Letters: Perspectives on the plight of the Liberal Democrats

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End of a chapter

On 5 May the chapter in British politics that began with the expenses scandal in 2009, when politicians began to be fearful of the electorate, came to end. The result of referendum on AV was a victory for the old two parties, the old politics and the old guard.

The politician who unintentionally did the most to save the old guard was Nick Clegg . A Royal Commission or Speaker's conference on the electoral system would have recommended some type of reform. The anti-politics mood of two years ago as been replaced by an anti-Liberal-Democrat mood .

Peter J Brown, Middlesbrough

Man who killed a party

I feel sorry for the Liberal Democrats, but they always choose the wrong leader. They need an astute politician such as Alex Salmond. David Cameron's handling of Nick Clegg has been a political masterclass. Poor old Clegg has had his ego perpetually stroked to the extent that he believed that acquiescing in Conservative policies was in the "national interest".

David Cameron will go down in history as the Prime Minister who destroyed the Liberal Democrats, as there is no way back from the debacle they have suffered. At the end of the Coalition, three-quarters will defect to Labour, with the remainder going to the Conservatives. So FPTP will be fine, as we will be back to a two-party system.

Far more interesting will be Cameron's battle with Salmond, for whereas Clegg raced in novice chases, Salmond is Gold Cup standard.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

Power of Tory talk

The Tories' strategy is genius. You simply tell the people that you are dropping the price of petrol (then don't), talk about the big society (then try to sell it off and cut services), say you care about people's happiness (then make them redundant and try to sell their woodland), talk about social mobility (then increase tuition fees), say you won't touch the NHS (then try to reform it), say we can't afford AV (yet redraw the constituency boundaries for your own gain), all while hoping that the people believe what you are saying instead of the reality.

And whatever the people do notice just blame on your weaker partners. It seems to be working too, by the election results.

Don Williamson, Newport, South Wales

Liberal faith lives on

In his article on the referendum counct (7 May) Andy McSmith says that for the Liberal Democrats "electoral reform has been almost their main reason for existence". This is complete rubbish.

I joined the Liberal Party in August 1967. It was just after Soviet tanks had entered Prague to crush the "liberal" revolution of Alexander Dubcek. It made me very angry and when I analysed that anger it was because I fundamentally believed that the right to political liberty overrode all other political considerations.

Indeed the right to liberty in its broadest sense, the ability to be free to make choices in all aspects of our lives is paramount. Which ideology best expresses that view? Liberalism.

That is why Liberals believe so passionately in civil liberties, but it is more than that. It is the right to be free from poverty so that people can choose how to improve themselves, the right to be free from poor health and a lack of education. It is the right to be able to choose what we feel is best for our families.

Some of these rights are supported by the Labour Party, others by the Conservatives, but these parties are too ready to restrict freedoms in different ways – Labour on civil liberty, Conservatives on social justice. Above all, Liberals believe these are not just national issues but local ones too, by which our communities are protected and improved so that local people can make local decisions.

The Liberal Democrat party is the only place we will find these beliefs in this form.

Brian Pollock, (newly re-elected Lib Dem Councillor), Bourne End, Buckinghamshire

Courting martyrdom

Can I be alone in wishing that Vince Cable would either just shut up and get on with his job or resign with a little dignity?

It's becoming clear that his continued sniping is designed to make Messrs Cameron and Clegg sack him and so turn him into a "martyr", and it's both pathetic and tiresome.

Tobias Joss, Glasgow

Cruelty the circus audience doesn't see

Natalie Haynes (6 May) states that the problem with the wild animal acts she saw is that they are "so demeaning", but the real problems are the ones you don't see – the severe cruelty involved in wild animal training and the terrible, lifelong confinement of their living conditions. These conditions were deemed unacceptable in our public zoos many years ago, so why are they still allowed in circuses?

Natalie praised the dog act but, sadly, the dogs' daily lives may be no better. On the pretext of doing some drawing, I was once allowed into circus animals' miserable quarters. When the dogs emerged from the ring they did have a brief run-around. In the field stood an old removal van which was fitted out from top to bottom with tiny wire cages similar to those of battery hens, and into these the dogs were stacked and locked, for how many hours we can only guess.

Cruelty in circuses is regularly documented, and even without this it is obvious that animals in travelling circuses must spend most of their lives in conditions which have hardly changed since medieval times; only a total ban will end their suffering.

Julie Harrison, Hertford

It's obvious that animal circuses are cruel and that they teach children that animal cruelty is both fun and acceptable. Confined in tiny cages for almost all the time, the animals suffer extreme stress, leading to abnormal behaviour. They can't socialise, nor can they roam in their natural habitat.

Their training can be cruel: whips, screws hidden in walking sticks, spikes in sticks, hotshots and electric shock devices have all been seen in secret filming. How else would circuses get animals to perform such unnatural and demeaning tricks?

All animal abuse (such as the production of meat and dairy) is wrong. Even if most of the public boycotted animal circuses, the minority that would still attend them would keep these barbaric businesses running. China made animal circuses illegal in January this year. Let us join them.

Mark Richards, Newcastle, Staffordshire

The Government has decided to allow circuses to continue to use wild animals and instead allow them to regulate themselves (report, 6 May) . They did the same with slaughterhouses even after video footage shot by Animal Aid using secret cameras showed a pig screaming and reeling around on the slaughterhouse floor and terrified lambs being kicked in the face, as well as other grotesque abuses to cattle.

How anyone can ignore and defend such obscene and grotesque cruelty to defenceless animals is beyond me? But when you consider how determined David Cameron is to overturn the Hunting Act, then it's easy to see why he was so reluctant to spare those other animals the right to a peaceful life and a decent death.

Judi Hewitt, Rhyl, Denbighshire

The demand for Free Schools

It is true that we are only selecting the very best applications from groups who want to run new, taxpayer-funded Free Schools ("Most applicants to run Free Schools are turned down", 11 May).

The fact that we have had such a strong response to Free Schools and Academies shows a clear demand for more good local schools, where heads have control – not bureaucrats or ministers. Figures released this week show that more than 1,000 schools have applied to become Academies, and nearly a fifth of all secondary schools now enjoy Academy freedoms.

Children from the poorest backgrounds have been let down the most by inequalities in our schools system. So I am delighted that excellent new Free Schools will be set up in disadvantaged areas like inner-city Bradford and Edmonton, London. Our reforms are about creating a generation of brilliant schools, free from meddling and prescription, that provide more children with the type of education previously reserved for the rich.

Lord Hill of Oareford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, Department for Education

The report that nine out of ten Free School applications do not succeed was presented as a failure in government policy. It is far more reasonable to see it as an indication of rigour in the application of policy.

Experience in the United States with Charter Schools is that they work best in circumstances where the barrier is set quite high for those presenting Charter applications. In New York there is a very rigorous application process and the Charter School movement has been more consistently successful than in other jurisdictions.

It is hardly surprising that, in this first year of an attempt to break the state's monopoly on the provision of maintained education in England, the response has been enthusiastic but lacking in expertise. Ministers have not been "forced" to turn down applications. The initial rejection is part of the process by means of which that expertise will be developed.

Neil McIntosh, Chief Executive, CfBT Education Trust, Reading

TV breaks the taboo on death

It's a first! I agree with Julie Burchill and disagree with Andreas Whittam Smith (12 May).

The former must be right that boxing is a last vestige of gladiatorial combat – an unacceptable and institutionalised form of grievous bodily harm.

But then there's Mr Whittam Smith's assertion that television "is not how to witness the passing of a life". Death remains a taboo. In this respect the Irish have it right, I believe, in publicly displaying the body of a loved one, in their home, so that friends and family can visit and pay their respects.

Similarly when the television programme Inside the Human Body shows an elderly man's moment of death as "an almost imperceptible event ... portrayed as unremarkable", I think this serves a valuable purpose – to show how death is a normal and inevitable part of living.

My wife and I were very privileged to be holding my dad's hand and talking with him when he died. It was an amazing experience that has taken away some of the fear of death. I realise that not all deaths are peaceful, but I applaud the makers of this documentary for normalising the extraordinary event of dying.

James Derounian, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Angry cyclists? It's self-defence

It is challenging to read the views of some of your correspondents on cycling (letters, 29 April). Lycra is worn to wick away sweat on longer journeys and rides, and to be more comfortable in that duration. It is not a fashion statement or a uniform.

People see cyclists as angry, or "holier than thou". Talk to cyclists and you begin to see why they become so vocal. Nobody wants to be put in a position where they have to shout to deter a motorist from pulling out; it's not personal, but a preventative measure like a car horn. Nobody wants to be in a position where they are overtaken at speed with about an inch of space. UK cyclists are mostly simply trying to defend their position on the road.

Many see cyclists as a whole group, one that ignores the law. This is not true in the main, but we have to put up with constant diatribes against us, much as other minorities have before.

There is hope, however, that with continuing rises in fuel prices, many will come to see cycling as more suitable to their income.

D J Cook, Southampton

County a victim of snobbery

I am surprised that The Independent is perpetuating the Essex stereotype by quoting the county's entry in the Lonely Planet guide so selectively ("A guide to the 10 worst tourist traps", 11 May). The guide actually says that our county suffers from the "cruellest jokes and snobbery" and that, amid a rural idyll of sleepy medieval villages and rolling countryside, historic Colchester (which is currently bidding for its long-due city status) is characterised by its sturdy castle and vibrant arts scene.

As this very paper reported last October, "Essex Man" was a creation of Simon Heffer writing in The Sunday Telegraph in 1990. After 20 years, isn't it time to give the bad press a rest and rediscover England's most underrated county?

Simon Taylor, Colchester

Bin Laden and the torture lie

Those who pretend that the killing of Osama justifies torture give a striking example of the corrupting force of great power, especially when it fears itself to be on the wane.

The idea that torture generally provides valuable information is dubious to say the least. But even if we grant it for the sake of the argument, it does not at all follow that without torture we cannot get the information we want, nor therefore that getting that information requires torture.

I dare say that some of those who support this defence of torture are not aware of these logical necessities, but I have no doubt its instigators understand them perfectly well. What they say is all the more vile a lie for that.

Patrick Daunt, Cambridge

The killing of Osama Bin Laden and the response of the American people to his death makes me wonder about the influence of Hollywood on the American psyche. Is the Navy Seal who killed OBL just the latest hero in a long line of revenge-as-justice movie plots? John Wayne in The Searchers, Arnie in Terminator, Bronson in Death Wish, Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry? Did the Navy Seal ask OBL, "Do you feel lucky, punk?"

Jeremy Braund, Lancaster

Voting on a Sunday

Susan Elkin (letter, 11 May) makes an interesting point in suggesting that polling should take place on a Sunday. If this would increase the turnout at elections, fine, but her other reason, that too many schools are closed, thus disrupting children's education, is wrong-minded.

Education is far more than about the traditional school curriculum. When I was a boy, both my primary and then secondary schools were closed on election days. Yes, of course my friends and I were delighted to have a day's holiday, but what it did for me was to teach me that elections days were special.

As a result I have voted in every election since my 18th birthday.

Robert Nightingale, Wolverhampton

Susan Elkin makes a good case for moving polling day to a Sunday, rather than Thursday, to keep many schools open and possibly encourage more participation. But I doubt that it will happen, in the current economic climate, given that both hiring accommodation and paying staff will inevitably be more expensive for a Sunday, compared with a Thursday. Secure on-line voting over a few days would solve the problems highlighted by Susan Elkin and also reduce costs considerably.

Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich, West Midlands

Fish of America

Mary Dejevsky may have been unlucky in Jackson Hole (Notebook, 11 May) but US restaurants are not all the same. I had a completely opposite experience in New Orleans last week. Eating in the Pelican Club in the French Quarter, I chose the flounder in a Creole sauce. The fish came complete with head, tail and skeleton intact. To accommodate the fish the plate was so big it took up most of the table. It was delicious, as was all the food we ate there.

Michael Charvonia, London N14

Abbey agony

Sheila Yarwood's explanation of "why Blair was not invited", (letter, 12 May) is plausible. I think Gordon Brown was not invited was because he had suffered enough.

Eddie Dougall, Walsham le Willows, Suffolk