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Saturday 26 March 2011
Letters: There's a fear for democracy
When the major political parties all run vacuous, negative campaigns based on slogans a step away from "Don't vote for him, he smells of poo", which is what we were treated to last May, while concealing their true intentions and keeping all the nasty things out of the manifesto until they are safely installed in No 10, it is no wonder that a cynical and apathetic electorate can't decide which of these poltroons they hate the most, and stay away in droves, refusing to become engaged in the political process.
If not, you are likely to find that the party you thought you had voted for has ditched its promises and is now helping its former opponents to shaft you.
I genuinely fear for the future of democracy in this country unless politicians wake up and start to have the courage to frame policies that will improve the lives of real people and make things better. People will turn from democracy to direct action if the democratic system fails to deliver this.
I was glad to read that Steve Richards is going to vote "Yes" (17 March) in the AV referendum. May I try to answer the question to which he claims he could not get an answer, "Why are the second preferences of those candidates who did not come last not counted up?"
When the bottom candidate is eliminated, his votes are distributed to his second preferences. If one of the remaining candidates now has more than 50 per cent of the votes, he is elected and the second preferences of the other remaining candidates are not counted because they could not possibly affect the result. Votes given to the bottom candidate have no more influence than any other votes.
It is a fallacy to suggest that the votes of the bottom candidate are counted more often than the votes given to other candidates. At each stage of the count, the votes previously given to the remaining candidates are carried forward or re-counted and added to the votes gained from the distribution of the votes given to eliminated candidates.
Your correspondents (18 March) do a good job of dispelling most of John Healey's anti-AV myths. But they leave intact the most pernicious myth of all: that AV will allegedly help the BNP.
The truth is that AV is the worst of all possible electoral systems for the BNP, because it enables voters for other parties to gang up against them without having to try to guess which Party is best-placed to defeat them.
By abolishing the need for "tactical voting", AV does opponents of the BNP a huge service. Which probably explains another fact that the "No to AV" campaign don't like to admit: that the BNP themselves are fanatically opposed to AV.
Green Party, Norwich
Two questions about Libya
There are two unanswered questions in the Libyan crisis. First, why are Western countries intervening in an uprising on a different continent when Libya's neighbour, Egypt, has more than 400 supersonic jets and is well capable of enforcing a no-fly zone? I doubt that European governments would have taken kindly to Egypt intervening in Kosava in 1998-99, even though it could have claimed to be protecting fellow Muslims.
Second, what are the aims and limits of this war? We are told that the aim is to prevent Gaddafi using his aircraft and heavy weapons to pound the insurgents. If this policy succeeds, but Gaddafi continues to attack using only infantry, what then? In close combat between foot soldiers, especially in towns and villages, air power will be of little use and it is likely that Gaddafi's regular forces, with their greater resources, will prevail.
The choices then are to let Gaddafi win, arm and train the rebels, intervene with Western armies, or quit. Bearing in mind the results of recent interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq the precedents are not encouraging.
We have heard a lot about how the so-called "rebels" (I notice they are referred to as "insurgents" in Iraq) requested Western governments to support them in their struggle. It seems very odd that we are willing to give unquestioning support to a group of people that, as Rory Stewart has pointed out, we know nothing about.
We also do not know whether the majority of Libyans are in favour of Gaddafi's regime or not. Perhaps the National Union of Students should request help from the UN to assist them with regime change in the UK?
Mossley, Greater Manchester
Schools are just exam factories
I have just read Johann Hari's article on teaching methods in schools (22 March) and have to agree entirely with what he says. If teachers can make a connection with the pupils they teach, and there are many ways to do that, then that can inspire those who have become disaffected to re-engage with their education.
I taught for more than a decade in some tough schools, maybe the toughest, and always found that kindness and understanding worked far, far better than any other "technique". Not always, it has to be said; there are kids it is almost impossible to reach, but in most cases it is the best approach and one that comes naturally to the best teachers I have ever known.
Here is the problem. The system doesn't cater for that approach particularly well, if at all. Schools have become exam factories. I'm sure there is no need for me to go into that point at length; anyone who cares about educating children and has been even a small part of our education system recently knows this.
A few years ago, I was in a meeting with my head of department and an assistant head about improving exam grades. The only option on the table from the management point of view was changing exam board. One board was notorious for the ridiculous ease of the exam. I pointed out that it was so easy a primary school student could pass it. The assistant head said: "It isn't about what they learn; it's about what grade they get." Full stop, end of discussion.
That meeting was the final straw. I went into education hoping to inspire. I left teaching two years ago.
A better way to handle squatters
I have had many years of first-hand experience in dealing with squatters, protesters and other forms of trespasser who have required eviction from land or premises they have taken over illegally.
There is a simple solution that does not involve the criminalisation of squatting, as proposed by the Government. The punishments under any criminal sanction against squatters would be little more than a slap on the wrist.
The police are neither trained nor equipped to deal with many of the situations they will face when evicting highly organised squatters when working at height or in potentially dangerous industrial premises.
The skill-sets required to carry out successful evictions of this type are different to those required for successful crime prevention and detection.
What is required is to simplify and speed the court process for the orders to have the squatters evicted, and to get those orders enforced by High Court enforcement officers within a day or two. The present system may entail waits of many weeks.
These officers already have considerable powers and the police are under a legal duty to assist them in enforcing their orders so that any possible public order issues could be dealt with by the police at the time.
Making squatting illegal is not the answer. Thinking smarter can sometimes have a far more beneficial effect than just thinking tougher.
High Court Enforcement Officer and Chief Executive, Shergroup, Braintree, Essex
Is Hamas not democratic too?
"Lieberman serves as Foreign Minister in the only democracy in the region"; says Amir Ofek (letter, 24 March). No democracy worthy of that name can repress and kill at will a people whose land and property it stole, a people now held prisoner for more than 60 years.
During the 2009 "war", this same democracy murdered in excess of 400 women and children, whose crime was that they were held captive in the Gaza Strip, and more than 1,300 Palestinians in total just to make a statement prior to an election.
Call this Fisk's flights of fancy if you like, but we have already decided who is the more deluded.
Amir Ofek attacks Robert Fisk's "flights of fancy " in comparing the Israeli foreign minister with Gaddafi and Ahmadinejad. I think the comparisons neither fair or appropriate: neither of the two leaders has brutally attacked several neighbouring states while insisting on a right to deny the Palestinians a country and a state.
As for Israel being "the only democracy in the region", Hamas was
democratically elected, which does not suit Israel or its mother-ship, the United States. Yet Hamas has produced schools, medical care and other social services not provided by Arafat and his party.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones's view (18 March) that "realistic estimates of risk" should underpin the debate on nuclear safety is too optimistic. For most people, the tiniest radioactivity engenders so much fear that an unbiased view is impossible.
Perspectives on Latvian nationalism
March marks freedom fight
John Nathan makes the point in his article regarding Latvian nationalism (22 March) that roughly half of Riga's population are Russian-speaking, leaving the reader with the impression that this is a reflection of the natural state and development of the country.
In fact, this is far from the case. After the Russian occupation at the end of the Second World War, a policy of "Russification" was adopted in which citizens of what was then the Soviet Union were encouraged to relocate to the Baltic states. As a result, the Latvian population changed from 9 per cent Russian-speaking in 1935 to a peak of 34 per cent just before independence and 28 per cent today.
Naturally, this immigration caused great friction; it is little known that from 1945 until 1957, up to 15,000 partisans fought a guerrilla campaign against the Soviets.
The commemorations should be understood in the context of this great demographic change, and the understandable resentment of Latvians of their historic treatment by their former occupiers.
It is too simplistic to associate the march directly with support of fascism, because most Latvians would see the march as a mark of respect for those who died in their struggle for freedom.
Crimes of the SS are not forgotten
I wonder if the survivors of Auschwitz or the siege of Leningrad would agree with the assertion in your newspaper that "A man may have an SS on his uniform, but that does not tell you what he thinks inside" ("A hatred that refuses to die", 22 March). There should be no moral ambiguity about "pride parades" of former Waffen SS members in Latvia.
Forgetting their crimes leads to new human rights abuses, such as the present deprivation of 327, 000 ethnic Russians and other minorities of Latvian citizenship, an outrage almost unknown in the UK and ignored in your article.
This injustice also contributes to the inter-community tensions in Latvia.
Senior Counsellor, Embassy of the Russian Federation, London W8
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