Voting tactics, Iraq war and others

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The Independent Online

How voters can punish Blair without letting the Conservatives in

How voters can punish Blair without letting the Conservatives in

Sir: The ICM poll that you reported on 22 March showed the Conservatives on 32 per cent. This is 1 per cent below their share at the last general election and which prompted William Hague's immediate resignation.

In order to win the general election, the Conservatives need to double their number of MPs and win in places where they have fallen into third place and effectively disappeared. An unfair electoral system and an uneven seat distribution means that the Conservatives would, for example, need to be about 8 per cent ahead of Labour in order to win.

Not only are the Conservatives failing to challenge Labour, they are clearly very fearful of losing another significant number of their seats to the Liberal Democrats.

Labour's "slippery approach" is one of the reasons that so many Labour supporters are switching to the Liberal Democrats confident in the knowledge that their votes will only help to elect more Liberal Democrat MPs. This is what happened when Liberal Democrats won the parliamentary by-elections in Brent East and Leicester South. On these occasions, former Labour voters rejected their party's dishonest claims that voting Lib Dem "would let the Conservatives win".

Chief Executive, Liberal Democrats
London SW1

Sir: Disgruntled Labour voters mustn't lose their nerve and allow themselves to be panicked into voting Labour again (Letters, 22 and 23 March). The threat from Michael Howard in 2005 is about as credible as the threat from Saddam Hussein was in 2003.

Even if there is tactical voting against Labour, the Tories actually overtake Labour in their share of the popular vote and the Liberal Democrat vote surges, Labour will still win comfortably. This is due to biases built into our electoral system and the fact that the Tory Party, like the Liberal Party before it, has effectively ceased to be a party of government.

Judging by recent polls, and allowing for the effects of boundary changes in Scotland, the Labour Party stands to lose up to 60 seats, possibly a few more. This is nowhere near enough to deliver a Tory victory. But it is enough to ensure that Labour's Commons majority will substantially consist of the awkward squad of off-message backbenchers and ex-ministers with axes to grind. This prospect is what gives the Labour leadership nightmares as they contemplate trying to get parliamentary endorsement for ID cards, further assaults on civil liberties and more of George Bush's wars.

The conclusion for disaffected Labour voters is inescapable - this time, don't vote Labour!

Sittingbourne, Kent

Mystery of the Iraq war legal advice

Sir: Following the latest revelations ("The smoking gun?", 24 March) over how the Attorney General changed his opinion on the legality of invading Iraq it is now clear that making public the basis of his change of judgement is essential in the public interest.

Indeed, when on 1 January I applied for the release of the Attorney General's legal endorsement of war on Iraq, I specifically asked for "the final legal advice given by Lord Goldsmith to the British Government on the legality of military action against Iraq, along with each of its earlier iterations (if any), with their dates, and all internal e-mails or other inter-departmental correspondence relating to reasons for changes between any such draft iterations".

My appeal on being rejected resides with the Information Commissioner. In the meantime, we do know that when Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our then Ambassador to the United Nations, argued in the Security Council for Resolution 1441 in the debate on 8 November 2002 he was forced, on the record, to give the reassurance that as far as the UK was concerned: "There is no 'automaticity' in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in . . . Resolution 1441."

It would be interesting to know how, in law, the Attorney General was able to set aside this public commitment on behalf of the UK government on the world's highest diplomatic stage at the UN, simply because it was no longer politically convenient in respect of the Prime Minister's determination to back the United States president in his military adventure against Iraq.

Stoneleigh, Surrey

Sir: The Independent is to be congratulated on the prominence it has given to the story concerning the Attorney General and his so-called advice. It is truly tragic that the unfortunate individual concerned and his important office have been made a laughing stock by the manoeuvrings and contortions of Blair and Co. How will Lord Goldsmith be able to hold up his head in future among his fellow lawyers or give credible advice to the Government? Clearly he will have to resign. But that is the least of the matter.

This Government came to power in 1997 at least in part because it held out the promise of a return to probity after years of Tory "sleaze". For a time we seemed to be making progress. Principled action in Kosovo certainly helped to solve the humanitarian crisis there. The independent assemblies for Wales and Scotland seemed to indicate a new constitutional era at home.

Blair's obsessive pro-Americanism seems to have put paid to that bright new dawn. We are back to ducking and diving, with ministers hauled before Parliament to give lame excuses for unpardonable behaviour. How are the mighty fallen, and how disappointed many thoughtful voters must be.

Staines, Surrey

Sir: The Government's continued suppression of the legal advice it received on the Iraq war is extremely unfair on the Attorney General.

His published outline advice did not even mention five key principles of international law. First, it is up to the UN, not individual member states, to decide how to enforce its resolutions. Second, a war is justified only if it is necessary and a last resort. Third, states must have no hidden, ulterior motives for going to war: they may do so only for lawful purposes and use only the force necessary to achieve them. Fourth, there is an overwhelming presumption against war in international law; if in doubt, states must avoid war. Fifth, the burden of proof is on a state intending to make war to show that it is justified, not on its victim to show why it should not be attacked.

Unless and until the British people see how the Attorney General dealt with those arguments in the context of Iraq they may well conclude that his final advice was incompetent or politically motivated.

London SE1

Sir: Professor Day's line, "We went to war on a page of A4" (letter, 25 March), does not scan correctly as the opening line of a limerick. However, it serves very nicely as the "short" third and fourth rhyming lines:
To further his friendship with Bush
The PM was quite in a rush;
We went to war
On a page of A4
And watched as shove became push.

We are sure that many of your readers can do better.


Edgbaston, Birmingham

Sir: The problem for Mr Blair is that he will be damned whether he publishes or not.

Pinner, Middlesex

Sent off by Mosley

Sir: Brian Viner (Sport, 19 March) asks if the England rugby captain of the 1930s Peter Howard "ever regretted leading Mosley's Biff Boys, who knows?" Of course he did. His biography, admittedly by an interested party, his daughter Anne Wolrige Gordon, makes it clear that he came to regret being involved with Mosley's movement. He had seen in it a way to "alleviate the hardships of the working man", wrote his daughter. "Later, he was to see how naïve it was." It was a relief to him to be sacked from Mosley's party, and, as Howard wrote to his wife, Doe, "I think for the last few months my whole mind has been ill."

What Brian Viner does not highlight in his partial portrait of Howard is that he was born with a lame leg, yet through sheer grit and determination rose to become England captain.

As for the Oxford Group being "pseudo" Christian, far from it. The Oxford Group was a lay body which gained widespread church support in the 1930s. Its adherents believed that it was only through a personal experience of one's self-will being "crossed out" by the Cross of Christ that the world would be transformed.

London SW1

Contempt for Gypsies

Sir: Peter Jones (letter, 22 March) speaks of some Travellers' "contempt for other people". Surely the most contempt has been shown by government and councils in not providing for the needs of our vulnerable Gypsy/Traveller communities. He speaks of "a disgusting mess" but I have encountered camps left tidier than before, camps with refuse left neatly bagged for collection. He speaks of "intimidation": Gypsy/Traveller families have faced verbal and physical abuse for centuries.

Gypsies and Travellers are vilified for much, but does society know of their care for young and old in their communities, their respect for the family? Gypsies and Travellers are generous in the face of extreme prejudice. A culturally diverse society should be able to provide enough sites to accommodate their way of life.

Harwell, Oxfordshire

Sir: What do the pro-Traveller people have to say about the awful mess that Travellers tend to leave behind? In our part of the world councils and farmers have to spend a lot of time and money clearing this up, and building obstructions to try and safeguard their land against incursions. And what do pro-Traveller people say about the threatening behaviour that Travellers are known to exhibit when a landowner tries to defend his land?

Could it be that the pro lobby predominantly live in urban areas where they do not see the damage, and instead see Travellers as a romantic group "in touch with nature"?

Its not a question of bigotry or race. Any move to limit the damage that Travellers cause to the environment is to be welcomed. I would like to see them given more sites, with sensible controls and rents. Otherwise, regrettably, they should consider going into fixed accommodation.

West Sussex

Dangers of cannabis

Sir: Dr Raj Persaud is right to remind us of the dangers of cannabis ("Are we sitting on a schizophrenia time-bomb?", 21 March). It is precisely because cannabis can be dangerous that it needs to be regulated by the Government, which is something that can never be done if it remains illegal.

It is extremely difficult to stop younger people, specifically, from trying marijuana. However, young teenagers are certainly more at risk. This is a matter of much concern to us all, but if this industry were legalised, it could be regulated properly, and education on the dangers of smoking for the teenage population could be funded by the older population, for whom it is less dangerous.

Gillingham, Kent

Sir: I have just learned that smoking cannabis causes insanity - just like masturbation. What a coincidence!


Language of Judas

Sir: Thank you for the interesting feature on Judas (25 March). But why does this article - and many others like it - quote the Bible in an obscure and ancient translation? Why not use one of the many decent versions available in modern English? After all, the gospels were written in the contemporary language of their day.

Corsham, Wiltshire

Penalty points

Sir: It may be that Charlotte Church has little grasp of the finer points of the game played by her latest beau, but neither is Pandora (23 March) exactly on the (odd-shaped) ball in matters Rugby Union. Henson did score two goals, a penalty goal and a drop goal. He certainly did not score two "penalties" as was suggested.

Ditton, Kent

Orthodox Easter

Sir: I was puzzled by your article "Prayers, penitents... as the world prepares for Easter" (24 March), which fails to mention Eastern Orthodox Christians, for whom Easter falls this year on 1 May; they are only in the second week of Lent, with much prayer and fasting still to come. Unlike the Western Easter, the Orthodox Easter cannot precede Passover. Could we please have an article about the beautiful and varied traditions of great antiquity celebrating Easter in Russian, Greek, Serb, Bulgarian, Armenian, Coptic and Romanian (to name but a few) Churches?


Health care for whom?

Sir: There is a difficult question avoided by your correspondents so keen to disparage universal health cover. Just who is it that they are happy should be denied health care?

Bridgwater, Somerset