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May 9 2005

Why we cannot 'move on' from Iraq

Sir: In his post-election speech to the party faithful, Tony Blair acknowledged the loss of Labour seats and referred to "fallen comrades". In light of the Iraq war being a major issue in the election this is a crass and insensitive metaphor. It would appear that Blair still fails to recognise the intense opposition to the war and the anger over the unnecessary deaths of our troops and Iraqi civilians.

He may want to move on. I did not vote Labour because of the Iraq war. I will never vote for the Labour party as long as Blair is its leader. Perhaps it is time for Blair to realise that a large number of people do not want to move on with him. We would prefer to leave him behind, consigned to a period of our history where we failed to make the correct judgements in both domestic and foreign policy, and move on with a new Prime Minister. The poignant phrase engraved on many war memorials springs to mind: "Lest we forget". I will not forget, especially, our war dead.



Sir: What on earth is Steve Richards on about (Opinion, 5 May)? He makes Tony Blair sound like some kid still coming to terms with work experience. He feels that Blair's "original and premature support for military action" was because he had to be "strong on defence"after Old Labour's weaknesses, but he could not rise above "such nervy calculations" because he served his political apprenticeship in the 1980s.

Oh, so that was it. Now, of course, we must quickly get the explanation e-mailed across to relatives of thousands of innocent Iraqis blown to bits by Blair's boyishness. They're bound to feel a whole lot better.



Sir: The Prime Minister states that people want to "move on" from Iraq. Not so. This is as self-deceived as his contention that he was right to go to war, that the intelligence was not exaggerated, and that the Attorney General never changed his mind about the legality of the war. So long as the daily slaughter continues, so long as the civilian houses and infrastructure destroyed by the Coalition forces remain unrepaired, so long as Iraq hovers on the brink of civil war, it would be immoral to "move on". Mr Blair must be held accountable.



Sir: Rob Hinkley (letters, 6 May) bemoans the conspicuous silence as to alternative ways of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. As well he might: the plausible alternatives weren't widely aired in the mainstream debate, but they existed.

In 2000 the Muslim Peace Fellowship suggested a five-point plan involving support for Iraqi civil society, a general Middle Eastern arms embargo, and wider reforms. In the US, Sojourner magazine outlined at least two blueprints for largely nonviolent strategic campaigns. None of these strategies could have guaranteed perfection, but their outcomes could hardly have been worse than the catastrophe which actually transpired.



The electoral system needs to change

Sir: I didn't vote on 5 May and so I will be labelled an apathetic voter. Which to an extent, I suppose I am. I am apathetic about the level of difference between the parties available to vote for, and about an election based primarily on each party telling us how unsuitable the other one is for Government.

I am apathetic about an electoral system that forces me to choose between which party I trust to run the country, and which MP I trust to represent my views in Parliament. If the local MP who best suits me is Lib Dem, but I want a Conservative Prime Minister, I have to compromise and decide whether to vote locally or nationally.

It troubles me that I only get a say in who runs the country if those in my small local area agree with me: I've lived my entire life inside safe seats, and watching the politicians concentrate all their efforts on the marginals shows me just how important they feel my vote is.

I'm apathetic about a system that is so sure of its own validity that it interprets the fall in voter turnout as being the fault of the voters and commissions a series of adverts based on the premise that voters don't understand that politics has an impact on their everyday lives. Rather, that is, than consider the possibility that voters know this, but can't see any reason to vote when no party represents their views.

And yet I am passionate about the fair and accountable government of this country. I support the right of dissent, and I support the ideal of one person, one vote. I wish that "None of the above" was included on every ballot paper to allow those who feel unrepresented the chance to make that clear. I would happily take part in a system that cared enough about my participation to change to encourage it.



Sir: There is an urgent need for a national debate on our system of democracy. Following last Thursday's election I am left feeling cheated and unrepresented by the British electoral system. Examining the results of the poll, the Labour party won 35 per cent of the vote but now have 55 per cent of the seats, the Conservative party won 32 per cent of the vote but now have only 30 per cent of the seats and the Liberal Democrat party won 22 per cent of the vote but now have only 9 per cent of the seats. Is it at all surprising that people do not feel motivated to vote in a general election when they know that the votes they cast do not translate into parliamentary representation?

I understand and accept the point that we have traditionally voted to choose a person to represent the population of a geographical constituency. However I can't help but feel that this is something of an anachronism in these days when most parliamentary debates are on national issues and most regional issues are addressed by regional assemblies or county councils. But even were this not the case, local representation at a national level is not incompatible with some form of proportional representation. Whichever alternative system one favours, it seems undeniable that the current British electoral system is not actually democratic and it must be changed before the next election.



Sir: In the recent election, large numbers of us had to vote tactically to deliver our preferred choice: a Labour Government with a reduced majority, without risking the alternative of a Conservative win. On this occasion, we have managed to do so effectively. But isn't it time we had a modern electoral system, so we could vote for what we wanted, rather than having to vote against what we don't want? The Jenkins proposals, for a proportional system that does not break the constituency link, need to be dusted off and actioned. You promised to listen, Mr Blair. We are waiting to see if you have heard.



Sir: The least useless lot got elected, and somehow all the parties have had a disappointing election night. That seems to be exactly the result the electorate wanted, and we can congratulate ourselves on a positive display of apathy. Don't vote, it only encourages them.



Sir: Your readers complain (letters, 6 May) that voting is pointless if they live in a safe seat. Not so. At all stages in the political cycle, our pundits and politicians will constantly reference opinion polls, using the latest election figures as an index mark. A vote in a safe seat still counts when politicians and pundits consider percentage swing to or from a particular party. Tony Blair may still be in power, but his policies are already changing as a result of the swing against him.