Thursday, May 28, 2020

GUEST POST What one Lib Dem councillor has done under lockdown

Sebastian Field, a Lib Dem councillor from Gloucester,  explains how he has helped and kept in touch with his community under lockdown.

Like many Liberal Democrats, I have been helping out in my council ward during the Covid-19 pandemic. I was due to stand for re-election in May this year, having won the seat in a by-election last July, but these elections have been postponed to next year. 

Although, for obvious reasons, I have not been able to deliver leaflets since the lockdown, or knock on doors, I have been able to help in other ways. 

Initially, I helped deliver a leaflet containing details of the community hub that has been set up at county level and the number for our local community worker. The city council set up a food consortium, and as the food referrer for my ward I was well placed to connect this food service with the food club already operating in my ward. 

As the lockdown went on I tried to keep in touch with residents in various ways. I called residents on the phone, sent out emails to check how people are doing and made sure my contact details were readily available via my social media and website. I also joined and contributed to the local mutual aid network on Facebook.

In some ways, it was quite tough at the beginning to find a role. Normal activity like finding and  reporting casework, relaying residents’ concerns to the council and reporting back via leaflets were all reduced or not allowed. 

After casting around for a role, I determined that I should concentrate on making myself as visible as possible, not in person perhaps but online and via any other channels I could find. I also realised that I would have to get creative with my profile.

I borrowed an idea from the nearby Cheltenham Lib Dems of the ‘photo Spotlight’ (Focus in their and your language, but we call it ‘Spotlight’ in Gloucester). This consisted of five or six photos of action I was taking in the ward, or news items I could report on, with captions. I created a collage of the photos via an app, and would generally release them one by one on Twitter and Instagram, and again as a collage on my campaigning Facebook page. 

Some were photos of issues I’d reported before the lockdown. Although, for example, the highways department was prioritising essential repairs, many of the issues I had reported got fixed anyway. Other examples highlighted local shops that were still offering online or takeaway options.

I took the opportunity to start the email newsletter I had been mulling for a few months. I followed advice from my local party chair and ALDC to create this, and although it’s a learning curve I am getting more responses and casework as a response to them. It is important to be seen as a reliable and trusted source of local information. 

The emails feature advice, useful links, and issues I am working on. Many of the stories are one-line casework issues, often with a link to a fuller description on my website, thus creating click-throughs and raising my profile still further. 

I also make sure that I signpost people to good, free resources online such as free ebooks or music streams. My ward has pockets of deprivation, and for many, lockdown has been a real struggle.

For this reason we sought to help local families in the ward and surrounding area via our child literacy scheme. This was begun before the lockdown in conjunction with the local grammar school and the nearby primary schools, and was designed to help children improve their reading via help from adults and the senior school. 

During lockdown we have delivered hundreds of books and craft kits to local children, thanks to help from my wife obtaining craft materials, friends and Facebook contacts donating books, and the coordinator of the literacy scheme working very hard to get packs of books and materials dropped off to families.

All of this work has kept me busy and will no doubt help to raise my profile before the postponed elections next May - no small concern when I only won my seat by three votes over the Tory.

My primary motivation, though, has been to help people, because that is how I feel I can contribute during the pandemic, and because it is the right thing to do. As a party, we have been exceptionally good at helping people in our communities, and I am proud of what we have done during this crisis.

Helping in our communities and profile building all tie in with the rebuilding work we will have to do to achieve electoral success again, and which acting leader Ed Davey has called for, namely redoubling our efforts to serve our communities the best way we can. We can show that we are the community champions people have long known us to be, and use this as a springboard to getting back to where we can and should be as a party.

Sebastian Field is a Lib Dem councillor for the Podsmead ward in Gloucester.

Pair hired for man's broom sexual fantasy turn up in bedroom at wrong address with machetes

It took the judges little time on Zoom to give today's Headline of the Day Award to Sky News.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Wallace Lawler, James Haigh and the 1969 Birmingham Ladywood by-election

Wallace Lawler won the Birmingham Ladywood by-election for the Liberals in 1969, but lost the seat back to Labour in the following year's general election.

Lawler sounds like a pioneer of community politics, but I have never heard him talked about in Liberal or Liberal Democrat circles. 

This may be because his campaigning was tainted with racism - certainly that was the story I once heard from some Labour-supporting friends in Birmingham. No doubt I have readers who know all about this.

Click on the image above and you will go to a television report on the by-election. It includes interviews with all the candidates, Lawler included.

But he is not the one who interests me the most. The last interviewed - and the film siezes up while he is talking - is James Haigh. He was to finish last with only 34 votes.

Because Haigh taught me maths between 1973 and 1974.

Given my views on Welland Park College, Market Harborough, in that era - and on its mathematics department in particular - I am tempted to conclude that the electors of Ladywood got it about right.

But I shall rise above this because Haigh turns out to be an interesting figure.

At Ladywood he was standing for the Fellowship Party. This was an environmentalist and nuclear disarmament party that existed between 1955 to 2007. 

It attracted prominent figures as members, including Benjamin Britten, Sybil Thorndike, Vea Britatin, Donald Swann, Rowland Hilder and Leo McKern.

This was the only time Haigh stood for the party in a parliamentary election, but he had already fought Bromley as a nuclear disarmament candidate in 1964.

And a bit of scrabbling around on Google reveals that he was educated at Marlborough and the universities of Leeds and Oxford. In 1964 he is described as a primary school teacher and in 1969 he was teaching at Corby Grammar School. He had also taught in Nigeria at some point.

What I didn't know until I researched this post was that after Ladywood he joined the Liberal Party and fought the Kettering constituency (which then included Corby) at the 1970 general election and the two elections of 1974.

If I had known some of this at the time we might have got on better.

Boris Johnson's hero is the mayor from Jaws

A Daily Mirror report from 2007 quotes Boris Johnson addressing a meeting of business leaders:

"The real hero of Jaws is the mayor, a wonderful politician. A gigantic fish is eating all your constituents and he decides to keep the beach open.

"OK, in that instance, he was wrong but in principle we need more politicians like the mayor."

It doesn't sounds so funny now, does it? 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Police break up illegal lockdown birthday party at Tory MP's house

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This is like the John Major's final months when every day brought a new scandal.

The MP in question, reports the Daily Mirror, is Rob Roberts from Delyn.

I can find next to nothing about him online. In particular, I can't see if he went to an expensive private school or not.

So it's too soon to say whether he will be made to resign.

Richard Rorty explains why the Conservatives will not be forgiven

The Conservatives think voters are angry about Dominic Cummings' behaviour. But things are far worse for them than that.

Because voters feel humiliated.

They have made sacrifices. They have put up with not seeing their grandchildren even if they live nearby. They have experienced the trauma of having relatives die alone and unvisited.

The voters made these sacrifices because the government told them to and because they believed everyone was doing the same. We were all in it together.

Now they find that the prime minster's adviser - a spoilt rich kid; a permanent adolescent in a T-shirt who thinks it clever to arrive 30 minutes late at his own press conference - has been ignoring the rules.

And then he offers a ludicrous story in an attempt to excuse his behaviour.

And then cabinet ministers pretend they believe that story is true.

Suddenly the voters feel they have made to look - and feel - fools.

As Richard Rorty said in his Contingency, Irony and Solidarity:
The best way to cause people long-lasting pain is to humiliate them by making the things that seemed most important to them look futile, obsolete, and powerless. 
Consider what happens when a child's precious possessions - the little things around which he weaves fantasies that make him a little different from all other children - are described as "trash," and thrown away. 
Or consider what happens when these possessions are made to look ridiculous alongside the possessions of another, richer, child.
This seems to me exactly right and reminds us that Rorty - uniquely among postmodern philosophers - was a wonderfully lucid writer.

It explains why the Liberal Democrats alienated young voters when they reversed their policy on university tuition fees. They felt they had been had.

And how else did we imagine they would feel?

You can say a freeze on tuition fees was not one of our key pledges, but when Nick Clegg's battle bus arrived in Leicester during the 2010 general election campaign it headed straight for De Montfort University.

The city's voters have not forgotten that. And why should they?

I do not think the behaviour of the Conservatives will be forgotten - or forgiven - either.

Teenage driver sentenced after getting friend to hit him with pan in bid to fool police over crash

A frying pan yesterday

The Evening Standard wins our Headline of the Day Award.

I don't think you had to be Gideon of the Yard to see through this one.

Government minister resigns over Dominic Cummings

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Douglas Ross, the minister for Scotland, has resigned from the government over Dominic Cummings' behaviour.

In his resignation statement he says:
"While the intentions may have been well meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings’ interpretation of the government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the government asked. 
"I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right."

Monday, May 25, 2020

Six of the Best 929

Michael Meadowcroft reviews the Lib Dems' election review.

Jeremy Farrar is interviewed about science, public policy and Covid-19: "In my view, the infection rates in the UK are too high, at least today, to reopen schools. Will that be different in two weeks' time when half term ends and schools are potentially open? It might be. But if the question was 'should we open schools today?' my answer would be 'no'."

"Tony had apparently - and fairly typically - spent a whole psychiatric career being labelled and drugged rather than offered the chance to look at his past. Until the very last moments of the programme, we saw him being offered exactly the same again, except this time it was further sanctioned by ‘leading experts’ in the field." Lucy Johnstone reviews What's the Matter with Tony Slattery?

Why don't we talk to children in care, asks social worker Andy Black.

Beware those who persecute in the name of principle, says Paul Russell.

Bee Wilson reviews a book on Gef, the talking mongoose who took up residence in a farmhouse on the Isle of Man in the early 1930s.

Bolivian orchestra stranded at ‘haunted’ German castle surrounded by wolves

Our Headline of the Day Award crosses the Atlantic.

Well done to the New York Post and thank you to the reader who nominated it.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

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

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent guests posts, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects beyond the Lib Dems

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

Sunday, May 24, 2020

A North Eastern Railway poster for Barnard Castle

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Mingle with the elite at the UK's most happening holiday venue!

A childhood in care means you are twice as likely to die earlier

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

There is a worrying story in today's Observer, though I can't find anything online about the study it is reporting:
People who spent time in care as children are almost twice as likely to die prematurely than those who did not, stark new research reveals. 
Researchers at University College London tracked more than 350,000 people using official government data between 1971 and 2013. They found that the likelihood of dying earlier among those who had been in care increased over time, contrary to the general population which, during the same period, experienced a decline in mortality risk. 
The team at the UCL’s institute of epidemiology and healthcare said the findings were “shocking” and called for a government response into why inequalities appeared to be widening. 
Throughout the 42-year period, they found that adults who spent time as children in the care system were 70% more likely to die prematurely than those who did not.
However, within the more recent cohorts, the chances of dying early had increased to “more like twofold”. 
Researchers believe that the impact of austerity may have worsened the situation since December 2013, the last date for which “all-cause mortality data” was available.
It is also worth asking whether the increasing move to having residential care for children provided by commercial companies has contributed to this trend.

In most sectors the idea that strong regulators will force companies to curb their profits and provide better services has turned out to be a fantasy.

Millie Small: Mayfair

Millie Small, who died at the start of this month, was famous for My Boy Lollipop, the record that introduced Britain to ska.

It was also the record that set Chris Blackwell's Island Records on the road to success and I posted a track Millie Small recorded with another of the label's early acts, the Spencer Davis Group, to mark her death.

This is another fascinating track from her. It's a reggae version of a Nick Drake song and, I believe, is the first recording of one of his songs by another artist.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

St Albans Abbey on a damp March morning

No one can go anywhere any more, so here's a photo of St Albans Abbey I took on a damp March morning in 2012.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The last days of the Liverpool Overhead Railway

This unique line operated between 1893 and 1956. Click on the image above to view a film about its final days on the British Film Institute site.

It closed because years of salt spray off the Irish Sea had left the owners with a vast repair bill. But there was also a suspicion that the line had annoyed the powers that be by surviving in private hands after the nationalisation of the railways in 1948.

A reminder that I'm on Instagram too

What's the worst trouble Jamie Stone has ever got into?

Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, has just tweeted this clip from 2018.

If I know Lord Bonkers, he will immediately call for Jamie to be made leader on the grounds that this is just the sort of experience you need in a hard-fought by-election.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The lost stations of Cambridge

This video takes us to the sites of all the closed railway stations in and around Cambridge.

There are a surprising number.

Six of the Best 928

"What was the Liberal Democrats’ aim at the 2019 general election: to maximise the number of Liberal Democrat MPs in parliament or to stop Brexit? That was the tactical question the party never answered." Stephen Bush looks at the Lib Dems' post mortem on their 2019 general election campaign.

"Seventy years ago my dad needed to change his weird foreign name to avoid the sly glances of bigots. Stewart Lee is that bigot - a man who thinks the best response to a foreign sounding Jewish name is to ridicule it in a national newspaper." Ouch. Read Stephen Pollard in the Jewish Chronicle.

Kathryn Rix surveys bizarre turnip-related deaths among Victorian MPs.

Following the death of Florian Schneider, Owen Hatherley looks at the influence of Kraftwerk.

Mackenzie Nicholls marks the 20th anniversary of Gladiator. Russell Crowe tells him: "The standout thing with this film, and 20 years later I can say with confidence that somewhere in the world, today, tonight, that movie will be played on primetime. And it’s 20 years since it came out. Not every movie lasts in that way."

Wyrd Britain reviews a collection of horror stories by Arthur Machen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The quest for Richard Jefferies

Wiltshire Man and his bike take us to some of the county locations associated with the 19th-century nature writer Richard Jefferies: Swindon's Old Town, Coate Water and Liddington Hill.

Jon Whiteley (1945-2020)

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The Ashmoleon Museum site announces the death of the art historian DrJon Whiteley:
Jon joined the Museum in 1976 as Assistant Keeper in the Department of Western Art. In a career of 38 years at the Ashmolean he was a dedicated teacher to generations of Oxford students; one of the country’s most distinguished art historians; and a well-loved colleague and friend to everyone who knew and worked with him.
But well before that he was a child film star.

In the 1950s he appeared in two films with Dirk Bogarde (Hunted and The Spanish Gardener), in Fritz Lang's Moonfleet and in The Kidnappers, for which performance he was awarded an honoray Oscar.

The photo above shows him with the director of Hunted, Charles Crichton.

Former Labour councillor who joined Lib Dems before announcing she was defecting to The Brexit Party has now become a Conservative

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Ladies and gentlemen. we have our Headline of the Day and our Councillor of the Day.

Well done to Rochdale Online and Cllr Kath Nickson.