Letters: Time for the left to embrace voting reform

These letters appear in the 13 May edition of The Independent

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Steve Richards (12 May) is right that Labour has to focus on uniting people, if it is to achieve office again and create the more just society it strives for. Is it now not the time for Labour to embrace electoral reform? I believe the country can now be united in fighting for reform.

The outcome of this election is possibly the most unjust in my lifetime. It is indefensible that one party (Conservative) can only increase its share of the vote by 0.8 per cent and achieve a net gain of 24 seats and another party (Labour) increase its share of the vote by 1.5 per cent and experience a net loss of 26 seats! On that basis an extreme right-wing government has come to power that is likely to do great harm to the country, and many people will suffer.

I live in Holland, a country that abandoned first-past-the-post for PR a century ago. The Dutch Labour Party has been a dominant force in Dutch politics since the Second World War. They have been in office, admittedly always in coalition, more often than the British Labour party, and so it has been possible for them to achieve far more for the benefit of all. At the same time Holland has also succeeded in becoming a very wealthy country.

Sarah Steele
Veldhoven, Netherlands


Steve Richards is right to see an opportunity for a regrouped opposition in the issue of delivery of public services.

This opportunity carries a risk. Although the 1997 to 2010 government succeeded in improving public services significantly it did so by means that would be very difficult to replicate today. These involved the use of choice and competition.

Choice and competition work when there is sufficient excess capacity in publicly funded services to put credible pressure on poor performers. They do not do so when this is lacking. A commitment to create excess capacity through increases in public expenditure would be hard to justify under current and most forseeable circumstances.

The alternative would be a combination of a rigorous inspection regime and a stronger collective voice for users and indeed the public in ge,neral. Some reforms under both governments over the past seven years have included elements of them. Among potential Labour leaders, one has a track record in introducing them while in office. This is Andy Burnham.

Donald Roy
London SW15


The arrogance that sank Labour

Two letters published yesterday (from David Jackman and Phil Fletcher) somewhat ironically sum up a big part of Labour supporters’ attitude problem, which contributed to the party’s electoral defeat.

Mr Jackman arrogantly implies that voters he disagrees with all voted for “selfishness, division and greed”. Mr Fletcher claims that Germans who according to a poll would have leant to the left if entitled to vote are better informed about the policies of the UK parties than the people who actually voted – the UK electorate.

Until this arrogance (“We know better than the voting public”) is swept away I predict that Labour will struggle to regain popularity where it matters ,at the ballot box. Whether closer to Blair or Marx, Labour supporters should heed David Miliband when he said: “There’s absolutely no point in blaming the electorate”. I predict that many will dismiss that too.

Andrew Wells
Carlton in Lindrick, Nottinghamshire


Etonians at the Cabinet table

Your reporting of the formation of the new Cabinet is at pains to point out that “three Eton-educated ministers will attend Cabinet”, while half of its members attended independent schools. These comments are  ridiculous and irrelevant.

First, an individual’s childhood education is almost solely in the hands of parents, so it is cruel to stigmatise a characteristic that cannot be changed and was not chosen.

There is also the assumption that those politicians who are state educated are more altruistic, in touch with the common people, and presumably poorer. The less-privileged are not inherently more virtuous than the rich. Likewise, those from wealthy backgrounds cannot be presumed to have no interest in the struggles of the poor.

It is worth remembering that throughout its history the Labour Party’s stars have come from privileged backgrounds: Clement Attlee, Tony Benn, and Hugh Gaitskell were all public schoolboys, just as in recent times were Tony Blair, Ed Balls, and Tristram Hunt. This is apparently acceptable; being a Tory and privately educated is not, it seems.

This redundant and classist commentary spoils what was otherwise and excellent and insightful report.

Jeremy Goldsmith
East Goscote, Leicestershire


Sentimentality about the countryside

Helen Weeks’s letter (9 May) helps explain the failure of liberal and socialist arguments in the general election. Her preoccupation with animal rights and hatred for those who hunt, shoot or support the strong arguments for control of badger numbers illustrate the obsessive mind-set too common on the left.

Rather than hearing reasoned policies focusing on equality of opportunity, we are instead smothered with an illogical sentimentality about the countryside and harangued by an illiberal prejudice against people assumed to be “posh”.

I long as much as anyone for a politics of inclusion and justice. I also hunt, and enjoy the rich diversity of people I meet there. Is there any party of the left that will welcome my support and in turn support my freedom to hunt as part of a responsible and well-reasoned stewardship of the countryside?

Philip Martin
Alderholt, Dorset


Another liberal coalition disaster

It was predictable in 2010 that the Lib Dems would suffer disaster if they went into coalition with the Tories. Starting with Lloyd George’s coalition of 1918-22, disaster has been the result every time Liberals have veered in that direction.

The Lib Dems did have a better option in 2010. They could have said that they were prepared to join a three-party government to tackle the economic mess, but would not gang up with one of the bigger parties against the other.

Yes, probably one or both of the bigger parties would have rejected the suggestion. The Tories would have formed a minority government, called another election at the time of their choosing, won the election and damaged the Lib Dems seriously. But it is most unlikely that the Lib Dems would have suffered anything like as heavily as they did last week.

The Lib Dems did some good in the Coalition. But they also damaged their reputation disastrously by shared responsibility for Tory policies, by their shameful volte-face over tuition fees and by authorising an increase in that most illiberal tax, VAT.

Lib Dems would do well both for themselves and for their country in thinking their way back to distinctively Liberal principles and policies.

Roy Douglas
Wanock, East Sussex


Who can win the charisma contest?

The Labour Party has now fought two elections with the wrong leader. Good men, but not the right men for the media show that election politics has now become.

I am now in total despair that they are about to make it three in a row, as the suggested leadership contestants so far all seem to me to have had a charisma bypass, when it is charisma that is required.

Its not going to be much of a job, that’s true, with the next election also unwinnable when the Tories put the boundary changes into effect. And the Conservative Party have already got their charismatic leader in waiting: Boris Johnson!

John Humphreys
Milton Keynes


Tories favour  property over people

Your censure of the Tories’ attitude towards human rights is admirable (editorial, 11 May) but perhaps does not go far enough. 

By limiting the provision of legal aid and making it virtually impossible for the poor to get legal representation, the last government revealed that it believes that rights reside in property and not the person. 

This takes us back to before 1776. And it logically follows that if this is their credo, then it is perfectly feasible for the neoliberal extremists now in Parliament to extend that limitation to the franchise in general.

Michael Rosenthal
Banbury, Oxfordshire


Radical idea for a new party

David Jackman suggests a new centre-left merger (letter, 12 May). He puts forward a name for the party: Democrats. That sounds too American for me. What would be wrong with the Radical Party?

Ted Frith
Selsdon, Surrey