Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2211

Protesting against the Criminal Justice Bill in 1994 - one of many attacks on civil liberties launched by the then Tory government (Pic: Mark Campbell)

Protesting against the Criminal Justice Bill in 1994 - one of many attacks on civil liberties launched by the then Tory government (Pic: Mark Campbell)

History shows Tories are not friends of freedom

It is a sign of just how authoritarian the Labour government was that the Tories can now seem to some to be defenders of freedom.

Conservative home secretary Theresa May has said that the government will review the anti-terror laws and claims that she wants to “restore ancient civil liberties”.

Many commentators who were rightly critical of Labour’s attacks on civil liberties have heaped praise on her. But we shouldn’t trust the Tories. The reality of what they are doing is far from the picture that is being painted.

The most significant measure the Tories have announced – the scrapping of the police’s power, under the Terrorism Act 2000, to stop and search individuals without suspicion – was forced on the government by the European Court of Human Rights.

May has announced that the power to detain terror suspects for 28 days without charge will remain in place for at least another six months.

While the Tories were in opposition, she voted in favour of the indefinite detention without trial of foreign nationals who the state said were involved in terrorism.

The Tories are no defenders of civil liberties.

Let’s not forget that it was them who unleashed the police against striking miners in 1980s and criminalised dissent in the 1990s with the Criminal Justice Act.

Andy Jones, South London

Health secretary Andrew Lansley last week announced the abolition of the Food Standards Agency (FSA). This shows how a Tory government is once again putting food industry profits before public health.

The FSA came into sharp conflict with the industry over its plan to label foods with a simple “traffic lights” system according to their fat, salt and sugar content.

The British Medical Association and others supported the idea. But food industry lobbyists won out and no such system was introduced.

As obesity continues to grow across the Western world, the abolition of the FSA is a real setback. We should not forget that the FSA was set up in 2000 a few years after the BSE, or “Mad Cow disease”, crisis.

In 1990, as the threat of BSE became known, Tory minister John Gummer tried to persuade us of the safety of British beef by stuffing a beefburger in his daughter’s mouth.

The tragedy of the deaths from BSE that followed this stunt shows why the food industry must be under the scrutiny of an regulator.

Far from representing a “nanny state”, initiatives like clear food labelling and Jamie Oliver’s school meals campaign can help us make informed choices on healthy food – not on the needs of the market.

Lynne Hubbard, Dietician, North London

Steven Rose is wrong on ADHD

I agree with many of the points raised by Steven Rose in his speech about the future of the brain (Manipulating the human mind?, 17 July).

He is right to say that “you cannot ignore the social”, and that conditions like depression are strongly related to social factors, like poverty.

However, I think that he is missing the point somewhat when it comes to Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

For the vast majority of children and adults who are given this diagnosis, ADHD is a real condition that can significantly disrupt performance at school and home.

ADHD has always existed, but thanks to better awareness among clinicians and teachers, more and more children can receive the support they need.

I agree with Rose that over-drugging children is morally dubious, but I think that it could cause offence to people with conditions like ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome – which I have – to imply that their condition is not altogether “real”.

It actually comforts me to know that my Asperger’s syndrome has a neurological basis, because it means that I am not a failure when I find life difficult.

However, this does not mean that I want to be defined by my condition, or have everything about me reduced to my brain.

Anna Lansley, Chichester, Sussex

I was surprised to read Steven Rose’s rather negative view of neuroscience.

He talks briefly about “claims that we are going to see huge medical advances”.

Then he goes on to detail the sinister uses of the science by the military and others who want to control us.

Yet neuroscience has already led to steps forward in treating conditions like Alzheimer’s. They may not be “cures”, but they’re working on it.

Socialists should embrace better medical care – and demand it for all.

Katie James, Bracknell

Heads are learning to milk school system

Teachers, whose pay will be “frozen” next year, will likely be astounded at the £240,000 paid to one headteacher in Lewisham, south east London.

This is the same borough that is slashing jobs, including those in education services.

Some say that heads that do a good job should be financially rewarded. But turning around a “failing school” is never the result of the efforts of just one person.

If schools become academies we are likely to see an increase in huge salaries for heads.

However, as academies are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, we will never know how money is being spent.

The government pretends to be against these big salaries, but it is encouraging schools to opt out from any form of accountability or scrutiny.

Sara Tomlinson, Secretary, Lambeth NUT (pc)

Socialist Worker rightly attacks the Tories for ending the school building programme.

The Tories’ new semi‑privatised academy schools are not going to face any shortage of funds for new buildings.

The result is that crumbling old local authority schools are going to be competing for pupils with brand new academies.

The government is throwing money at the rich mummies and daddies, and private firms, which will run the academies.

Rita Garside, Huddersfield

Does sport really bring us closer?

John Fanning argues that international sporting competition began as an attempt to foster unity within the British Empire (Letters, 17 July).

I’m not sure there’s anything positive in trying to reconcile oppressed nations to their imperial masters.

But the truth is that international sport was not intended to bring people together.

The modern Olympics, for example, were founded by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who thought sport was essential to reestablishing France as a world power.

In his essay The Sporting Spirit, George Orwell wrote, “I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations... sport is war minus the shooting.”

Away from the pitch, Orwell noted that nations “work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe – at any rate for short periods – that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.”

Socialists can and do enjoy sport. But we should not be blind to the history and ideology that underpins it.

Jonny Jones, South London

Unbearable lightness

Cosmetics firm Vaseline is using Facebook to target Indian men with its new “skin-whitening cream”.

Users are asked to download software from its homepage that will adjust your picture by making flesh appear lighter.

Having dark skin is considered a drawback in parts of India.

What a sad comment on a country that sacrificed so much to rid itself of the British and their racism.

Sue, by email

TUC’s invite to anger

It’s Nice to hear that Len McCluskey of the Unite union has spoken out against the TUC’s decision to invite David Cameron to its congress.

It’s a pity that Unite’s delegates to the general council didn’t raise any objection to the invitation when it was proposed.

Indeed, many unions that are now speaking out against it were initially in favour.

Better late than never I suppose. Nevertheless, it does show that even the most remote union leaders sometimes have to pay attention to their members.

Bob Manning, Newcastle

Docs should stick to sick

Take Care Now, a firm set up by doctors to provide out-of-hours care, has been heavily criticised after the death of a patient.

Investigators found that the firm had “systematically failed” to ensure patient safety after a doctor over‑prescribed a medicine.

Since then, however, the Tories have decided that almost the entire NHS budget should be allocated to GP-led businesses.

But what skills do we want our doctors to utilise? Shouldn’t we ask them to concentrate on what they were trained to do, rather than play at being small businessmen?

Alfred Sutton, East London

Back protest at the Tories

I was very glad to see that the civil servants’ PCS union has given its backing to the protest at the Tory Party conference on Sunday 3 October.

Public sector workers, like those in the benefits office where I sign on, are in the frontline of the Con-Dem government’s attacks.

Birmingham will play unwilling host to the cut‑loving Tory toffs.

But we will welcome all those who come to our city to show their opposition to factory closures, privatisation, pensions cuts and slashing spending.

Raj Ahmed, Birmingham

A whiff of the poll tax

I’m between jobs at the moment – so all I’ve been able to do with the leaflets advertising the march against cuts on 3 October is ask for them to go up in shop and cafe windows.

Not since the beginnings of the protests over the poll tax have I seen such a response. Not only do the leaflets go up, but I see delighted grins.

The mood is there to do something about the Tories’ horrible attacks. Don’t let our leaders squander it. We must build now before despair sets in.

So put some leaflets in your bag and go “shopping”.

T Moose, Swansea

Democracy costs bucks

As an NUJ member I was shocked to discover that it would cost me £400 to apply for a press pass to the Tory Party conference.

This goes up to £500 from 30 July.

Good capitalists as ever, the Tories obviously want to make a quick buck.

You may have thought the Labour Party would be better – but it is charging £441.

There is no guarantee from either party that the applicant will be successful – and the fee is non-refundable.

Katherine Branney, East London

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Article information

Tue 20 Jul 2010, 18:40 BST
Issue No. 2211
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