Bees vs Belgians
Sir: To answer Rory Sutherland and Glen Weyl’s question: yes, everyone should vote and no, just because someone is more interested in politics, his opinion should not count more heavily (‘Plan Bee’, 2 May). Belgium has had compulsory voting for over a century. The troubles that follow every general election may seem to make it a strange example to follow, but those troubles are a consequence of the fragmented political landscape and not of the polling system. Compulsory voting motivates people to stay informed and care about what is happening to their country. It is, however, only compulsory to show up at the polling station, not to cast a valid vote, so the happily apathetic can draw a chicken or write a poem on their ballot paper if they’d rather. Then at least they will have made a conscious choice not to cast a vote.
The election results affect us all, so everyone should be forced to form an opinion on it. As for those who care a great deal and feel their opinion matters more: all they have to do is convince others to care too, and vote the same way they do. As with bees, extra enthusiasm and good dance moves will be rewarded.
When it comes to postal voting, though, I absolutely agree with the authors that casting a vote from home entails the risk of turning voting into a social and peer-pressure-influenced activity. If polling day was on a Sunday rather than on a weekday, perhaps more people would take the trouble to go to the polling station in person?
Sir: Nigel Lawson reminds us of the economic case for burning fossil fuels and potential environmental impacts (Diary, 2 May). I am from north Derbyshire and both my paternal great grandfathers were killed in industrial accidents. When people talk about Mrs Thatcher closing the coal mines I ask them if they are pleased about the indirect positive effect this had on the environment, transforming former industrial landscapes into country parks and the river Rother no longer flowing as a chemical sewer. This is still greeted with angry rhetoric about the harmful effect on communities of ideological pit closures.
When I then ask the same people if they would welcome shale gas as a means to reinvigorate manufacturing, providing jobs for their children in new communities, I am often told this would cause global warming, harm the environment and only serve the profits of multinational corporations. If Britain is not to be a national park dependent on financial services in the south-east, difficult decisions might have to be made.
Sir: Anthony Jennings, writing about the sale of parsonages (Letters, 2 May), states that ‘our evidence shows [this] has equally led to declining congregations’. It might be possible to show a statistical correlation, but I would be very interested to know the causal connection. ‘I am not going to church because the vicar doesn’t live in a big enough house’ doesn’t quite ring true. He then goes on to say that if the Church had held on to these old parsonages and let them out, the rental income would be enough to pay the current stipend bill. But then where would the vicar live? Either way, ‘I am going to church because the vicarage is rented out to a wealthy hedge-fund manager’ doesn’t quite ring true either.
Canon John Fellows
An Edinburgh bash
Sir: Taki asks whether to head east or west for his 80th birthday (High life, 25 April), yet he could always head north to the UK’s finest and most civilised city: Edinburgh.
No Qatari-owned sports cars littering the streets or rows of lifeless, empty houses owned by foreign speculators. Taki will breathe a sigh of contentment as he strolls our New Town streets. We’ll make him feel right at home here in the ‘Athens of the North’ and give him a night he’ll never forget as we toast his health with the water of life (uisge beatha). Who needs those odd Viennese when his guests can don fustanellas and kilts and keep the ceilidh band playing till dawn? Problem solved.
Sir: Perhaps Hugo Rifkind could tell us whether the Russell Brand whose ‘heart is in the right place’ (2 May) is the same one who, with Jonathan Ross, so mistreated Andrew Sachs. If so, I wonder what one would have to do to earn his displeasure.
Sir: Dot Wordsworth is right to decry the overuse of the term ‘Quarter’ in towns and cities across the land (Mind your language, 2 May), but slightly off-piste to imply that there is something nouveau about Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. The use of the term probably arose in the 19th century, and in the 1952 History of Birmingham, Asa Briggs referred to ‘The Jewellers’ Quarter’, which at its peak in 1913 was employing 70,000 people in its workshops.
Keep Vienna a secret
Sir: I cannot but agree with Taki in his praise for Vienna (High Life, 2 May). Having been born and bred here, I have little to add to his succinct description of my hometown, merely that the very high quality of living we enjoy is recognised the world over.
Nevertheless, to preserve the city’s beauty and quality of life, Taki’s recommendation that people should move here (or to other cities in what used to be the Habsburg empire) should only be uttered to a select few.