Prospect readers have their say
September 18, 2013
There must be an inquiry

I do agree an inquiry into the Afghanistan war would be a good idea (“The case for an Afghanistan inquiry,” September), so long as it isn’t of Chilcot duration.

Polly Toynbee, author and columnist


If there is an inquiry into Afghanistan, it should call on the very small number of British experts who knew the country well since the 1980s and 1990s, but whose clear advice was totally ignored by the most senior politicians, generals and colonels.

Looking to Afghanistan’s future, there is a small window of opportunity for peace as many thousands of Taliban want to join the reintegration process and be given jobs (currently most rural Pashtuns have only three options—fight with the Taliban, be suicide bombers or be unemployed). Of the Halo Trust’s 3,000 de-miners, many are “ex-Taliban.”

Maybe now that he is not so distracted by Syria, David Cameron could concentrate on peace building in Afghanistan. This could be his legacy.

Guy Willoughby, former army captain and CEO of the Halo Trust

Labour pains

As Jonathan Derbyshire notes (“Lost in thought?”, September), Labour needs both to point up the coalition’s failure to move away from the pre-recession economy and provide reasonably radical policies for the future. Foremost among the latter would be sustainability.

Micro-policies designed to ameliorate living standards of the kind Ed Miliband seems to be proposing will count for nothing if greater thought isn’t given to energy conservation and the reduction of CO2 emissions. The advantage of hanging policies on this framework is that, if handled right, there is plenty of opportunity for job creation. However, I doubt Ed Balls’s willingness to address that wider context, even if Miliband probably wants to.

John Ellis, Prospect website

Good neighbours

Tom Phillips’s article on the last chance for the two-state solution in the Middle East (“Can the Americans do it?”, September) hits all the key issues. I hope that John Kerry’s people are giving attention, in particular, to Phillips’s advice about the importance of “involving the neighbours,” despite the chaos that currently reigns in the region. There will be no resolution without some version of the approach set out in the Arab Peace Initiative, and that means engagement. The Quartet needs to become a de facto quintet that involves the Arab League.

John Alderdice, former speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Liberal Democrat peer

In transit

Simon Jenkins and Tom Papworth spend a lot of time arguing over the role of Heathrow as a hub airport (“The Duel,” September). If I am travelling to Scotland by train, it’s not important to me, if I have to change on the way, to do so at Reading, Birmingham, Manchester or Newcastle—provided there is no large penalty in cost or time.

So why should a businessman flying from Manchester or Birmingham to, say, one of the new industrial centres in China (which will never all be served by direct flights from Heathrow) find any necessary benefit from spending two hours in a transit lounge at Heathrow rather than Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt?

Harvey Cole, Hampshire

Totally random

I am bewildered by John Tyler Bonner’s argument (“When Darwinism fails,” September). Surely “random mutation” is the essential tool of natural selection?

If all 10,000 species of diatoms in his example were subjected to, say, a radical climate or sea level change, presumably some would become extinct and others survive, and so prove the principle of survival of the fittest? Darwin himself published the results of 14 years work on the evolution of the humble barnacle , which is what gained him entry to the Royal Society.

Robin Hawdon, author of “Survival Of The Fittest”


John Tyler Bonner proposes that some of life’s diversity might be due to random mutations occurring during development rather than natural selection, as modern Darwinism proposes.

In an experiment reported in the journal Nature in 2009, bacteria introduced to a minimal medium with a level of glucose that would limit their growth were studied over 20,000 generations. The bacteria made a rapid recovery in growth rate to about 50 per cent of the total recovery at 20,000 generations within the first 1,000 generations, but mutations increased linearly at the rate of ~2.5/1,000 generations. The authors were unable to explain these results on the fundamental Darwinian premise that genomic change underlies adaptation.

Could it be that we have been so dazzled by the structure and properties of DNA that we have missed the real nature of life—a natural process mediated by proteins with DNA as a database?

Keith Baverstock, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Eastern Finland

On the road

I really enjoyed Misha Glenny’s article on Brazil (“Brazil’s militant middle,” September). But he’s obviously never driven along the Dutra. Sao Paulo to Rio, city centre to city centre, in five hours by car? Maybe if you start at midnight, but even then maybe not if the traffic police are out!

David Paul, London

Exceedingly good

Sam Leith (“We’re all kippled,” September) reminds me of a favourite Donald McGill postcard of mine. A young couple are sitting under a tree, he with a book in his hand marked “Poetry.” He: “Do you like Kipling?” She: “I don’t know, you saucy creature, I’ve never kippled.”

Ron Farquhar, London

Prescription charges

John Kay’s analysis of market capitalism (“Two cheers for the market”, September) is, as usual, admirable–but his prescription is a good deal less clear.

He condemns current “redistributive market capitalism”, with its interventions to correct market failures, on the grounds that it is “untenable as soon as one realises the role played in the economy by trust, cooperation and solidarity, the contestable nature of property rights and the limitations on any knowledge imposed by radical uncertainty”. But by the end he is recommending interventions based on “a detailed understanding of the way particular markets work.” Would this be to correct market failures, only better?

Alan Bailey, London


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