Miliband and the unions
The questioning of Ed Miliband's victory in the Labour leadership election because the trade unions supported him really does beggar belief. The Labour Party was set up by the trade unions to represent working people; why on earth should they not have a say in who leads the party?
The fact that the Labour Party has so often failed to serve the interests of working people while being bankrolled by the unions is the greater charge.
It seems ironic that, just as with Tony Blair, Ed having secured union support is now already seeking to distance himself from those who founded and fund the party. What would be more heartening would be to see a Labour leader who embraces the unions' rationale, opposing the cuts aimed at making the most weak and vulnerable in society pay for the irresponsibility of the bankers.
When did "left" become a term of denigration in this country? Why should Ed Miliband feel it necessary to defend himself against accusations that he might be to the left of centre. There was a time when "Labour" automatically meant "left", but all that was destroyed by Tony Blair, who turned Labour into New Conservative.
For goodness' sake, if the Labour Party is to remake itself, let it return to its proud, traditional roots. Yes, the trade unions were allowed to get too powerful, but that can be avoided without denying that they serve a vital role in protecting workers' rights. Most politicians have followed the destructive path of nurturing and protecting bankers at the expense of the people of this country. They should remember who elects them to power and pays their generous salaries.
Give Ed Miliband a fair chance; don't put him on the defensive.
It is nice to see Labour retreat to its left-wing comfort-zone. It means they have no chance of winning the next election.
This will lead to the younger brother being forced out, and they will then be seeking a more politically central candidate. So, David, if you're reading this, you just need to hang in there for five years, win the leadership contest after being thrashed in the general election (assuming the Tories don't implode), live with another five years in opposition and then you can hope to win the general election in 2020. Is that too long to wait?
Dr Mark Reed
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
There are three flaws in Chris Payne's comparison between Michael Foot and Ed Miliband (letter, 27 September).
First, Margaret Thatcher won a solid victory in 1979. This year David Cameron did not win the election – nobody did – and it remains to be seen whether his coalition will endure and whether he will display the strength which Thatcher did.
Second, there is scant evidence that Ed Miliband is "a left-wing socialist". He made left-wing noises during his campaign but had never done so before and already seems to be trying to unsay them. Which way he will take Labour also remains to be seen.
Third, Mr Payne's claim that "it is not possible for a left-wing socialist ... ever to become Prime Minister" shows that he is stuck in the past. That may have been true in the 1980s but since then Westminster and public opinion have shifted in opposite directions. If Labour wants to win today it needs to be more left-wing, not less.
Having voted Labour all my life until finally sickened by Brown at the last election, I, along with many others, was keen to learn the winner of the leadership campaign. Can someone explain then, why the result was broadcast live at 4.30pm on a Saturday, when most Labour voters I know were either at the football or listening to the radio to find out how their team fared. I elected to stick with BBC Radio Scotland's coverage of Celtic versus Hibs, hoping in vain for a late equaliser.
If Ed really does want to get back the core Labour voter, then perhaps employing a few working-class men or women as advisers to tell him and the rest of the party exactly what real people care about would be a start.
Gays the survey could not reach
The naive conclusion of the Office for National Statistics that there are only 450,000 gays and lesbians in the UK ("Only gay in the village?" 27 September) is, as Philip Hensher points out, refuted by the 2.2 million British profiles in Gaydar.
The sad fact that in another dating website, Caffmos, the majority of profiles dare not reveal their faces even to other gays, supports the widely held conclusion that ONS's inquiries on the doorstep cannot have been answered with complete frankness, and that behind that doorstep in 2010, the era of legalised sexual equality, civil partnership and the once feared police marching in London Gay Pride, the closet is still inhabited and the door is locked from the inside.
While your coverage of gay issues tops all other newspapers, you do seem often to fall into the trap that anything gay has to be accompanied by a picture of a drag queen, such as your piece on what the percentage is of gay Britons (24 September).
I have great fondness for the drag queen scene, but it does not represent me as a gay man. Nor do chaps-wearing, bare-bottomed leather men or dancing disco bunnies. Are such images the only way to show a section of society that is as diverse as Britain as a whole? Isn't this just playing to prejudices?
Your article "Only gay in the village? Not quite", about the integrated household sexual identity statistics, stated that the Office for National Statistics had collected data on the sexual identity of UK adults by doorstepping members of the public.
ONS takes confidentiality very seriously in all our surveys and does not undertake doorstep surveys or "cold call" households. Interviews are carried out by trained permanent civil servants to high international standards. All ONS social surveys are voluntary and we rely on the goodwill of the public to make our surveys successful.
Prior to one of our interviewers calling on a sampled address, a letter is sent to the householder advising them that they have been selected for one of our studies. The letter informs them of the topic of the study and how their address has been selected and provides details of the ONS. We also offer a freephone number that the householder can call to seek further details, as well as a website.
In the case of collecting information regarding sexual identity, ONS asks a question on a respondent's self-perceived sexual identity rather than looking to measure the wider concept of sexual orientation. Interviewers ask respondents which option (heterosexual/ straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual and other) best describes how they think of themselves. The question is asked in a way that maintains confidentiality between household members.
Director of Economic and Social Analysis, Office for national Statistics, Newport
Indomitable spirit of Haiti
Johann Hari's important article "Suffocating the poor: a modern parable" (17 September) leaves out key historical facts about Haitians' considerable contribution to world civilisation and their indomitable spirit.
Extending the 1789 French Revolution to the colonies, the Black Jacobins of Haiti defeated Napoleon and in 1804 ended slavery, leading the way for abolition in the Americas. And despite vengeful western governments imposing debt, occupations and dictatorships, Haitians never lost their determination to overcome and, if necessary, to overthrow. That is why Duvalier was finally thrown out.
All who have visited Haiti since the earthquake have been impressed with people's resilience, courage and creativity. While the US, Canada, France and myriad corporations and NGOs carve up "Haiti's future", more than a million women, children and men remain homeless and near starvation. But they are still determined to be heard.
In June, Haitians brought to the US Social Forum in Detroit a petition signed by more than 20,000 women (gathered in five days) demanding the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. On 16 September, Haitians raised the women's petition at the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington DC. Aristide, not at all "a broken man", is longing to return. But his passport is being withheld by order of the US.
The 92 per cent who elected President Aristide have continued to risk their lives to get him back. We must support their right to the leader of their choice. Don't rebellious ex-slaves deserve democracy? And isn't this the way to ensure that the millions many of us donated go to life-saving and reconstruction rather than yet another grand theft of the poorest?
Russian game of cat and mouse
The arrest and later release of Ahmed Zakayev in Poland on a Russian extradition warrant ("Chechen exile detained in Warsaw accuses Poland of betrayal", 18 September) disgracefully perpetuates the long Russian cat-and-mouse chase around Europe. EU countries must put a stop to this.
Mr Zakayev is not a terrorist, as the Putin regime claims, but a democrat. As you note, he is a secular nationalist former deputy prime minister of Chechnya who led peace negotiations with Russia in the 1990s which resulted in de facto independence. The fact that Mr Zakayev's opponents and enemies include not only the Moscow government, whose loose attachment to the rule of law is well known, but also the murderous Kadyrov regime in Grozny as well as Islamist extremists, speaks volumes in his favour.
Russian extradition requests have been rejected by Denmark and by the UK, where Mr Zakayev has had political asylum – not granted lightly – since 2003. If EU countries can grant each other's extradition requests through the European Arrest Warrant, why is there not similar "mutual recognition" of asylum decisions and refusals to extradite to a third country?
Mr Zakayev is, disgracefully, a pawn in Russia's game of divide-and-rule among EU countries, linked particularly to gas deals. The EU's failure to have a common energy policy undermines a common European diplomacy or common security and justice policies towards Russia.
The European Commission must urgently pursue efforts to get EU-wide respect for refugee decisions and extradition refusals made by any one of the 27 states.
Sarah Ludford MEP
(Lib Dem, London), Brussels
Long wait for a clean energy deal
I view with dismay the apparent lack of urgency that government is displaying over support for major commercial developments of clean-energy technology. One might suspect that delaying tactics are being used to ensure that atomic energy will be the only feasible solution to reducing the output of greenhouse gases and ensuring energy security.
One answer may be closer to home, with the people willing to implement more modest schemes within their own localities. In co-operation, each area/district should be expected to take audit of what natural resources are available to produce clean power. It might be wind-power, water-power or anaerobic digestion and, of course, solar power.
It is widely claimed that with feed-in tariffs there is an 8 per cent return on investment in solar power using photovoltaic technology. The drawback for many households is the initial capital cost, between £10,000 and £20,000. Using the income from generated electricity to cover the costs of a loan could overcome this obstacle. The first national installer to broker such a deal with a financial institution should do very well indeed.
South Cadbury, Somerset
Terry Eaton (letter, 20 September) asks if there is anything at all that hasn''t become more expensive since 1970? I've tracked the prices of laser printers for years.
My husband told me that when his office acquired one (a monochrome printer) in the early 1970s, it cost £20,000. By 1990, when I first used a colour laser printer at work, I was told it cost £10,000. Now a monochrome printer can be bought for £50 or so, and I recently bought a superb colour laser printer for just over £100.
In 1990, the printers took up half a room, now they are small and neat. All I can say is that my husband has passed his love of gadgets on to me.
Assad had to act against Islamists
As a follower of Syrian affairs, I was interested in Robert Fisk's article, "Freedom, democracy and human rights in Syria" (16 September). He devoted a great deal of space to the role of Rifaat al-Assad in the violent confrontations with the Islamic insurgents in the city of Hama in the early 1980s.
Rifaat al-Assad and his late brother, Hafez, were the first Arab leaders to face religion-inspired terrorism which threatened the very existence of Syria. Had they failed to deal with this serious threat robustly and ruthlessly, Syria would have degenerated into a failed and fragmented state on the model of Somalia and Afghanistan. Syria would have ended up with a Taliban type of religious dictatorship.
As for the campaign for freedom, democracy and human rights in Syria, this is gathering momentum and is gaining world-wide support. What Syria needs now is reconciliation and democratic reforms.
If Jesus was born in September
If Jesus was born on Sukkot, (Letters, 21 September), the manger in which he was said to be born may have been a sukka, a temporary shelter for animals (see Genesis 33:17) as well as people (Leviticus 23:42-43).
Colin Nevin's re-calculation of Jesus's birthday (letter, 21 September) is based on a chain of false premises, but I know it's wrong anyway because we don't have snow in September.
Colin V Smith
St Helens, Merseyside
Before focusing on health and safety issues, can anyone please explain to me how Commonwealth countries such as the United Kingdom can endorse Commonwealth Games that have so openly exploited child labour?
Perspectives on the US right wing
Stand by for Palin v Clinton
If Sarah Palin runs for the United States presidency in 2012, she stands a fairly good chance of success ("Sweet home Alaska", 21 September). There are several reasons.
Ms Palin has the image of a frontierswoman, the all-time American heroine. Her articulacy, syntax and diction are better than those of President George W Bush. Many Americans do not like a profoundly intellectual president. Politically, she speaks the voice of a neo-liberal conservative. She has enough media exposure through her many TV appearances.
President Obama, despite a trillion-dollar stimulus package, has not been able to achieve a significant turnaround in the economy. His peace efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians have not yet produced any tangible result. Moreover, the Iranian nuclear threat has not been confronted by a globally concerted economic sanction. His second term might appear to be elusive. A direct contest between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin remains a distinct possibility.
The Tea Party fights fascism
As a rule, British journalists are oblivious to the Tea Party's meaning, and Matthew Norman is no exception ("This is one helluva scary witch," 22 September). He has a jolly time ridiculing Christine O'Donnell, who, with the support of the Tea Party, won the Republican senatorial primary in Delaware.
But he can't stop there: he has to reach for an apocalyptic ending, causing him to slip and fall. Referring to the Tea Party, he writes: "The forces of fascism, however thick and bonkers and risible they may seem, are approaching."
Fascists create enormous state organs for use in brutalising their own citizens. But the Tea Party's bedrock principles are respect for the Constitution, smaller government, and lower taxes. If anything, Tea Party members are anti-fascists.
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