Robert Hampton

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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?

30th April 2012

Hampo Vlogs: The Liverpool Mayoral Election

Once more I have stared awkwardly at the camera while talking.

22nd April 2012

On y va!
Posted by at 7.43pm | Liverpool | 1 response

Photo of Sea Odyssey Banner at St George's HallWhen I first read of the plans for the Sea Odyssey Giant Spectacular, I was sceptical. These big set-piece events cost a lot of money and effort, but do they have any lasting impact?

My cynicism was increased further when Merseytravel published a list of bus diversions which ran to 12 pages, but could have been succinctly summarised as, “if you use a bus, you’re in trouble”. Was it worth causing this level of disruption to the normal life of the city?

As it turned out, yes it was.

For the uninitiated, The Sea Odyssey is a show based on the story of three giants: a little girl, her dog, and her uncle (a diver) who end up roaming the city in search of each other before finally being reunited. The giants are extremely sophisticated marionettes, animated by a squad of talented French performance artists who operate numerous ropes and pulleys to make the giants move. The show has been developed and designed specifically for Liverpool’s streets, and is a one-time-only event.

What set Sea Odyssey aside was the sheer scale of it. The Guardian previewed the event and noted that “Sea Odyssey will be – the Olympics aside – the largest outdoor event staged in the country this year.”

It started on Friday with events centred around Stanley Park in the north of the city, but I was in work so missed out. I took advantage of my lunch break, however, to stroll down to the Albert Dock, where one of the giants – the Diver Uncle – sat in the water, waiting…

Photo of Diver Giant waiting in Dock

He was due to wake up at 2pm, but I was expected back at the office by then, and to miss even a second at my desk would violate my strong work ethic (stop laughing, you).

Read the rest of this post »

26th January 2012


Liverpool could have an elected mayor by May this year, if certain news reports turn out to be accurate.

The mayor would not be as powerful as London’s (for example, Liverpool’s mayor would lack the sweeping powers over transport and policing enjoyed by Boris Johnson) but would be in overall charge of the city’s day-to-day running. In theory, there would be less beauracracy and more accountability.

It all sounds great, until you see the terrifying list of potential candidates identified by the Liverpool Echo. After sensible people like current council leader Joe Anderson and LibDem councillor Paula Keaveney, we get Ricky Tomlinson and – yikes – Phil Redmond (“Being mayor is a bit like a Scouse wedding”). I don’t know why they didn’t throw in Jimmy Corkhill and Harry Enfield in a curly wig for good measure. Perhaps Ken Dodd could take over; his zero-rate tax policy would be popular (at least, until voters realised it only applied to him).

Hopefully we will get someone rational, not a celebrity candidate or the next Derek Hatton. We could hardly fare worse than Doncaster, who elected the English Democrat candidate Peter Davies in 2009. His valuable contributions to civic life have included “stopping political correctness” and saying that Britain could learn from Taliban family values.

10th January 2010

No Country for Cold Men

Great Britain in the snow

Everyone has their own story to tell about the cold weather the country has been experiencing recently, which saw parts of Scotland reach temperatures similar to those at the South Pole. People in work have been swapping stories about having to walk home on Tuesday afternoon after Liverpool’s bus companies withdrew services, allegedly due to the Council’s failure to grit the roads.

On a related topic, thanks to the amazing staff at Merseyrail, who pulled out all the stops to keep their trains running, even running empty trains through the night to keep the lines clear of ice. The end result was that, except for a few minor delays and cancellations, the trains have been running normally, even on Tuesday afternoon when there was a near-whiteout for a time. The Liverpool Echo, not known for its love of the railways, had to grudgingly recognise the achievement. Let me just add to the praise: you guys are AWESOME (Merseyrail, not the Liverpool Echo)!

As the trains were running I had no excuse not to be in work, but on Wednesday morning the pavements in the city centre were like glass. I was wearing the least practical shoes imaginable and had barely set foot outside Central station before I slipped and landed on my bum. It wasn’t even a dignified fall: there was much flailing of arms and feet before I eventually toppled over. Still, it seemed to amuse the man on the corner who was giving out Metros.

(satellite image taken on 7th January 2010, NASA/GSFC, MODIS Rapid Response)