Letters: A mythical mandate

A weak and doubtful mandate from the voters
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The Independent Online

Your leading article speaks of our democracy being the healthier for a closely run election (1 March). How can that be true when the party of the resulting government will not have secured a majority of the eligible voters, is unlikely to have a majority of the votes cast and may not even have the largest number of votes?

Add in the fact that many voters have little idea quite what the parties stand for. Throw in the reflection that parties differ in the resources available to advertise. And stir in the fact that political posters and soundbites are often misleading. The outcome is that, when the newly elected government, whichever it is, announces that it has a mandate from the people and that the people have spoken, it will be pretty mythical.

Peter Cave

London W1

William W Scott (letter, 27 February) points out that a person's postal vote may be open to manipulation. However, there is still a need for the postal vote.

Some years ago, shortly before our parish election, my husband was summoned to a meeting in London on election day. He regretted losing his vote, but thought no more about it until the next day, when the results were announced. To his chagrin, he discovered that the votes for the two candidates were tied. The candidate he would have voted for lost the election by a casting vote. Since then he has always had a postal vote.

Linda Wallan

Highworth, Wiltshire

In his Brighton speech David Cameron announced that it was his party's "patriotic duty" to win the election. May I direct him to Samuel Johnson, who stated that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel?

Edwin Roxburgh

Woking, Surrey

Share oil wealth with Argentines

Living in Buenos Aires, you get used to dirty children juggling on the underground for a few coins, and people sleeping rough all over the city. Argentines learned nearly a decade ago to mistrust banks after they closed their doors and the currency collapsed.

I have started telling people I'm Irish because I don't want the confrontation that I fear might result if I tell them the truth. Yes, I'm from the UK, that country that your murderous dictator forced you to go to war with in 1982. That country which has an extremely weak claim to the islands just off your coast. That country which is starting to drill for oil in the surrounding waters in what could be their final act of colonialism.

The claim of the UK over the Falklands/Malvinas is in reality based on only two points: that British blood was spilt there within living memory; and that the 2,500 islanders wish to remain "British", or rather, independent but with military support from Britain. These two points make it politically impossible for the British government to back down from its duty to protect the islanders.

It is very difficult to find an Argentine who believes they should invade the islands, but very easy to find an Argentine who is insulted by desperately needed resources being taken from under their noses. Given the poor state of the economy here in Argentina, would it not be wise for the British government to share equally with the Argentine people the proceeds of any oil found? Such a move would vastly improve relations between the two countries that I love, while reaffirming the right of the islanders to self-determination.

Daniel Fox

Buenos Aires

Phil Nicholson (letters, 26 February) has tried to justify the continuing control of the Falkland Islands by the UK. He bases the case on the right of self-determination of people living in the Falklands.

He may be right in thinking that a poll taken among the inhabitants of the Falklands would reveal that a majority would prefer the UK to go on protecting them against possible invaders. Moreover, there is no doubt that the UK has obligations to them. They are there because in the past it has suited the imperial ambitions of the UK to have a colony of people resident in the Falklands.

As Adrian Hamilton, writing on the same day, pointed out, the recent foreign policy of the UK has tended to evoke laughter in much of the rest of the world. The UK's hold on the Falklands must have contributed to the mirth. The sooner our government comes up with a way of making a complete withdrawal the better. People living there should be offered a range of options that would include fully supported repatriation to the UK.

Stephen Fisk


Protecting the Chagos seas

Michael McCarthy writes that the plan to make Chagos, the British Indian Ocean Territory, a marine protected area (MPA) would render the Chagossians' return "impossible" (10 February). But the reality is that this is not an either/or situation.

The Chagos Environment Network's position on the Chagossian issue is clear and accommodating to the possibility of their return. If the UK government decides to designate Chagos as an MPA, as we sincerely hope it will, this would mean that the Chagos Islands and their resources would be protected for the future, whatever it holds. If the Chagossians were one day granted the right to return, conservation arrangements would be modified to accommodate that.

Without protection, the Chagos' resources will continue to be damaged and diminished by outside interests. If this continues, the value of the islands and their resources will likely be less than they would have been had these resources been properly conserved. This cannot be in anyone's interests.

It is difficult to think of anyone other than a few distant-water fishing fleets that would be disadvantaged by the protection of the Chagos' resources, whereas millions would be advantaged, including those benefiting from the replenishment of the Western Indian Ocean's marine resources and those benefiting from better climate and marine science.

We welcome the extension of the consultation period to 5 March because it gives the opportunity for the public to express their support for protecting the undisturbed coral reefs and seas of the Chagos.

Simon Hughes

Secretary, Chagos Environment Network, London SE5

Equal rights for gay couples

Civil partnerships can be celebrated in register offices or stately homes or on a rotation of the London Eye. The one place that they cannot currently be celebrated is places of worship. For many of my gay friends it is a matter of deep sadness that they cannot make this lifelong legal commitment in their place of worship.

It is entirely illogical that this should continue to be the case for those whose faith permits. An amendment to the Equality Bill to be introduced by Lord Alli on 2 March would rectify this anomaly.

The intention of the amendment is to remove this blanket prohibition so that those faith communities who choose to celebrate civil partnerships are able to do so, while those religions that choose not to are not so compelled. We invite all those Peers who care about liberty and equality to give this their warm support.

Michael Bartlet

Parliamentary Liaison Secretary

Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

London NW1

Sex education in faith schools

Having attended Catholic primary, middle and secondary schools, I do not recognise the fire and brimstone rantings suggested by Mark Steel (Opinion, 24 February) in his piece on sex education in schools. After teaching RE in another Catholic school, I have yet to find anything comparable to his findings.

Rather than succumbing to teaching "their version of the truth", perhaps the Catholic Church is simply, in the words of Mr Steel himself, following "differing methods of approaching sex education".

Describing the Catholic Church as irrational may strike some as rather sweeping, considering that the Catholic Church holds that reason and faith are not diametrically opposed. The Catholic Church was instrumental in founding universities in Europe and maintained learning in the Dark Ages through the monasteries.

The Rev Marco Villani

London SW11

The horrors of a hospital birth

I'm puzzled as to why Brian Alderman FRCOG is disappointed that a woman might choose to have her baby at home (letter, 27 February).

My sum total of experience with hospitals until my children were born were as places my elderly relatives went to die, with no privacy and far too hot. Unfortunately I allowed myself to be bullied into having my first child at hospital, where unnecessary and upsetting procedures were done to him on his first day out in the world.

The food was vile, the ward noisy because of crying babies (not comforted by their mother, who had taken the sleeping tablets that were handed out like sweeties), the windows wide open to let all the boiling radiator heat out (October this was) and the baths filthy. The huge bucket of blood in the delivery room from a previous delivery was a bit off-putting too.

A good job that I had been warned and taken my own cleaning materials, although I have to say that after having a baby the last thing I felt like was cleaning a bath.

My second child was born in a clean, quiet, calm environment – yes, at home – where I did not have to clean the bath before getting in, and where all four of us could snuggle up for an afternoon nap together after a nutritious and delicious meal.

The letters FRCOG imply that Mr Alderman should have some familiarity with hospitals – and therefore it should be obvious to him why anyone would want to avoid spending any time at all in one.

The answer is to make hospitals as good as being at home, with a comfortable temperature, attention to hygiene, some effort taken with food and a bit of privacy.

Ruth Coomber

Needham Market, Suffolk

The Stafford hospital is not an isolated example of poor practice, simply an example of poor practice that got investigated.

Almost two years ago, my 22-year-old daughter was admitted to a hospital in south London as an emergency. What followed was a horror story of neglect that could have resulted in serious long-term problems. What saved her was the fact that her father was a doctor and had private healthcare arrangements.

Some "system failures" were identified. This new culture that blames a faceless "system" rather than ensure individual responsibility when things go wrong is the main cause of continuing patient harm. After 30 years of what I felt was devoted service, I left the NHS last year.

Dr Nilesh Patel

Wisbech, Cambridgeshire

Search in vain

On Saturday 20 February you were kind enough to print my letter suggesting that Google may one day be bought by China. Today I discover that my letter is searchable on all search engines other than those powered by Google. Is this a coincidence?

Steven Fogel

London NW11

Bully Brown back

If Gordon Brown did grab somebody by the lapels in a threatening manner, surely all that person had to do was thump Gordon back. He would have gone down in the history books as a folk hero, been invited on every talk show worldwide telling why he did it, and made a fortune. I would have done. You missed a good chance there, mate.

P Cresswell

Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

Respect for Afghans

When a British soldier dies in Afghanistan we learn their name, where they came from, how old they were, and the ages of their bereaved children. We listen to their families, friends and colleagues talk about the sadness of their loss. This shows proper respect for the dead, and admiration for the professionalism and bravery of our troops. If the media provided the same detailed coverage on every innocent civilian killed in Afghanistan, I wonder how long the British people would continue to tolerate our involvement in this pointless conflict.

Johnny Rizq

London W3

Against the tide

With the risk of becoming a Severn bore I would like to correct Andy McSmith's comment, (Village People, 13 February), that Gloucester is about as far from the sea as you can get; rather it is slap bang next to it. Salt water refreshes its shores twice a day, and with it come gulls, the same as any other seaside town.

Alan Grainger


Opera on the BBC

The BBC is not afraid to put accessible opera on BBC1 and 2 as David Lister suggests (20 February). As part of this year's opera coverage we're showing performances of Othello, Boccanegra and Don Giovanni on BBC2, together with a series about Italian opera presented by Antonio Pappano.

Mark Bell

Commissioning Editor, Arts, BBC Vision,

London W12