Sunday, July 05, 2020

Are we a party for pubgoers or for curtain-twitchers?

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Ed Davey has written to Kent Police asking them to investigate whether Nigel Farage has breached quarantine rules.

Farage was, inevitably, photographed going for a pint yesterday morning and it is not clear that he had completed his 14 days before he did so.

Davey told the Mirror:
"It is clear from his social media posts that he was in American (sic) on June 20th, and he was pictured at a Trump Rally that evening. 
"Given the current requirements for visitors returning to the UK to isolate for 14 full days on their return, Nigel Farage appears to be in violation of the quarantine.

"It is a responsibility of everyone to take the lockdown requirements seriously in order to stop the spread of the virus. By choosing to go to the pub when it appears he should have been staying at home, Mr Farage is showing a flagrant disregard for the safety of people in his community.

"I have written to Kent Police asking them to urgently investigate the timeline of Mr Farage's travel and ascertain whether he has breached quarantine rules."
I suspect it will turn out that Kent Police have better things with its time. If Farage had not completed his full fortnight then he had very nearly done so, and drinking alone in a pub does not present much of a risk to anyone.

We Lib Dems must be wary of playing along with the government narrative that is taking shape. It will tell us it did all it could in the Covid-19 pandemic, but the people just wouldn't cooperate.

And this narrative will then be used by the Tories as an excuse to bring in some pet repressive Tory measure supposed to make the population more biddable.

Rather than make this process easier, we should be emphasising the economic and social reforms needed to slow the spread of the virus.

I can see that Ed's letter may appeal to Lib Dem members - and he has a good reason for wanting to appeal to them at present - but I wonder how it will play with the wider population.

Despite his outings to Dover, it will be hard to make the charge of hypocrisy stick on Farage. He had no part in framing the regulations he appears to have bent.

So people may be left with the impression that Ed is just out to cause trouble for a political opponent. And that may not play well at all.

One of the unlovely things about the early days of lockdown was the readiness to report their neighbours for supposed breaches of the regulations. Remember the outrage by people sunbathing in the park?

I never warmed to the New Labour project precisely because it sought to appeal to this curtain-twitching tendency in British society and I don't want to see the Liberal Democrats appealing to it now.

My sympathies are with the pubgoers, even if one of them is the odious Nigel Farage. And I suspect this is true of many other voters.

Wizzard: See My Baby Jive

Posting a snippet about The Move the other day put me in mind of Roy Wood and his later band Wizzard.

I used to be a little embarrassed that I had liked them so much when I was 13, but no more.

Because Roy Wood is a genius and the first three Wizzard singles - Ballpark Incident, See My Baby Jive, Angel Fingers (the last two topped that charts - were superb.

So here is the second of them with no embarrassment at all. Viewing the video today, with its teddy boys and gorillas, I can see the influence of the Bonzos,

Saturday, July 04, 2020

The remains of the Snailbeach District Railways

My photograph was taken at the old lead mine at Snailbeach in Shropshire and shows the remains of the Snailbeach District Railways.

This line ran from the mine to transshipment sidings near Pontesbury, which was on the GWR branch to Minsterley.

The line to the mine had ceased working by 1947 and its three locomotives were cut up there in 1950. It continued to serve a quarry nearer Pontesbury until 1961, but latterly a tractor was used as motive power on uphill journeys.

Covid-19 spike turns eyes to Leicester's garment trade

The surge in the number of people in Leicester with Covid-19 has drawn fresh attention to the city's garment manufacturers.

In his United Kingdom Labour Market Enforcement Strategy 2018/19 David Metcalf, the government's director of labour market enforcement, wrote of an:
unenviable reputation for lack of compliance, both with labour market regulations and others such as health and safety, payment of tax, etc. This has been highlighted a number of times in the national press, and raises questions of why this has not been more proactively tackled by the enforcement agencies.
Now the campaign group Labour Behind the Label has produced a report on the links between these poor working conditions and Covid-19:
Emerging evidence indicates that conditions in Leicester’s factories, primarily producing for Boohoo, are putting workers at risk of COVID-19 infections and fatalities. 
Factories in Leicester are no stranger to illegal working conditions, with numerous reports over the years showing low pay – as little as £3 – and blatant intimidation of vulnerable workers. Now however, emerging evidence indicates that conditions in Leicester’s factories, primarily producing for Boohoo, are putting workers at risk of COVID-19 infection and fatality as some factories have remained open for production during the lockdown, whilst others are now re-opening. 
The Financial Times has a long article on the problem by Sarah O'Connor, in which she interviews David Metcalfe:
Metcalf tells me the UK government enforces labour law too lightly overall: "The amazing thing is how many firms comply, because you haven’t got enough enforcement resources and the fines are too low." 
He says the average employer can expect an HMRC inspection once every 500 years, based on current statistics. 
He has recommended higher fines and new "joint responsibility" rules, where companies would be named if they failed to sort out non-compliance in their supply base.
Until the government takes action on this culture of noncompliance, things will not improve in Leicester or anywhere else.

Friday, July 03, 2020

The lost stations of Oxford

"If it could only be like this always - always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe and Aloysius in a good temper."
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

GUEST POST Around Tolworth in the footsteps of Richard Jefferies

Lucy Furlong explains the genesis of her recent chapbook Sward.

Published by Sampson Low, Sward: Skin of the Earth is the product of my last walking and writing project centred around Tolworth (for now). Six months plus of walking up and down the central reservation of the A240 from Tolworth Roundabout to the end of the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames and the boundary with Surrey. 

Sward was a performative series of radical walks, of reclamation and acknowledgement that this central reservation, a slim strip of grass, trees, and in some places cracked pavement, concrete and detritus, is a 'place' all of its own. 

It is important as part of the local distinctiveness of Tolworth and should be valued and recognised as such. Additionally, it is an important nature corridor, inhabited by small mammals, birds, insects and pollinators, which allows them to find a way from one side of the road to the other, as well as mitigating air pollution. 

My family has lived in Tolworth for generations, enjoying its wild, green spaces, lesser-known and recognised than the famous brutalist Tolworth Tower and congested roundabout, but substantially more significant and historically important than either. 

All of these green spaces, including the Hogsmill River at Malden Manor, where the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais painted the backdrop to Ophelia (Tate Britain’s most popular painting) and Tolworth Court Farm Fields, the borough’s largest protected nature reserve with rare butterflies and wild deer, are all coming under threat from development and pollution.

I was inspired by the Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies, who lived in Tolworth from 1877 to 1882, and wrote about it in his most famous book of essays, Nature Near London. His use of the word ‘sward’ in his writings gave me the name for this project and a way of linking my very contemporary form of walking and observing with his extensive walks around Tolworth and its environs, which are beautifully evoked in his essays.

Lucy Furlong (right) with Alison Fure and 'Richard Jefferies'. Photo: Paul Atkindon

My Sward project came six months after Alison Fure and I completed our Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum series of public walks and writing workshops around Tolworth’s open green spaces and along the Hogsmill River, which is a rare chalk stream. 

A highlight of this was our walk ‘In Richard Jefferies Footsteps’ which attracted about 40 people on a blazing May bank holiday Monday in May 2018, and was recorded for the Radio 4 programme, Women Who Walk. This was part of the Art of Now series, a programme exploring the work of women walking artists. 

Sward was officially launched on 8 February this year at the Poets for the Planet all-day fundraising event, Verse Aid, which was held at the Society of Authors in London. As well as reading poems from Sward, I led two workshops exploring the themes of Sward: walking, writing about and valuing local wild spaces and a look at the work of Richard Jefferies. 

If you would like a copy of Sward you can buy one online. For more information on Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum follow TolworthTreasure on Twitter  

Lucy Furlong is a writer, poet and walking artist whose work has been published widely, exhibited nationally and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her poetry map Amniotic City was featured in The Guardian and poetry from her Over the Fields map is taught as part of the Open University MA in Creative Writing. She recently moved to Wexford, Ireland. Follow her on Twitter.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

How David Bowie inspired the formation of The Move

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I was exploring the excellent Brumbeat site the other day when I came across this gem on the page for The Move:
A band from London called "Davy Jones and The Lower Third" were performing one evening in Birmingham at the trendy Cedar Club on Constitution Hill. Their vocalist Davy Jones (later known as David Bowie) suggested to Trevor Burton and Ace Kefford that they should form their own group. 
Ace Kefford recalled; "Trev and I were there one night and Davy Jones and The Lower Third was on. They were like The Who with target jumpers, hipster trousers, doing stuff like 'Heatwave' and 'Needle In A Haystack'. Chatting afterwards, David put the notion in our heads of forming our own band. 
We approached Roy Wood who was already singing that sort of stuff with The Nightriders. I had a similar spot in The Vikings doing 'Jump Back' and 'Every Little Bit Hurts', trying to copy Stevie Winwood like everyone else."

Six of the Best 940

"In a move that suggests its back to business as usual punishing people on benefits, a three-month suspension of sanctions introduced in response to the Coronavirus pandemic is coming to an abrupt halt." Mary O'Hara on the swift return of the blame and shame narrative to the benefits system.

Writing in the New York Times, Alex Marshall has noticed the British government's unwillingness to help the arts sector survive lockdown.

Anita Sethi says the joys of nature can seem out of reach if your class, ethnicity or access to transport make the countryside a no-go zone.

"On the brink of adulthood - not knowing where I would study, where I might live, what men I would love, whether I would have children - I felt that everything I might need to know about marriage, about love, about life itself, was encompassed in the novel’s eight hundred and fifty pages." Rebecca Mead has a lifelong love for George Eliot's Middlemarch.

Carl Reiner died this week. Earlier this year Hadley Freeman spoke to him and Mel Brooks about their 70-year friendship.

Ka Bradley reviews the cats in her garden: "A muscular, convincing performer brimming with debonair, Blinky's feints at songbirds and his occasional brawls with the foxes are heralded by the tinkle of his collar – which he has been given, my plus one assures me, for being 'extra naughty'."

Putin's grandfather cooked for Lenin and Stalin

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Our Trivial Fact of the Day is a doozy. Vladimir Putin's paternal grandfather cook for both Lenin and Stalin at a Moscow dacha.

You can find it in a Reuters story from 2018. The Wikipedia entry for Putin tells the same story, referencing Victor Sebestyen's Lenin the Dictator.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

The legacy of Saxon Leicestershire

Time for the third of Jim Butler's Hidden Histories videos.

This one explores the legacy of Saxon Leicestershire, through archaeological finds, place names and the lives of two remarkable ladies of Mercia.

Whatever happened to Little Bowden Junction signal box?

My photo, taken in 1980 or thereabouts, shows Little Bowden Junction signal box in Market Harborough.

It stood on the Midland main line until the major resignalling project of 1987. That, however, was not the end of its story. 

The box was taken down and re-erected at the Coventry Steam Railway Centre, which later became the Electric Railway Museum.

This closed in 2017 when the city council declined to renew its lease because the site was wanted for redevelopment.

I have found reports that  at least some of the locomotive and rolling stock found homes elsewhere, but nothing about Little Bowden Junction box.

Does anyone know what happened to it?

Man's hell as special trip out for fish turns into parking nightmare

PlymouthLive wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Ed Davey and Layla Moran: It's déjà vu all over again

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Calder's Sixth Law of Politics holds that all Lib Dem leadership elections are reruns of the Liberal Party leadership conetest between David Steel and John Pardoe in 1976

As I once blogged:
You could argue that the 1976 contest set a pattern for later Liberal and Liberal Democrat leadership elections.

One candidate (Steel) was orthodox, sensible and just a little dull. The other (Pardoe) was more charismatic, more open to new ideas and just a little unreliable in his judgement.

So in later contests Paddy Ashdown was a Pardoe and Alan Beith was a Steel. And Chris Huhne was a Pardoe and Ming Campbell and then Nick Clegg were Steels.
Not all contests have obeyed my law as clearly, but this time it is spot on. It's clear that Ed Davey is the Steel and Layla Moran is the Pardoe.

For me, Ed is being a bit too much of a Steel for his own good, but I shall not be declaring my support for either candidate until I have seen more of the campaign. I have urged the same course of action on other Lib Dem members.

In case you are curious, you can find all seven of my Laws of Politics in a recent post on this blog.

The often forgotten tale of the Peaks

This video tells the story of British Rail's class 44, 45 and 46 diesel locomotives.

The 45s looked after passenger services on the Midland main line in the years when there was a real possibility that St Pancras would be demolished and the video tell that story too.

Haringey Lib Dems call for Britain's first Indian MP to be celebrated

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Sir Dadabhai Naoroji, Liberal MP for Finsbury Central between 1892 and 1895, was the first Indian and non-white person elected to the House of Commons.

Now Haringey's Liberal Democrat councillors are calling for a park, school or main road in Muswell Hill to be renamed in his honour or for a statue or plaque to be erected to commemorate him.

Cllr Julia Ogiehor, Lib Dem councillor for Muswell Hill, says:
"By remembering that Victorian voters were willing to choose an Indian campaigner against the Empire as their MP, we are remembering that whilst racism has a long history, so too does anti-racism."
The councillors have set up a petition to gather support for their call.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Six of the Best 939

"I have reported on British politics for almost three decades, and have never encountered a senior British politician who lies, cheats and fabricates as habitually or systematically - or with as much inventive relish - as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson." Peter Oborne says we are now in the same family of nations as Putin’s Russia, Modi's India, Sisi’s Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Jennifer Williams writes on the plight of homeless families in bed and breakfast accommodation under lockdown.

Jack Flemming was not impressed by his encounter with Britain's Covid-19 testing system.

"I was playing in a Minor Counties match when one of the opposition - a guy who had just retired after a first-class career - kept asking me if I had any bananas in my bag. I asked what he meant and all his team-mates laughed." In a series of interviews, George Dobell discovers what it has been like to be a black player in English cricket.

Jane Dunford hopes the Slow Ways network will change walking in Britain.

Jem Aswad watches a new documentary on the death of the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones.

Leicester schools closed for at least two weeks

Matt Hancock has just made a Commons statement announcing measures to combat the spike in Covid-19 infections detected in Leicester.

Non-essential shops will close again for at least the next fortnight and school will be closed again, except for vulnerable children and those of critical workers.

The measures cover not just the city of Leicester but also surrounding settlements including Oadby, Birstall and Glenfield.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Should we publish daily totals of the number of nominations Lib Dem leadership candidates have amassed?

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What do the Liberal Democrats need from the current leadership election?

I’d say it’s, above all, a good debate about the future of the party between candidates who offer clear and contrasting visions for it. We also need to see how those candidates perform in debate and when faced with difficult questions.

Well, we have two candidates with contrasting visions, but will we have the debate? At present the party is encouraging people to nominate one of the candidates by publishing running totals every afternoon.

So, of course, the two camps are doing all they can to encourage Lib Dem members to nominate their candidate. As both are a long way past the 200 nominations they need, this seems to me unfortunate.

Because it means the campaign will open with a significant percentage of the electorate already having committed themselves. Of course people can change their minds, but committing yourself in this way makes it less likely that you will do so.

Which leaves the danger that the campaign will become more about cheering your candidate on and less about the future of the party.

That may sound too idealistic, but we need to do some hard thinking because it's by no means guaranteed that this party has a future.

But then I always seem to be disappointed by our leadership elections.

Before the last contest (which turned out to be a coronation) I wrote a post under the title Forget “the Lib Dem family”: Let’shave proper leadership elections itemising how previous contests, from John Pardoe’s wig to Tim Farron’s religion, had failed to live up to my hopes and concluding:

It looks to me as though we Lib Dems are too scared of rocking the boat to have really informative leadership elections.

Some like to talk of the “Lib Dem family,” but in my experience happy families are those that can have lively discussions, even rows, and make their peace afterwards.

We Lib Dems, by contrast, resemble an unhappy family where everyone is sat around the dining table on their best behaviour and terrified of saying the wrong thing.

Bizarre report of 50 people with suitcases in Ardingly

The judges were unanimous: today's Headline of the Day Award goes to The Argus.

In addition, they are well aware that the Great Central went nowhere near Ardingly, but they liked this photo.

Joan Armatrading: Me Myself I

A woman singer-songwriter who has enjoyed a 40-year career? That's unusual. 

 A Black British woman singer-songwriter who has enjoyed a 40-year career? That must be unique. 

 Joan Armatrading is one of those artists who has been there for as long as I have been interested in music. And for that reason it is easy to forget what an unusual career she has had.
I stand by what I wrote when I chose her Willow, except that she has now enjoyed a 50-year career. 

Me Myself I was a single taker from her 1980 LP of the same name.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Local lockdown for Leicester?

Robert Peston suggests that the first local Covid-19 lockdown could be imposed within days and that it may well be in Leicester.
He notes that there has been a surge in cases there, with 658 reported in the fortnight to 16 June.

Peston writes:
New data on the prevalence of the virus in the area has been delivered to Leicester's mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, according to the LeicesterLive website, and he said his officials were analysing the data over the weekend. 
I am told that the data does not yet show that a full lockdown is required. 
A senior official said: ‘It would need to be driven by the data and we’re not at that stage right now. We are very actively managing [this] and analysing it at the moment. Time will tell.’
Outbreaks of Vovid-19 have been reported at the Samworth Bros sandwich factory in the city and at a Sainsbury's superstore. Five Leicester schools have been closed because of the virus..

Tory MP for Harborough blocks local Labour Party on Twitter

The Harborough Labour Twitter accounts says it has been blocked by Neil O'Brien MP.

You may say nothing that happens on Twitter matters very much, but I think this is a shame.

Democratically elected politicians should be prepared to talk to people from other parties.

Dracula’s links to Aberdeenshire strengthened after church renovation discovery

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The Scotsman wins out Headline of the Day Award.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Six of the Best 938

Philippe Sands sees the British government still defending our colonial legacy: "Five decades on, many former residents of the Chagos Archipelago still wished to go home, supported by Mauritius, many other African countries, and much of the world besides. This was one of the purposes of the resolution before the General Assembly—and it was, of course, precisely such a matter as the United Nations was created to address."

"If you use a piece of data as a target or as a box that must be ticked, then the data will become inaccurate. That's Goodhart's Law." David Boyle introduces us to an important concept.

Boak and Bailey give their initial thoughts on the guidance for reopening pubs.

Flickering Lamps watches airships over London - in war and peace.

"Tony Benn, who was a cousin, spoke of her as a genial companion and produced a photo for a BBC documentary of the two of them sitting in deck chairs on a beach. He said she was exactly the same on screen and off." Jack Buckley says Margaret Rutherford was a gift from the gods.

Backwatersman shares my affection for Vic Marks: "His estimate of his Test career may be accurate rather than merely self-deprecating, but his one-day bowling (which he rather underplays) entitled him to respect (both his average and economy rates were superior to his England contemporaries Emburey, Miller and Hemmings)."

Article 39 wins right to challenge reduction in protection of children in care

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
The High Court has granted the children’s rights charity Article 39 a judicial review of the Department for Education’s removal and dilution of legal protections for children in care.

These changes were announced overnight in April with the Covid-19 pandemic given as the reason, yet DfE has been trying to bring in some of these changes for several years.

Given the seriousness of the changes and the vulnerability of the affected children, Article 39 asked the court for the case to be expedited. This was also agreed by the court, and the  hearing will take place on 27 and 28 July.

Carolyne Willow, the charity's director, told the Independent:
"We know from past tragedies that too often children’s suffering goes hidden until it is too late and the harm has been done.

"Before the pandemic, at least half of local authorities were struggling to meet their statutory children’s social care duties – as judged by Ofsted – and councils have been saying for years that they are desperate for funds.

"Ministers should have been focused on ensuring local authorities had the financial support they needed to keep children in care safe and protected, rather than dismantling safeguards."
One requirement lifted – for a six-monthly review of a child’s care – dates from the death of 12-year-old Dennis O'Neill at a farm in Shropshire in 1945.

Boris Johnson offers a devastating analysis of Boris Johnson