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Thursday 21 April 2011
Letters: Perspectives on voting reform
I read with something approaching despair that, in arguing against AV, David Cameron claimed that: "Politics shouldn't be some mind-bending exercise; it's about what you feel in your gut."
I was hoping that politics and government might have at least something to do with evidence, rational thought and reasoned discourse aimed at the most desirable possible outcome. Should we conclude that the BNP are OK in Cameron's eyes if they say their views are derived from gut feelings? Given that it has all the answers, can Cameron's gut remind me what the opposite of Enlightenment is?
Adam Shapton, London SW11
No to the No lobby
The behaviour of the beneficiaries of first-past-the-post shows the kind of arrogant mentality it can produce in Parliament.
We are told we are being offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance of expressing our opinion on the matter. Why should these people consult us so seldom? Why should they restrict the consultation to such a freaky option? What happened to the Jenkins report? Why were the recommendations of one of the truly great statesmen of our period shelved by mere politicians?
The tricksy antics of the No lobby should lead us to vote for AV if only because it would make it more difficult for parties to try to fix elections by throwing money at a few marginal constituencies. It would also set the process of full reform in motion.
R W Chaplin, Norwich
The "No to AV" supporters say that AV is a bad system because a candidate can come third on first preferences yet still win. Why is this such a bad thing?
The "No to AV" backers like to portray an election as a race where the winner is the first one to cross the finishing line. A better comparator is the decathlon, where you can come second in every event but still deservedly win the gold medal.
David Hewitt, London N1
Best of an unfair lot
William Oxenham writes (letter, 19 April) that the AV system is not fair because some voters have a second or third chance of being counted.
At the last election Mr Cameron got the votes of 23.5 per cent of the registered electorate and yet became Prime Minister. So 76.5 per cent didn't want him. Is that fair? My local MP was elected on 42.2 per cent of the votes cast, representing 24.4 per cent of the total local electorate. Is that fair?
AV may not be fair, but it is less unfair than the present first-past-the-post.
Rolf Clayton, London NW7
Why all the fuss?
I am at a loss to understand the fuss the No campaign is making over AV. Anyone who cares to can still vote in the FPTP style by simply marking one candidate. Everyone else can join in the fairer election. Surely everyone should be happy?
James Ingram, London SE1
Right result for some
I wonder how many of the electorate know that, at every general election since that in 1964 the majority of the electorate has voted against the Tories?
It is outrageous that during that period they have been in office for almost half the time and these figures alone make it quite clear why the Tories do not want electoral reform. I suspect that many Tories belong to the school quite common in less well developed democracies which holds that elections are only OK as long as they return the government you want.
Dudley Dean, Maresfield, East Sussex
Might it help those of us who do not understand the alternative vote referendum if it was itself conducted under the proposed new rules.
Obviously, if one was voting Yes one's second choice could hardly be No, or vice versa, but it might indeed be "Perhaps" or "I'll think about it" or "Life's too short" or "Frankly, my dear, I just don't give a damn."
Peter Forster, London N4
Trials and triumphs of the modern GP
Adrian Hamilton laments the loss of the family doctor (Opinion, 19 April). I have news for him. Despite all the odds the family doctor is still alive and struggling to maintain a good service away from the city practices Adrian Hamilton frequents. In semi-rural North Yorkshire I fail to recognise the picture he paints.
Here general practice is still a vocation and not just a nine-to-five job. After 30 years in the job I know my patients and what makes them tick. After a busy day sitting in my surgery Adrian Hamilton would be writing quite a different type of article.
His suggestions that we should now see each of our (well) patients for a check-up every year and after each hospital visit is typical of the hoops that successive governments have asked us to jump through, which make it harder to offer the personal service we are so proud of. How is that going to make it easier for my patients to see me quickly when they have a problem?
Dr Charles Fletcher, Ripon, North Yorkshire
People who do not use their GP surgery much will read Adrian Hamilton's article and assume it is correct. GPs and people who need and use them regularly will know it is not.
It is outrageous to suggest that we have given up personal responsibility for our patients, and that we have become "funnellers of cases to hospital". GPs are caring for more and more acute and chronic illness formerly managed in hospital, and doing it well.
The waiting times Mr Hamilton describes are unheard of in our practice, where 85 per cent of people with non-urgent problems are able to be seen by a doctor within 48 hours. Urgent matters are dealt with on the same day.
Dr Anna Kaye, Sutton, Surrey
Adrian Hamilton is almost entirely right. The effect of previous rounds of "reforms" has been to prioritise non-care-productive activity and disdain the original purpose of the NHS – to relieve the fear of illness, injury, suffering and death. The overwhelming majority of clinicians of my acquaintance would much prefer to perform their proper tasks, unimpeded by non-care-productive activity. Out-of-hours work is not a problem for some GPs – let diversity reign and the patients choose.
Technology does not trump pastoral care. Health does not arise from a spreadsheet, business plan or mission statement; it comes from the head, heart and hands.
Rather than trying to force medicine into political orthodoxy's worldview, politicians would be better acting to improve health through amelioration of inequality, poverty, environmental degradation, smoking, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity, dietary folly and violence.
Dr Steve Ford, Haydon Bridge, Northumberland
As a GP who retired 10 years ago, I recognise exactly the sentiments Adrian Hamilton expressed. Let's be honest and re-brand the NHS the NDB (National Disease Business). The profession focuses on disease rather than health and wellbeing, and service to others is an outdated concept. It's all about management and business. Those of us who did consider ourselves family doctors, delivering babies at the local community hospital and putting those same babies on the pill 18 years later, allowed politicians to walk all over us. We should accept some responsibility for not opposing the changes.
The satisfaction of visiting the dying and the living in their homes brought a vital holistic dimension to general practice. I can only imagine that that job satisfaction has gone. It's a tragedy.
Dr Nick Maurice, Marlborough, Wiltshire
I'm sad that Adrian Hamilton's experience with the NHS is so very different from that of our family. Perhaps he should move to Farnborough.
In the years before their retirement, some of the male doctors in our local practice couldn't get funding for some expensive equipment. So they put on a rock concert and raised enough to buy what they needed. Now we have some new young female doctors and they too are excellent – though apparently not at rock concerts.
I'm in my 70s, my wife in her 60s, and we've really put the NHS to the test over the years and we're still here. We get prompt appointments, I always see "my" doctor, my wife always sees hers.
What happened to "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"?
Tony Wood, Farnborough, Hampshire
Faith and science don't clash
As a Christian and a scientist, I think that many atheists have missed the point when it comes to religious faith (letters, 18 April). Just as the love of a mother for her newborn baby cannot be described using differential calculus, faith is different from science. No less real, but just different. It has to be experienced in our lives in order to be properly understood. It has to be believed to be seen.
Daniel Emlyn-Jones, Oxford
Iain Davidson's analysis of atheism (letter, 15 April) would be more intellectually honest if he had justified his assumptions.
His first is the exclusive polarisation between belief that God exists or belief that God does not exist. But it is perfectly possible simply to have no belief either way, which is sometimes called "weak atheism", and is the position he criticises. His second is that he claims that believing there is not a God (which is often called strong atheism) is a matter of faith.
Many strong atheists would claim that observation of the universe, the world, the structure and the behaviour of the creatures that live on it provides ample evidence of there being no overall guiding influence from a creator.
Such beliefs therefore are based on evidence, or at least an evidence-based balance of probabilities, and not faith. His stance of "one does not know" is usually called agnosticism and is quite close to the weak atheist position he rejects.
Ian Quayle, Fownhope, Herefordshire
The Rev Patrick Morrow (letter, 19 April) says that "the secular world has nothing to say about what sex is for". If that were even remotely true, it would make Professor Dawkins the world's best-hidden closet theist.
David Gould, Forton, Hampshire
Courts shield the rich and powerful
Recent developments in the News of the World phone hacking affair undeniably owe much to the dogged persistence of The Independent and various MPs and parliamentary committees. The (overdue) decision by News International to abandon the "lone rogue reporter defence" and offer a public mea culpa also probably owed much to Rupert Murdoch himself, who, one suspects, only discovered comparatively lately the full-scale of the problem.
But will those vigorously pursuing phone-hacking devote as much energy to a much greater long-term threat to the freedom of the press and an open democracy? Namely the epidemic of superinjunctions and hyperinjunctions being granted by High Court judges that are rapidly moving the UK towards a de facto privacy law without recourse to Parliament. The Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming has boldly taken up the cudgels, but needs considerably greater cross-party parliamentary support than has so far surfaced.
It's an unfortunate symptom of our celebrity obsession that much of the attention surrounding these gagging injunctions has focused on Premiership footballers playing away on the marital pitch rather than on their use by business tycoons or corporations and, in one case, to prevent a constituent taking a complaint to his Member of Parliament, a truly rotten state of affairs in the world's oldest parliamentary democracy.
But let's not dismiss the importance of the celebrity factor, either. There are vast profits and lucrative edorsements to be gained by famous people peddling squeaky-clean images of themselves that are at odds with reality and it should not be the role of High Court judges to defend hypocrisy or collaborate in deceiving the public. Sordid or not, when a high-profile figure is embroiled in an extramarital affair, is it really the job of the High Court to ban a cuckolded spouse from telling his or her story?
It would ill become our MPs if lingering bitterness over the media's role in exposing the expenses abuse (and the criminality involved) prevented Parliament from taking as vigorous approach to the dangers posed by superinjunctions and hyperinjunctions as it is towards phone-hacking.
Unless Parliament intervenes, a crop of current rulings in favour of the rich and powerful by our judges is leading Britain down a rocky road to a far more secretive society.
Paul Connew, St Albans, Hertfordshire
Einstein could write simply
In his essay on small books about big topics (20 April) John Walsh picks a strange scapegoat in Einstein.
His comparison with the allegedly novelistic writing of Darwin and Freud confuses the issue. Einstein's work on, let's say, General Relativity is opaque to the "general reader" because it is necessarily couched in mathematically sophisticated language – more sophisticated that Einstein himself was comfortable with; he had assistance. Darwin and Freud were writing on topics which in the case of Darwin were not yet the subject of mathematical investigation and in the case of Freud are not a suitable subject for it. That Einstein's work is not as accessible as Darwin's is intrinsic to the material.
The introduction of quantum mechanics in the early 20th century was not the breakpoint. Maxwell's work on electrodynamics is firmly classical, firmly 19th-century (On Physical Lines of Force was published in the 1860s) and firmly inaccessible to readers without a grounding in university-level mathematics. In fact, Maxwell's thought was even unclear to many other scientists until 1884 when Heaviside presented it in a new mathematical language. Newton's Principia (1687) isn't an easy read, even when translated out of Latin. Hard science uses quantitative language to speak precisely about phenomena that defy our intuition born of everyday experience, and for which therefore everyday language is unsuited.
Einstein's own short account of relativity (only 176 pages!) is still in print and still well known for its clear, if technical, prose (some credit goes to the translator, R W Lawson) and limited mathematical content intended for a very wide audience.
Keith Braithwaite, Beckenham, Kent
Dr Amir (letter, 16 April) justifies Israel's 2009 Gaza invasion, claiming Palestinians fired missiles killing 28 Israelis and wounding 400 over a seven-year period 2001-08. He ignores Israel killing 5,287 and wounding more than 12,000 in the same period. That's 40 Palestinians for every Israeli. Dr Amir also says the Geneva accords allow Israel to target civilians if soldiers are among them. Since Israeli towns are full of Israeli soldiers, Dr Amir therefore, unlike me, also justifies Palestinian rocket attacks.
Rod Cox, Chester
Mary Dejevsky comments on a salt-free pizza (Notebook, 20 April). There have been times when I have added sugar and salt to baked beans to make them taste of anything. Considerations of flavour seem to have been thrown overboard in the zeal of food producers to produce a "healthy" product. Bring back flavour!
Vivienne Rendall, Haltwhistle, Northumberland
So, a joint British-French team of military advisers is to be sent to Benghazi. That's precisely how America's involvement in Vietnam began, President Kennedy sending in US army sergeants as "advisers" to the South Vietnamese military in the early Sixties.
Mike Abbott, London W4
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