Letters: Hung parliaments

Strong rule is not good rule
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The argument that strong government equates to good government is tenuous at best and fallacious at its worst. The strongest governments of the world are totalitarian states where the will of the people is ignored and all dissent is quashed. This clearly is not good governance.

The First-Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system allows the party which forms a government to put power before principle and party interest before the wishes of the people. Any system which invokes the use of a "whip" to force its members to toe the line rather than follow their consciences is designed to ignore the wishes of the people and perpetuate self-interest. Although it may take longer to get agreement, it is time to move to a system of consensual politics rather than the adversarial system we have endured for so long. Safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that a minority cannot force through legislation that is in the interests only of that minority.

Reform of the system is long overdue. An end to the Whips, allowing MPs a free vote, would be a good start. It is also time that the prime minister's power to call an election at any time is removed. A fixed-term parliament would prevent a government from going back to the people when one party is unable to ramrod its own policies through; they would have to reach a consensus with the majority.

It must be possible to introduce into the legislative process the concept of "being in the national interest" as a litmus test so that we have a government that promotes harmony and the wellbeing of all of its citizens above partisan party politics.

Chris Tomlinson

King's Lynn, Norfolk

The reason politicians would have us believe that a hung parliament is ineffective is because they naturally prefer to have outright power so they can ride rough-shod over any opposition. It's a lot less work for them. The truth is that a restraining force within a government serves as a reality check, preventing the runaway acts of hubris that we've seen so many of in recent generations.

That might have provided the necessary voice of restraint five years ago when Brown put his head in the sand and allowed the economy and the banking system to run out of control when he should have been putting the brakes on.

Just such a balanced government is working very well in Germany. I do hope it gets a chance here.

Robin Petherbridge


The numbers tell the tale

The voting figures tell the tale most graphically. An interesting exercise in democracy is to evaluate how many voters are required to vote for the individual party to gain one parliamentary seat for each of the three main parties.

The Conservative Party gained 306 parliamentary seats with 10,706,647 Conservative votes polled, gaining 36.1 per cent of the overall UK vote (10,706,647 votes divided by 306 seats requires 34,989.05248 Conservative votes to gain one parliamentary seat).

The Labour Party gained 258 parliamentary seats with 8,604,358 Labour votes polled, gaining 29 per cent of the overall UK vote (8,604,358 votes divided by 258 seats gained requires 33,350,22481 Labour votes to gain one parliamentary seat).

The Liberal Democrat Party gained 57 Parliamentary seats with 6,827,938 Liberal Democrat votes polled gaining 23 per cent of the overall UK vote (6,827,938 votes divided by 57 seats gained requires 119,788.36 Liberal Democrat votes to gain one parliamentary seat).

How can Mr Cameron justify his reluctance to give the voters a much fairer voting system? Suggestions that if you make all the constituences equal in voter numbers it will somehow make our democracy fairer is conning the voter yet again.

The words "change" and "fair play" were used extensively before the election by politicians. Politicians should take action to produce change and fair play, instead of paying lip-service to the notion.

Anne MacCallum

Milton Keynes

If each Liberal Democrat seat equalled the same as the Labour Party at 33,500 votes they would have 203 MPs. The Labour Party would have needed 30 million votes for their 258 seats if they had to get the same amount for each seat as the Liberal Democrats.

Richard Quinlan

London SW2

The Conservative Party, together with their natural allies, received approximately 12 million votes from the electorate. The Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and their (roughly speaking) natural allies, including the Green Party, together accumulated almost 17 million votes. There need be no discussion on which forces have the right to form the next government. In fact the people of this country have spoken very clearly.

Sir Norman Rosenthal

Exhibitions Secretary, Royal Academy of Arts, 1977-2007, London W1

Deprived of their right to vote

The right to vote is a hard-won, fundamental right of all British citzens. It unites the supporters of Nick Griffin and George Galloway, members of mosques, synagogues, temples, gurdwaras and churches. It is a mark of belonging to adult British society.

Yet, on election night, hundreds of British citizens were denied this basic right through sheer administrative incompetence. I am appalled and angered and hope we will now stop telling the Afghans how to run their democracy, and remedy the defects in our own and remedy the defects that must make us a laughing-stock in the rest of the world.

Michael Turnbull

Langwathby, Cumbria

Opting for the Australian rules

In the optional preferential system in Australia you can either mark your ballot paper with your first choice (in which case it works the same as in Britain), or you can number the paper in order of your preference, which most people chose to do.

The counting then eliminates those who are on the lowest numbers of votes and their preferences allocated to the other parties. This continues until a winner is declared. It is, if you like, an individual electorate form of proportional representation except it is driven by the voters and not the horse-trading by the individual parties.

There are, of course, deals done by the parties to obtain each other's preference which are reflected in the "How to Vote" cards handed out by the parties at each individual voting booth, but many voters choose their own preferences.

The advantage of this system is it avoids the instability of proportional representation, which in my view is a disaster (New Zealanders are very much regretting their recent change), but still gives the voter the opportunity to choose other alternatives. It also gives minor parties a voice inside and outside parliament.

I can quite understand the Tory abhorrence of proportional representation.

Michael J Liley

Camberwell, Victoria, Australia

Problem of lost deposits

One issue hardly spoken of in the election is that of deposits. It costs £500 per candidate, which is refunded only if the candidate receives at least 5 per cent of the vote.

Our present voting system already massively discriminates against the smaller parties such as the Green Party. We lose our deposit in almost every seat where we stand, although in many areas we would easily get 5 per cent if people voted for the party they really wanted rather than for one they felt was better placed to win.

It has taken us years to save up the deposits for more than 300 candidates, and to have another election soon would almost certainly mean we would struggle to be able to pay for all the deposits again, never mind leafleting and other costs.

If there has to be another election quickly, consideration must be given to the cost it imposes upon the smaller parties.

Rob Sedgwick

Dorking, Surrey

Vital role of our farmers

I smiled ruefully at Terence Blacker's Comment piece ("If only the countryside could vote", 27 April) claiming that "farmers are a powerful lobby". Sadly, since the days of cheap imported food and the public's expectation of eating anything at any time of year, regardless of season, society has believed, wrongly, that farmers can safely be ignored.

Far from "every inch of land [being] used, every wildlife-supporting weed sprayed with poison", 68 per cent of land in England is managed under agri-environment schemes, and our farmers are wholeheartedly supporting the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, a farming industry-led voluntary initiative to retain the environmental benefits of set-aside.

Politicians should take the twin challenges of food and environmental security as seriously as the CLA and its members do. We are all going to be far more dependent on the countryside in the future, and not just for food and leisure. Our demands for safe food, clean water, renewable energy, sustainable building materials, carbon storage, flood alleviation and a diverse and thriving environment will all increase. Does Terence Blacker appreciate this?

Food and environmental security are essential for us all, but we need our new government to secure a European budget for our farmers to provide it.

William Worsley

President, Country Land & Business Association, London SW1

Have a heart for the oaks

England without its oak trees, many of which are ancient specimens, is unimaginable. How disappointing to learn that funding and support from government is not forthcoming into helping discover a cure for acute oak decline ("Disease threatens to fell Britain's historic oak trees", 3 May). Oak trees are an integral part of our woodlands, countryside, cities and urban parks. To lose these magnificent specimens would also impact on the surrounding wildlife supported within, or live nearby, these trees.

In Brockwell Park, south London, stands a great oak tree. During 2008, in a poll to find the top 20 "Great Trees of London", this oak was named among them. It has a girth of more than six metres and casts a canopy that enables us to picnic, rest underneath or simply admire its beauty and great age.

This noble tree has reputed to have stood there for 700 years, a constant in an ever-changing London landscape. During the centuries, it has withstood severe weather, threats and more recently urbanisation.

Ministers must intervene and offer financial assistance to deal with these diseases affecting one of our native species. To allow a noble ancient oak tree and others similar to succumb to this blight through inaction and lack of funds is both shameful and unforgiving.

Richard Quinlan

London SW2

Dilemma of the niqab and burqa

The niqab and the burqa do present us in the democracies with real dilemmas. First, has the woman been coerced or frightened into wearing it? If so, her freedom of choice has been violated and we should oppose the infringement. But if she chooses to wear it, as a society which values tolerance, should we accept it? Or do these garments challenge tolerance too far?

We are open societies, aiming to understand each other and to communicate freely in both public and private life. It is not easy to communicate with someone whose facial and bodily expressions are so comprehensively hidden. The wearer seems to want to convey that the only important thing about her is her sex. This is certainly not compatible with our commitment to women's equal human rights.

These garments are a barrier for the wearer as much as for us. They move her into a narrower world and risk distorting her views of the world about her.

Belgium and (probably) France have decided that wearing the niqab and burqa is not acceptable, at least in public. Is it acceptable to us in UK ? Or do we accept it yet again out of offending (one aspect of) Islam ?

Elizabeth Sidney

London N7

Take the Mickey

Low morale of staff at Paris Disneyland is not new (report, 6 May). A few years ago, the staff, in protest at the working conditions and treatment by management, starting calling their workplace Mousewitz. After managers demanded that this be stopped, the staff started referring to Duckau. Perhaps in 2010, Gooflag would be more appropriate.

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northamptonshire

Chew this over

On page eight in my copy of The Wind in the Willows (leading article, 5 May), Ratty says of his luncheon basket, "There's cold chicken inside it, coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeef-pickledgherkinssaladfrench- rolls ..." No frogs' legs, I agree, but Ratty is definitely omnivorous.

Denis Ward

Reigate, Surrey

What a wind-up

How many of us ancient RAF fellows remember the emergency radio we sometimes carried, an orange-coloured box which had copper wire aerial extended by flying a kite and a large handle which one wound furiously to generate a signal on the international emergency frequency? We called it "The Gibson Girl" since the operating instructions said "Hold firmly between the knees and grind until exhausted".

Paddy King

Wimborne, Dorset

Perspectives on smacking children

Punishment does not work

What makes Simon Johnson think that smacking is part of our evolved psychology (letters, 30 April)? Smacking is not an adaptive trait that evolved in our conscious: it is a social construct that some engage in and some do not. It is also wrong to suggest that because parent and child share genes there is a strong disincentive for the parent to hurt them.

Child abuse most commonly occurs in the home and is perpetrated usually by family members.

Then there is also the issue of whether punishment even works, and the overall conclusion from research is generally that it does not. There is nothing to be learnt from a smack; it doesn't explain anything and it doesn't aid understanding.

Smacking a child for running out into the road does not teach them how to cross the road safely. What's wrong with talking to the child and explaining why you are upset and what the dangers are and how to cross safely?

Children are human beings with thought processes; they understand things if they are explained properly without the need for pain.

Punishment generally has the effect of making sure that the behaviour that caused the punishment is well and truly hidden from the punisher, so a child who has been smacked by a parent for running into the road will do it in the parent's absence.

Smacking most certainly doesn't allow a child to associate a pain with a bad course of action; it just allows them to associate the pain with the punisher.

In most cases, punishment is meted out to make the punisher feel better, even if it's disguised as a teaching tool. There are hundreds of ways of getting children to behave and keep them safe. Physical punishment is not necessary.

Helen Phillips

Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

Lazy shortcut to respect

I take issue with Simon Johnson's assertion that smacking is an evolutionary adaptation which helps ensure the safety of children.

In his example of a lake filled with crocodiles, it is clearly fear of crocodiles which is adaptive. An animal born with such a fear will surely fare better than one which has to infer it.

Punishment of offspring may be an instinctive act on the part of the parent, but I would imagine the instinct it arises from is self-preservation.

When the offspring demand more of the parent than the parent is willing to give, that parent lashes out at them so they will not demand as much in future. In other words, smacking is a lazy shortcut to respect.

Dan Huston

London N19