Sunday, June 26, 2016

How Seumas Milne undermined the Labour Remain campaign

From Laura Kuenssberg on BBC News this morning:
Documents passed to the BBC suggest Jeremy Corbyn's office sought to delay and water down the Labour Remain campaign. Sources suggest that they are evidence of "deliberate sabotage". One email from the leader's office suggests that Mr Corbyn's director of strategy and communications, Seumas Milne, was behind Mr Corbyn's reluctance to take a prominent role in Labour's campaign to keep the UK in the EU. 
One email, discussing one of the leader's speeches, said it was because of the "hand of Seumas. If he can't kill it, he will water it down so much to hope nobody notices it". 
A series of messages dating back to December seen by the BBC shows correspondence between the party leader's office, the Labour Remain campaign and Labour HQ, discussing the European campaign. It shows how a sentence talking about immigration was removed on one occasion and how Mr Milne refused to sign off a letter signed by 200 MPs after it had already been approved. 
The documents show concern in Labour HQ and the Labour Remain campaign about Mr Corbyn's commitment to the campaign - one email says "what is going on here?". Another email from Labour Remain sources to the leader's office complains "there is no EU content here - we agreed to have Europe content in it". Sources say they show the leader's office was reluctant to give full support to the EU campaign and how difficult it was to get Mr Corbyn to take a prominent role.
Given Milne's sympathy for authoritarian leaders like Stalin and Putin, we should not expect him to be a supporter of liberal democratic institutions like the European Union.

Ska-Boom: What Did I Do?



As The Monograph, an East Midlands music magazine says, Ska-Boom were legends on the local music scene in the 1990s.

I recall that one of their songs, 'Traffic Warden', caused controversy in the national press because it was seen as being less than supportive of that find group of public servants.

Anyway, here they are in 1990.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 12: Il Rondo


This is the 12th and final audio in this series. I have a feeling that, unlike the rest of them, it has appeared on this blog before.

Il Rondo, the brick building to the left in the still above, was Leicester's most vital pop venue in the 1960s. Oh to have been there!

Today it is a chain Italian restaurant.

Thorpe Langton this afternoon: In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’

I
Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk. 
II
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass. 
III
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War’s annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.





England complete 3-0 series win over Australia


This morning England completed a 3-0 whitewash over Australia in the rugby union series.

This is an extraordinary achievement. So much so that I cannot think of a parallel.

Even the great British Lions sides of the early 1970s did not manage a whitewash (though they did play four-test series).

I also like this front page from Australia's Sunday Mail.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Six of the Best 607

"The first real sign of trouble began as early as October 2010 when there was a mini-rebellion by 37 Tory MPs on the UK’s ļ¬nancial contribution to the EU, and things just went downhill from then on." Tim Bale on David Cameron's doomed attempt to keep his party from banging on about Europe.

Adam Ramsay suggests Scotland could remain a member of the EU even without independence.

"The distrust of specialist, professional intelligence, abstracted from the 'real' world of tradition and experience, has a long tradition in British political culture, especially within what John Stuart Mill called ‘the stupid party’." Joe Moran looks at our scepticism about experts.

Ronnie Hughes goes for a walk through lost Liverpool with Stephen Roberts (whom I think I knew at university in an earlier life).

Unofficial Britain interviews Nina Lyon about her new book 'Uprooted: On the Trail of the Green Man'.

Curious British Telly watches The Changes, a children's serial from 1975.

Bob Russell's tours of Colchester



The story that Sir Bob Russell, former Lib Dem MP for Colchester, is now offering guided tours of the town is true.

The Facebook page devoted to the tours says:
Enjoy an entertaining and fact-filled walk around the country's oldest recorded town, in the company of former Colchester MP and celebrated town champion High Steward Sir Bob Russell ... 
The thing is, there's just so much history in Colchester - far too much to fit in to one walk. So there is now two different versions - A and B - both starting at Colchester Arts Centre ... They will run alternately - so if you enjoyed one, why not try the other?!
The suggested fee of £5 per person, but you need only pay what you can afford

The proceeds will go towards Bob's campaign to erect a statue of the sisters Jane and Ann Taylor, who lived in the town. In 1806 they wrote the nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

David Cameron lasted barely a year without the Liberal Democrats



Back in 2006, when blogging was cool and Tony Blair was still prime minister, I wrote of David Cameron:
If he is to become prime minister, it is overwhelmingly likely that it will take him two elections to get there. 
The really hard thing for him will be to avoid being knifed by his party after he loses the first of those elections.
I was right to the extent that it took Cameron two elections to win a majority, but he found a way to avoid being knifed by the Tory right. He formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

For a time it looked as though this was deep strategy on the part of Cameron. He had grasped, the argument went, that the near disappearance of the liberal wing of his party made it less electable. So he had co-opted the Liberal Democrats to rebalance the Conservatives,

That proved a severe overestimation of Cameron's abilities. His destruction of the Liberal Democrats at the last election left him at the mercy of his own right wing. Now, after little more than a year, they have done for him.

Could Cameron have continued the coalition after the 2015 election?

The sort of formal deal with candidates standing down that George Osborne offered would never have been accepted by the Liberal Democrats.

But he would surely have lasted long if he had explored the possibility of a non-aggression pact in which the two parties did not try too hard in certain seats. Such an arrangement - more or less formal - existed between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in 1997.

Tim Farron: Nigel Farage’s vision for Britain has won this vote, but it is not a vision I share

This is Tim Farron's statement this morning following the referendum result.

You can join the Liberal Democrats via the party website:
I’m devastated and I am angry. Today we wake to a deeply divided country. 
Nigel Farage’s vision for Britain has won this vote, but it is not a vision I share. 
Young people voted to remain by a considerable margin, but were out voted. They were voting for their future, yet it has been taken from them. 
Even though the result was close, there is no doubt that the majority of British people want us to leave. 
Our fight for an open, optimistic, hopeful, diverse and tolerant Britain is needed now more than ever. 
Together we can still make the case for Britain’s future with Europe, as millions of people voted for it. Together we cannot afford to let that vision to die. 
This self-inflicted wound will be Cameron’s legacy. This is his failing. And when the call went out to Jeremy Corbyn, he refused to answer. Their self-interested political manoeuvring has taken our country to the brink, and we are toppling over the edge. 
The Prime Minister must now act quickly to steady the economy, reassure the markets, and immediately set a new course. If he cannot do this immediately, there is no possible way he can remain in office. 
The Liberal Democrats will continue to stand and fight for a better kind of Britain than the one painted by the leave campaign - tolerant, openhearted, optimistic and outward looking. If you are as angry and heartbroken as I am, I need you to join us today.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tomorrow I shall vote Remain and I hope you will too

It will come as no surprise that a Liberal Democrat member is going to vote Remain.

Though I have never been an instinctive federalist, I have always believed that membership of the European Union and and embracing of our European identity are good for Britain.

The referendum campaign has only strengthened me in that belief.

The Remain campaign has lacked sparkle, but the sheer weight of informed opinion from economists and business against leaving the European Union is compelling.

So much so that Michael Gove, who has long presented himself as the champion of rigour in education, has been reduced to telling us that "people in this country have had enough of experts".

But I am now even more worried about what Leave would do to British society that what it would do to our economy.

As Professor Simon Wren-Lewis writes on his blog mainly macro:
When Brexit fails to improve our public services or our economy there will be other scapegoats. Maybe migrants already here, or nasty foreigners who failed to give the beneficial trade deals the Leave campaign pretend we will get. In the US right now it is already happening, and this Brexit campaign shows that the UK has no inbuilt immunity to it. This is how it goes, as it has gone in the past.
These are the reasons why I shall vote Remain tomorrow. I hope you will too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lost film of Amy Johnson piloting a glider over the Long Mynd


A remarkable and rare lost film of "aviatrix" Amy Johnson in Shropshire has come to light after more than 75 years, dug out of a cupboard in Bishop's Castle and clearly showing her piloting a glider on the Long Mynd.
reports the Shropshire Star.

You see why I like Bishop's Castle?

The gliding station on top of the Mynd features prominently in Malcolm Saville's Wings Over Witchend. Could Amy Johnson be the model for the villainous Primrose Wentworth?

GUEST POST Save the University of Leicester's Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning


Sally Birch is leading the campaign to save Leicester's Vaughan College.

Last week, I received an email. An email from the University Of Leicester, the University that I currently attend, informing me that they had proposed to close the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning (VCLL).

The VCLL is a unique centre that since 1925 has been part of the University of Leicester. It was formed in 1862 and went by the name of Vaughan College. Vaughan College was created by Rev. David Vaughan to provide access to education for the working people of Leicester, many of whom had left school to work, and who had received little or no education at all. The College was a forerunner for adult education in Britain, and predates the famous Ruskin College in Oxford. Since 1862,

Vaughan College has seen some transformations, but has successfully delivered adult education to the citizens of Leicester and Leicestershire ever since. Three years ago, the University acquired Vaughan College, renamed it the VCLL, and moved it onto the main University campus. This enabled the University to sell the purpose built building next to Jewry Wall in the city centre.

At this time there were many concerns raised, as it was felt that there may be an ulterior motive behind the move to main campus, and many people including lecturers and students were concerned that the ‘ grass roots’ ethos within the VCLL would be lost if they were to move onto the main campus.

A campaign was launched for VCLL to keep its independence, and remain an accessible establishment off the main campus. The Vice Chancellor at the time publicly gave his assurances, and the Pro Vice-Chancellor Mark Thompson was featured in the Leicester Mercury underlining the University’s commitment to adult learning.

However three years down the line, here we are. I am a 33-year-old woman, mother, employee and a student. My path to education is being terminated by the University of Leicester. I have been told that the degree I was hoping to complete, the BA Hons in Arts and Humanities, will no longer be possible. I will no longer be able to continue my studies as they are ‘proposing’ to close down the department.

The university has said that it is in a consultation period, but at the same time, I have received an email from the pro-vice chancellor Julie Coleman informing me that, “I understand that the decision is a disappointing one, but it should not mark the end of your educational aspirations.”

Is this proposal really in a period of consultation? The University have issued statements saying the centre is running at a loss, but figures show that the profits were up 24 per cent last year. Officially the students haven’t been given a direct reason for this closure.

We haven’t been consulted, we haven’t been invited in for a meeting. From senior bodies within the University there has been a distinct lack of communication. Staff within VCLL, have been supportive, but there is a general feeling that they aren’t able to say very much at this time as they are in a period of consulting.

So as a first-year student, an adult learner, I have been told that the plans that I have made - my pursuit of a higher education - are no longer viable. My hopes of gaining a degree, then progressing on to become a teacher one day, are no longer important to the University of Leicester.

It seems that they have no place for mature students in their manifesto, that we do not fit into the required category, we do not tick the box… we are past our sell by date. We are being written off.

As a mother, a person who works, a person who has a mortgage to pay and all the responsibilities that go with being an adult, I was also prepared to take on a student loan and put myself in debt to gain an education. I wanted to gain an education in the institute that, for the last 150 years or more, has been providing adults with access to higher education from an institute that has existed in Leicester before the University itself.

I think of all those who have gone before me, I think all of the 350 students currently on role and I think of the potential for all the students of the future and the catastrophic mistake that the university is making. The university is quite simply denying a whole sector of people of the right to become educated

I have set up a petition to save the VCLL, and currently we have nearly 2000 signatures. We have a Facebook page and a Twitter account..

I will do everything possible to fight for my right to be educated. I will speak for all of my fellow students, all of whom have a story, all of whom want more than anything to continue their studies. I speak for all of those who have gained an education through VCLL in it various forms and I will speak for all of the future generations of adult students who should have the right to access higher education, regardless of their background.

Please help support me and my fellow students in our campaign, by signing our petition.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Leicester Oral History Trail 11: Opera House



The city's Opera House opened in 1877 and closed in 1960. It was demolished the same year.

You can read all about Leicester opera house on the Arthur Lloyd music hall and theatre history website.

What you will find there calls into question the prejudice that provincial cities were cultural deserts for much of the 20th century.

Six of the Best 606

Photo by Keith Evans
Rhetoric has consequences and we cannot stand by and do nothing, says Ceri Phillips.

"I’m sick of people saying, “gosh, you must have thick skin". That’s not the way it should work." Daisy Benson on the threats political activists face today.

Peter Watts explains why Battersea power station is down to one chimney and asks if it could now be facing demolition.

"As things stand, English cricket is in danger of becoming a sporting version of the Church of England, with an ageing demographic who attend because they always attend, and believe because they have always believed. Meanwhile younger generations will barely notice its slow and graceful slide into irrelevance." Roy Greenslade quotes Sean Ingle while arguing that newspapers' retreat from cricket coverage reflects the game's demise.

Cara Buckley celebrates Garrison Keillor as he announces his retirement.

The Australian grandmaster Ian Rogers pays tribute to Viktor Korchnoi

Bryan Ferry: A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall



This Bob Dylan song comes from Ferry's 1973 album of covers These Foolish Things. As his first solo single, it reached no. 10 in the UK charts the following year.

I have always assumed the hard rain was nuclear fallout, but in a 1963 interview (says Wikipedia) Dylan told Studs Terkel:
"No, it's not atomic rain, it's just a hard rain. It isn't the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that's just gotta happen ... In the last verse, when I say, 'the pellets of poison are flooding the waters,' that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Some Indian restaurants are so short of chefs they are employing Liberal Democrat MPs

Was violence against England fans organised by the Russian government?



The Guardian says "Whitehall experts" think so:
Senior government officials fear the violence unleashed by Russian hooligans at Euro 2016 was sanctioned by the Kremlin and are investigating links with Vladimir Putin’s regime.
It is understood that a significant number of those involved in savage and highly coordinated attacks on England fans and others in Marseille and Lille have been identified as being in the “uniformed services” in Russia. 
The theory is that the sanctioning of hooliganism by Putin is a continuation of what has been described as Russia’s campaign of “hybrid warfare”. Whitehall experts fear the tactic is a ploy to demonstrate Russian strength while building on a narrative inside the country that the rest of the world is lining up against it. 
Following the violence in Marseille, fake Twitter accounts were reportedly set up to spread the view that Russian fans had been provoked. A senior Russian parliamentarian tweeted, “Well done lads, keep it up!” 
Two England fans, Andrew Bache, 51, from Portsmouth, and Stewart Gray, from Hinckley, Leicestershire, were left in comas fighting for their lives after being attacked with hammers and iron bars by Russian hooligans.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Liberals hold Harborough (112 years ago)

Thanks to Liberal History for pointing out on Twitter that today is the 112th anniversary of a by-election in the Harborough constituency:
17th June 1904 
The Liberals hold the Harborough by-election 
The Hon. Philip Stanhope, the younger son of the 5th Earl, wins the Harborough by-election in Leicestershire following the resignation of the sitting Liberal MP, J.W. Logan, increasing the Liberal majority by over 400 votes. Stanhope had previously been Liberal MP for Wednesbury (1886-92) and Burnley (1893-1900). 
He was strongly anti war, opposing British participation in the Boer War and was sometime president of the National Peace League. He was also vocally against woman’s suffrage and in 1914 was attacked by a suffragette at Euston Station who mistook him for Asquith. He was raised to the peerage in 1906 as Baron Weardale.
The fact that Harborough chose a candidate who had lost his previous seat because of his opposition to the Boer War suggests the local Liberals were good radicals in those days, even if Stanhope was not sound on women's suffrage.

J.W. Logan was to return as MP for Harborough at the general election of December 1910 and represent the seat until he resigned for a second time in 1916.

Scribbling on the constitution: A referendum on Europe was always a bad idea



Margaret Thatcher, quoting Clement Attlee, once described referendums "a device of dictators and demagogues".

She was right.

A referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union was always a bad idea and it has had an unlovely effect on our politics - or at least revealed a side of it that is usually well buried.

For a discussion of that effect I recommend articles by Alex Massie and the great Neil Ascherson.

Reader's voice: Come off it! You are only saying this because you are afraid your side is going to lose.

Not so.

I have been saying the same thing for many years. Most substantially, as far as I can recall, in this article for the much-missed Liberal Democrat News in 2011:
For years the main parties have engaged in something close to a conspiracy. The issue of Europe has been taken out of general elections, with the promise that it will be decided through a referendum. Those referendums never take place. The result has been an infantilisation of debate on Europe, as politicians are allowed to take up self-indulgent, extreme positions they know they will never have to defend to the electorate. 
This process has been bad for us Liberal Democrats, encouraging the idea that all we need do to prosper is not offend anybody and deliver lots and lots of leaflets. And it has been bad for democracy as a whole. Why should voters feel enthusiastic about Westminster when their representatives avoid talking about one of the most important issues facing the country?
But don't take my word for it: read a guest post by Paul Evans on Slugger O'Toole, the best blog on Northern Ireland politics.

In 2010 he gave 14 reasons why the move to introduce referendums to British politics should be resisted, The European referendum campaign has proved he was right in every case.

Here are a couple of examples:
  • They drive out the deliberative element in policymaking. The referendum question is an appeal to reflexes rather than an attempt to get a thoughtful response from the public. 
  • They hand enormous powers to newspaper proprietors and people with the finances to take one side of the argument. It also hands the reins of government over to unelected and well-heeled pressure groups.
I am a believer in representative government - what George Watson called The English Ideology. It is the cornerstone of our constitution.

The Conservative Party used to be united by its belief in upholding that constitution. Today, most of its members, and many of its MPs, would rather scribble on it.