Letters: Voting system favours the right

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Reid ignores how our voting system favours the right

Sir: John Reid rightly reminds us that if the Government were to revert to what he calls Old Labour policies, it would certainly be paving the way for a Tory victory at the next election.

However, what he and his New Labour tribalist colleagues refuse to admit is that this could be true only because of our ramshackle electoral system - first-past-the-post (FPTP). Under this system , the outcome of elections is decided by a comparatively few floating voters in marginal seats, who are largely influenced by the right-wing press.

If in 2009 Labour do in fact find themselves back on the opposition benches, instead of at worst leading a left-of-centre coalition, they will be reaping the just reward for their cynical reneging on their 1997 manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on the electoral system. Even if the first-past-the-post dinosaurs in the Government (which include John Reid) were now to admit the gross shortcomings of FPTP it would be too late for the next election, since the steps needed for the introduction of PR will be quite time-consuming.

Although, as a convinced supporter of PR, I do this reluctantly, may I suggest to John Reid and his colleagues that, before the next election, they should consider introducing the Alternative Vote (AV)? This could be done quite quickly, since no boundary changes would be involved, and probably no referendum either. AV is most certainly not PR: it can be even more disproportional than FPTP. However, preferential voting under AV would get rid of the bizarre phenomenon where, under FPTP, a majority of the electorate can vote for left-of-centre policies but a split vote can result in a right-wing Tory government.

Supporters of PR would have to keep their fingers crossed and hope that AV would be a step on the way to PR. Meanwhile they could console themselves with the thought that AV is at least better than FPTP



Nanny state ruled by student politicians

Sir: Nick Vinehill (letter, 8 May) blames New Labour for Charles Clarke's abandonment of his previously held convictions as a former left-wing leader of the National Union of Students, as if left-wing convictions were alien to the pursuit of power and the totalitarian agenda of the Home Office under New Labour.

It is extraordinary how student politics of the late Sixties and early Seventies continue to be glamorised. New Labour is the product of the intolerant left of those times, a breeding ground for politicians who think they know best. The politics of the student unions of Charles Clarke's days were not romantic or even virtuous, but as arrogant and totalitarian as those of the grown-up students now in government. The adult inveighs against the terrorist as the student did against the bourgeoisie, a natural progression to becoming a nanny.



Sir: It is all very well for Prescott and others to call for party unity behind Blair. Loyalty is a two-way street. The PM is saying clearly that he intends to stay put, while at the same time kow-towing to the Bush administration in its threats to repeat the Iraq disaster in Iran. I would suggest that MPs who want him pensioned off are performing a considerable public service.

Those who still believe he is an election winner are not only living in cloud-cuckoo land, but also are actually betraying their party. Supporting Tony Blair at this juncture is hardly likely to prove a vote-winning strategy over the next few months. But then, I'm not a Labour supporter. Maybe I should encourage their suicidal tendencies.



Sir: Andreas Whittam-Smith's suggestion (Opinion, 8 May) that the public can report aberrant government ministers to the police would be a good idea if only the police took such complaints seriously. For some reason my attempt in March 2003 to report Tony Blair for committing a war crime in attacking Iraq was dismissed as "not within the remit of West Yorkshire Police".



Church's illogical stance on condoms

Sir: Your correspondent Peter Smith (letter, 8 May), who views the rumoured change of policy on condom use by the Catholic Church as a major shift, is surely over-optimistic.

The church's teaching on contraception has surely been incoherent all along. It allows contraception by the rhythm method, and boasts that, used properly, this is as effective as a condom - so why is rhythm virtuous, and a condom sinful? Sex after menopause or a hysterectomy cannot be procreative, but the Catholic Church has never, so far as I know, insisted that married couples in such a circumstance abstain; indeed, it has been willing to perform the sacrament of marriage for couples where one or another is known to be sterile. This is undoubtedly sensible and humane - but completely at odds with a view of non-procreational sex as inherently sinful.

An earlier commentator said that the church's policy on condoms gave the appearance of a lack of compassion: I would go further, and say it also indicates a lack of basic logic. I think that in the future, its stance will be as much an embarrassment to it as the trial of Galileo, and the sooner it jettisons this wicked nonsense, the better.



'Populist' successes in South America

Sir: On 4 May you asked "Should we be worried by the rise of the populist left in South America?" The most cursory web search yields a number of articles by Bloomberg, AP, Dow Jones and CEPR (Center for Economic Policy Research) which paint a picture of economic success, not the failures indicated by David Usborne.

The economy in Venezuela has grown 17.3 per cent in 2004 and 9.3 per cent in 2005 and the official rate of poverty has fallen from 54 per cent to 38.5 per cent (CEPR). So much for poverty being "as bad as ever". President Chavez is for the first time making the wealth of the country work for all Venezuelans, and not the privileged few.

The main reason that President Chavez is so much in the news is that Venezuela is one of the very few countries capable of expressing its opinion without risking serious consequences. This is because it does not have a serious foreign debt, does not depend on a product with few customers and has immense wealth in natural resources. This independence has made Venezuela, together with Brazil and Argentina, a new focus for Latin American integration.

It is in the interest of the major economies that this region of the world, with a growing population near to that of the EU and rich in natural resources, develops so that, with increasing GDP, it can become part of the world economic engine, to everyone's benefit.



Sir: In answer to David Osbourne's question, "Should we be worried by the rise of the populist left in South America?" perhaps the real question is whether we should be worried by this journalist's attitude to democracy.

In elections declared free and fair by UN observers Hugo Chavez has been elected President of Venezuela eight times with a popular mandate. Hugo Moralez has been elected freely and fairly (by a greater percentage of his population than our own prime minister.)

By restructuring the (already nationalised) oil company, President Chavez has been able to divert money to millions of the poorest in society to the benefit of health, education and food programmes.

If, as a nation, we are serious about supporting democracy perhaps it is time to support the wishes of Latin Americans. At least these left-wing presidents allow their people the opportunity to remove them with the ballot box.



US Methodists in visa dispute

Sir: For many years the Methodist Church of Great Britain has invited a number of probationer ministers over from the United Methodist Church in the USA to serve in Methodist circuits for one year. This year the Home Office denied visas to 14 - not 40 - probationers (David Winter's letter, 9 May).

This decision had nothing to do with political correctness or imams from Pakistan. Rather it is a difference of opinion: the Methodist Church regards all those who serve under the discipline of the Church to be ministers, even before they are ordained. The Home Office does not agree, and thus the probationer ministers did not qualify for admission under the Home Office's current definition of a minister of religion.

We continue to work closely with the Home and Foreign Offices to resolve this, but it is not helpful to have the matter blamed on political correctness when this is not the case.



Prescott's job should be a party post

Sir: One key issue emerging from the Prescott affair (Interview, 9 May) is the unacceptable incursion of party interests and imperatives into the public administration of government.

By his own admission, Prescott's "role" primarily involves management of relations and enforcement of discipline at the peak of New Labour. This should be a party-funded post and Prescott should not gain a lavish recompense, lifestyle and pension arrangement courtesy of the taxpayer for the privilege of it.



Sir: How dare Prescott warn others to avoid plunging the Labour Party into a war, when he, by his actions and the subsequent high remuneration for so little, is one of the reasons why Labour's popularity is so low? This highly paid buffoon should go - along with his crony, Tony.



Dissent on abortion no longer tolerated

Sir: I was disturbed to read of the jailing of pro-life activist Edward Atkinson for sending literature depicting abortions to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Kings Lynn (report, 8 May). It seems to mark another step towards a state in which dissent is no longer tolerated.

The pictures, while upsetting and distasteful, were factual photographs of aborted foetuses. Since when in a democratic state is a person jailed for imparting factually true information? Since when in a democratic state is someone jailed for expressing their opinion and justifying it with evidence?

I read that pro-lifers are now to be treated as animal rights extremists and terrorists. In Europe, there is as yet no establishment consensus on the issue of abortion. In some European countries abortion is illegal, in others it is available on demand, and in some (such as the UK) it is available in certain circumstances only. Does the UK regard the governments of Ireland, Portugal and a few others as "extremist" as they do not conform to the views of the UK establishment on abortion?

The observation by the former chairman of the Birth Control Trust that Mr Atkinson "sounds rather ill than criminal" is just the kind of statement totalitarian governments used to make against political dissidents, and should send a chill through the spines of all those who hold dear the pluralist values of our apparently diminishing liberal democracy.



Welcome rain

Sir: I wonder when the weather forecasters on radio and television are going to stop sounding apologetic when rain is forecast? They seem to be in a mindset attached to outdoor leisure. I wait to hear: "I'm glad to tell you that heavy rain is forecast over the South-east for the next 24 hours."



Foreign criminals

Sir: Contrary to claims by Andrew Cranmer, no one says foreign ex-felons are more dangerous than native ones (letters, 9 May). The point is that people should be awarded citizenship or residence only if it seems they will make reasonable citizens or residents. To award automatic residence to large numbers of grossly anti-social individuals is evidence of an immigration system in chaos. That is the scandal.



Supermarket salads

Sir: Your front page on 29 April was devoted to "the real cost of a bag of salad" and the volume of Africa's water used in its production. You suggested that by buying it "British supermarket shoppers are contributing to global drought". A week later the Food & Drink section of The Independent Magazine (6 May) was given over to an evaluation of the bags of salad on offer at various supermarkets. I'm trying to think what the leafy equivalent of having your cake and eating it might be.



Suffragette in Australia

Sir: Your article about Dora Thewlis "The lost suffragette" (8 May) states that she migrated to Australia before 1914 and "never came home to experience the suffrage she had fought for". Please note that all of Australia had female suffrage before Britain did, with the state of South Australia granting full suffrage as early as 1898. Dora did experience the right to vote. She just did not have to wait for the Poms to grant it.



The bald truth

Sir: When, at about 25, I started losing my hair, I asked my barber what I could do about it. "Well, sir," he replied, "There's only only one thing you can do about that." I was encouraged, thinking that he might suggest some lotion which might restore the hair. "What's that?" I asked. "Don't worry about it," was his reply. Now 57, I am eternally grateful to him for that simple advice. Had I never received it, who knows what mischief I might have got up to?