First-past-the-post, Reality of compensation culture and others

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First-past-the-post gives a big boost to the apathy vote

First-past-the-post gives a big boost to the apathy vote

Sir: Even before the election date has been announced, there has already been talk about the apathy of the British voter. I am not surprised. I have always lived in a constituency with a safe majority one way or the other. My vote is effectively meaningless. I might just as well vote for Daisy the Cow.

Yet I regard it as not only my right but my duty to vote, which I have always exercised. At the last election I voted for the only candidate who lived in the constituency.

This year I plan to vote for the Lib Dems for two reasons. First, they are the only party to support proportional representation, which would mean that at last my vote would count; second, they are the only party to have consistently voted against the illegal invasion of Iraq. It still won't make any difference, though.

I might perhaps be tempted to vote for a candidate who visits me, as opposed to shoving leaflets through my letter-box. So far this has never happened in over ten general elections. No, apathy does not surprise me at all.


Sir: The wrong question is being discussed at dinner parties by the sound of things. ("In secret, how many will vote for the Tories?", Opinion, 9 March). Voters should be discussing how their vote can break down our vicious system of elected dictatorship - not which of the main parties is marginally less unpleasant.

The excesses of our winner-take-all system displayed in the process that took us to war and now with the constant attack on our civil liberties should focus our minds on the single issue of voting to promote a better system of government. Only by the Liberal Democrats obtaining enough seats to give them leverage in a hung parliament, can we hope for a shake-up and move towards a time when small parties can expect to win seats.

Whenever the Liberal Democrats achieve legislative influence they appear to negotiate for electoral reform, for example, proportional representation in Scottish local government as a consequence of their successes in the last national assembly elections. For that reason alone they will get my vote.

Newcastle upon Tyne

Reality behind myth of compensation culture

Sir: Guy Adams, in his article "The greed behind our compensation culture" (14 March), fails to mention two crucial facts. First, accidents do not result in compensation. Only when negligence has taken place - and can be proven - can someone make a claim for compensation.

Second, the number of personal injury claims is decreasing. Contrary to a popular misconception - often fuelled by the "stories you couldn't make up" as mentioned by Mr Adams - the Government's own statistics show that claims have decreased by almost 10 per cent in the last year. A report published last November by the Citizens Advice Bureau estimated that only a third of those injured actually seek compensation. These figures do not point to a society intent on claiming for all of life's misfortunes. There is always a risk when someone makes a claim and there is never a financial windfall. If a claim succeeds, the compensation awarded is calculated down to the last penny for loss of earnings, for example, or nursing care.

It is a lack of education about the legal system which leads teachers, employers and doctors to believe they can be sued for almost any accident, and a lack of understanding that without negligence there is no claim.

Those in a position of authority who, despite evidence to the contrary, continue to fuel the myth of a compensation culture, do nothing to alleviate these ungrounded fears.

President, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, Nottingham

Sir: As a health and safety consultant, I have watched, especially over the past five years, the incredible expansion of compensation with regard to health and safety accidents which now keeps me and the legal profession employed.

By today's legal standards all those mentioned in Guy Adams's article "The greed behind or compensation culture", except probably the workman, could not only be sued by Guy but prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive for this accident: the workman's scaffolding company for not training him to carry a scaffolding pole safely; the principal contractors on the site for whom the scaffolders were working; and maybe the police for employing a principal contractor who did not properly check the health and safety credentials of the sub-contractors. Even the workman would be feeling very worried, because if he had been trained and it could be proved, then the whole lot might land on him.

However, whilst we might applaud Guy for his common sense in not suing, I would ask him how would he feel if he had lost the sight of one eye in the accident (which could have easily happened) and if the resultant facial scar does not ultimately turn out to be so fetching.

So could it be that Guy is not really criticising the "greed", but not taking his slice because he thinks he, luckily, does not yet qualify.

Chapel Chorlton, Staffordshire

Sir: Guy Adams accidentally encourages a compensation culture by suggesting that the cost is not borne by us all. He specifically states: "It's also costing the Prime Minister a fortune."

It isn't. It's costing Guy Adams and every other taxpayer a fortune when the NHS, the police service or a local authority has to pay compensation. We provide the only money these bodies have. Similarly, if compensation claims are met by insurance companies, it is their policyholders who actually provide the money.

Until this is clearly stated whenever this topic is debated, the message will not get through to those who promote a compensation culture.


Afghan heroin

Sir: I read Mark Steel's article in The Independent on 3 March ("Is there a strong union in the Afghan heroin industry?") with interest. Heroin from Afghanistan continues to attract attention in the media - rightly so. President Karzai has made clear that his new government's top priority is to tackle the drugs problem.

Over 95 per cent of the heroin used in the UK comes from Afghanistan. That is why this government took the international lead after the fall of the Taliban in supporting the Afghans in their counter-narcotics struggle. President Karzai knows we are in this for the long term and are not about to give up on Afghanistan.

The UK is spending over £52m on Afghan counter-narcotics work in 2005/6 - over half will go toward helping Afghan farmers with an alternative livelihood. As the lead donor we have spent £1m on a major UN project training a criminal justice task force of investigators, prosecutors and judges. Afghanistan's own Special Narcotics Force, supported and trained by the UK, has raided and destroyed laboratories, seized poppy and made arrests. We are also supporting crop eradication and demand reduction aspects of the Afghan drug problem.

Evidence from every country which has successfully tackled poppy cultivation shows that it takes time. That is why we are in this for the long haul - addressing it from every angle. President Karzai knows it will take time. He needs our support and we need his. We must remain totally committed to this cause. We cannot allow the evil of heroin grip and control Afghanistan and Britain's communities. The consequences would be devastating.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London SW1

Just war in Iraq

Sir: I am somewhat bemused by the press's constant besmirching of the Government's handling of the Iraq war. Since 9/11, threats to our way of life and those of our allies have never been more immediate. Our decision to back our allies in the invasion of Iraq has been vindicated by free elections in Afghanistan and Iraq itself.

Your report of 11 March on the revelation that the Government had only a single page of legal advice on which to base its right to wage war is immaterial: that Iraq supported terrorism and persecuted its own people was reason enough.

A one-page answer or a document the size of the Bible tied up with pink ribbon would not change the reality that we choose to support our allies and now both Afghanistan and Iraq are on their way to becoming free democratic nations, at a cost of a few sleepless nights to people who have the luxury to sleep at night without fear of a knock at the door.

Hemycock, Devon

Ominous terror law

Sir: Andreas Whittam-Smith's article (14 March) on the threats to our constitution illuminated by the recent anti-terrorist legislation invites comparison with pre-war Nazi Germany. A demoralised opposition, an emasculated trade union movement, a despised section of the community (then Jews, now, increasingly, Muslims), a deceitful government, the same factors are there, including a population which seems to favour authoritarian rule.

In pursuit of his aggressive aims, Hitler took his country out of the League of Nations. Britain and America, when invading Iraq, simply bypassed the League's successor, the UN.

In Germany, democratic government had to be reintroduced from outside when that nation was defeated in the Second World War. Let us hope that Britain does not have to learn the same lesson.

Iver, Buckinghamshire

Red nose blues

Sir: I was glad to hear that I'm not the only one who doesn't feel entirely comfortable with Red Nose Day ("Don't ask me to wear a red nose", 10 March 2005), although I realise that to say so is to risk being accused of being uncharitable and humourless. There's no doubt that RND supports lots of good and needy causes, both in the UK and Africa, and it certainly succeeds in getting people to put their hands in their pockets (although, as Janet Street-Porter points out, not always those who can most afford it).

Red Nose Day fails, as does so much of the information we are fed via politicians and the media, to raise awareness of the root causes of poverty, which include Western trade policies. What really grates is that, on the one hand we contribute to poverty and suffering to the tune of billions of dollars, and then make ourselves feel good by giving back a few millions.

London SW15

Sir: Janet Street Porter's opinion piece "Don't ask me to wear a red nose" gives the misleading impression that Radio Times's recent £1m marketing and editorial investment has been funded by the BBC, at the expense of the licence fee payer.

BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial arm, which publishes Radio Times, does not use one penny of licence fee income to fund itself. In fact, its revenues are invested back into the BBC in order for the broadcaster to make more programmes. BBC Worldwide returned £141m to the BBC in 2004.

Like any commercial magazine, Radio Times needs to ensure its public profile remains high. We therefore invest in professional marketing campaigns from time to time from our own commercial budget.

Radio Times
London W12

Global media failure

Sir: In response to Michael McCarthy's recent despair over climate change, Tom Barker is correct to point to the current absence of radical greens and to the "impotence of a correspondent who can only report" (letters, 10 March). But the deeper problem is that correspondents do not even report what they should be reporting.

Where are the reports addressing the unsustainable nature of endless economic growth on a finite planet? Or drawing links between likely climate catastrophe and the damaging practices of global corporations and investors? Or highlighting the obstructive tactics of big business to truly sustainable policies? Or pointing out the billions spent by business and the public relations industry in promoting unsustainable consumer consumption?

Mainstream media, with its heavy reliance on advertising revenue to remain afloat, is failing to alert the public to the true nature of the global crisis we are in. The profit-led media is part of the same system of state-corporate power that is leading this planet to disaster - unless the public wakes up in time.

University of Southampton

Poetic dogs

Sir: Terence Blacker writes: "Few successful novelists own up to having a dog and no poets" (Opinion, 15 March). Elizabeth Barrett Browning was owned by a beautiful spaniel called Flush.

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Song of the taxman

Sir: Tax collectors may have a thankless job ("Position vacant", 14 March), but they've been well served by the pop aristocracy. Not only the subject of George Harrison's (not Lennon and McCartney's as stated) famous whine in "Taxman", they are also celebrated, less caustically, by the Kinks, who sing of the "taxman taking all my dough" in the classic "Sunny Afternoon".

London SW1

Ticket to oblivion

Sir: You say that "A transport system without ticket inspectors would have no funds to run its buses" (leading article, 14 March). I wonder when your leader-writer last travelled by bus. In this part of the world the "checker" is as extinct as the crossing-sweeper and the muffin-man.


Final enigma

Sir: Dave Allen, the well known atheist, died peacefully, painlessly in his sleep. Does this prove there is a God? Or does it prove there isn't?