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Tuesday 5 April 2011
No vote system can be 'fair'
Can any voting system be "fair"? Consider a constituency with three candidates: Con, Lab and Lib. To make the arithmetic easy, suppose that there are 100 voters and they express their choices, as if for AV, thus: 40 vote for Con as first choice, Lib second, Lab third. So 35 vote Lab first, Lib second and Con third. And 20 vote Lib first, Lab second, Con third and five vote Lib first, Con second and Lab third.
This is plausible, since those whose preference is for Con will tend to put Lab last (and vice versa) while the majority of – but not all – Lib voters will prefer Lab to Con.
On a first-past-the-post system, Con will be elected with 40 per cent of the vote. If it seems unfair that someone with less than 50 per cent of the vote should be elected let's go for AV. The Lib candidate is eliminated and his votes are re-allocated according to second preferences. The result is that Lab will now be elected with 55 per cent. But that can't be fair because only 35 per cent of the voters put Lab as their first choice and of the rest no one at all preferred Lab to Lib.
So how about PR? This will lead to election of Lib with 225 points out of a total of 600. How can that possibly be fair? Only 25 per cent of voters put Lib as first choice.
Without changing anyone's voting preferences, you can get any one of three results depending on which method of analysis you use: first-past-the-post, AV or PR. And none of them is "fair".
John Boylan (letters, 2 April) is quite right to highlight the hypocrisy of the Conservative "No to AV" campaign when that is effectively the system they use for electing their leader. They know it is a fair system but they feel they would lose ground if it were implemented for constituency elections.
This is not right. We must live with the consequences of fairness. AV puts an end to the need to vote tactically. Electors can vote for whom they support.
They will not feel the need for their first vote to go to someone else just to keep out a candidate they don't want to see elected in the way that FPTP causes many (of all parties) to do. No voter should be placed in this position.
AV will give a more representative and fairer result for each constituency.
Thank you, Anthony Bramley-Harker (letters, 3 April) for a good illustration of the benefits of AV. If AV had produced the result he postulates, it would have shown there were more voters who preferred the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives than there were who preferred the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats. More voters would have been more satisfied.
Spin war over deficit blame
John Whitting (letters, 28 March) may spend his professional life "testing expert opinion in cross-examination against hard data", but his use of average budget deficits to make a case for the Labour government of the past 13 years being more fiscally responsible than previous Conservative administrations puts the cheekiest possible spin on the "hard data".
It may well be true that between 1979 and 1997 we had an average budget deficit of 2 per cent of GDP, but that ignores the two sharp recessions during that period, and by 1997, Ken Clarke had balanced the budget.
Thus Gordon Brown inherited a strong fiscal position and was, to be fair, cautious himself in his first few years. But after he had convinced himself that boom and bust had been abolished, and as the bankers' taxes overflowed his coffers, he decided he could spend more and run a deficit in boom times.
We all know what happened then and it is indicative that Mr Whitting stops his analysis in April 2008 to support his 0.1 per cent Labour average surplus calculation.
I did not march on that Saturday because I regard trimming of expenditure to eliminate the deficit in this Parliament to be sensible, indeed necessary. I doubt I am the only Independent reader who does not want the country to borrow money today to featherbed my lifestyle, while leaving future generations to pay for it.
Steve Travis repeats the Tory lie that Labour caused the recession, but at least on an appropriate date (letters, 1 April). Such blinkered analysis invariably confines the recession to this country, ignoring the inconvenient truth that it is world-wide and did not originate here.
No sane person would "sometimes argue, it was the irresponsibility of British bankers that caused the recession": they played their part, but irresponsible bankers were also world-wide. Greed knows no boundaries.
He patronisingly suggests that "the people on the march" like myself, need to ask questions of Labour, the answers to which have long been worked out by most, other than bankers and the Coalition. "Why did they not install a stricter regulatory regime during their 13 years in power?" Yes, that would have helped, but moves to do just that, admittedly rather late, in, I think, 2008, were opposed by the Tories.
Are there really people who aren't aware that Labour would have aimed to halve the deficit over the course of one parliamentary term to lessen the effect on society? It has been said enough times but not as often as "the financial mess created by the Labour government".
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Smoke, mirrors and NHS reform
It has been widely reported that David Cameron has signalled a retreat on the NHS reforms. This is incorrect. All he and Clegg have done is pause the progression of the Health and Social Care Bill, to reassure or, put another way, sell the Bill, to clinicians, patients and more importantly, coalition MPs.
Thus what Cameron (who has been the biggest supporter of the reforms) has essentially signalled is that the PR is going wrong with regards to the "reforms" and he is now going to talk to his PR team to see if there is a better way to spin the privatisation of the NHS. There is nothing to suggest that policy is being changed.
What is clear is that if Cameron had achieved a majority, then both he and Lansley would destroy the NHS.
The "any willing provider" approach to the "re-organisation" of the NHS guarantees a one-way bet for private health companies. The NHS will still be charged with handling all the high-cost, non-profitable care the "willing" providers don't want to touch, while being forced to cede those areas where profits can be made.
It will also have to pick up the pieces when private companies pull out of areas that don't prove as lucrative as projected. General hospitals can function only by providing a wide range of treatments and, as procedures are cherry-picked by the private sector, these institutions will collapse.
Patients visiting their GPs will be offered a basic NHS option at the end of a long waiting-list, or treatment at the time of their choosing (as long as they have no pre-existing conditions, or require complex or chronic treatments) if they are prepared to pay a "top-up".
A secondary market in top-up health insurance will inevitably develop into a full-scale private insurance-based system in line with David Cameron's "small-state" principles. When the NHS is no longer able to deliver an alternative in the areas taken over by private health corporations, they will be at liberty to set their charges accordingly.
The "any willing provider" ethos essentially sounds the death knell of anything that could remotely be called a "National Health Service". When you consider that, historically, the NHS has provided a universal service for about half the cost of a US-style private insurance system which leaves many requiring healthcare facing bankruptcy, the imperatives driving these changes can only be ideological.
Home truths for old socialists
News that the £145,000-a-year rail union leader Bob Crow has no qualms about renting a home designated for poor people reminds me of a water-shed in my own life.
With a railwayman grandfather and my father a miner, I felt constrained in 1960 to join the Labour Party on Freshers Day at St Andrews, thereby doubling the club membership. I managed to ignore the lunacy of the 1960s but, finally, state education in the city where I then lived became so dire I had no option but to send my children to private school.
I felt I could not in good conscience remain a party member, though years later I noted that Tony Blair and Harriet Harperson were as untroubled as dear old Bob Crow.
Dr John Cameron
St Andrews, Fife
Unkind cut for our butterflies
The admirable suggestion that gardeners plant more shrubs to provide nectar, and thus sustenance, for butterflies may help these wondrous creatures in their battle for survival. But they cannot do so while their larval food plants are disappearing.
In the case of the two main declines you mention – peacocks and small tortoiseshells – the food plant is nettles. In our area, the main supply of these is along road and waterways. Large stretches of both are needlessly cut by public authorities and farmers in the early summer. Not only does this destroy the food plants, it destroys the caterpillars feeding there.
No sympathy for police chiefs
If I were Home Secretary Theresa May, my response to all those police chiefs who are bleating, in response to her demands for better use to be made of scarce resources, that cuts to the police service will harm the front line, would be to ask each of them to compile a concise list of all the money-saving ideas they have conceived and had adopted during their lengthy service.
During my own 30 years of police service (1965-95), I found that my biggest problem was seeing my suggestions for improving efficiency ridiculed and sometimes blocked by my bosses in contravention of regulations, only to see my ideas adopted many years and millions of wasted pounds later.
It is the quality of senior management that the Home Secretary should be looking at enhancing. At present in the service, there many sow's ears masquerading as silk purses.
Paul Munden (letter, 2 April) finds the Arts Council's removal of funding to the National Association of Writers in Education "unfathomable". Nawe has close links to universities, where arts and humanities subjects are under fierce attack, so withdrawing support from Nawe may be part of that destructive agenda.
This ignorant and foolish decision threatens a central part of Nawe's mission, to promote a love of reading and writing among young people by getting professional writers into schools to run workshops.
York Management School, York University
Dyson wrong on engineers
As a practising principal electronics design engineer with more than 30 years' experience in the manufacturing sector, I wholeheartedly agree with Mary Dejevesky's comments (Notebook, 30 March). Sir James Dyson cannot be allowed to go unchallenged in his claims of a shortage of engineers (letters, 31 March). His technical director made similar comments on R4's The World This Weekend.
The company I worked for was the victim of a predatory takeover by a US conglomerate. Production was exported to China and the low-cost east European countries, with all UK manufacturing staff made redundant. I was head of the UK R&D and was given an assurance that UK R&D was secure.
But after the Chinese engineers were trained in our product manufacture – with many years of UK R&D expertise and intellectual property passed on – we, too, got our P45s. Three of my colleagues left engineering because they couldn't secure employment. One retrained as a driving instructor and now earns a larger salary.
I, too, got a job after 11 months signing on at Job Centre Plus. My background is in electromagnetics, analogue and digital circuit design. Despite me being registered with more than 100 recruitment agencies, Sir James' company never contacted me. If there is a shortage of engineers, then why are there adverts for senior electronics design engineers offering maximum salaries of £35K?
Dr Lawrence Jones
No Olympian feat
Does Danny Boyle think he was asked to put on any show he wanted at public expense (report, 4 April)? He may indeed want fireworks to look better in darkness but he is supposed to have sufficient talent to design a show with a "wow factor" to be effective at the appropriate time. That's what he was engaged for, and to suggest that the timings be altered to suit his preference perhaps indicates that he isn't actually up to the task. I do hope that is not the case.
F Judith Evans
It's a win, win
Could it be that the reason why "... it's OK for rich individuals and corporations to welch out of paying taxes because smart and expensive lawyers and accountants can cook up schemes ..." (letters, 31 March) is because the laws are written in the first place by lawyers and accountants deliberately to be exploited.
Perspectives on tuition fees
Make universities compete for you
The revelation that all universities intend to charge at least £6,000 a year for their courses surely means that it is time for the law of supply and demand to kick in.
There are three times more university courses than there were 20 years ago; this almost certainly means they are, comparatively, dumbed down. It also surely means we have far more places than society needs.
Degrees are no substitute for hard work, common sense, and a reasonable intellect. Prospective graduates should boycott the under-performing ones, forcing them to reduce prices and get their acts together, or close down.
Even better, start your own businesses, find a job, start an apprenticeship, and make the universities understand that they have to compete for a scarce resource.
Hayling Island, Hampshire
Our duty to help this generation
You are right in your leading article "The perils of wishful thinking" (Viewspaper, 1 April) about the mess the Government has made of the student fees issue: the repercussions for students and universities alike will be horrendous.
But I believe you are wrong in putting the blame on bad market thinking by ministers. Education policy should not be determined on the basis of what the American writer John Cheever, the"Chekhov of the suburbs", has called "the ceremonies of merchandising".
You say, "Those who benefit should pay", and that is why we expect a progressive society to pay, rather than the students, precisely because society itself will benefit the most.
Indeed, without handsome investment in higher education, no modern society can hope to compete, let alone thrive.
What do we expect of students? Three years of their young lives devoted to hard graft and training. We are fortunate so many are prepared to submit to such harsh discipline. This is just to be business-like.
A truly civilised people is proud to go further: to express their care for and confidence in the next generation by giving all of them the best possible chance of making a good life. We should expect no less of ourselves, even in straitened times.
Let's look at the figures
The student fees and loans proposals appear to be a monstrous job-creation scheme.
The website Charity Facts says the administration costs of well-run charities are between 5 per cent and 13 per cent. Many charities organise medical, housing and engineering projects, plus countless fund-raising activities.
The student fees and loans distributors have a much simpler remit. How do their administration costs compare to those of a charity? If huge amounts are available for administration, why are they not used instead for academic endeavour?
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