Letters: The left and the election

Victory for the left is a fantasy
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The Independent Online

I am sorry that the party Johann Hari supports didn't win the election – but that is no excuse for pretending that it did, or claiming that "the British people have not got what they voted for" and that in "democratic voting systems...this would have been a centre-left landslide" (Opinion, 14 May).

The left was defeated unambiguously in this election. Labour got 29 per cent of the vote, its second lowest figure in post-war history. The Conservatives got over 36 per cent, and a seven-point lead over Labour. If constituency boundaries had not been allowed to become so skewed against the Conservatives, requiring them to have a nine-point lead in the popular vote just to have an overall majority of one, this result would have delivered the Conservatives a clear majority: the outgoing Labour Government had obtained an overall majority of 66 seats in the 2005 election with exactly the same share of the vote as the Conservatives have now won (36 per cent).

Hari says, absurdly, that the Conservatives had "only 13 per cent more support than the Lib Dems". The Conservatives won 36 per cent of votes, the Lib Dems won 23 per cent. I think most people would conclude that the Conservatives had over 56 per cent more support than the Lib Dems.

Hari's underlying argument draws on the supposition that, although 71 per cent of electors voted against Labour, they "really" wanted a Labour-led rather than a Tory-led government. He bases this fantasy on selective opinion polling evidence. But every opinion poll in the run-up to the election showed that, in answer to the binary question of whether people wanted a Conservative or a Labour government, a Conservative government was consistently preferred. As Peter Kellner (no Tory lackey, he) wrote last week, in election week itself YouGov found 47 per cent of the electorate preferring a Cameron/Conservative government, and 43 per cent opting for a Brown/Labour government: "However much we might wish otherwise, a Cameron-led government has greater public appeal than a Brown-led government."

If Labour and its supporters delude themselves that their defeat was in fact a victory (or "a centre-left landslide", as Hari conceives it), their prospects of electoral recovery will be remoter than ever.

Michael Grenfell

London NW11

Johann Hari displays bigotry in the language he uses to describe the Conservatives – "rich men", "money flowing from a tax haven in Belize", "Tories doing their worst", "bunch of wealthy men".

And where did "91 per cent of the Parliamentary Conservative party don't believe in man-made global warming" come from?

This election result is not what Mr Hari voted for, but the politicians have demonstrated a measure of humility in not questioning the result but getting on with the job. If I knew where humility was sold I would tell Mr Hari so he could go and buy some.

Cyril Clark

Congresbury, North Somerset

Johann Hari, who has clearly been imbibing deeply on Chateau Sour Grapes, needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror. It's the abject failure of Labour supporters such as himself to get their party to enact the promise they made 13 years ago on electoral reform which has led to the current coalition he so despises. He has only himself to blame.

Steve Travis


Once again, Johann Hari hits the nail squarely on the head. I have long wondered what species of bird that was on the Liberal Democrats' logo. Now we know: it's a turkey and it has just voted for Christmas.

Nick Collins

Godalming, Surrey

Hope battles with despair

So, after all the campaign dramas, the TV debates and the hype about a new kind of politics, what have we got?

Well, just for a start, a government that none of us voted for. Plus a knockout victory for power over principle. Fewer women than ever in senior positions.

And how do we voters feel about this? From my personal straw poll (a range of friends representing all political persuasions) strangely subdued, worryingly passive, slightly depressed. Where is the euphoria, the optimism, even the indignation that normally follows an election and a change of government?

If we feel like this now, what's it going to be like in a few years' time?

Elspeth Swain

St Albans, Hertfordshire

At last we have a government determined to act for the good of the country, rather than ministers looking over their shoulders at the effect on votes for their party. All the evidence seems to show that they have a good chance of success.

So it is sad to see so many comments from the media and party-members more concerned with party welfare, which could well undermine the coalition, and cause the loss of this wonderful opportunity for political progress.

David Wilkie

Port Erin, Isle of Man

I prefer to think of the inner circle of this coalition government as a Pandora's Box than a Cabinet. Two thirds of them are Oxbridge educated; only four are women; only two have previously held a Cabinet post and none is working to a manifesto endorsed by the electorate. The day of reckoning will come when hordes of Tory and Lib Dem voters ask, "Where is my vote in all of this?"

Henry Page

Newhaven, East Sussex

Boris Johnson likens the coalition to a cross between a bulldog and a chihuahua. I see it as a pit bull terrier and a muzzle.

Nicholas E Gough

Swindon, Wiltshire

Forget the two- state solution

You rightly describe William Hague as holding hawkish views on Iran, but then quickly revert to safe territory by stressing the importance of Israeli-Palestinian talks ("The Tories must demonstrate they have moved on from old dogmas", 15 May).

The portrayal of Iran by the Neocons as the West's arch-enemy is a ploy to distract us from the harsh truth that the colonisation of the West Bank with Israeli settlements has put paid to a viable two-state solution. It is no longer good enough to invoke the "two-state" mantra with its spurious claim that peace would break out, provided Iran stopped supporting Hamas and Hizbollah.

The only options are an apartheid Greater Israel or, as in the case of present-day South Africa, a common state with common citizenship for all Israelis and Palestinians. A passive West ensures the former outcome. The latter requires a proactive West, one able to bite its lips while facilitating the unmentionable, namely Ahmadinejad's metaphorical dream of wiping the Zionist state of Israel off the map.

As for the alleged Iranian nuclear threat, this is best dealt with by the establishment of a nuclear-free Middle East, as called for by the UN General Assembly. Iran needs to be told that if it forgoes its rights as a signatory of the existing international non-proliferation treaty in a fully verifiable form, the Security Council will ensure that Israel becomes a signatory and surrenders its nuclear weapons. There is a precedent, of sorts, in that post-apartheid South Africa gave up its few, admittedly crude, atomic devices.

Israel would vociferously object, but it is, after all, a western dependency. Thanks to the American taxpayer, for instance, it possesses overwhelming conventional military superiority in the region. The converse is that the vital interests of America and the West may, on occasion, trump those of Israel.

Yugo Kovach

Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Haiti's culture of corruption

The angry protests on the streets of Haiti against President René Préval ("Haiti turns against leader who stayed on too long," 12 May) demonstrate a worrying return to the political instability and corruption that plagued the country even before January's devastating earthquake.

Jubilee Action was on the ground in Haiti fact-finding on the elections and helping vulnerable children, who have been the most affected by the earthquake. We are increasingly worried because political instability and corruption harm the traumatised children of Haiti who depend on the government the most.

The problem is that a culture of corruption and lack of accountability has settled in Haiti's body politic that will not be cured by a change of regime or speedier elections. What is needed is for the international community, who hold great influence through their huge aid budgets, to make funds conditional on a reform of the political class in Haiti. This is the only way Haitians will be able to run their own country and start the long process of rebuilding.

Caroline Saunders

Director, Jubilee Action

Guildford, Surrey

Those missing €500 notes

I welcome the clampdown on the use of €500 notes (report, 13 May). You mention that 25 per cent of all €500 notes are in circulation in Spain and attribute this to the cocaine trade. I suspect the reason is more mundane. Spanish capital gains tax and property transfer tax liabilities are routinely diminished by illegally understating the transfer value of properties that change hands. Notaries and bank managers turn a blind eye while willingly participating. The outcome is that up to 25 per cent of the price of the property is transacted in undeclared "black money" – that is, cash. Hence bags of € 500 notes are routinely involved.

I understand that the Spanish tax authorities are trying to crack down on this evasion and the associated money laundering. The perpetrators, though criminal, are widespread but hardly "organised".

Peter English

Ruthin, Denbighshire

Predictions of divine wrath

On page 38 of The Independent (15 May) reference is made to the pronouncement by Kazem Sedighi, an Iranian cleric, that earthquakes are linked to women's dress. So we have all been living under an illusion. Earthquakes are not, after all, caused by movements in the earth's crust but are instigated in some way by the way in which women dress.

On the following page the Pope is reported to have said that gay marriage is a bigger threat to humanity than famine or terrorism. Were I to follow the logic of this wisdom I would be more fearful of news of a gay marriage than of an impending famine or terrorist attack.

It beggars belief that such people demand respect for their views and, in some cases, want ridicule of them to be a criminal offence.

Peter Tomlinson

Shipley, West Yorkshire

What crime figures mean

Kimmett Edgar (letter, 11 May) suggests conclusions can be drawn from comparing re-offending of those on community orders with those imprisoned for their crime. This is a fallacy .

Unless the relevant characteristics of the populations in each scenario are the same and we compare the reoffending for the same crimes then punished by the alternative scenarios, how can the conclusion be drawn?

I have no opinion about whether either punishment is likely to reduce the re-offending rate for a given crime. I just don't believe the numbers given are suitable evidence. How do the re-offending rates compare between those given a caution or a fixed penalty and those sent to prison? The answers to these questions would be just as irrelevant: it's just that the fallacy would stand out more.

Peter Halliwell

Sandbach, Cheshire

Fair voting is already here

It seems that electoral reform is now being forced into a mere choice between the current arrangements and the Alternative Vote, which would produce essentially the same sort of result.

Why do media and commentators almost never mention the fact that a perfectly good PR system is already in place in three places within the UK – for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Assembly?

This Additional Member system delivers true proportionality, and is simpler and clearer than Roy Jenkins's AV-plus. Under it, everyone has two votes, one for a constituency single member, and a separate one for a party as the basis for calculating the balance of representation.

Its main problem is not one of principle, but the mundane fact that it would entail re-drawing and enlarging all the single-member constituencies, so that the additional list members –- predictably including Greens, Ukip and far more Lib Dems - would still keep the total within 600 or so.

The benefits would be well worth the effort, and include the logic and simplicity of having the same system in use for all parts of the country.

Nicolas Hawkes

Ilkley, West Yorkshire

Lady Bracknell's election verdict

Lady Bracknell said "They count as Conservatives" in reply to the words "I am a Liberal Unionist", (Letter, 13 May) referring to the breakaway group who opposed Home Rule. By the time Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest, they had become a joke after the real Liberals won the 1892 election.

Jonathan Miller omitted the word "Unionist" in his version, as only a historian would understand the allusion today. If anything Wilde's words endorse the real Liberals by making fun of defectors.

Derek J Cole

St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex

Elgar on the BBC

Far from ignoring the Berlin Philharmonic's May Day performance of Elgar's cello concerto conducted by Daniel Barenboim (letter, 12 May), the BBC commissioned and co-produced the recording of it. BBC Four viewers will be treated to the performance later this year as part of a series of programmes about Elgar including a new documentary exploring Elgar's life and work.

Jan Younghusband

Commissioning Editor, Music and Events, BBC Television

London W12

No need to smack

Solitary confinement, long-term disapproval or hitting. Nigel Halliday offers a tempting array of enlightened child-rearing techniques, while John Birkett kindly reminds us that there are no viable alternatives (letters, 12 May). A combination of reason, respect, clear standards, patience and age-appropriate vigilance could never work, of course. For the avoidance of doubt: no, I wasn't smacked; and yes, I do have two or more children.

Mike Lim

Bolton, Greater Manchester

Evil phones

I could not agree more with your leading article (14 May), praising Mr Cameron's decision to ban mobile phones from Cabinet meetings. Perhaps we should recall the words of St Paul writing to (not phoning) the Corinthians: "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners." (1 Corinthians 15:33.)

Christopher McDermott

Crewe, Cheshire

Perspectives on the cost of oil

Obama tackles the big spill

Your report on President Obama's speech ("Obama shames bosses over oil spill blame game", 15 May) leaves me encouraged that he seems to want to bring the oil companies to heel (at last).

I wish President Obama every success in his taming of the all-powerful, corporate-oil "Medusa" and I wish the engineers every success in their efforts to close the leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Both these tasks are extremely daunting!

If any good at all is to come out of this tragic event then it will be that it hopefully starts to open our eyes to the fact that an oil-based society and economy are not sustainable and also carry costs which go beyond the financial, as with this oil spill.

However this one positive realisation brings on a second, directly related, negative realisation: That our thinking is much too "own back yard". Yes, our dependency on oil has been generating ugly side-effects for well over a century, but because oil brings profit to companies and provides us with comfort and luxury in our lives, we actively shut out the implications and carry on as usual ... until something negative washes up in our back yard.

Indeed, the current "other" horrific implications include global warming (already impacting many southern, tropical or low-lying countries), war and conflict (in Iraq, in Nigeria and in other key regions) and "regime manipulation" (installing leaders favourable to western oil wishes), but because these events do not involve dead birds and gooey muck being washed up on our beaches, we choose not to worry too much about them.

So let's lift our eyes out of our own back yards and start recognising that aspects of our oil-centric life-styles carry unacceptable costs which, at the moment, are mostly carried by others. If we don't change our attitude, then we can be sure that the bill for those costs will (sooner rather than later) land on our doorsteps too.

Alan Mitcham

Cologne, Germany