Letters: Moral of Harold Macmillan's coat

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When I was around eight years old I went on my first school coach-trip to London. I remember it as being a cold, grey day with plenty of walking to be done. I also recall the boat trip down the Thames from Westminster Bridge to Greenwich.

Back at Westminster, our teacher blagged her way into the House of Commons. The Commons chamber was very dark, with intricate carved wood, festooned with cobwebs. The green leather benches looked very soft and inviting but we were warned against touching them as the MPs hated to get the residue from sticky fingers on to their trouser-legs.

We next went along to Downing Street and were invited to assemble outside the black door of No 10. We were instructed by our teacher to wait quietly and to speak politely to anyone who came out.

Presently, an elderly grey-haired man emerged, wearing a beautiful grey cashmere overcoat. "Hello, whom do we have here?" he beamed, cheerily.

Our teacher explained that we were from Peterborough, and I was mightily impressed by his local knowledge when he mentioned Fletton Bricks, a company for whom my grandfather worked at the time. I was struck by the old man's silvery hair, his soft, unlined skin and rosy complexion; his kind eyes and, of course, that overcoat.

"Your coat looks warm," I ventured with a smile. The old man commented on the coldness of the day, and I thought I detected a look of sadness in his eyes as he looked at my cheap, inadequate clothing, perhaps with a little embarrassment. I think he would have gladly offered me his own coat, if we had been more similarly sized.

He was rescued from his embarrassment by an aide, who indicated that it was time to go.

It wasn't until I got home and told my parents about my day that it was explained to me that I had met the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. My Labour-supporting father made some derisory comment about the "lovely coat" I had mentioned. "He's no good," he snorted, "He'll soon be out."

"Oh, I hope not," I replied, "he seemed like such a nice man."

I learnt two important truths from my early and unexpected brush with the political elite. People invariably look better in real life than on television. Supermac looked about 20 years younger in person. And the ruling classes had better haircuts, looked altogether healthier and wore much better clothes than us mere mortals.

Unfortunately, these simple truths are still as evident today as they were then. Very little has changed in this voter's lifetime.

Stuart Fretwell, Portland, Dorset

I cherish the memory of, I think, the first interview Clement Attlee (letter, 12 May) gave to a Pathé News reporter as he got off an aircraft after some conference. It went as follows:

Interviewer: "Prime Minister, have you anything to say to the nation?"

Attlee: "No."

Derek Parker, Mosman, New South Wales, Australia

A new kind of politics

The newly announced coalition looks very promising. I suspect that the arguments in Cabinet may be robust, but this may well give rise to better thought-out decisions than in the past. I hope that the resulting government will be more competent and less arrogant than its predecessor. A successful coalition may also do much to further the cause of proportional representation.

I also suspect that the Lib Dems are much closer to the Tories than to Labour on civil liberties. Labour's record on civil liberties since 1997 has been lamentable. I very much hope that, as well as cancelling the ID database scheme, the new government repeals the vast majority of the Orwellian legislation inflicted on us during the last 13 years.

David Hughes, Farnham, Surrey

I am so pleased to see the back of Gordon Brown and New Labour with its massively expensive bureaucracy and its wish to control every breath I take.

Good luck to Dave and Nick. I sincerely hope they manage to get on together and get this country back on its feet.

Two fingers to the seemingly endless two parties wasting time in government, playing yah-boo instead of doing the job for which they were elected. I welcome with open arms co-operation and grown-up government.

Dr Tim Lawson, Cheam, Surrey

The deal is done. We have a coalition government. Let us hope that this marks the end of confrontation politics. I feel that the electorate want competent rather than exciting government.

Adversarial British politics has served us badly. Too often, a change of government has meant the destruction of what has been achieved and the introduction of new slip-shod policies, often for wholly doctrinaire reasons. While Britain has been wasting its talents and resources, other nations have been quietly getting on with building on previous achievements. With consensus government, it is possible to plan for the long term, but with confrontation politics, policies are put forward mainly to gain advantage at the next election. There is no building for the future. Awkward decisions, which will affect us in 10 or 20 years, are sidelined.

It is time to stop fighting and work together for a better future.

David McKaigue, Wirrall

As a Liberal Democrat pragmatist, I fully expected the comments from those political purists bemoaning our "sell-out" to the Tories. After years of being virtually ignored by the major parties (usually by calling us "the Liberals"), it was interesting to see over the past few days that we had at last become "the Liberal Democrats". When the likes of Bruce Anderson start calling us by our proper name, we really will have made progress.

Like most Lib Dems I was hoping that the general election would bring into power a progressive alliance between us and Labour. Unfortunately, the numbers did not add up. However, had Labour been 100 per cent behind a reform to the voting system, something might have been put together.

What turned it for me was hearing so many voices emerging from the Labour ranks which made it clear that they were not really prepared to back a deal which involved voting reform.

I only hope that, by putting the national interest ahead of party advantage, my party will not be permanently damaged. If it is possible to make coalition government work in peace-time (as it regularly does in local government) then perhaps the public in general will warm to the idea.

Cllr John Marriott, Lincoln

Great Liberal past betrayed

The Liberals of the past must be turning in their graves after the entry of today's Liberal Democrats into a coalition with the Conservative Party.

The Liberal Party was formed in 1859 to overthrow a minority Conservative government and has been fighting tooth-and-nail with the Conservatives in constituencies across the UK ever since.

The party of Gladstone and Lloyd George had a proud history of radical measures, including laying the foundations of the modern welfare state. It is a legacy that has been blackened by their jumping into bed with the Conservatives for the sake of a few seats in the Cabinet and without guaranteed electoral reform.

One thing is for certain, and that is that in signing up to this deal Liberal Democrats have committed suicide in Scotland. Their timing could not have been worse, with the Scottish parliamentary elections next year – vote Liberal Democrat and you get Tory.

Alex Orr, Edinburgh

By not securing one of the three main offices of state, Nick Clegg has put himself into the position of the Tory wets in the first Thatcher cabinet, with himself as Mr Cameron's Willie Whitelaw. The Lib Dems will now get all the blame for policies over which they can have no real influence.

Charmed and at the same time discreetly bullied by the Tories, Clegg has been out-manoeuvred. He could have looked to the powerful example of the FDP in Germany. He could have listened to the wiser and older heads within his own party. He didn't. Now he will know what it means to have responsibility without power.

Dr Mark Corner, Brussels

New Labour's shameful legacy

Well, there we are then. The end of the New Labour project. Thirteen wasted years, which has left us surrounded by sleaze on a mountain of debt.

With a massive majority and a mandate for change, it could have been so different, so much better. Blair and company only prolonged the follies of Thatcher and Major, and added a few of their own: PFI, overpaid consultants, failed computer programmes, housing shortage, City fat-cats – the list is endless.

It was a smart career move for Blair towards his goal of becoming a multi-millionaire, but it hasn't done much for the rest of us. Can "Camelot" Cameron's New Conservative project do any better? At least a lot of them start out from being multi-millionaires.

Tony Cheney, Ipswich, Suffolk

New Labour have lost power because they deserved to lose power. In 1997 they had an untouchable 179 majority. They could have terminated the irrational and ruinous privatisation agenda; could have refocused the economy from City speculation to manufacturing industry; could have broken the power of the media barons; and could have delivered the proportional representation that would have consigned the Tories to the dustbin of history, where they belonged.

Instead, seduced by the trappings of power and shamelessly self-absorbed, they arrogantly feathered their nests whilst seeking only to appease and conjoin with the privileged elites they should have challenged. Theirs is a shameful legacy.

Dr Mick Wilkinson, Hull

The nation owes a huge debt to Gordon Brown, who has been a leader of great principle and intelligence. History will treat him kindly, as it will condemn the media for the shameful way they have hounded him.

The lives of the great mass of people have improved immeasurably during his time as Chancellor and Prime Minister. It is precisely his sense of social justice that has been unpalatable to the right-wing media.

Peter Salomon, London N2

Ominous signs of class war

After all the talk of "change", what we have, as so often in the past, is a government led by a posh boy from Eton and Oxford, with another posh boy from St Paul's and Oxford as Chancellor.

The same kind of international banking speculators whose vile greed brought us into recession in the first place are circling like vultures over a sick animal, and this government will serve the interests of those vultures.

This very old-fashioned government is preparing to make the common people pay for the crimes of their pals. They are preparing for class war.

Those of us who are not from their privileged class (or that of Nick Clegg – Westminster School and Cambridge) have to prepare to resist. I don't know exactly what forms the resistance will take, but resistance there will be.

This government will, of course, soon be in conflict with the Scottish government and parliament, who will be trying their inadequate best to protect us in Scotland from the worst. But nobody should look to the SNP or to the Labour Party for leadership of the resistance. It wasn't them that took the initiative in resisting Maggie Thatcher or her poll tax, and it won't be them at the front of the resistance now.

In fact, don't wait for any politician, or any party, to "lead" the resistance. Be prepared to take the initiative yourself, and be prepared to link up with anybody else who is showing willingness to resist.

Dave Coull, Edzell, Angus

Vote Clegg, get Cameron? Oh, how we laughed. Well, no one is laughing now.

Except the minuscule quotient of Tories who support PR, warmer ties with Europe and the very idea of a coalition with anyone. Oh, and the handful of Cleggies who – like Clegg himself – appear to think expediency is some kind of political philosophy.

So, how many does that leave? The vast majority of the electorate. And we live in a democracy? We do? Thank goodness for that. For a minute, I thought we'd suffered some kind of right-wing putsch.

Rob Prince, London SE13

When I left my Belgravia office last night, having just watched Mr Brown's resignation on the Channel 4 news, I saw in the eastern sky a bright rainbow, immediately above Westminster. Was this a heavenly farewell to Labour's hopes of a "rainbow coalition"?

Then I looked to the west: The sky was covered in a dark, threatening cloud. Oh dear. An omen of things to come?

Berit Scott, London W4

Vote tactically, get a surprise

Hugh Lamont may be right in his assertion (letter, 11 May) that under PR "the tail wags the dog", but this is surely preferable to first-past-the-post muzzling the electorate.

A simple case illustrates why Cleggmania failed to realise a vision shared by a majority of the electorate.

Six adults inhabit two homes at the end of the Cotswold lane down which I live. Had first-past-the-post not obliged all six to vote Labour, in a failed bid, in a two-horse race, to keep out the Tory candidate, four more votes would have gone to the Liberal Democrats and two to the Green Party.

When the people attempted to speak on 6 May they did so while gagged. Only PR allows the voice of the people to be heard. Small wonder there are forces that oppose it.

Anthony Hentschel, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire

Some correspondents and commentators claim that the negotiations required to assemble a coalition mean that "the tail is wagging the dog". Yet this is a necessary process to ensure that a government with majority support is assembled.

Are we so used to being governed by parties which are only supported by a minority that we fail to see the irony? The tail has been wagging the dog for years.

Nigel Scott, London N22

So, was David Cameron very clever, or just plain wrong? "A vote for the Liberals is a vote for Labour," he said. I believed him and voted Liberal.

The opposite proved to be the case. Unless the Liberals manage to keep an extremely tight rein on the worst excesses of Conservatism, it is a mistake I for one will never make again.

Richard Pater, Kendal, Cumbria

In Richmond Park, Lib Dems came a cropper because of the "Vote Clegg, get Brown" factor. Since then, we have learnt that this should change to "Vote Clegg, defenestrate Brown." Can we have a re-run now and get Susan Kramer back?

Katie Gent, London SW13

The choice in the promised referendum will be between the present system and AV. I want STV. How should I vote?

Simon Gazeley, Bath

As one who voted Lib Dem for the purpose of keeping the Tories out, I now know the wisdom of the quotation, "Unto thine own self be true."

Vaughan Thomas, Usk, Gwent

Wilde saw this coming

The following lines are from The Importance of Being Earnest.

Lady Bracknell (sternly): What are your politics?

Jack Worthing: Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal.

Lady Bracknell: Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evening, at any rate.

Well done Oscar. Smack on the button yet again.

Alice Starmore, Isle of Lewis

Blame game

I'm old enough to remember T-shirts with the slogan, "Don't blame me, I voted Labour." What are we to wear this time around? How about "Don't blame me, I'm one of the disenfranchised progressive majority"? Not much of a ring to it. Perhaps just, "Don't blame me, the politicians stitched me up."

Kevin Colwill, Bude, Cornwall

Biggest challenge

Conspicuous by its absence from the speeches of the party leaders on the challenges facing Britain was any reference to climate change, the biggest challenge facing Britain, as well as the rest of humankind. The one Green Party MP is going to have her work cut out.

W R Haines, Shrewsbury

Gender bias

Sad to see no women in either the Tory or the Lib Dem negotiating team. What a shame that the Lib Dems don't practise what they preach on proportional representation.

Dr Saiful Islam, Bath

At last

As a David Steel era Liberal, I simply stayed in my constituency and prepared for government.

The Rev Paul Hunt, Chairman, National Liberal Club, London SW1

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