Tory sleaze/Labour spin, Blair to blame if Tories are 'let in' and others

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The Independent Online

Tory sleaze and Labour spin have undermined our democracy

Sir: The appalling manner of the decision to go to war in Iraq is symptomatic of Tony Blair's much wider authoritarian approach, which is playing havoc with our basic political and legal safeguards. His deeply cherished "authority" and "leadership" actually means his personal power.

How many times in the last few days has he stressed that going to Iraq was his personal decision, not the real democratic will of Cabinet or Parliament? How many times has he told us how his most controversial decisions - Iraq, control orders - are rooted in his being unable to countenance the awful personal responsibility if something dreadful were to happen without them? For him modernisation means removal of checks and balances and guarantees of civil liberties that impede his exercise of power. That is when authority becomes authoritarianism. And Gordon Brown's new whole-hearted endorsement merely promises more of the same.

The spin that has characterised the Blair administration has gone beyond mere political game-playing into a much more serious cumulative erosion of British democracy and civil liberties - and unlike the US we have no written constitution to fall back on. We rely entirely on our unwritten constitutional traditions, precedents and above all the honesty, integrity and probity of our politicians and public servants. That is why trust matters.

The Tories gave us sleaze, and New Labour has given us spin. The erosion of traditions of honesty, balance, openness and probity in British politics in the past 20 years is what has turned off millions of voters. This undermining of British democracy and civil liberties calls for a real alternative to replace our current corrosive elective dictatorship.

GEORGE LAMBRICK

OXFORD

Blair to blame if Tories are 'let in'

Sir: For Tony Blair to complain that a vote for the Lib Dems may let the Tories in through the back door ("This election is about more than the war - or me", 3 May) in not only inaccurate but hypocritical.

Your newspaper has already published articles by various psephologists demonstrating that this is not the case; there is no need for me to add to their arguments. But it is only under our first-past-the-post electoral system that people vote against a party rather than for a party. Tony Blair promised a referendum on our electoral system over eight years ago; Lord Jenkins produced his report but Blair took no action. If he had done people now would be able to vote positively for a party without fears of letting in another "by mistake".

BRIAN JONES

LEEDS

Sir: Isn't the fact that Tony Blair can warn electors against voting Lib Dem because it might "let the Tories in by the back door" an indictment of our farcical electoral system?

I do not want to have to consult a psephologist with a PhD in probability theory to work out which way to vote. I just want to be able to vote for whom I choose and for that vote to be reflected in Parliament. If that results in coalition government and compromise then so be it. Handing another minority party an artificial majority is not democracy.

CHARLES HOPKINS

NORWICH

Sir: Tony Blair (or more probably Alastair Campbell) writes: "This newspaper and many of its readers have strong disagreements with me over Iraq." He still doesn't realise that many of us are equally or more concerned about having our country run by someone with a proven record of deceit and dishonesty: it's the trust question, stupid!

JOHN BOLTON

POTTERS BAR, HERTFORDSHIRE

Sir: Mr Blair asks us not to vote against him even if we disagree with his judgment on Iraq. Yet at the time of the war he ignored the millions of letters received and the huge numbers of people who marched against his policy. By ordering war he committed the serious war crime of aggression.

Having showed contempt for the will of the people on the matter, he left us with the only one option remaining to protest: to vote against him in the general election.

DAVID BOBER

BRIGHAM, CUMBRIA

Sir: I couldn't help but notice that George W Bush and the United States of America were absent from Tony Blair's pre-election message to readers of The Independent. To say that because Saddam Hussein defied UN resolutions, "I chose to remove him" seems to suggest that Mr Blair does believe this is all about him.

PHIL COLE

HITCHIN, HERTFORDSHIRE

Only one party will overthrow tyrants

Sir: The BBC reported over the weekend the discovery of a mass grave in Iraq with 1,500 bodies killed by Saddam Hussein. If such a mass grave with the remains of so many men, women and children had been uncovered in any other country in the world it would be the lead story in the British media, with everyone calling for international action against the tyrant responsible for such evil.

But in today's Britain, our moral sense is so blunted and so obsessed with domestic political point-scoring that the discovery of this mass grave had not featured in our news after the initial BBC report. Charles Kennedy has never visited Iraq, nor in any of the Lib-Dem interventions is the Commons on Iraq have I ever heard one of their MPs quote an Iraqi or show any interest is the future of Iraq other than to condemn Tony Blair for acting against tyranny.

I have long been a supporter of co-operation between Labour and the Lib-Dens but my thoughts go to the families of those killed in cold blood and thrown into a mass grave by Saddam who do not feature in the speeches by Mr Kennedy or Mr Howard on Iraq. Ten years ago under the Tories, Britain refused to move on Srebrenica and Rwanda. If voters let Tory candidates win by switching votes to Lib Dems in key seats we will start the drift back to 20th-century Conservative Britain where the appeasement of a Milosevic or a Saddam and a refusal to stop genocide in Africa become again normal policy.

DENIS MACSHANE

MINISTER FOR EUROPE ROTHERHAM, SOUTH YORKSHIRE

Sir: If I read another letter like the one from Stephen Cox (2 May) supporting the Iraq war because Saddam was a terrible dictator, I shall scream. Dictators can be removed without starving their people and killing their children with sanctions, lying about their weapons capability and then dropping cluster bombs on their civilians. The CIA has for decades been organising the removal of heads of state unpalatable to the USA.

The Iraq war happened because George Bush wanted to look macho and decisive after 9/11, and because he knew Iraq could not fight back. Now can we stop this half thought-out posturing about Tony "taking tough decisions"?

DAVID KENSON

LONDON EC3

Perverse arguments for tactical voting

Sir: Billy Bragg's article on tactical voting is perverse (Opinion, 3 May). He argues that progressive voters should vote New Labour in order to help the Lib Dems replace the Tories as the main opposition party.

Yet since New Labour is in fundamentals a party of the centre-right, all progressive voters can hope for is a less objectionable form of market fundamentalism. It is certainly true that progressives have no interest in securing a Tory revival, and many will vote New Labour while holding their noses, but like many New Labour conservatives, Bragg is unable to make a coherent progressive case for voting New Labour.

Bragg's form of tactical voting is the old version of securing Lib Dem and other progressive votes for New Labour, something which helped Labour's majorities in 1997 and 2001.

Bragg underplays the disillusion progressive voters have with New Labour, which predates Iraq and is not a one-issue cause. The reality is that whichever party forms the government on Friday, a fundamentally conservative agenda will determine the politics of the country as it has done under the last three prime ministers. To produce a real change in the political climate would require electoral reform, which Bragg does not mention. While first-past-the-post exists, the politicians can ignore the centre-left majority in the country to secure support from a small group of floating voters in Tory marginals.

TREVOR FISHER

STAFFORD

Country people united in anger

Sir: Peter Morris (letter, 27 May) seems to think landowners are privileged. He is wrong. Those of us who try to live by producing food feel underprivileged. We are vilified if we use modern science to produce good crops. Organic farmers are told by supermarkets that organic produce should be marketed at the same price as conventional produce in spite of the fact that yields will be between one third and one half that of conventionally produced food.

Yes, all the tenant farmers and owner-occupiers have Conservative signs up as the other parties want to stop our country sports and tell us how to farm. We feel misunderstood and fairly unwanted. Four hundred thousand people marched for the Countryside Alliance last year. The result: all but three Labour Members of Parliament voted for a ban on hunting and about half the Liberal Democrats voted for a ban or abstained.

Country folk get quietly cross at being dictated to by an urban majority who have a very outdated view of the countryside and its ways. I was myself astonished to see so many Conservative signs up on farmers' land where there were none in 2001. Labour has managed to unite the countryside!

ROGER STRATTON

KEYNSHAM, BRISTOL

All the fun of the postal vote

Sir: My wife and I were peeved. This time we were posted only two votes each while our 18-year-old son received three. Is this evidence of institutionalised ageism in Blairocracy? Mind, it's not so bad, we hold in our care two of his votes, which were posted to our family home.

We don't know whether our other three older children have a third vote but we do know that they do have at least two each because we also received theirs at home in the post. Hence my wife and I, to date, have 12 votes.

Long live the postal vote. This Blairocracy is so much more fun than the old boring system of "one person, one vote".

A TURNEY

WINFRITH NEWBURGH, DORSET

Sir: I own a house that lies just inside South Ribble parliamentary constituency. I recently received two voting papers addressed to the couple who lived there up until they died three years ago. These were sent back to the returning officer inviting him to amend his records.

Today the dead couple received another two papers from the returning officer for the Ribble Valley constituency, the border of which lies just across the road. Banana republic or what?

NOEL ASHWORTH

BALDERSTONE, LANCASHIRE

Sir: Had Adrian Marlowe (letter, 27 April) had the prescience to telephone the embassy at The Hague inside the 11 March deadline his troubles would not necessarily have been over.

Having registered in the constituency in which he was last registered to vote, his choice would have been to vote by post, giving little hope of returning a postal vote in seven days. Alternatively he could appoint a proxy but this would require his application to be certified by a Brit not living in Britain, as well as having signed acceptance by his proxy living in his old constituency.

ROBIN HILL

NORRKÖPING, SWEDEN

Africa prays for a Labour victory

Sir: Having been both a missionary and an aid worker I receive many messages from people in the third world. Almost all, especially those in Africa, hope and indeed pray for a Labour victory in our general election.

The reason is simple - this government has done more than all its predecessors combined to "make poverty history" by cancelling the debts of the poorest. The effects are beginning to be felt - suddenly all children in Tanzania can go to primary school because their fees have been cancelled. Christians and all other men and women of goodwill would do well to ponder this in deciding how we vote.

BERNARR ATHERTON

CARMARTHEN

Best deal on offer

Sir: One year of Tony Blair, then at least three years of Labour government without him. Given an imperfect world, what's wrong with that for a deal?

PATRICK DAUNT

LITTLE ABINGTON, CAMBRIDGESHIRE

The mugging of Iraq

Sir: The suggestion that Blair decided to go to war because he couldn't stop Bush is as sensible as some thug claiming that he knew his friends were going to mug an old lady and decided to join in so as to moderate the violence. A crime is a crime and a person who commits a criminal act is a criminal. Blair should be impeached.

JOHN R KING

CLEETHORPES, LINCOLNSHIRE

Unasked questions

Sir: One of the more surprising aspects of the current debate on the Iraq war is the narrowness of range of questions being asked of the Prime Minister's position on the run-up to the war. Of equal interest is what he knew before the conflict started of the post-war aims of the Bush administration. Did he know, for example, of the plan to sack all Iraqi public sector workers? Was he party to the devastating consequences of this ideological insanity? Given Blair's notorious lack of attention to detail, anything seems possible.

TOM MACFARLANE

THORNTON CLEVELEYS, LANCASHIRE

Language difficulty

Sir: I live in a marginal seat, and you had me convinced. It was time to vote Lib Dem for the first time ever in my life of 58 years: but then they decided to send me their election literature in English only. This is a Welsh constituency. Blown it. My vote goes to Plaid Cymru.

PETER BRADLEY

CAERDYDD

Choice of evils

Sir: What a dilemma for an old leftie - vote for Tony Blair, or vote as recommended by Bruce Anderson (2 May)!

JOHN CHAMPNEYS

TUNBRIDGE WELLS, KENT

Leave me out of it

Sir: A Blair government? Not in my name.

DAN DENNIS

EDINBURGH

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