TV debates have the public the power held by interviewers

Evolution will of the debates will increase the public’s ability to hold politicians to account.

SIR – While sharing Charles Moore’s nostalgia (Comment, April 26) for those Harold Wilson pipe-lighting moments, he need not fear for the health of television’s contribution to election campaigns.

Messrs Paxman, Marr and the rest can speak for themselves and for set-piece interviews, but allow me to defend the leaders’ debates.

The first, which I hosted for ITV, reached over nine million people: a remarkable achievement in an era of multi-channel television. The questions were chosen from a pool submitted by members of the public and put to the leaders by their authors.

My function was to ensure equity in time and to move the exchanges along. It was for the 200 people in the hall, and the millions watching, to judge the quality of the answers and the relative merits of the exchanges with no further mediation. The leaders knew that and so did the viewers.

If nothing had happened, we might have failed. To have contributed, however, to the biggest ever shift in polled opinion suggests the opposite.

It has been an imperfect start. The questioners in the studio should be able to express a view on what they’ve heard and to react as they see fit. Evolution will take care of that. What started in Manchester, however, has changed the political landscape as significantly as Sir Robin Day’s pesky ball-bearings question to a visiting Japanese trade minister half a century ago.

David Dimbleby will not “officiate at the funeral” of anything tomorrow. He will be at a celebration of something that has extended the process of letting people question, challenge and judge those who would lead them.

Alastair Stewart
London WC1

SIR – As tomorrow’s televised debate turns to the economy and politicians throw the billions around like confetti, we should remember that this year’s forecast deficit of £167 billion means we have a Government that intends to spend £228 per person per month. If we were asked to pay that £228 for each member of our family, starting now, how would we reply?

Future taxes will have to repay the missing money, and to pay the interest on it in the meantime, just as we will have to pay for what our Government has already “invested” on our behalf.

Tom Bell-Richards
Burford, Oxfordshire

SIR – As a long-time member of the Liberal Party of Canada, now in Britain, I must correct Nick Clegg’s references to a major aspect of his manifesto being based on Canada’s immigration policy. He erroneously asserts that this places the onus on employers to ensure people live and work in “the regions”.

In Canada, as in Britain, there is a skilled-worker points-based system, where some jobs are location-specific, and provinces offer incentives to entice workers and investors to locate within their boundaries. Both have mixed results and neither make the employer responsible for the workers’ housing choices.

Most immigrants still come to the cities of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Canada’s regions are vastly underpopulated outside these major centres. But there is no law that could be imposed in a democratic country forcing location or disallowing freedom of movement.

Leanore Copeland
Richmond, Surrey

SIR – Those considering voting Lib Dem on tactical grounds need to ask their local candidate whether he is a Labour Lib Dem or a Conservative Lib Dem, to know which permutation the vote is backing.

Eveleigh Moore Dutton
Tushingham, Shropshire

Widows’ woes

SIR – As widows and widowers from across the country, we welcome the election’s renewed focus on the family, but urge the Conservatives to rethink proposals to create financial incentives for married couples, and for all politicians to give more thought to the needs of those widowed.

Every year, 135,000 people are widowed, including 8,000 under the age of 50. The proposed policy would penalise widows at the time when they are most vulnerable. As well as the emotional turmoil, there are already huge financial costs to bereavement, and to take money away from people in these circumstances is financially and morally unjustifiable.

We are supporting the Don’t Judge my Family campaign, which highlights the potential consequences of this proposal, and recommending that public money should instead be spent to support children and families who need it most.

Caroline Doughty
Chairman, Way Foundation
Joyce Howe
Chairman, National Association of Widows
Kate Boydell
Founder, Merry Widow
Imogen Disu
Linsay Black
Hannah Pascutti
Rhona Christie
Peter Bowes
Ceri Henkus
Sarah Wilson
Ann Shepley
Kim White
Lorraine Davis
Georgia Elms
Jane Clist
Wendy Hodgson
Joann Perkins
Lynne Brown
Jill Nagle Timms
Mary Lalevee
Lynsey Spurling
Kate Eaton
Suzanne Smith
Julie Strange
Brian Hall
Martin Smith
Tracey Vincent
Jaye Horder
Georgia Elms
Jo Broadhurst
Vanessa Wilkes
Wendy Lee
Julian Summerhayes
Shirley Lamb
Annmarie Johnson
Ray Miller
Penny Barlow
Pauline Simmons
Mary Lakave
Frank Proud
Andy Kirby
Sylvana Savvas
Ben Lingard
Jess Gold
Laura Eldrige
Jane Pyne
Beverley Partinger
Gaynor Williams
Lisa Cross
Jon Archer
Elayne Campbell
Ani Levi
Helen Anthein
Justine O’Driscoll
Phyl Marrs
Barbara Want
Una Jones
Deborah Greaves
Beth Diskin-Kremer
Beverley Kinsella
Lyn Gardiner
Annie Gardiner
Emma Rea
Deb Fisher
Alison Gilbert
Lynn Gibson
Jessica Winterstein
Maddy Paxman
Carol Doran
Graham Scales
Anna Bamford

Half price is the full price

SIR – I purchased an Italian red wine from Tesco, advertised as half price, taking it from £9.99 down to £4.99.

I looked for the wine on another occasion, expecting it to be £9.99. But, to my delight, it had been given a normal price of £4.99. Being a cynic, I asked Tesco if it was exploiting the pricing regulations. Tesco replied that the wine had been £9.99 for about three months last year. Since then, it has fluctuated – seldom the full price of £9.99, sometimes £9.99 reduced to £4.99, and sometimes £4.99.

Its justification was that, as the wine had originally been on sale at £9.99, it was breaking no rules.

Stephen Walklett
Charlton, Worcestershire

Doctor Who distraction

SIR – I am sure I was not alone in being distracted from the exciting last minute of Doctor Who on Saturday by a small figure at the bottom of the screen advertising the next programme, Over the Rainbow.

Could we not finish watching one programme before the next one starts?

Yvonne Wilde
Stanford-le-Hope, Essex

Banished bard

SIR – I am a member of a theatre company that fulfils all the criteria laid down by Dr Anthony Seldon (Features, April 23) for instilling enthusiasm for Shakespeare in the minds of the young.

In 2008, we took into schools in London and the South East 159 performances of our productions of The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing and Richard III. We interweaved performance of the text with lively discussion on the language, themes, plot and imagery.

Then someone in the Government woke up one morning in October 2008 and decided to abolish the Sats for 14-year-olds. That very day, the first of a succession of calls came in, telling us that our performances, booked for the following January, were no longer required. As a result, we made 121 fewer performances in 2009. In many cases, heads of English were devastated to see us go, but they were being told that live Shakespeare was no longer a priority, and there was nothing they could do.

The Government produced, in July 2008, Shakespeare for all Ages and Stages. This laid out, for each and every year group, what their approach should be as regards Shakespeare. What has become of the fine sentiments behind this publication is anyone’s guess.

Michael McEvoy
The Globe Players
Hampton, Middlesex

Other bright FCO ideas

SIR – I am surprised that you have neglected to cover the recently leaked internal document from the Foreign Office, setting out forthcoming diplomatic and other initiatives.

Key points include: a) the presentation of a diplomatic gift of platform shoes to President Sarkozy; b) an invitation to the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the next Gay Pride march; c) the relocation of the Argentine embassy from London to the more convenient city of Port Stanley; d) a parliamentary delegation to advise the Italian government on integrity in public life; e) financial assistance enabling members of the US Congress to study health care reform in Britain; f) the creation of Prince Charles as Duke of Australia as part of 225th anniversary celebrations of the foundation of the penal colony at Botany Bay; g) an invitation to Taiwan to join the Commonwealth; h) the appointment of Russell Brand as permanent under-secretary.

Andrew Todd
Linslade, Bedfordshire

Treat drug addicts more like patients, not criminals

SIR – I fully endorse the proposals to roll out heroin clinics on the NHS as a way of weaning drug users off their addiction, as suggested by Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (report, April 27).

The decriminalisation of the drug has paid off in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. Decriminalisation of heroin and other hard drugs has allowed addicts to be treated as patients. As a result, hardly any new heroin addicts are registered, while existing users are supported and have been helped to find jobs.

A sensible policy of regulation and control in Britain would reduce burglary, cut gun crime, bring women off the streets, clear out our overflowing prisons and raise billions in tax revenues. Drug users could buy from places where they could be sure the drugs had not been cut with dangerous, cost-saving chemicals. There would be clear information about the risks involved and guidance on how to seek treatment.

It is time to allow adults the freedom to make decisions about harmful substances. Drugs could be regulated in the same way that alcohol and tobacco are and, more importantly, heavily taxed. The price could still be substantially less than on the illicit market, and revenue generated from the regulation could be invested in education and rehabilitation programmes. Educating children early is the best way to combat drug problems. It would help children make intelligent and healthy choices. Investing in rehabilitation programmes would help addicts and would also help society.

Dr Kailash Chand
Stalybridge, Cheshire

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