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Wednesday 27 April 2011
Letters: The Yes and No campaigns
A most unwelcome item of junk mail arrived through my letterbox: a "No to AV" pamphlet. And what a scurrilous piece of gutter-press it is too, littered with half-truths and scaremongering suggesting that 70,000 school places or 35,000 hip replacements would be conjured up with the money "saved" by not having to spend £130m on "counting machines". Do these people really take us for such fools that we would swallow this codswallop?
Worst of all is the page of highly personal and vicious comments on Nick Clegg. Whatever else may be said about him, I think most would agree that – for a guy stuck between a rock and a hard place – he has more courage in his little finger than any of his coalition "partners" who slander him so happily in their ever-nastier campaign against change.
I hope David Cameron's No campaign – and especially his attacks on Nick Clegg – will backfire very badly. I for one, after 45 years of instinctively voting Conservative, will be permanently changing my allegiance now they have truly become the Nasty Party.
The "No" leaflet I received shows a world map seemingly solidly in favour of that position, identifying only three countries using AV. The map does not show how many countries have abandoned first-past-the-post. That is yet another measure of the duplicity being employed by the traditionalists to leave a majority of voters permanently powerless.
Will supporters of AV try hard this next week to ask the "No" lobbies why, for example, someone wanting to see a Green candidate elected should not be allowed to say, "But if that fails I would prefer..."
I decided to abstain in the coming referendum because neither first-past-the-post nor the alternative vote offers any credible degree of justice to the voter. But I have been so insulted by the expectations of the "No" campaign that I would be thick enough to swallow their lies, that I am going to vote "Yes" in protest.
Oh dear! The AV supporters must be in trouble if they have to wheel out Darth Vader himself to win votes ("Peter Mandelson enters the AV debate", 26 April).
He says that voting No could condemn the Labour Party to years in the electoral wilderness. There is absolutely no evidence for that whatsoever. It is their failed policies and ineffectual leader that will do that, regardless of whether AV is adopted or not.
No one knows what effect AV might have on voting patterns as no one knows what people's second and third choices might be. Indeed, were there to be a general election tomorrow under AV, I, like many others, would vote for only one candidate and would not have a second or third choice, which would rather nullify all the claims.
Fortunately, despite your attempts to make it look as though the two votes are tied, the polls show that FPTP will win and this nonsense (and, hopefully, Nick Clegg) can be put to rest for another generation.
Andrew Grice (Inside Westminster, 23 April) recycles the conventional wisdom that the introduction of AV will benefit the Lib Dems. But no one knows what effect AV will have on the Lib Dems.
This is because AV, by eliminating tactical voting attributed to the "wasted vote" argument, changes first-preference voting behaviour too. So it is entirely possible that, where Lib Dems currently win seats, they may do worse under AV, because voters who currently lend them their "tactical votes" will no longer do so.
One thing we know for sure about AV, from the Australian experience, is that AV is terrible news for extremist and racist parties, which probably explains why the BNP are vigorously arguing for a No vote on 5 May. This is because racists virtually never win a majority at the ballot box – and a majority, not merely a plurality, of the votes is what one needs to win, under AV.
So it is quite likely that the Lib Dems, quite widely disparaged now, would, under AV, suffer, just as the BNP would. It is quite possible that many angry voters would leave them off their preference lists altogether. If one wants not only to wipe the smile off Nick Griffin's face, but also to punish Nick Clegg and his "betrayal" in a really clever way, the best way of doing so is to vote Yes, on 5 May.
Cllr Rupert Read
The scare stories by the anti-AV brigade offer a very odd view of democracy. They say AV would have produced different results from what we have now. Shock horror! Isn't that the point? As a result of a higher number of electors having their choices taken into account, we'd get a result more closely representing most people's wishes.
AV allows more people to be reasonably content with the outcome (even if it wasn't their first choice), which is far more democratic than the current system where most people get an MP they don't want and are denied a chance to compromise with an alternative acceptable to them.
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
Another advantage of AV that I've not seen mentioned recently is that it would allow a rival to stand against an official party nominee without sabotaging his party's chance of getting someone elected from that party. Parties won't like the idea of course, but it must be good for electorates in safe seats. It could mean that even in safe seats the electorate as a whole can influence who gets elected, rather than just the members of the dominant party's local association.
H Trevor Jones
Comparing AV with various "races" is invalid: in a race, participants represent only themselves; in an election, contestants are seeking to represent the constituency. AV ensures that representation is much wider-based than with our current system, so how David Cameron and other antagonists can describe it as "unfair" is a mystery.
The existing system has efficacy only when there are no more than two candidates; in today's multi-party elections, AV is much more acceptable.
David S Garfield
The "No" campaign against AV is based on the misrepresentation that "first-past-the-post" is fairer. A candidate who only gets 38-40 per cent of the votes cast is nowhere near the post!
Bristol view of Tesco riot
Not one of your letter writers commenting on last week's Bristol "Tesco" riot lives in Bristol. I was born in the city and have lived here for my entire life, except my four years at university. Stokes Croft has been a run-down area for all the time I can remember (I am 60) and a blight on the city. Travellers passing through will have been surprised that an area so close to the affluent city centre could be so obviously lacking in investment.
At times this has been due to its proximity to St Paul's (latent racism?). This is not the issue now. Stokes Croft has, in the main, been transformed for the better by local shopkeepers and other small-scale enterprises. This has not, however, stopped the continuing and open use of the area by addicts (alcohol mainly) and the usurping of locals by new residents with particular artistic, life-style and/or political agendas.
Neither my wife or my daughters, one of whom inadvertently walked into the riot, would walk through this area at night without male company.
I live less than a mile from the new Tesco store and everyone I know supports it (albeit sometimes reluctantly) as a means of regenerating the area. This is not a blanket acceptance or approval of "Tesco power" but a pragmatic acknowledgement that in this instance Tesco is a force for good. I am sure that in other areas within Bristol there will be strong reasons to resist Tesco development, but this is not one of them. The people who protested do not represent Bristol.
Cuba must open the airwaves
So the Cuban government wants economic reform (report, 20 April). Earlier this year I spent a few weeks in Cuba – a country of paradox with its universal and very effective social programmes for health-care, arts and education, and its utter incompetence, unnecessary bureaucracy and widespread malfunctioning in so many other ways.
Until I checked into a tourist hotel where CNN News was beamed in by satellite, I had been quite unaware of the events unfolding in North Africa. Even in the hotel, CNN unaccountably went off air on a day which I learned afterwards was when events reached a peak in Bahrain (it may have been a coincidence!)
There was no 3G mobile phone signal to access news, and internet outside tourist hotels was very restricted. Even within the hotels broadband was unreliable and slower than dial-up ever was here.
Cubans I talked to had little idea of current affairs outside their own country, as they are pretty much denied access to the internet or TV channels other than their own. It was an obvious thought that in spite of their pride in their country and its revolutionary history, with access to world news ordinary Cubans might have drawn uncomfortable parallels with the causes of the Arab uprisings.
The elderly revolutionaries may talk about economic reform and encouraging entrepreneurs, but unless they risk relaxing the restrictions on electronic information, private enterprise will never fully take off.
Regulator and 'graphic' images
You say that Ofcom "attacked" the Daily Mail over publication of photographs alongside its coverage of The X-Factor (21 April). This was not the purpose of our conclusions.
In fact, what Ofcom did was to point out that we received a significant number of complaints after the show was featured in a national newspaper. We also highlighted that images published in the paper were significantly more graphic than those broadcast on TV.
We did this because we believe that a large number of people who made a complaint to Ofcom did so on the basis of seeing the photographs in the newspaper, rather than what was actually broadcast. As a broadcast regulator we can only consider what was actually shown on TV and we felt that it was important to relay this point in our conclusions.
Director of Standards, Ofcom
Isn't it time that the great minds behind Ofcom's searching analysis of Rhianna's lingerie and buttock-thrusting were redeployed into a more useful activity such as saving Britain's manufacturing industry or improving science teaching in schools? Truly, a storm in a D-cup.
When bullying can do good
While there is undoubtedly a lot of truth in Virginia Ironside's excellent article "Anne Robinson: why does it pay to be rude on television?" (25 April), I find that The Weakest Link poses very interesting questions about how we can be stimulated to strive for the best.
Is a little bullying so very bad? My best biology teacher and music teacher were both wonderfully dramatic bullies, and I was so terrified of them that I was inspired to get things absolutely right.
I do not think Robinson should "just occasionally have dropped the dominatrix persona ... so we could all see that it was just a game". We're not idiots. We know it is a game, just as we know that beneath the persona of a strict teacher lies a heart of gold.
Can't dodge retribution
There is a prequel to Guy Adams's report on the troubles of the LA Dodgers (22 April). It is neatly captured in Ry Cooder's song "3rd Base, Dodger Stadium" and tells the story of the shantytown that existed where the Dodgers field now sits.
Known as Chavez Ravine, it was home to many of the Mexican immigrants who descended on 1950s Los Angeles to do the dirty jobs others refused to countenance. In a deal that brought the Dodgers to LA, Chavez Ravine and its inhabitants were obliterated. Perhaps the team's current problems as described by Guy Adams are a form of retribution, God's way of saying "Three strikes and you're out."
Your piece on the British woman who caught a falling toddler in Florida (24 April) states that she hails from Worksop. You also state that this town is in Northamptonshire, rather than Nottinghamshire. I realise that this is an easy mistake for someone from Hampstead to make, as the counties both begin with "No ..." and end in "... shire" and both can be reached by travelling north on the M1 – although I assume that none of your staff is likely to risk it.
I construe your leading article "Let the church speak its mind" (23 April) as an invitation to me to clear up some evident muddle. Passion Sunday is described as "the climax of the Christian year". Passiontide comprises the final two weeks of Lent, and is inaugurated by Passion Sunday, the fifth in Lent, followed by Palm Sunday, and ending with Holy Saturday. The climax of the Christian year immediately follows Holy Saturday, and is indisputably Easter Day.
Dewsbury, West Yorkshire
Perspectives on safe cycling
Lycra zealots in an angry city
I believe that your recent spate of letters about cycling are to do with three issues: fashion, tribal male aggression and how atypical London is, compared with the rest of the country.
I have recently spent time in Antwerp, Den Bosch and Amsterdam. In all three of these cities, cycling is seen as a means of transport, not a crusade. Cyclists are seen as fellow citizens, not members of a rival sect.
The people ride sit-up-and-beg bikes, not thick-tyred, 27-gear monsters designed for rough tracks. They wear normal clothes, not bizarre Lycra creations. Women cycle just as much as men. If you are in their way there is a ringing of a bicycle bell followed by a smile and "Dank u wel", not shouts of abuse and a raised finger. They do not wear helmets because other road users take it for granted that cyclists are vulnerable and so give them time and space. All this is encouraged by good road planning.
I cycle for at least an hour every day, mostly on busy country roads. I am always acknowledged by other cyclists and horse riders, just as I am when on foot. Compare this to a recent walk along the Thames embankment near Barnes, where my usual "Hello" to other walkers drew looks that made me feel like Jack the Ripper. Why are London's citizens so scared, angry and aggressive?
Middle Handley, Derbyshire
Watch out for your front
Your correspondent, Sandra Grainger (letter, 25 April) says: "Would cyclists please wake up to the fact that it is more important to be seen from behind than in front?"
Being seen from behind is important, but does not compare with the importance of being seen from in front. In 24 years working as a nurse in various emergency departments, I have seen very few cyclists indeed hurt in collisions from behind; the vast majority of cyclists injured are hit by cars who turn right across the carriageway or out from side-streets and hit a cyclist they haven't seen coming.
Ian East (letter, 25 April) says: "The bike is by far the most cost-effective form of transport after walking." He's wrong there: cycling is the most cost-effective. It's at least three times as fast as walking and uses less than a third of the energy per mile, and over its lifetime the cost of the bike is negligible.
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