough to waste their votes similarly. Then, who knows, we may get a government who do truly use war only as a weapon of last resort.


Sir: Timothy Greenhill has forgotten about the electoral system. His feared Tory victory will not materialise unless the Tories have a lead in the popular vote of 10 per cent or more. I don't think he need worry but perhaps he will join me in agreeing that this system is unfair. I seem to be able to persuade everybody of this except the Tories.

Liberal Democrat
House of Lords

Sir: The most efficient way for Mr Blair to "clear up the mess in Iraq" is for him to step down. He continues to show unwavering support for the Commander in Chief of Mess-up, our own Mr Bush. Hopefully his successor, presumably Mr Brown, will have a better grasp of reality.

St Louis, Missouri, USA

Sir: You repeat (15 May) Clare Short's assertion that Tony Blair is "increasingly obsessed by his place in history". He needn't worry. As the universally reviled joint architect of the most ill-conceived, damaging, pointless, mismanaged, brutal, and generally disastrous foreign intervention of modern times his place in history is assured.

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Torture in Iraq

Sir: Is it any wonder that members of the armed forces commit acts of humiliation, torture and degradation when the government and many members of the public praise acts of destruction that include the maiming or killing of civilians?

I have never understood the acceptance of civilians as casualties on the basis that, if our combatants are to be given maximum protection, they must bomb or fire from a safe distance, which makes it impossible to differentiate between enemy combatants and civilians.

Rules about how to deal with those who surrender are meaningless if you are not in a position to see or hear the surrender of the people you are attacking. Such rules ceased to have real meaning many wars ago, yet still people are tried and vilified if they break the rules on a face-to-face basis, but praised for killing from a distance. Both should be condemned.

London SW20

Sir: The Charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, agreed to in 1945 by US, UK, France and USSR, states: "The fact that the Defendant acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility."

This charter also lists acts that are considered crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including "murder [or] ill-treatment ... of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war ... killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity".

May we expect a war crimes tribunal in Iraq?


Unfair to Roma

Sir: Access to education for marginalised and vulnerable children is one of the key goals of EveryChild. We have been working in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union for over a decade and have frequently witnessed negative attitudes and discrimination against the Roma community.

Eric Van der Linden, the EU Commission's envoy to Slovakia, seems to be blaming Roma children's lack of education on the Roma community themselves; his solution is to take these children out of their own community and make them attend boarding schools ("Take Roma children away from their parents, says envoy", 14 May).

All the evidence shows that Roma children are effectively excluded from education in the first place because their command of the majority language is not good, because at home their first language is Romany. Then, when they are tested by the education authorities before entry to school, the tests are conducted in the majority language, so that they appear not to have the required level of skills and so are classed as being "backward" and ineducable.

We believe the solution is not to forcibly remove them from their own culture, but to place more emphasis on inclusion and the creation of pre-school or early education initiatives so that the children become fluent in both languages and can thus benefit properly from the education on offer.

The Roma community are treated appallingly in many states across the region, and to blame them for the lack of education among their children is yet another example of negative attitudes towards minority groups. Discrimination against the Roma community means unemployment levels are staggeringly high, the conditions many of them are forced to live in are practically barbaric and the lack of representation in local and national government means their voice is never heard.

Rather than taking their children away, the EU should continue to look for ways to combat prejudice, improve living conditions and support the Roma to help build up their capacity so they can educate their own children.

London EC2

Poetic atrocities

Sir: Some of the responses to the fake Daily Mirror photographs echo Dr Joseph Goebbels's notion of "poetic truth", as the following quote from the diary of one of his aides, Rudolf Semmler, suggests:

"2 November 1944: Goebbels has introduced a new expression into the vocabulary of propaganda. It is only for internal use! He is now using the phrase 'poetic truth' in contrast to - or rather in amplification of - the 'concrete truth'.

"Whenever we only know a little about some event or plan or operation of the enemy's then - so Goebbels says - we shall not be violating the truth if we add something to the story to fill in the gaps. We should describe things as they might well have happened or as they probably did happen ...

"Goebbels illustrated his idea by pointing out how inadequate were the details we were getting about atrocities and cruelties perpetrated in the East on German women and children. It must be the task of German propaganda to make powerful indictments out of these stories by embroidering them with suitable details. What happened in reality would be much worse than anything we could imagine; so what we added would be 'poetic truth', which would generally be reasonably accurate."


Over the counter

Sir: Your editorial on statins (14 May) almost wholly missed the point.

Almost everyone would "gain" by taking statins. It seems that, regardless of the level of your cholesterol, you can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by 25-30 per cent. But if your risk is in any case very low then reducing it by a quarter does not matter much. If it is high you will benefit considerably.

The Government makes a judgement on the level of risk at which it should pay for these drugs. That level is debatable, and debated, but inevitably some people want to reduce their risk even further even if it is very low. If they want to pay for it - and it tends to be the worried affluent who do - then why should they not do so?

The idea that the wicked Government is depriving the desperately needy of life-saving drugs is farcical.

London NW6

Sick kept at work

Sir: Having announced record profits this year, Tesco has decided not to pay the first three days of sick leave to its staff (report, 17 May). What a shameful initiative, which will impact most on those who are already working for so little. Instead of analysing why they suffer absenteeism, they choose draconian measures which will ultimately fail.

Are shoppers now to be served and have their food handled by staff who are sick, possibly infectious, but too poor to stay at home, go to bed and make a speedy recovery? It is time to fight this seemingly endless corporate greed: move your custom elsewhere. I certainly will.

London W4

Marks of poverty

Sir: If Tony Blair and the Minister for Education are wondering where all the A-level markers have gone, last summer's average rate being £12 per hour (report, 17 May), perhaps they might be interested in an advertisement on my local noticeboard: "Domestic cleaning work wanted - £12.50 per hour."

Walton-on-the-Hill, Surrey

Addicted to speed

Sir: Mr Burrows like so many people comes up with a simplistic solution to the complex problem of road safety (letter, 18 May). Do we know that the vehicles involved in the tragic accident at the weekend were exceeding the speed limit? Until we get away from this idea that all crashes involve people above the speed limit, we will never have a grown-up attitude to road safety and really save lives.

Great Malvern, Worcestershire

Palestine protest

Sir: The organisers of the day of action against Israel's apartheid wall were the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an independent voluntary organisation, not "the PLO's London branch" ("Tatchell to grapple with Middle East homophobia", 14 May).

Women's Officer
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
London NW3

Take no notice

Sir: On London Bridge station there is a notice saying "Train drivers must not be disturbed". Did I hear the announcer saying, "The departure of the train on Platform 1 is delayed awaiting a psychiatrist"?

Basingstoke, Hampshire