Monday, January 23, 2017

Milton Keynes before Milton Keynes

The plan to build a new town called Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire was agreed on 23 January 1967 - that is, 50 years ago.

Some will tell you that the name was plucked out of the air, but there always was a village of Milton Keynes.

Here is J.H.B. Peel writing in his Buckinghamshire Footpaths (1949):
In Broughton you turn rightward along a lane into Milton Keynes, as fine a small English village as you are likely to encounter in these parts, or, for that matter, in any other parts. 
Milton Keynes is a homely place. Fields encroach upon the dusty by-lane, and brim over the scattered cottages. There is nothing here of the conventional beauty spot, for indeed no one seems to have heard of the place, save the handful of its inhabitants; and these think so well of it that they rarely leave it, and then only upon compulsion like Falstaff. 
I have known and loved Milton Keynes since I was a boy, but at no time in my legion pilgrimages thither have I met a stranger.
I have faint memories of my family's first canal holiday in 1965 or 1966, when the banks of the Grand Union must still have been as Peel knew them.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Driven down from the North of Rutland

Another day in the company of Rutland's most celebrated peer.


The days between Christmas and the year’s end are ones for hunkering down in the warm. I don’t know what the weather has been like where you are, but here in Rutland we always have a white Christmas.

In some years the wolves are driven down from the North of Rutland by the hard weather and the cottages in the village bar their shutters. It is then that the secret passage that leads from the Hall to the cellar of the Bonkers’ Arms comes into its own.

This afternoon I took a favourite armchair in front of a roaring blaze and opened Clegg’s Politics: Between the Extremes, which Freddie and Fiona kindly gave me for Christmas. When I woke the fire had burned low and it was time for dinner.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

The boyhood of Donald Trump

"I cannot tell a lie, Father, but alternative facts say I did not damage the cherry tree."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Duncan Carse and Survival in Limbo

After I posted the film of T.H. White's The Goshawk, Maxim Peter Griffin sent me the link to this second film featuring Duncan Carse.

Carse was a remarkable man, as the opening of his Telegraph obituary (he died in 2004) shows:
Duncan Carse, who died on May 2 aged 90, made his mark both as a polar explorer and as a professional radio broadcaster and actor - in the latter role he played Dick Barton, Special Agent, in the radio series which, in its heyday, attracted 15 million listeners. 
But Carse would have wished to be remembered principally for his work in mapping the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic. In four southern summers, between 1951 and 1957, he organised and led the South Georgia Survey. 
This was a formidable enterprise requiring dogged determination and the ability to traverse mountainous, crevassed and mostly untrodden terrain in weather conditions that were frequently atrocious. 
The survey produced the first proper map of the whole of South Georgia, published by the Directorate of Overseas Surveys in 1958 at the scale of 1:200,000. It remains the standard map of the island and, during the 1982 conflict on South Georgia, it was an essential aid to land, sea and air operations.
Survival in Limbo tells the story of a later episode in his life:
Carse paid two further visits to South Georgia, and was lucky to come back alive. In 1961 "as a personal psychological experiment", he lived alone from February to September (the entire southern winter) at a small harbour on the hostile west coast of the island. 
In May his hut was destroyed, and many of his stores were swept away by a surge wave. He managed to survive until rescued by the whale catcher Petrel, and later made a television documentary film of his experience.
I said in my earlier post that Carse had the look of T.H. White. It seems he also had his need to prove his courage and tolerance of solitude.

After All, This is England by Robert Muller

My father left us when I was 11 and I never saw him again. One of the few things he left me was the collection of paperbacks he had bought to while away long business journeys. A couple of them had a political theme.

There was The Day the Queen Flew to Scotland for the Grouse Shooting by Arthur Wise. This told the story of a civil war between the North and South of England and may yet become relevant.

A few years ago I was a member of Leicester Writers Club alongside the former Labour MEP Mel Read.* She mentioned have read the book and I surprised myself when I was able to tell her who wrote it.

And there was After All, This is England by Robert Muller.

This told the story of how a Fascist dictator came to power here. It was closely based on the rise of Hitler and a post on The Numinous Book of Review will tell you all about the plot.

It will also tell you about the author:
Muller was an interesting writer, a German who settled in England after the war, and who doesn't really get the attention he deserves for the contribution he made to British cultural life; apart from this novel (and several others) he was very active on British television, penning several series, including Supernatural for the BBC in 1978, a rather splendid anthology of horror stories; and he made an outstanding contribution to the BBC's seminal science fiction series, Out of the Unknown, as well as ITV's Mystery and Imagination in the late 60s, writing blazing adaptations of Frankenstein and The Suicide Club, no less. 
It is a matter of regret that his name seems to have disappeared so mysteriously... to complete the sentence of the title: It couldn't possibly happen here; after all, this is England.
I feel less sure of this in 2017 than Muller's readers would have done in the 1960s.

* I had a lot of time for Mel. She told me that on the day Bill Newton-Dunn left the Conservatives to join the Liberal Democrats his former colleagues were after his blood and she let him lie low in her office.

Before Nigel Farage was Donald Trump's best mate

Thanks to Backbench for this.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Chimbleys is awkward things"

The new issue of Liberator is winging its way to subscribers - why not join them? - which means that it is time to spend another week with Lord Bonkers.

We join him in late December...


What a wonderful Christmas we had at Bonkers Hall! There was the usual glittering guest list, for the first time featuring the delightful Sarah Olney, the new MP for Richmond Park. (I gather she has a strong following amongst the deer.) There were also a number of former Liberal Democrat MPs who were defeated at the last general election and, to be honest, looked glad of a hot meal. Politics, as I have often observed, is a rough old game.

I was nursing a few scrapes and bruises at Christmas luncheon, having had the bright, as I thought it, idea of dressing up as Father Christmas and having myself lowered down the chimney of the Bonkers’ Home for Well-Behaved Orphans the evening before. Unfortunately, I became stuck and it took some enthusiastic tugging on my boots from the young inmates to free me. As I separated myself from the pile of soot, one of them observed: "Chimbleys is awkward things, Lord B. You wants to leave 'em to the experts." Then the real Father Christmas turned up and was Rather Put Out.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Petula Clark: While You See a Chance

"I've always been famous as far as I can remember," Petula Clark told the Daily Mail a few years ago.

And it was not an exaggeration. She made her radio debut at the age of nine and entertained the troops during the Second World War.

Her latest album, From Now On, came out in October of last year. It features this version of While You See a Chance, the song (written with Will Jennings) that relaunched Steve Winwood for the MTV generation

Petula Clark, like everyone who performs Winwood's songs from that era today, offers a more downbeat version. They often do sound better shorn of the originals' glossy production.

Liberal England asks: Did I ever tell you the story of how Petula Clark phoned me?

Readers reply hurriedly: Yes ... You did ... Yes ... Definitely ... Oh yes.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Tommy Baldwin features in Trivial Fact of Day

Michael Crawford, in his memoirs Parcel Arrived Safely: Tied with String, describes the break up of his marriage:
I moved out of our Wimbledon home in November 1972. But we had gone our separate roads months before we ever parted, and it was fairly clear in Gabrielle's mind that our marriage was over, although, at the time, I adamantly refused to admit it to myself. 
Later on a friendship developed for Gabrielle which gave her the strength of face the realities of our own relationship. I had always been a passionate football fan and loved going to the matches, but the whole thing rather bored Gabrielle. I used to keep at her about it: "Look if we've got to get ourselves together," I told her, "we have to be part of things for each othet, so why don't you come to the football games..." 
This kind of argument went on for months until she finally relented and came to a Chelsea match with me. Ironically, she ended up living with the centre forward for Chelsea, and had to children by him. I hate to say I told you so - but I knew she would enjoy herself once she'd actually been to a match.
But who was this Chelsea player?

The standard work on the period, Greg Tesser's Chelsea FC in the Swinging 60s: Football's First Rock 'n' Roll Club, reveals that it was Tommy Baldwin.

The Northampton nobody knows

Photographs from this afternoon's wanderings. The cool kids call it psychogeography.

I am pleased to report that the Jos. Rogers & Co. 1½p sign is still there.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Labour set to lose Copeland "by thousands of votes"

Ben Riley-Smith writes on the Daily Telegraph site this evening:
Jeremy Corbyn is set to become the first official opposition leader to lose a by-election to the Government in 35 years, according to the Labour Party’s own canvass returns. 
The Telegraph understands internal analysis of more than 10,000 conversations with voters in Copeland, the Cumbrian constituency, shows Labour’s support down by a third since 2015 ...
The returns suggest that the Tories will take Copeland – a seat held by Labour for 80 years – when voters pick their new MP next month.
He goes on to say:
Party sources involved in the campaign now expect the Tories to take win the seat by thousands of votes, with the Labour vote share possibly slumping to the low thirties. 
"Jeremy's incompetence is constantly coming up on the doorstep. Nobody sees him as a party leader,” said a Labour source.
My suspicion is that the anti-Corbyn forces in Labour are talking up the prospect of defeat in Copeland in the hope that it will bring him down.

But then did Labour's new, Corbyn-supporting members join the party to win power?

t may have had more to do with identity politics. To them, if Corbyn loses it will just show how moral they are and how wicked everyone else is.

Incidentally, Riley-Smith says it is the Conservatives who will gain from Labour's collapse in Copeland.

He also says:
Early canvass returns from Stoke are understood to also show Labour’s support significantly down on 2015, though not nearly as many people have been consulted as Copeland.

A Deltic with snow on its boots

I must have taken this around 1980, by which times Deltics were confined to the stopping trains from York to King's Cross. (I was never convinced by those white cab surrounds.)

Except that this station roof doesn't look like York. Could it be Manchester Victoria?

If it was, what was the Deltic doing there?

Six of the Best 661

What will Brexit mean for your favourite sports team? Tim Wigmore explains.

Milton Keynes is 50 years old. Stephen Bayley asks if we should celebrate it or laugh at it.

Raf Nicholson celebrates Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, who died this week: "The first women's cricket celebrity, she was unique, wonderfully charismatic and humorous."

Jem Stone offers a quick history of the BBC and social media.

"During the 1950s. the quest for the four-minute mile was seen very much in nationalistic terms; Bannister’s 1953 run was, in fact, hastily arranged to take place five hours before his American rival ... made his own attempt." Michael Crawley on Roger Bannister's quest for the four-minute mile and what it can teach moderns who seek a two-hour marathon.

"A century ago, Silvertown, a small community in east London, was devastated by an explosion at a TNT factory so big that is was heard in north Norfolk." Toby Butler tells the story of the worst explosion to hit London.

Doctor criticizes Gwyneth Paltrow for advising women to hold jade eggs in their vaginas all day

There has been other news in America today, and it has helped the New York Times to win our Headline of the Day Award.

The judges praised its perfect combination of celebrity, randomness and rudeness.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Goshawk (1968)

This film, made for the BBC in an era when nature dramas prided themselves on being unsentimental, is based on book of the same name by T..H. White.

You may have heard of it through Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk.

White's words are spoken by Duncan Carse, who also plays the falconer and has very much the look of White.

You can read a little more about the film on a website devoted to the work of Carey Blyton.

Blyton, who was the nephew of Enid Blyton and died in 2002, wrote the music. He also prepared Benjamin Britten's scores for the press at Faber & Faber.

Labour to hold Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central by-elections in February

From Politics Home:
Labour is planning to hold the Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central by-elections on the same day next month ... 
Senior party sources say the crunch polls are "likely" to take place on 23 February, although a final decision has yet to be made. 
A formal announcement could take place as early as tomorrow.
Labour's presss briefing is so chaotic that this story could well be denied in the morning.

But short by-election campaigns must make sense for Labour. It's not as if prolonged exposure to the media and the voters is going to do them any favours at the moment.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Richard Jefferies Museum's Open Air Project

Jaime Bullock's film about the Richard Jefferies Museum's Open Air Project.

Running from October to December 2016, it was funded by Arts Council England and Swindon 175,

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Walt Disney's "Education for Death: The Making of Nazi"

Thanks to Open Culture for posting this extraordinary and unexpected film:
During World War II, Walt Disney entered into a contract with the US government to develop 32 animated shorts. Nearly bankrupted by Fantasia (1940), Disney needed to refill its coffers, and making American propaganda films didn’t seem like a bad way to do it. 
On numerous occasions, Donald Duck was called upon to deliver moral messages to domestic audiences (see The Spirit of ’43 and Der Fuehrer’s Face). But that wasn’t the case with Education for Death: The Making of Nazi, a film shown in U.S. movie theaters in 1943. 
Based on a book written by Gregor Ziemer, this animated short used a different lineup of characters to show how the Nazi party turned innocent youth into Hitler’s corrupted children. 
Unlike other topics addressed in Disney war films (e.g. taxes and the draft), this theme, the cultivation of young minds, hit awfully close to home. And it’s perhaps why it’s one of Disney’s better wartime film.
And it is also why it still feels relevant today.

The Open Culture site, incidentally, is a real treasure. As it says, it posts the best free cultural and educational media on the web.

Just because Paul Nuttall is from the North, it doesn't mean he will appeal to Northern voters

When Paul Nuttall was elected leader of Ukip the commentators told us Labour should be afraid.

Nuttall came from the North, therefore he would appeal to Labour voters in the North.

That was, of course, nonsense.

It was like saying the Conservatives should be afraid of Jeremy Corbyn because he came from the South and would therefore appeal to Southern Conservative voters.

What it revealed was that, to too many commentators, the North of England is a homogeneous and unknown region stretching from somewhere just beyond Toddington Services to the Scottish Border.

It is populated, they imagine, by men with whippets and cloth caps and unmarried mothers with prams.

The truth is that Northern voters are as varied and discerning as Souithern voters. Perhaps a strong Northern candidate would appeal to them, but Paul Nuttall is not that man.

Those same commentators told us he was a great communicator. He is not.

Nuttall talks entirely in in cliches and prefabricated soundbites. And when he has unburdened himself of one of these, he gives a self-satisfied smile.

When he was on Daily Politics they noticed and kept the camera on him just that little bit longer than he expected. He looked very silly as a result. I suspect other journalists have noticed this too.

Nuttall is unable to talk for more than a few sentences without contradicting himself.

And, as he displayed on the Today programme this morning - "I'm massively excited about Donald Trump, It's clear he's an Anglophobe - he is not she sharpest point in the pencil case.

Add to that a silly face and an accent that will not appeal to everyone in the North, and you can see how wrong the commentators were.

Labour faces all sorts of problems - in the North as much as anywhere else - but I suspect Paul Nuttall will prove to be the least of them.

Thoughts among the dustbins

When I was a councillor we voted each year on the charges for collecting commercial refuse.

Inevitably, one of the older Tories or Independents would get up to say how unfair it was that businesses had to pay for collection twice. They had to pay business rates and then pay the council’s charges.

This objection was always brushed aside. Councils just didn’t work like that and, besides, we needed the money.

But at the back of my mind was an sense of disquiet. Didn’t the old councillor have a point? If businesses had paid their local taxes, shouldn’t local government services be free?

I thought of these doubts when the Conservative-run Harborough District Council brought in charges for collecting garden waste.

Residents had paid their Council Tax but were now being charged a second time for services.

Yes, council finances are under pressure, but then Harborough Tories cut the Council Tax just before the last council elections. So they can hardly if they are short of money now.

I suppose the moral is that that if you see injustice being done, you should speak out. You may be the victim of it one day.

I also remember the debate when we voted to bring wheelie bins to the district.

A Conservative woman councillor said that until now the dustmen had come to the back door of houses to collect the bins.

Now residents would be responsible for bringing their bins through to the front of their properties.

Who would have to do this? The woman of the house.

She was right too.

This is another example of the McDonaldisation thesis. Bringing in commercial operators does not boost our freedom. It requires us to behave in tightly circumscribed ways.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

And as you can see from the list of the 10 most recent guest posts below, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Six of the Best 660

"The data presented to Waverley suggested that floods like January 1953 were becoming more frequent and that the combination of factors that produced them were likely to happen more often." Concern with man-made climate change in Britain dates back at least to the East Coast floods of 1953, argues Matthew Kelly.

It's not only fake news we needs to fight, says Sean Munger, there's fake history too.

Jay McGregor explains how Margaret Thatcher killed superfast broadband in the UK before it even existed.

The History of Parliament Blog explains why clapping is not the done things in the Commons chamber.

"He anticipated a revolution in attitudes towards women in the workplace. He could see the start of a Westminster elite getting out of touch, not just on policy questions but also on standards of conduct. And he forcefully made the point that mass immigration and joining the European club had happened with minimal public consent." Matthew Reisz pays tribute to Anthony King.

Martyn Crucefix introduces us to In Parenthesis by David Jones.

Paul Halliday resigns from the Liberal Democrats

Paul Halliday, who stood as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Newport East at the 2015 general election and the 2016 Welsh Assembly poll, has resigned from the party. He was  due to stand for Newport council at the local elections in May.

Halliday had been suspended by the party over allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct towards a 17-year-old girl.

He had previously told Wales Online:
"I don’t know who has made the allegation. 
"I have not acted inappropriately towards anyone and am anxious to clear my name."
This evening BBC News reports:
Paul Halliday claimed the Lib Dems have told him nothing about allegations leading to his suspension this month. 
The former church minister said he had given evidence to fraud police that text messages were falsely sent in his name, as if they came from his phone. 
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau said it was looking into his claims. 
The Lib Dems have declined to comment.
Halliday announced his resignation on the Three Muckrackers vlog.

Siôn Simon: "A cep vinaigrette so beguilingly sophisticated that one was tempted to dab it behind one's ears"

These days Guido Fawkes spends too much time spinning on behalf of Pro-Brexit Tories, but he did have an amusing story today, So, in the spirit of the glory days of political blogging, I have stolen his illustration.

Siôn Simon, Labour's candidate for West Midlands mayor, is trying to reinvent himself as an English nationalist and man of the people.

Guido writes:
Judging by the campaign material above, you’d think Labour’s candidate for West Midlands mayor is a Brexit backer who wants to stick it to the Westminster elite. Vote Leave slogan? Tick. England flag? Tick. Platitude about how "Politicians in London have learnt nothing"? Tick. 
Laughable really, since Sion Simon is still a Member of the European Parliament, backed Remain in the referendum and has been a career Westminster Europhile.
It became even more laughable when I remembered what I wrote about Simon in March 2005:
Researching him further, I came across this tribute to him on the Wales Watch site. Its interest dates from the days when, styling himself "Siôn Llewellyn Simon" he was after a safe seat in the valleys. 
Wales Watch commemorates in particular his time as a restaurant critic: 
Boudin of guinea fowl was served perfectly warm, with a slice of foie gras on top, and a cep vinaigrette so beguilingly sophisticated that one was tempted to dab it behind one's ears.
Wales Watch, I am sorry to say, has disappeared from the web, But at least I preserved its tribute to Siôn Simon,

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ilkley station and signal box in 1980

Ilkley station still exists, but the buildings have been converted into a supermarket and new platforms have been built a little further out.

Here it is in 1980 - at least I think it is Ilkley. If I am right, the hole in the back wall is where the line to Skipton via Bolton Abbey and Embsay used to run.

And below is Ilkley Junction signal box, which I imagine has long since vanished.

In those days if you hung around outside a box taking photographs and an intelligent interest, you had a sporting chance of being asked inside. I managed it at Ilkley.

Philip Hammond spells out British government's Brexit thinking - to the German press

Brexit, we Britons have been told, means Brexit and it will be red, white and blue.

Beyond that, we know very little about our government's plans. Theresa May's speech on Tuesday may change that. Then again, it may not.

So if you want to know what the future may have in store, try the German press.

Philip Hammond has given an interview to Welt am Sonntag in which he is far more forthcoming than any minister has been to a British newspaper:
Hammond: We are now objectively a European-style economy. We are on the U.S. end of the European spectrum, but we do have an open-market economy with a social model that is recognizably the European social model that is recognizably in the mainstream of European norms, not U.S. norms. 
And most of us who had voted Remain would like the U.K. to remain a recognizably European-style economy with European-style taxation systems, European-style regulation systems etcetera. 
I personally hope we will be able to remain in the mainstream of European economic and social thinking. But if we are forced to be something different, then we will have to become something different. 
Welt am Sonntag: We don’t understand: Who or what would force you? 
Hammond: Economic circumstances. If we have no access to the European market, if we are closed off, if Britain were to leave the European Union without an agreement on market access, then we could suffer from economic damage at least in the short-term. 
In this case, we could be forced to change our economic model and we will have to change our model to regain competitiveness. And you can be sure we will do whatever we have to do.
Reading between the lines, Hammond is telling other European governments that Britain, if it is not favourable trade terms with the EU, will set itself up as an offshore tax haven with low standards of regulation and welfare.

How convincing a threat that will sound to those governments, I do not know.

But you can see how convenient it might be to right-wing British Conservatives. The line will be: of course, we would love to keep the NHS, but  because of those wicked Europeans we cannot afford it.

This vision of Britain as the Singapore of Europe, incidentally, was set out in the 2012 collection Britain Unchained.

Elsewhere, Hammond makes it clear that controlling immigration is the government's chief concern in Brexit negotiations.

He also offers this interesting observation:
In my judgement it would be a mistake to read the Brexit vote as being part of the same strand of thinking that has formed in the US. If you look at the media and the reporting during the Brexit referendum campaign, there was no anti-trade rhetoric. It was the exact opposite.

The Housemartins: Over There

Hull is the UK City of Culture for 2017, which gives me an excuse to choose another track by one of my favourite bands.

Incidentally, Hull beat Leicester in the contest for this accolade. The judges said the Leicester bid "lacked slightly in ambition and innovation".

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Remembering Graham Taylor

The Spiked website has far too much reflex contrarianism, but there are still good articles there if you look.

Here is Tim Black on Graham Taylor and his hounding by the media:
Taylor’s time in charge of the national team coincided with football’s post-1990 explosion as the National Game. Long a passionate pastime for many, football, by the time of the formation of the lucrative BSkyB-backed Premiership in 1992, had become the cultural centrepiece of national life. Those who may once have ignored it descended from the cultural heights to embrace it. 
Classical musicians wore club scarves; middle-class authors wrote up their teams; politicians spoke about international matches in parliament. It was no longer simply a beautiful game played on half-mud pitches; it was treated as art, prefaced by opera songs, and colonised by sections of society who once treated it with disdain. Football was undergoing Hornby-isation; it was hipsterising; it was being valorised by the right-on and progressive. 
And then there was Taylor. The haircut was straight, the accent East Midlands-ish, the overall impression a bit naff. Football’s new fans wanted polish and sophistication, innovation and Europeaness. What they got was spit and archaic, long-ball and patriotism. 
To football’s newest fans, Taylor appeared an unwelcome throwback, a return of football’s unreconstructed working-class, an obstacle in the way of progress.

Stella Creasy: If you don't get Mrs Brown's Boys you don't connect with real society

Except Stella Creasy tells me she did not say this. See the footnote.

The moderate wing of Labour plots its path back to power.
I have my doubts.

Or as Mrs Brown would put it...

Footnote. After I tweeted the link to this post I received a reply from Stella Creasy:
I expressly didn't say this ... Which is ironic when you see what I actually said about echo chambers..
I have asked her to send me what she did say so I can quote it accurately. I hope she will, as there is a debate to be had about the danger of liberalism becoming a patrician concern.

Later. You can read Stella Creasy's speech on Huffington Post. The relevant passage is:
This fatal flaw in our collective identity has also made us presume we know what other people want and need - and that it’s all about money. That has meant we’ve focused on economic difference, without recognising the cultural division that cripples any shared progress too. And that is not about Brexit, but a nation that is becoming ships that pass in the night. 
Who here watches Mrs Brown’s Boys? It’s the number one-viewed television programme in this country. It beat the Queen’s Speech at Christmas. It won the best comedy of the 21st Century. And, yes, the intelligentsia were horrified. We don’t get the joke. If you want to understand why Donald Trump won, look at who watches Duck Dynasty in America.