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Friday 20 November 2009
Letters: Voting reform
A missed opportunity for voting reform
Michael Brown (19 November) suggests how the Queen's Speech might have looked forward to "when my Government will at least have a mandate to introduce a programme for a full parliament, backed up by the authority of my people."
Just how will this "authority" manifest itself? With a likely Conservative majority created by around 40 per cent of the voters ( 25 per cent of the total electorate), talk of "authority" and "mandates" would be disingenuous.
It is certainly a national disgrace that, given the discredited House at present, electoral reform was not even mentioned, although I am convinced that we will hear it from the Labour benches after the election. For the Tories, the long game is about to be won; add in some boundary changes and the ever-increasing likelihood of increased devolution for Scotland and Wales, and permanent Tory rule for England under the current system, will be very likely. No need for them to change the status quo.
For the disenfranchised English masses, maybe a move to one of our Celtic neighbours has some real benefits.
This government is renowned for not making a decision one way or another. Originally, an electoral reform bill was in the Queen's Speech, only to be taken out at the last minute.
Fixing the expenses crisis requires something big. Brown needs to make a decision to swing open the door he has deliberately left ajar and allow the reformers in his party to legislate for a referendum on electoral reform. This would be a substantial step in pulling Parliament out of the mire.
Director, Vote for a Change, London SE1
Nick Clegg 's comments on reform of Parliament ("Don't waste our time: bring forward real reform", 16 November) are excellent at first sight. However, with issues such as the economy, public services, the environment and Afghanistan to consider, perhaps the public would prefer government and politicians to govern rather than navel-gaze.
I would count myself a supporter of constitutional reform but it depends upon the type of reform. I would favour the properly proportional single-transferable vote (STV) system for the Commons not the deceptive alternative vote (AV).
Indeed some of Nick Clegg's suggestions could be dangerous. Sacking MPs for misconduct sounds good, but do we want unelected officials to eject elected representatives? How is it decided – would a future Charles Bradlaugh be expelled? Or perhaps appearing on Celebrity Big Brother or grossly insulting a London Evening Standard journalist would be sufficient to override the public's choice.
Give the citizen redress for libel
Under the present English defamation law a person who is sued has two complete defences (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, 16 November). First that the statement complained of is true and second that the statement was fair comment.
It follows that those who complain about the current state of the law, wish to be able either to publish statements which they know are or may be not true or to make comments that are not fair. In short, the press wish to be able to publish anything they like without the risk of consequences.
Do we, the people, really want the press to be allowed to do these things? I do not, and there is one particular respect in which the law badly needs strengthening in favour of the citizen. At the present time an "ordinary" citizen who is defamed by the press has two courses open to him – complain to the toothless Press Complaints Commission or sue. The first might possibly result in the smallest possible apology in the offending publication. The second is almost always beyond the citizen's means.
The complaints commission should be made independent of the press and given real teeth and legal aid should be provided for the "ordinary citizen" who is defamed.
Maresfield, East Sussex
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown laments the "iniquity of the [libel] law itself which assumes a defendant is guilty until proved innocent". This is a fatuous remark which could only be written by a journalist, for journalists.
For the rest of us, this law represents precisely the reverse: in England, unlike most of the world, the principle that an individual – the person about whom allegations are being made by a journalist – is innocent unless proven guilty must be upheld by journalists as well as the courts. It is a principle we should be proud of.
Giving cyclists a bad name
Walking to work the other day on a broad and fairly empty pavement, I was suddenly aware of a commotion behind me as a cyclist slithered to a halt, missing me by inches. I was about to suggest to him that he was several spokes short of a wheel when he abused me for not looking where I was going, as his brakes did not work.
"Right then, sorry mate I shall try not be so inconsiderate in the future," may have been what I intended to reply but somehow it came out differently. As someone who has been a cyclist for more than 50 years, as a commuter and a touring and racing cyclist, I absolutely deplore the antics of those who think they have a right to misuse pavements and ignore traffic lights and one-way signs (letters, 12 November).
It is different in countries where cyclists and pedestrians have adjacent but not shared space, as walkers and cyclists are aware of each other's presence. On busy city-centre pavements these selfish idiots are a danger. They are breaking the law and should be prosecuted – or at least met with a subtle nudge of the shoulder.
Britain's worst railway stations
Victoria Summerley (Opinion, 19 November) notes Clapham Junction's place on a list of Britain's worst railway stations. My only experience of that station is changing trains, and then not spending more than five or ten minutes there.
But on many occasions I have had to wait half an hour or more at Crewe. Try that on a windy winter evening.
And often I have started and ended my journey at Manchester Victoria. It really is the most ghastly hole of a place. And most of the trains that use the station are pretty ghastly as well. How often has Victoria Summerley travelled on a Class 142 diesel train?
Trains running to time are not the only thing that passengers want.
Ian K Watson
No one to defend workers' rights
A few days ago I visited a branch of a well-known high-street store, where I was helped by a very efficient sales assistant. I told her that she was so good she deserved a bonus.
"Far from it," she said, "I've just had my wages cut from £6 per hour to £4.99. We were told that anyone under 22 would have their hourly rate cut and we were forced to sign a new contract. If we didn't, we were told that we would be given two weeks' notice and sacked."
With over a million young people being unemployed, we are back to the 1930s when ruthless employers ride roughshod over employees who have no effective protection whatsoever. After 30 years of a Conservative administration (New Labour being no different) we desperately need the return of a Labour government.
No paradise for ordinary islanders
I wonder if either Lord Ashcroft or Michael Misick, the ex-prime minister, is aware of one of the consequences of their actions for Turks islanders, particularly elders ("Ashcroft's bank lent millions to disgraced premier", 19 November).
My father-in-law is an islander of 94 who has just returned from hospital in Miami following a serious operation. Before he went to hospital, social care was available in his home, paid for by the government. He has now been told that because of financial problems, the government can no longer pay for this – about $1,000 per month.
This contrasts starkly with Mr Misick's newly built house in Providencialis, one of the islands, which includes a lift to lift his boat out of the creek some four to five metres into its garage.
Blatant prejudice against the 'guys'
How refreshing to see that sexism is back in vogue. According to Arabella Weir (17 November) "most guys" would fill a whole week with the work a woman does in an afternoon.
Ms Weir cannot escape the fact that this is blatant prejudice simply by using the word "most". She should take note that "most" men probably work very hard every day, just like "most" women.
I would question the judgement of a woman who decides – yes, women can decide these days – to have a child with a man who holds such an archaic view of women's place in the family. Maybe she should remove the chip from her shoulder and look a little harder for a man who is willing to share the work involved in bringing up children. She will find that there are quite a lot of us.
Andrew T Barnes
I must take issue with Angela Elliott (letter, 18 November) about feminism and child-rearing. As a Seventies feminist I worked both before and after having a family, but I was lucky to be able to stay home with my children when they were young and never thought this was incompatible with my feminist beliefs.
Like many women of my generation I have always viewed feminism as a simple (or not so simple) matter of liberty, equality and fraternity. The struggle must still go on (witness the reportage this week of an honour killing and blatant City misogyny); it is important as ever, but we do not hate men, and these days not many of us wear dungarees.
Uckfield, East Sussex
Sorry to be picky, but, as my seven-year-old informs me, while the elephant, white rhino and hippo are indeed large land mammals (Hit & Run, 18 November), the largest mammal (by far) is the blue whale.
Gatley, Greater Manchester
Richard Garner's article (19 November) appears to suggest Langley is the first state-financed school in the country to offer rowing and cricket to its pupils. Here in Chester we have Queen's Park High School, whose rowing club was founded in 1946. One of the school's old boys is Richard Stanhope, stroke of the silver medal winning rowing eight in the Moscow Olympics. The rowing club at the school continues to thrive.
The man for Europe
All this bitching, back-biting and in-fighting over who should be EU President is just one more argument in favour of our "antiquated" constitutional monarchy. But if we must have such a post, how about Thierry Henry? He can be trusted to handle anything that's put in front of him.
R J Hoskin
Jeremy Laurance's view that he and others may have "got it wrong" about the seriousness of swine flu (16 November) fails to distinguish prediction from decision-making. Taking account of all available information, and considering the possibility of waiting for better data when making a decision, defines a good decision. The outcome may be good or bad; indeed, sometimes bad decisions can result in good outcomes. In this case decisions were good, and outcomes, so far, are also good.
Visiting Professor of Decision Sciences
London School of Economics
Paying for research
Johann Hari (Opinion, 17 November) argues that the sources of funding for university research may bias the results of that research when big corporations are the paymasters. But I'm not sure what his alternative is. Government funding is just as likely to bias the results. Isn't it likely that the Home Office will fund research on illegal drugs that reinforces rather than contradicts its policies? There are no unbiased sources of funding. The only solution is a better quality of scientific scepticism, which is only likely to thrive with diverse sources of funding.
Dr Stephen Black
Driven to drink
Considering that his job consists of sitting in the Commons day after day listening to MPs spout garbage, I think that Simon Carr (Opinion, 9 November) does very well to get by on just the one bottle of wine a day.
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