Robert Hampton

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May 2012

2nd May 2012

Having a bit of a Mayor

Tomorrow, Liverpool (or at least, the percentage of the electorate that can be bothered) goes to the polls to elect a mayor.

The campaign has been a fairly rum affair. One candidate pulled out the day after announcing his intention to stand, citing “dirty politics”. Two candidates have been arrested. One lives in Wrexham and is only eligible to stand thanks to a shed he rents in Wavertree. A showpiece mayoral debate at the University of Liverpool was cancelled because of fears that trouble would flare between rival sets of protesters outside the hall. Another debate became farcical after one of the candidates was thrown out.

With all that in mind, it’s hard not to sympathise with independent candidate Liam Fogarty when he calls for an end to “politics, Liverpool-style”.

The campaigning has been complicated by the fact that voters don’t seem to know what the new mayor will actually do. Fogarty, interviewed by Sevenstreets, said that the people on the street are expecting an “ambassador” for the city. That is one aspect of the job, but there is much more to it than that. He (and it will be a he, as shamefully none of the parties could find a female candidate) will have sweeping powers over a number of aspects of city life, with powers being devolved from central Government to the mayor’s office.

What powers the mayor will actually get, however, is not entirely clear. Liverpool City Council’s web site is vague on the topic. Polly Curtis, writing on the Guardian web site, points out that the Government has suggested that the powers will be “tailor made” for each area, and that it is for the mayors themselves to make the case for devolved powers. Cities minister Greg Clark told the Echo, “it will help propel the city’s economy and attract international investment.”

One thing Liverpool will definitely get is a new £130m investment package. According to Liverpool City Council, having an elected mayor was a requirement to obtain this funding. In other words, we were bribed/blackmailed (choose whichever one of those loaded terms fits your world view better).

I’m in favour of elected mayors, but this past month of politicking has not been as inspiring as I hoped it would be. At least we can be grateful that it hasn’t turned into a vacuous battle where personalities are prioritised over policies. Surely no great metropolis would stoop to such levels?

8th May 2012

Why it’s important
Posted by at 11.02pm | Gay | 1 response

Stop what you’re doing and take ten minutes to watch this video (embedded below). It’s the story of Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom, a couple who were torn apart by Tom’s sudden death, and of Shane’s bereavement, which has been compounded by ugly prejudice and an unforgiving legal system.

It’s a story from the US, where gay rights can be patchy, depending on which state you’re in. As Shane says: in the eyes of the law, he and Tom were no more than roommates. In many countries the situation is much worse – in many parts of the world there are no legal protections for gay people at all.

In Britain it’s important to remember how fortunate we are to have a full raft of gay rights legislation, especially civil partnerships, which confer most (but not all) of the protections and rights of marriage. We should not settle for second best, however, and as certain factions wage a bitter war against full marriage rights, stories like the one above should be foremost in our minds.

Marriage is a right and a privilege – it must be opened up to all couples, regardless of gender. And even when that battle has been won, there is still a mammoth task of stamping out ugly prejudice like that described in the video above.

12th May 2012

If you love Obama so much, why don’t you marry him?
Posted by at 7.53pm | Gay | No responses

Obama on a UnicornThis week has been a rollercoaster ride for gay rights advocates in America. On Tuesday, an unpleasant and discriminatory anti-marriage law was approved by voters in a referendum in North Carolina. Less than 24 hours later, President Obama, presumably tired of the splinters he’d been getting from sitting on the fence, finally confirmed what almost everybody suspected: he supports marriage for same-sex couples.

This was big news in the States. The ABC network, which conducted the interview, went to extreme lengths to safeguard their exclusive, and then interrupted their normal schedule to carry the newsflash.

It’s a largely symbolic announcement: the issue of who can or cannot get married is largely decided by the individual states, and an intervention by the federal government would be difficult for many different reasons. Even so, for Obama to make a statement now is a brave move. Few issues arouse more passion than LGBT rights, and same-sex marriage in particular is guaranteed to get people riled up. The numbers are moving in the right direction, though: Gallup’s figures show that 50% of Americans support same-sex marriage – down slightly from 53% last year, but a significant increase from the 27% who were in favour the first time the question was asked in 1996. That is a massive shift in just 16 years.

Just before Obama’s announcement, the Guardian crunched some numbers and concluded that the President’s re-election campaign has nothing to fear from his announcement. That’s not a view shared by other pundits, but whatever the numbers say, there’s little doubt that Obama is on the right side of history. As gay people leave the closet behind forever to live openly and proudly in society, the question of equal marriage rights is a matter of “when”, not “if”.

The endorsement of the most powerful man on earth is also a welcome boost to the gay rights issue elsewhere in the world. The timing is very apt for us in the UK, where reports are circulating that the coalition government’s same-sex marriage plans are in turmoil and could be postponed. I have some more thoughts on the pro-marriage campaign here in the UK, but I will save them for a future post. In the meantime, you might want to check out the new campaign (Out4Marriage) which has been set up to complement the existing C4EM petition.

20th May 2012

The Internet is (not just) for Porn

Those fine upstanding moral guardians at the Daily Mail are crusading against internet pornography. Misogynistic, sleazy, and liable to cause harm to children, the Daily Mail has a circulation of almost 2 million.

Porn did not begin with the internet. I remember the breathless excitement among some of my classmates in school when a top-shelf magazine was smuggled in. Ladies! With no clothes on! It was less exciting for me, as there were already early indications that my interests lay… elsewhere. Nevertheless, the explosion (bad choice of words) in sexual content online means that it is more easily accessible than it ever was before.

Now, the Mail has had enough. It wants internet providers to BAN THIS SICK FILTH, by blocking internet pornography. At the moment some ISPs will block sexually explicit web sites, but most will only do so if the customer specifically requests it, the “opt-out” system. The Mail wants it the other way round – porn blocked by default with the user having to specifically opt-in to be able to view it. Despite warnings from experts that the plan is unworkable, the Government has taken up the idea and is due to launch a consultation.

Read the rest of this post »

30th May 2012

The Train Stays in the Picture
Posted by at 11.59pm | In the News, Trains | No responses

Oh Glasgow, I love you so much and yet now you do something to offend me…

A couple of years ago, I visited Scotland’s best city (sorry Edinburgh, but it’s true) and rode the Subway. I took a few pictures as mementoes of my trip. My friend Scott did something similar when he “tarted” the Subway last year.

It turns out we were both breaking the law. SPT, the operators of the subway, have forbidden photography, and are now looking to enshrine the ban in new byelaws which have been put out for consultation.

It’s a daft ban. The Glasgow Subway, with its single circular route and Lilliputian trains, is a genuine curiosity. A quick “shoogle” on the subway is a must for tourists. Are SPT really saying that visitors can’t take any souvenir photos?

They’re not the only organisation to crack down on the “menace” of people taking photos – Merseytravel reportedly ban bus spotters from their bus stations, for example. This and the Subway ban are just two small pockets of unpleasantness, but I really don’t want this sort of high-handed officialdom to spread.

SPT claim it’s in the name of “security”, but how is the network “secured” by a blanket ban? For starters, potential terrorists are hardly likely to wave cameras around obviously. Anyone wanting to do reconnaissance would do the photo-taking surreptitiously, or – and I’m sorry if this seems obvious – they could learn the layout of the stations and, er remember it – no pictures required.

You could ask “who would want to take pictures of trains and stations?” Well, I run a little blog called The Station Master which is based on exactly that premise. If photography was banned (or I had to ask permission in advance every time I visited a station), that site would simply not be possible.

The Subway is part of Glasgow’s social history, the same way that the Tube is woven into London’s fabric and the Mersey Ferries form part of Liverpool’s identity. When the history of these systems is studied in books or on television, the photos and archive film footage that appear are almost inevitably taken from amateur footage recorded by enthusiasts.

If the ban is enshrined in the bylaws, the only history of the Glasgow Subway will be that documented by officially sanctioned photographers. That would be a terrible thing to happen.

I’m utterly opposed to the Government cuts, but if SPT think they have enough staff to enforce this byelaw properly, maybe there’s still too much money in their budget.

Anyway, rant over. Visit Picture Our Subway which is a site campaigning against the new byelaw.