Enough of deals with corrupt tyrants
"There is a way to be good again" – so writes Khaled Hosseini at the beginning of his novel The Kite Runner about epiphany and restitution in Afghanistan. I think they are words that should be taken to heart by many western leaders who have been pragmatic in their dealings with the likes of Presidents Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gaddafi.
Is it not time for the Camerons, Obamas and Sarkozys of this world to make an "ethical" foreign policy just that? We seem to have been happy to grant export licences to arms manufacturers to sell to corrupt, oppressive regimes, willing to kill, maim and torture their own people, just as long as we can have their oil. Where are our morals and ethics?
In our personal lives we make friends with people who are like us, not the diametric opposite. So should governments.
Dave Johnstone, Eridge Green, East Sussex
Mr Cameron's change of heart on foreign policy from mercantilism to "our values" and your leading article (23 February) need to be underlined by the awareness that mercantilism and national interests have guided British foreign policy for over a century and not just a few decades, in particular in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Countries such as Persia/Iran, Mesopotamia (Iraq and Jordan), Palestine/Israel, and Egypt are examples where we may be reaping the costs of a short-sighted foreign policy. The foreign policy of our allies has been no less short-sighted.
Robert Laver, London SE21
After numerous acts of heroism, with people risking their lives to rescue others in collapsing buildings in Christchurch or risking being shot in marching against tyrants in the Middle East, we have "our" Prime Minister scuttling around the Middle East with arms contracts in his back pocket. How demeaning, how unedifying ... and how typical of this government.
Steven Calrow, Liverpool
It is to be hoped that one of those world leaders who formerly embraced, flattered and humoured Colonel Gaddafi can now answer the question that all of us have been asking ourselves down the years: surely it's a wig?
Peter Forster, London N4
Gaddafi may have done us one favour. The portrait of him on your front page of 22 February should stop the fashion for "designer stubble" in its tracks.
David Foster, Whatfield, Suffolk
While supporting "net neutrality", I confess to finding it rather offensive that when I was using Google to follow events in Libya the search page results were accompanied by a column of advertisements for holidays in Libya.
The Rev Colin Alsbury, Frome, Somerset
I Loved Lindsey Hilsum's article "Equality on the front line is the only way" (19 February). She brings a breath of honesty, humour and female warmth to these painful Middle Eastern reports. And there is a quality of fearlessness quite devoid of the macho aren't-I-brave-dodging-bullets sort.
Mora McInyre, Hove
Why women miss top jobs
As a bit of a freedom fighter and someone who commends fairness, I am pleased Lord Davies is examining what the barriers are to the appointment of more female directors in the boardroom (report, 21 February).
However, my main concern is that the review gives clear insight. I suspect that while there may be some unfair practice and prejudice, sometimes there just might not be the numbers and, at times, the talent available within the female pool.
To be a successful business person, you have to be racing fit – intellectually and physically sharp enough to think on your feet, able to get up at the crack of dawn each day, prepared to be flexible with your diary and travel arrangements, able to keep ahead of the game and with the ability to keep delivering work that is fresh and dynamic. Sometimes women are not able to fulfil all these points because of family commitments.
I do think it would be sad if too many ridiculous rules are brought in. It would be inappropriate if, because of a quota system, people who are not good enough, or are unable to give the time and commitment that a director position demands, get promoted into such roles.
Let's not rely on quotas and legislation to get that job we really want: if your boat doesn't come in then damn well swim out to it.
Elly Woolston, chairman, DMS, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
News that female managers believe the glass ceiling has been double-glazed ("Women hit glass ceiling while report rejects boardroom quotas", 21 February) hardly comes as a surprise in an age when women make up 45 per cent of the workforce while only 5 per cent of Britain's FTSE 100 companies have female chief executives.
The Chartered Management Institute passionately believes that the best candidate should be awarded the job regardless of their gender. However, we equally feel that more needs to be done to encourage women to take their place in the boardroom in their own right, and that it is the role of employers and headhunters to do so, as they both influence recruitment and talent-management.
By failing to appoint women to board-level positions, UK plc is missing out on vital skills from talented workers. While lack of self-confidence or ambition for the role may play a part in this gulf, they do not account for the chasm of inequality that faces women wanting to enter and remain in the workplace. A drastic change in attitude towards women leaders is required.
Ruth Spellman, Chief executive, Chartered Management Institute, London WC2
Save us from privatisation
I am puzzled by your leading article's contention (22 February) that: "There is good reason to believe that bringing in private-sector expertise to the public sector would deliver better value for taxpayers eventually." (Note the "eventually" – said with hope, I suspect.)
The private sector has a completely different culture from the public sector, based largely on profit and hefty salaries. The alternative is to privatise, but anyone who has lived through the Thatcher and Blair years will know that privatisation has produced less and hit consumers and taxpayers more.
As the article by Steve Richards in the same issue makes clear, privatisation makes accountability to the public much more difficult, and leaves companies free to impose greater charges for the same services. Public accountability is an aspect of democracy, and any privatisation is therefore anti-democratic.
I want to have "state control" if it means we can vote them out of office if we don't like what they have been doing.
Jeff Cooper, Blackburn, Lancashire
Those who suggest that privatisation will improve health care in the UK should be careful what they wish for. The example of the US, where spending on health care is consuming 17 per cent of GDP and rising, makes the NHS look like a bargain.
Millions of Americans cannot afford insurance, and medical bills are the second highest cause of personal bankruptcy. Developments in genetic testing will render many millions more people uninsurable. There is little evidence here of the benefits of private health care – except to a select minority of millionaires, who would rather pay a premium for their own health care than pay taxes to provide for the majority.
It is inevitable that the current reform programme, opening up the NHS to competition, will lead to the development of a two-tier system, as private health insurers cherry-pick, GPs begin to offer twin-track options, with top-ups for those who can afford to jump the queue, and a gradual move to individual health insurance, just as that model promises to self-destruct. Despite the horror stories, the end of state-run health care will presage the collapse of universal provision based on clinical need rather than bank balance.
Charles Hopkins, Norwich
How patients can be heard
You have reported recently on neglect of patients in NHS hospitals. A friend with advanced multiple sclerosis was admitted as an emergency to a stroke ward in a large district hospital. He was there for several days before, at the behest of his wife, arrangements were made for him to be seen by his usual excellent neurological team.
The nursing care showed a failure to understand the patient's limitations, and he was largely forgotten. His wife pointed out to the staff that he had become dehydrated; they acted upon her suggestion of the need for intravenous fluids. In this same hospital the nursing care in the neurological ward is of a very high standard.
This family was put in touch with the Patient Advice and Liaison Service [PALS], which appears to be available in many NHS hospitals. They listened carefully to the comments and comparisons between this emergency experience and their previous experiences. The issues were taken seriously and the family given feedback about nursing care. This included additional training for the ward nursing personnel and a new sister in charge.
One statement from the PALS staff which impressed our friends was: "How can we improve the service unless you tell when it is going wrong?" Obviously more use needs to be made of the PALS service.
Peter Erridge, East Grinstead, West Sussex
Census run by US arms firm
I was astonished to learn that Lockheed Martin have been contracted to run the British census this year. Although I have always supported the need for a census (and indeed have been an enumerator in years past) I shall not complete this year's form. First, because the company is a weapons manufacturer; and second, it's American.
Sue Berry, Huddersfield, west Yorkshire
We are well aware that Lockheed Martin is the world's leading arms manufacturer. This prophet of war, as William Hartang's new book describes it, is also responsible in the US for domestic surveillance activities, and we are trusting it with the personal details of every UK citizen.
If Cameron is so keen on the right of the individual to choose, I take it he won't mind if we choose not to have any dealings with the military-industrial complex by refusing to complete the census.
John Airs, Liverpool
In addition to Colin Burke's suggested religious denominations (letter, 23 February), would "Jedi (lapsed)" be acceptable?
Christine Ollis, Crawley, West Sussex
New threat to our woodlands
As young girl I could walk for miles in the woods which surrounded the northern industrial town where I grew up. I do not know if they were ancient woodlands, but their floors were drenched with bluebells, primroses, nodding wood anemones and other such "ancient woodland indicator" species.
The last time I went to try and find the woods there was an efficient ring road, new housing estates of large detached houses and even a new Asda. Only a few small patches of the old woodland remained.
The woods were privately owned and had been sold for development. This was before the 2005 Planning Guidance, which could have prevented the destruction of ancient woodland. The Woodland Trust points out that Planning Policy Statement 9, the guidance which provides at least limited protection for ancient woodland, is now under threat. Consultation on the review of the National Planning Policy Framework is due to be completed by 28 February.
The different departments in the Coalition do not appear to know what each other is doing. On the one hand Defra withdraws the plans to sell forests and sets up a working group to look at ways of protecting them, on the other hand Planning Minster Greg Clark is considering taking away their limited protection.
The advantage of planning legislation , especially under Coalition plans to localise decision making even further, is that David Cameron, like Pontius Pilate, can claim to wash his hands of responsibility. It will be local authorities who make the decisions. If our woodlands are not given adequate protection under the Planning Framework then those hands will be more like those of Lady Macbeth.
Sandra Walmsley, Weeting, Norfolk
While we must welcome the reversal of a decision to sell off national forests, where now for cuts? If a group of largely educated and well-off individuals kick up a fuss about a cost-saving measure and local or national government backs down, where will the proposed savings actually come from?
In many cases efficiency savings could indeed be made but for the "sacred cow" status of certain services. In my area a proposal to close a number of libraries has been delayed after protests, when those libraries are woefully under-used and not well supported by their communities. They should be closed on efficiency grounds, if for no other reason (a view I hold as a chartered librarian).
Whatever decisions our elected representatives make, they must at least be brave enough to follow them though.
John Moore, Northampton
What about the Canadian pasty?
I devoured your article "Cornish pasty gets protected status" (23 February), and it whetted my appetite for more. However, I have a slight problem with your recipe, and the statement, "Only pasties baked in Cornwall can be called Cornish pasties."
I was born in Cornwall, and grew up eating my mother's Cornish pasties about twice a week, until I left home in my early teens to join the Merchant Navy. I eventually married, settling in Trinidad, and gave my wife my mother's recipe for the Cornish pasty. The recipe for the filling was as you stated: beef, swede (turnip), potato, onion and light seasoning – but with the addition of kidney to provide some extra gravy when cooked.
The honest truth is that my wife makes better pasties than my mother ever did. For the past three decades we have lived in Canada, where we still regularly eat her pasties.
So is a pasty made in Canada by a Trinidadian-born wife of a Cornishman not a Cornish pasty? Has the humble pasty become another of the failures of multiculturalism that David Cameron was ranting about recently?
Bernie Smith, Parksville, British Columbia, Canada
Pensioners escape cuts
David Prosser (Business, 23 February) has some interesting comments regarding the allegedly charmed lives of pensioners in an age of austerity. It does, for example, appear bizarre that all pensioners receive the winter fuel allowance when child benefit is to be means-tested.
However, he undermined his case a few lines later when suggesting, incorrectly, that all pensioners, not just those over the age of 75, receive free TV licences.
This slip may well be repeated by the growing numbers similarly suggesting that pensioners should "share the pain" – some time before even a spasm will be experienced by our political leaders, far less the casino bankers. Beware ageism!
Tim Cattell, Croydon, Surrey
Pensioners have escaped the cuts because they're much more likely than younger people to vote. Base politics at work.
Alan Sykes, Keinton Mandeville, Somerset
I'm not sure where Hamish McRae gets his facts from when he suggests that Germany has the best drivers and the best roads (23 February). Not only is the death rate on German roads substantially higher than in the UK but many autobahns still consist of just two lanes with no hard shoulder. It is no fun being in the outside lane on such roads with a BMW flashing its lights at you as it approaches at over 100mph.
Nick Pritchard, Southampton
A government minister has announced that the Pope's recent visit to Britain cost the taxpayer at least £7m. Is this an example of the "aggressive secularism" about which the Pontiff complained on his arrival?
W J McIlroy, Hove, East Sussex
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