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Monday 9 May 2011
Letters: The AV referendum result
A victory for the forces of conservatism and cynicism
The AV referendum neatly encapsulates the state of British politics today.
The forces of conservatism, faced with a proposal that they deem detrimental to their interests, mount a well-funded, well-organised, cynical, negative and distorted campaign, which focuses on personalities rather than issues and which motivates their supporters to vote, while those on the other side of the argument fall out among themselves and fail to get their point across.
Meanwhile, the majority of the public, who apparently don't care how or by whom the country is governed, stay away in droves. How depressing.
This is the end for me. I will not be voting in any more national elections and giving legitimacy to the idea that we live in a democracy. If I were in a marginal constituency I might make myself believe that my vote could make a difference, but only then in deciding which of two major parties would scoop the spoils of office.
The most sensible thing the electorate can do now is to stay away, until the point is reached where even the most ardent supporter of the current system will be forced to admit that the majority from a pathetically small turnout represents no kind of legitimacy at all.
Of course AV was a tiny step in enfranchising every voter, but it was a step. But its failure is one more win for an establishment that cares only for a comfortable life, and nothing for the public it pretends to serve.
When you're in a hole, stop digging. The Lib Dems have to choose between an honourable retreat now and oblivion in coming years.
If they stay in coalition, each year will see council seats lost and political leverage reduced and, come the general election, a complete collapse. The Lib Dems may have done their duty for the national interest but the price will be obliteration.
There is however another national duty; to keep a major third party alive and maintain pressure for electoral reform. If the Lib Dems pull out now, they will have done their bit to fix the deficit, and they can still support a minority Tory government's financial reforms. But they will have no need to back the absurd health proposals, for instance.
They will be able to say "we did our duty, and we tried to work together constructively but it didn't work"; the nation will understand and forgive.
If they choose to dig themselves further into their current hole, the public will write them off. The electorate are very strongly saying they don't approve – the Lib Dems fail to listen at their peril.
The beating handed out to the Lib Dems, and the way in which the cause of electoral reform was tainted by association with the junior Coalition partner, have a number of lessons to teach the party. Though last year's Coalition agreement was superficially stacked with Lib-Dem policies, too much ground was conceded on the "high peaks" of Tory policy – education, health, and the economy – for which there was no electoral mandate.
Thus the Lib Dems' palliatives to the tuition-fee disaster, in the forms of a fee cap and student bursaries, were not enough to distract voters from the betrayal of pre-election pledges. Cameron was thus able to deflect public anger on to those Lib Dems in Westminster without whose votes the legislation would have fallen. A similar story can be told of NHS reforms and the budget cuts, where Tory radicals have had an astounding degree of freedom to conduct freakish experiments upon the rest of us.
So far the Lib Dems have got off lightly. If they do not heed the electorate's warning, start using parliamentary leverage to better effect, and press for changes to key legislative programmes, they are doomed to internecine strife and another generation in the wilderness.
University of Leicester
The election results confirm what most Lib Dems already knew: although it was right to enter the Coalition it was wrong to give ground on so much right-wing ideology. Sadly David Cameron has twisted Nick Clegg round his little finger and, as a result, Clegg has done more harm to centre-left politics than anyone since David Owen.
We now need a clear plan for an orderly withdrawal from the Coalition in about 12 months' time, followed by a leadership election – Nick Clegg can stand again if he wants to. Then we can face a general election with some vestige of integrity restored.
Cllr Peter Balaam
I have aspired to political reform (PR not AV) for over 60 years, but now recognise it will not come in my lifetime.
For this I blame the Conservatives in making Nick Clegg the scapegoat for their cuts, and Labour for sitting on the fence; I blame the pernicious spin of the majority of the media (not The Independent) in putting all the blame for the unpopular acts of the Coalition, especially student fees, on the Lib Dems and their leader.
Finally, I blame my own party, the Liberal Democrats, for its naivety in urging that the referendum should be held on the same day as the local elections. This meant that the party's energies were concentrated on holding seats, the Yes campaign was largely ignored at the grassroots, and the No campaign could take advantage of this strategic blunder by concentrating its fire on Nick Clegg.
Nick Clegg should not have acceded to a referendum on AV, a system he once famously derided as "a miserable little compromise". He should have demanded proportional representation as the price for Liberal Democrat participation in a coalition.
He may however deserve a modicum of sympathy. Perhaps the public really do not care very much about electoral reform. They have been infantilised for decades by a media rooted in vested interests and more concerned with celebrities, TV talent contests and sundry trivia than with democracy, or even an issue as fundamental as climate change. Most media and popular culture prefers to keep things as they are, to preserve privilege, and to target scapegoats when things go awry.
Hadn't Vince Cable noticed that the Tories were "ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal" in his years in parliament before joining them? What on earth did he and Clegg think they were getting into when they sold the soul of their party for this brief flash of power that now lies in tatters with the dream of AV? My only vote for them, betrayed when they reversed what they had been saying only a few weeks before the election, was not, it seems, only for turncoats, but naive turncoats at that.
The reason the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg have taken such a disproportionate knocking in Thursday's polls, as well as in the media, must be disappointed expectations and hopes. The Conservative party never raised any hopes, and so can't disappoint us or be blamed for anything, it seems.
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
Nice and capable though he may be, the writing was on the wall for Nick Clegg a year ago, but seemed to pass unnoticed.
His appointment as Lib-Dem leader coincided with the collapse of support for New Labour, while the Tories were still disliked by the majority of the population. It was the Lib Dems' greatest opportunity for decades to become a major force in British politics, yet their performance in the 2010 general election showed virtually no improvement on all of the previous ones. The buck has to stop somewhere.
The Independent made much of the fact that the No camp seemed to think the great British public was too "thick" to understand the AV system. Regrettably, they seem to have been proved right.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Close scrutiny of student-fee hikes
Your article "Universities to escape challenge over high fees" (28 April) was misleading. Offa can and will require all universities that want to charge higher fees to put in place robust access measures. If the measures they are proposing aren't sufficiently ambitious, we will simply refuse to approve their access agreement, thereby preventing them from charging higher fees.
What we expect, however, is that universities will want to make every effort to secure approval for the fees they have proposed and will therefore be keen to conclude negotiations with us, making changes as necessary to their agreement until it meets our approval. So they will be challenged – but we expect that most, if not all, will rise to the challenge.
Sir Martin Harris
Director of Fair Access,
Office for Fair Access, Bristol
Neil Roskilly (letter, 29 April) refers to postgraduate students subbing for absentee "big name" professors, and suggests that undergraduates will now expect better value in return for having to pay more. I hope he is right, but fear that he misunderstands the position. For so long as the expression "former polytechnic" is allowed to remain an obscenity and "the Russell Group" to masquerade as Nirvana, students will prefer the latter. As their tutors are well aware of that happy fact, they will have no incentive to learn how to teach, or indeed to teach at all.
Professor Chris Barton
British workers need better skills
Andrew Ferry (letter, 25 April) asks what experience I have of "the world of work". In answer; 48 years of it, 25 at board level in a number of major commercial enterprises.
Like him, I have struggled to find suitably qualified British applicants for certain technical roles, and have found myself obliged to employ individuals from overseas; from Africa, Pakistan, India and Iran. All these employees have been first-rate, both technically and attitudinally.
But their employment by me is very much to the long-term detriment of both the UK and the recruits' own countries.
There is a major discontinuity between the skills being delivered by the British educational and training systems and the technical requirements of British industry; no attempt whatsoever is being made to reconcile this.
A good start would be to re-establish polytechnic colleges dedicated to equipping students with the technical skills needed by British companies, also by scaling grants to university students according to the relevance of their choice of degree to the needs of industry.
Mr Ferry suggests that the spur to improving the quality of our culture and education is "by exposing our young people to what their peers in the outside world can offer".
But is it realistic to look to the unemployed victims of our present dysfunctional educational and training systems to fix them?
Perhaps Mr Ferry is of the view that we need more than the present 20 per cent of our young people to be on the dole before his hoped-for transformation will occur?
For my part, I look to Government to fix these issues that are vital to the future prosperity of our nation.
Restricting the number of work-related immigrants might just help to focus the minds of governments, industry and academia alike on how our own young people are to be equipped with the skills needed to find work – rather than continuing to parasite on the educational and training systems of other, much poorer, nations.
Heavy traffic in the clouds
Frustrated by traffic jams, I took to the skies ("Fly me to the shops; sky cars are finally available, 5 May). First in a microlight, which was great, just like a motorbike in the sky, but the need for comfort quickly led to a full private pilot's licence and an enclosed cockpit with considerably restricted vision.
Yes, flying is great, but if all the cars on the roads lifted off and flew wherever the drivers wanted, it would be a total nightmare. Two light aircraft flying at 150mph can be closing at 300 mph. A dot in the sky suddenly becomes an aircraft a few metres away.
One morning I was happily tootling round a puffy white cloud in my microlight when I ran into the Red Arrows funnelling down a cloud lane. Luckily I was above them by a few feet and didn't get turned over by their wake.
Millions of similar incidents would have us falling out of the sky like flies. That said, flying where and when you want is a wonderful dream – but not over my backyard.
Too many titles
Ogden Nash wrote a poem about the shock, when reading what appears to be a new novel, of discovering that you've read it before under a different title. In this respect, Tennessee Williams's play Kingdom of Earth, to whose new London production you gave a four-star rating (5 May), has more form than most, having appeared also as Blood Kin and The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots (under which title it was filmed by Sidney Lumet in 1970 with Lynn Redgrave), and The Seven Descents of Myrtle. Is this a record?
I'm no pessimist
Pessimists are twice referred to as viewing their glasses as half empty in "Discovered: the genetic secret of a happy life" (6 May). I like to think I'm an optimist: to me, a half-empty glass is one that I'm sitting in front of the bar draining; if it's half-full, I must be behind the bar filling it up. I know which I'd rather be doing.
Perspectives on nuclear power
The risks are too extreme
By downplaying the effects of the Fukushima disaster Roy Hicks (letter, 29 April) ignores the fundamental difference between a nuclear disaster that could have been avoided and a natural disaster over which we have no control.
We may need energy but we don't need nuclear – the risks are too extreme and long lasting. The natural disaster of the earthquake and tsunami may have caused more immediate loss of life on a massive scale but the nuclear lobby still wants us to ignore and forget the inconvenient truth about nuclear.
Harmful levels of radioactivity could have been experienced close to Fukushima but outside the 30km protection zone. For people who have been evacuated from their homes there is uncertainty about their health and their future, with no end in sight.
How will this disaster end? A massive steel and concrete structure, or "sarcophagus" was erected over the shattered reactor at Chernobyl, requiring many brave workers to sacrifice their lives. Will similar structures be built over the Fukashima units?
How many of the workers who have been paid enormous sums to work on the preliminary attempts to contain the disaster will survive?
What will the Japanese government do to finally put an end to this calamity?
It is far too late for Tepco to salvage anything useful from the reactors. They are destroyed, and their cores are probably giant piles of glowing, white-hot uranium lava sitting at the floors of the buildings, probably burning their way into the water bed. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant can never be used again and will probably be permanently abandoned, like Chernobyl, as will towns and cities in the surrounding area.
This has implications for Britain, where for many years the nuclear industry has survived on massive subsidies from UK taxpayers while cleaner forms of energy are starved of cash. The Government's plans to build new reactors in the UK will bind us to nuclear power for decades – diverting vital investment away from clean, renewable energy. It is time to ignore the nuclear lobby and think again.
Roger N Cartwright
Use plutonium to create electricity
Steve Connor asks "How do we solve the plutonium conundrum?" (6 May 2011). In Cumbria we believe using the plutonium to generate electricity is the least costly option for the taxpayer and the right approach – putting plutonium beyond weapons use. We have the skill base in Cumbria to do this. It will not be easy. We do have a huge problem to solve and it will have an impact on the public purse. If we were starting over again, and with the benefit of hindsight, we might have done things differently. But we have to deal with the world as it is. We need to start clearing the plutonium stockpile, not just wringing our hands and passing the problem to the next generation.
Cllr Tim Knowles
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