Richard Ingrams: Now I know why I'm against the alternative vote

Saturday 19 February 2011 01:00

"Did a candidate knock on your door in the last election?"

With this question, Nick Clegg launches his campaign for changing the voting system. Vote alternative vote (AV) and you can entertain a would-be MP in your very own home. If there were any waverers in the great debate, I hope that this was enough for most to decide, as I did, to support the status quo and the good old first-past-the-post routine. There are still plenty of things to be grateful for in this debased 21st century, and one of them is the fact that, unless you have the misfortune to live in a marginal constituency, having a political candidate knock at your door during an election campaign is an unlikely prospect.

If doubts remained in my own case, they were dispelled on seeing the line-up of those celebrities supporting the Clegg campaign. For the general election last year, it was Sir Michael Caine's backing for David Cameron that made me suddenly keen on Gordon Brown, so now the smiling faces of Clegg-backers John Cleese and Stephen Fry were enough to tell me where my duty lay. And just imagine the thought of either of those two coming knocking at your door.

Romney Marsh – the planners' graveyard

Some years ago I collaborated with the landscape photographer Fay Godwin on a book about Romney Marsh, that strange and still largely unspoilt triangle of land that juts out from the bottom right-hand corner of Kent. On Tuesday, The Independent reported the plans of a wealthy sheikh from Saudi Arabia, who currently owns the tiny airfield at Lydd, to expand it into a major airport capable of catering for jumbo jets and millions of passengers.

As so often when such ideas are mooted, the response of campaigners is to stress the threat to wildlife if the go-ahead is given. And this is a mistake, because only a few dedicated naturalists will be concerned about the prospects of survival for rare snails and moths, and can therefore be easily dismissed. On the other hand, how many of us are there prepared to speak up for a remote and beautiful landscape dotted with ancient churches and quantities of sheep?

The sheikh's PR men, predictably, will argue that his airport will bring much-needed jobs to this sparsely populated environment. But past experience suggests otherwise. Romney Marsh is full of the remains of hugely expensive projects that proved of no value whatever – the Martello towers on the coast, the Royal Military Canal (built to keep out Napoleon's armies), Dungeness nuclear power station and, most recently, a pointless and unsightly wind farm. It is, in other words, a planners' graveyard.

What we ignore about Megrahi

In accordance with my campaign for the more widespread use of inverted commas, I am pleased to note that some papers are now putting the word marriage, as in the expression gay marriage, in inverted commas.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the expression Lockerbie bomber, as it is applied to Mr Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who is still the subject of fierce controversy following his return to Libya. There is indignation in some quarters that Mr Megrahi is still alive and scarcely veiled suggestions that he may not have been suffering from cancer at all – though most of us know how difficult it is for doctors to predict life expectancy in cancer patients.

What is extraordinary is how little attention has been given to the strong grounds for thinking that Mr Megrahi is not only innocent, but that he was framed with the connivance of the British and American governments. The chief witness for the prosecution, the highly unreliable and inconsistent Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, was subsequently paid millions of dollars by the CIA and forensic evidence against Mr Megrahi was provided by two scientists working for the British government who had been previously discredited in trials of IRA suspects falsely accused of bomb-making. Anyone interested should read campaigning lawyer Gareth Peirce's long account of the story, now reprinted in a little book, Dispatches From The Dark Side (Verso).

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