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Monday 14 February 2011
Letters: Alternative Vote referendum
AV better than no change at all
Those who are calling for a "No" vote in the 5 May referendum to change to the Alternative Vote are overlooking one vital point.
The referendum came about after the scandal of MPs' expenses, and after a massive public campaign for change. First Past The Post allowed complacency to develop in the overwhelming majority of MPs in "safe seats".
Those of us who support proportional representation have had to make a choice. We want the whole bakery of PR, but what is on offer is half a loaf.
The campaign for a truly proportional voting system will continue. I believe that that will be strengthened by winning AV and dumping First Past The Post.
The "No" campaign supports the status quo and has no campaign for the extension of our democracy.
I have voted in 14 parliamentary elections and never once for the winning candidate. But in all those years until 2010, I always knew what the winning party would do in office – it was in its manifesto.
Such has not been the case with the Coalition Government: they have done what they could agree with each other to do in order to stay in power. We have never had a chance of voting for what has happened to us in the past 10 months. Surely that is the great flaw in the Alternative Vote system.
I would rather waste my vote than vote for a system that allows politicians to cobble together agreements to give themselves power.
Antony Brown, Dr Thomas Lundberg, Dr John Cox and Brian Wilson (Letters, 9 February) make many assertions, but I am not sure that the evidence is robust enough to take their weight.
"Smaller parties, such as the Greens, are no more likely to be elected than today", they say. Possibly so; but the major parties would have a greater incentive to make themselves attractive to Green voters and Parliament would have a greener tinge.
If AV is chosen then rejected, the voters will be familiar with preferential voting. Allied with their desire for PR, is it not just as likely that they would fall in behind Single Transferable Vote?
I long for a system which would allow a supporter of the Greens or UKIP to vote with a clear conscience for their first choice (as many did not last May), knowing that if that candidate is not elected, their vote could help to elect their second or third favourite.
Prisoners have a duty to vote
In the debate about whether or not prisoners should be allowed to vote, one thing that stands out for me is the idea that voting is a "right". As a former resident of Australia, where voting is compulsory, I have grown to think of it instead as a civic duty. It is something citizens of democratic countries have a responsibility to do in order to make sure that democracy means something.
Prisoners are people who broke the law. Many (although not all) are people with little regard for the structure of society and the rights of others, and indeed for the rule of law and the reasons behind it.
Voting, seen as a civic duty, coupled with educating prisoners about the law, the way our society operates and about its political structure, might lead at least some prisoners to understand their behaviour in a wider context. Perhaps they would be able to join in society in a more meaningful way if they understood why things are the way they are, and how they play a part in what goes on. Civic studies and voting should be compulsory in prisons and seen as a component of rehabilitation, not as a "human right".
The recent furore over voting rights for prisoners is something of a surreal farce. Has anybody checked how many of these people actually used their right before going to prison? No prisoner I have known ever did; their indifference being part of the mentality of general disregard, if not contempt, for civic responsibility which is what got them where they are in the first place.
For them voting is not so much a right withdrawn as an irrelevance spurned – until, that is, there is a possibility of suing the government for some money over the issue.
I am not remotely interested in what American states do about the issue of voting rights for prisoners (leading article, 11 February). What interests me far more, and what no British newspaper can be bothered to tell me, is how our European neighbours, both EU and non-EU, have responded to this demand by the European Court of Human Rights.
Chichester, West Sussex
Members of Parliament seem apoplectic at the thought of prisoners voting, while oblivious to the fact that convicted criminals do vote while serving their sentence outside in the community. Incarceration is usually only part of the sentence. Indeed, murderers serving a life sentence spend perhaps only a dozen years or so in prison before being released on life licence. Of course, some convicted criminals spend no time in prison at all and so are free to continue voting despite having committed a crime and having been convicted.
Now that parliament has set its face so firmly against votes for prisoners, can we assume that everyone given a non-custodial sentence should also lose their vote? After all, as David Davis says, "If you break the law, you lose the right to make the law". In the extreme, doesn't his logic suggest that a parking fine should deprive you of your vote?
In answer to Phillip Cole's letter (10 February), I believe that those who are at the direct mercy of the state should have more right to a say in how it is run than those of us who are not.
Keele University, Staffordshire
Since when has the right to vote been as essential as food and shelter? Come on, it is a democratic right and should be removed following any prison sentence in a Crown court (not a Magistrate's court). It is not for judges to decide and we should not be blackmailed by the hopelessly out-of-touch ECHR.
Time to end this nuclear madness
Thank you for publishing "A dark cloud hanging over us" (11 February), alerting people to the fact that the dire threat of nuclear disaster by accident, misunderstanding or malicious intent has not gone away. President Kennedy declared in 1962: "The world was not meant to be a prison in which man awaits his execution." The British government is currently spending billions of pounds to renew its nuclear arsenal in blatant contravention of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Nuclear weapons will only be banned after massive pressure from the general public (as with land mines and cluster bombs) and from non-nuclear states. Already New Zealand, the Philippines, Austria and Mongolia have prohibited and criminalised the threat and use of nuclear weapons.
The coming into force of the new nuclear-weapons reduction treaty is cause to celebrate, but as David E Hoffman correctly points out (11 February), there is still a long way to go before the world escapes the nuclear terror that has left humanity on the verge of destruction for over 60 years. As he says, nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented, but they can be outlawed – as chemical and biological weapons have been.
This approach – to negotiate a nuclear weapons convention, binding on all states – already has considerable support. The majority of countries – 125 out of 181 UN members – including nuclear-armed China, India and Pakistan, have voted for negotiations to begin immediately. Coupled with unilateral and bilateral reductions, such a treaty could be transformative in reshaping world security, not least in freeing billions of dollars consumed by the development and maintenance of nuclear weapons for use on real human needs.
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, London N7
Julie Burchill's bizarre logic
For Julie Burchill to characterise film-makers such as Peter Kosminsky as "half-witted Jew-baiters" is contemptible (10 February). So far Kosminsky's four-part film The Promise is historically well-researched and fair. Burchill, however, finds any criticism of Israel offensive. Of course Israel can be proud of its achievements and democratic freedoms; but for Palestinians the knowledge that those who continue to annexe their land and who carry out policies of brutal collective punishment, may have been democratically elected, is of little comfort.
And of course there has always been a Jewish presence in Palestine. But Burchill seems genuinely unaware that the population had been overwhelmingly Palestinian Arab for 1,400 years, and that Jews still made up less than 10 per cent when the promise of a Jewish homeland was made by Britain in 1917. She is pleased that many Jews of the diaspora "made it home", and so am I, but does not seem to mind that in the process the inhabitants of hundreds of towns and villages were forcibly evicted.
The bizarre logic of Ms Burchill's naive argument of the Israelites (as she quaintly calls Jews) having built a home in Palestine long before Islam even appeared would hand the United States back to Native Americans, Canada back to the Inuits, Australia back to the Aborigines, South America back to various indigenous natives...
Let us grant Ms Burchill her argument that Jews lived in Palestine years ago and deserved to return there. Historically we Palestinians were also there. There is a solution. Let us share the land, as I and many Palestinian and Israeli friends have clamoured for all our lives. It can be done. It just takes the will to do it.
Dr Faysal Mikdadi
It is a pity that, for such an admirer of the Jewish intellectual heritage, so little rabbinical wisdom appears to have rubbed off on Julie Burchill. Her slant on Middle Eastern history is more Alf Garnett than Spinoza, and as a precedent for international relations it would give the builders of the Alhambra the right to reoccupy Spain, and the Romans to repossess Britain in the name of the Emperor Claudius. Residents of Brighton (and Hove) please note.
Julie Burchill's knee-jerk reaction to Peter Kosminsky's The Promise is disheartening. On the strength of the first episode it offered much-needed contextualisation. It brought home the centrality of the Holocaust to the current Israel/Palestine impasse. Thousands of terribly abused people arriving in a country whose inhabitants had no say in the redistribution of their land was a recipe for disaster.
As Burchill notes, there is no shortage of highly intelligent Jews (not all of whom want to be Israelis). It is now time for the truly intelligent to speak out and break the cycle of abuse rather than repeating the old mantras as Burchill does.
Bankers wield the power now
In the 1970s it was the trade unions that held the country to ransom and were invited into No. 10 for beer and sandwiches to draw up a social contract; a tacit recognition of the economic power they wielded at the time.
The refreshments served to the Chancellor and the bankers were presumably different, but like the social contract of that time, Project Merlin is a tacit admission that it is now the City of London and the big banking institutions that wield the economic power in the land and can hold the country to ransom. The power of the unions was eventually broken up through the determined action of the government. The same needs to happen with the banks.
Leader, Liberal Democrat Group, Wirral Council,
Here in south-west London we have our own bit of motorway madness (Letters, 10 February). As single lane Trinity Road crosses Wandsworth Common, it suddenly transforms into a three-lane highway. It was meant to be an extension of the M23 that would have torn through south London and ended up at Wandsworth roundabout. Apparently there are A to Zs that show the mooted route in dotted lines.
My own, even older, A to Z shows the layout before the changes and the rows of terraced houses that were demolished, not to mention the beautiful Wandsworth Common, now torn in half by the motorway.
Music not elitist
To say, as Jessica Duchen does, that classical music is elitist because some events are heavily oversubscribed is silly (11 February). It is difficult to get FA Cup Final tickets, unless you are a supporter of one of the participating clubs. It is very easy and inexpensive to buy tickets for classical concerts. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Simon Rattle appear at the BBC Proms every summer; admission is £6 on the door.
St Ives, Cambridgeshire
Perspectives on university fees
Harvard shows how it should be done
When the president of Harvard was interviewed on BBC radio recently, she was asked what the fees were. She said "I will tell you but only after I have explained something – no one who is worthy of a place and who we think would benefit from studying at Harvard, will fail to go there because he or she cannot afford it".
She went on to discuss bursaries, grants etc that lead to a significant proportion of students not paying even a small part of the full fees, which are more than $60,000 pa.
When fees were introduced in England, all universities did something similar. At Bristol, 28 per cent of students paid nothing at all in the first year of fees. So it continues, and so it will go on when higher fees come in. It will be the opposite of what most people fear; the better off will pay more.
University of Bristol
Degrees are no aid to social mobility
The idea that subsidising university fees for less well-off students will contribute to social mobility is logically flawed. Education has never had much to do with social mobility, although a society with decent employment prospects has everything to do with it.
Having grown up in a world of full employment, I saw a great deal of social mobility among my working-class and lower-middle-class school friends. Their upward paths were extremely diverse and did not always involve higher education immediately after school. Rather than being dragooned into higher education, they were able to make sensible career choices in a society which saw the value of supporting their educational aspirations with polytechnic diplomas, apprenticeships and various professional qualifications, as well as degrees.
These diverse and pragmatic routes have now been cut off, contrary to the laws of supply and demand, leaving us with tens of thousands of disillusioned, unemployed graduates.
You couldn't run a business like this
It will be some years before the first students start paying the increased level of fees, and we are led to understand that some who earn low salaries will never repay them. Clearly the universities need money each year, or they will have a major cash-flow problem, so presumably the government, ie we the taxpayers, will make up, and continue to make up the shortfall for years to come.
When I ran a business the bank would not have let me run the finances in such a loose, haphazard way. It is time we had politicians who have some business experience.
Richmond, North Yorkshire
Children saddled with huge debts
At the same time as Mr Clegg tries to justify university fees tripling, we note that the total cuts in university funding that "justifies" a fee increase equals the bank bonuses for only four months and total city bonuses for six weeks. Is this good government that condemns so many to starting life with a loan of £40k to £50k? How many of your readers would be happy with their children so dreadfully constrained by such a handicap?
Professor of Image Science Institute of Astronomy,
University of Cambridge
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