Letters: End of Labour

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Brown's rule at an end

Surely Gordon Brown's epitaph must be the famous dismissal by the great historian Tacitus of the Emperor Galba's career and its savage end: Capax imperii, nisi imperasset.

Tom Thomas


Well, we had a great man for a short while. Now it's back to the little smoothies.

Guy Ottewell

Lyme Regis, Dorset

In case anyone is thinking "What harm could a Liberal-Conservative government do?", could I remind them that it was just such a coalition that ordered the execution of the socialist James Connolly, one of the great political thinkers of the 20th Century, exactly 94 years ago in Dublin on 12 May 1916.


London N11

We have faced an interesting astrological dilemma. Nick Clegg's preference for diplomacy as a Capricorn is mirrored by David Cameron's sense of fair play and conflict avoidance as a Libran. But how would this potential indecision have panned out with Gordon Brown's fishy input as a Piscean? As like attracts like, my money has been on a Lib-Con pact.

Y Kwan Loo

Harrow, Middlesex

Questions for the Lib Dems

The coalition talks have shown that some Lib Dems think of themselves and their party much the same way as old Communists thought of the British Communist Party, as a kind of half-party, there to keep Labour honest.

Too many also fell for the Labour Party' cherished self-image that they are on the side of the angels – angels with dirty faces maybe, but angels all the same, folk whose goodness is undoubted. It's rubbish, of course.

A wider problem will be worrying Nick Clegg. Not long after he thought he had buried the anti-politics and addiction to fixing of the old Lib Dem leadership style, it comes back to haunt him. Superannuated fixers like Lords Steel and Ashdown have long hoped to deal their way to political ends.

Politics by deal, and by spin, all governed by cloudy misapprehensions about the "progressive left", cannot lead to anything good. Labour has spent 13 years proving that much. Labour over the last 13 years has been as illiberal as a government can get. By what crazy measure is Labour "progressive"?

These questions – along with the related but already half-forgotten mystery of why the Clegg bubble burst so suddenly on 6 May – will trouble thoughtful Lib Dems for many months to come.

David Thame

Bucknell, Herefordshire

It normally takes a year or two of power before evidence of duplicity, greed and sleaze come to the fore: the Lib Dems have managed it in days.

Angela Embleton


Who would win under PR?

At the time of writing this, we were still waiting to hear who would be our next prime minister and with what policy priorities. Who knows which of the manifesto pledges made by the parties, on the basis of which we decided our vote, will survive the horse-trading.

Assuming that such a state of affairs could become commonplace under a new voting system, and playing devil's advocate, is there not a danger that the real winners each time will be not only the party gaining the lowest percentage of the vote, who can hold out for the best deal on offer from the others, but also the party coming second in votes, who might very well be more likely to sacrifice more of its manifesto pledges than the winning party in order to gain power?

So the party winning the most votes might usually lose and the parties gaining least votes could often win. And we won't have a clue what we were voting for when we voted. How terribly British.

Vincent Purton

Twickenham, Midddlesex

Some of your correspondents seem to have a very curious idea about democracy. Michael Liebreich (letter, 11 May) asks if 12 BNP and 20 Ukip MPs are "a worthwhile price to pay" for proportional representation.

If that is the support they can garner, then, yes, it is a worthwhile price to pay in a democracy, particularly in a democracy that lets special interest groups including former terrorists have seats in its parliament.

The BNP attracted 564,321 votes and Ukip 62 per cent more, but neither got a single MP while the Greens were very nearly in the same boat with one MP from 87 per cent of the BNP total.

On the other side of the coin, the DUP managed eight MPs at 21,000 votes per MP, Sinn Fein five at 34,400, SDLP three at 37,000, Alliance one at 42,800, Plaid Cymru three at 55,100 and SNP six at 81,900. Taken collectively these regional interest groups plundered 26 seats while polling only 78 per cent of the combined UKIP/BNP vote.

Now who wants a referendum on independence for England?

Roger Chapman

Keighley, West Yorkshire

Supporters of first-past-the-post would have us believe that the malignant and unholy mess of recent days would be the norm under PR: let us be crystal clear – the mess has arisen not under PR but under FPTP.

If the same votes had been cast for the same candidates under a fair voting system last Thursday, the seats tallies would have been 338 for the "progressive alliance" and 240 for the Conservatives. The unflattering characterisation of a "coalition of losers" could never remotely have been justified, and a strong, stable government would have been in place sometime on Friday.

John Northover

London N11

May I propose a Twitter Electoral Reform Test? We should adopt a system of proportional representation only if it can be summarised in 140 characters or less.

Jerry Rommer

Guildford, Surrey

Running your own school

My 10 years as a volunteer prompts me to offer a reality check on Conservative plans for education. Education is vital for all our futures and David Cameron makes light of the immense complexities of running a school. Setting aside the mysteries of how DIY schools would be financed, volunteers need a clear idea of the time and dedication required to take their responsibilities seriously.

These responsibilities would include: providing a constitution that fulfils the objects of the enterprise (and accords with the funders' conditions); finding accommodation for the enterprise and maintaining it; applying for funding (annually) and providing reports (six-monthly or quarterly) showing the funds have been used appropriately; monitoring the funds regularly; recruiting and training staff as well as volunteers and all personnel matters for employees. These would include contracts, salaries, NI, income tax, disclosure certificates, holidays; all policies to do with employment law and attending the required meetings.

This summary shows the main areas of responsibility, with none of the detail necessary to running an enterprise with a good reputation, nor the ongoing nature of many of the above. For example, volunteers might only be involved while their children are pupils, which could lead to a high turnover.

I trust this information will be helpful to volunteers thinking of setting up a school on a DIY basis and tussling with meeting national obligations. Their energies would surely be better used elsewhere.

Janet Andrews


Smacking is more humane

Tom Sutcliffe was recently in his column lamenting his inability to define the distinction between smacking and domestic abuse. Nevertheless, such a distinction is real, and important.

Contrary to Dan Huston (Letter, 10 May), smacking is not – or at least need not be, and ought not to be – an "instinctive act", "lashing out"', or "a lazy shortcut to respect". It is, properly, one part of the complex process of disciplining the children whom we love. It can be explained and always carried out in an identical fashion so that the event is predictable, consequent upon unacceptable behaviour.

And contrary to Helen Phillips, it is communicative: it communicates moral disapproval, particularly to children who, by reason of age, repeated disobedience, or the tantrum they have worked up, are beyond the immediate reach of rational discussion. It communicates, briefly and directly, that their behaviour is unacceptable.

In the view of some of us, a mild, measured smack for younger children is not only an effective communication, rather than wasted words or empty threats, but also a more humane punishment than solitary confinement in the bedroom or long-term disapproval.

Nigel Halliday

Liss, Hampshire

Three questions for Helen Phillips. Was she smacked, is she a parent of two or more children, and could she please list some of the "hundreds of ways of getting children to behave"?

John Birkett

St Andrews, Fife

Attlee, a man of few words

As a lifelong admirer of Clement Attlee since, as a schoolboy, I first heard him speak on the radio in 1939, I dissent from only one detail in Colin Maude's welcome accolade (letter, 6 May).

Attlee's style of speech-making would sound uncongenial only to devotees of our modern garrulous newspaper journalists and TV interviewers. He was brief and to the point; when he had finished, usually much sooner than you expected, you knew exactly what he supported and what he opposed. A colleague summed him up tersely. "Dear Clement. He never uses one word where none will do." What a compliment.

Professor Gordon McGregor

Witney, Oxfordshire

Aliens too far away to visit

Following remarks attributed to Stephen Hawking we have seen a media hype about how intelligent aliens could pose a danger to humans.

The matter hinges crucially on the number of alien civilisations actually present in the Milky Way galaxy at any given time, and this in turn depends on the life-time of an intelligent alien civilisation. For a civilisation that can persist for 100 million years, it could be argued that there are about 20 million planets with intelligent life; for a more likely lifetime of, say, a million years there would be only 20,000 such planets.

In the latter case, the average spacing between adjacent civilisations in the galaxy would be about 150 light years. For a spacecraft travelling at one-tenth of the speed of light (the maximum that could be contemplated, according to the laws of physics) it would take about 1,500 years to reach the nearest neighbouring civilization.

Assuming that our aliens have individual life-spans not much more than a few hundred years, which seems reasonable, they would need to embark on voyages of colonisation where benefits would not be realised for several generations into the future. This is not a psychology witnessed in any predator-prey relationship on the Earth, and might seem far-fetched to attribute to intelligent aliens.

A more serious threat will be from aliens in the form of microbes that could cause devastating pandemics of disease. There is some evidence to suggest that near-culling pandemics of viral infections have occurred repeatedly in our ancestral line of hominid evolution over millions of years. And such viruses may be the invaders we should fear.

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe

Centre for Astrobiology, Cardiff University

No vote for the greedy markets

Why has the political backdrop to the party negotiations become so dominated by what the markets think or want?

The voices of 6.5 million trade unionists and other working people are never heard, as political commentators berate the electorate with what the money markets want in terms of government. What they want seems totally based on which party will dump the deficit most boldly on the most vulnerable in society.

Has historical amnesia taken over to such a degree that the role of the very same markets in bringing about this economic crisis in the first place has been forgotten? democracy means making decisions in the interests of the mass of the people, not a clique of greedy financiers.

Paul Donovan

London E11

BBC ignores Europe concert

On 1 May, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim gave its annual May Day European Concert from the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. A good opportunity, one might think, for our public service broadcaster, for which we pay our licence fee, to show its European and cultural credentials, especially as one of the works performed was Elgar's cello concerto.

Not a bit of it. Although the concert was being televised live in several European countries, Britain is not one of them. Instead, viewers were offered a fare consisting of Homes under the Hammer, To Buy or not to Buy, Cash in the Attic and Bargain Hunt.

Truly, we are a nation of shopkeepers. We don't deserve to host such a concert.

Nick Chadwick


Mystery of the Turin Shroud

Unlike Peter Popham, I find the Turin Shroud fascinating (report, 3 May). As a believer in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, I would regard it as an object of great value if it were known to be the shroud in which he was buried.

On the other hand, the mystery only deepens if it is a fake. For someone to have created an artefact which for centuries concealed a dramatic negative image of a crucified man must surely rank it as one of the created wonders of the world, and the search should be on to discover who dunnit and how.

Joanna Pallister.

Belmont, Co Durham

After cheques

I wonder whether HM Revenue and Customs has estimated the cost in lost taxation that will result from the abolition of cheques. Jobbing builders, plumbers and other tradesman will have little alternative but to insist on cash payments, offering carte blanche to the black economy. Perhaps the Government should ask the banks to think again. After all, it owns most of them.

Nigel Scott

London N22

Perspectives on power: At last , the people can take over

The reaction of many of our politicians to proposals for constitutional or electoral change makes it clear that they do not actually believe in democracy.

There is no escaping the conclusion that our constitution needs a thorough overhaul. It has never, ever, been approved by the people.

It is firmly rooted in the 17th century concept of a divine right to rule. That supposed right is no longer exercised by the Crown directly, but is now entrenched in Downing Street.

Parliament is unrepresentative, and we have had governments in office on the basis of a minority popular vote for many decades, each of them insisting on their right to impose their party policies on the majority, leading to zigzags in policy when governments change.

The major reason this still seems to work is the amazing tolerance of the people. I suspect this is now beginning to wear thin. Democracy means government by the people and that means that ultimate power should lie with the the people.

Ultimate power in any society lies with those who control the constitution, and the basic purpose of the constitution in a democracy is to regulate those elected to exercise power.

The constitution should be the sole prerogative of the electorate and not subject to change on a take-it-or-leave-it basis offered by those it is supposed to regulate.

Mike Ridout

Lentran, Inverness

What we have been seeing in recent days is democracy in the raw. Politicians having to work hard for their living. Negotiating, making really tough decisions, reaching compromise positions. This is what democracy looks like.

Other countries have had it for years. Now, by chance, we have it. Roll on PR.

Rod Dorling

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Tom Bloomfield (letter, 11 May) asks: "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?"

And how many dislike the almost continual anxiety and frustration caused by one-party governments, pushing policies recognised as narrow-minded by a majority?

Jim Roland

London NW11