Sir: Matt Cavanagh’s razor-sharp analysis (‘Operation Amnesia’, 9 April) chimes with the anecdotal evidence borne by friends returning from Afghanistan. But it is not just the soldiers who have made mistakes. Their political masters bear primary responsibility for initiating, in the first place, the unfunded strategic overstretch which goes beyond Afghanistan.
The result is that our Armed Forces are now unable to respond effectively to new, unexpected (and potentially more serious) crises such as the ones which have erupted recently in the Maghreb and the Middle East — as well as the ones which are surely yet to come.
We seem to be suffering from strategic, as well as operational, amnesia. A radical and clear-headed reassessment of Britain’s defence and security policy is overdue. There are, of course, no simple solutions. But it might just be worth taking a long look at hard-nosed ‘containment’ (as opposed to well-intentioned ‘intervention’) as a possibly cheaper and more effective strategic response to the threats that face Britain and the free world. It has worked before.
Elke Miller de Vega
AV in Australia
Sir: Andrew Roberts claims that first past the post selects the candidate constituents want most (‘A vote against folly’, 9 April). Yet in many cases they end up with a MP for whom less than half the constituents voted. In these instances most people get the candidate they clearly did not want. He goes on to argue that AV makes weak coalition government the norm. That has not been the experience here in Australia, where we recently elected only our second coalition since the second world war using an AV system. Your political parties would have to get smarter in their canvassing for votes, especially second preferences, but your voters have nothing to fear from AV.
Terrigal, NSW, Australia.
Rod and rehab
Sir: Rod Liddle wholly misrepresents the UK Drug Policy Commission in claiming we advocate the social acceptance of heroin use (‘Are we supposed to think of heroin users as just another persecuted minority?’, 2 April).
If he had read our report, he would have seen that we examined public attitudes towards people who are trying to stop using drugs. We found that 44 per cent of people said they would not want to live next door to someone who has been dependent on drugs. But at the same time, the public recognise that it is important for people recovering from dependency to be part of the normal community to help them rebuild their lives.
The enduring nature of this ‘stigma’ is an unnecessary barrier to recovery. It is common for recovering and former drug users to have job and housing offers withdrawn and to be denied services available to others. There is both a practical and a financial argument for tackling this stigma and helping to get drug users rehabilitated and back to work.
Dame Ruth Runciman
Chair, UK Drug Policy Commission
Sir: Eric Pickles’s comments (‘Playing the heavy’, 2 April) that Manchester was ‘revelling’ in the cuts we are being forced to make because of his government’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach to spending could not be further from the truth. We are certainly not going out of our way to target the most vulnerable. Indeed the reverse is true. And Pickles’s own housing minister, Grant Shapps, has now admitted that the poorest areas of the country have been disproportionately affected by the way in which the government is imposing these senseless cuts. The most telling illustration of this is the Supporting People grant, which helps the most vulnerable stay in their homes, thereby helping to maintain their dignity and save the state a fortune. Manchester, the fourth most deprived council area in the country, has received a 35 per cent cut (£12.6 million less) in our grant. Meanwhile, Windsor and Maidenhead council — one of the least deprived areas in the country — has received a 31 per cent increase.
But, of course, we’re all in this together.
Sir Richard Leese
Leader of Manchester City Council
Manners that cost nothing
Sir: Whether or not Oxford admissions tutors are swayed by expensive manners may well be arguable. However, it is certainly unacceptable for B. Rockbird (Letters, 9 April) to imply that all state-educated pupils are ill-mannered louts; or, for that matter, that all privately educated pupils are models of mannerly virtue.
David J. Cox
Hove, East Sussex
Sir: Charles Moore’s article ‘The art of giving’ (2 April) described the very generous act of Jonathan Ruffer in buying 12 Zuberan paintings from the Church of England in order to give them back.
I do feel that in allowing this to happen, the Church of England may avoid financial bankruptcy but teeters on the edge of moral bankruptcy.
A benign abbreviation
Sir: Some find the abbreviation ‘Brit’ as offensive as Mr Okaniwa finds ‘Jap’ (Letters, 9 April); but long experience in Dublin’s Gaiety theatre persuaded me either that I am unusually thick-skinned, or that the word is often benignly intended. Surely the same goes for ‘Jap’.
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