Robert Hampton

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15th June 2015

Runnymede and Titan, yes sir, I’ve been around
Posted by at 8.13pm | In the News | 1 response

Today marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, the document which, legal scholars agree, laid the foundations for our modern legal system. David Cameron is celebrating big style. If the commemorations seem a little over the top, bear in mind that most current Conservative party supporters were around for the original event – it’s a big thing for them.

Addressing the crowd, the prime minister, who has advocated Britain’s withdrawal from the European convention on human rights and replacing the Human Rights Act (HRA), said Magna Carta had altered “forever the balance of power between the governed and government”.

It does rankle slightly to hear the Prime Minister talk in reverent tones about Magna Carta, while also advocating the withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights and promoting the Snooper’s Charter – more legislation which will forever alter the power between governed and government. As comedian Paul Sinha pointed out on Twitter earlier today, Cameron is King John in this scenario.

Cameron appeared on Letterman in 2012, where he was asked what Magna Carta meant. He didn’t know.

8th May 2015

Oh no

I should have listened to Ian:-

He was worried about “shy Tories”. I tried to stay calm and confident. Thursday evening the polls were neck and neck and it looked as though Labour, even if it wasn’t the biggest party, had enough votes to lock the Tories out.

And yet… I had a nagging feeling that all wasn’t well.

Then the exit poll came out, and hope dissipated:-

Labour figures were duly wheeled on screen to tell Andrew Neil that the exit poll didn’t square with their experience in constituencies across the UK. However, once the results started to come in, it became clear that, if anything, the Tory vote had been underestimated.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I was looking forward to the wrangling of a hung Parliament and the promised “anti-Tory bloc”. I had little meme GIFs ready to go.

I continued tweeting out the odd daft joke, fuelled by an unholy combination of coffee and Pepsi Max. I finally gave up just after Sheffield Hallam declared, with Nick Clegg just hanging on to his seat. A few crumbs came in the form of Esther McVey and George Galloway losing their seats, and Nigel Farage failing to take Thanet South. Really though, Thursday night can’t be viewed as anything other than a disaster.

Through it all, I felt numb. It was only this morning when Ed Miliband announced his resignation, that it finally hit home what had happened. The Tories, now with a majority, and the freedom to push through all their crazy ideas.

Say goodbye to the Human Rights Act, the European Union and the NHS. Say hello to the Snoopers Charter and (probably) water cannon on the streets. Savage cuts to welfare, council services and the BBC are all in the pipeline. All the progress made during Labour’s 13 years in government – gone.

Perhaps the worst thing is that this represents a victory for the old establishment. Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre, the Barclay Brothers – this is the result they wanted.

I don’t mind admitting that I cried a little bit. I’m genuinely scared for the future. The next five years are going to be difficult for anyone on the left. The best we can hope for is that Labour regroups quickly, as it did after 1992. Meanwhile, I’m considering moving to Scotland… or Berlin (subject to EU free movement rules of course).

6th May 2015

Ballot Dancer

Note: this post is quite long. I’ve tried to rewrite it a couple of times, and each time it still ends up quite rambling. It doesn’t say all I want to say; for example, it barely mentions the Greens (which I’m not happy about) or UKIP (which I am much less unhappy about). But voting takes place tomorrow, so I’ve more or less run out of time to say anything about the election. On the basis that the text below probably makes about as much sense as any other comment on this unusual and unpredictable election, I’m posting it as-is.

TLDR: Labour aren’t perfect, but Ed Miliband as PM is the best possible outcome.

Opinion polls are rubbish. Seriously.

During this campaign we have seen two or three new opinion polls released each day. Generally, one shows a slight Labour lead, and Labour supporters get excited for a couple of hours, until a different poll comes out showing the Tories a couple of points ahead. Average them all out and both parties are in a dead heat. In fact, the polls have barely moved since the start of the campaign on 30th March.

Politicians are fond of saying that the only poll that matters is the one on election day, and they’re probably right this time. We could easily see a rerun of 1992 when the polling got the election result spectacularly wrong. On the other hand, the polls could be right, and both Labour and the Conservatives could end up more or less level in terms of seats.

(As an aside, my friend Ian Jones’s UK General Election blog is an excellent source for number-crunching and statistics)

In short, we are going into Thursday’s election with no definite idea of what the result will be. Lots of commentators are saying it is the most exciting election in living memory. Yes, it’s exciting – the same way I’d be excited if I didn’t know whether my birthday present was a gold watch or a lump of dog shit. If this election goes the wrong way and the Tories somehow get back in, I think it would be a disaster for the country.

Read the rest of this post »

24th March 2015

Help the Raged
Posted by at 11.34pm | Politics | No responses

Grim news today, so to cheer us up, let’s watch David Cameron getting heckled mercilessly by some plucky pensioners at an AgeUK rally:

By 90 seconds in he’s reduced to begging the crowd not to boo. Cameron strikes me as the sort of person who doesn’t like being contradicted and doesn’t quite know how to handle it. No wonder he didn’t want to do the debates.

24th December 2014

Value of Nothing

David Cameron has given a Christmas message:-

At this important time of year for the Christian faith I send my best wishes to everyone in the UK and around the world celebrating Christmas.

Among the joyous celebrations we will reflect on those very Christian values of giving, sharing and taking care of others. This Christmas I think we can be very proud as a country at how we honour these values through helping those in need at home and around the world.

Politicians banging on about religion almost always sounds like cynical pandering. It’s especially so when it’s David Cameron – leader of a government which has pushed many families into poverty. 90,000 children will wake up homeless on Christmas morning. Shelter reports that the number of homeless families living in B&Bs has trebled this year.

So merry Christmas, Mr Cameron. I will wait until May 2015 for the top present on my wish list – your exit from Nunmber 10.

6th October 2014

Ranty Establishment

The European Convention on Human Rights was established in the aftermath of World War II in an effort to codify human rights in international law, and prevent atrocities like the Holocaust from ever happening again. Its backers included some obscure personality called Winston Churchill.

The Convention is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights. Countless times, the Court’s judgments have helped advance the case for minority groups. Recently, Pink News highlighted six times human rights laws helped LGBT equality. Decriminalising homosexuality in Northern Ireland; allowing gay people to serve openly in the British army; equalising the age of consent – all thanks to ECHR rulings.

In 2000, the Labour party introduced the Human Rights Act which codified the articles of the European Convention into British law. What has the Human Rights Act done for you? Quite a lot, as the Mirror article linked there proves. Gary McKinnon, British soldiers, rape victims and more have all been helped by the Act.

And now David Cameron has decided he doesn’t like it and wants to get rid of it. Predictably, most of the right-wing tabloids lined up to cheer him on. As a nation, we are in a very bad place when the mantra “human rights are bad” is being met with approval from significant chunks of society.

The poster boy for the anti-human rights campaigners is Abu Qatada, whom the British government spent much time and money trying to deport, only to be stymied by human rights objections. Theresa May described the situation as “frustrating”, but that’s exactly as it should be. It’s an inconvenient truth that human rights apply to everyone, even the people “we” don’t like. Otherwise, as David Allen Green puts it:

The Tories propose that the Human Rights Act be scrapped and replaced by a “British Bill of Rights”, which would require people to “fulfil responsibilities”. It all sounds reasonable enough on the surface (although, how “responsible” do you need to be to be protected against torture?) but it’s easy to foresee a future government suddenly deciding that trade unions, protest groups, the unemployed or other “undesirables” are not fulfilling their responsibilities and happily diminishing their rights to please the majority. It’s truly scary stuff.

Hopefully the election next year will the Tories tossed out of office and this nonsense forgotten. In any case, I’m concerned enough that I’ve joined Liberty. I thought about signing up in the past but current events have given me the final impetus to join – thanks for the motivation, Dave!

Final thought on the matter:-

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.

10th July 2014

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


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

20th December 2013

Net: A Filter

BT and Sky have joined TalkTalk in installing nanny-state filters on their broadband connections, under the guise of protecting children from porn (in other words, doing what should be a parent’s job).

Worryingly, a Newsnight investigation revealed that, while some porn sites were not caught by the filter, legitimate sites offering information on sexual health, relationships and other issues important to teens were being censored.

BT even offer a tool to increase the level of filtering, allowing over-zealous parents to censor all sex education sites, even age-appropriate ones. One of the blocked web site categories is “respect for a partner” – because why would kids need access to information about that?

This is not a hypothetical situation for me. Back in 1999 or thereabouts, when I was first becoming aware of, and struggling to come to terms with, my sexuality, the web sites available on the nascent web were vital for me. Had they been filtered, there’s no way I would have felt able to go to my parents to ask for permission to unblock them.

The filters do seem to be disproportionately affecting gay and lesbian web sites, including the LGBT Liberal Democrats and London Friend, one of the capital’s oldest LGBT charities providing support services. The whole thing smacks of anti-gay prejudice from the people who drew up the filter list – children, apparently, must be protected from anything LGBT-related, even when it is completely non-sexual in nature.

I could have told the powers-that-be that this would happen (in fact, I did, six months ago). I can speak from experience at the office where I work. We tried to put in a filter which would only allow work-related sites to be accessed. For months we tweaked it so that it would not block sites that people needed for work purposes. Almost every day, without fail, we would have to add another load of sites to the whitelist. Eventually, we gave up and turned the filters off. Not sure how our workplace survived with unfettered access to the internet, but somehow… we managed.

So, in summary, we’re preventing vulnerable children and teenagers from accessing vital information they might need while giving parents a false sense of security? Nice one, Cameron: you’ve probably broken the Internet for ever. Twat. (filter that!)

For more on this you might want to check out the Open Rights Group blog on the subject of over-blocking.

29th August 2013

Posted by at 11.27pm | In the News, Politics | No responses

Shock news tonight as the Government’s motion on Syria was defeated in the House of Commons. The vote was expected to be a token gesture – the Prime Minister does not even have to consult Parliament on launching military action. Even so, the motion was expected to pass. However, the figures can’t be disputed – 285 against, 272 in favour. The only sign of the military tonight is an appearance from Major Miscalculation.

Nobody could deny that what is happening in Syria – with chemical weapons being used – is an act of barbarity almost beyond comprehension. I can’t understand, however, why chemical weapons are the “red line” that musn’t be crossed, when over 100,000 people have already died.

As The Guardian explains, Ed Miliband deserves credit for standing firm and successfully forcing this retreat, even when Tory sources are briefing that he is a “copper-bottomed shit” and a Number 10 spokesman accuses him of giving “succour” to the Syrian regime.

Labour is not opposed to military action; I think the party’s position can be characterised as “sitting on the fence”, but it’s good to see they’ve learned some lessons from the Iraq debacle. We should be very careful before getting involved in any conflicts anywhere. That’s not to say that not getting involved is definitely the right decision – only time will tell – but I’m pleased that Cameron’s gung-ho attitude has been rebuffed.

Despite the seriousness of the issues being discussed, BBC Parliament’s microphones still captured all the usual booing and catcalling, with one MP yelling “resign!” at the Prime Minister. The SNP MP Angus Roberts has just been on Sky News, saying that Michael Gove has been shouting “Disgrace!” at rebel MPs. It is not a brilliant advertisement for our democracy.

In tomorrow’s papers, expect a lot of point-missing political pundits arguing about the outcome of the vote and what it means for the careers of Ed Miliband and David Cameron. The important thing to remember is that public opinion is against military action, and tonight Parliament respected that.

Amidst all the partisan bickering, we must keep in mind the reason for this debate tonight: the situation in Syria. Send a few quid the way of the Disasters Emergency Committee.