The public outcry: 'Give us back our democracy'

Yesterday we launched a campaign to expose the iniquities of Britain's electoral system. In response, we were inundated with letters from readers. The national debate starts here...
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Indy Politics

Sir: You rightly promote electoral reform as being a means of achieving more representative government, but appear to overlook its possible role in solving another major problem with our democracy, that of voter apathy ("Why it's time for change", 10 May).

Sir: You rightly promote electoral reform as being a means of achieving more representative government, but appear to overlook its possible role in solving another major problem with our democracy, that of voter apathy ("Why it's time for change", 10 May).

Under the current system political parties concentrate their campaigning on marginal seats where the outcome is unknown and may be affected by their efforts. Yet they seem surprised that many of the electorate in safe seats might similarly calculate that voting is a waste of precious time, since for most very little is affected by their efforts.

It's not rocket science - under the current first-past-the-post system a culture has grown up of recognising that one's vote may be "wasted" - which suggests the question "Why bother?"

The political parties have a vested interest in the current system, since winner takes all and they need far fewer resources to campaign strongly in a few seats rather than in many. But first-past-the-post is definitely not in the interests of the people these politicians affect to serve. We must take our system back from the politicians.

BILL ROBINSON

LONDON W2

Sir: At one time we were inflexibly opposed to proportional representation, fearing it would involve the country in Italian-style constant re-elections, hung parliaments, and failed coalitions.

Now, over the past eight years with the leadership of a man like Tony Blair, who has shown nothing but contempt not only for his own parliamentary party but for the national electorate at large, and who has been consistently returned to power on a decreasing minority of the electoral vote, we realise we have been living in the creeping shadow of a de-facto dictatorship by default. The system that permits such a state of affairs must be changed.

Democracy is in crisis, and we strongly support your newspaper's inquiry into electoral reform and proportional representation.

MICHAEL BROWNE and GRACE BROWNE

BATH

Sir: It is ironic that the two most vocal proponents of democracy, the United States and the United Kingdom, have deep flaws of their own. The result in Great Britain is disgraceful, a parliamentary system that allows a party to govern with only 36 per cent of the vote.

In the United States there is the electoral system which allows a president to be elected without winning the popular vote. The biggest problem with election campaigns lies with the financing, which allows vested interests to buy candidates and elections, and most importantly, advertising time on television. Pericles must be spinning in his grave.

Despite all of the above problems, the United States and the UK have no problem condemning elections in Ukraine, in Zimbabwe, in Russia, in Belarus, in Nigeria, to name but a few. Such hypocrisy is smugly dismissed.

MICHAEL JUNG

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA

Sir: I am sick of opponents of electoral reform talking about "strong" government when what they actually mean is "unaccountable". Just as with Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in the 1980s, successive landslide victories with less than 43 per cent of the popular vote have seen Tony Blair become increasingly authoritarian and presidential.

Both major parties will not voluntarily give up an electoral system that hands them such unbridled power. The Hansard Commission was swept under the carpet by the Tories once they had achieved power, and Jenkins' recommendations in 1998 followed suit.

If we are to get electoral reform, then the reform lobby must start generating a groundswell of popular support for change. The days of two-party politics in the United Kingdom are gone - it's time the electoral system reflected the new order.

NICK PEERS

TROWBRIDGE, WILTSHIRE

Sir: I am a British citizen living and working in Iceland, home to the oldest democracy in the world. My colleagues were asking me, in the run-up to the British election, what I thought of it and who I wanted to win. They were extremely surprised when I told them I didn't know when the election was, that, yes, I was capable of voting from here and, no, I had made no effort whatsoever to vote or follow the campaign.

I explained to them that I felt privileged to be out of British politics. Having lived there all my life and followed it closely and having read The Independent from the very first edition (when I was studying for my A-levels), I have become thoroughly sick of the glacial pace of change, the absence of proportional representation, the lies, the broken promises, the insularity, bigotry, jingoism and self-serving nature of politicians.

They were shocked when I explained why I considered the UK to be a very undemocratic place and I explained the electoral system to them. I explained the way in which the turnouts have become lower and most voters feel disenfranchised and disconnected from politics.

The time has not only come for reform of the British electoral system; it is long overdue.

TIMOTHY BISHOP

HAFNARFJORDUR, ICELAND

Sir: The whole idea of tactical voting serves to point out the problems of our system. If voters are forced to vote against who they do not want, rather than for who they do want, something is clearly wrong. A form of proportional representation, preferably the single transferable vote as used in the Irish Republic, would allow people a real choice not just between parties but also between individual candidates.

ROBIN T PETTITT

LANCASTER

Sir: Proportional representation might appear at first sight to be more democratic, but as it usually leads to a coalition with no party able to implement all its manifesto, one cannot know which parts of its manifesto the party one votes for will be able to implement, or which parts of another party's will be implemented as well.

DAVID TERRY

DROITWICH, WORCESTERSHIRE

Sir: I write in disappointment at your lead story of 10 May. Again PR is falsely portrayed as the saviour of the electoral system. The articles do not address the obvious flaws in any PR system, such as unstable and fragmented government, disproportionate power given to minority parties in government, and a rise in the prominence of single-issue parties.

It also fails to address the biggest failure of PR, and that is the lack of local involvement in political decisions. Where would the next Martin Bell come from? How can voters choose a hardworking local candidate, when the choices they are faced with are simple bland party affiliates? It would mean the end of the awkward squad, and a beginning of totalitarian party lists - is that more democracy or less democracy?

As one who voted for the third-placed candidate in my constituency, I hope to see the present system continue, with urgent reform of the House of Lords as the only modification.

RODNEY FERNANDES

CHIPPENHAM, WILTSHIRE

Sir: What exists in this country is the equivalent of tyranny, when 36 per cent determine how 64 per cent are governed. And we preach to the Middle East about democracy!

JAMES KNIGHT

HESLINGTON, YORK

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