Monday's Letters: An alternative way of making elections fairer

THE possibility of a change in our voting system continues to arouse great interest. While this is healthy, a disappointing feature is the number of defenders of the status quo who seek the aid of a "straw man", exemplified in the article by Canon Dr Alan Billings (Yorkshire Post, May 26).

He mentions proportional representation repeatedly, and I agree with his implied criticism of the system used at the last European elections. It was a restricted party list, that limited one's choices.

However, this is beside the point, because the proposed referendum will offer us a choice between first past the post and a different system known as the alternative vote.

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While this system does not produce an exactly proportional result, I would argue that fairness is not just a mathematical equation, it is in the mind of the voter.

I lived in Sydney for 30 years, and used the AV many times. One simply marks the ballot paper 1,2,3 etc, listing the candidates in one's order of preference. After leaving the polling station, I knew that my vote would count. There was no possibility that I had wasted my time, or that I had "let in another candidate".

An MP elected under AV would retain the direct link with the constituency, as Dr Billings requires. It is easy to understand, simple to use, and I warmly recommend it.

From: Michael Swaby, Hainton Avenue, Grimsby.

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From: JG Riseley, Harcourt Drive, Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

CANON Dr Alan Billings (Yorkshire Post, May 26) defends our electoral system exclusively with reference to Proportional Representation, neglecting other reform options.

Even for PR, Dr Billings's reasonable aversion to coalition government is not an insurmountable problem. The votes of MPs could be weighted to give the largest single party a working majority. We could also do that within the present system – if such an outcome is so important, why leave it to chance?

More importantly, we have open to us the quite different reform path of preference voting. This need make no change to our constituency system. It simply allows voters to mark as their first choice the party they prefer (not too outlandish a suggestion I hope) without needing to forecast whether or not it has a realistic chance of victory.

If it proves not to have, the order in which they placed the other parties will still give them a say on which of the front runners is returned.

Dr Billings refers to the present system as first past the post (FPTP), a horse racing allusion no doubt originally coined to make the system appealing to simple folk. But it actually bears no relation to the simplicity of a horse race.

If, in such a race, the presence of an extra runner altered the outcome as to which of the other horses won, there might well be a stewards' inquiry. Slower horses are not allowed to impede the faster ones. But in FPTP, through vote splitting, that is precisely what happens.

To emulate the purity of a race, if you have more than two runners, you need a preference voting system. The Alternative Vote system shows you what the result for a progressively smaller field of runners will

be, until the last two go head to head.

Condorcet's Method (Equivalent Straight Fights) tells you if there is one candidate who would have beaten each and every one of the others in a straight fight. To know that there may be such a candidate, and yet persist with a system that might select a different one, is perverse.

The beauty that we find at home

From: Michelle Catherall, Church Lane, Fylingthorpe, Whitby.

EARLIER this month, I spent an idyllic Sunday morning sailing on a beautiful blue yacht to visit a seal colony. The sky was a clear blue without a cloud in sight, the sea a shiny swell of ice blue and the sun – the sun shone down with a Mediterranean heat. Where was I?

On the North Yorkshire coast sailing from Whitby. We saw several porpoises breaching the waves, and quite a few very young seal pups venturing far away from their sanctuary beneath the cliffs – sunbathing on the calm seas. When we got to the seal colony, it wasn't long before we were surrounded by lots of very curious seals and pups who came up to the side of the yacht doing a bit of people spotting before diving underneath us.

Who needs to fly off to other climes when we have all this

at home?

Failing in their duty

From: Maurice Field, Kings Road, Wheatley, Doncaster.

I READ with local public interest the article "Consultants add to council costs" and the editorial "Troubled town needs outside help" (Yorkshire Post, May 22).

Of course, it is right that Doncaster Council would not require outside assistance if the Government and the town's taxpayers had the confidence in Doncaster's decision makers; but please remember these taxpayers still remember the Donnygate saga of the former corruption scandal within the council.

Now consider these same taxpayers of Doncaster who annually elect candidates to represent them on this council, who they "expect will do their duty for the taxpayers of Doncaster".

It is very obvious from the recent Corporate Governance Inspection of Doncaster Council in April 2010, that the majority of the 63 elected councillors are "not doing their duty for the electorate they purport to represent."

Does the electorate of Doncaster really need 63 councillors? I think not.

From: Mrs C Burrowdale, Town Moor Avenue, Doncaster.

AFTER all the huffing and puffing from the Government inspectors and also adding the cost of doing a damning report, Doncaster Council is now back to normality.

Can anyone explain to me what has changed and what will change in the near future (Yorkshire Post, May 22)? The only thing I foresee is that the council cannot change if the same individuals are given back the chairmanships of committees that were running amok with the bullying and intimidating tactics that have been widely reported in the media following an Audit Commission inquiry.

So what is the Cameron-Clegg partnership going to do about it, because the problems in this town will not improve until someone takes charge, something that the last Government failed or refused to do, in case they upset the ruling Labour group?

Breakdown of costs

From: Robert Carlton, Athol Crescent, Ovenden, Halifax, West Yorkshire.

I WONDER if now would be a good time to introduce compulsory breakdown cover. This would help the police who could concentrate on other crimes rather than have to deal with abandoned vehicles left at the roadside.

I think maybe people's only objection would be cost, but I don't think that should be an obstacle. If more people are going to have breakdown cover, then companies should dramatically reduce the prices they charge, passing on some of their profits to the customer. I believe there are benefits for all.

Many people will have found out to their cost that, if you are not covered by breakdown cover, one call out charge to have your vehicle towed to your home or a garage can be more expensive than the cost of cover for a whole year.

I wouldn't try to sell something to people if I didn't think it would improve their lives, but once again it's all down to cost.

I am confident it will work if the price is right.

Best traditions of Britain

From: Bernard Dineen, Leeds.

MAY I thank the scores of readers who have written to me, as well as those who have written to the newspaper, after I brought my column to an end. They confirmed in my view that Yorkshire Post readers are the salt of the earth, representing the best traditions of Britain.

Politically motivated

From: Coun Peter Box, Leader, Wakefield Council.

I READ with interest the letter from Tony Homewood (Yorkshire Post, May 27) in which he accuses me of having a "politically motivated agenda".

Mr Homewood is far too modest. He forgets to tell your readers that he is the chairman of Morley and Outwood Conservative Association and recently acted as agent to the Conservative parliamentary candidate in Wakefield. A serious case of the pot calling the kettle black.

In addition, he fails to mention that the open letter Coun Burns-Williamson signed opposing the proposed introduction of elected police chiefs was also signed by both a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat councillor.