Recent Articles



The rise of Labour’s new class

by Neil Robertson     February 7, 2010 at 10:20 am

If you trawl Liverpool FC’s unofficial fan forums, it won’t be long before you stumble upon a long thread lamenting the lack of scousers in the squad. Has the city’s talent pool really drained so badly that it’s producing players who aren’t even fit for the subs bench?

You can see shades of this frustration in the backlash over Luciana Berger’s selection as Labour’s candidate for Liverpool Wavertree. Ms Berger is hardly at fault for being young, for harbouring a desire for public service or for possessing qualities which have made her appealing to London’s Labour hierarchy. She may, indeed, prove to be an excellent MP.

But what I read in the exasperated responses to her selection is a refrain I’ve heard many times in & around the Shankly Gates: was there not a single person, in a city of over 400,000 people, who could’ve done as good a job? The city expects an Emlyn Hughes or a Jamie Carragher – someone who, at some level, can understand & relate to the culture & traditions of the people they serve.
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In praise of Alan Duncan

by Neil Robertson     January 24, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I have no idea yet whether Alan Duncan is an asset or a liability to the cause of penal reform, but he certainly appears to be an ally, and is the author of two cracking soundbites:

Ms Crook wrote: ‘Alan Duncan said that the slogan “prison works” was repulsively simplistic. Anyone in politics should work to improve society and there was no more useful target than offenders.’
[…]
Ms Crook added: ‘He said, “Lock ’em up is Key Stage 1 politics.”’ Key Stage 1 is the first part of the primary-school curriculum studied by children as young as five.

To which the Mail has helpfully editorialised:

Suggesting that an old-style tough Tory approach to crime is worthy of a five-year-old will infuriate the party’s grassroots activists.

Well, if they’re going to act like five-year-olds…
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Goldsmith also goes for shameless pandering

by Neil Robertson     January 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm

If you thought the Tories’ ‘broken society’ meme was bit dystopic, this will really have you reaching for the bottle. According to Zac Goldsmith, Conservative candidate for Richmond Park and everyone’s favourite uber-green non-dom, we are no longer living in a civilised country. Can’t wait to see that on his election posters.

In a post which implicitly supports euthanasia, Goldsmith contrasts the seemingly lenient sentence given to a convicted paedophile with a seemingly harsh sentence for a woman who ended the life of her beloved but brain damaged son.

The problem, you see, is those pesky “sanctimonious liberal commentators” who “will argue that the mark of a civilised society is its willingness to apply justice in the face of public opinion. For them, this mother is a law-breaker, just like Sweeney, and she should be punished as such”.

Now, if I was going to write about how two court cases reveal what an uncivilised country we are, I’d probably think twice before accusing anyone else of sanctimony.
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Campaigners – get your hands off our lunchboxes

by Neil Robertson     January 13, 2010 at 9:00 am

The process of producing a good lunchbox is one of trial and error; claim & counter-claim; constant negotiation between producer and customer. My brother and I weren’t easy customers to please.

For a few years we were quite happy with Dairylea in our sandwiches, until we discovered that Dairylea was cheese, and ‘Mum, we don’t like cheese!‘ We went our separate ways after that: Jon took a shine to ham & tomato ketchup; I developed a thing for Bernard Matthews turkey slices, which she sprinkled with salt and sprayed with barbeque sauce.

But it was always the deserts which caused the most angst. Did we want Wagon Wheels or Chocolate Rolls? Jam Tarts or Fondant Fancies? Yoghurt or fromage frais? How do you keep yoghurt cool without resorting to an ice pack which’ll make your sandwich soggy?

Were it not for love, my mother wouldn’t have bothered. Each tacky little Tupperware box we carried to school was an expression of devotion, and that she constantly evolved the menu to serve our fickle tastes was a sign that she wanted to send us to school with something from her to us.
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What’s our argument against bombing Iran?

by Neil Robertson     December 28, 2009 at 9:55 am

On Christmas Eve, a time ostensibly meant for peace & goodwill, the New York Times ran an epic op-ed arguing for military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear technology. Should you have the stomach to endure Alan Kuperman’s belch of war-baiting, you can go here; it’s some real Deck The Halls shit.

Because I’m not particularly interested in the substance of Kuperman’s argument (there are already some excellent rebuttals by the likes of Marc Lynch & Matt Duss), I’m instead going to note Stephen Walt’s reaction. For Walt, this is but the opening salvo of a concerted campaign to pressure President Obama into taking military action. He warns that opponents of this action should start refining their arguments now because the march for war may soon become a deafening din.
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What can be done about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

by Neil Robertson     December 17, 2009 at 11:30 am

The US House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved new sanctions against Iran aimed at halting its disputed nuclear programme. But will it deal with the problem?

There are, as far as I can see, three ways the West can deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The first is to negotiate a peaceful settlement wherein Iran is only able to ‘go nuclear’ for the purpose of heating the stoves in Tehran. This has been the policy since President Obama was inaugurated; it has seen its share of successes & setbacks and it may well end with Iran having a nuclear weapon.

The second possibility is to impose sanctions with the hope of either materially crippling Iran’s weapon-making capability or hoping that internal dissent would eventually topple the government.

The problem with this is that you’ve got to get China and Russia to play along, and whilst the Kremlin’s stance on sanctions has softened, I wouldn’t expect them to agree to any sanctions regime which would satisfy the ‘get tough’ brigade. There’s also no guarantee that it’ll stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon anyway.

And so the third possibility is military action.
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Even Dan Hannan opposes the ban on minarets

by Neil Robertson     December 1, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Is it still committing heresy to link favourably to right wing Tory MEP Daniel Hannan? Ah well, I was never going to be invited to the Cool Kids’ table anyway:

The decision by Swiss voters to outlaw the construction of minarets strikes me as regrettable on three grounds.

First, it is at odds with that other guiding Swiss principle, localism: issues of this kind ought surely to be settled town by town, or at least canton by canton, not by a national ban.

Second, it is disproportionate. There may be arguments against the erection of a particular minaret by a particular mosque – but to drag a constitutional amendment into the field of planning law is using a pneumatic drill to crack a nut.

Third, it suggests that Western democracies have a problem, not with jihadi fruitcakes, but with Muslims per se – which is, of course, precisely the argument of the jihadi fruitcakes.

Hannan’s last point is surely the most important. Whilst there may have been a few Swiss voters who voted for the ban solely out of aesthetic antipathy, I suspect they were somewhat outnumbered by people who voted because they are suspicious, wary or even scared of their Muslim countrymen.

If a number of amateur bloggers can speculate that fear of Muslims led to this vote, you can be pretty sure that Swiss Muslims have gotten the message, too. And therein lies the problem; othering often leads to more marginalisation, segregation, exclusion, distrust and bitterness than existed before. Those are pretty ripe conditions for political and religious extremism to fester, and so the proponents of the ban are actually succeeding in compounding a problem they supposedly wish to reduce. So they’re either dishonest or deeply daft.

I’m not going to claim that there’s some silver bullet for achieving greater social & cultural integration, and I’m not going to pass myself off as any kind of expert about extinguishing militant theism. But I do know that neither of those aims are going to be achieved by winning small-minded & petty restrictions on what religious buildings look like.

The Sun does cyber-stalking too

by Neil Robertson     November 15, 2009 at 8:30 pm

“So how was your day?” — It’s a question which must get asked millions of times a day. Some surgeons may celebrate a successful operation; some police officers may toast the closing of a case; some bartenders may have enjoyed an evening’s banter with their regular punters.

However, if you’re John Coles, Ace Reporter for The Sun, your response to that question goes a little something like this:

Oh, my day was GREAT! I went on Facebook and stalked a 24 year old that nobody’s ever heard of. THEN, out of revenge for his Dad’s ‘zany’ statements about drugs, I publicly humilated him in a national newspaper!

Yes, the minds of tabloid journalists operate a little differently to the rest of us.


image by Beau Bo D’Or

So how did Coles’ intrepid cyber bullying increase his readers’ understanding of the world? Well, we’ve discovered that Steve Nutt either smokes weed or roll-ups (or maybe even both!); we’ve found out that he sometimes makes risque & inappropriate jokes to friends; we’ve learned that he has a sister who once drank booze at 16, and a brother who was once NAKED! In Sweden!
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Prof. Nutt: Death by a bar chart

by Neil Robertson     November 1, 2009 at 10:57 am

News update: Two govt advisors have now resigned in protest. Others considering the same ‘en masse’

* * * * * *

I don’t suppose there are many dignified ways of being sacked by your employer, but ‘Death By Bar Chart’ must be one of the least savoury ways to go. In his lecture to the Centre for Crime & Justice Studies, Professor David Nutt included this rather inconvenient illustration of the level of harm caused by a range of dangerous substances:

drug harm

As you can see, Nutt’s table had alcohol and tobacco ranked as more harmful than a whole host of intoxicants, including cannabis, LSD and ecstacy. From this little illustration, a sprawl of tabloid stories was spawned and the government’s chief adviser on drugs had unconsciously secured his own sacking.

Given his stormy relationship with the Home Office, the sacking itself had an eye-rolling inevitability to it, but when you read the careful, methodical and rather unremarkable content of Nutt’s lecture, you’re really left wondering what all the bloody fuss was about.
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Teachers and classrooms: blaming inclusion

by Neil Robertson     October 29, 2009 at 2:28 pm

When set against the context of the number of children you’ll teach throughout a school year, incidents of violent, abusive or threatening behaviour are actually quite rare. The occasions when a pupil dreams up allegations of abuse by a teacher are rarer still, and the occasions when those false allegations result in disciplinary action or a criminal conviction are even more infrequent.

That said, everyone’s heard at least one horror story about a teacher who’s been the victim to a malicious allegation. It does happen, and more can be done at school, local authority & central government level to ensure that good and safe teachers are protected from career-destroying fairy tales. Ending the atrocious policy of isolating accused teachers from contact with their colleagues would be a good place to start.

So it’s not like I’m ambivelent to or dismissive of a problem which does prey on a lot of teachers’ minds, and the general thrust of Jenni Russell’s piece on the topic is generally correct. Still, it is a Jenni Russell piece, and so every article must contain at least one moment of eye-watering idiocy:

Classrooms are becoming more difficult to manage because the policy of inclusion means that children with emotional, mental or physical difficulties are being put into mainstream schools without the extra support they need to cope.

Whether Russell is basing this on any actual evidence is unclear, but unlikely.
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