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Monday 16 November 2009
Letters: Electoral reform
Glasgow vote shows need for electoral reform
There are 62,500 voters in Glasgow North East, of which one in three, 20,595 people, turned out to vote (report, 14 November). Almost 42,000 were not interested in seeking any of the representation on offer and stayed away. Only 12,230 actually have the representation they voted for; about one in five. Four in every five voters have no direct representation.
The two main parties are happy with this system, where the support of tiny minorities delivers power out of all proportion, as well as the personal kudos and prosperity that go with it.
The old wisdom that "power corrupts" is proved correct time and again as the baton changes hands. Each new generation has to clear up the mess left behind, while those in high places walk away with their ill-gotten gains. Those who stay away, and those who miss out by voting for losing candidates, make up the vast honest – and unheard – majority.
Proportional representation with a single transferable vote, fixed four-year governments, an English parliament equal to the Scottish one, and an elected second house, would provide the missing motivation for missing voters.
In the Glasgow North East by-election, the Liberal Democrats come sixth behind the BNP and Tommy Sheridan. The Tories managed only 62 more votes than the deposit-losing BNP. It was the end of any pretence that the SNP could reach either Catholics or the poor. And the BNP vote came manifestly from the Tories. But most of all, Glasgow North East saw a collapsed turnout in a constituency characterised by traditional Labour economic views, by traditional Catholic moral views, by the very strong Unionism characteristic of Scottish and Welsh Catholics (and soon, if not already, of English ones), by the very strong Eurosceptical and other patriotism of the working classes, and by the particular working-class consciousness of having its young men harvested in other people's needless wars.
None of these positions is represented by any party. So a huge electorate – social democratic, morally and socially conservative, patriotic, and therefore opposed to pointless wars – is just waiting to be reached.
Lanchester, Co Durham
Victim Support offers selfless aid
While your profile of Sara Payne (12 November) correctly says that we feel her recent report could have gone further and proposed more ambitious reforms, it wrongly implies that Victim Support sees Sara as an "amateur stumbling through territory better left to professionals". This damaging implication needs to be corrected.
We also have to take issue with comments attributed to Sara that the "witness system [sic] ... is helpful in some cases – but there again it's staffed by volunteers". Time and again our Witness Service has ranked among the highest-performing criminal-justice agencies in terms of "customer satisfaction". Its strength stems from the very fact that services are delivered by professional volunteers. Their selfless actions remind victims and witnesses that society cares about what they have been through.
Finally, Sara claims that victims should get an up-front assessment of the help they need after a crime. But I am sure she is aware that we introduced exactly such a service across England and Wales in 2008. Last year alone, 1.5 million victims went through that process and were given tailored support by our charity.
Chief Executive, Victim Support,
I am not surprised that Ms Payne finds the availability of counselling in primary-care trusts for victims of crime "woefully lacking". The publicity surrounding the government's Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme has resulted in a huge increase in demand for high-quality counselling services for people with PTSD and other complex psychological problems.
Sadly, IAPT's reliance on large numbers of inexperienced "low-intensity workers", who undergo only minimal training, means that even when patients are referred for psychological help, they may be offered only telephone advice, guided self-help, computerised CBT and advice about where to go in the voluntary sector.
GPs are currently being forced to refer to IAPT services rather than directly to experienced, well-trained counsellors and psychotherapists who can offer an appropriate support for individuals struggling to cope with the terrible circumstances Ms Payne herself has faced.
Government's preference for "quick-fix" sticking plasters means that victims of crime and others experiencing serious psychological distress will continue to lack professional help and support.
Dr Rosemary Rizq
Computer needs lessons in oratory
I am sorry to learn that the English literature computerised examiner is not up to speed on the subject of rhetoric (report, 12 November). Churchill's "We shall fight" speech, made on 4 June 1940, was a clear example of a rhetorical technique called anaphora, whereby you place emphasis on words by repeating them at the beginning of clauses or sentences.
Churchill used the phrase "We shall fight" seven times in a short passage. In his famous anaphoric speech of 1963, Martin Luther King used the phrase "I have a dream" no fewer than eight times in a short passage. Barack Obama used the same technique in his speeches during his presidential election campaign. The repeated phrases are not mere repetition but contribute to very effective speech-making. May I suggest that the errant computer brushes up its knowledge of rhetoric by reading a bit of Cicero, say De Oratore, books I to III?
The Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors apparently feels that the computer, in rejecting Churchill's use of the word "might", "had perhaps been too rigid".
It wasn't "too rigid" – it was plain wrong. Should a machine that can't distinguish between a verb form and a legitimate noun really be playing any significant part in the evaluation of examination papers?
Give us money to train apprentices
As a small employer, I was interested to investigate if our company could develop some engineering training to assist the young unemployed. I had in mind a six-month training programme which would equip individuals with better skills to meet the market.
After all the speeches about getting Britain back to work and the alleged investment in Britain, I was appalled to find that beyond the £1,000 scheme announced nearly a year ago, the government has done nothing to assist businesses in funding training programmes within industry. It seems the government is happy to shell out thousands in unemployment costs, but the idea of realistically engaging with the business community and building our skill base is beyond them.
A fraction of the bank bail-out money invested in apprentice-style programmes would make a huge difference to us, economically and socially.
Body donation needs overhaul
Dr Hugo Wellesley (letters, 9 November) focuses wisely on the importance of asking people what they want with regard to organ and body donations.
I was a body donor until I reached 80, when it was thought more useful for this to be made for anatomical research. But the two authorities asking for, and regulating, these two donations, are different and do not work together. What I wanted, and what I think most people would want, is a simple, single authority which could arrange for the first option of a body donation for transplant, and then, if this was found unsuitable after death (as so often can happen), a second option of transferring it for medical research should be followed.
Of course, there would always be the third option of an unwanted body being transferred back to the family for private disposal.
Where are winter reads for women?
The panel choosing your 50 best winter reads (14 November) was 100 per cent male; the authors, more than 80 per cent male. The books' subjects: overwhelmingly war, thrillers, espionage, science, underworld, sci-fi, sports and adventure. The only mention of gender in the children's selection is where one book is described as a "lauded release for boys".
I am a middle-aged woman who buys dozens of books a year and borrows many more from the library. I live in a book-loving household, with overflowing bookshelves, with a husband and daughters who are keen readers, one a volunteer at Oxfam books. But there are about three books on this list of 50 that I'd want.
Of course, many women do read and enjoy these genres, but in the year of a female Booker prize winner, it wouldn't have been so very hard to offer a more wide-ranging selection.
Despite the female blond cutie with golden curls on the cover of The Information, the list of winter reads includes exactly nine books by women.
Your (all male) panel has clearly not sought out the recent pleasures of Janice Galloway's biography This is not about me; nor Haifa Zangana's Iraq memoir Dreaming of Baghdad; or Sara Wheeler's exploration of the Arctic Magnetic North; or even In the Valley of Mist by Justine Hardy, her lyrical and evocative stories about 20 years of travel and friendship in Kashmir.
These books, all written by women and all published this year, are winter reads to be savoured. There is more to long dark nights at home than exposés of M15, and Somerset Maugham, or satires about Hollywood chimps.
Electric cars are impractical
Roger Hobson (letters, 14 November) may well be right that electric cars are the "greenest". But I cannot have one, for practical reasons. I have no use for the available configurations in range, performance and road safety, and above all for their eight-hour charging times (half a day on the forecourt of the service station for a trip to see granny?). For short distances I can go by bike, bus or on foot.
Give me an electric car with a performance and boot-space like my current car, make a battery "tank" last for 500 miles, and shorten recharging times to a few minutes; done deal.
I note from your report (12 November) on BBC expenses today that Director General Mark Thompson's smallest claim was "70p for a parking metre". How savage the cuts at the BBC must have been; in the good old days 70p would have got him the whole yard.
You report that "Up to 1,800 elderly dementia patients are dying each year from wrongly prescribed anti-psychotic drugs" (12 November). Perhaps the Government should set up a committee to advise on the misuse of drugs?
Sport on TV
David Davies' review (13 November) of which major sports events should be shown on free-to-air TV is to be welcomed, because it is based purely on sporting merit and public interest grounds, and not on other considerations. This is in line with the letter and spirit of the European "Television without Frontiers" directive. His proposed list should be adopted by the government, and financial considerations of the sports' governing bodies concerned, especially the ECB regarding the inclusion of the Ashes, should not come into it at all.
Professor Ian Blackshaw
International Sports Law Centre,
The recent debate about cyclists using the footpath (letters, 14 November) is interesting. One evening recently in Leicester city centre, I saw three separate cyclists actually using the road. The common factors; all were without lights, in dark clothing and travelling the wrong way down a one-way street.
I have lived with constant incorrect spelling of my surname; thank heaven my parents had the wit to give me an easy first name (letters, 13 November). The most bizarre was the telephone message that I left with a friend. It took him a week to work out who Duncan Trowbridge was.
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