Monday, June 01, 2020

Candid portraits of West Midlands Liberal and Lib Dem candidates

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Researching my post on Wallace Lawler and the Birmingham Ladywood by-election, I came across a remarkable document online.

It gives a brief biography of each candidate in Who's Who style, but also a character sketch. These are often bracingly candid - so much so that I would hesitate to quote some of them here.

Among those I can quote is my former landlord in Sutton Coldfield, Jim Whorwood. He is described as a "party stalwart from 1950s; meticulous keeper of records and election information; respected for his integrity, serious minded approach, sense of humour and capacity for hard work".

I remember saying to one of the SDP candidates in the May 1982 local elections: "I love the Liberals. Jim does all this work and he has no hope of reward."

That shows how much I knew. In 2001 he was elected Lord Mayor of Birmingham.

Our PPC in those days was Edward Hooper, who is described as "noted for [his] courteous, unassuming demeanour".

For a taste of Mr King when he has the bit between his teeth, try him on Robin Day, who fought Hereford for the Liberals in 1959:

Day was said to have been of a cantankerous personality, difficult to work with, with few if any real intimate friends, though he had a myriad of superficial acquaintances. He lacked a genuine sense of humour and always wore a stony expression. The exaggerated professional reputation he enjoyed in life has justly received posthumous re-evaluation.

The new issue of Liberator has landed

The new issue of Liberator has arrived. Now there is just one more printed issue to go. Already you can download this issue free of charge from the magazine's website.

This was a decision we took back in the winter, but it would have been forced on us by Covid-19 and the consequent cancellation of two Liberal Democrat conferences.

In the Radical Bulletin section this time you can: 
  • find analysis of the Thornhill report on the Lib Dem performance in last year's general election ("Every leader ends up in a 'bunker' listening only to a trusted coterie of advisers - Swinson is found to have broken new ground by starting in one.")
  • learn about the "long and tortuous route" to the party's summer leadership election.
  • discover which group of London local parties feel they were told, by the regional campaign, "We'd be delighted if you did well, but not so well that you win."
This evening we shall begin discovering what Lord Bonkers has to say about things.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Me outside Stiperstones post office in the mid-1990s

Why did I worry? I looked young.

Fewer people following lockdown guidance since Dominic Cummings story broke

Fewer people have been following lockdown guidance since the story about Dominic Cummings' excursion to Durham broke.
That is the finding of a survey conducted by academics from De Montfort University in Leicester.

For their research, Professor Edward Cartwright and Dr Jonathan Rose surveyed 1201 people across the UK. The number who admitted they had behaved in ways inconsistent with the government guidance because they did not agree with it had increased from 4 per cent to 9 per cent over the space of the last week.

The researchers say:

"There are two explanations for our findings. It could be that people are more willing to discuss their past breaches of the lockdown or that more people have broken the lockdown in the past week. Either way it will likely undermine attempts to police the restrictions and maintain public support for them. We also found a statistically significant decline in trust for Conservative politicians."

Fat Larry's Band: Zoom

A tribute to the video conferencing app that Covid-19 has made suddenly indispensable.

Zoom was a hit in the UK (but not the US) in 1982.

Fat Larry, you may not be surprised to learn is the drummer. He was originally the singer too, but by now the role had been taken over by Freddie Campbell.

Which means we can add this band to the list (Spencer Davis Group, Santana, J. Geils Band...) of those named after a member other than their lead singer.

Friday, May 29, 2020

A South East London trolleybus in 1959


The YouTube blurb says:

Trams in North London were almost entirely replaced by trolleybuses during the 1930s. So also were routes formerly operated by Bexley, Dartford and Erith Councils. The 698 was one of these.
When tram replacement resumed after the Second World War it was to diesel, not electric, buses. All London’s trolleybuses would be replaced by diesel ones by May 1962.

Six of the Best 930

Stephen Reicher fears Dominic Cummings has undermined the sense of shared responsibility that has been crucial during the Covid-19 crisis.

"I am sad to say that much of the BBC’s domestic political coverage, particularly from some of its ‘star names’, is simply not good enough. And it is actually a betrayal of those fine journalists around the world who believe in telling the truth and holding power to account. Most of all, it is an insult to the BBC’s audience, who rely on the corporation to tell them the truth." Patrick Howse says BBC journalists have been slow to react to our age of untruth.

David Klemperer looks back to the days when a young Keir Starmer was writing for a journal called Socialist Alternatives.

Ray Monk says the early death of R.G. Collingwood changed the course of philosophy forever,

In 2001 Jenny Turner gave her reasons for liking Tolkien.

"The old men say their fathers told them that soon after the fields were left to themselves a change began to be visible. It became green everywhere in the first spring, after London ended, so that all the country looked alike." Michael Dirda reads Richard Jefferies' After London.

Police hunt for 'naked James May' spotted on bridge in Bosworth

Today's Headline of the Day Award is a home win.

Well done to the Leicester Mercury.

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

Embed from Getty Images

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.