Political commentators underestimate the acumen of the electorate. The scribblers know a lot about Westminster infighting, but that does not really interest voters.
People will vote for the party they believe has the best chance of defeating the party they wish to punish. (Punishment, rather than support, is always the aim.)
Thus, it is no surprise that Labour did not show in Eastleigh. Who would vote Labour if they wanted to defeat the Tory in such a seat? If you were of the right, you would vote Ukip; if of the left, Lib Dem.
The same sophistication was shown by the electorate in 2010. We were fed up with Labour, but suspicious of the Tories. (How right those suspicions were!) By voting in the way we did, we were able to deliver a non-Labour government which was unable to satisfy the barking mad desires of the even nastier than normal wing of the Tory party.
I am sure that the Tories will now lean farther to the right in order to keep the Ukip vote and to appease (vain hope!) their fundamentalists. They haven't learnt that they will only have mass appeal once more when it is plain that they are led by decent men and women with genuine concern for real people rather than themselves and their rich chums.
Equally, Labour must turn itself into a party genuinely in touch with the electorate rather than one led by people who have never done anything or known anyone outside the closed Westminster circle. Then we would have a proper contest between left and right where either side would be worth electing.
The result of the Eastleigh by-election must have come as a relief for the Liberal Democrats. Although the Tories came in third, I just wonder whether Ukip will see it as a lost opportunity.
Fringe parties rarely get the chance to break through into Westminster and usually have to settle for council seats. The Green Party have their own MP, Caroline Lucas; George Galloway secured his Bradford seat under Respect. I wonder what the outcome might have been had Nigel Farage been Ukip's candidate.
Will Ukip view this as a time when everything was stacked in their favour, with an unpopular Coalition, yet they did not quite have the nerve to put up a charismatic candidate who might just have won?
Cottingham, East Yorkshire
Why climate has become 'less important'
Your front page reports a GlobeScan poll showing a decline in the proportion of people rating climate change as "very serious" (28 February). You attribute this to "green fatigue", but that is a largely circular explanation.
With subjects such as climate change, the vast majority of the public have no involvement in the analytical dialogue of scientists and officials. So they can only judge "seriousness" through proxies like political and media attention to a topic. It is this which is most likely to explain the decline.
Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel prize for showing the importance of these alternative decision-making systems in economics. It also operates with opinion polls. So for example when Margaret Thatcher announced her environmental conversion in 1990, "public opinion" that "environment" was "the most serious issue facing the country", hit record levels. She was the proxy for "the country".
In 2012/3 we have run large national polls in Argentina, China, Brazil, India and the US. There are majorities "believing in" climate change and high levels of concern in all, and backing for renewable energy etc. Moreover, in Brazil and India we also asked if people had noticed the climate was changing (a personal but evidence-based judgement) and most said yes. Notably, about 20 per cent more said so than said they believed in climate change, which has become an "identity" question.
If people are happy to say they have noticed something they don't believe in, you should be careful about attributing causality to poll results.
Director Campaign Strategy Ltd, Wells next the Sea, Norfolk
No ethnic bias at Oxford
Oxford University is committed to selecting the very best students, regardless of race, ethnicity or any other factor. We are deeply concerned with ensuring the selection process is fair and look hard at all the possible factors affecting applicants' success rates.
We refute any suggestion of discrimination or institutional bias on grounds of ethnicity ("Oxford twice as likely to give top places to whites", 27 February). Basing our selection on anything other than academic aptitude would not only be wrong – and in the case of race, illegal – but against our own interests as a world-class university.
Our biggest concern is the negative effect such allegations have on our efforts to attract black and minority ethnic students. We want those potential applicants, and their parents and teachers, to know that Oxford wants them here and is committed to a fair and transparent selection process.
Both our unwavering commitment to widening access, and our ongoing analysis of the data on success rates to scrutinise the selection process, will continue. We want talented students from all backgrounds and all ethnicities to know that studying at Oxford is achievable and desirable.
Deputy Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach, University of Oxford
Blackmail is a real crime
If I'm legally at liberty to publish a true account of Archie Bland's most embarrassing secrets ("Why is it illegal to be a scumbag?", 27 February), how can it be a crime to ask him for money, in exchange for a promise not to exercise my right of free speech? Surely, two rights can't make a wrong!
To my mind, this dubious argument exposes the inadequacy of the popular libertarian idea that we should reject all considerations of fairness or justice in favour of absolute individual rights. A victim of blackmail gains nothing, but is coerced into paying heavily for the mere avoidance of some threatened injury or loss. In terms of the gains and losses for each party, a blackmail transaction is grossly inequitable and unfair – and that, Mr Bland, is why it remains perfectly rational to treat it as a crime.
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
Tighten curbs on horsemeat
The economic downturn has put many households under enormous pressure to feed the family, and they often have no alternative but to buy the cheapest items. A local butcher, who may have a better handle on the origins of his meat, is often a more expensive option.
The public believe that the Government needs to do more to regulate food safety; the horsemeat scandal reinforces the need for Defra to update and strengthen its national monitoring plan for ports. Current Food Standards Agency traceability systems are clearly not working; the public cannot be sure that there is no health risk from eating horse meat when the authorities don't know the source of the contamination.
Port Health and Public Protection Director, City of London Corporation
If horse meat is one fifth cheaper than beef, why are we, in these stringent times, denying ourselves its legitimate supply? I look forward to it being available in butchers and supermarkets.
King's Lynn, Norfolk
The role-model responsibility on sportsmen has nothing to do with individual choice, as Barry Richards claims (letter, 28 November). For responsibility to arise, it is enough that behaviour has significant effects on others. In celebrity culture, the more celebrated you are, the greater your potential influence, and thence responsibility – and the more appropriate it is to debate what sorts of things done publicly should incur public scrutiny.
Barry Richards is right: we shouldn't expect sports stars to be more moral than anyone else. But his argument also shows the silliness of celebrity endorsement. Celebrities are rarely experts on the products or causes they endorse. Their powers of persuasion derive solely from their celebrity status.
Dr Alex May
Get back to the office
It should surprise no one that Yahoo! is reining back on home working. Those in conventional employment have seen their bosses demanding more time, effort and "commitment" from staff. Mostly, the bosses are being leant on by senior management who want more (any) profits, and so they lean on the staff below them. No one knows if the change will bring any benefits but they feel like they are doing something.
I'd go even further than Timothy James in his letter of 21 February and say that if Scotland goes independent, it should take Northern Ireland with it, except in the unlikely event of the Northern Irish preferring then to go with their southern neighbours. After all, to get from Northern Ireland to England or Wales you more or less have to go via either Scotland or the Irish Republic.
H Trevor Jones
President Obama has proposed a US free trade agreement with the EU. The European Commission is in favour. In 1975 our parents signed up to exactly that deal with the rest of Europe in a referendum. If the US is negotiating a free trade deal with Europe why aren't we? It is the only deal we ever wanted.
Let me get this right. Under the "bedroom tax" proposals, if a child dies in a poor family who qualify for help with their housing, then that family will be asked to move house, because they don't need that bedroom any more. Or am I missing something?
Your headlines says "Desk workers: stand up for your health" (28 February). I stood at my desk for years. The veins in my legs gave out and I got ulcers.
What is the matter with South African lawyers? If a man deliberately (four shots?) kills a stranger who has just dropped in to use the loo it is murder – or it would be anywhere else.
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