Robert Hampten

13th March 2013

Let’s have a heated debate

Sign above a polling station: "Do not sit on the fence"I’m a procrastinator by nature. Back in 2003, I dragged my heels about setting up the blog, and even after the software was installed and ready to go, I didn’t post anything for quite a while. I was eventually persuaded to get my proverbial arse in gear when I realised that I wanted to have my say on the hot topic of the day.

There was a war looming in Iraq, and controversy over the morality and wisdom of invading Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was raging. What better subject for my second ever blog post, on the second day of the blog?

I’m not one of these people who believe war is always wrong. Similarly I don’t think it’s the solution to every problem. I DO think it should be the last resort, when all sensible diplomatic avenues have been exhausted.

While the UK government always emphasised weapons of mass destruction, the US made no secret of its desire for regime change in Iraq, citing Saddam Hussein’s record of using chemical weapons on his own people. I don’t doubt for a moment that Saddam is evil, but we are setting a dangerous precedent: if you don’t like a government, it’s OK to launch a pre-emptive strike. And if the real reason for invading is out of concern for the Iraqi people, why are we concentrating solely on Iraq and not on the many other dictatorships which are ruled by tyranny and fear?

Looking back ten years later, and I think I was right. The Iraq war was a colossal mistake. Unfortunately no-one in Britain seemed to get punished for it, except the BBC, which got hauled over the coals for reporting the truth.

I haven’t always been so spot on. This post on “chavs” makes me cringe now. What was I thinking?!

Boris Johnson (or, to give him his full name, “LOL! Boris Johnson! LEGEND!”) features regularly. His first appearance in my blog comes during 2004 when that Spectator editorial attacked the people of Liverpool. I followed his subsequent apology tour with interest:

I find it hard to stay angry at Boris Johnson. Maybe because he was quick to apologise. Maybe it’s because he has such a cuddly persona that is easy to forgive.

Or maybe I feel sorry for him.

There’s a touching naviete and eagerness to see the good in people there, I think. In my defence, I find it much easier to stay angry at Boris Johnson these days, the big floppy-haired twat.

Elections always get me interested, even when I was too lazy to vote in person. The Polling Station was a very long way away from my house (at least a five minute walk), so I registered to vote by post in the 2004 European elections:

What happens if I post my vote, and then the next morning there’s a headline across the newspaper, “EURO CANDIDATE IN NAZI SEX SCANDAL”? Can I phone them up and ask for my vote back? I demand to know these things!

I had similar concerns in 2005 for the impending General Election:

What happens if you vote in good faith for a candidate by post and then the next morning you open the newspaper to see the headline: “CANDIDATE IN PIG SEX SCANDAL”? Can you get your vote back? We need to be told!

Yep, I used (almost) the same “joke” (with an identical blog title, too) on two separate occasions. The only real difference is I swapped Nazi sex for pig sex, a decision which someone might want to psychoanalyse.

This was 2004, and the Tories were still in the electoral wilderness, thanks to their habit of choosing completely useless leaders. Michael Howard would easily win a “most likely to scare children” contest but did not have what it takes to get into power.

I was in the odd position of despising the Tories but also not being particularly impressed by Labour. Hence my ringing endorsement on 4th May 2005:

Please vote for the LibDems tomorrow … They’re the only party anybody can still trust.

If you think that’s bad, wait until we get to 2010.

Lib Dem signsIn the aftermath of the election, Michael Howard resigned and the Tories found themselves leaderless yet again. Ken Clarke threw his hat into the ring, and I suggested that he would make a good leader. Instead, a fresh-faced chap called David Cameron was voted in. It wasn’t the last we’d hear of him, sadly.

A few other themes repeat themselves in the blog over the years. Civil Liberties were being eroded under the guise of fighting terrorism. There were occasional victories for the pro-freedom side, such as when Labour’s proposals to allow terror suspects to be detained without trial for 90 days got defeated. My in-depth response to the news:

Ha ha ha hahahaha ha!

In 2007 we had one of the most authoritarian home secretaries ever, in the form of John Reid. My reaction to his proposal to give police more “stop and search” powers was short and to the point:

Oh, fuck off

Another, related, theme which I find slightly depressing: the excesses and abuses of the police crop up quite a bit, from going after innocent photographers to to allegations of brutality. The tragic tale of Jean Charles de Menezes also gets a mention. A case symbolic of over-zealous policing was the Twitter joke trial.

Labour alternated between police state and nanny state proposals – at least, that’s the impression from re-reading my old blog posts; I’m sure there was more to them than that. In 2004 my views on the matter put me in an awkward position:-

I’m going to say it.

God, it’s so difficult to say.

But… here goes.

The Daily Mail is right.

That was about new anti-obesity proposals. I still more or less agree with the main thrust of that post – that education and encouragement are a better solution for curbing unhealthy lifestyles than restrictions and new laws. The Smoking Ban came in a few years later (can you believe you used to be able to smoke indoors?!) and I wrongly predicted that it wouldn’t be effective.

Change was in the air as we approached the end of the noughties. Britain got a new Prime Minister in the shape of Gordon Brown, who proved himself less than adroit in the role, and London got a new Mayor.

On that subject, there’s a slightly horrifying post in the archives:

I don’t live in London, so I’m not affected by the day-to-day shenanigans of the 2012 Olympics (“it’ll benefit the whole country” — yeah, right), congestion charging and signal failures on the Northern Line — unless it’s this Northern Line.

I have the advantage of distance, which means I’m fairly safe from the consequences of saying: VOTE BORIS!.

I think I was joking. At least, I hope I was. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, anyway.

Screengrab from BBC NewsThings were looking decidedly iffy for Labour by the time the 2010 election came. The campaign was characterised by two happenings. First, “bigotgate”, when Gordon Brown insulted a nice old lady from Oldham.

Then, of course, there was “Cleggmania”, that time (which now seems like another aeon, never mind another era) when Nick Clegg was flavour of the month, thanks to his barnstorming performance in the televised debates. A desperate smear campaign was launched to neutralise the threat, and I took it upon myself to respond. Money quote:-

On many issues, the Liberal Democrats seem to be proposing to do what is right, rather than what is popular. That may well turn out to be politically inconvenient come polling day, but at least they will score a moral victory (note: under British electoral law, moral victories do not count for anything).

The Lib Dems, of course, have solved this problem now that they’re in coalition, by doing things that are neither right nor popular.

Yes, I got completely swept up in the Clegg whirlwind. Check out my election eve post:

Let’s be clear: I was a Lib Dem voter before Cleggmania made it cool. I have voted for them in every election since I was eligible to vote. It wasn’t a protest vote: I genuinely believed, as I do now, that the party’s policies were closest to my own views.

This time, however, I have taken things a step further: I actually made a donation to the party for the first time. I put up a sign in my window, and you may have noticed the subtle banner at the top of my home page and the twibbon on my Twitter feed.

OK, that’s a bit embarrassing now, but the rest of that post makes a lot of valid points (I think) about Labour being a spent force after 13 years in power.

So who won that election? No-one, as it turns out, and we faced a hung parliament with Tories and Lib Dems coming together in coalition. Even as a lot of people were angry about the prospect of the LibDems propping up a Tory government, I was cautiously optimistic. Again, my naive optimism shone through – I thought that Clegg & Co would stand up to the Tories on important issues, rather than meekly going along with their awful plans.

So, I was wrong, and by October 2010 I was backpedalling furiously:

The party has, in my view, betrayed the people who voted for it by going into Government with the Tories. At first I was hopeful that a Liberal Democrat presence in the cabinet would restrain the Conservatives and lessen the impact of harsh Tory policies. In fact, the so called “coalition” is really a Conservative government in practice, with Liberal Democrats simply rubber-stamping the policies.

By 2013, however, there can be absolutely no doubt what my opinion is:

There’s little doubt in my mind that the coalition government is making Britain a colder, more cruel place to live. I try to console myself with the thought that this will be a one-term government and 2015 will bring some semblance of sanity. I’m concerned, however, that by then the damage to the welfare state will be irreparable.

Photo of closed Queensway Tunnel entranceIt didn’t take long for the backlash to arrive. Liverpool was one of many cities brought to a standstill by student protests in November 2010. A year later, public sector workers walked out on strike, leading to the exciting announcement that both Mersey Tunnels would be closed.

The most famous protest at the time was surely Occupy London, which involved a huge camp set up outside St Paul’s Cathedral, on City of London property. I thought it was a great stand against the bankers who had got us into the financial mess in the first place. Louise Mensch, however was not so impressed, and I got annoyed:

She smugly pointed out that some of the protesters are buying coffee from Starbucks and using iPhones, as if this somehow negated the point they were making.

Apple and Starbucks are global corporations with huge power and influence. That is because they make products (electronics, coffee) that people want to buy. They – like many other companies, both large and small – are successful because their products are good and people want to part with their money to buy them. They have succeeded on their own merit and that is the “good” side of capitalism.

The fact that Apple employ Chinese factory workers in poor conditions, and Starbucks were subsequently revealed to have paid no tax for years, does not diminish my point in any way whatsoever. Ahem.

Sadly, we have a Government which appears to be all about protecting the interests of rich bankers and media barons, as evidenced by the reaction to the Leveson report:

To so lightly sideline the key finding of the inquiry is a betrayal of all the victims who have suffered at the hands of irresponsible journalists. That includes the Dowlers, the McGanns, Christopher Jefferies, the Hillsborough families and – of course – the many public figures who had their phones hacked.

The coalition pursued a policy of “divide and rule”, trying to split the country into “scroungers” and “skivers”, ignoring the fact that jobs were hard to come by. Not for the first time, I got agitated:

If you think benefits claimants are worthless scroungers, perhaps you should take a look at this article, published in the Guardian last week. You will be introduced to Thomas Bebb, a Liverpool man who wants to work but has been unable to find a new job since being made redundant by the council in a round of spending cuts last November.

You really should read that Guardian article, you know.

If there’s one overarching theme here, it’s that politics is a strange and often unpleasant place. I’m sure politicians will continue to astound and horrify me in equal measure as the blog enters its second decade.

P.S. I appear to have voted for the Greens in a local election once. Sorry about that.

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