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Wednesday 4 May 2011
Letters: AV campaigns
On 5 May, for the first time, we have the chance to decide how we want to elect our MPs. The choice is a simple one: let things carry on as they are, or vote to give us all more choice, a more powerful vote and more say over how this country is governed .
A just and effective democracy should involve and reflect the needs of the entire population. With the Alternative Vote we will see an end to the days when elections are decided by minorities in marginal seats. Candidates will have to reach out to more members of the community and address a wider set of issues.
This kind of inclusive, consensual politics is good for women – from those who want to serve their country to those who want to create a fairer, more progressive democracy. Women currently make up just 22 per cent of MPs. First-Past-the-Post discourages female electoral representation. It has to go.
Everyone should have a voice and everyone should be able to play an active role in the democratic life of our country. To stand for office, to have their voices heard, to make their vote count. For everyone who has ever railed against or felt excluded by our current political system, 5 May is the chance to change things.
Alexandra Shulman Editor of Vogue
Amisha Ghadiali Ethical fashion designer and vice-chair of Yes to Fairer Votes
Ann Limb Charity entrepreneur, educationist, business leader
Carol Lake Investment banker
Caroline Lucas MP Green party leader
Daisy de Villenueve Illustrator
Francesca Martinez Comedian
Gabrielle Rifkind Director of Middle East Human Security Programme, Oxford Research Group
Gillian Slovo Author and screenwriter
Glenys Kinnock Politician
Helena Kennedy Human rights lawyer
Hilary Wainwright Editor of Red Pepper
Isabel Hilton Journalist and broadcaster
Prof Jacqueline Rose Professor of English, Queen Mary, University of London
Jay Griffiths Award-winning writer
Joan Bakewell Journalist and broadcaster
Joanna Lumley Actress
Josie Long Comedian
Judith Wanga Writer/documentary maker
Julia Neuberger Rabbi, social reformer and member of the House of Lords
Juliette Stevenson Actress
Katie Ghose Chair of Yes to Fairer Votes
Larissa Wilson Actress
Lindsay Mackie Consultant, New Economics Foundation
Lisa Appignanesi Author
Lisa Forrell Director
Lynne Franks Entrepreneur
Lynne Parker Founder of Funny Women
Marina Warner Writer
Nina Kowalska Campaigner
Oona King Labour politician
Pam Giddy Chair of the Yes to Fairer Votes advisory council
Patsy Puttnam Fashion designer
Polly Toynbee Journalist
Prof Janet Todd President of Lady Cavendish College, Cambridge
Rosie Boycott Journalist and Campaigner
Rowan Davies Writer, editor and vice-chair of Yes to Fairer Votes
Sara Parkin Founder director of Forum for the Future
Seema Maholtra Fabian Women's Network
Servane Mouazan Social entrepreneur
Sian Berry Writer and campaigner
Solitaire Townsend Co-director, Futerra Sustainability Communications
Sue Hollick Businesswoman
Susan Nash Chair of Young Labour
Susan Richards Author and editor
Tamsin Omond Activist and environmentalist
Tessa Tennant Financial consultant, chair of Global Cool, executive chair of Ice
Timberlake Wertenbaker Writer
Victoria Brittain Journalist
Vivienne Westwood Fashion Designer
Wendy Savage Gynaecologist and campaigner
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown Journalist
As a visiting expert in the Australian political system I have been astonished at the disinformation being spread by the AV "No" campaign. If droves are going to stay away from the polling booths because they find AV confusing, then Britons must be substantially less intelligent than Australians.
Australians are not confused by AV. Even my local football club has adopted preferential voting (AV) for office-bearers. And don't the punters use AV on Big Brother, voting out the least favoured contestant and then allocating their votes to the remaining ones?
Then there is the porky about Australians being opposed to their AV system. Well, that's news to me, and every other political analyst. After nearly a century of AV there is no opposition to it in Australia. It is simply not an issue because it's seen to be fair and it works. A century of voting under AV has given rise to no political instability in Australia. Quite the reverse: it gives those disgruntled with the main parties a meaningful outlet.
Between them the two main parties have been able to attract an overwhelming majority of votes. In recent years, disillusionment with the main parties – which now compete through spin rather then substance because their ideologies converged in the 1980s – has created the conditions in which the greater fairness of AV will come into its own, because a vote for a third party counts.
Any Briton who has voted for a third party or might consider doing so in the future will disenfranchise themselves if they vote "No" on Thursday.
Professor Clive Hamilton
Department of Philosophy
University of Oxford
Assuming my choice of representative is eliminated in the first round, in what sense does being allowed to vote for someone I do not want to represent me make my vote count? Already, with FPTP, if I know that my preferred candidate has no chance, I am free to give my vote to the least hated of the alternatives. Only if some form of proportional representation was on offer would every vote count.
If I was asked to choose between a cuff to the ear and a kick up the backside, I would abstain. And this is what I will do on Thursday.
Rupert Read (letter, 27 April) says that no one knows what effect AV would have on the Liberal Democrats. Well, presumably the Lib Dems must think it would work in their favour since the referendum was the one non-negotiable term of the coalition agreement while other policies were jettisoned.
Even if AV did not have a radical effect and they only increased their strength in Parliament to (say) 90 or 100, it would be that much harder for either of the other main parties to secure a majority on its own. The Lib Dems would then have a good chance of being king-makers with a veto on policy and seats in Cabinet.
If that is the sort of system of government you want, by all means vote for AV. If you want to be sure of being able to throw a government out with no chance of it getting a last-minute lifeline, better stick to the present method.
For electing a parliament that is representative of the electorate as a whole, our present First-Past-The-Post voting system (FPTP) and the proposed Alternative Vote (AV) are about as useless as each other.
For electing individual representatives in seats where one candidate gets more votes than all the others combined FPTP and AV produce the same result.
For electing individual representatives in all other seats, however, AV is more democratic than FPTP because with AV more voters will be represented by someone that they helped to elect.
That is why I'll be voting Yes to AV.
The campaign has gotten ridiculous. The lies coming out of the No camp have got so bad that I'm almost expecting to hear them say that AV causes global warming and increases the risk of cancer.
Newcastle upon Tyne
AV is neither more fair nor less fair; it is just different. It is primarily for the voter who wishes to vote against a particular candidate – tactical voting without the need for tactics. In FPTP the voter votes for a candidate or party he or she prefers and the rest are nowhere. AV is negative politics; FPTP is positive politics. That is the nub of the matter; all the rest is posturing.
The No campaign says that we can't afford £250m for a fairer voting system. Even if that hotly disputed figure were true it is less than the sum 25 bankers paid themselves in bonuses last year. It's less than 3 per cent of the cost of the Olympics. It's a fraction of the money this country has paid to bring democracy to distant lands, and yet we can't afford it here?
The AV campaign has been depressingly dominated by fringe issues. The central issue is that under the current system, candidates with less than 30 per cent of the vote can be declared to be winners.
Suppose that an appointing panel consisting of 12 members is choosing between four candidates for a job, and at the first round the preferences are A,4; B,3; C,3; D,2. No such panel would cease deliberations at this point and declare A the winner.
Bin Laden in the wrong country
With the death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, it would seem that the 10-year hunt for him and his al-Qa'ida supporters in Afghanistan has been conducted in the wrong country. The death of Bin Laden is a cause for some brief satisfaction that this cold-blooded, mass murderer has been finally brought to account. However, finding him in Pakistan leads to a number of key questions.
The conflict in Afghanistan has, so far, cost the lives of 364 UK soldiers. Who exactly have we been fighting for the past 10 years in that country, and why? Certainly the Taliban are a very unpleasant bunch, but no more than many other misogynist religious fanatics. And they have never posed a direct threat to the UK.
To what extent are the "insurgents" whom we continue to fight in Afghanistan simply local tribesmen intent on throwing out a foreign invader, supplemented by young foreign jihadists, attracted to the conflict by a western presence in a Muslim country? Is our presence in the country now actually the major cause of the conflict there?
How many more UK families are to lose a loved one in our military support of a corrupt Kabul regime trying to establish its rule over the disparate tribal regions that comprise Afghanistan?
Do we now need to review our relationship with Pakistan, given that this country, which is happy to accept western aid, is now revealed to have been acting as a host to those intent on our destruction?
"Justice has been done." The words of President Obama were echoed by millions around the world. However we must not forget the price of that "justice".
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the US government had two possible responses. The first was the cool, calm and rational response that it would track down all those responsible for this act of mass murder, and bring them to justice. The second was the declaration of "war", and the visceral call for military retaliation.
It chose the latter, revenge not justice, ignoring an offer by the Taliban to hand Bin Laden over to a neutral country. The result was that more innocent Afghan civilians died in bombing of their country in 2001/02, than Americans died in 9/11.
Who cares about the deaths of a few thousand Afghans now the US have "got their man"?
Dr Shazad Amin
Sale, Greater Manchester
Over recent years the media has shown images of joyous celebration in parts of the Arab world, as a reaction to some death or atrocity in the West. Usually this receives negative comment in the western media.
Now, following Bin Laden's death, we see the streets of Washington flooded with a mob, waving flags and chanting "USA, USA". Is that an appropriate response to an operation that looks like Wild West justice rather than considered, legal due process, – one of the values we are at war to defend?
Schoolboy's illegal flutter
Stan Hey's feature on betting shops (29 April) took me back to my childhood in a west London tenement when I used to watch my father studying form in the newspapers and filling out his betting slip, which he always signed DD (for Dirty Dick) and then took to the illegal bookie a couple of streets away.
In 1954 I was allowed to have a flutter on the Grand National with some of my pocket money. I chose a horse called Royal Tan, which won and earned me 12s (60p). I was ordered to put the winnings in the school National Savings stamps scheme on the strict instruction that I wasn't to tell the teacher how I came by the money.
Mystery on the Sussex coast
What is The Independent trying to do with poor old England? On Saturday (30 April) your Concise Crossword carried the clue, "Former Northern county (9 letters)", to which the answer turned out to be "Yorkshire". Former – really?
And on Monday, the round-up of British weather showed the royal burgh of Bognor Regis enjoying absolutely no weather at all: no rainfall, no hours of sun, no temperature (neither Fahrenheit nor Celsius). What is occurring? Is some scientific experiment taking place, which involves placing Bognor within a non-atmospheric cocoon?
Or could it be that Bognor is the answer to feverish speculation about the princely honeymoon, necessitating such a tight news blackout that not even the town's temperature can be revealed? Are a "Mr and Mrs Cambridge" booked into a modest seaside B&B, perhaps trying to make amends for the slur supposedly cast upon the blameless Sussex resort by the dying words of the bridegroom's great-great-grandfather?
Catholic Church homophobia
Tom McIntyre (letter, 30 April) gives the standard answer to the charge against the Catholic Church of homophobia: all extramarital sex is wrong but conscience is supreme. That is not all the Church says about homosexuality.
Homosexual orientation (not practice) is a bar to ordination, by an instruction of the Congregation for Catholic Education given on 4 November 2005.
In a formal statement of the Church's position on civil partnerships issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on 3 June 2003, he (as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) wrote: "Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children."
That is at best a grotesque exaggeration, at worst a lie. It is, to my certain knowledge founded in personal experience, false. It is in my view homophobic and inexcusable.
The news media really should get its priorities right. I opened my paper yesterday to be greeted with reports of the death of the most dangerous terrorist in the world and the death of one of the best boxers this country has ever produced. Not a single word about what side of the marital bed William had slept on, or what Kate had had for breakfast. Please try and keep up with the public's needs.
I recently visited Berlin and was amazed at the number of sparrows in the city centre. I also observed that many of the trees were full of clumps of mistletoe. Is there any connection between the two?
Perspectives after the royal wedding
Sacrificed to the people's fears
Stephen Glover ("Royal spinners have unleashed a monster", 2 May) is right to feel sorry for William and Kate. We should all feel sorry that another young couple should be destined to suffer a life of unremitting media and public exposure.
Their future as human individuals is to be sacrificed at the altar of an idea of public service that requires a hostage family, set apart as a talisman against society's existential fears and anxieties. To survive we seem to demand continual assurance of a transcendent context for our lives, that there is something (someone) timeless and other, hovering protectively "over and above" our own ignorant and hapless struggles – beyond our powers to corrupt.
The Royal Family survives to help supply that atavistic need. If they are to continue to do so we must take proper care of them. I am moved to embrace the republican cause, not as a matter of democratic principle but purely by feelings of humanity. There must be another way.
Family will stand them in good stead
The Middletons were the real stars of Friday's televised wedding celebrations.
Pippa, Kate's sister, both organised the bridal train with efficient precision and had a winning way with the younger attendants. James, her brother, delivered the Bible reading in such a way as to give it meaning for the millions of viewers. The bride's mother, Carole, had chosen a dress which although stylish was sure not to upstage the royal party. And when Michael came to give his precious daughter to be married he was humble and accepting.
The slight smile that Kate slipped to her parents during the address displayed a bond which will stand her and William in good stead throughout their coming marriage. They may need the cushioning of wisdom, stability and understanding which the Middletons have. William has made a good choice.
Launch of new cultural icons
One of the reasons I started taking The Independent was because, unlike the majority of titles, it has the courage to "go it alone" with its front page story. Last Saturday's was an imaginative case in point. I was surprised to see some correspondents (2 May ) slagging it off. Tracey Emin's "The Kiss" was a superb work that monarchist and republican alike could admire. And, as former students of the history of art, I'll wager the newlyweds would think so too.
I hope Austerity Britain is embracing its new cultural icon - little Grace van Cutsem. At no extra cost, she did as much as one cherub could to recreate Raphael's Sistine Madonna on the Buckingham Palace balcony, and upstaged Tracey Emin while she was at it. I look forward to her second exhibition.
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