Robert Hampton

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18th July 2013

La Reyne le veult
Posted by at 11.27pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

Rainbow flag fluttering in sunlight50 years ago, homosexuality was illegal. In an amazing turnaround, by the middle of next year, gay relationships will be on an (almost) equal footing to heterosexual ones, as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 is now the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, after Royal Assent was received on Wednesday afternoon.

I’ll be honest – there were times when I didn’t think it would happen. From the minute the plans were announced back in 2011, a formidable campaign against same-sex marriage was launched, unleashing old-school attitudes and opinions that I naively thought had disappeared from public discourse. Certain sections of society are not nearly as tolerant and accepting as we thought they were.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland (or, as he is now known, the disgraced former leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland), Cardinal Keith O’Brien, launched an astonishing diatribe, describing same-sex marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. The Telegraph and the Daily Mail were vociferous in their opposition.

The Coalition for Marriage – which described itself as a “grass roots” campaign despite being launched by luminaries such as the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, and reality TV star Anne Widdecombe – set up a petition which, at the time of writing, has a rather pleasing 666,493 signatures. The Government’s own consultation ignored the organised petitions and form letter campaigns, but still revealed widespread opposition.

The cynical view was that this bill was David Cameron’s attempt to “modernise” the Tory party image. If that was his goal, it failed – more Conservative MPs voted against the bill than for it, and Tory MPs have been the most vociferous in their criticism of the bill. Political commentators talked of divisions in the Tory party and rumours swirled of leadership challenges to the Prime Minister. The very real lives and loves of LGBT people were rather lost amongst all the punditry.

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8th January 2013

Net Disbenefit
Posted by at 10.08pm | Politics | 1 response

When your own Government department admits that proposed benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest, maybe it’s time for a rethink.

Britain’s poorest households will be hit hardest by government plans to limit rises in working-age benefits to 1% in a bid to save £3.1bn by 2016, according to a Whitehall assessment rushed out shortly before MPs debated a controversial welfare bill.

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 irreperable. I’m also worried that the electorate may actually be fooled by Cameron and Co’s soundbites and support their “strivers v skivers” nonsense.

I hate that particular soundbite, which seeks to portray anyone claiming any sort of state benefit as a scrounger who needs to be given a kick up the arse and stand on their own two feet (unless their legs have been amputated, but they’ve probably still been passed as fit for work by ATOS anyway). This “lazy dolescum” argument seems based entirely on the tabloid stories which surface every so often, about families on benefits who go on expensive holidays and have plasma screen TVs in their living rooms. Undoubtedly there are people who are playing the system, but they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Most people use state benefits for their intended purpose: as a safety net, to ensure a minimum standard of living.

Now, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers seek to remove that safety net. Get out there and work (even if it’s for free in Poundland). Never mind that there are no jobs – we’ve just arranged free bus travel for the jobless (of course, since last year’s cut in bus subsidy there may not be a bus any more)!

Look across the pond to America, which has long championed self-reliance and small government. The extreme example came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where some truly vicious pundits said that anyone stranded in lawless New Orleans only had themselves to blame. Those left behind were mostly poor, went the logic. If they had been well-off, they could have transported themselves away easily. The lesson? You should never rely on Government to help you, ever, and if you’re in poverty – for whatever reason – tough.

At the time I laughed and felt grateful that rhetoric like that would be completely out of place here. Now, however, I worry that we might be heading in that direction. Are we going back to Dickensian days of workhouses and the poor living on the streets? Maybe not to that extreme, but a similar attitude towards the poor seems to be taking hold.

I still have misgivings about Labour – I’d like to see a full apology for the Iraq mess, and the authoritarian streak that brought us ID cards and DNA databases is still there, I think. I also worry that they may go for the populist approach in the next general election by adopting similar “tough on scroungers” rhetoric. But they can’t possibly be worse than the Tories – many of whom have no understanding of what it is like to be poor and struggling to make ends meet.

1st December 2012

Compassionate Conservatism

A report in the Guardian which made me angry:-

Wayne Blackburn was born unlucky – his mother’s umbilical cord got wrapped around his neck, starving his brain of oxygen. Now his legs don’t work.

He’s no scrounger, he says. Until 2009, Blackburn, from Nelson, Lancashire, was in work. After marrying his girlfriend he wanted to provide for her so he took a job in retail that involved being on his feet.

“For a time I was quite successful at it,” he says. “[But] it made me a lot worse. I did that for just under two years.” Though he would like to return to a job, Blackburn says he is in the worst physical condition he has ever been and is permanently dosed on multiple painkillers.

Without any physical examination, Blackburn says, the Department for Work and Pensions put him on employment support allowance (ESA) and in the work-related activity group (WRAG), for those soon to be back in employment.

In just a few days, Blackburn may be forced to work without pay whether he likes it or not.

On Monday, the government will allow private back-to-work companies and jobcentre case managers to force Blackburn and more than 300,000 sick and disabled welfare claimants into unpaid work experience for an unspecified length of time.

Read the rest of the article to discover how the Government’s brave war on easy targets shows no signs of abating, it seems.

Happy Christmas everybody!

23rd January 2012

Poverty stricken

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.

He gets Jobseeker’s Allowance, but thanks to a crisis loan repayment and card debt (his bank refused an overdraft but happily offered him a credit card), he is left with just £20 a week to live on after utility bills are paid. He has plunged into a world far away from the £2,000 plasma TVs and massive houses that the Daily Mail pretends all benefit claimants get:

He goes once a fortnight to one of two local shops that offer heavily discounted food – packets of buy-one-get-one-free frozen burgers for a pound, two-for-£1 ice-cream tubs for his younger children who stay with him at the weekend, a bag of frozen chips, which, if he rations it correctly, he can get four meals out of. When that runs out he eats rice and pasta which he gets for 25p a pack at Tesco. “Sometimes you have to eat crap.”

Bebb looks healthy, but admits he sometimes feels wobbly when he does the 45-minute walk to the job centre (a £3.80 day bus pass is usually unaffordable), because he hasn’t eaten enough. “Sometimes I’ve had to stop because I’ve had the shakes, dizzy.”

Should we expect the Old Etonian Prime Minister and his cabinet cronies to understand any of this? Mr Bebb knows the answer to that question:

“If the prime minister can go out and spend £100 a night for his dinner and I don’t get that a fortnight, where’s the justice in that?”

2nd October 2011

Bin There, Done That
Posted by at 11.57am | Politics | No responses

What’s got everyone involved in an animated discussion this week then? Why, it’s the always sexy topic of rubbish collection, as big-boned Government Minister Eric Pickles has announced that he is bribing councils to return to weekly collections:-

Last year, the communities secretary told the Daily Mail he was an ardent supporter of weekly bin collections, explaining: “It’s a basic right for every English man and woman to be able to put the remnants of their chicken tikka masala in their bin without having to wait a fortnight for it to be collected.”

(Pickles wasn’t talking about himself in the above sentence, as he has clearly never thrown any food away, ever)

I’ll say this very quietly, because it will probably annoy certain people, but (whisper) I actually think weekly collections are appropriate. Now, it’s true that a home containing one or two people probably doesn’t produce enough waste to need a bin emptying every week, but there are four of us here at Castle Hampton and we generally manage to fill both our recycling and normal waste bins every week. Liverpool is one of the authorities which has stuck with weekly collections; if they went to fortnightly, I’m not sure we’d cope. Yes, I’m sure Captain Planet wouldn’t approve, but it’s not my fault that everything I buy is packaged in what seems like fifteen layers of cardboard and plastic.

There are a few things which bother me, however: first of all – we had £250m sitting around doing nothing? Where did they find this? Was it tucked away in Eric Pickles’s jowls? And, if we do have that money, is bin collection really a priority? Couldn’t we spend that money on schools or hospitals or something?

Secondly, one of the key policies of the Conservatives, as announced on their web page, states: “We are promoting the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to councils, local residents and community groups.”

So it seems the Government’s policy is to give local authorities more devolved powers, except when the local authorities to do things the Government don’t like, in which case the government bribes them to change back. Well, that makes perfect sense.

20th October 2010

Another Uninformed Political Post
Posted by at 11.04pm | Politics | No responses

(typing this on a netbook with tiny fiddly keys, please forgive any typos)

I’ve been asked a few times if I feel stupid for voting Lib Dem in the last General Election. The answer I usually give is “yes and no” (a classic Lib Dem position if ever there was one).

“No” because back in May I genuinely believed that the Lib Dems were the best option for the country. This was not as a result of Cleggmania, that (very) temporary hysteria that surrounded the party leader following the televised debates. In fact, I had voted for the Liberal Democrats in every election since I became eligible to vote. I thought they offered something new and interesting, a genuine third way — untried and untested, but that is what’s needed.

“Yes” because 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. A few crumbs (the postponement of Trident, voting reform) cannot make up for threatening the future of the BBC, imposing steep rises in university fees and introducing massive cuts in benefits (and many people who receive benefits are in genuine need, not scroungers as the tabloids like to make out).

The cuts announced today are a case in point. I don’t doubt that cuts need to be made, but these cuts are too harsh and too fast.

I have no idea who I’m going to vote for next time. Maybe it will be Labour, if they get their act together and remember they’re supposed to help the working class, not send them to fight unjustified wars. Ed Miliband is making some of the right noises, so let’s see what happens.

12th May 2010

Bird is the word
Posted by at 1.18pm | Politics, Stage | No responses

Canary is a new play by Jonathan Harvey, playing at the Liverpool Playhouse until 15th May before going on tour, taking in Hampstead, Cambridge and Brighton.

(minor spoilers follow below)

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10th May 2010

Don’t ConDem this out of hand
Posted by at 10.40pm | Politics | No responses

Welcome to the latest in an occasional series of “Hampo pretends his opinions matter”, this time talking about a potential coalition between the Liberal Democrats and one of the other parties.

Please bear in mind that I don’t like the Conservatives and I believe that David Cameron is wrong on many issues. Some of the Tory policies (repealing the ban on fox-hunting, for example) are downright awful. That said, I’m not a big fan of the current Labour party either, largely thanks to their relentless attack on our civil liberties.

The ideal situation right now would have been a landslide victory for the Liberal Democrats, with Nick Clegg ensconced in 10 Downing Street ready to lead Britain into a new Golden Age (THAT WOULD REALLY HAVE HAPPENED). A Hung Parliament (most disappointing porn movie ever) means that unpalatable solutions have to be considered, and I believe that a Con-Lib coalition is the best option for now. DON’T HATE ME!

The main reason is simple mathematics: whichever way you look at it, the Conservatives won the most votes and the most seats. Labour were second and the Lib Dems a distant third. A Lib-Lab pact would essentially be the two losing parties ganging up to stop the first place party from forming a Government. Excellent for the soon to be Brown-less Labour party, but not really brilliant for democracy, and it may result in voters deciding to punish Labour and the Lib Dems by voting Tory next time. Given that a new election can’t be too far off, and David Cameron was reportedly short of a majority by just 16,000 votes this time round, that can’t be good.

I’m not naive, I believe that whichever alliance is eventually forged, it can never be more than a marriage of convenience and will not last very long before one of the parties pulls out the rug from under the other. Still, we may get some long-overdue electoral reform out of it. Nick Clegg and his team have a big choice to make, and none of the options are particularly wonderful. It’s good this politics lark, isn’t it?!

If, like me, you’re still confused, the Telegraph has helpfully set out where the policies of the three parties overlap.

7th May 2010

The Afternoon After

Lib Dem signs

As I write this, we are looking at a hung parliament and everything is still very much up in the air as the various parties attempt to form a coalition.

The big disappointment from last night was of course the Liberal Democrats, who only increased their vote share by 1% compared to 2005. They failed to make any significant gains, and their comedy candidate, Lembit Opik, lost his seat. There will be a lot of analysis of what happened. I think that the third debate and the final week of campaigning didn’t go too well for the Lib Dems and caused them to lose the momentum. I also think that a lot of floating voters decided to back one of the big two at the last minute, possibly due to tabloid scaremongering about the consequences a hung Parliament.

David Cameron cannot possibly claim that this is a roaring success for him, after failing to win a majority against a deeply unpopular Labour government. His campaign has not been particularly brilliant and his “big society” idea seemed to scare everyone who managed to understand it.

If you went to bed and missed the excitement, don’t worry: I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll be having another election before too long.

6th May 2010

All over, bar the voting
Posted by at 6.08pm | Politics | No responses

As I write this there’s over three and a half hours left until the polling stations close. If you haven’t voted yet, GO AND DO IT!

Sign above a polling station: "Do not sit on the fence"

I am off to see Canary at the Liverpool Playhouse tonight, but will hopefully be back home in time to see the results pour in. I will be twittering away throughout the night (or at least until I fall asleep).

My own prediction? I’d love to see Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats win, of course, but it looks like the Conservatives will get the most seats. However, will it be enough to get an overall majority, or are we looking at a hung Parliament with all the apocalyptic doom that brings (according to the Daily Mail, anyway)?

There is real excitement here. Will there be a Portillo moment? Will Brown try to cling on and form a coalition? Will any of the small fringe parties have success? Anyone who says politics is boring is WRONG.

(picture above shamelessly pinched from the Guardian election live blog.