Recent Articles

In defence of Conservative ‘guilt’

by Neil Robertson     August 31, 2010 at 2:08 pm

At the Guardian, Theo Hobson says:

On Any Questions recently, someone asked the panellists whether they intended to cut down on their meat consumption, for environmental reasons. There were a couple of hesitant, nondescript answers and then Ken Clarke calmly guffawed at the whole idea. Like I’m going to cut down on my merry feasting, he basically said.

And the audience found his cavalier confidence sort of reassuring, and laughed. Here, it struck me, is the very nub of the Tory soul: it enjoys showing its lack of angst. And such confidence impresses people. Let us be ruled by these Nietzschean strong souls, we cravenly feel, who are too busy living well to entertain cowardly moral scruples.

Y’know, misrepresenting the motivations of your opponents might not be one of the worst characteristics of an ever-corroding political debate, but it is one of the more grating.
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Why social housing should matter, even to Tories

by Neil Robertson     August 5, 2010 at 9:45 am

There are plenty of reasons why people who could afford to leave social housing opt not to do so.

The most obvious, of course, is cost; even if you did have the resources to find yourself private accommodation, you might prefer living in social housing if it leaves you with a little extra money for food, clothes, transport, a night out and the odd holiday.

The second is the security that social housing can offer. Not every private landlord is as scrupulous as a local housing association, and the further down the price scale you go, the less security you’re likely to have. Social housing can offer considerably more peace of mind for tenants.
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Will Nick Clegg kill northern liberalism?

by Neil Robertson     August 1, 2010 at 1:00 pm

When Irving Patnick reputedly described Sheffield as the ‘People’s Republic of South Yorkshire’, he may have been referring as much to his own isolation as he was the radicalism of the 1980s. As the city council defined itself in opposition to the Thatcher governments, so Patnick was defined as a solid blue hold-out in a county drenched in red – the ‘enemy within’, if you like.

For decades his well-heeled Sheffield Hallam constituency – home to farmers, doctors & lawyers, owners of factories & steel works – had loyally returned Conservative MPs, and even as the red flag was hoist above City Hall, Patnick remained a stubborn voice of opposition.

If Sheffield really was a breakaway republic, his Hallam constituency would’ve been a fringe rebel enclave – blue to the bitter end.
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Why it became Michael Gove’s awful month

by Neil Robertson     July 31, 2010 at 10:20 am

The surprising thing about Michael Gove’s short tenure as Education Secretary is how quickly an appointment which began with such hype and bluster has descended into one of hubris and error.

The controversies Gove has been embroiled in since May have been entirely unforced errors; it is not beyond a Secretary of State to publish an accurate list of which schools will/will not see their building projects completed, nor is it beyond his ability to give a realistic estimate of how many would take advantage of his invitation to become academies.

The truth, as we now know , is that most schools in England & Wales didn’t await the Academies Bill with the same breathlessness Gove had when he rushed it through Parliament.
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What music and political tribes have in common

by Neil Robertson     July 24, 2010 at 10:30 am

It’s the early noughties and we’re in the middle of a Great Rock Recession. After the Britpop days of plenty, indie fans are stuck on a stodgy gruel of Travis and Starsailor. ‘Quiet is the new Loud’ and that sound you don’t hear is the kids yawning themselves to death.

With such scant exciting, homemade music, the New Musical Express – that dogged tribune of indie culture – gazed across the Atlantic and started to embrace the explosion of R&B and hip hop. They wrote reverently about Timbaland & Missy Elliott, made The Neptunes the epitome of cool and even gave Destiny’s Child their front cover for a week.

Sadly, the NME’s experiment in open-minded eclecticism was short-lived; sales dwindled and the paper couldn’t afford to offend its musically conservative readership for any longer. It wasn’t long before the magazine reverted to type; excitedly announcing a ‘New Rock Revolution’ and chasing skinny trustafarians around the sidewalks of New York.

The mistake the NME made was in believing it could break the stubborn insularity of its audience.
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But Labour’s attack on “benefits cheats” didn’t help the system

by Neil Robertson     July 8, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Most of you will have now seen Sunny’s interview with Ed Miliband, in which he declared himself ‘the candidate of change’ and then somewhat contentiously argued that New Labour wasn’t too harsh in how it handled the benefits system.

Responding to heckles from the audience, Sunny suggests Miliband’s critics have missed the point:

Sure, New Labour did use a lot of negative language, but it’s naive to assume people won’t talk about “benefits cheats” just because the Labour government didn’t. The Daily Mail cannot be wished away. And so I’m assuming New Labour simply made the calculation that sounding harsh on benefit cheats in public would convince the public something was being done about them – and keep faith in the system. Because once that faith goes, then the system goes.

In many respects, Sunny is absolutely correct.
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Labour has turned into a headless attack-dog

by Neil Robertson     July 3, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Were it just an isolated incident, I suppose we could just dismiss Jack Straw’s attack on prison reform as that of a grumpy ex-minister grasping for success stories from his time in government.

We could even forgive him one last grumble as he adjusts to opposition and find his ‘prison works’ mantra consigned to the dustbin of social policy.

But then when you look around at how other ex-ministers have attacked coalition policies you’ll see a rather unsightly pattern emerge.
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Prison works? No thanks, Jack

by Neil Robertson     June 30, 2010 at 6:47 pm

As Justice Secretary, it often felt like Jack Straw was motivated more by a desire to protect the public from liberals than from criminals.

In his inglorious time in government, Straw’s Labour Party oversaw a record rise in the prison population, dangerous levels of overcrowding and a disastrous early release scheme which completely battered public confidence in the courts.

He ignored British and European law on prisoners’ voting rights, fed us policies packed with pure populist junk and blithely suggested that those who complained simply didn’t care enough about the victims of crime.
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Why I’m not voting at the next election

by Neil Robertson     March 20, 2010 at 8:00 am

This post is part of Hagley Road to Ladywood’s series on the election.

As a voter who’s long felt left behind by Labour, who’s unimpressed by the wet flannel liberalism of Nick Clegg and who remains underwhelmed by parties on the electoral fringe, this election has often felt like a choice between “the lesser of who cares?”.

For me, the prospect of voting this May – a task I might have once grasped with enthusiasm – seems like a tawdry chore, with each party appearing like a cheap imitation of my own values.

Still, after a good few months of dismayed dithering and yawning, I finally came to a decision about how I’m going to vote in this election:

I won’t.

Here’s the thing: 6 years ago a British prisoner called John Hirst went to the European Court of Human Rights demanding that our government give him and his fellow inmates the right to vote. The court ruled that our blanket ban violated the Human Rights Act, and ordered the government to make the necessary changes.

Naturally, the government has deliberately dragged its feet ever since; issuing objections and obfuscations at every turn, and getting no closer to changing the law than the establishment of some weak-willed ‘consulation exercises’.

This was fine for the first five years, but now the election has brought the matter into sharp relief. After ignoring repeated warnings that the General Election must not take place without the ban being lifted, in December the Council of Europe suggested that the election may breach the European convention on human rights. The council repeated that claim last week, along with the notice that, unless the law is changed, tens of thousands of prisoners would be within their rights to sue the British government.

As it stands, the coming election promises to be the first in modern history where tens of thousands of British citizens have illegaly barred from casting a ballot. Whatever crimes these men & women may have committed, however dubious their character, can we really claim to be tough on those who break the law when we are happy for the state to break its own laws in order to punish them?

For me, the answer is an unequivocal ‘no’. I cannot, in good conscience, exercise my legally-guaranteed right to participate in the democratic process when tens of thousands of Britons are illegally deprived of theirs. For that reason, I will be staying at home come election day. Not out of apathy, nor out of a lack of available alternatives, but as a small protest against a big injustice.

What do Labour bloggers have to say on Yarl’s Wood?

by Neil Robertson     March 1, 2010 at 8:38 am

Because I possess a lousy news antennae, my choice for top story isn’t the tightening in the opinion polls or David Cameron’s promise to ‘double up on change’.

Instead, I was startled by yet more troubling allegations about the conditions at Yarl’s Wood. To add to the reported mistreatment of children and the four week hunger strike, the Observer has now obtained testimonies from people inside the facility that guards have been beating women:

Jacqui McKenzie of Birnberg Peirce said: “I have spoken to a client of mine in Yarl’s Wood and she has seen the bruising herself from the incident on 8 February. There is an atmosphere of real tension there.”

The images of the bruising show the injuries allegedly sustained during the incident by Denise McNeil, a 35-year-old Jamaican, who claims she was hit by staff and, since the disturbance, has been moved to London’s Holloway prison.

Meme Jallow, 26, from Gambia, who has been inside Yarl’s Wood for seven months, said: “A girl called Denise was by the windows. One officer took her and hit her by the face.”

Another hunger striker, a 37-year-old from Nigeria who asked to remain anonymous for fear of her asylum case being unfairly reviewed, said: “The security went outside and used shields like they do when there is a war. That is what they used to smash one of the women who was outside.”

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