Posh down south 5th October 2006 Why is it so widely regarded as acceptable to insult southerners as a group, and, what’s more, to refer to them all as posh? (Siôn Simon, October) Who does he think drives the buses in London, collects the rubbish and generally smoothes his daily path when he is working down there? I’ve lived in the north for nearly 30 years now, and this casual bigotry still makes me angry. Winifred Ashmore Mossley, Lancashire Muslim chauvinism 13th September 2006
Peter Bergen’s account of the causes of 9/11 (September) is convincing as far as it goes, but he fails to acknowledge the very essence of the Islamic dilemma. What radical Muslims fear most is the demise of male power. In the west, Muslim girls are buckling down and getting on with the education that host communities offer them and consequently becoming successful. Little Asim, however, remains an educational problem. In the liberal western world he has to compete not only with indigenous males and their educated sisters, but his own educated Muslim sisters too. The gender-based power offered at birth to sons has gone. These failed youths, egged on by imams who fear implosion, have retaliated in a massive destructive strop, a nihilistic explosion. A swansong, one hopes, to male hegemony. E Chambers London NW3
Debt for life 30th September 2006
I read Peter Wilby’s article (October) with amusement. He says that university loans “are repaid (at effectively nil interest) after graduation and then only if the graduate’s income is over £15,000.” I wish, or I should say my daughter wishes. I brought her up, along with three others, on my own, while on income support. We live on a council estate, but that did not stop her from studying sociology at Cardiff University. Yet because of job shortages, she has had to take a low-paid job (around £15,000). She may or may not start paying back her loan straight away, but if she does not, the interest will continue accumulating, which means she could be in debt for the rest of her life. Glenn Renshaw Newbury Legal drug-dealing 25th September 2006 Johann Hari’s Afghan opium plan (October) is a good idea, but why limit it to crops for which there is a legitimate market? Anti-drug forces should buy poppies and coca leaves too. If they can sell them on into a legal medical market, fine. But if not, just destroy them. Go back and buy next year’s crop too. Use the contacts you make to get the lay of the land, let others take advantage of the boom market in poppies and coca, and buy it all up at prices the drug barons can’t afford. That will drive them away and still be cheaper than fighting them. John Clements Edgware, Middlesex Organic fraud 12th September 2006
As an agronomist working mainly in developing countries, I have long followed the slow spread of organic farming—still only 4 per cent of British agriculture, despite all the propaganda and subsidies—and become a passionate opponent of this damaging nonsense. So I read Alex Renton (September) with close attention. I’d like to make a couple of points.
There is widespread fraud in the use of organic labels. For instance, I discovered that more organic wheat was being exported from France to Germany than was being grown in France in total. Quite apart from outright fraud, there is the business of “derogations” whereby the certification authorities give permission to organic producers to use inputs that would otherwise be forbidden under EU rules.
But the real objections are more fundamental. Take the claims about the alleged superior taste of fruit and vegetables: taste has very little or nothing to do with whether a crop is grown organically or not. Far more significant is the crop variety (Cox’s or Golden Delicious, for instance) and how mature the crop is when harvested. How it is grown also plays a role, but the key factors here can be managed without sticking to organic rules. The Sainsbury’s “taste the difference” range shows this with many excellent products.
Most importantly, the organic movement and its fellow travellers have led the enormously destructive campaign against genetically modified crops. GM crops are the future everywhere, and are spreading far faster than organics, but the hysteria generated against them in Britain—which has influenced much of the rest of the EU—has crippled the crop biotech industry in Britain, in which we had a world lead, and caused it to migrate abroad. It is a great loss. John Landell Mills Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire Tesco is safe 13th September 2006
Philippe Legrain asserts (July) that the companies bill will make it easier for shareholders to sue directors for failing in their statutory duties. His anxieties are ill-founded. The bill makes no change from the existing position—a director owes duties to the company alone and not to shareholders; no shareholder will have a right to bring proceedings against a director. A shareholder can ask the court for permission to bring an action against a director on behalf of the company—as can already happen under limited circumstances. The new bill removes these limits but gives a more general discretion to judges. It is hard to envisage a situation where an NGO could sue the directors of Tesco for, say, failing to do enough to encourage recycling. David Chivers QC London WC2 Celtic myths 1 23rd September 2006
Stephen Oppenheimer’s fascinating thesis (October) about the origins of the British helps to answer one of the most vexing questions of dark-age British history: why is there so little trace of Celtic culture in England and in the English language? This is all the more perplexing given the absence of any evidence of genocide of the pre-existing population by the invading Angles, Saxons and Jutes.
There is extensive evidence of invasion by Germanic forces prior to the Romans—a feature of southern England and particularly the southwest is the presence of so many large pre-Roman hill forts. These forts, such as the massive Maiden Castle near Dorchester in Dorset, could only have been built by a huge workforce over many years. This in turn implies extensive control exercised by a central authority, either over a domestic labour force or over slaves. But why were they built? Throughout history, castles have been built by invaders to subdue a native population or in border areas to deter invasion.
Both of the above questions are answered by Oppenheimer’s evidence. The fact that so little remains of Celtic influence in England in terms of place names—outside Cornwall and Cumbria—and in the language, points to a long process of cultural conquest by the 4th and 3rd centuries BC Belgic invaders, who were Germanic, as implied by Julius Caesar’s history of his British adventures. The cultural and linguistic origins of the English are thus pre-Roman. The Anglo-Saxon elite invasions of the 5th and 6th centuries AD reinforced, rather than created, a pre-existing difference between the proto-English and the culturally Celtic of the western fringes of the British Isles. Mark Hudson London SW12 Celtic myths 2 27th September 2006
Oppenheimer’s article shows the futility of letting scientists loose on purely historical questions, which are better tackled by historians, archaeologists and linguists. There is no essential connection between where your ancestors came from in the Neolithic period and what language you speak or how you behave culturally.
In any case, statistically all of us are descended from everyone: allowing 25 years per generation, in the 62 generations since 450AD, we have had 4.6 x 1016 direct ancestors, more people than have ever existed, and so we must be related to everyone on earth many times over. Martin Nichols Open University
Iraq, spin and deceit 1 28th September 2006
Defence counsel sometimes offer what they call alternative pleas on behalf of their clients along the lines of: either he didn’t do it; or, if he did, it wasn’t really his fault because at the time he was depressed, misled or whatever. John Lloyd’s defence of Blair’s Iraq policy (October) takes this kind of risky defence to new lengths. Lloyd seems to be arguing one of four things: one, that Blair did not lie about WMD because he was convinced Saddam had them; two, he did know there were doubts about WMD, but thought it would be unhelpful, perhaps dangerous, for us to know; three, he not only didn’t tell us about the doubts but also deliberately exaggerated the possible dangers, and moreover this wasn’t his fault: an opinionated and aggressive media has forced politicians to spin as their only form of defence; or four, if he did admittedly mislead the public, he certainly isn’t the first politician to do so, and we still regard some of the others as heroic figures. John Lloyd the reporter was one of my journalistic heroes. His advocacy leaves me unconvinced. Don Berry Ruislip, Middlesex
Iraq, spin and deceit 2 3rd October 2006
I regret that John Lloyd’s famously exhaustive fact-checking procedures have once again failed him in my case. I never “asserted that Blair had knowingly lied” in my Today programme report; you may search it in vain for any mention of the words Blair or lying. My actual assertion was that the claim of a 45-minute threat had been included as part of a drive to “sex up” the dossier—a charge, in other words, of exaggeration, not lying. This was the charge which I and the BBC believed ourselves to be defending; it was the charge which the government denied; and it is a charge which even Lloyd now finally concedes to be true.
I also said that “the government… probably knew [the 45-minute threat] was wrong,” something for which I apologised but which we now know also to have been true. The government (in the person of John Scarlett, chairman of the joint intelligence committee) did know the claim was wrong, in that it referred only to short-range battlefield munitions which were no threat to anyone.
The question of threat is fundamental to Tony Blair’s deceit over Iraq. It’s not enough to acquit Blair of mendacity by saying, as Lloyd does, that everyone sincerely believed Saddam Hussein possessed WMD. Certainly, everyone did believe that; it had been an intelligence given for the previous 20 years. Indeed, if Lloyd had troubled to check my Today report, he would have found me quoting David Kelly to that effect.
But the claim of WMD possession was not the deceit. The deceit was Blair’s claim that those WMD posed a “current, serious and growing threat” to Britain; a threat now growing so serious that it required swift military action. As Lloyd himself says: “Blair [in his dossier] had to show that Saddam and his WMD were a threat.” But they weren’t, and he knew it. Andrew Gilligan Evening Standard
John Lloyd replies 17th October 2006 Andrew Gilligan’s letter is disinengenuous. The fact that he did not use the words “Blair” or “lying” in his Today programme broadcast on 29th May 2003 is, as he knows well, beside the point. His report was admirably summed up by Lord Hutton: “The allegations reported by Mr Gilligan… that the government probably knew that the 45 minutes claim was wrong or questionable before the dossier was published and that it was not inserted in the first draft of the dossier because it only came from one source and the intelligence agencies did not really believe it was necessarily true—were unfounded.
“Unfounded” means that Gilligan presented no evidence for these allegations, which were repeated twice in the broadcast. Nor has anyone presented any evidence since for the charge that the government probably knew that the 45 minutes claim was wrong or questionable. It was—as the subsequent Butler report stated—put in hastily, and referred to in the dossier with no contextualisation as to whether the missiles were battlefield or strategic. But that is quite different from knowingly inserting false information—the allegation made in the original broadcast, then subsequently (if quietly) dropped by the BBC when it became apparent to the editors there that there was no backing for it.
The deliberate blurring of these differences by Gilligan and many others—including both the ex-chairman of the BBC, Gavyn Davies, and the ex-director general, Greg Dyke—has been the source of huge confusion: indeed, the source of a now widespread belief that the government lied deliberately to take the country to war. The obfuscation which ocurred afterwards—in pointing the finger at Blair, Alastair Campbell, the then chairman of the joint intelligence committee John Scarlett and, of course, at the “government stooge” Lord Hutton—has been unashamed and ruthless, and, as Gilligan’s letter shows, continues.
There is more to it than that, of course. Had the BBC apologised for the error, the affair would now be less than a footnote—and David Kelly would probably still be alive.
John Lloyd London NW3