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Monday 2 May 2011
Letters: Making votes count
Without AV, my right to vote makes no difference
I have voted in every local and general election since 1970. My vote has never counted. I'm now in a constituency, one of many such across the country, where the current MP's party cannot realistically be defeated. The same party has been in power since before the Second World War.
Regardless of "swing", the majority of constituencies remain "safe", election after election. In these cases, those who wish to vote for another party know that their vote is not going to matter.
I have, for the last 41 years, accepted the Tony Benn dictum that we must vote because "people gave their lives to defend this right". But if the country decides on 5 May that AV is too complicated for the British public to understand (what's complicated about 1, 2, 3?) I have to consider that this "right" is useless to me and to hundreds of thousands of others. Voting, when you know your vote will not have the slightest effect, merely lends a spurious legitimacy to a system under which we regularly end up with Governments where over 60 per cent of the electorate has voted for the opposition parties.
And this isn't, despite all the noise, a Lib Dem party political point. Over many parts of the North of England a Conservative vote will be completely useless. The situation is the same for Labour across much of the South. If after the referendum we are stuck with FPTP, this will mean that for many hundreds of thousands of voters, their "democratic right" will remain entirely ineffectual.
In that case the future for wholehearted political engagement must surely be grim, and numbers engaging in the process will inevitably continue to fall.
M J Callaghan
Mary Ann Sieghart (25 April) is so right in emphasising that the forthcoming referendum is about First Past The Post as opposed to AV. The present system is profoundly unfair and needs to be replaced.
The proposed AV system is by no means perfect but is as she says a step in the right direction. Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem colleagues should be congratulated on ensuring we have a chance to dispose of an antiquated voting system. Let's hope the British public realise this and are neither brainwashed otherwise nor too apathetic to bother with something that is of paramount importance to their lives.
There is a large overlap between the politicians who oppose AV and the parties who have most to lose if electoral reform is introduced – by which I mean their historic right to do what the hell they like on the basis of the votes of 30-odd per cent of those people who thought it might be worth voting, and then to call that democracy.
I agree with Brian Dash (letter, 26 April) that Lib Dems seem to have finally woken up to the fact that they are in bed with the enemy.
It's a shame that it's disagreement on AV that has brought this to a head rather than previous disagreements on tuition fees, cuts to welfare and changes to the NHS (when the Lib Dem line was that being part of a coalition means not being able to have things your own way). The difference is that the AV outcome will affect the Lib Dem party directly whereas previous decisions only betrayed the people who voted for them.
I believe in First Past The Post and I will be voting yes to AV as I think the post should be at 50 per cent.
Shipley, West Yorkshire
Why the royal snub to Blair?
An outstanding error of the Royal Family was not to invite Tony Blair to the wedding. At the time of Diana's death, Blair was the only politician who really captured the public mood with his tribute to William's mother. Moreover, Blair's attempt to get the Royal Family to be at least a little more attuned to the public's expectations of the monarchy helped them through one of the most unpopular periods for the Windsors.
I am far from being a great fan of Blair but it does indicate the attitude of the royals – they expect loyalty from us but you can't always get it from them.
Tarleton, West Lancashire
I thought it was a great shame, in an otherwise beautifully organised day, that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were not invited to the wedding. At a time when so many monarchs and dictators in the Middle East are refusing to stand down, even when this leads to bloodshed and civil war in their own countries, two former leaders from the opposition party being treated with careful respect would be a great sign of our thriving democracy, and one we should be proud of.
So the cut-off point for having your invite approved or withdrawn for the royal wedding is about 400 deaths. The Syrian guy was disinvited as the toll mounted, Libya were never on the list, Bahrain stayed on – just – and of course Tony Blair was over the limit by about 100,000. Simple.
Iraq really was all about oil
Simon Humphries (letter, 20 April) wants proof for Patrick Cockburn's claim that "If Iraq had been producing cabbages" the war would not have happened. Let's look at some of the evidence.
In 1944, a US State Department memo called the Gulf "a stupendous source of strategic power" and "one of the greatest material prizes in world history". With regard to Iraq, in a letter to Bill Clinton in 1998, the Project for the New American Century (of which luminaries such as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney were members) stated that if Saddam were to acquire the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction "a significant portion of the world's supply of oil will all be put at hazard".
The Institute for National Strategic Studies, which conducts strategic studies for the Secretary of Defence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a report in the autumn of 2002, Beyond Containment: Defending US Interests in the Persian Gulf. It declared: "The US presence in the Gulf is primarily intended to maintain the flow of oil by preventing a hostile power from establishing hegemony over the region."
Coleraine, Co Derry
Drivers with no insurance
Simon Read's article about uninsured driving (23 April) highlights a very serious problem for all road users and the way it increases insurance premiums for drivers in general. However there is another way in which law-abiding motorists can suffer financially.
I have twice been hit from behind by young male drivers while stationary. The first young man then overtook me and drove off; I had his registration number and reported the incident to the police. The second young male gave me his name, address and telephone number; I took his registration number and informed the police.
My insurance company's legal assistance team were in touch very quickly, but in both cases the vehicles were unregistered and all the personal information was false. I lost my accident excesses and my no claim record was impaired. In short, I was significantly out of pocket.
From Krypton to where?
I read with interest Guy Adams's piece about Superman renouncing his US citizenship and the furore this has caused among the American right (30 April).
However, Adams got his facts muddled concerning Superman's city of domicile when he wrote, "Since becoming an adult, he has lived a double life in New York as Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet."
As every Superman fan knows, the Daily Planet and Clark Kent/Superman are based in Metropolis, a fictional city loosely based on Kansas City. In the DC Comics universe New York is represented by the fictional Gotham City, which is Batman's, not Superman's, domain.
It is DC's major competitor, Marvel Comics, that bases its superheroes in real-life American cities. In the Marvel universe New York is the home of various superheroes including Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four.
Martyn P Jackson
When to learn the language
David Lewis criticises the British and others' attitude to learning languages (letter, 19 April). Let me try to clarify the matter.
If you go to another country taking your own money with you, you are a tourist, whether on a fortnight's holiday or a retiree for 20 years. In this situation you needn't be too concerned about learning the language and adapting to local customs, apart from the obvious essentials such as driving on the correct side of the road. This applies equally to British residents of the Dordogne or the Costa del Sol or to Saudi princes in the Home Counties.
If, on the other hand, you decide to settle there (earn a living, raise a family) then learning the language and adaptation to local customs becomes essential. I know many Brits who did exactly that and learned Spanish, French, Italian, Hungarian etc in the appropriate countries, in the same way as do the Polish, Russian, Czech and other immigrants to the UK who fill the English language classes in adult education colleges.
The main problems come with those immigrant communities that set themselves against the idea of assimilation. Even there, the next generation is likely to be bilingual. It is a question of time, but it could be speeded up by the provision of more language education.
Challenge to the Higgs boson
Deposing fundamental particle theory from its pretentious pedestal is in prospect, rather than altering the laws of physics (report, 18 April).
Most physicists do not accept the "standard model" of four fundamental particles corresponding to four fundamental forces. There's no evidence for the "graviton" linked to gravity. The photon corresponding to electromagnetic forces can be similarly questioned. Gravitation and electromagnetic fields are real entities, as conceived by the great Michael Faraday and modelled mathematically by Maxwell and Einstein. Particle physics has gone astray – the many still loyal to Faraday will cheer when theories of the Higgs boson bite the dust.
Dr Max Wallis
Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology
A great man
Sir John Mortimer was a great man – wit, raconteur, writer, libertarian, freedom-fighter. It's a scandal that he was never given a peerage, although his anti-Blair views explain why. Julie Burchill (28 April) is not in his league. If a man and woman have sex by mutual consent, neither is being mistreated. I write as a total opponent of superinjunctions who believes that MPs should stand up in the Commons and name everyone who has obtained one.
Out of Libya
Two suggestions for a quick extrication from the badly planned entrance into the Libyan civil war. 1) Ultimatum to both sides: immediate ceasefire; no advances. 2) General election six weeks after the ultimatum, run entirely by the United Nations, with British, French and Dutch expertise at each polling station; the whole under joint Russian/Chinese scrutiny.
With regard to Donald Trump's "hair" (letter, 29 April). Of even greater concern is that we do not know if it is American hair. I vow not to rest until he releases the long-form receipt.
Perspectives on a day of ceremony, hysteria and sincere emotion
A spectacle to melt the most indifferent heart
In his Confessions St Augustine describes how, when studying in Rome, he was persuaded by friends to go to the Colosseum to watch the gladiators. Despite being an ardent pacifist, he found himself "drinking in the frenzy, unawares, and was delighted with that guilty fight, and intoxicated with the bloody pastime."
A similar guilty pleasure was experienced by thousands of us as we watched the royal wedding last Friday. Even those of us who normally have no interest in the Royal Family found ourselves surprisingly moved. Beyond the hype, hysteria and hyperbole, seeing this young couple sincerely declare their intention to spend their lives together was a raw and powerful emotional moment, and I for one would like to wish them long life and happiness.
A couple of points in favour of a constitutional monarchy: a non-political head of state is a safe focus for national identity; and monarchy adds colour to life.
This is an entirely good thing. When George Orwell worked as a journalist he chose one day to write about flowers. A woman wrote to him complaining that "flowers are bourgeois". Says it all, really.
This could set a fashion
Spare a thought for billionaires around the world now being pestered by their daughters for a wedding just like Kate's. Why not respond?
The formula is already there: a night at the Goring, a bit of a cavalcade, a multi-faith Abbey, lots of friendly London "bobbies", an open-top coach, a balcony appearance. As a basic package, it must be worth at least £10m, with scope for lots of extras.
Buckingham Palace and the Middletons together are clearly very capable of running Weddings R Us , and there would be spin-off benefits for the Exchequer from the accompanying Crooks & Despots Tourism.
I love The Independent, and approve of your edgy, iconoclastic style. But your front page on Saturday was a childish and petulant bad joke inflicted on your readers.
A massive event takes place in London, with thousands there and millions more watching on TV all over the world. Every other newspaper splashes the next day with a picture of the wedding, and what do you do? Get Tracey Emin to do a drawing of the couple kissing.
I'm no raving royalist but it seemed like a good time was had by all at the wedding of Wills and Kate. The nation in its many colours and races seemed united on Friday, whether one approves of the pro-royal sentiment or not. And there appeared a genuinely loving and kind atmosphere.
Yet like a bunch of spoiled metropolitan brats you couldn't even acknowledge that by putting a picture of it on Page One.
We're too busy spluttering with disbelief to say anything witty about Tracey Emin's graffito of "that kiss". Talk about the Prince's new suit of clothes!
Holcombe Rogus, Devon
A pity. Being different is brilliant, but both the artist and The Independent could have done a lot better than produce a doodle. An opportunity missed.
Don't forget the horses
Why has no one appreciated the horses? Those noble beasts have qualities the royals might emulate: breeding, training, patience, temperament, poise and the ability to sleep standing up.
Now, the difficult bit
I wonder if we could ask the people who organised the royal wedding to sort out the railways?
BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
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Greece referendum: Britain 'not immune' to EU crisis, George Osborne warns as vote opens
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