Letters: Voting reform

Lib Dems have nothing to gain from Labour-style 'voting reform'
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Sir: It would appear from Andrew Grice's report (7 April) that Labour are seeking some sort of "informal pact" with the Liberal Democrats in the London mayoral election and are suggesting that such a pact would assist the Liberal Democrats "in achieving their long-standing goal of changing Britain's first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system".

The Liberal Democrats do, indeed, have a long-standing goal of replacing FPTP with a system of proportional representation. But what Gordon Brown is said to be "warming to", and what Peter Hain is urging, is the idea of replacing FPTP with the alternative vote (AV) system which, emphatically, is not proportional and may in some respects be worse.

Why then should they expect Liberal Democrats to do otherwise than to continue campaigning to secure the maximum number of first choice votes for their candidate, Brian Paddick, and offering his supporters no advice about how to exercise their second preference?

Nick Collins

Godalming, Surrey

Sir: In Johann Hari's excellent article on the need for PR (31 March), he says that although the alternate vote (AV) is not PR and be even less proportional than FPTP, some advocates of PR say we should support AV because it could be a stepping stone to a more proportional system.

I am a supporter of PR and I have no more enthusiasm for AV in general elections than does Mr Hari. But I find myself reluctantly among those arguing that, purely as a tactical move, we should accept that while there is widespread support for AV among Labour MPs, there is no chance this government will introduce a proportional system before the next election.

If the Tories get back in power we can be virtually certain that we can say goodbye indefinitely to electoral reform of any kind. AV, although potentially less proportional even than FPTP, would at least be more likely than FPTP to represent the true weight of left-of-centre opinion, largely in the form of Labour seats, even though some individual parties, such as the Greens, would still stand no chance of being represented.

Joe Patterson

London SE19

Sir: Three cheers for Vernon Bogdanor (Opinion, 8 April). Of course the electors should be given a chance to decide on electoral reform. The two main political parties will never agree on a sensible reform which damages their long-term interests. Let's have a referendum.

Andrew Sturgis

Hersham, Surrey

Unfair amnesty for illegal migrants

Sir: In this country we have a huge shortage in housing, an impending shortage in water, vast numbers of people living off benefits or/and crime, underperforming schools, congestion with all forms of traffic, lack of recreational space, lack of agricultural land, a great reliance on imported food.

These are all real problems that cannot be solved without calculated limits to the number of people entering this country. If we are to have any limits, let alone the ones we need, then when asking entrants to form a queue, we should not give an amnesty to the cheats who have already jumped it ("Amnesty now!", 9 April).

There should be a database created to contain the identity of every person working here or receiving benefits, British or foreign, following a thorough survey of every working establishment. Those then shown to be illegal should be deported, whatever the financial cost.

You report that estimates of illegal immigrants range between 500,000 and 700,000. So if all those were removed then potentially hundreds of thousands of British people could be lifted out of poverty, and into paid work. This would certainly be followed by a fall in Britain's appalling crime levels. Obviously, pressure on housing would decrease as well. Brian Paddick says that to remove all illegal immigrants would cost an estimated £4.7bn. The long-term benefits of that removal would be worth every penny.

Peter Kevan


Sir: Before we back a campaign to assist immigrants who have entered the UK illegally, how about decent treatment for those who have made honest applications to live here?

Cole Davis

London NW2

Cohabiting partners let down by the law

Sir: The Office for National Statistics reports that marriage rates are the lowest for 110 years. As fewer couples choose to marry, provisions to protect the increasing numbers of cohabitants have never been more necessary. The Ministry of Justice's announcement last month that it will "take no further action" in response to the Law Commission's report urging law reform to protect cohabiting couples is seriously out of step with public opinion.

There are over two million couples cohabiting in the UK. By 2031 it is predicted that one in four couples will live together without marrying. The law needs to be reformed so the vulnerable can be protected, when the inevitable happens and some relationships break down. The current British Social Attitudes Survey, published on 23 January, shows that nine out of 10 people think that a cohabiting partner should have a right to financial provision on separation if the relationship has been a long one, includes children and has involved prioritising one partner's career over the other's. The Law Commission's July 2007 report recommends giving courts more powers to share property, savings and pensions.

The Government has said it will wait on the bedding down of the Scottish legislation giving remedies to cohabitants, introduced in 2006, to assess the likely costs of implementing the Law Commission's recommendations. However, given the high degree of public support for reform, this decision seems timid. We understand the Government's concerns about exposing the Legal Aid Fund to further demands. Given the nature of these cases, though, there will be assets which the Legal Service Commission can use to recover costs.

Refusal to act now will mean that the more vulnerable partner – who is very often a woman, and mother of any children of the relationship – is left to face injustice and financial hardship. In some situations she is left homeless, without any claims at all over the property where she may have lived for many years. If this happens, the taxpayer has to fund welfare benefits and public housing to support those who should not be left in this position. It is not at all clear how this fits in with the Government's commitment to equality and protecting the disadvantaged.

Jane Craig

On behalf of the Family Justice Council, Royal Courts of Justice, London WC2

A Thatcherite 'choice' of schools

Sir: In his article (8 April) discussing the current chaos surrounding secondary education, Steve Richards asks, "Who could be against choice?" Me, for one.

He highlights how the main political parties have fallen into the trap of trying to apply the Thatcherite notion of choice to schools. As the evidence shows, it just doesn't work. Choosing a school for one's child is not like choosing detergent from a supermarket shelf.

In many cases, the realistic choice is limited or non-existent. For example, in some rural areas there is no choice, unless one is willing to transport children over vast distances, which is undesirable, impractical and environmentally unsustainable.

What the Thatcherite parties fail to realise is that most parents are not particularly bothered about choice. They just want to know that their nearest community school is of a good standard. This will not be achieved by the chaotic measures introduced by the present government or those proposed by the Conservatives. Taking this fundamental point on board will be the first step to unravelling the current mess.

Keith O'Neill

Shropshire Green Party, Shrewsbury

Musical bias on television

Sir: I have to agree with the actor and artistic director, Kevin Spacey, and, in part, the leading article "Musical theatre" (1 April). I feel that Lord Andrew Lloyd- Webber is promoting the cause of West End musicals through the vehicle of the BBC Saturday night shows such as Any Dream Will Do and How Do You Solve A Problem Like . . . , to the detriment of good drama.

Looking at a recent listings of London theatre in The Independent, I discovered 67 productions. Of these, 38 were comedies or drama, and 29 musicals made up the rest. In England and Wales, 56 productions were being staged, with 41 comedies and dramas and 15 musicals making up the numbers. So musical theatre is very much top of the tree in London. Even the talent programmes that fill so much of terrestrial TV airtime are song-and-music related.

There is nothing on any channel at present that feeds talented thespians into productions, unless they are coming through via musical shows. The conclusion is obvious: the world of legitimate drama is being poorly served not just by the BBC but other networks too. There is even a programme called, So You Think You Can Dance on cable/satellite channels that is feeding the monster called "musical theatre" in the US.

I have nothing against the programmes themselves, just their ubiquity. Budding dramatists and actors must think that their work is restricted on the London stage and must move into the more confined world of radio or audition or write for the movies to make their mark. Programme makers have to address this unfair situation.

Ian Herne

Uxbridge, Middlesex

All work and not enough parenting

Sir: The stalled "revolution in the traditional division of responsibility for childcare" that Mary Dejevsky describes ("Gender divide is increasing in the professions", 8 April) can be restarted only through a dramatic reduction in the working week.

This reduction will need to be supported by the tax system. Halving the tax on the first 20 hours worked each week should do it. It would not then be in the interest of employers to employ anyone beyond 20 hours unless it was for operational reasons.

This would prevent men and childless women from out-competing their child-bearing colleagues by staying late at the office, and free them to help with the kids and community affairs.

It would also mean our children cease being obese, suicidal, antisocial chavs, prey to sex offenders, embroiled in gang violence and vulnerable to traffic, simply because there is nobody looking out for them at home or in the community. Nobody, that is, apart from overstretched professionals or unemployed, isolated and demoralised adults.

Employers benefit from a fresh, enthusiastic workforce and from getting to promote the talented instead of the selfish. Generally, further tax cuts should become possible as we rid ourselves of social workers, policemen and unemployment. It's time to put work in its place.

Daniel Evans


Food stamps do not prove a US slump

Sir: To use the number of people receiving food stamps to judge the US economy and declare it to be in a depression is risible ("United States of America 2008: The Great Depression", 1 April).

The eligibility guidelines are set by the US Congress and these can change. In fact, the reason more are utilising food stamps is due to several factors. The eligibility bar has been lowered, allowing more people to benefit; access to the programme by legal immigrants, for instance, has been restored; the stamps, as you mention, are now distributed through electronic "credit cards", not as script, reducing some of the associated stigma; and the application process has been simplified.

The programme has also been more widely advertised over the past 10 years, to inform people of their eligibility; hence greater uptake.

Considering that the United States, after years of unprecedented growth, has not even technically met the conditions of a recession, to declare that the country is in the midst of a depression is an insult to those who suffered under the Great Depression of the Thirties where real GDP declined by almost 33 per cent.

Charlie Wolf

London N12


Tax conundrum

Sir: Can someone, preferably a member of the Labour government, please explain why people earning just over £5,435 (the personal allowance for 2008-9) are expected to pay any income tax at all, let alone 20 per cent?

Marilyn Mason

Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

An end to conspiracy

Sir: Well, thank heavens that's all over. All the conspiracies surrounding Diana's death can be laid to rest. Now let's get down to sorting out who killed JFK.

Fred Phipps

Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Sir: Is Philip Moran (letter, 9 April) seriously suggesting that the Dukes of Hazzard would drive a Fiat Uno? I think not.

Michael John Campbell

London N17

Olympic Marathon

Sir: According to the International Olympic Committee, the torch parade is designed to "bring people together on its journey of harmony" and is a "symbol of peace, justice and brotherhood" . This brings to mind Tom Lehrer's song "National Brotherhood Week", the concluding lines of which ran: "It's only for a week so have no fear. Be grateful that it doesn't last all year." Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the IOC, for Tessa Jowell and her no doubt equally gullible successor(s) as Olympian Minister, or for the "build-up" to the Games themselves.

Ralph Windsor

Ramsey, Isle of Man

All change at the OU

Sir: The Vice-Chancellor of the Open University has written to students explaining that the OU must reduce the range of courses it is able to provide, as a result of a withdrawal of government funding for, inter alia, those wishing to retrain. That the OU, a shining example of Labour's progressive policies, should be forced into this by a New Labour government is shaming. That a key tool for nurturing Gordon Brown's much-loved "flexible" economy has fallen victim to his own policies is incomprehensible. Is this what Mr Brown means by "change"?

Bill Robinson

London W2

Naomi grounded

Sir: Naomi Campbell has been banned from flying with BA. How can that be considered a punishment?

David Morgan

Wistow, Cambridgeshire