Blair needs a second chance; so does another leader

On 8 June there is an election, one where apathy will not be an issue ("It's not apathy, it's protest", Leader, 14 May). The man standing for re-election claims to be a reformer but, like Tony Blair, hasn't succeeded in reforming much. It is vital that he wins, just as it is important that Blair secures a second term.

The man standing on 8 June is Mohammad Khatami, seeking to secure a similar majority to the 70 per cent of Iran's electorate who voted for him last time round, though his record is one of failure. He has been stifled at every turn by the mullahs who hold the real power, despite being a cleric himself. So, while both he and Blair have ineffectual first terms in common, Khatami could be said to have faced rather stiffer constraints.

His thanking of the Iranian people for "tolerating pressures and organised attempts to disappoint" them may sound like new Labour doublespeak but, in the context they were spoken, they were the brave words of a deeply frustrated man.

Both men are likely to win their respective elections and, if they do, one thing Blair should do early in a second term is send his foreign secretary to Tehran on a visit to boost Khatami.

The two men may then start their new terms by sending a signal that they intend to be rather more radical, and rather more successful, than previously. Both populations might then see the dramatic progress, in very different ways, that their respective countries desperately need.

Paul Smith
London SW16

You argued in your editorial that "It's not apathy, it's protest". I beg to differ, particularly concerning young people. You are right that people do not neglect to vote simply because they are apathetic; they also neglect to vote because they are ignorant. I am not quite 18, and consequently not old enough to vote in the coming election, but many of my friends are. I know that they will not vote. Their silence is not a cleverly thought-out choice, but merely a sign that they do not understand what is going on. Along with many others, they see politics as having nothing to do with them. They also do not understand the governmental system. If, as we so often believe, our youth is the future, then elected politicians will soon be a complete misrepresentation of the people. Education truly is the key, and if they want to improve the turnout for elections, then they need to explain to us (very carefully) exactly what we are turning out for.

Maria Castellina
Newmarket, Suffolk

This article first appeared in the 21 May 2001 issue of the New Statesman, A spin too far