Letters: Coalitions and AV

Odd coalitions under AV
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Johann Hari's article in support of AV (22 April) contains the following bizarre statement: "There would have been an option to have a Lib-Lab coalition in 2010."

As he surely knows, there was such an option. Nick Clegg shuttled between the Tories and Labour like a shopper in the January sales looking for the best deal.

This highlights the real problem of AV and of PR: under a hung parliament, the voters have no say in which parties agree to form a coalition. You get a kind of pseudo-fairness in which your party gets the number of seats proportional to its vote, but this is irrelevant to whether they are in government or not.

Does Johann really think that a coalition of the second- and third-placed parties, leaving out the one that came first, would have been the fairest outcome?

Roger Mortimer-Smith

East Molesey, Surrey

How might a coalition government have been formed if the alternative vote had been used in 2010?

Last May, the Liberal Democrats, who were elected solely by votes cast for them as Liberal Democrat candidates, entered into a coalition as junior partners to the Conservatives. If they had been elected by alternative vote, what would be the position of those who had defeated Conservative candidates with the help of Labour second-preference votes? The scenario of Labour votes electing Liberal Democrat MPs who then support a Conservative-led government is not appealing.

The alternative vote has appropriate uses in electing a leader around whom a party or a trade union must unite, but it is inappropriate for electing Members of Parliament. I trust voters will reject it.

S W Shaw


The NOtoAV campaign leaflet states "Keep one person, one vote". Yes, indeed, vote for AV and keep one person, one vote. Under AV everyone has just one vote, which is counted as many times as there are rounds of counting.

Forget about spending £130m on electronic vote-counting machines. The counting will be done by hand as it has always been.

The real reason the NOtoAV campaign are so desperate to scare us out of voting Yes is that they want to continue to exploit the weakness of FPTP that allows a candidate to win on a minority vote, despite the fact that the majority of constituents don't want him/her at any price. AV closes that loophole and makes for a stronger, healthier democracy.

David Wright

Southwell, Nottinghamshire

While the Prime Minister endorses a statement by Winston Churchill that AV is the stupidest and most unreal of voting systems, why does he ignore his hero's other statements that first-past-the-post produces results that "are not fair to any party, nor to any section of the community. All they secure is fluke representation"?

Harvey Cole


Johann Hari's point that if you get The X Factor you'll get AV misses one point. If X Factor votes were counted by AV (which they are not) you would get Wagner as winner. Amusing maybe but not necessarily the best, or fairest, outcome.

Fiona Twycross

London SE22

Tracked by your iPhone

Probably the commonest complaint made in IT is that someone didn't read the manual. And certainly the ones most guilty of this are the programmers themselves. This appears to be what has happened in the case of the "spying" iPhone ("Want to keep tabs on your errant spouse? There's an app for that", 21 April).

Why does an iPhone keep track of your whereabouts? Well, when you buy a brand new iPhone, it doesn't. The sole reason it tracks your whereabouts is because you've asked it to. You have to use the settings app to turn on "Location Services", and only then will it start recording where you are.

As to why you might ask it to do that, it's because you've bought an app that can use your location data in an interesting way. Maybe it calculates how much energy you've burnt by walking, or you're recording your journey through a bank-holiday tourist spot.

Even then it's not enough to buy an app, and ask the iPhone to track your whereabouts; you also have to return to the settings to give the app permission to access your location data. The owner of the iPhone really is in charge of their own records and who gets to see them.

As for the suggestion that someone with access to your computer can also track where you've been, well yes if they have that access and know your password then they can. But now we are entering the realm of leaving your front door unlocked and complaining that your diary doesn't have a little padlock on the front.

Mark Bassett

New Malden, Surrey

Faith, doubt and the C of E

A lot of what Adrian Hamilton says about the Church of England is undeniable (Essay, 18 April), though he gives little space to the thriving areas of the Church such as cathedral worship and the Alpha people.

Not surprisingly in a religious group that values free speech and tolerance, conflicting opinions will thrive, and emotive issues such as gay and female clergy, which are socially important but which should be theologically irrelevant, tend to dominate the airwaves.

However, in a world where dogmatic and intolerant religion grows apace, the silent majority in England will probably continue to value the vague presence in its life of the C of E. Anglicanism, give or take a minority of hotheads, is open, flexible, and liberal-minded. It is a church that can tolerate not merely the traditional wide divergencies of churchmanship, but also Pelagians, near believers, and even agnostics – who value the Church's aesthetics, amiability and fellowship, and are happy to let others speculate about theology. Anglicanism as a system knows that it doesn't know; this is what sets it apart from most other religious denominations.

Gavin Turner

Gunton, Norfolk

The love of a mother for her newborn baby is an emotion with obvious survival value for her species since, in the absence of that love, the noisy, messy and writhing creature would be abandoned or eaten. I agree with Daniel Emlyn-Jones (letter, 21 April) that there is nothing unreal about that love and nothing unscientific about it: it abounds with science.

The involvement of love in religious faith also has great value in survival, but principally for the group. A group of individuals possessed of a uniting bond has great advantages in confrontation with non-aligned individuals and groups of the same species or with other animals. The group unity is assured by a bond either to one or more real individuals or to a hypothesised god with one or more priests to act as intermediaries.

These two manifestations of love are both "scientific" to the extent that scientists could develop and measure behavioural models of both. Existence of the psychological phenomenon called faith is, demonstrably, quite possible among scientists, as Emlyn-Jones attests, but that in no way demonstrates that the supposed entity at the focus of one's faith actually exists.

Sidney Alford

Corsham, Wiltshire

The threat atheists pose to religion is not the question whether there is a God – which science can't answer – but whether the religious systems actually follow from their claimed roots, and how well grounded those roots are in the first place. Do we have a detailed, validated account of scientific observations of the mind of God, or a profusion of analogy and metaphor rehashed through millennia of feelgood Thought-For-The-Days?

In the end, it was the woolly niceness of my parish priest's sermons rather than the scientific precision of Richard Dawkins that secured my conversion from religion.

Sean Barker


British voice silenced

I write in support of Stephen Glover (Media Studies, 18 April). The BBC World Service, with its 180 million listeners, is the envy of other services such as the Voice of America, with its much larger budget. When Indira Gandhi was shot, her son, Rajiv, turned on the World Service to get the facts, when the All India Radio was afraid to report the event.

With the news in January that the BBC's service in Hindi was to be axed, the BBC's local office received hundreds of calls from furious listeners.

Rather than cutting back, the service should be expanded. For years, millions of the people listened to "English by Radio", learning to speak better English than that spoken by local nationals. For years, this programme has been stopped, yet I still meet older men and women overseas regretting its demise. People who listened to that programme also listened to news and current affairs, an example of "soft imperialism".

William Robert Haines


Football loyalty

Following the current debate about the domicile of supporters of the two Manchester football teams, I feel that I should point out that it has long been the belief of Stockport County that the majority of Manchester City supporters live in Stockport, preferring to seek glory rather than follow their beloved, but beleaguered County.

Jeremy Axten

Addlestone, Surrey

Perspectives on the law of privacy

Nothing wrong with judges' law

David Cameron's comments regarding the creation of a "sort of" law of privacy by judges echo Paul Connew's (letter, 21 April) complaint that judges have created a de facto law of privacy. Both argue that judges should not have created a privacy law; that it should have been left to Parliament to introduce one and to set its boundaries. I suggest that argument is fundamentally flawed.

First, the courts have always made law where Parliament has chosen not to legislate (as a prime example, the law of murder in England and Wales is rooted in judge-made "common law", as is the law of negligence).

Second, Parliament chose not to legislate specifically on privacy despite the recommendation that it do so by the Calcutt Committee in 1990 (of which the now Mr Justice Eady was a member).

Third, in enacting the Human Rights Act, 1998, Parliament deliberately left the development of the law to the judges. In section 6 the Act places an obligation on the courts to interpret and develop the common law in a manner that is compatible with the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes a right to privacy.

Fourth, despite assertions to the contrary in sensationalist reporting of recent high-profile cases by an often profit-driven media, the courts have created a privacy law that contains a sensitive balance between privacy and free-speech rights. This balance is highly sensitive to the facts of individual cases and as such the law defies generalisation.

Thus the judges are doing precisely what Parliament mandated they do, after Parliament itself shunned the responsibility of placing privacy rights on a legislative pedestal.

Tom Bennett

Lecturer, BPP Law School, London SE1

Spare me these philanderers

Robert Readman (letter, 22 April) complains that the trend for celebrity philanderers to seek anonymity injunctions means "it won't be long before the courts have little time left to deal with matters of real importance". At least it now means the media have more time left for the latter.

Jim Roland

London NW11