Glazer, Voting reform and others

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Blame European football, not US raider, for United's fate

Sir: Malcolm Glazer's takeover of Manchester United has been discussed in relation to his ownership of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, yet the structure of the games is fundamentally different.

American football is owned and regulated by the National Football League (NFL); individual team owners can only buy a single "franchise team". The NFL is structured to ensure, as near as possible, level competition between the teams. There is a team salary cap to ensure that a few dominant teams do not harvest all the best players through financial might. The annual draft of college players offers the teams with the previous season's worst record first pick of the college players who are turning professional. This ensures continued fan "hope" ("We had a rubbish team last year, but we're going to be better this year"). This hope probably translates into fans continuing to pay their money to support the poorer teams. Fixed-term player contracts expire and players are also swapped for other players or draft picks, but very rarely for money.

Compare that with the FA Premier League, which since its inception has been dominated by a small minority of big clubs. With traditional tribal loyalties playing less of a role in determining which club modern fans support and the larger clubs cherry-picking the best players, what happens to the long-term appeal of the majority of clubs who will never have the faintest hope of ever winning anything?

The NFL set up is aimed at promoting the strength of the game through strictly regulated, even competition. The free-market model of European football, on the other hand, has led to the development of a very small minority of wealthy, elite clubs dominating their domestic leagues and only really competing at an international level. Glazer must appreciate the differences and realise that if he plays it right he could acquire an unregulated monopoly (or at least an oligarchy) position for Manchester United, which is something he can't do with Tampa Bay ... but if he plays it wrong he can still sell off all his assets and run.



Voting reformers, unite behind STV

Sir: Peter Facey and Ron Bailey are right (letter, 16 May) in calling for a mass movement urging electoral reform, for which The Independent has highlighted the need. However, what is crucial is that the issue is not broadened in a way that inevitably leads to disagreement and thus a further excuse for prevarication by the Government.

The 19th century showed that it was single-purpose pressure groups such as the Anti-Corn Law League that were successful, rather than multi-purpose groups like the Chartists. What will best now serve the people is the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. All reformers should first unite around that and concentrate on it.



Sir: As someone who spent much of his late twenties and early thirties in active politics as a Liberal, I was delighted to see The Independent take up the cause of electoral reform. The graphic way in which you compared the result of the recent election and the outcome in seats (10 May) showed beyond argument how unfair the present system is.

The problem is that initially both Conservatives and Labour would lose heavily under any other system and therefore don't want change. It doesn't appear to bother them that their cynical attitude excludes people and fresh ideas from decision-making and plays a large part in the public's contempt for the political process.

So there will only be change if people get angry enough to frighten them into action. A vote for the Liberal Democrats is one way to inspire such fear. Your campaign is another and very welcome one. Thank you.



Sir: Rodney Fernandes claims that PR leads to instability (letter, 11 May). This is the case in unstable democracies such as Italy in the mid-20th century. However, in more consolidated democracies, the opposite is true.

While the individual parties in government do change more rapidly than with first-past-the-post, the flow of parties in and out of government, rather than swing from one to the other and back, leads to more stability in policy.

In the UK, we have public services ravaged by systems which are repeatedly changed by the massively exaggerated whim of the electorate. In Germany, where the FDP formed a part of one coalition or another almost continually for decades until the rise of the Greens, this led to the continuity between governments needed for a viable welfare state.



Sir: In all the recent talk about unfair election systems, one aspect has been missed. Voters in the 34 English shire counties were recently asked to choose the county councils which spend 75 per cent of their council tax. Local issues were completely obscured by national campaigns, and local strategies for vital services such as schools, roads and social services received almost no attention.

Not since 1993 have voters had a chance to examine these local policies in the cold light of day, because successive governments (both Tory and Labour) have decided to hold general elections at the same time as the local elections for their own electoral convenience. People cast their votes on national issues, not local ones, and local democracy gets shoved out of sight.



Sir: I take grave exception to your front page heading (10 May) "What we voted for". On my ballot paper were names of people without necessarily any party allegiance at all. Returning officers announce which individual human beings have been elected, not which coloured rosettes.

As a floating voter I opt for a thinking person of either sex who knows my constituency and who will work hard caring for all its residents. My choice is limited by the range of candidates. One democratic reform urgently needed is a much smaller deposit per nomination coupled with a vast increase in the number of sponsors required. Let the poor stand.



Sir: Juliet Samuel (letter, 12 May) says that PR would make party apparatchiks all-powerful and that it would be impossible for the voters to buck them by choosing an individual like Peter Law in Gwent. She is quite wrong.

In the PR Scottish Parliament there are two MSPs who have done just that. Dennis Canavan was not selected by Labour, being insufficiently Blairite, and Margo MacDonald equally managed to annoy the SNP leadership. Both stood as independents, won and are valued members set for long careers.



Sir: The only reason that the UK and the US have these outdated first-past-the-post electoral systems is that neither of us have been conquered in the last few centuries. Parliament will never agree to a change because elected politicians do what is right for themselves rather than the country.

So unless the government is overthrown and we have to rebuild our democracy we are stuck with it. Perhaps the United Nations will mount an invasion and impose democracy on us.



Sir: Why can't we continue to have first-past-the-post for the Commons, to retain the constituency links and the possibility of getting rid of individual unpopular politicians no matter how senior, but replace the House of Lords with a new upper house based on PR? That way, the strong governments that FPTP provides would be balanced by the requirement to get legislation agreed by a coalition of different opinions.



Sir: The ultimate electoral reform would be for the total number of MPs to be in proportion to national turnout, and only then proportional representation by party, perhaps via a list system. This would be the ultimate incentive for politicians to get us to go out and vote. No votes, no MPs.



Friendly island hit by an ignorant polemic

Sir: Mr Thomson's polemic (letter, 11 May) about the Isle of Man suggests it is shrouded in a 1950s timewarp, homophobic and discriminatory. He either hasn't visited the Isle of Man recently, or did so with his eyes closed.

In recent surveys, the Isle of Man is ranked, together with Devon, as having the best quality of life in the British Isles. Crime is low, commuting is minimal, speed cameras and clamping do not exist, and you can be on the beach with your family 10 minutes after a hard day's work. People greet you in the street, and outsiders are generally welcomed, since less than half the population was born on the island.

The Isle of Man was the first country in Europe to introduce 3G phones and the first in Britain to give free laptops to all teachers, and has the world's longest continuing government (since AD 979). Its education results at GCSE are significantly better than the UK, and 90 per cent of school leavers have IT qualifications.

I'll forgive Mr Thomson's ignorant polemic, since the experience of living in London, where traffic crawls, pollution lurks, crime flourishes, democracy is in crisis and people have no time to talk has obviously affected his judgement. He should return to the sanity of his roots in the North before its too late.



Hoodie ban aims to curb crime

Sir: A substantial minority of the young "victims" Janet Street-Porter defends against the Bluewater shopping mall's ban on hoods are potential thieves (Opinion, 12 May). Hoods and baseball caps shield faces from CCTV cameras, making identification of shoplifters difficult. While Bluewater's concept and architecture are open to criticism, its attempt to control crime has little to do with "snobbery".



Sir: As a retail manager, I really cannot see what all the fuss about Bluewater's new policy is. I'm sure it is just a formalisation of what they, and others, have been doing for some time.

Most shopping centres and retail parks discreetly display a notice stating that they are not a designated right of way. This allows security to remove anyone they want, as they are on private land.

An individual shop can ask anyone to leave with no reason given. In fact I tell my staff that if ejecting someone they must not give a reason as this can take you into grey areas such as accusations of theft or racism.

Obviously I only eject people I believe are shoplifting or look as though they may cause trouble. As a manager I have a right to do this as it helps protect myself and colleagues against job loss through business failure and shoppers against possible injury or theft of their property. I'm sure many shops in retail parks across the UK would welcome a ruling as cut and dried as Bluewater's.



Sir: Two years ago my son was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. He was 10 years old. He had surgery followed by six months of aggressive chemo and radiotherapy. During this treatment he lost all of his hair and his two main items of clothing were baseball caps and hooded tops, worn constantly, both to hide his hairless state and to keep warm. If the present ban at a certain shopping centre (which is not far from where we live) had been in place how would he have been treated?

Whilst I understand the reasoning behind the ban, I would urge the management of such centres to realise that it is a small minority who are "bad" and that there are young people who wear these items of clothing because they need to. Visit any children's cancer ward in the country and you will see caps and hooded tops.



Sir: As a 66-year-old grandma, churchwarden and "pillar of society", I have been wearing my "hoodie" every day this week. I'm so pleased to have been banned from Bluewater. Hope to get my skateboard soon.



A four-a-day habit

Sir: What is happening to Sudoku? You've gone from one a day to three a day and now three plus "quick Sudoku". My wife says that I sound like a delusional smoker: "I'm on four a day but I'm trying to cut down".



Equality of bonuses

Sir: Boyd Tonkin ("A Week in Books", 13 May) was ever so disapproving of Dame Marjorie Scardino receiving a bonus of £831,000 after being responsible for a cock-up which sent Penguin's profits into a nose dive, squeezed the incomes of its writers, etc. But look on the bright side: this may mean that women are, at last, approaching equality with men in the undeserved rewards department.



The old age question

Sir: Michael Howard considers Ken Clarke to be too old at 64 to lead the Tory Party (report, 16 May), whereas Howard, being only 63, would presumably have been prepared to soldier on as Prime Minister had the party won the election. Perhaps somebody should remind Howard that Winston Churchill was also once considered past it, and he was 65 when "called up" for his National Service in 1940. Qualification for a state pension is not yet, thank God, proof of total senility.



Back on the wrong shelf

Sir: You do not have to travel to Khartoum University library to find books inappropriately classified (letter, 13 May). Here in Kidderminster's very own W H Smith a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was tucked in amongst the Haynes motor vehicle maintenance manuals. I took it to the counter and pointed out the mistake to an uninterested sales assistant. Next day it was back where it had begun, amongst the Haynes manuals!



Predictable gunmen

Sir: So Graeme McLagan ("Shootings at record levels as teenagers turn to guns", 11 May) tells us "It is incredibly hard for the police to predict when, and under what circumstances, black gunmen will use their firearms". Worrying as this prospect is, I am at least slightly reassured by the knowledge that white gunmen are so safe and predictable.