Letters: Smolensk crash

Murky animosities that lie behind Smolensk crash

Tuesday 13 April 2010 00:00

The news reports of the Polish air crash tragedy are right in hinting that there are murky waters not far from the surface. Only last week Prime Minister Tusk attended the official commemoration ceremony at Katyn with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, but President Kaczynski preferred to snub that occasion in favour of a Polish ceremony at the weekend.

For two reasons. First, the President had never really come to terms with the fact that Donald Tusk's Citizen's Platform Party had fractured the ruling dynasty of the Kaczynski brothers – Lech Kaczynski as President and Jaroslaw Kaczynski as Prime Minister. The President was continually undermining Donald Tusk's role as head of government, sometimes travelling separately and uninvited to international meetings. Second, President Kaczynski had a profound distrust and dislike of Russia and would have found it difficult to face either of the Russian leaders at Katyn.

The cause of the crash is not yet known, although it appears that the pilot was advised not to attempt a landing at Smolensk and to divert to an alternative airport. This would have caused inconvenience to the Polish contingent. Given the sour feelings of Kaczynski towards the Russians, it is not difficult to imagine what instructions might have been given to the flight deck.

When hatred, animosity and jealousy mix with the caprice of fate, tragedies of Shakespearean grandeur are created.

Lyn Atterbury

Szydlowo, Poland

I congratulate you on your excellent coverage of the Polish air crash, but most particularly on Shaun Walker's lucid analysis of the Katyn massacre and its attendant complexities (12 April).

Too much of the coverage given to the Smolensk crash has omitted to mention where the elite of Poland was going and why. Too few British or American people are aware of the complexities of the Second World War, especially the effects of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Too few are aware of the black arts of disinformation that have surrounded the history of Katyn and of the profound significance of Putin's admission only a few days ago of the role of the NKVD in the killings.

Too much of the popular understanding of the Second World War has become simplistic – us (Brits and Americans) good and them (Nazis) bad – without looking at matters from the point of view of other nations. Too rarely does one hear about the partition of Poland and the Baltic States under the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Too often we hear of the invasion of Poland by the Nazis while forgetting that Soviet Russia started the war on the Nazi side.

One hopes that Russia's current attitude will lead to a rapprochement with Poland, but I would also hope that there may be fuller understanding of the issues by the wider public.

Marina Donald


Desperate Labour woos Lib Dems

The Labour Party is happy to sideline and patronise the Liberal Democrats unless its grip on power is threatened. When this happens we become their new best friend and Liberals are portrayed as a vital strand of the "centre left". We are told that it is "our duty to help the Labour Party to prevent the worst of all potential scenarios – a Tory government". Accepting Andrew Adonis's argument (Opinion, 9 April) would require us to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

Why should anyone unquestioningly prop up Gordon Brown's fading administration? The Labour Party has failed to deliver on what are supposedly its core aims.

It has failed to narrow the gap between rich and poor; it has failed to exercise prudent control of the economy; it has failed to take the environment seriously (third runway at Heathrow, anyone?); it has failed to adopt an ethical foreign policy ("You want a war Mr President? We're with you."); it has failed to deal with the problem of asylum seekers humanely or speedily; it has failed to tackle the causes of crime or to promote effective rehabilitation. What is the Labour Party for, if not to deal with issues like these, and why should anyone continue to support it when it fails so spectacularly?

The Liberal Democrats are a distinctive and separate force and we believe in approaching the above issues effectively; something the Labour Party has proved incapable of. We also believe in civil liberties and that the state should have only the minimum necessary control over our lives – the opposite of Labour. We believe in democratic accountability – which only figures in Labour's consciousness when an election looms.

Political parties publish manifestos and attempt to deliver on them as far as circumstances allow. To attempt to claim that one party is closer to another before an election is specious unless a formal agreement between the parties exists. Lord Adonis knows this as well as anyone else. He is mischief-making because the Labour Party is desperate.

Nigel Scott

Chair, Hornsey and Wood Green Liberal Democrats, London N22

The proposal made by Lord Adonis that Lib Dem supporters should vote for their local Labour candidate has some merit if your sole objective is to avoid a Conservative government. But if you want to make your vote count at this election and for all elections in the future, Labour supporters must vote for the Lib Dem candidate. This is the only way to guarantee real electoral reform for future elections, something past Labour governments have paid lip service to but never implemented.

Bob Mountfort

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Boycott the Tories' business backers

During 13 years of Labour government, business and industry in the UK has, generally speaking, done extremely well. It has been a time of unprecedented accumulation of wealth. That is what makes it all the more disappointing that a small collective of business leaders, which includes some well-known high-street names, should baulk at the prospect of a small rise in National Insurance to help see the country through its present difficulties.

Anyone who feels as indignant about this as I do has the obvious course available to them of voting by abstention with their credit cards.

Chris Sexton

Crowthorne, Berkshire

As the list of Tory "business" supporters grows so does my own of those firms I will no longer use. So far: no more Warburtons' produce, M&S or any film involving Michael Caine.

John Cleave

Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire

There are, broadly speaking, three main types of employer in this country: those in the service (mainly wholesale and retail) sector; those in manufacturing; and those in the public sector. Bearing in mind that the proposed NI increase is scheduled for 2011/12, the big boys in the retail sector (who are the majority of those complaining) will cover it by very small price rises and adjustments to sales promotions (three for two rather than two for one, 10 per cent off rather than 15 per cent). Those in the manufacturing export sector will be able to absorb it provided the pound remains as competitive as it is now.

In the public sector, however, finance directors have no power to increase budgets or to refuse to implement directives from their paymasters, the Government. Therefore they will almost certainly have to cut staff to cover the NI increase, and will then be faced with demands for efficiency cuts (more staff) and recruitment (including replacement) embargos.

Geoff S Harris


Only the ignorant or a Labour politician would suggest that a 1 per cent increase in employers' NI contributions would protect our education and health services, since both these services are employers. The average school faces a £45,000 hike in NI payments, the equivalent of having to lose one teacher's wages, or a further £45,000 cut in budget, among numerous other real cuts. Our leaders are disingenuous in their presentation of this taxation as a positive move; it punishes both private and public services equally.

Mike Spinks

Cheadle, Cheshire

Hunt ban and the control of foxes

Adele Brand (letter, 6 April) makes claims about the Countryside Alliance and the case for managing wildlife which are untrue. Populations of predator species may, or may not, be self-regulating, but one thing is certain: the Hunting Act 2004 has nothing to do with population management. The Act does not prohibit the killing of any species.

The Act was, as even some of its proponents have since admitted, an act of political prejudice based on the misconception that people who hunt fit the stereotype of the aristocratic, red-faced, red-coated fox-hunter. Although quite where all the aristocrats come from to man the many farmers' hunts in Cumbria, Wales and the West Country I have never ascertained.

Lord Burns, who chaired the government inquiry into hunting with dogs told the House of Lords: "People ask whether we were implying that hunting is cruel ... The short answer to that question is no. There was not sufficient verifiable evidence or data safely to reach views about cruelty." So there was never any justification for singling out one method of management, hunting, for prohibition. Arguing that the prohibition of just one method of management should be retained because predator populations are self-regulating is patently illogical.

What the Alliance does argue is that the Hunting Act should be repealed and the management of all species by all methods should be regulated on the basis of evidence and principle. A position ecologists must surely support.

Tim Bonner

Countryside Alliance

London SE11

Greatest of all time? No telling

Brian Viner ("Genius is not all it's cracked up to be", 8 April) has made the mistake that many people do when comparing the great sportsmen and women of the past. He says that the modern "greats" such as Lionel Messi have the advantage of better training techniques and technology to increase their impact.

This is, of course, true, but what many people fail to see is that they are playing against opposition which has equal access to the same training and technology, and it is their talent and hard work which makes them stand out. Great players of the past such as Pele, Best, Maradona or Cruyff would still be great today because their talent would also be enhanced by the modern techniques. Comparisons can only be made between peers who share their time and opportunities.

Michael Wood

Thornton, Lancashire


Don't bet on it

One source of revenue seems to have been overlooked by all political parties: the gambling industry. Why not re-introduce the tax on betting stakes abolished in 2001? Those with money to spare on gambling ought not to begrudge a small extra contribution to an economy struggling to reach the winning post.

Andy Carpenter

Paddock Wood, Kent

No body count

Following on from the front-page story of 5 April, in which a senior British officer claimed that a perceived over-emphasis on British casualties in Afghanistan was undermining the war effort, I wonder why mention is never made of Taliban casualties? Does this mean there aren't any? Or has it been decided somewhere within the higher echelons of the media and political establishments that it's better for us not to know? We can all speculate as to why this might be – a desire not to humanise the enemy, perhaps?

Peter Tajasque

London SW19

Tricky delivery

I suggest that, before this election campaign gets fully under way, there should be a moratorium on the use of the word "deliver". If politicians were to talk about "providing", "enabling", or even "encouraging" changes, rather than "delivering solutions", the electorate might stop behaving like pampered customers shopping in an electoral supermarket and, instead, take some responsibility for the outcome.

Nick Chadwick


Climate of denial

Today a lady visited canvassing on behalf of the local Conservative candidate. I asked her about her party's policy on climate change, to which her response was "Oh, that's been disproved; you don't have to worry about that." I asked her if she had looked at the IPCC website, to which she replied "That's been thoroughly discredited", and when I started to comment she said: "You are obviously not a Conservative voter", and beat a hasty retreat. It would be interesting to know what the official Conservative Party policy is on climate change.

Ian K Watson



Nice to see those happy Belgian chickens tackling their country's food waste (12 April). But according to Defra, it is forbidden by EU regulations to feed kitchen scraps to chickens. So how can it be officially promoted in Belgium, while it is illegal here?

Andrew Lea

Little Wittenham, Oxfordshire

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