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Saturday 13 March 2010
Letters: The prospect of a hung parliament
Reasons to be cheerful about a hung parliament
Alan Aitchison (letters, 9 March) is entitled to his view that a hung parliament would represent a Lib-Dem prop-up of a failing and unpopular Labour government. But I suggest that it might instead represent the fact that the majority of the UK electorate wants to be governed from the centre-left, by a government that is broadly pro-European, isn't run for the benefit of the bankers and that understands the global emergency that is climate change.
A hung parliament in which the Lib-Dems hold the balance of power could conceivably give the impetus to remove Brown as leader of the Labour Party and replace him with someone who understood strategy as well as tactics, it could give us proportional representation at the next election and, best of all, we could have Vince Cable as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Thank you for the timely discussion of the implications of a hung parliament which illustrated Nick Clegg's interview (11 March). Over the past few weeks, explanations for the fall in the value of sterling against other major currencies have included alleged fears about the instability or lack of certainty resulting from a hung parliament.
We are often so narrowly focused on the strange electoral system that we endure in this country that we fail to notice that many of our European partners always or usually have hung parliamentary assemblies. Last year we all knew that the German election would not result in one party having an overall majority so a "hung" Bundestag was a certainty. But I do not recall any speculators seeing this as a threat to the stability of the German political or financial systems.
Surely the real threat is the possibility of the UK having yet another one-party government elected by a significant minority of those who voted and which thus lacks democratic legitimacy. A hung parliament may have the virtue of taking steps to change the electoral system for Westminster and giving us a more representative democracy.
Give us reliable trains, not speed
I travel everywhere by train, but am incensed by the Government's proposal for a high-speed rail link (report, 12 March). £30bn would be far better spent on upgrading the existing rail infrastructure. How many taxpayers would benefit from eight minutes being shaved off the journey time to Edinburgh, compared with the countless numbers who currently suffer the unreliability of shorter everyday journeys due to signal failures, faults on rolling stock and general decrepitude of the system?
I have resorted to catching a train before the one I actually need in order to increase my chances of getting to work on time. I wouldn't care if my train took eight minutes longer if it also meant that I could rely upon it.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
You are right to welcome the proposals for a new high-speed line (leading article, 12 March). But there are more pressing concerns than yet another line from London to Birmingham.
Something the Government could do with immediate effect is join the Schengen customs area and so enable trains to run from different parts of Britain direct through the Channel Tunnel to a range of European destinations. Eurostar must stop behaving like an airline and start operating a proper public-transport service.
This summer I would have loved to travel by rail to central Europe for my summer holiday, but the thought of two or three changes with luggage in tow was just too much. The result: I've decided to fly the first leg of my journey, though I loathe air travel. From Munich (Germany) it will be possible to jump on a train and continue into Austria and Slovenia without the petty restrictions and controls that one encounters when using Eurostar.
Not to connect the proposed high-speed rail network directly to Heathrow Airport would be another major missed infrastructure opportunity for this country.
We have a chance to build a modern multi-modal transport hub, which would boost London's business competitiveness and accessibility. It is not rocket science to understand the travel efficiencies inherent in taking passengers via the airport, rather than having them traipse from one connection to another, baggage in hand.
It is a mystery why we struggle in the UK with the idea of integrated transport planning. Rail and air (and road) are not competing transport systems, but complementary elements in what should be a comprehensive, multi-faceted network. Our competitors in Europe and elsewhere don't seem to suffer from this mental block.
Chief Executive, West London Business,
The proposed high-speed rail link between Scotland and England would, at around £30bn, be extremely costly and damaging to our countryside and environment. It would also be wasteful, given that we already have two excellent rail links to England.
What Scotland requires is not so much improved links to England as improved links within its borders, between the six main Scottish cities. Only in this way will the Scottish economy and workforce be able to work as a single cohesive entity, rather than three or four disparate and remote business and industrial centres.
An upgrading of the painfully slow rail links between all Scotland's cities to 125mph, and a new east coast motorway linking Dundee to Aberdeen and Inverness would turn the north of Scotland from a remote cul de sac into a place to do business.
Dr Mark Campbell-Roddis
You believe we should have high-speed rail because our continental neighbours do. You ignore one big difference: the much greater distances covered by mainland European railways. When you make a rail journey you have to spend time getting from and to your end destinations, time buying a ticket and waiting for the train, etc. Is the saving of half an hour on the total time really worth billions in capital expenditure?
The collection of umbilical blood
Collecting cord blood is not as simple as you imply (report, 2 March). The Human Tissue Authority has expressed concern that "unlawful umbilical cord blood collection may compromise safety and quality standards".
The HTA issued this warning following "a number of incidents where parents collected cord blood unlawfully, and other cases where medical staff felt pressured to collect cord blood unlawfully without specialist training". Since 5 July 2008, it has been a legal requirement that cord blood can only be collected under an HTA licence by suitably trained staff. This is in place for the protection of mother and baby and to ensure that any collected stem cells are uncontaminated and would be safe to use.
The article may also reinforce a common misunderstanding – that stem-cell transplants are the best treatment for leukaemia. Only about 3 per cent of patients with leukaemia receive donor transplants; with improved drug treatments for some types of leukaemia it is likely the rate will fall even lower.
Dr David Grant
Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research,
Huge pay gaps: where's the justice?
The wheels of world commerce should not turn at the expense of social cohesion. The gap between rich and poor has widened in the past three decades and this will not be mended by HSBC boss Michael Geoghegan's doubtless sincere £4m contribution from his bonus to charity (report, 1 March).
Is it socially just or necessary for a senior executive to be paid one thousandfold more than a receptionist, telephonist or back-office administrator in the same organisation? Each has an important part to play, and one could not exist without the other. Why could the Government not provide tax and other incentives to companies that furthered social cohesion by not exceeding a fixed multiple, maybe 20 times, between their highest and lowest paid employees?
Dr Christoph Lees
Nothing 'niche' about BBC fare
You report (8 March) on Jeremy Hunt's statement that BBC Three and BBC Four were "expensive, with very, very small audiences", producing programming for niche audiences. I would like to reassure Mr Hunt that while the budgets for these channels are not as high as he suggests, the money that is invested in content across BBC Three and BBC Four goes entirely into the creative community both inside and outside the BBC, therefore playing a vital role in helping talented programme-makers to grow and flourish.
With a total weekly audience of 17.4m, BBC Three is now the UK's most-watched digital channel and has the highest share among its target audience of 16- to 34-year-olds. With programming as diverse as the award-winning Being Human and First Time Voters' Question Time, on which Mr Hunt himself appeared, the channel's reputation and audience is growing all the time.
BBC Four has a weekly audience of 8.5m viewers, and is committed to showcasing a wide range of arts, music, culture and knowledge programming in an intelligent and accessible way. Far from "niche" topics, there have been dramas about Winnie Mandela and Enid Blyton, documentaries about feminism and its impact on women's lives today, and engaging science pieces such as Chemistry – a Volatile History that have been enjoyed by more than a million viewers each.
Director, BBC Vision,
Ban on booze won't fix bus services
The latest consultation exercise on buses ("Alcohol ban proposed to improve bus services", 9 March) once again reveals the Government's failure to recognise the "double-decker in the garage". It is now beyond doubt that the lower fares, more passengers and better services that the Tories claimed would follow deregulation outside London in the mid-1980s have failed to materialise.
Instead, there has been an increase in fares, deterioration in services and a steady loss of passengers. Yet incomprehensibly, this Government still treats the cause of this decline as an irreversible given. The pathetically inadequate suggestions about how to bring about improved services while this major obstacle remains would be laughable were the need to radically improve local bus services not so urgent both for passengers and the environment.
TV crosses borders
This week, during the sixth hour of David Dimbleby's television series entitled The Seven Ages of Britain, he devoted several minutes to Scotland. Was this an oversight?
Peter M Dryburgh
Is tennis elitist?
Evelyn Atkinson (letters, 11 March) believes that a £40 annual club membership fee means that tennis is an accessible sport for any aspiring junior player. But children can't simply play tennis; to reach a reasonable level they need coaching. Unlike coaching in most team sports at junior level (football, hockey, cricket), which is run by senior club players and committed parents, tennis coaching is dominated by professionals at upwards of £18 per hour. Yes juniors can pay their membership, go on court and hit a ball over a net, but developing good technical skills requires a considerable investment.
Pauline Jameson (letters, 11 March) asks what would happen if we all dropped unsolicited letters into the nearest post box? I do, together with a note saying I did not request the item, resealing the envelope and posting it unstamped. I'm sure a few thousand more items might dissuade some companies from sending them in the first place.
Clashes in Nigeria
I am concerned that reports about the internal conflict in Nigeria place so much emphasis on religious divisions. Surely people don't go to war over which god is the greater? As your correspondent Daniel Howden points out (report, 11 March): "The latest killings have their roots in local conflicts over land and resources that have raised tensions between the two faith communities."
Today I received a newsletter from my Lib-Dem parliamentary candidate, Dr Steve Goddard, a university lecturer no less, in which he proclaims that Nick Clegg is pledged to improve disciple (sic) and standards in schools. Where will they start ...?
Refugee crisis: Austria welcomes thousands arriving at its border on buses from Hungary
Refugee crisis: Local councils to offer sanctuary to Syrians fleeing conflict, says Yvette Cooper
Refugee crisis: Germany 'expecting as many as 10,000' arrivals as refugees head through Austria
Syria crisis: Britain may not be able to join military action if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Labour leader
Israel lobby's power waning after Aipac failure to block Iran deal
Syria crisis: Government to make case for military action with vote as soon as next week
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