Robert Hampton

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This is my little corner of the world wide web. If you're visiting for the first time, you might want to start by reading a bit more about me. I blog here about anything that interests me: mainly culture, Liverpool, politics, trains and a whole lot more besides. The latest posts are below and there's more in the archives. For other sections of the site, follow the links in the navigation bar above.

28th July 2014

Giants among us
Posted by at 9.34pm | Liverpool | No responses

Back in April 2012, Royal De Luxe staged a Giant Spectacular. It was, by accounts, a resounding success, and it was inevitable that the city would invite the team back for a second try.

Last Friday, the giants returned to the city’s streets, this time to tell a story themed around the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One. The Little Girl and her dog, Xolo, returned from 2012. They were joined by a new giant – the Grandmother, with her wheelchair.

On Friday morning, all was quiet, but crowds were already building up at St George’s Hall, where the Grandmother Giant was sleeping soundly. Nearby, at the Queensway Tunnel entrance, the Little Girl and Xolo dozed in the sunshine.

Grandmother St George's Hall Little Girl Queensway Tunnel

It was early, but a crowd had already built up, from people who wanted to get a good vantage point for later on. In the meantime, they were content to watch as the giants slept (and snored!)

By lunchtime, the streets around the Town Hall were heaving with people. Estimates state that the numbers in the city over the weekend may have topped one million. The good weather certainly helped, but

Crowds near Town Hall

It was a universally good-natured crowd. There was no pushing or jostling – really, when the thing you’re waiting to see is a 25ft giant, you don’t need to worry about getting a good view. There was a definite sense of anticipation as the crowd awaited the spectacle to come.

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17th July 2014

Choose Your Words
Posted by at 6.42pm | Politics | No responses

Prime Minister’s Questions never shows British democracy at its best. It’s supposed to be a weekly opportunity to hold the PM to account, but it rarely lives up to that hype. Instead, it’s usually an undignified affair, with Cameron and Miliband shouting playground insults at each other while the rest of the MPs whoop and cheer like the studio audience of Married… with Children.

Something happened on Wednesday, however, that deserves closer scrutiny. Responding to a question from Ed Miliband, the Prime Minister said:

The deputy leader of the Labour party said on the radio, and I want to quote her very precisely:

“I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes.”

And then, a bit later:

On the subject of taxes and middle income people, when will we get an answer from Labour about what the deputy Leader of the party meant when she said—let me repeat it again for the record:

“I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes”

As we go into the summer, there is one party in this House with a big tax problem, and I am looking at it.

Here is the Hansard transcript.

Harriet Harman did say this, on an LBC phone-in show on Monday. However, the Guardian has the full transcript of what she said (scroll to 12.42pm). She was responding to a caller who felt that “the middle class contribute the most and take out the least.”

Well I think that is a very interesting point actually Henry because sometimes people feel that they pay in a lot over a long period of time working hard but when they suddenly need unemployment benefit if they lose their job that actually it is nowhere near enough to actually make them feel that it was worth it for them to contribute. And one of the things that we are talking about is making a higher rate the longer you’ve worked to recognise the contributions you’ve paid in if you lose your job.

But I would say Henry one of the things that I would argue that might, should probably make a really big difference to you is having a really good health service. Because you don’t want to have to pay for health insurance.You don’t want to have to pay to go private to get really good healthcare system. And I think that is not just for working class people it’s for middle class people as well. And the same with education, you know, really good school system that helps people from lower income families and middle income families as well so I think that actually the idea that there are some things that help people on low incomes and other that help people on middle incomes. Yes I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes. But actually they need those public services like the transport system.

Harman has accused Cameron of “twisting her words”.

I do think it’s a bit of a reach to claim, as Cameron did, that what she said amounts to a call for higher taxes on middle class families. Most people listening would have known what she meant. Cameron (or rather, whoever writes his PMQs notes) certainly would have known. It’s very cheeky for him to choose one sentence out of a longer response and say that he’s quoting her “very precisely”.

In fact, it appears that Harman was simply expressing the not particularly controversial view that people in different income groups should pay different rates of tax. This is the system we have now, and it is supported by all three main parties.

The Guardian goes on to say:

But, of course, the actual wording is ambiguous, which is why Cameron was able to exploit it.

You could argue that Harman should have chosen her words more carefully, but isn’t that the real problem here? Politicians are constantly criticised for sticking rigidly to the script, not uttering anything in public that hasn’t been vetted and pre-approved by a thousand focus groups. But, if a politician goes the other way and speaks spontaneously, as Harman did on that phone-in, it is immediately pounced on by opponents, taken out of context and used for point-scoring.

I want real human beings, not PR robots, in government. So let’s have some proper debate on this issues, rather than some desperate attacks based on one out-of-context sentence.

16th July 2014

Blowing my own trumpet
Posted by at 8.19pm | It's My Life | No responses

So, what’s been happening for me recently, then?

Well, as I mentioned last month, I took some exams for my Open University course. The exams were tough, but I thought I’d done OK. Still, it was an anxious month and a bit of waiting while my marks were calculated.

Last week an e-mail plopped into my inbox, informing me that my results were available. Nervously, I clicked on the link…

Exam Result

I got a distinction in both modules! To say I’m pleased is an understatement.

There’s a long way to go: if I continue at my current pace, I will complete my final module in Autumn 2017. However, I’m resolutely cheerful and enjoying my summer break, until my next modules start in September.

13th July 2014

Thorpe Lark
Posted by at 8.00pm | Gay, In the News | 2 responses

Finally, a Michael Parkinson interview that’s actually worth watching:

After years of denial, swimming champion Ian Thorpe has revealed he is gay in an exclusive interview with Sir Michael Parkinson. The five-time Olympic gold medallist and Australia’s most successful Olympic athlete to date, has revealed his sexuality in an interview to be aired on Australia’s Network Ten on Sunday night.

As ever, people are queuing up to declare that it was “obvious” and they’d always known. I would disagree that it was obvious, not least because in his 2012 autobiography Thorpe said, “For the record, I am not gay and all my sexual experiences have been straight.”

Thorpe now says that it is only recently he felt comfortable telling even close friends and family. “I’ve wanted to [come out] for some time. I didn’t feel I could. Part of me didn’t know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay.”

It’s perhaps understandable that he felt this way. Just this week, an Australian sports commentator has been criticised for referring to a player as “a big poofter” on air. The world of sport still has a way to go.

Thorpe has suffered from depression, which he attributes to the stress of hiding his sexuality for many years. I can well believe it; from personal experience, trying to deny, hide and suppress your homosexuality only leads to misery in the long-term. There are many factors to weigh up when deciding to come out of the closet, but I honestly believe most people are happier out than in.

So, well done Ian Thorpe. I’m sure gay Australian men will be only too eager to welcome you to the team… especially when you look like this:

10th July 2014

Drip feed
Posted by at 6.30pm | In the News | No responses

Hmm…

David Cameron and his Liberal Democrat deputy, Nick Clegg, have unveiled emergency surveillance legislation that will shore up government powers to require phone and internet companies to retain and hand over data to the security services.

The “emergency” is apparently a European Court of Justice ruling that was handed down in April. Not sure why they have waited three months since then to unveil this. The Government claim that the bill simply “clarifies” existing powers, but clause 3 apparently allows the Secretary of State to make further regulations at will:

The bill contains a “sunset clause” which will force it to be further debated by MPs by 2016. The Guardian reckons this is good news. I’m not so sure.

Further reading: Open Rights Group | Liberty

30th June 2014

Geordieland Champion
Posted by at 7.57pm | Out and About | No responses

As is traditional, here is my end-of-trip tidying up report.

Transpennine 1st Class

Transpennine Express

I travelled to Newcastle and back on the new direct service from Liverpool which commenced on 12th May. I say “new”, it’s actually a reintroduction of a regular service which used to run until the timetable was rejigged a few years ago, diverting most services to Scarborough.

For once, the Transpennine Express is worthy of the name. This trip is FAST – the end to end journey time is just a shade over 3 hours, and the time from Liverpool to Manchester Victoria is just 32 minutes, non-stop. We hurtled through St Helens at 80mph – always the best way to experience St Helens.

In a fit of extravagance, I had booked First Class tickets. As I slumped into my extra-wide seat, the friendly First Class host approached me to offer a drink and a pastry. We hadn’t even left Lime Street. Thumbs up for attentiveness there!

He came around again after Manchester, offering further snacks – embarrassing for me as I still had my previous croissant on the table. He appeared again after Leeds, and York. He came around again for a final patrol at Chester-Le-Street, just 12 minutes before reaching the final terminus.

Maybe I was lucky to get a good train crew, but I was very happy to be plied with snacks for the length of the trip.

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27th June 2014

Whit’s End
Posted by at 7.32pm | Out and About | No responses

Whitley Bay seemed as good a place as any to spend my Friday afternoon. There wasn’t any particular reason for it, other than giving me an excuse to have a nice long ride on the Metro. Still, I liked what I saw of the place during the brief time I was there.

Whitley Bay, as far as I could tell, was to Newcastle what Southport is to Liverpool – that is, a place for people to decamp to at the weekend, to get away from the city and enjoy a day at the seaside. On a Friday during school term time, however, the place was quiet.

I strolled down the high street, and turned towards the promenade, passing a traditional amusement arcade. I dwelled in there for a while, losing most of my loose change in the process (I was so sure that the Jumbo Crane would grab the teddy bear on my next try) before moving on.

Whitley Bay Whitley Bay Beach

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23rd June 2014

# Here’s the angel! See the angel! It’s my angel, no-one else’s, next to the rakes #
Posted by at 10.04pm | Out and About | 1 response

On the Friday morning of my stay in Newcastle, I hopped aboard a bus. It was one of those magic talking buses. “The next stop is Widdleton Crossroads,” it said. “If this is your stop, ring the bell once and remain seated until the bus stops.”

At EVERY stop. EVERY 30 seconds. Needless to say it got a bit wearing after a while. However, it did come in handy when, after about 20 minutes or so, I heard the announcement for “Angel of the North”.

Having said that, it’s quite hard to miss the stop – there’s a noticeable landmark nearby.

Angel of the North

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19th June 2014

Metro Man
Posted by at 9.05pm | Out and About, Trains | 1 response

Tyne and Wear Metro MapIn the 1970s, Newcastle, like Liverpool, was faced with an increasingly decrepit local rail network, which was not achieving its full potential. Like Liverpool, they solved the problem with a radical upgrade of trains and stations, and a brand new cross-city link tunnel under Newcastle and Gateshead to stitch it all together.

The resulting Tyne & Wear Metro opened in 1980 and was an instant hit. Thirty-odd years later, the network has been expanded and is currently undergoing a modernisation programme.

Shamefully, I have never visited this transport system, and I was determined to put that right. On Friday afternoon, I descended the steps of Central Station… Station, to take a spin on the imaginatively-named Yellow Line out to Whitley Bay.

Tyne & Wear Metro Central Station Entrance Tyne & Wear Metro Central Station

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8th June 2014

Expanding Pool
Posted by at 12.57pm | Liverpool | No responses

There’s a lovely piece in today’s Observer: Liverpool Reopens For Business

Max Steinberg remembers that it was a struggle to get a single busload of investors to come to Liverpool in 1981. He was working for Michael Heseltine, the Conservative minister who took charge of reviving the city after the Toxteth riots. Some Tories talked of abandoning the former imperial powerhouse to “managed decline” and it seemed the business world agreed.

So Steinberg is more than encouraged that, from Monday, “the world is coming to Liverpool”. Now chief executive of the city’s economic development agency, Liverpool Vision, he has overseen the organisation of Britain’s biggest-ever business fair. At least 75,000 people are expected to come to the Liverpool Festival for Business, a seven-week jamboree that the government hopes will trigger £100m of foreign investment over the next decade.

For me, the most encouraging aspect of the article is its mention of the tech start-ups that are flourishing in the Baltic Triangle area. It’s great to think that, when I get my computing degree in a few years time, I may be able to make use of it without leaving the city.

It’s not all good news: there are still many pockets of acute deprivation, and Government cuts are threatening to choke Liverpool’s recovery just as it was gaining momentum. But this place is on an upward trajectory, and that’s great to see.