Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Lady Maud Montgomery and the barefoot Irish boy

Embed from Getty Images
Lady Maud Montgomery, nee Farrar, wife of Bishop Montgomery and mother of Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, out shopping in Moville, Ireland. A barefoot young boy helps her with her purchases. Original Publication: Picture Post - 1556 - Lady Montgomery Goes Back Home - pub. 1943 (Photo by Leonard McCombe/Getty Images)

The camera never lies, which is why someone tweeted this photograph and its blurb from Getty Images, adding "No words."

Except, as a couple of replies to that tweet and to people who commented on it show, there are words, and those words show the picture is not what it seems.

It doesn't do for the English to make light of poverty in Ireland, but that's not what's being shown here.

The photograph is presenting a backward picture of Ireland - one which find a particular market in the US - and it's hard to see that being useful to anyone.

Another tweet, further down the thread, shows the best response to this attitude.

Incidentally, Field Marshall Montgomery hated his mother. He refused to allow his son David to have anything to do with her, and refused to attend her funeral in 1949.

That's from Wikipedia, so we know it's true.

Ryanair bar UK couple from flying over passport tea stain

Our Headline of the Day Award sees a rare victory for the Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser, which has pictures of the stain.

The judges advise everyone to be careful when drinking tea as they don't mess about at East Midlands Airport.

Jane Ashdown: "I can't wipe the grin off my face"

Jane Ashdown, the widow of the former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, has been talking to Somerset Live about her delight at the general election result:

"I can't wipe the grin off my face - it means everything. I just wish Paddy was here to see it and to celebrate. 

"He would have been especially thrilled to see two Lib Dems elected locally, Adam [Dance] in Yeovil and Sarah [Dyke] in Glastonbury and Somerton. But his interest was in the whole party. He would be gobsmacked at the national result - just speechless, which didn't happen very often.

"Paddy would have been so proud of Ed (Davey) who was part of his original office team in the 1990s. He would have greatly admired the energy Ed has put into the campaign and the attention to the issues he has received by doing all those incredible things on the campaign trail. 

"Paddy used to say that if you want someone to listen to you, you've got to make sure that they know that you are listening to them. Ed has done that through the campaign and has carried the party and voters with him."

The Joy of Six 1248

"Travelling to Russia to meet the head of a government under EU sanctions, which has disregarded the territorial integrity of another state, is unprecedented. Doing so in the week Hungary has taken over the rotating Council presidency is bulldozing the norms of the presidency as set out by the EU treaties." Armida van Rij says Viktor Orbán is using Hungary’s EU Council presidency to bulldoze EU norms.

Jess Brown-Fuller, the new Liberal Democrat MP for Chichester, describes her first week at Westminister: "The parliamentary estate consists of more than 3 miles of corridors, 1,000 rooms and 100 staircases. Any MPs wanting to escape the 'Westminster bubble' first need to be able to find the exits."

Mick Channon looks at the causes of an environmental crisis that people are beginning to notice: "Over the past 50 years, the global insect population has plummeted by an alarming estimate of 75 per cent. This drastic reduction is the result of a multitude of human activities that continue to wreak havoc on natural ecosystems."

The number of children's homes is soaring as the number of foster parents children falls, reports Mithran Samuel.

"The Channel 4 team accepts that the eye-catching “superhuman” branding of its 2012 and 2016 coverage was controversial, to say the least, and that many disabled people felt it did more harm than good." Lucy Webster on the channel's decision to rip up its approach to the Paralympics.

"[Paul] Hewitt said the dam-building work of the beavers had helped to create ponds, pools and mudscapes covering an area half the size of a football pitch. All of it was positive, he said. The new ecosystems are attracting so much more wildlife, including kingfishers, grey herons and Daubenton’s bats, which feed in the ponds and pools. He added of the beavers: 'They have been gone for 400 years and you soon realise what we have been missing as a result.'" Mark Brown helps the National Trust celebrates the birth of baby beaver on the Wallington estate in Northumberland.

Monday, July 15, 2024

The Holy Dipstick of Salisbury is now just for show

Salisbury Cathedral's foundations are so shallow that it effectively rests on a bed of gravel and water. If the water gets too low, it has to be topped up to keep the building up.

Which is why the cathedral, as well as attracting dubious Russian tourists, inspiring The Spire by William Golding and housing a bust of Richard Jefferies, has a dipstick.

This was used to measure the water level under the cathedral, so it could be topped up if necessary.

Paul Whitewick says a system of sluices was built to make this possible, but today the water is monitored automatically by the Environment Agency, so the Holy Dipstick of Salisbury is just for show.

But he couldn't discover where the water it taken from.

A hotbed of Liberalism in Northampton

Northampton's history doesn't get the attention it deserves, says Mike Ingram, plugging his book in an interview with Northants Live. 

The building he talks about in particular is the working men's club in St Giles' Street. That's the club we saw John Rogers and Iain Sinclair discuss in a video recently. The one I used to play chess for in the national club knock-out cup.

Ingram says the club was established in 1863 to provide evening classes and was intended  to be "a diversion from public houses".

It was the idea of the Rev Robson from St Giles' Church in Northampton, and he secured a donation from George Whyte-Melville to help fund it. Whyte-Melville was the author of numerous sporting novels, one from 1861 entitled Market Harborough.

There is a pub named after him at Boughton, a village near Northampton, and the club he helped finance was still known to members as "The Whyte-Melville" in the days when I pushed a pawn there.

The club lost some of its early high-mindedness, and alcohol was sold from 1869. At the same time the management of the premises was handed over to the members' committee.

Ingram told Northants Live:
"Numbers shot up and [it] was soon boasting a number of societies (at least one still survives) and a debating club. 
"By 1893 it was regarded as a hotbed of Liberalism."
There's a moral there about the importance of self-government (and alcohol).

I agree with Mike Ingram that Northampton deserves more attention from the historians. His book Northampton: 5,000 Years of History is on Amazon.

Ed Davey, Jo Swinson and Vince Cable to appear before the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry

Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, will appear before the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry on Thursday.

Two former leaders of the party are also about to give evidence to the inquiry. Jo Swinson will give evidence on Friday and Vince Cable on Thursday of next week (25 July).

My impression as a follower of these hearing's is that Jo's name has cropped up in proceedings more often than the other two, but I suspect those who think responsibility for the scandal will be pinned on past government ministers are in for a disappointment.

Writing in the Guardian, Jane Croft suggests:

The toughest questioning is likely to be reserved for politicians who held office under Conservative governments from 2015, when the scandal was regularly hitting the headlines. ... 
Greg Clark, business secretary between 2016 and 2019, will testify in late July, as will ... former ministers Margot James and Kelly Tolhurst.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

GUEST POST The future’s bright, the future’s orange

Stuart Whomsley on how voting Liberal Democrat last Thursday has changed his life.

I voted Liberal Democrats, for the first time, for three reasons: 

  • Through my union membership I got to vote for the Labour leader. I voted for Starmer. I voted for him on the basis of promises that he later broke. Fool me once, shame on you: fool me twice, shame on me. 
  • The Lib Dem manifesto had more policies that I agreed with, particularly rejoining the EU. I had been on a London march for that. after all. 
  • A website algorithm said that they had most in common with my views. 

However, tactical voting was what I was had been thinking about. Wasn't voting Labour the best way to keep the dreaded Robert Jenrick from being re-elected here in Newark? 

If he survived and became party leader, our town would become the heart of darkness. It gave me the chills. 

Even so, I considered those three points and stuck to my guns. So come the day, my cross went in the Lib Dem box. 

As I left the community centre I sensed a change coming over me. I started to experience the world in new ways: its sounds, its colours, its opportunities. 

Ever since, I have been relishing the words 'Liberal' and 'Democrat'.

Liberal: willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one's own; open to new ideas. 

Liberal: a supporter of policies that are socially progressive and promote social welfare. 

Liberal: a supporter of a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy and free enterprise. 

Democrat: an advocate or supporter of democracy. 

I ask you, what's not to love in those words? 

The colour orange suddenly has a fascination for me. I find myself wearing it more and more. It suits my complexion. Orange the colour of youthfulness, enthusiasm and happiness. 

This brings me to… The Ed Davey effect. I cannot now go past a tombla without giving it a spin. A cheese is something to roll down a hill and chase. Zumba classes? Morris dancing and swing? Count me in. 

By the way, The Ed Davey Effect would get a session on John Peel if he were still alive. 

Gone are the memories of Nick Clegg, another oath breaker. The Coalition seems a lifetime away. The Tories used and abused the Lib Dems then targeting their seats in 2015. Now was the time for revenge.

 Ed was coming after the blue wall, treating it like a tower of blue Jenga blocks to be pulled apart and crashed down all over the South West. 

So, after 14 years of being a supporter of the opposition to the government, I now face the prospect of many more years in opposition. 

But in a different way. No longer in despair at the incompetence and cruelty of the government, I shall instead be giving the new government friendly pokes in the ribs and telling them: "You can do better than that." 

And, yes, Jenrick won, but it was by thousands, so my vote made no difference. My vote could not transform Newark: all it could transform was me.

You can follow Stuart Whomsley on Twitter.

John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers: I'm Your Witchdoctor

In all my excitement at the rise of Talking Pictures TV, I've been guilty of neglecting my first love ITV3.

But I did watch an episode of Heartbeat on ITV3 the other day, and it provided me with this week's music video.

Heartbeat was a police drama set in the Sixties and with a soundtrack to match. Whoever chose the music tended to be literal-minded - Keep on Running by the Spencer Davis Group turned up regularly to accompany someone fleeing the rozzers - but they knew their stuff.

So my episode of Heartbeat this week, which was about a herbalist who was overreaching himself and poaching patients from qualified medical professionals, threw up this track.

I'm Your Witchdoctor was an unsuccessful 1965 single for John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers.

Mayall, who was a hugely important figure in the development of the British blues scene, wrote the song and is the singer.

The guitarist is Eric Clapton, the bass player is John McVie (later of Fleetwood Mac) and the drummer is Hughie Flint (later of McGuinness Flint).

And the producer is someone called Jimmy Page.

Andrew Hickey says somewhere that in order to make British blues work, you needed an outstanding singer. 

Maybe Mayall, who is still with us and was recording up to a few years ago, wasn't that, but as a spotter and encourager of talent, he was unrivalled.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Joy of Six 1247

"The party’s organizing basis since the first day Trump took office has been to treat him as a civic emergency. This is the basis for demanding donations, volunteering, and sacrifice. If they are not willing to endure the relatively modest discomfort of a contentious intraparty debate to minimize the chance of a second Trump term, they’ll have broken faith with their supporters." Jonathan Chait says the Democrats will be making a terrible mistake if they stick with Jo Biden.

Paul Bernal warns against heeding Tony Blair's call for the introduction of digital ID cards.

"Doing the right thing economically ... meant Labour opened the door to the Conservatives who enthusiastically exploited popular frustration with austerity - as articulated in the famous 1949 Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico. This allowed the party to appeal especially to middle-class voters who had supported Labour for the first time in 1945." Steven Fielding warns Labour against repeating the mistake made by Clement Attlee.

Humanists UK provides a history of non-religious prime ministers and other politicians.

"As she sings in Backwoods Barbie (2008), 'Don’t judge me by the cover cause I’m a real good book.' When fans dig into Parton’s songs, books, films, and autobiography, they uncover an egalitarian vision of social cooperation." William Irwin examines Dolly Parton's philosophy.

Katya Witney thinks England chose the right time to retire James Anderson: "In the last Ashes series in Australia, Anderson took eight wickets in the three Test matches he played. He hasn’t played more than three Tests in an Ashes since the 2017/18 series, a calf injury limiting his participation in 2019 and being less effective than Mark Wood and Chris Woakes keeping him out of the XI last summer."

Friday, July 12, 2024

Lower Robert Street: A hidden way in London's West End

Jago Hazzard eschews (hem hem) his usual subject of railways and shows us instead a secret road in the West End.

To explain Lower Robert Street's existence and obscurity, he reveals the interesting history of the Adelphi district. 

Londonist has an article on The Adelphi Story and the district's Wikipedia entry lists the famous people who lived there.

You can support Jago's videos via his Patreon page.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

The general election is over and there are 72 (count 'em) Liberal Democrat MPs.

What should Lib Dem strategy be in this brave new world? Is there a policy you would like to see us adopt? Any heretical thoughts you want to confess?

You're welcome to share your ideas in a guest post for Liberal England. 

I'm happy to entertain a wide variety of views, but I'd hate you to spend your time writing something I wouldn't want to publish. So do get in touch first.

And, as you may have noticed, I'm happy to cover topics far beyond the Lib Dems and British politics.

These are the last ten guest posts on Liberal England:

Thursday, July 11, 2024

A scarecrow duel and a child actor's memories of making the Worzel Gummidge television series

I've not finished with Worzel Gummidge yet, because I've discovered that The Laughing Stock YouTube channel has most of the episodes from the four series that Southern made between 1979 and 1981. There are lots of other good things on there too, so I have subscribed to it.

This extract comes from The Return of Dafthead in series 3. It illustrates the folk horror aspect of this version of Worzel that appeals to me.

Don't worry: Worzel doesn't die and does get his head back. The Crow Man is a benign deity, giving life too and overseeing the scarecrows.

I've also come across an episode of the Distinct Nostalgia podcast that interviews Jeremy Austin, who played the boy John in Worzel Gummidge. His sister Sue was played by Charlotte Coleman, who died aged only 33 having enjoyed great success as both a child and an adult acting in television and films.

Austin talks about his fortuitous casting, the fun of making the programmes and his eventual admission that he was not going to sustain an acting career as an adult.

Listening between the lines, Jon Pertwee was a perfectionist and could be hard to work with. But he never lost his temper with the children and made a point of introducing them to any guest stars himself to emphasise their importance to the show.

And it has to be said that Pertwee is superlatively good in Worzel Gummidge.

I'm also intrigued by when the series is set. It's clear from the cars and the children's clothes that it's not 1979 - and when Worzel tries to do away with Dafthead in another episode by dropping him off a bridge in front of a train, it is a steam train.

But nor is there anything to anchor the series in a precise decade. I like my nostalgia precise, but this diffuse approach may be more emotionally appealing.

Steve Darling on Jennie: "I'm afraid to say she is a tart"

By common consent, the star of the new Liberal Democrat intake is Steve Darling's guide dog Jennie.
Here Steve gives a candid portrait of her and of her many splendid qualities.

This was tweeted by Matt Chorley of Times Radio. You can hear the full interview on his podcast Politics Without the Boring Bits.

GUEST POST This blog is not suitable for kids

With the open web under threat in Britain, Laurence Warner argues that it may be time to make it a child-free zone. 

Last year I warned Lib Dem Voice not to follow Iran in banning encrypted messaging like Signal and WhatsApp. Ofcom now can, since the Online Safety Act passed near intact through parliament. 

Just as Big Tech finally adopts encrypted messaging - with Apple on Google’s RCS and Meta the Signal protocol - Britain’s two illiberal governing parties called law’n’order on progress. 

Whilst a Lib Dem Lord who watched the act sail by assures me Ofcom’s "expert" won’t pull the plug until (implausible 'cake and eat it') tech is in place, I believe we need to be proactive at encouraging Ofcom to direct their new regulatory powers in one specific area: children’s safety. 

The internet is not, and probably cannot be, safe for children. Being reached by bad people - cyberbullies or predators - and bad content – addictive or Adult material - is putting a generation in danger. 

I know this first-hand: I was exposed to Adult content online - like a quarter of British GenZ - by age 11. We only know this shocking statistic due to a Children’s Commissioner survey that Ofcom commissioned; it’s still a taboo topic for many parents like mine. 

Only through paternal supervision (an internet firewall and therapy) was I able to kick the habit. It’s why on my upcoming 2024 collection of Big Tech diss-tracks Ctrl-Alt-Rap, I’m taking aim at porn barons in Recovered to inspire us to destroy their business model of addicting young people like our parents were by Big Tobacco. 

Look, deregulation has been a great strength of the web: permissionless publishing and access, coupled with encryption, has been the unlikely open-closed blend that’s made the web a place where Brits want to spend a quarter of their waking lives. 

But if we continue to let youth harms spiral, those building blocks - of free expression and the right to privacy - will be entirely swept away for everyone by a Chinese approach infantilising all citizens. 

I believe Ed Davey’s care-full Liberal Democrats can strike a winning balance on this: maintain core digital privacies like encryption and rights to access content for adults, whilst actively seeking to protect children from such harms. 

Ofcom has floated efforts to cherry-pick age-gating Adult websites. And though these are popular in principle (80 per cent of voters), Open Rights Group - whose Don't Scan Me! campaign I supported at parliament - warn that botched implementations might threaten all citizens' privacy. We may need to consider more radical approaches that ask whether any of the web - including social media - should be accessed by children. 

Any such radical policies would involve thorny implementation questions: such as whether the age cutoff would 13, the earliest age US law lets Silicon Valley grab their data, or 18, the age which Tristan Harris’s Center for Humane Technology is advocating. I personally think 16, the age at which Brits gain the majority of citizen freedoms such as being able to leave home, seems like a realistic target. 

Until then, the government should build upon their phone-free classroom policy and force caregivers (90 per cent of whom currently abdicate their responsibility) to use Big Tech’s monitoring tools at home too. 

How likely would such a seemingly paternalist policy be from our Liberal party? At Spring Conference’s tech policy huddle in York, I saw both sides: on the regulation side, a concerned mother from the Smartphone-free Childhood community worried about her kid turning 9, versus an employee who wants to protect Big Social’s ability to operate amongst over-13s and trusts in Asimov's First Law (AI can protect young humans). 

The only sensible approach is that liberal policies shouldn’t automatically be applied to children to whom we owe care, as even Rousseau argued. 

Gen Alpha is just turning 11: this year we have an opportunity to help them spend the next five or seven years free of unsought exposure to Adult content (and degenerate adults), until they gain full citizenship rights to choose to access it. 

We would do better to target internet regulation specifically at children rather than risk the whole of Western society going behind a Great Firewall. 

Sorry kids, you won’t like this. 

Laurence Warner is a singer-songwriter-rapper at LaurenceWarner.com, currently making Alternative-Rap about Big Tech’s social impact. He’s also a Lib Dem member in his hometown Eastleigh and blogs about the arts and tech at wa.rner.me.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Joy of Six 1246

Richard Kemp says the Liberal Democrats must be a party of the major cities as well of the shires and suburbs: "We will only be a truly national party when we represent people in all areas and from all walks of life. We will now have a greater resource than at any time in my political career to begin to achieve this."

Jason Beer KC discusses being crowned Barrister of the Year, the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry and what it has done for public understanding of the role of barristers.

"If you don’t already have generational wealth, your kid will feel it sooner or later. The average fee for an independent school is £16,650. If the schools pass on the VAT increase, that will mean an extra £2,500 a year. If that is too much for your family, then you are better off not sending your kid to a substandard private school." Stella Tsantekidou has some advice for parents.

"There is ... only one sustainable future for the series and the now completed volumes for England, Scotland and Wales, and that future is digital. A small group of supporters are actively pursuing this prospect. Should the project succeed, subscribers will benefit from corrections and updates and a GPS locator." Gillian Darley looks to the future of Niklaus Pevsner's Buildings of England series.

"From writer-director Cy Enfield’s desire to capture native customs on film to the acknowledgement of Cetewayo’s tactical expertise, the picture depicts the Zulus in a manner far removed from the way Africans had been previously depicted on film." Richard Luck defends the politics of Enfield's 1964 film Zulu.

John Lewis-Stempel makes a plea on behalf of eels and for a change in human thinking about nature: "Like everything about the eel, the reasons for its calamitous decline - 95% globally since the 1970s - are mysterious, although shifts in the oceanic currents which bring the elvers to Europe and the pollution of waterways are causal contenders. And it is the eel’s bad luck to be enigmatic rather than charismatic."

Sorry Liz Truss: Barking dogs don't keep drones away from prisons

Remember this? Sadly the claim that barking dogs deter drones seem no to be true, as we still have a problem with drugs, phones and other illicit good being smuggled into prisons that way,

From the Leicester Mercury:

A drug dealing gang used drones to smuggle around £1 million worth of contraband into prisons. Among the group's targets was HMP Gartree in Leicestershire.

The group was led by 47-year-old Lucy Adcock who organised 22 drops in a month across six UK prisons. HMP Gartree, in Market Harborough, was among the mum's targets before she was eventually apprehended, reports Wales Online. ...

Adcock's other targets including the troubled Welsh prison HMP Parc in Bridgend. It was in April last year when prison staff discovered a dropped package containing illicit items valued at £50,000 on the prison market, including Class A and B drugs and mobile phones.

Turns out it wasn't just the dogs who were barking.

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

ChessFest draws 23,000 people to Trafalgar Square

Starring nine-year-old Bodhana Sivanandan, who's just been selected for the England women's team, the annual ChessFest event attracted 23,000 people to Trafalgar Square on Sunday. That's an increase of 8000 over last year.

The English Chess Federation site says:

Bodhana was joined by a host of top UK grandmasters and three other young English super-talents: 15-year-old Shreyas Royal, who is on the brink of becoming England’s youngest ever grandmaster, fast-rising under 10 Supratit Banerjee and Ethan Pang, the world’s number-one under-9 player.

British Champion Gawain Jones and England’s number-one Nikita Vitiugov, both world-class grandmasters, treated the crowd to a display of blindfold chess. There was also an appearance from Anthony Mathurin, from the BBC show The Traitors, who is a chess coach.

The festival, now in its fourth year, drew chess enthusiasts from across the country, including many of the country’s top grandmasters, for a day of fun suitable for every level of player. 

It was organised by the charity Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC) with support from the Mayor of London and XTX Markets.

With an upsurge of interest in chess - attributed to The Queen's Gambit television series and to people rediscovering the game online during lockdown - and a crop of outstanding junior players, it looks as though Britain is heading to the top again. In the 1990s we were second as a chess power only to the old Soviet Union.

Malcolm Pein, chief executive of CSC, said:

"It was wonderful to see over 23,000 people enjoying what is the Glastonbury of chess in Trafalgar Square. A mid-afternoon downpour did not stop play, unlike the cricket!"

The photographs here were taken by Andrew Moss and are used with his permission and that of Malcolm Pein, chief executive of Chess in Schools and Communities.

Frank Duckworth, co-deviser of the Duckworth Lewis method, lodged with John Lennon and his Aunt Mimi

Embed from Getty Images

Liberal England's Trivial Fact of the Day is taken from the Guardian obituary of the mathematician Frank Duckworth.

It was he who, together with the cricket statistician Tony Lewis, devised the Duckworth-Lewis method. This is a formula used to ensure that the side batting is second is set a fair target in rain-affected matches.

The obituary reveals:
After graduating in the early 60s he stayed on at Liverpool to study for a PhD in metallurgy, sharing a house for a time with John Lennon, as a lodger of Lennon’s aunt Mimi ("not that we had much to do with him, although we heard him plucking his guitar occasionally").
When Duckworth moved on, it was to share a flat with Johnny Ball.

The Duckworth=Lewis method is now known as the Duckworth–Lewis–Stern method because of the later contribution of the Australian mathematician and statistician Steven Stern.

GUEST POST The Lib Dems must meet the challenge of the Greens in the new political landscape

How can the Lib Dems continue to grow after last week's historic advance? Anselm Anon argues that, to do so, we must meet the challenge of the Greens.

There is plenty for liberals to celebrate in the general election: the end of a wretched Tory government, lots of splendid new Lib Dem MPs (including one in Wales), third-party privileges in the Commons and idiosyncratic politics in Leicester which will continue to enliven Liberal England. 

Despite some frustrating near misses, and the loss of an Alliance MP, overall the news is good. But we shouldn’t lull ourselves into thinking this is a repeat of 1997, and not only because we secured only 12 per cent of the national vote, as opposed to 16.8 per cent.

The results bring into focus a serious and growing problem for the Liberal Democrats. We are no longer the UK’s third party, but one of three middle-sized parties. To summarise:

Reform              5 MPs 4 million votes

Lib Dem     72 MPs 3.5 million votes

Greens           4 MPs 1.9 million votes

Although Reform are morally and politically objectionable, they don’t appear to be depriving the Lib Dems of seats or votes in any numbers. If the Lib Dems had (unwisely) focused on maximising national vote share rather than seats, we could have overtaken Reform’s total, at the unacceptable cost of sacrificing dozens of MPs.  

Doubtless Reform’s leadership would gladly swap their seat:vote ration with us. But the Greens are another matter.

In much of the country it is the Greens rather than LibDems who are now attracting liberal-minded voters and activists, and building networks in new areas. By my sleep-deprived calculations, the Greens secured more votes than the Lib Dems in at least 267 English constituencies (out of 543). 

In most of these, neither party will have been working hard, but this just illustrates that latent Green support is similar to ours, if not higher.

Unlike us, the Greens have shown the capacity to grow at the expense of both Labour (from whom they won Bristol Central) as well as the Tories (from whom they won two other seats). The Lib Dems failed to advance in Sheffield Hallam, our only realistic prospect against Labour.  

We now have no MPs in big cities outside London and Edinburgh, and only four seats in the north of England, three of which are demographically very similar to our southern English strongholds. 

Alex Folkes has explained why he is hopeful about our prospects of holding our gains, but Liberal England’s list of potential targets contains only one Labour-held seat (Burnley).

The Greens secured numerous double-digit percentage vote increases against Labour, and will be in a good position to win seats from them as Starmer's government becomes unpopular.  

They also have political momentum across a wide range of demographics, which is difficult for us to match outside those areas where we already have an established network. “Pick a Ward and Win It” is currently far more achievable for Greens than Lib Dems. 

Crucially, the Greens convey a distinct sense of their own political profile. They are seen as anti-Tory, but also associated with a distinct political approach. This doesn’t appeal to everyone, but being all things to all people is no route to lasting political success.

Much Lib Dem success in 2024 relied on opposing the Tories. The challenge has now changed: we have sensible and popular policies, with some clear differences from Labour, for instance on Europe, electoral reform, water companies and ending the two-child benefit cap. 

We can be more sensible and more popular. Articulating and developing clear liberal policies, based on our radical and social liberal approach, is essential. Otherwise the Greens will flourish at our expense.

Anselm Anon has been a member of the Liberal Democrats since the 1990s.

Monday, July 08, 2024

Walking the Mardyke Way in Essex with John Rogers

John Rogers's blurb on YouTube:

A Walk following the Mardyke Way from Purfleet, Essex through the countryside on the edge of Greater London to the village of Bulphan. The Mardyke is an ancient river that has been following its course for over 30 million years. 

The route I took from Purfleet was around 11-miles followed by around another 3 miles to West Horndon Station. This is great walk through fields, meadows and fens.

John has a Patreon account to support his videos and blogs at The Lost Byway.

Church plan rejected by council over bat concerns

And this story's from Leicester too! No wonder it's our Headline of the Day.

Well done, BBC News.

GUEST POST The Lib Dems achieved a wide and remarkably deep success

Alex Folkes looks at the performance of Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens in last week's general election.

The main attack line being levelled at Labour following their success on Thursday is that their majority is broad but shallow. Corbynites point to the larger number of votes the party achieved under the former leader, whilst Tories highlight the lower share of the vote that the new government won.

Both of these are to ignore the key fact that Labour won just about the largest majority it could. And it did so through rigorous targeting. In the last few days of the campaign there were complaints from non-target seats that they were being denied access to the party canvassing software unless they moved wholesale to a designated target seat. 

Such centralised planning might have been excessive - and there were a few seats which were won despite being locked out in this way - but an election campaign is not a democracy. 

To be at its most effective, it needs to be brutal at times. The aim of the Labour campaign was to ensure the biggest number of seats, even if many of them were won by small margins. Inevitably there would be surplus votes piled up in safe seats, but the party tried its best to send activists from these to more marginal areas.

So Labour may have stored up some problems for the 2029 election, but they will (rightly) be happy with the outcome.

What is interesting is the contrast with the Liberal Democrats. Like Labour, the Lib Dems won just about as many seats as they could reasonably think possible. With the exception of Godalming and Ash - where Jeremy Hunt spent both all of his time and a considerable amount of his own money - there was no seat that the party failed to win where they were tipped by at least four of the MRP polls and many others which were much more of a shock.

But, in contrast to Labour’s broad but shallow outcome, the Lib Dems have a wide but remarkably deep success. Their 72 MPs have an average majority of 8267. Of course, this figure masks some seats which were won by just a small amount. But there are only five Lib Dem MPs sitting on majorities of less than 2000. The days of there being ‘no such thing as a safe Lib Dem seat’ are behind us.

That this success was due, in part, to the huge amount of tactical voting that took place is undeniable. But the cushion given to Lib Dem MPs by such votes and a hugely effective central campaign means that, even if many voters return to their ‘natural’ party of choice in the future and turnout improves, most should be able to survive so long as they work their patch well. 

The party won’t have the problems inherent in being a junior partner in government, as they did in 2015, and under Ed Davey they seem better at articulating a policy message that resonates with the public. The test will be whether they are able to use their new Parliamentary strength to further that.

The Greens will feel they had a similar outcome. Their four MPs were elected from the four target seats and all have a majority of 5000 or more (the average being 9,046). In addition, the party came second in a further 42 seats and, whilst many of those second places are quite distant, there is a considerable amount to build on for 2029. 

Crucially for the Greens, in none of their almost 50 held or second place seats are they battling the Lib Dems. If the next election turns out to see a lot more ‘protest’ votes against a still unpopular Tory Party and a Labour government which is perceived as under-achieving, then both parties should be set fair.

Alex Folkes is an international election observer and former campaign manager for the Liberal Democrats and single-issue campaigns.

Sunday, July 07, 2024

A letter for Worzel Gummidge

To celebrate the 105th anniversary of Jon Pertwee's birth, here's a clip from Worzel Gummidge.

Geoffrey Bayldon is the Crow Man, the benign god of the scarecrows, and the children are Charlotte Coleman and Jeremy Austin.

Poor Worzel lost his heart to the heartless Aunt Sally, but he should have gone off with Dolly Clothes-Peg, who really loved him.

Talking Pictures TV have just run the four series of Worzel Gummidge, and they turned out to have a touch of darkness that appealed to me. Call it folk horror,

Yet I'm struck by how beautiful everything in this clip looks - it was shot by the great Wolfgang Suschitzky.

This time the Lib Dem leadership kept its discipline during the election campaign

Embed from Getty Images

The Liberal Democrats' targeting strategy was an extraordinary success. I believe Jeremy Hunt's Godalming and Ash was the only seat to evade us.

Those who devised the strategy and communicated the rationale for it to the membership deserve congratulation.

In some quarters there was clearly a worry that the membership would lose discipline and start campaigning in their own constituencies rather than work in the target seats they were asked to.

But the striking contrast with 2019 this time round was that the Lib Dem leadership kept its discipline.

In retrospect - and Michael Mullaney said so on this blog immediately after the election - the change from backing a second referendum to a policy of revoking Brexit was a mistake. But it was approved enthusiastically enough by that autumn's party conference.

That was not true of the decision to allow Boris Johnson the general election he craved, which was described by Nick Harvey as "a catastrophic mistake".

Nor was it true of Jo Swinson's declaration at our campaign launch for the 2019 election that she could be the next prime minister.

And our targeting strategy in 2019? Liberator 397, the September 2019 issue, asked:

Are some people getting carried away by trying to extrapolate the European election results into Westminster terms and then wondering how randomly first-past-the-post might work with four parties in contention?

A briefing to peers indicated a startlingly high number of seats shown as potentially winnable in some scenarios if such trends continued. This has led to some seats suddenly being judged winnable that look, to put it politely, speculative.

These include Battersea (8 per cent), Chipping Barnet (5.4 per cent and a close Tory-Labour marginal too) and even more remarkably Cardiff North (3.3 per cent).

I think the answer to that question was yes.

Five years later it's wonderful how far we have come thanks to a leader with good judgement and a consistent strategy that has been properly communicated to members.

Steve Winwood: Night Train

It's strange how some music dates and some doesn't. You still hear the Spencer Davis Group singles Gimme Some Lovin' and I'm a Man in television commercials, and they're used to convey modernity rather than nostalgia.

By contrast, Steve Winwood's Eighties records now sound dated. Winwood has said himself that he was still doing what he had done in Traffic - combining folk and rock and blues and jazz - but the production of the day gave those Eighties records a surface gloss that has not aged well.

Arc of a Diver was Winwood's second solo album and the one that established him as a solo star - it sold more in the United States 

The title track has magic for me, because the lyrics are by Viv Stanshall, but Night Train is more representative. What I like about it is that it features Winwood as a guitarist - he played all the instruments on Night Train.

This reminds me of a story I read online recently. An American remembered watching some Eric Clapton's Crossroads guitar festival on television, but missing the name of the brilliant guitarist he'd been listening to.

He found out a few days later that it had been Steve Winwood - that guy all of whose records his Mom had and who he hated.