Voting, Trident and others

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A broken-hearted voter hopes to support Labour again - one day

A broken-hearted voter hopes to support Labour again - one day

Sir: I have just voted Liberal Democrat for the first time in my long life. I felt sad as I did it, but I had to. The sneering remarks of ministers about people at dinner parties drinking Chardonnay and deciding to vote Liberal as an anti-Iraq war protest were shameful. The truth is that there were many people not voting Labour who have been secretly broken-hearted, like me. In 1997, they thought a new society would be born - and it has not happened.

There was quick action to deal with the hopelessness of the unemployed and to get them into work, and a minimum wage. That was Labour's and Gordon Brown's first priority - and it worked.

When the Iraq war was imminent, it was clear the Government was trying to frighten us into supporting a war with its reports of weapons which could reach us in 45 minutes. I had to reassure my grandchildren, who travel daily on the Tube and buses to school in London, that I did not believe this. When we were really in peril in the last war, I told them, there was no scare talk of that sort. They were trying to keep us calm in the face of the V-1 and V-2 missiles. I knew the difference and I was right.

It was not only the method of presenting the Iraq war - Saddam Hussein had not this time invaded anywhere, so clearly it was illegal to invade him - but other matters which sent me to the Liberal Democrats. The gradual eroding of civil liberties, the long-term imprisonments without trial, the attempts to cut jury trials and the determination to bring back identity cards once again made me feel that I was not living in my own country.

Do not underestimate the broken hearts, Mr Blair. These are not people trying to be clever at your expense. They voted with their consciences. Maybe they will be able to come back to Labour. We shall see.



After Trident: a frank debate is needed

Sir: I seriously doubt that Tony Blair has already decided to replace Trident with a new generation of nuclear deterrent, but that does not detract from the distinct possibility that he is minded to do so ("PM secretly signs up to a new deterrent as UN tries to cut global threat", 2 May).

The Defence White Paper of December 2003 first flagged up the suggestion that a decision to replace Trident would be needed in the next parliament and indicated that a range of options was being considered. Giving oral evidence before the Defence Committee in March 2004, Defence Secretary Hoon declined to say what they were.

Is it Whitehall's intention to proceed with feasibility studies for new platforms, delivery systems and nuclear warheads and then announce a decision as a fait accompli? Surely a decision of this magnitude needs a wide-ranging debate that examines the options in the light of the current and future security environment, Britain's treaty and legal obligations and the opportunity costs. In short, the decision-making needs to be open, informed, transparent and accountable.

The opening statement from the UK delegation at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations on 5 May re-affirmed "our unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear arsenals". This welcome restatement of a British commitment to nuclear disarmament on the conference floor sits uneasily with the unstated assumption of the indefinite retention of a post-Trident nuclear deterrent.



Sir: Try as I may to understand the intellectual processes of the left, I remain flummoxed. To the leftist, either here in the US or there in Europe, everything appears to be the moral equivalent of every other thing. The left seems to have lost all capacity to discern good from not-good.

I read that a Labour Party candidate - with an apparently straight face - has called the proposed upgraded nuclear weapons system "Blair's weapons of mass destruction". And other politicians appear ready to call Mr Blair a hypocrite: this because Mr Blair upgrades Britain's nuclear weapons yet does not want Iran or North Korea to have nuclear weapons.

With what moral authority do these critics of Mr Blair speak? They truly cannot discern the moral differences between Britain on the one hand, and North Korea and Iran on the other. Sixty years ago, these same men might have been unable to discern the moral differences between Churchill and Hitler.

Perhaps you Brits have lost faith in who you are and in what your culture is, but here is the opinion from a respectful Yank: Britain is a force for good in this world. You must be as powerful as you can be, not because of sordid reasons, but because there are too few great civilisations such as yours. What has become of you? How can you not see that the words of a weakling politician that were meant to smear Mr Blair have actually smeared your entire nation and your honourable history as a people?



Sir: Please live up to your name when dealing with nuclear weapon issues. "Cutting down"' on their nuclear programmes (leading article, 2 May) is not the primary obligation on the nuclear weapon states.

The International Court of Justice in July 1996 went much further. "There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control" was their advice.

No sign of that at the current review of the nuclear non proliferation treaty in New York. No wonder the non-nuclear weapon states smell hypocrisy.



Sir: Tom MacFarlane (letter, 3 May) questions the need for Great Britain to continue to possess a nuclear deterrent and argues that it is both outdated and a response to a no-longer current threat.

I, for one, would far rather have the safety of a nuclear deterrent than the unpredictable risk of a nuclear attack to which we cannot even threaten a response. It may be true that there is no current threat to which our deterrent is a suitable riposte; perhaps that is because those who have wanted, or might want in the future, to create such a threat have been deterred. In other words, Britain's nuclear deterrent is doing its job. Take it away and you open our country up to risks of unimaginable proportions.



Disenfranchised by the postal ballot

Sir: Further to your reader's experience of a postal vote disenfranchising her father (letter, 6 May), my 90-year-old mother, an ardent follower of politics all her life, was taken to her polling station with other residents of her residential home only to be told that she was registered as a postal voter and therefore not allowed to vote in person.

After some investigation it appeared that she had been sent an application for a postal vote, which she had not filled in. Merely being sent this application appears to have barred her from voting in person. I have just heard that John Humphrys, the Today presenter, has had a similar experience. The Electoral Commission's spokeswoman, in an interview on Radio 4, talked about checking the small print - difficult when you are nearly blind.

It appears that this confusion has affected many, many people, both well-informed and vulnerable, and in answer to Ms Farndell's question at the end of her letter - thousands no doubt have been disenfranchised.

My mother is heartbroken at not having been able to exercise her right to vote, a right which she holds as a precious privilege and one that she may well never have the opportunity to exercise again.



Sir: The results are in and the verdict is that our democracy is flawed. Seats in the new Parliament have been distributed in an extremely unjust manner. For each 1 per cent of the popular vote won, Labour have obtained 10 seats, the Conservatives six seats, and the Liberal Democrats only two seats.

Our first- past-the-post constituency electoral model allows ordinary citizens without a party affiliation a chance to get elected. However, this desirable opportunity must be balanced against the principle that everyone's vote should carry the same weight. The only way to achieve this is through proportional representation.

Electoral reform must be top of the agenda for the new government. With only 36 per cent of the vote, it cannot truly claim to have a mandate, even though it has won the most seats; the least it can do in the new Parliament is to change the system and give the British public a true voice.



Sir: I observed on Anglesey that the number of candidate posters displayed was inversely proportional to the success of the candidates in the election. Throughout the campaign period I did not see one poster for the ultimately successful Labour candidate. Might we hope that this observation will be noted nationally for future elections?



Sir: In the analysis of the election result so far there has been much discussion of the "Iraq factor". As swaths of rural England turn blue again you might like to consider once again the effect of banning fox hunting.



High blood pressure and the NHS

Sir: I am amazed that the Prime Minister and, indeed, the media, are surprised at the revelation that many GP practices will not allow one to make an appointment more than 48 hours in advance. Not only has this been going on for at least a year, there are other nonsenses arising from similar logic.

Having moved house recently I registered with a new GP and had my blood pressure checked by my new GP in order to renew a prescription. She told me that because my blood pressure was high - we had been talking about the state of the NHS - it would not be recorded because doing so would cause the practice not to meet its target for the proportion of patients with normal or reduced blood pressure.



Children from China face ignorant slurs

Sir: I feel I must complain about the questionably humorous piece about greeting cards (3 May) including a card offering "Congratulations on your illegally adopted Chinese girl".

My daughter is Chinese; she is adopted, but she is not illegal. She is also very loved and deserves to be able to live her life without having to bat away such ignorance. The process to adopt from China is ratified by this government and the Chinese authorities and is carried out with such scrutiny that a process of three years is not unusual.

Congratulations - you have added to the burden our daughter must carry. Does it disgust you that people openly ask these children: "How much were you bought for" or that strangers make disparaging "two-for-one-purchase" comments in supermarkets? It should, and your piece is another example of such mean-spirited foolishness.



Interviewers should not be obsequious

Sir: As a naturalized US citizen who has lived in the US for many years, I think that Janet Street-Porter ("Show a little more respect, please", 5 May) might be confusing politesse with deference.

As a voter in the last two presidential elections, I've been struck with the deferential, sometimes near-reverential attitude with which many TV journalists handle their political interviewees. Calling a politician "sir" may be seen as old-fashioned good manners, but when obsequiousness gets in the way of asking hard questions, democracy suffers. Better the gladiatorial approach of a Jeremy Paxman than fawning that passes for debate.



Man's work never done

Sir: If men are constitutionally unable to clean or do laundry (Dilemmas, 2 May) why are not all-male religious communities or barracks, for instance, permanently dirty and chaotic ?At the end of the Second World War an NCO allegedly said, "Thank God that's over; now we can get on with some real soldiering," by which he meant cleaning the camp.



People, not profits

Sir: Vote Blair and wake up with Bush. As the Socialist Alliance first said in autumn 1997, if you have to adopt your opponent's policies to win, you haven't won. They have. The alternative may have been blanked out by the media and marginalised by the current electoral system; but those of us committed to a fairer world, one not dominated by racism and war, will continue to campaign to put people before profits.



No more whitewash

Sir: You report (4 May) that the families of 10 of the British military personnel killed in Iraq are calling for a public inquiry into the legality of the war. After the whitewashes of the Butler and the Hutton reports the only way that an inquiry would command complete public support is if it were to be chaired by a respected jurist from a neutral country outside the United Kingdom.



Ill-fated flight

Sir: Does Guy Keleny read his own column? On 30 April he argues the weakness of advertisers using the phrase "Why not?" In the next breath he asks how the Airbus flight could be completed unsuccessfully? I suggest on the périferique with all the warning lights flashing, half the plane on fire, the occupants missing or raving mad à la Mary Celeste. Will that do?



Bolshevik Blair

Sir: I could hardly believe it when I heard Mr Blair utter the "C" word on TV. This leads me to suspect that the "S" word will soon also pass his lips. He must indeed be rattled by the election result! If he is already referring to defeated Labour MPs as "comrades", what odds on the word "socialism" being slipped into a future public utterance?