Voting tactics, Iraq and others

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A vote for a principled opposition can never be a wasted vote

A vote for a principled opposition can never be a wasted vote

Sir: There would appear to be a widely held view that it is a "waste" of one's vote to vote for a political party that has little chance of gaining an overall majority in a general election.

I spent a significant portion of my adult life voting, and sometimes working, for the Progressive Party in South Africa in the 1970s and early 1980s, when I could not vote for the ANC because it was banned. For many years the Progressive Party only had one member of parliament, Helen Suzman, whose lone voice continually called the apartheid government to account on matters highly pertinent to the present election, such as detention without trial, the use of evidence obtained by torture, and the illegitimate invasion of sovereign states.

Although my vote never contributed to the election of a second MP I never regarded it as having been wasted. Parliamentary democracy, even when it is a stunted parody of what it should be, as it was in South Africa before 1994, depends for any effectiveness it may have on there being a principled opposition willing and able to hold an unprincipled government to account. In this respect the official Opposition here is currently no opposition at all.

Whatever the outcome of the election people should never feel they have wasted their votes by supporting parliamentary candidates who are prepared to take a principled stand on matters as important to us all as civil liberties and the rule of law.



Blair lied because he didn't want peace

Sir: It is incredible that Mr Blair's defence of his truthfulness is reduced to the muddle of Lord Goldsmith's "take your pick" legal opinions.

Yesterday on the BBC Mr Brown supported the Prime Minister by insisting that Iraq was acting in defiance of the international community. In fact at the last session of the Security Council on Iraq the British ambassador took the UK/US resolution off the table because the council members had shown very clearly that they would vote against it. The French government was proposing a resolution giving Mr Blix and the inspectors three months to complete their work. Already the inspectors had verified the non-existence of nuclear weapons in Iraq.

If Mr Blair truly wanted peace he could have got it by supporting the Security Council. But he did not want peace and that is why he lied. Millions of people throughout the international community knew something was wrong and they went out on to the streets and protested against going to war.



Sir: I am a Labour Party member who agrees with some Liberal Democrat policies, such as local income tax, abolition of tuition fees and increased income tax on higher incomes. But I am appalled by Charles Kennedy's attacks on Tony Blair on the issue of Iraq. I am past being appalled by the Conservative Party.

Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, on the BBC, quoted articles from the United Nations Charter which Tony Blair allegedly ignored, so making his action in taking the United Kingdom to war on Iraq illegal. If only Blair had waited for a UN resolution the Lib Dems would have supported him.

The United Nations is not a united organisation, it is a coalition of nation states, most if not all of which will put their own perceived interests before their obligations under the Charter. Consequently we see tyrants murdering their own people by the hundred thousand, while the United Nations just watches. These tyrants ignore the same international law that Menzies Campbell declares that Tony Blair should have upheld.

The United Nations has departed from the high hopes of its founders. It is not a defender of freedom. It has become a talking shop, a shield behind which people like Kennedy take refuge, justifying their lack of will to act. Tony Blair acted. He was right.



Sir: Like so many people, Dr Schachter has totally missed the point (letter, 27 April). Of course we are all glad to see the back of Saddam Hussein, but Tony Blair is now trying to make out that that was the reason we went to war. It was not what he told us at the time, so he was either deceiving us then, or he is lying to us now.



Sir: Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office adviser who courageously resigned as a matter of principle on 18 March 2003 in protest at the Cabinet's Iraq war decision, has been entirely vindicated by the Attorney General's opinion, now at last in the public domain. If there is any credibility left in the honours system, she would richly deserve an honour.



A Labour victory is still a safe bet

Sir: Steve Richards repeats Labour's claim that protest votes going to the Liberal Democrats could unintentionally lead to a Tory win (28 April). The BBC's website provides an excellent "seat calculator" in which it is possible to specify any swing, and any other combination of votes: using this it can be seen that no straight swing of the 2001 result from Labour to the Lib Dems can generate a Tory majority - it goes straight through a hung parliament to a Lib Dem government.

Equally, with the Conservative vote at 34 per cent (as in the latest poll), there is no way to divide the 59 per cent who intend to vote Labour or Lib Dem between those two parties so as to give the Tories even 300 seats, let alone overall control, assuming an even swing nationwide.If the Conservatives win, it will be because of widespread tactical voting, or because they have won over voters from the other two main parties - and however much we might regret that, it would be democracy in action.



Sir: Steve Richards and others keep peddling the line about how switching from Labour to the Lib Dems will let in a Tory government. What utter nonsense. The bookmakers Paddy Power had the odds on a Labour victory at 25-1 on. Now they have announced they are going to pay out to all the punters who backed Labour to win - a week before the election itself. The pollsters and pundits sometimes get it wrong. But the bookies? Never.



Asylum system is a shambles

Sir: In recent weeks politicians and press have submitted conflicting views on the issue of immigration to what is perceived to be our tiny over-populated land. When our politicians are lost on issues that matter to the public, reviving endemic racism, Islam-phobia or anti-Semitism is seen as the safest option.

Traditionally the UK has always been a large exporter of its population. Over 191,000 persons left the UK in 2003 as economic emigrants and so on. An average of 70,000 asylum applicants arrive each year, and about 15 per cent of them are accepted as refugees and allowed to remain. This is clearly a tiny drop for the world's fourth richest economy, within the global ocean of over 80 million refugees.

I recently retired as a member of the Immigration Appeals Tribunal. During my 20 years' experience I saw no difference under Conservative or Labour administrations in the shambles and the enormous wastage of public funds that occurs. Moreover, within this arbitrarily adversarial system, the judiciary remains in denial of institutional racism within its very fabric.

Many applicants possess skills in great demand here. A system that deports nurses, doctors and engineers and then imports others to satisfy the acute skill shortage, must be perverse to say the least. Why do we prohibit applicants awaiting their decisions for years on end, to work and pay their way, as other UN signatories allow? Why should the taxpayer be burdened for menial handouts to any able-bodied persons?

Many are exploited by employers or driven to illegal activities. Some who are clearly bogus applicants are trapped here too. They are the victims of ruthless people traffickers who have swallowed up their farms, homes, or any other assets as a price for the "promised land"'.



NHS dentists are a disappearing breed

Sir: I sympathise with Dr Ralph (letter, 27 April) and his difficulties in finding an NHS dentist nearby. Unfortunately, I suspect that the situation will get considerably worse when the Government's new dental contract comes into effect next April.

At present most "private" practices will still see the children of their adult patients on the NHS and may also maintain a list of patients exempt from charges. The new contract will make it more difficult to do so. It's very sad but I believe that these dentists will resign rather than tie themselves into an underfunded contract which brings with it considerable new responsibilities. The loss of NHS income in turning totally private would be very small.

It is well known within the profession that applications to private payment plan providers have risen in recent months, suggesting that practitioners who are currently full-time NHS are also considering jumping ship before next April's deadline.

The new government should bite the bullet and stop pretending to offer a comprehensive, quality service across the board and concentrate resources on children and those who are currently exempt from dental charges. I doubt that this would prove to be the political bombshell they expect.



New ways to run Oxford University

Sir: Your article "Vice Chancellor 'trying to run Oxford like a corporation' " (26 April) gives the erroneous impression that aspects, if not all, of Oxford's current governance and academic strategy proposals as set out in the Green Papers are part of a new "managerial approach".

This is far from the case. In the last six months, academics of all levels have been consulted in a breath and to a depth that I have not seen before in my ten years at Oxford. The governance proposals that you describe would reinforce this wide involvement of academics in the debates and decisions of the University by creating an Academic Council that embraced all constituencies. Most other universities, especially in the UK , have such a senate or academic council.

The other suggested change, the introduction of a body of Trustees, would also create a structure matched in most other universities, which generally have governing councils with a majority of lay members. The proposals before Oxford are very little different in essence, and precise but important details remain to be worked out and voted upon by Congregation after consultation over the next six to twelve months.

Congregation would retain its present powers and would, therefore, be able to have the final say in all matters.



Polish lessons for European farmers

Sir: I was delighted to read about the number of Polish immigrants seeking work in the UK (28 April). In the early 1990s I was a project manager delivering academic and technical training to staff and students from the Agricultural Universities of Krakow and Poznan. Later I was also involved in training senior dairy industry managers.

Our Polish colleagues had excellent English, a good level of scientific competence and an endearing "old-world" charm and politeness.

We were able to help them on technical updating. Their milk production sector was compromised by the very small size of the dairy herds, run mostly on a part-time basis. The manufacturing sector lacked capital investment, but the staff had the potential to run a modern dairy industry.

I hope that modernised Polish agriculture will stiffen competition for subsidised EU farmers. Although we have moved some way from the financial madness of the 1980s, when every dairy cow in the EU was subsidised to the tune of £50, we still have a long way to go. Hopefully the recent East European entrants to the EU will prod agricultural subsidies in a more realistic direction.



Challenge on the road

Sir: Michael Howard has claimed that more people are dying annually from MRSA in our hospitals than are killed on our roads. OK, so let's clean up our hospitals, but what is going to be done about the roads?



Labour's thinned ranks

Sir: What commentators are missing in this election is that Labour is an army without troops. Party membership is at its lowest in 70 years and members who are active in this election are thin on the ground. There simply isn't the ability to get the vote out. So Labour must maintain a clear lead in the polls to win, as the percentage of its declared support bothering to vote will be low. If the poll lead narrows to a point or two, Labour will be in danger.



Mayor kept busy

Sir: By relying on the London Assembly Conservatives for its stories about me, Pandora is consistently wrong, as with the suggestion that I have only campaigned for Labour in three constituencies or that I have been "kept out of harm's way" (27 April). I have so far campaigned in Battersea, Bethnal Green and Bow, Croydon Central, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hornchurch, Islington South, Putney, Regents Park and Kensington North, and on three occasions in Brent East.



Fear of stolen votes

Sir: For an election said to be the most apathetic in history, 6 million postal votes being requested must surely set alarm bells ringing. That is 10 per cent of the population, never mind the electorate! Can any of us be sure that when we get to the polling station we won't find that our precious vote has already been cast? Is there a way of checking before its too late?



Apathy stalks the streets

Sir: I have travelled for work the same round trip of 64 miles per day for 40 years, and I noted from my diary that one week prior to the June 2001 general election there were 47 Labour, 27 Conservative and 14 Lib Dem window bills displayed along my route. One week prior to this 2005 general election, over the same journey, not one window poster! Social history being made? Total boredom?