politics.co.uk’s most controversial articles of 2011

From riots to phone-hacking, this has been an eventful year – and one which has on occasion provoked a big response from our readers. Here are our top ten most popular articles of 2011 on our Talking Politics blog on Yahoo!, based on reactions through Facebook and Twitter.

10 – Reefer madness in a final frenzy by Peter Reynolds
(290 Facebook recommends, 11 Tweets)

"How can our cowardly political leaders find a way to save face while reversing the dreadful policy they have supported for so long?" asked Peter Reynolds, leader of the Cannabis Law Reform campaign group. His piece criticising the British press for the "lies" it spreads about cannabis just made it into our top ten.

Reynolds wrote: "If any issue exposes the hypocrisy and dishonesty of politicians and the way that the media has an improper influence, then it is cannabis. We have to find a way to let them off the hook."

09 – Reagan statue shows Britain is America’s fiefdom by Ian Dunt
(275 Facebook recommends, 27 Tweets)

"Divisive, humiliating and a symbol of our selective judgements on human rights: maybe the Reagan statue is being put up as a glib art comment on modern British society." That was our conclusion after a statue to former US president Ronald Reagan was erected in Grosvenor Square, London.

It attracted hundreds of comments, including this one: "Reagan has a legacy so distorted by the Conservative idolization of him that we may never have a clear picture of the real man behind the television."

08 – Britain might be broken, after all by Alex Stevenson
(287 Facebook recommends, 20 Tweets)

In the immediate aftermath of August's riots Britain's politicians seemed as shocked as everyone else. They tried to evade responsibility by claiming the disorder had nothing to do with politics. Subsequent research suggests they may be wrong.

"It's critical that Britain takes a long hard look at itself and seeks to work out how these setbacks can be reversed," we wrote.

"Confronting the scale of the problem we face would be a good place to start. What a shame, therefore, that politicians will be doing everything they can to ignore this burgeoning crisis."

07 – Only the rich can fall in love in Cameron's Britain by Ian Dunt
(315 Facebook recommends, 31 Tweets)

"If you earn the average wage, you'd better hope you never meet a nice girl on holiday. You're about to lose the right to live together." That was the conclusion to our piece on changes to immigration rules in November which helped the rich. Only those with net assets of at least £1 million could enter the country when they like and stay as long as they want.

"From student immigration to working visas, the government is intent on making it harder to come here," we warned. "Now they want to ban Brits from falling in love with them too."

06 – Maddie case reveals the media's power over the police by Ian Dunt
(342 Facebook recommends, 23 Tweets)

Before the phone-hacking scandal really erupted we were already questioning the way in which Britain's media works, highlighting the extraordinary press attention given to the case of Madeleine McCann to show that the tabloids' habit of picking and choosing isn't always healthy.

This has implications, we argued, for the coalition's plans to replace local police authorities with elected police commissioners: "The decisions which flow from a democratised police force are liable to be more perverse than merely treating one murder with greater importance than another."

05 – In the name of Greece, tax the banks by Ian Dunt
(436 Facebook recommends, 36 Tweets)

This has been a year dominated by the ongoing eurozone crisis, which gets into our top ten at number five via our piece on Greece's austerity measures. "They are being sacrificed by their government in the name of the global markets," we wrote, arguing that it should be the financial sector which pays for sovereign debt perils, not a specific country's people.

"The financial sector must pay for what it has done. We cannot allow the people of Greece to have their society destroyed because of a financial culture in which they had no hand. Even if you don’t care about the Greeks, it won’t end there."

04 – Taxing meat could make us thinner by Yvonne Bishop-Weston
(466 Facebook recommends, 18 Tweets)

This piece from nutritionist Yvonne Bishop-Weston prompted a range of comments, as you'd expect, on the merits of being vegetarian and Britain's bigger public health problem. "Taxing animal-derived foods and promoting plant-based eating would give us another possible chance at slimming down and enjoying good health," she argued, prompting Facebook comments like this one: "Why not just herd all the fat people into communal treadmills hooked up to produce Electricity for the rich and thin surely that would cut costs for the government."

03 – Jeremy Clarkson and the New British Outrage by Ian Dunt
(938 Facebook recommends, 66 Tweets)

The Top Gear presenter caused an almighty uproar when he observed, mostly jokingly, that his preferred approach to strikers walking out over their public sector pensions was to shoot them all – in front of their families. Weren't we all just getting a bit carried away in reacting to him so angrily?

"The love of outrage for its own sake has long been a feature of the right-wing press, particularly, but not restricted to, the Daily Mail. Its role has been usurped on the left by Twitter," we argued.

"The social media site, used by people across the political spectrum, has periodic bouts of censorious left-wing witch hunts, whether it's on Top Gear or sexist T-shirts, which are just as authoritarian as the bitter unhappiness of 'outraged from Tunbridge Wells'."

02 – No politics today by Ian Dunt
(1,000 Facebook recommends, 78 Tweets)

After walking the streets during the riots, the country appeared united behind a strong, firm response to the violent disorder. Order had to be restored. It felt like the goalposts were being shifted overnight.

"The conservative voices are correct," we wrote. "We need to have the harshest possible penalty for those involved in this disorder. We can't talk about why this happened without talking about family breakdown, lack of respect for others and lack of responsibility."

01 – Why you should support the pensions strike by Ian Dunt
(3,000 Facebook recommends, 155 Tweets)

It wasn't phone-hacking or the riots which prompted the piece that got the biggest reaction out of our Yahoo readers. No – it was good old austerity, and the public sector pensions strike on November 30th which represented the culmination of anger among civil servants. Our article was about more than just spending cuts, though – it was about a fundamental divide in British society.

"For the rich, this country is a socialist utopia, where losses are nationalised and any criticism of their wealth is brushed off with self-serving arguments about talent-flight," we wrote. "For the poor, it is pure, brutal capitalism, a race to the bottom to attract international capital and satisfy the credit rating agencies."