Letters: This generation's only chance to reform voting

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The Independent Online

The forthcoming referendum is the first chance we have had in a century to get rid of the undemocratic first-past-the-post system. We should seize this opportunity for progress towards true democracy in the form of proportional STV. If this opportunity is lost we shall be lumbered with FPTP for at least another generation.

AV is not proportional. However, in the meantime it is much better than FPTP and it could easily be converted to proportional STV in multi-member constituencies

We thought, before the election, that there would be a good chance that a hung parliament could lead to PR being introduced in one go. But Clegg sold the pass for a few seats in a very nasty coalition government which was formed on the basis that the only electoral change on offer would be AV. The offer would be subject to the absurd condition that one part of the Government would campaign for it and the other would campaign against it.

If we really want to advance towards real democracy – not a series of minority elective dictatorships as under FPTP – we must ignore the lying rubbish that is emanating from the No lobby and vote Yes to AV.

Joe Patterson

London SE19

Nick Clegg stated before the election that in the event of a hung parliament he would seek to form a coalition with the party that had gained most seats. This avoided his having to address awkward questions like differences in ideology.

Accordingly he looked for a coalition with the Conservatives. Most people would have expected that he would have sought a coalition of like minds, the Lib Dems at that stage being widely considered a left-of-centre party. One of the main planks of the Lib Dems' election approach was that in constituencies such as mine with a solid Conservative majority Labour could not win, so it was best to vote Lib Dem.

Now he advocates a Yes to AV and will remain the kingmaker, able to cobble together working agreements (on which no one has voted) with his right-wing friends. Would he care to tell us, if the next election is contested under AV, to whom we should give our second vote? His honest answer would be to vote Lib Dem 1 and Conservative 2 – and not to use third or fourth preferences, thereby ensuring he will remain Deputy Prime Minister after 2015.

John Polley


The "No" campaign, and notably the Prime Minister, have taken great delight in asking who would bet on a horse race if the first past the post were then declared not to be the winner. What they fail to point out, and what the "Yes" campaign should emphasise, is that under the existing system in at least eight out of 10 of the races at the meeting there is only one horse with four good legs, and it is a waste of time and money to bet on any other. I doubt if attendances would be very high at meetings with such a rigged card.

Christopher Dandy

Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex

"This vote is too important to be distorted by party politics" (Leading article, 18 April). Well, no it isn't.

Cameron has insisted that the AV vote won't break the Coalition. That he has felt it necessary to say this means that it could. Our best hope for preventing the planned privatisation of the NHS, and the destruction of the welfare state is Lib Dem defection from the Coalition and the resultant general election. Vote No this time.

Eddie Dougall

Walsham le Willows, Suffolk

Under AV voters effectively have more than one vote, all apparently of equal value. If a voter's first choice vote is discounted in the first round of counting then his second-choice, half-hearted, vote still has the value of one vote in the second round of counting and counts as equal to those votes which have been the first choice of other voters. This is not fair.

William Oxenham


Cyclists under threat of death

Phil Higginbotham (letters, 16 April) might like to consider that many cyclists already pay tax that help maintain our roads, both through income tax and Vehicle Excise Duty. And he might also like to consider how many more delays there would be on our roads if all those travelling by bike decided to go by car instead. He might further like to consider how much money is saved on NHS expenditure through the reduction of obesity through cycling.

Lastly, I assume Mr Higginbotham would also favour an insurance scheme and national testing for pedestrians, as they too cause accidents on our roads.

Or perhaps he might like to accept that cyclists have a right to use roads responsibly without the constant worry of being killed by the drivers who are either carelessly or wilfully a danger to cyclists.

Brian Moore


I cycle, walk , ride motorcycles and drive cars. There are appalling pedestrians, diabolical cyclists, lunatic motorcyclists and obnoxious, extremely dangerous, motorists. The problem is basically one of an attitude which is becoming increasingly prevalent, where people consider themselves more important than anyone else.

To all cyclists I would say: comply with the law, the road is yours, not the pavement. Make sure you have insurance; it is unfair that if you cause an accident injured parties may have no recompense.

To pedestrians: use the pavement, don't walk down the middle of the road, and look before you cross.

To motorists: remember that stupid manoeuvre you pulled on that cyclist will probably only have saved you a few seconds but you've put someone else at risk.

To road designers: please remember to design the roads for all road users and, if you're designing a cycle route, ask a cyclist.

I write this as one who had his career as a racing cyclist ended when his neck, back, shoulder, elbow, wrist and most of his ribs were fractured by an uninsured, unaccompanied, learner driver. So let's have more training in road safety at school.

Alan Lewendon

Fordingbridge, Hampshire

Cycle helmets, a fad from the US, are flimsy, costly and overrated. Had I been wearing one when hit by a car 20 years ago, it would have split and the medics would have claimed it saved my life (I had four stitches in my scalp).

Alan Batchelor


Football's great border dispute

Although Simon Kelner reminds us about the juxtaposition of the two cities of Manchester and Salford ("Two football clubs separated by success, but a city united in pride", 16 April), he doesn't mention one of the more amusing insults that Manchester City fans can hurl at their rivals.

Old Trafford lies on the "wrong" side of the hard-to-find border, and so the team that plays its home matches there can be dismissed derisively as "Salford United".

Brian Hughes

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

The "Manchester" derby, FA Cup semi-final (Paul Scholes the only locally born player, and he didn't last long) was a bit like watching Alien vs Predator. I didn't want either side to win – City with their £700m from Arabian despots and United loaded down with debt from American owners.

Richard Knights


'Why can't they speak English?'

Why all the fuss about immigrants who don't speak English? Despite the widespread teaching of French and Spanish in our schools, British people who have bought homes in France, Spain or Portugal don't seem to consider themselves under the remotest obligation to speak, still less learn, the local language.

Having witnessed an elderly English resident complaining loudly (in English) to French librarians about the dearth of English books in their in deepest Brittany, I have to sympathise with continental friends who complain of "English arrogance".

It is hard to credit the double standard which British people blithely apply. Of course, the east Europeans who migrate to Britain have a different purpose in coming here. Few are coming here for the climate or the food or to purchase a second home or just retire. Nonetheless, complaining about Poles and Lithuanians who don't speak English sounds to me like a rationalisation of xenophobia and racism, especially when we do not apply this standard to ourselves.

David A Lewis

MARCH, Cambridgeshire

NHS policy remains vague

The King's Fund, in their exquisitely balanced attempt to adjudicate between the claims by the Conservatives and Labour about the NHS reforms ("Health reforms are ripe for exploitation, says think-tank", 14 April) notes how the legislation can be interpreted in different ways, but implies that this is because the Government has not yet got round to clarifying it.

Yet this ignores the steadfast refusal by the Government to accept in committee stage any of the many amendments proposed that would have injected this clarity. Statements by ministers that GPs will not be able to charge for "NHS care" are of little value if they fail to define "NHS care". The issue of application of EU law can easily be addressed by publishing their legal advice.

It is increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Government wants to retain this ambiguity for reasons that are less than transparent.

Professor Martin McKee

London N4

Chillies in China

No talk of the chilli pepper (Viewspaper, 13 April) should fail to mention China's Hunan province, where people seem to survive mainly on rice and hot chillies, and even babies seem to have asbestos-lined stomachs. I never had hotter food, even in India. It is Mao's home province, and he apparently frequently said "No chillies, no food".

The beautiful wooden farmhouses in the west of the province are surrounded by carpets of fire-red drying chillies through the blazing-hot summer months. The chilli is so integral to the diet there that farmers are surprised to learn that it came from across the seas, and not so many centuries ago. They can't imagine what their pre-chilli ancestors could possibly have done for breakfast, dinner and tea.

Claudia Cotton

London N7

Give prisoners the vote

I hope that the European Court's request that the Government give prisoners the right to vote within the next six months is met with due pragmatism and not as an excuse to have a running battle with Europe.

The issue deserves to be treated for what it is, a serious step in the right direction of the reformation of a prisoner. A sense of civic duty is a key part of this process and the right to vote is, by turn, a critical element in instilling this value.

The right to vote for prisoners is not a political football, but using it as such and ignoring the real benefit of it is definitely an own-goal.

Mark Oaten

Trustee, Unlock,

Four Marks, Hampshire

Historic exchanges

John Tippler (letter, 11 April) recalls that the inter-war telephone exchanges built across Britain were designed to suit the local vernacular. The village of Jordans, Buckinghamshire, which was laid out and built from 1919 onwards near the 1688 Friends Meeting House, had an exchange in keeping with its Arts and Crafts architecture, surrounded by grass and a beech hedge.

Exchanges were combined in the 1970s and the building was converted to a house. It is now hidden behind a front extension. The first residents called it the Old Telephone Exchange. Sadly, this name has gone. Perhaps some such names will survive, keeping a historic link for future generations

Mark Sullivan

Jordans, Buckinghamshire

Electronic age

Treasurers and officials of small organisations and charities are battling against the flotsam and jetsam brought on the incoming tide of computerisation. If they do not have a computer, how are they to manage PAYE schemes and gift aid repayments if our beloved H M Revenue & Customs is abandoning paperwork? If David Cameron wants to create more community involvement, some thought needs to be given to how those without computers can be brought on board rather than being put off volunteering.

D A Shearn

Midsomer Norton, Somerset

Royal upgrade

Your leading article of 16 April suggests that the Principality of Liechtenstein should be "targeting the international super-rich ... and allow them to be crowned temporary king" for an appropriate premium. I would suggest that there may be an added benefit, as Liechtenstein would then be upgraded from a principality to a kingdom. Similar countries should take note.

David Shewring


The Principality of Wales

Middle man?

Mary Ann Sieghart's article on university admissions policy (18 April) ends with a warning to David Cameron that he is creating bitter enemies among his own kind. I think not: the middle class referred to and David Cameron's own kind are quite different.

Roger Blassberg

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Perspectives on the future of the Church of England

A church called to repentance

Adrian Hamilton failed to upset me with his insistence on the terminal decline of the Church of England (Monday Essay, 18 April). For most Anglicans I know, the Church is part of the ecumenical movement of all Christians first, and the Established Church second. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that precisely people from faiths other than Christianity value this establishment link. So there is that pragmatic reason for keeping it. This pragmatism is not loss of heart or nerve. It's saying the real strengths of the Church lie elsewhere, and are still real, but only as part of a wider Body.

The folkloric belief that the Church of England believes in nothing but the niceness of niceness is false. We have a clear commitment to Bible and creed, and therefore the formative period of united Christianity. Incarnation. Trinity. Sacraments. We don't police dissent from these norms heavily, as good things can come out of dissent. But that is different from saying anything goes. Within the frame of creedal orthodoxy, we are tentative about uncertain matters. Again, no loss of nerve here; that is how a confident church should be. We are the "fallibilist" wing of the Church Catholic; we have never signed up to any understanding of infallibility, whether of councils, popes or Scriptural texts. Again, this is a strength.

It is also quite possible that God is saying something painful to the churches, and that throughout Europe (not elsewhere of course), we are to be smaller, leaner, and humbled. There's nothing disheartening about this possibility.

It's not even the interminable debates about sex and gender which are intrinsically a problem. Since the secular world has nothing to say about what sex is for, or that it might just be important in making us who we are, it's a good thing that the Church raises these questions. That the manner in which it has raised them has been so atrocious – Christians often wilfully mishearing Christians – is surely part of the reason we are being humbled. But a call to repentance is different from a terminal decline.

The Rev Patrick Morrow

Anglican Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser to Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex

A ministry for the whole country

Adrian Hamilton questions the value of an established Church of England. The main benefit of establishment is that it that it gives everyone in the country – churchgoer or not, Christian or not – a right to the church and its ministry.

Yesterday I attended a Palm Sunday service for deaf people in a local church. The liturgy, reading, prayers and sermon were signed from beginning to end. Deaf and hearing members of the congregation joined in worship and fellowship together. The church does not have to be established for such a service to take place; but establishment makes the church much more sensitive to the needs of minorities around it.

Adrian Hamilton refers to "my own rural parish". If his local community has not yet discovered a vibrant and relevant Christian faith, then he shares the responsibility. I invite him to join other Anglicans in making the Good News of Jesus Christ known to his neighbours.

Paddy Benson

Archdeacon of Hereford