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Wednesday 27 January 2010
Letters: The voting system
Let disaffected voters express their anger
It is not Keith Farman who writes "irresponsible nonsense" but Howard Cooper (letters, 23 January). A right to vote against somebody or something is every bit as important as a right to vote for them. This lack of understanding accounted for the unopposed appointment of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister and has served only to entrench the power of the elective dictatorship under which we all suffer.
Failing the complete reform of the voting system, an option to abstain would confront all parliamentary candidates with the strength of feeling against them and might even encourage a little humility in those who are elected. Without such an outlet, the disaffected may eventually be driven to extra-parliamentary means. Of course, this is what eventually happens in one-party dictatorships where no official opposition to those in power is permitted, but it should not be necessary in "democratic" Britain.
There may be reasons for changing the number of MPs at Westminster, but "an attempt to boost the Conservative Party's prospects" is not one of them (report, 22 January). Moreover, it is difficult to understand how a reduction in the number of MPs is "a way of cleaning up politics".
If David Cameron is concerned that present boundaries disadvantage the Conservatives, he is looking for a solution in the wrong place. The problem lies not in the size of the Commons but in a voting system which in 2005 gave Labour 92 more seats than the Conservatives in England in spite of having received fewer votes than the Conservatives. A broadly proportional system, such as STV, would easily get rid of this bias but, strangely, a better voting system is the one solution Cameron refuses to consider.
Dr Ken Ritchie
Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society,
Who wants to work in their final years?
Much of the discussion surrounding proposals to extend the statutory retirement age is couched in terms to suggest that it opens up to older workers the glorious prospect of a happy and fulfilling old age (Leading article, 25 January).
Let us debunk this rosy notion, which is obviously in the interests of the politicians to promote, Tory and Labour alike. They see the fiscal nightmare for society in supporting a rapidly expanding, ageing and workless population.
Those of us with years of demanding, stressful or tedious employment behind us will have been looking forward to the final years of our lives as a time of freedom to explore other interests and activities. That many will have this expectation snatched away to be faced instead with further years of restrictive toil is a human tragedy.
What a wonderful thing it is (though too often presented as a problem) that we are mostly living longer and healthier lives. What an appalling social failure it is that this life bonus must at the last be traded in for yet more of the grind of commerce and the workplace – and all because of national economic mismanagement and the failures of a private-pensions sector.
Richmond upon Thames, Middlesex
Volunteers make a major contribution to the fabric of our society and many of these are retired people. I retired at 61, then trained and served as a volunteer adviser at the local Citizens Advice Bureau, where many of my colleagues were also retired. I doubt if we would have been so willing (or able) if we had been required to work on several years longer.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
It is great if an employee over 65 is doing a good job and his employer is happy for him to carry on working. Unfortunately there are many people in their 60s in managerial positions who have no further ambition and are carried along by those subordinate to them. Employers or more senior management may be aware of the situation but they are also aware that to dismiss the elderly employee could involve them in a charge of unfair dismissal. Proving incompetence is not easy, and so they hang on knowing that they can retire them at 65.
If that right is denied, the employee might choose to stay on, enjoying a good salary and a cushy number. Meanwhile, those doing the work become more and more frustrated, the lack of promotion opportunities is transmitted down the line, and the chance to offer a job to a youngster is lost.
King's Lynn, norfolk
I worked, as a middle manager, in an important government department where I was able, with a lot of effort, to get early retirement, albeit at 59. After years of: "Stop doing that, ministers have a new priority" and producing soundbites for someone's latest idea, I had had enough. I know many others like me who were worn down by incompetent managers and did not feel appreciated. It is easy for those who are well managed to beg to work till they drop, but we have not all been that lucky.
I was recently forced to retire from my post as a university teacher on the grounds of age. Although it was against my will, I do have a sneaking sympathy for the management view. There inevitably comes a time when employees are too old to carry on, and they may well be in denial about their failing powers.
Management must therefore have objective procedures for demonstrating that teachers are no longer competent. But if they assess only those over a certain age, this will amount to age discrimination. Consequently, they will have to assess all staff at regular intervals. Quite apart from the cost in time and morale, this opens up the prospect of their having to dismiss younger tenured staff on the grounds that they are incompetent.
George MacDonald Ross
The EHRC has said that people should not be subject to compulsory retirement. For many in the workforce this is not an issue and demonstrates how we have become divided by sector rather than race, gender or age. Very few people in the public sector want to work beyond normal retirement age, because they have the "luxury" of a final-salary pension scheme.
Civil servants and politicians still have some of the best schemes on offer. How many teachers, police and NHS staff want to work beyond 55, let alone 65? But those of us in the rest of the working population are by and large left to fend for ourselves. With pension pots being decimated in recent years, for many of us it is not a case of wanting to work beyond 65, it is a financial necessity.
Martin Lloyd-Penny FCA
The stellar careers of Pitt and Jolie
Contrary to what Amy Jenkins says (25 January), Brad Pitt has enjoyed some of his best reviews since his relationship with Angelina Jolie began, via films such as Babel (2006), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Burn After Reading (2008) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), the latter earning him an Oscar nomination. Recently he has had a huge commercial hit with Inglourious Basterds.
Jenkins says Jolie "arguably has never made a good film", which suggests she has not seen A Mighty Heart (2007), which even Jolie-haters concede is a very strong performance in a very strong film. She was Oscar-nominated for Clint Eastwood's Changeling, and won Best Supporting Actress for Girl, Interrupted in 1999. The latter seems to have eluded Ms Jenkins, who reckons that "neither Pitt nor Jolie has won an Oscar as yet".
Elephant poaching and the ivory trade
In your report of 25 January on the request being made by Tanzania and Zambia to allow sale of their ivory stockpiles you state that the first "one-off" sale of ivory in 1999 led to a rise in poaching of African elephants. Quite the opposite took place – from 1999 until 2004, analysis of ivory seizures carried out by Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, through Etis (the Elephant Trade Information System) showed a steady decrease in illicit trade in ivory following the first one-off sale under Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). But since 2004, there has been an increasing trend in illicit trade in ivory, a pattern well established prior to the recent one-off sale of ivory under Cites in 2008.
A second monitoring system for elephant populations, Mike (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants), introduced by Cites Parties to assess levels of poaching, demonstrated a decline in the number of animals poached from 2000 to 2006. The rise in poaching from 2006 also began before the second legal sale of ivory took place, and this upward trend has continued to this day.
The Etis data establish that illegal and unregulated ivory markets, such as those found in Thailand, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, lie at the core of the rise in poaching in Africa, and that organised criminal networks are increasingly involved in the movement of of ivory out of Africa into Asian markets. These dynamics appear to operate independently of the one-off, highly conditional sales of ivory under Cites.
A Panel of Experts has been established by the Cites Secretariat to evaluate the proposals by Tanzania and Zambia and will be conducting missions to these countries to gather relevant information such as elephant populations, elephant management, trade in elephant products and law-enforcement procedures and actions. The findings of this Panel will allow Cites Parties to evaluate whether acceptance of the proposals is likely to have a positive or negative impact on the conservation status of the elephant populations affected.
Executive Director, Traffic International, Cambridge
I'm an ardent reader of your paper, but I thought the photo caption describing the two people in military uniform holding a tusk as "Kenyan soldiers" was mildly insulting. The guy on the left is the Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service; it's as if a Kenyan paper referred to the head of the Metropolitan Police as "a London policeman".
Stanley Knill (letters, 25 January) asks how the placebo effect can be explained in horses. The effect is most likely explained by the high incidence of self-limiting disease and the statistical phenomenon of regression to the mean. We must also remember that animals cannot articulate symptoms but only display signs which must be interpreted by their human owners. The same owners who have presumably sought homeopathic treatment, or rather expensive tap water as it should rightly be called, and therefore may not be the best qualified to offer an opinion as to the resolution of those signs.
Emma Milne BVSc MRCVS
Skydiver Felix Baumgartner did not need to jump from 32,000 feet to experience "my own shadow, which the morning sun was casting on to a cloud together with a rainbow" ("Faster than the speed of sound", 25 January). All you need is propitious circumstances up a mountain – low sun projecting your shadow on to a cloud produces a Brocken Spectre and the rainbow effect is called a glory.
Thames Ditton, Surrey
As someone born and brought up in Sheffield, a city also visited by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, I wouldn't dispute the levels of damage inflicted on either Birmingham or Liverpool (letters, 24 & 25 January). However, a competition between British provincial cities to win the "most bombed" prize seems pointless. But what is important is that the references to Second World War bombing raids and the term "the Blitz" are not reserved exclusively for the attacks on London, as usually seems to be the case in popular reports. London suffered badly, but not alone.
State vs private
David Harper (letter, 18 January) claims "for us state was best". But how can he know it was "best"? Did he try private education? The chances are his sons would have achieved just as highly with private schooling. Their lives might now be different, but probably just as fulfilling. State works well for many children, but it fails others, particularly those who would benefit from smaller class sizes. If nothing else, private schools are able to offer small classes – because parents are willing to pay for them.
Far from being a propaganda coup for the Taliban, the fact that the majority of "Christians" would have to Google the references "JN8:12" and "COR4:6" (report, 22 January) on a range of specialist gun sights should be an embarrassment to the church.
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