Penalising pensioners, Tactical voting and others

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Why should pensioners be penalised for a life of prudence?

Why should pensioners be penalised for a life of prudence?

Sir: The constant exhortation to save for retirement is both desirable and laudable but it is what happens to pensioners who have followed this advice during their working lives that concerns me.

The personal income tax allowance this year for those under 65 is £4,895. This is increased to £7,090 for those aged 65-74. The higher allowance acknowledges not only pensioners' contributions to society throughout their working lives but also the impact on static incomes as expenses increase and inflation takes effect. Whilst their prudence - to use Gordon Brown's favourite word - in setting aside a portion of their earnings for their retirement is encouraged, this tax break proves to be yet another example of giving with one hand and taking back with the other, since it applies only to pensioners with an income under £19,500. Above this age-related limit the tax allowance is scaled back at the rate of £1 for every £2 in excess until it is reduced to the under 65 allowance. Surely a prudent pensioner is still a pensioner and in to-day's world £19,500 is hardly an excessive income. It could be argued that those with vast resources benefit unnecessarily but their incomes would always be subject to higher taxation. It is the prudent, middle income pensioner who is most adversely affected. The personal allowance of people under 65 is not subject to income limitations so why should the higher personal allowances for pensioners be penalised?



Tactical voting now more complex

Sir: There is a fatal flaw in Professor John Curtice's claim that, on a uniform swing from Labour to Liberal Democrat, there is no possibility of the Tories winning an overall majority ("Vote for Lib Dems will not let in Tories", 30 April). There will not be a uniform swing, not least because of the effect of tactical voting.

In 2001 nearly all the tactical voting was to keep the Tories out, and this was partly responsible for the apparent large pro-Labour bias in the system. This time the tactical voting is far more complex, as it is working to achieve at least two separate aims - to keep the Tories out, and to keep Blairites out. The effect, I believe, will be to greatly reduce the pro-Labour bias in the system, and to make it perfectly possible for Michael Howard to win an overall majority without even increasing the Tory vote.

In the 1970 election, the then Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe said in his last election broadcast that there was no way the Tories could win, so it was quite safe for anti-Tory voters to vote Liberal. The Tories duly won.



Sir: Congratulations on your lead story which decisively disproves Labour's unworthy refrain: "Vote Lib Dem, get Howard".

However, the many people who are pinning great hopes on the LibDems could be in for a disappointment if Labour retain a comfortable working majority of around 50. Professor Curtice shows that this could still happen if there is a 9 per cent uniform national swing from Labour to the Lib Dems, with the Tories static on 33 per cent of the national vote.

Given the immense benefits which could accrue from a Scottish-style balanced parliament able to insist on electoral reform, am I the only anti-war centre-leftie to hope that the Tories win just enough of the two-way Lab-Con marginals where they face a pro-war MP to help the progressive parties block yet another elective dictatorship?

Your research also shows that if the Tories were to go up three points then a 9 or even 6 per cent swing to the LibDems would hang the Parliament nicely.

Even if Labour voters can't bear to vote "strategic-Tory" in these Lab-Con marginals, if enough LibDem-sympathisers vote Tory then the outcome could more nearly approximate: "Vote Tory, get the LibDems" , or at least much of their agenda, than it would Labour's discredited mantra.



Sir: Ex-Labour Party members like me are not voting for the Liberal Democrats to register a protest. We are doing so because their policies on taxation, top-up fees, the NHS and foreign affairs are similar to Neil Kinnock's platform in 1992 and what would have been John Smith's manifesto in 1997: moderate European Social Democrat.

Roll on a hung parliament, and all the best to Labour Party workers. As someone who canvassed in every election from 1979 to 1997 I feel for them. It can't be an easy job.



Sir: I simply don't believe the polls. Almost everybody you speak to up and down the land is not going to vote Labour, principally because of Tony Blair and the lies on Iraq, but also because of other lies and false promises on top-up fees, the NHS, and the erosion of civil liberties.

People seem sick to death of this administration in the same way as they were with the sleazy Tories in 1997. One recalls the polls in 1992 putting Labour ahead, before the Tories got a reasonable majority. I think the polls are as out of touch with everyday people as Tony Blair is with the NHS.



Blair's trouble with integrity

Sir: It comes as no surprise that many people now recognise that Mr Blair lacks integrity. It was quite obvious when he said of Mr Blunkett after his resignation that "he left office with his integrity intact" that Mr Blair does not understand the meaning of the word.

In my dictionary "integrity" is defined as "uprightness; honesty; purity". However bad our own misdemeanours most of us know that Mr Blunkett's affair with a married woman did not fit this definition. Mr Blunkett has at least temporarily left the Government, but sadly it is still headed by someone who is obviously very confused about the difference between right and wrong.



Sir: So the last pieces of the Iraq jigsaw are falling into place and it is now apparent that the Prime Minister and his close associates not only doctored the military intelligence related to the war, but manipulated the legal situation also.

There is little doubt that Labour will win the election on Thursday. Weak political opposition and an antiquated voting process have seen to that. But there is one last hope that Tony Blair can be held accountable, and that hope lies in the shape of Reg Keys.

Perhaps now is the time for all those opposing Blair in the constituency of Sedgefield to rethink their position and stand down in order to give Mr Keys a clear run.



Sir: You can argue all you like about legal niceties, but what's indisputable is that the world is better off without the likes of Saddam Hussein.

Pious Charles Kennedy would have done nothing about a vile and brutal man - a mass murderer who was in breach of a whole host of UN resolutions. If Kennedy and Iraqi apologists like George Galloway had had their way, Saddam would still be on a killing spree and threatening neighbouring countries yet again.

That doesn't strike me as either liberal or democratic. You can trust Tony Blair to take tough decisions in the best interests of Britain, just as much as you can Charles Kennedy to run away from them.



Unsolicited postal ballots in the mail

Sir: My wife and I were surprised today to receive in the post ballot papers for which, to the best of our recollection, we have not applied.

On enquiry to the helpline, I was told that the relevant box on forms filled in last year was ticked for postal voting "until further notice". It being too late for notice, this time we must vote by post.

Granted that our recollections may be fallible, the ticking of a box as an indicator of a voter's long-term intentions is surely much too slight a matter and open to interference. I hope all who find themselves unwilling postal voters will make their votes count against Blair and his crooked regime.



Cheap books for the masses

Sir: Penguin books deserve congratulations on their 70 years of publishing affordable paperbacks, but they were not, as John Walsh suggests (Arts & Books Review, 29 April), the first to offer the masses cheap serious books. In 1902, the newly formed Rationalist Press Association launched its Cheap Reprints, shilling hardbacks and sixpenny paperbacks which that year included Ernst Haeckel's The Riddle of the Universe and T H Huxley's Lectures and Essays, and a year later Darwin's The Origin of Species and John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. The RPA sold 155,000 copies of its first five titles and went on successfully serving a mass readership with modest means but a hunger for serious works for many years before other publishers caught up with them.

The RPA continues to this day, publishing a magazine, New Humanist, and specialist humanist literature.



Development aid commitments

Sir: Your analysis of the parties' manifestos on trade, development and aid issues (23 April) will be read with great disappointment by many in the trade justice movement and the struggle for global equality. That the Tories - the party most committed to forcing open developing nations markets to international competition - have been ranked higher than the Greens will be taken as evidence that your analysis, and particular its scoring system, is more flawed than even Tory trade policy.

Where Paul Vallely states that the Greens have no timetable for their commitment to give 1 per cent of national income as development aid, he is misrepresenting our manifesto, which states clearly: "We will exceed the UN's target and allocate at least 1 per cent of UK Gross National Investment (GNI) for aid by 2010."

I suggest those of your readers who are interested in the Greens' policies on trade and development aid have a look at the manifesto for themselves, at



Sir: May I warmly welcome your coverage of World Poverty Day. It is refreshing to see this crucial subject treated with the gravity that it deserves. I join you in welcoming the emerging spirit of consensus on this issue. I fear that your coverage, comprehensive though it was, contained some inaccuracies.

The Conservative Party has made no less of a commitment to international aid than the Government. We will increase the development budget by £800m over the next three years, and work towards achieving the UN's 0.7 per cent aid target by 2013. Despite your statement to the contrary, I have not seen any "timetable" for Labour to meet the target by 2013.

Furthermore, contrary to the impression given in your leader column, the Conservative Party supports the principle of the proposed International Arms Trade Treaty.




Sir: The Archbishop of Canterbury is right about trade barriers being unfair on poor countries (and everyone else) but grossly wrong about free trade: starvation is not caused by economic inequality but by brutal and corrupt regimes ruling rich and fertile countries. There was no shortage of food during the Ethiopian famine, just as there is no shortage of food now in Zimbabwe where millions are starving.



Democratic Israel

Sir: Robert Fisk longs for democracy in the Arab Middle East and assures us that he supports it (Opinion, 30 April). Yet he makes no mention of Israel, the only Middle East democracy in which Arab citizens can vote and stand for office. It would be good if Mr Fisk could bring the same rigour and objectivity to his reporting of Israel that he brings to his reporting of the Arab world.



Conflicting claims

Sir: PJ Stewart is greatly mistaken (letter, 29 April) to say that Iraq's claim to Kuwait was as good as that of Britain to the Falkland Islands. Britain's title there rests on almost two centuries of unbroken possession (bar a few weeks in 1982) and upon the support of the inhabitants. Iraq has neither in relation to Kuwait. Indeed, if anyone has a legitimate historical claim to Kuwait it would be Turkey. As for the inhabitants' consent, I challenge anyone to demonstrate that any significant number of Kuwaitis ever wanted to be ruled by Iraq.



Forecasting the weather

Sir: There is a very simple answer to why weather forecasters get it wrong so often ("What a shower", 28 April): there is no meteorologist left who is not computer-dependent. If forecasters educated the public better and if newspapers printed more detailed weather maps, we might be able to do it for ourselves. If the San Francisco Chronicle can devote an entire page to weather, why can't a British paper do the same?



Wind farms and CO2

Sir: On the issue of wind power, one drawback I have not seen discussed is the huge output of carbon required in the construction of these monstrous structures.

A conservative estimate for the production of one concrete base alone is about 100 tons carbon dioxide; about the same again for the construction and erection of the turbine. In Cumbria, the proposal is for 27 such structures - that is, over 5,000 tons of CO2. To generate energy equivalent to one large fossil fuel plant would require at least 200 wind farms - at least a million tons of carbon dioxide.



Our leaders' words

Sir: Then: "I never had sexual relations with that woman" - President Clinton.

Now: "I have never lied about Iraq" - Premier Blair.

Enough said?