Letters: Electoral reform

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Under PR, tail wags the dog

The situation is ludicrous. The party with least seats and least votes is dictating the agenda – a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. It's the perfect demonstration of why proportional representation should never be introduced in this county. We would have this level of horse-trading every time one of the major parties tried to get any significant measure through the House of Commons and the small parties holding the balance of power would have disproportionate influence.

I did not vote for a hung Parliament or for proportional representation in last week's general election. These options were not on the ballot paper.

Mr Clegg does not have a popular mandate for his self-appointed role as king-maker. Offering to support Tory or Labour policies that he does not believe in just so that he can get some of his pet policies, including PR, on to the statute books is unprincipled.

Cameron won the popular vote. Let him form a government. Mr Clegg should support Tory policies when he believes them to be in the national interest and oppose them when he does not. That is the right thing to do and if it should lead to another general election in the near future, so be it. The people will speak.

Hugh Lamont


In my constituency, the likely mechanism for voting against ID cards and other manifestations of the Blairite police state was to vote Conservative. I did so and helped to unseat an otherwise decent Labour MP. On this occasion, I did not have to consider voting Liberal to do this.

Bearing in mind the disappointment of the Liberals in not quite getting the boost their party was hoping for, one has to ask how many voters were put off because they do not actually want proportional representation? Around the country, how many didn't vote Liberal because they see the difficulty of having a weekend like this last one every few years? Not all sensible, decent people automatically favour PR.

Tom Bloomfield

Carmarthen, Dyfed

David Cameron deploys all the usual arguments regularly used to defend first-past-the-post, especially the claim that it is the only system that gives strong, stable government. This is despite the clear evidence of the stability and success promoted by democratic proportional systems used for many years elsewhere in the EU, which have brought benefits ruled out under our clanking old system.

The Tories have in fact produced their own proof of their hypocrisy in defending FPTP. In 1973, they reintroduced into Northern Ireland (for Stormont) PR, in the form of STV in multi-member constituencies, as used successfully for many years in the Irish Republic. To accompany this change, they produced an excellent pamphlet explaining how STV works and praising it enthusiastically.

This pamphlet, which is still available, provides convincing material to clinch the arguments against the hypocritical lies issuing from the tribalists seeking to retain FPTP for elections to Westminster.

Joe Patterson

London SE19

So David Cameron considers PR "old politics" (3 May). Having lived in Norway in the 1970s and followed their political system since then, I find it amazing that people can believe that the two-party system can be right for Britain.

Norway has had coalition governments of the centre-left or centre-right for decades. Even though Cameron, like Brown, would prefer to look across the Atlantic to the two-party system of the USA, neither of them can deny that if they looked across the North Sea instead they would find well-run, wealthy democracies with people who are more content with their lives and political systems than are the British.

If only we could realise that with a hung parliament we could end the two-party tyranny.

Michael J J Day

Settle, North Yorkshire

Your leading article of 8 May was interesting in that you seem to think that electoral reform is the most important and urgent issue facing this country, which currently has no effective government.

Other pages of your paper contain stories about the dire state of the economic situation, not only in the UK, but worldwide. How, I wonder, is a new voting system going to help us over the next few weeks when the economy reaches a crisis, as it almost certainly will? Surely, the top priority now is to have a strong, stable government. Electoral reform, which, while important, is not urgent, can come later.

Have our politicians, and your leader writers, no sense of public duty and service?

R Havenhand

Nantwich, Cheshire

The Conservative opposition to electoral reform makes no sense in the context of a referendum. If they really believe that the public don't want it, why are they afraid to let us say so? If, on the other hand, they think that we do want it, but are wrong to do so, and that wiser, more experienced people like themselves are obliged to protect us from making a terrible mistake – then that is profoundly anti-democratic.

Gillian Ball


An outrageous electoral system has produced an outrageous result. A quick calculation will show that the Liberal Democrats and the Others can expect each of their seats to represent, on average, four times as many voters as Conservative and Labour seats.

On the face of it, Mr Clegg had Hobson's choice: to join with an unpopular prime minister and a tired party, or to deal with the Tories and be given the push as soon as Mr Cameron feels confident in power.

Nicholas Taylor

Little Sandhurst, Berkshire

Strict proportional representation in this election would have resulted in 12 BNP and 20 Ukip MPs. Is that a worthwhile price to pay?

Michael Liebreich

London W11

Vote Clegg, get what?

The Liberal Democrats in my area of London have always advised against voting Tory. They have also warned that a vote for the Labour Party is effectively a vote for the Tories. Now, just for neatness, they seem to be telling me that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for the Tories as well. If there's one saving grace of this whole fiasco, it's that no one will ever take one of their election leaflets seriously again.

Phil Woodford

Teddington, Middlesex

If Nick Clegg is so wedded to the idea that he should entertain talks with the Conservatives first as they got the largest portion of the vote, then surely he should also recognise that as the Liberal Democrats only got the third highest share of the votes, the public want them to have the least say out of the three main parties. Surely, by Nick Clegg's own oft-repeated statements,the best solution would be a Labour-Conservative coalition?

And to be honest, they've probably got more in common.

Gerald Clark

London N2

Ballot with bits of paper

The chaos at a number of polling stations has highlighted the antediluvian method of voting.

When we live by the computer in everyday life, why has the electoral process failed to recognise the way ahead? Why are we still closing schools to allow people to vote? Why are we not voting in shopping malls, supermarkets, stations – places where people gather (with parking)? Why are we still counting voting slips like ten shilling notes?

Sensible use of computers would mean instantaneous results – just like the National Lottery. The Electoral Commission needs to take a walk around business. They may not have five years before the next big one.

Ian H Lay

Worthing, West Sussex

Ukip promotes cause of Europe

One aspect of the election outcome which has a certain piquancy is the discovery by the UK Independence Party of the law of unintended consequences.

The ConservativeHome website is carrying a list of 21 constituencies where the Conservative candidate has taken second place, and the majority of the winner is less than the number of votes polled by the Ukip candidate. The Ukip campaign has succeeded in ensuring that the most pro-Europe party will form part of any workable coalition. Oh dear.

Michael Crawshaw

Peyia, Cyprus

England outvoted

I wonder why so little is being made of the fact that the majority of seats in England were won by the Conservatives but they were prevented from forming the government by the voters of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

In the past, this did not matter, but now that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own assemblies, the UK parliament is also the English parliament, and much of its role is confined to England (health, education, culture and so on).

We are in the situation that Welsh voters, most of whom vote Labour, get a Labour Welsh government and also get to stop England getting the Conservative government it voted for.

Luke Magee

Ashford, Kent

I am appalled that Scotland is allowed to vote in this election but we are not allowed to vote in Scotland. What a farce.

Jasmin Bishop

Lower Moor, Worcestershire

Now Lib Dems can learn to rule

One reason why apparent support for the Liberal Democrats dwindled in the final days of the campaign is that voters may have been concerned about the party's lack of ministerial experience.

The hung parliament provides an opportunity to put this right. Leading Lib Dems, including Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne, Vince Cable and Ming Campbell, could be blooded in high-profile ministerial posts. This, along with changes in the voting system, would significantly strengthen the party's credentials in future general elections.

The real verdict of the electorate is that it wants an end to partisan policy switching. The "deficit generation" needs a government with at least two-thirds of the talent available.

Ken Daly

Bridgwater, Somerset

Why prison doesn't work

Robert Verkaik's portrait of a recently released prisoner ("What should we do about Kenneth?", 28 April) captures a typical experience of many short-term prisoners.

Statistics tell half the story: nearly half of all men sentenced to prison commit a further offence within a year of release; the re-offending rates for community orders are significantly lower, at 37 per cent; the more often people are sent to prison, the more likely they are to re-offend: 25 per cent of those released with no prison experience re-offend, as compared with 57 per cent of those with four previous sentences, and the re-offending rate after 10 previous experiences of prison is 76 per cent.

The question is: why is prison so poor at reducing re-offending? Robert Verkaik says: "If Kenneth is to have any chance of staying out of prison he needs a place to live and money to buy food."

No sanction available to the courts is as efficient as prison in ensuring that the offender will emerge homeless, out of a job, and worse off financially than when she or he committed the crime. For purely practical reasons, it is easy to understand how imprisonment contributes to further crimes.

Every time the impact of prison makes someone more likely to commit crime, we are all worse off as a result. In 2008, more than 65,000 people were received into prison to serve sentences of less than 12 months. For the courts who issued these short-term prison sentences, the option of community-based sanctions is a no-brainer.

Kimmett Edgar

Prison Reform trust, London EC1

Children who don't read

I see that 100 authors are supporting teachers in their campaign to do away with curriculum tests for children aged seven, 11 and 14. Too much testing does lead to "bite-size" exercises for students, but I don't think it's just the SATs pressure turning children off reading.

Reading a whole book takes time, concentration and effort. For some young people, it's difficult to find the right environment to read, along with the never-ending list of technological distractions – computers, games, social sites, mobiles, iPods.

We, as parents, may also be at fault here, because we often assume that once our children can read well there is no great need to promote reading stories for pleasure. Yet unless we nurture our children to read in their formative years our future generations may not have the capacity to empathise or ever take time to reflect on their thoughts and actions. Reading helps to create the right environment for these thought processes to create and develop in a growing mind.

As a high-school librarian for the past six years, I know that some of our highest-achieving students read regularly (yes, whole books) and are, more often than not, the most rounded students too.

Heather Evans

Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

Not really such a beautiful game

Martyn Bearsley comments on the decline of sportsmanship among supporters of professional football (letter, 1 May).

I used to be regularly driven by a taxi-driver who was an ex-professional footballer. He coached several youth teams. One night he was furious; his team had lost solely because of a single, talented player with the opposition.

"And they did nothing," he expostulated. "I told them, 'If I'd been out there I would have been continually harassing him, getting in his way, standing on his toes, anything to put him off his stroke.' " What hope for the "beautiful game" if youngsters are taught in this way?

Ann Duncombe

Falkirk, Stirlingshire

Matter of faith

David Wood (letters, 7 May) suggests that, if Richard Dawkins's study were indeed balanced, it would be called something like There's No Evidence Either Way, rather than The God Delusion. Can we infer from this that "There is no evidence either way" now represents the official Christian position?

David Shaw

Bramhope, Leeds

The last time

Reading your obituary of Alan Watkins (10 May), I was reminded that the transforming Butler Act of 1944, which benefited so many of us, was the product of a coalition government.

Mary Berg


Perspectives on heroin addiction

Cold turkey doesn't kill

In Johann Hari's article, "Cameron is concealing his inner Bush" (30 April), he claims that wherever the policy of prescribing methadone substitute is introduced for heroin addicts, "burglary and robbery rates fall dramatically as addicts stop stealing to feed their addiction".

It is true that in controlled trials levels of criminality and heroin consumption are more reduced amongst those who take methadone as opposed to a placebo, but treated addicts are not representative of addicts as a whole because they are selected by their desire to participate.

Also, he ignores how dangerous treatment by methadone substitute is. Between 1993 and 2004 in England and Wales, 7,072 deaths were caused by heroin, as opposed to 3,298 caused by methadone. As the proportion of heroin addicts treated using methadone substitute is much less than 33 per cent, the statistics suggest that methadone increases the mortality rate.

There is no reason why rehabilitation facilities should not be expanded with less emphasis on methadone substitute. Acute withdrawal from opiates of any sort, including heroin, very rarely causes fatalities under supervision in rehab with, at worst, flu-like symptoms for a brief period.

For example, according to the medical textbook Drugs of Abuse and Addiction, "Withdrawal is time-limited and not life-threatening, and thus can be easily controlled by reassurance, personal attention and general nursing care without the need for any pharmacotherapy".

Similarly, Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook states: "Acute withdrawal syndrome is a time-limited phenomenon, generally of brief duration ... withdrawal signs and symptoms usually subside on the second or third heroin-free day". Although uncomfortable for the addict, the withdrawal syndrome, in contrast to acute withdrawal from benzodiazepines and alcohol (which can often be fatal), "does not pose a medical risk to the patient".

Aymenn Jawad