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Wednesday 20 April 2011
Letters: AV referendum
It is interesting to compare the documents that the AV referendum campaigns are sending out. The glossy No leaflet is printed in four colours on a sheet of double A4 size and delivered by Royal Mail. The matt Yes version is printed in two colours, uses half as much paper and is delivered by volunteers. It is easy to see where the money is and to guess why.
The No leaflet offers hardly anything but innuendo. It starts with the implication that AV would give some people more votes than others and continues with fanciful figures on the cost of AV. It ends with a snide attempt to capitalise on Nick Clegg's personal unpopularity. If the referendum is decided on whether people like one man's face we can say goodbye to any prospect of a more democratic Britain.
Unfortunately the Yes leaflet offers only vague aspirations and fails to point out the greatest objection to first-past-the-post: that it results in permanent minority rule. The largest party in Parliament has always had less than half the popular vote ever since universal suffrage was introduced.
The Tories and the Labour opponents of AV hope that a No vote will spell the end of the Liberal Democrats, leaving something like the American system, with two mega-parties in permanent alternation, sometimes with more than 50 per cent of the popular vote but with the support of far less than half of those eligible to vote. This may be our last chance for a very long time to vote for something better.
P J Stewart
The Alternative Vote is an unfortunate term for the system being proposed. It is in fact the Single Transferable Vote but in single-member constituencies rather than in multi-member constituencies, as used in the Irish Republic, and in Northern Ireland (for Stormont) since the Tories (I repeat, the Tories) introduced it in the early Seventies.
To coincide with the system change in NI the Tory Government issued an excellent pamphlet (I understand that it is still available from the Northern Ireland Office) describing the new system and praising it enthusiastically, and by implication condemning first-past-the-post. Significantly, the pamphlet cover bears a sub-heading "PR is as easy as 1,2,3" – PR in this case being STV in multi-member constituencies, but with precisely the same voting system as used in what we call AV. So in the early 1970s the voting was as easy as 1,2,3 but now according to Cameron, it is "obscure, unfair and expensive".
The Tories telling these lies are inspired by Westminster Tory tribalism. They must be aware of the contradiction but one can almost hear them muttering: "STV is all very well for the provinces but not for us in Westminster: we were elected under FPTP and we're jolly well going to keep it that way. Otherwise how would we maintain the cosy duopoly that has kept us in power for nearly a century?"
There is a flaw in Ed Miliband's argument (18 April) that, since AV encourages candidates to appeal to voters who support other parties, it will lead to more consensual politics.
Presumably, he has in mind that Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative candidates will try to appeal to each other. However, in some Con-Lab marginals, the Conservatives have more to gain by appealing to Ukip and the BNP, since the combined votes of these fringe parties, if added to the Conservative vote, would be more likely to secure those seats for the Conservatives. In this case, AV would lead to more extremist politics.
In any case, isn't it more important that politicians should say what they believe in, rather than what they think might appeal to their opponents?
The AV system may be a compromise but that does not make it wrong. I cannot understand how anyone can claim that they represent a constituency when most voters in that constituency have not supported them.
I lived and voted in Australia and found the system easy to understand and operate. Some people think that in Australia many voting papers are spoilt because of AV: this is not so; papers are spoilt because voting is compulsory, so to express no confidence in all the candidates the vote must be cast with the paper spoiled.
I cannot understand why politicians can oppose AV, yet retain it for the election of their party leader.
The Electoral Reform Society is a charity. I cannot see that it matters if such an organisation has more work to do as a result of a change in the voting system. They will simply hire more staff. No one will get rich.
The principal reason in favour of AV is that far more people will feel they had a hand in electing their MP. At the moment over half of us have never cast a vote that has had any effect on the result. No wonder turnout is so low. I would sooner think that my vote counted in electing my second- or third-choice candidate rather than being, yet again, of no consequence whatsoever.
Nantglyn, North Wales
William Oxenham opposes AV because he thinks it "not fair" that when second preferences are counted they should have the same weight as first preferences (Letter, 19 April).
Does he not see that this is what effectively happens now in every two-way marginal, where would-be supporters of no-hope candidates reluctantly cast their "second-choice, half-hearted" votes in favour of the lesser of two evils? At least under AV we should have honest voting where electors could express their true beliefs without fear of letting in the candidate whom they most disliked.
The alliance of David Cameron and John Reid in the No to AV campaign says it all. Their campaign is based on the retention of forever Tory or Labour rotten boroughs in the hope to govern on a minority vote unaccountable to the nation. Why have democracy ?
'War for Iraq oil' still not proven
On the subject of the links between oil and the invasion of Iraq, there would appear to be two pertinent questions. One is whether the war was pursued by the British (and other) governments in order to secure supplies of oil, and the other is whether the oil companies actively encouraged governments in this endeavour.
Unfortunately, your report "Secret memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq" (19 April) fails to provide evidence for either. Instead you focus on discussions that took place between oil companies (particularly BP) and the British Government prior to and after the invasion.
That oil companies would want access to oil reserves in the event of these becoming available can hardly be a surprise. That they should want to influence the awarding of contracts so that these did not flow preferentially to competitors can be a surprise to no one either. The story contains nothing we did not know, or might reasonably expect.
Patrick Cockburn ends his commentary on a sensible note. "It has never seemed likely that the US and Britain invaded Iraq primarily for its oil. But would they have gone to war if Iraq had been producing cabbages? Probably not." If The Independent comes up with evidence to support this answer, you will have provided us with something new and interesting. Unfortunately, your article provides nothing to refute Tony Blair's point that the oil conspiracy theory is "absurd".
It is facile of Matthew Norman (18 April) to mock David Aaronovitch's belief that he was right to support the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Mr Norman also has the luxury of being an "armchair" commentator, fortunate to have never lived under that tyrant's yoke.
John Humphrys is not above criticism and Aaronovitch is right to challenge the careless manner with which he echoes received opinions. Only last week Mr Humphrys spoke of "regime change" and its "noxious"' associations. Regime change is no more "noxious" to today's freedom-fighters in the Middle East than it was to the forces who overthrew Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and imperial Japan. Mr Humphrys' trite and negative attitudes would not have been tolerated by the BBC during the Second World War.
What became of Ruby
Keith Reedman (letter, 18 April) wrote in some detail on the wartime artwork by Laura Knight, Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring, and wondered what became of Ruby.
I was also interested in this, as Dame Laura Knight was the leading member of the Staithes Group of artists, who worked in the fishing village of that name a few miles away from where I live. Initially I felt that Ruby's name might have been invented, as there is also a small town called Loftus in the same area of East Cleveland as Staithes.
It became obvious however that Ruby Loftus was indeed Ruby Loftus. She was 21 when the painting was executed and, along with her sister, worked at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Newport, South Wales. It seems that after the war she turned down a chance to take a formal engineering course and, with her husband, moved to British Columbia to work on a fruit farm owned by her brother in law. She died in 2001.
Middle class will be all right
I am struggling to understand how Mary Ann Sieghart (18 April) can write 1,200 words on university admissions in 2012 without once mentioning tuition fees.
Having details of the average GCSE and A-level results of the candidate's school made more explicit on the application may lead to more students from low-participation neighbourhoods being offered places; but if those students are then deterred from taking up their places by the prospect of debts of £30,000 and upwards, it won't actually lead to any shortage of places for those who can afford the fees.
I think Ms Sieghart need not fear the "fury of the middle classes losing their" (my emphasis) university places; she might want to worry though about the fury of a generation denied the opportunity of higher education because of a low income.
The Government decides each year on the maximum number of students each university is allowed to recruit. Why doesn't it use this system to reduce student numbers at expensive universities and increase them at cheaper ones?
Dr Michael Paraskos
Time to die is not ours to decide
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown deals with the uncomfortable subject of dependency and helplessness in old age, hoping she will be assisted to die if she reaches that stage (Opinion, 18 April). I too, in my mid-eighties, hale and hearty, having survived a near-death experience, dread the possibility of dependency and helplessness, hoping that, when it happens I shall be allowed to die. But I do not want to kill myself or to have others do so.
It is impossible for healthy people to imagine how they would cope with such illness. We are often surprised at the inner strength we discover that enables us cope. We might be surprised too at how powerful is the will to survive, even in old age. In any case, at what stage do we want others to pull the plug? Perhaps not yet!
The law should ensure that doctors are not in fear if they do not use every means to keep somebody alive, simply for the sake of doing so. That calls for finely balanced judgement, sensitivity and respect. But it is not an easy one.
The Rev Bernard O'Connor OSA
Isn't time we fixed the anachronism of having a spring Bank Holiday determined by a religious festival based on the phases of the moon? It is compounded this year by the wedding the following week of a royal heir which is eliciting another day's holiday so as to garner the cheering of the royalist subjects. It is all too much for the atheists and republicans among us, having our public holidays decided by church and crown. Perhaps, we need another referendum to decide whether to fix the date of the spring holiday.
Guy Adams' profile of Catherine Zeta-Jones (16 April) refers to Steven Spielberg recommending her for the female lead in The Mask of Zorro. He continues: "Not long afterwards, she was introduced to Michael Douglas, who was then 25 years her senior."
Might I ask by how many years he is her senior now?
Perspectives on cycling
Who is the danger?
The widespread criticisms against cyclists as seen in newspaper letters, including those published in The Independent on 18 April, mainly blame cyclists for their own casualties.
In London the bulk of cyclists killed or seriously injured are regular riders who are on the carriageway and who come into collision with motor vehicles, particularly HGVs. Those on pavements and running red lights pose danger for pedestrians and such behaviour to be deplored – it also undermines the interests of cyclists such as me who do comply with traffic laws.
Recent newspaper coverage showed that in 2009 there were no pedestrian deaths when in collision with cyclists. It also seems that if there were any such casualties, the cyclist will always be blamed, but this same attitude is not directed at the 426 drivers who were involved with pedestrian fatalities in the same year.
As a pedestrian, cyclist and driver, the principal danger to me comes from other motor vehicles and the aggression exhibited by those who, when I am cycling on the road, resent my presence and, whether cycling or driving, do not like me keeping to the speed limit or complying with other traffic laws.
David Prosser ("It's time for a truce before more cyclists' lives are lost", 15 April) professes himself, and other cyclists, to be "mystified about why they're so disliked". Perhaps the London Cycling Campaign's nine-point plan could give him a clue: it is all about what other people should do to protect cyclists, nothing about cyclists taking any responsibility for their own safety.
He should also be aware that, as with other political, social, religious and economic groups, the actions of a few may taint the public perception of the group as a whole. The pavement cyclist I once saw shouting angrily at pedestrians for not getting out of the way and screaming vile abuse when someone objected is far more likely to be remembered than those who behave in a more sociably acceptable manner.
Nor is the casual arrogance more commonly displayed all that endearing; the A13 and the Canning Town flyover are paralleled by one of the new cycle superhighways, clearly marked and separated from the traffic by a kerb. But cyclists constantly ignore this to ride in the road itself. This is irritating enough in the 30mph sections but borders on reckless endangerment (of themselves and other road users) where the speed limit has just been raised to 50.
Equally galling to other road users is the dismissive attitude towards red lights on pedestrian crossings and the apparent belief that cyclists should have priority on pavements and have the right to misuse of one-way streets, which adds 15 or 20mph to the speed of any potential collisions.
We all pay for the roads
Brian Moore, (letter, 19 April) among others, continues to add to the confusion regarding who pays for our roads when he argues that cyclists pay "income tax and Vehicle Excise Duty" and that therefore "cyclists already pay tax that help maintain our roads".
Cyclists pay for the roads as much as any other road user. All roads, apart from motorways and some trunk roads, are paid for by council tax. Cyclists (who incidentally are motorists, pedestrians, horse riders etc as well ) pay council tax. All of us who pay council tax, pay for the roads.
Some motorists seem to think that driving dangerously in the vicinity of cyclists is acceptable "because they don't pay tax". Clarification of how roads are funded might reduce unpleasant incidents, and drive home the message that the roads are for all to use.
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