Postal voting mix-up, Millions of votes parties don't want and others

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Barred from the ballot by a mix-up over postal voting

Barred from the ballot by a mix-up over postal voting

Sir: My father originally asked for a postal vote as he was to be away on the day of the election, but when he was informed the forms would not be sent out until the day he left, he told them not to bother. Instead he filled out and returned the forms for a proxy vote in my name.

I arrived at the polling station this morning to be told that my father had been sent the postal vote forms and therefore was not entitled to a vote in person, even though I have the uncompleted postal vote forms to prove they had not been used.

Whilst I was there, someone else turned up with similar problems; they had not returned the postal forms for whatever reason but they were there in person. They were also turned away "because the postal forms had been sent out". The fact that my father specifically told them not to and arranged an alternative apparently counted for nothing.

How can the result be considered accurate if so many people are being refused the right to vote because of an administrative situation beyond their control? In my father's case, he did everything right to ensure his vote was counted, and yet it will not be. How many other people around the country are being marked as not having voted when they were in fact physically present but were denied because of bureaucratic disorder?

SUSAN M FARNDELL

BRIGHTON

Millions of votes the parties don't want

Sir: The party leaders have been desperately exhorting us to vote, but for the first time in a general election I am declining the offer. Not because I am apathetic to politics, far from it. I value my vote and would like it to count. It might have something to do with the fact that party leaders rarely, if ever visit my constituency, minor parties do not always put up candidates and canvassers never knock on my door.

When the party leaders plead for us to vote, they are not really talking to me. They are talking to the minority of people who really elect governments in this so-called democracy. They are of course the floating voters who live in marginal seats.

I however, like a majority of us, live in a safe seat. No one hunts for my vote because the result is guaranteed. At the last two elections, the winning candidate here polled more votes than the next two parties combined, at a time when Tory fortunes appeared to be in a terminal nosedive. I could vote Tory as I did in the 1980s but I would only needlessly add to the candidate's assured large majority. I could vote Lib Dem again or even Labour or Green but I would be wasting my time.

We need electoral reform to re-engage people like me who know that their vote does not materially count. A simple amalgam of PR and first-past-the-post would suffice, with half the MPs locally voted for and the remainder elected according to national voting figures.

PETER MACLEOD

FAREHAM, HAMPSHIRE

Sir: The Alternative Vote should be introduced immediately. That would eliminate any need for tactical voting. Electors could choose whichever candidate they most favoured, safe in the knowledge that, were that candidate eliminated, they would have made their tactical vote as their second choice. The real public preferences would then be revealed, from Monster Raving Loony Party onwards. It is likely that many "smaller" parties would be shown to be unexpectedly popular.

The results of such contests would be real first-past-the-post decisions - the winners would each have over 50 per cent of the votes cast.

One more change should be made - to print at the bottom of each voting paper a line saying "None of the above". It would allow electors to voice their disgust with the quality of candidates; and yet, if they wished, to select, as a second preference, the least bad of those standing.

SIR REGINALD E W HARLAND

BURY ST EDMUNDS, SUFFOLK

Where is the hunger for real reform?

Sir: Professor Stuart Weir is quite right (letter, 28 April). An unwritten constitution, a supine Commons, and an unaccountable executive are a recipe for misrule. The media are currently making a meal of the minutiae of our electoral process, but there is precious little questioning of the overall system and little evidence of a hunger for fundamental constitutional reform.

When will we see extended debate on our democracy, ranging over such issues as a Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, trial by jury, due process and equality under the law, the balance of powers, Lords reform, electoral reform, hereditary power, the Royal Prerogative and the long-term implications of the Prevention of Terrorism Act?

Perhaps we are incapable of chewing gum and walking at the same time - too intellectually lazy to build a coherent democratic constitution. Or do the power-brokers find it just too convenient to operate by unwritten rules and pragmatic precedents that can be changed at will?

CYRIL MEADOWS

LONDON N8

Countless victims of conflict in Iraq

Sir: The minister for Europe, Denis MacShane, (letter, 4 May) is apparently outraged at the lack of publicity given to the 1,500 bodies found in a mass grave killed by Saddam Hussein. At the same time he supports an occupying force that has killed many thousands of innocent civilians and refuses count them. Why are the victims of Saddam more worthy of concern?

Mr MacShane also warns of a return to the 20th-century "appeasement policy" of his political opponents, forgetting that Tony Blair told the public just before the invasion that Saddam could stay in Iraq if he gave up his WMDs. Then again, the Prime Minister does not always mean what he says.

RICHARD LANIGAN

KINGSTON UPON THAMES, SURREY

Sir: Tony Blair's plea "This election is about more than the war - or me" is breathtaking in its effrontery. He says, "I had a choice, faced with the knowledge of his long defiance of his UN obligations, to leave Saddam in power or to remove him. I chose to remove him" (Opinion, 3 May).

He was never faced with any such choice, since it is not the business of this country to decide the leadership of another state, however deplorable it might be. The choice that Blair made was to support President Bush's decision (which was not made on humanitarian grounds) to invade and control Iraq. His biggest dilemma was to find the best way of convincing the Government and the public that this course of action was somehow "in the best interests of this country, that region and the wider world". He has tried everything, short of Bush's easy solution of blaming the Iraqis for the World Trade Centre attack.

Perhaps we should take courage from the fact that Mr Blair is so willing to admit that this most critical foreign policy decision was made by him and not, as one might have hoped, by Cabinet working together. Perhaps the Labour Party and proper government processes can one day recover from the damage done by our current leader, when life-time Labour supporters such as me will be happy to vote for it once more.

FRANCES KNIGHT

EDINBURGH

Sir: Like many who are relaxed about our attack on Iraq, Dennis Twist (letter, 3 May) feels "It is a great pity that Blair's efforts to get a second resolution and more support were thwarted by France and Russia but that doesn't mean he took the wrong decision in backing Bush."

At the heart of this attitude is an utter contempt for the UN and a denial of its role in international law. Such advocates of the war saw independent nations that resisted pressure to vote in line with the aims of the US as being somehow perverse.

That a second resolution was not forthcoming, with or without the promised French or Russian vetoes, showed that many countries were unwilling to rubber-stamp an attack on Iraq: the UN worked, but was overridden by brute force.

EDDIE DOUGALL

WALSHAM LE WILLOWS, SUFFOLK

Sir: If David Kenson (letter, 4 May) reads another letter supporting the Iraq war because Saddam was a terrible dictator, he shall scream.

By strange coincidence, if I read another letter like his saying Saddam could be removed without invading, I shall scream. While I have heard many people say there were ways other than invasion to remove Saddam I have never heard anyone say what any of these ways were. Mr Kenson certainly doesn't, though it seems he would have lifted the sanctions on Iraq while Saddam was still in power, thereby allowing him to rearm.

ROB HINKLEY

ST ALBANS, HERTFORDSHIRE

Sir: People who join the army are trained to kill and must expect to face being killed themselves. It's part of the job. Why do bereaved wives think they can blame the Government for the demise of their husbands killed doing their job?

SUSANNA MCINTYRE

HENLLYS, CWMBRAN

The English course that students need

Sir: Thanks to The Independent for picking up our book on reforming A-level English and for publishing responses by Claire Fox (19 April), Howard Jacobson (23 April), Ian Brinton (27 April) and other readers. The original headline ("Scrap English literature A-level, teachers demand") seems to have set the terms for debate, and so perhaps I might reply on behalf of the authors.

Nowhere in The Future of A-Level English do we propose scrapping A-level English literature. We do argue for improving it, partly along the lines that Howard Jacobson finds so risible: showing how literary works are intimately related to the culture within which they are produced and, contrarily, that the meaning of literature is not fixed, but is reinterpreted by each new generation of readers. Most importantly, we argue not for less literature to be studied, but more, and in a more reflective and literary way. As a former English lecturer, Claire Fox will know how etiolated current English Literature courses are in comparison with some of those taught before the Major government's clampdown on syllabuses in 1993.

Ian Brinton complains that our book says nothing about the "delight" of reading. Our intention is indeed to make English studies at A-level altogether more pleasurable, by proposing a curriculum that meets the needs of students. There is a great deal more to advanced English study than is contained within traditional literature courses, and these essential understandings should be available to all students at age 18. The exact structure of courses (which elements should be compulsory and which optional, and so on) is a debate for the future.

JOHN HODGSON

CHAIR, POST-16 COMMITTEE, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE TEACHING OF ENGLISH, BRISTOL

Reasons behind the old-fashioned rules

Sir: The remedy for "Mob rule in the classroom" proposed by Deborah Orr (26 April), namely "ratchetting up school discipline and returning to old-fashioned rules" needs an underpinning rationale.

Given acceptance of every human being as of equal worth, the relationship of parents, children and teachers is determined by the role of each in the educational process. The exercise of authority by teachers - not arbitrary but constitutional and matched to responsibility - is indispensable; and the necessity for discipline is imposed by the nature of the task ("No Smoking" at a petrol pump: "No talking out of turn" in class) and not the whim of grown-ups.

Nor should good manners be confused with deferential behaviour.

SIR IAN MCGEOCH

(VICE-ADMIRAL, RETIRED) IXWORTH, SUFFOLK

Wisdom of youth

Sir: I went early to vote and as I waited at the registration desk I heard a muffled voice from one of the booths say "Eeny, Meeny, Miny...". How comforting to know that our next government is being elected according to the rituals and lore of childhood.

TIM CHARLTON

DULVERTON, SOMERSET

Waiting list mystery

Sir: The NHS, under Labour, have generated a new "don't throw stones at this noticeboard" jobsworth letter. Three weeks after consulting my doctor I received a letter from the rheumatology department. I was informed that they will write to me in due course with additional information. Am I now on the waiting list to be put on the waiting list, or are they hoping the suspense of not knowing might finish me off? Cardiology patients take note!

ELIZABETH MACHIN

HARPENDEN, HERTFORDSHIRE

New perils of cannabis

Sir: "Depression, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, the precipitation of schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals..." (Deborah Orr, "I've changed my mind about cannabis", 3 May). My 21-year-old son has this week been admitted to hospital with the above symptoms for the second time in two years. Many friends of mind are reporting similar outcomes in their 18-25-year-old children. The cannabis today is much more lethal than the cannabis we took in the 1960s and a liberal approach is damaging, on this issue.

MICHAEL BOR

LONDON W2

On the move

Sir: Phil Griffin (letter, 23 April) refers to the undoubted advantages of immigration, but without reference to its present scale. A century ago it was modest and manageable, and was comfortably absorbed; with the intervening transport revolution this is no longer the case.

DON BARTON

ALTON, HAMPSHIRE

Poland's three jailers

Sir: Ed Caesar writes (28 April) that Poland was "imprisoned within the Austro-Hungarian empire for 120 years". In fact, only the southern part was in Austro-Hungary, the rest being divided between Prussia (later Germany) and Russia.

CHARLES TURNER

WARWICK UNIVERSITY COVENTRY

Sounds of silence

Sir: John Cage's Four Minutes, 33 Seconds may be performed by any number of players (Brian Viner, 2 May). Of many heard, I find the spare austerity of the version for solo piano unsurpassed.

BRUCE J REID

LICHFIELD, STAFFORDSHIRE

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