Old cabby’s tale
Stephen Rommei’s London cabby story (Diary, 7 June) reminded me of catching a cab one cold night with a few compatriots back in the Seventies. The driver had no sooner shifted into gear than he said: ‘I know one thing: I’ve gotta load of Aussies on board.’ After a short silence I piped up: ‘What else do you know?’ Another pause and he came back as only a London cabby can: ‘No bleedin’ tip tonight!’ When we left I gave him two bob for his trouble.
In his piece on Malcolm Turnbull (‘Turnbull lives on’, 7 June), Mungo MacCallum claims prime minister John Howard carefully selected the delegates to the 1998 Constitutional Convention to ensure the Republican movement was bitterly divided between those who wanted direct and indirect election of the president. This is completely untrue, as a perusal of the voting records of the Convention in Hansard will demonstrate.
The leading proponents of direct election were all elected by the people, demonstrating that this division existed before the convention elections. Howard had 36 delegates in his gift. He exercised this mainly to provide for the presence at the convention of representatives of the indigenous people and from youth. He also pointed eminent Australians, particularly women.
Although republicans frequently claim Howard rigged the convention by appointing monarchists, his appointments were overwhelmingly republican, 26:10. Only one of the 26 was strongly in favour of direct election. So much for Howard rigging the convention to divide the republicans. Most of those strongly in favour of direct election saw the Turnbull-Keating republic as no more than a device to concentrate even more power in the hands of the politicians.
A history of persecution
Sir: Colin Brown (Letters, 7 June) ignores some good reasons for keeping religion out of society. Small groups of believers are fine, but not totalitarian dictatorships. The early Christians were treated as heretics until 313 ad, when Constantine made what became the Roman Catholic Church the official religion of the Roman Empire. The church promptly started persecuting all other religious groups. In the Middle Ages the Church let loose the Inquisition and decimated civilised communities such as the Albigensians. As for his statement that ‘all religions have provided society with ethical and moral rules’, how ethical were the laws and morals that subjugated women and slaves and persecuted anyone who questioned the authority and dogma
of the Church? In fact, it was the humanitarian and moral rules of the
Ancient Greeks and Romans, the Enlightenment and the 18th-century
Age of Reason that gave us ‘the fundamentals of a civilised society’.
Communism was a new totalitarian society taking its revenge on an old one. Now we have an even newer religious tyranny, as described in Tom Stacey’s piece (‘Witness to a stoning’, 7 June), where women are publicly stoned for daring to think for themselves.
Uckfield, East Sussex
Sir: It is hard to maintain, as Tom Stacey does, that debate is forbidden in Islam, and has been for centuries. There are four schools of traditional Sunnite Islam (Hanifite, Malikite, Shafiite and Hanbalite), and it requires no imagination to realise that four schools breed controversy.
One could add that, in 1717, before the rise of Wahhabiism (the version of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, travelling in Ottoman Turkey, was informed by her courteous guide that Islam was ‘plain deism’.
In the 19th century, the reformers al-Afghani and Abduh created a considerable impact, but they were discouraged by foreign representatives, who saw them as fomenting political radicalism. Abduh pointed out that Islam had never forsworn reason, and that the virtuous society was one that accepted God’s commandments and interpreted them in terms of reason and general welfare. That is certainly a radical idea today, but there is no reason why it could not be rediscovered.
Money better spent
Sir: Whatever the economic arguments in favour of HS2, Charles Moore’s remark about its electoral toxicity (Notes, 7 June) will strike a chord with many. Grandiose projects such as this never go down well with the electorate, who can imagine the effect that the spending of even a small proportion of the amount involved would have on our lives. The glaring example down here is Stonehenge, which has been a bottleneck since before I started driving between Somerset and London 50 years ago. If the government committed the relatively footling amount of £800 million to building a tunnel under it, many voters would be impressed.
I could name half a dozen other dangerous and congested roads round here which could easily and cheaply be improved at minimal cost and with benefit to the local economy. Another relevant question for us is: how can HS2 be justified while a stretch of 150-year-old single track on the main line between Waterloo and Exeter remains unimproved?
Such economical improvements to the transport system must be repeatable all over the country, using local contractors and creating local jobs. It would be more electorally sound if the £40 billion or so committed to HS2 were tossed into a hat and bids invited from communities all over the country for worthwhile projects aimed at improving the local infrastructure.