Monday, March 30, 2020

A psychologist explains how politicians evade questions

The psychologist Professor Peter Bull talks about his research into the way politicians answer questions - or fail to answer them.

In my day job, I wrote a media release that led to widespread coverage of Professor Bull's research last year.

Here is an example from the Sun:
Theresa May has answered barely a quarter of questions put to her - making her the most evasive Tory PM in 40 years. 
Boffins at the University of York studied the way Mrs May dealt with broadcast interviews and compared it with the responses of David Cameron, John Major and Margaret Thatcher. 
They found that in the course of two interviews after she became Prime Minister in 2016 and four during the course of the 2017 general election, Mrs May only answered 27 per cent of the questions put to her. 
In contrast, Mr Cameron answered 34 per cent of questions in the 2015 general election, while both Mr Major in the 1992 election and Margaret Thatcher in 1987 answered 39 per cent of questions they were asked.
Nice use of 'boffins' there.

Charles Dickens in the blacking warehouse

Recently discovered records from the Court of Chancery cast fresh light on the formative experience in Charles Dickens' life.

As a boy. after his father had been imprisoned for debt, Dickens was forced to work ten-hour days as a drudge in Warren's Blacking Warehouse, on Hungerford Stairs, near the present Charing Cross railway station.

In a podcast for The National Archives, Michael Allen examines the new records and comes to this conclusion:
Based on the evidence in the pleadings, I would now suggest that young Charles began his life of drudgery at the age of 11, and not at the age of 12, in September 1823, and that he was at Hungerford Stairs from September 1823 to January 1824, about four months, and then the move to Chandos Street took place, and he was taken out by his father in September 1824. So that makes the year that he guessed that he was there for.

Wendy Chamberlain on potholes and social justice

Wendy Chamberlain, the new Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife, is profiled by The House Magazine:
In keeping with her varied professional career, Chamberlain has a range of interests she wants to push from the backbenches. As well as a passion for veterans’ resettlement, she is a keen supporter of equal access to sports based on social background. ... 
“How many of our Olympians went to private school?” she asks, “How many talented children have we missed because they don’t get the opportunities for sports?” 
However, if she became prime minister, the first “really mundane” thing Chamberlain would do is invest in “a machine that deals with and eradicates potholes for good”.
Wendy comes over well in this piece, but I'd like our MPs to leave potholes to councillors and concentrate on social justice,

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Spencer Davis Group: I Can't Get Enough of It

Inevitably, it wasn't much of a birthday, but tradition allows me to choose a Spencer Davis Group track the following Sunday.

I Can't Get Enough of It was the B-side of the Spencer Davis Group single I'm a Man. It was written by Steve Winwood and the American producer Jimmy Miller.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The redevelopment of Leicester Central

Leicester Central was the city's other mainline station. It opened with the Great Central's London extension in 1899 and closed in 1969.

Five years ago I went there to see what remained and found more than I had expected.

That quarter of the city is now undergoing major redevelopment, so I went back a couple of weekends ago to see how the remains were faring.

The station buildings are being restored, but it turns out that when work is complete they will be home to a bowling alley, which I find a little underwhelming.

Hotels have gone up across the road and work has begun to clear the site above the station buildings. The remains of the platforms have gone and soon the industrial units will be razed to make room for tall new buildings.

By the time the Lib Dems get a new leader the public may have forgotten about us

The Liberal Democrats have announced, though the constitutional basis for it is not clear, that they will not hold a leadership election until May 2021.

The reason given on the party website is:
Our Federal Board has decided that we will not have a leadership election until May 2021, so that we can focus on dealing with the coronavirus crisis. 
We know that coronavirus will have many implications for our society, public services, economy and day-to-day lives. 
It will also have important implications for how we operate as a political party. In particular, even when current lockdown restrictions are relaxed, we still be living in a world where for months, if not years, to come it is possible lockdowns will have to be reintroduced at short notice.
We certainly have to look at the implications of the coronavirus for Lib Dem structures and campaigning, but the website makes it sound as though we are in government.

Meanwhile, the latest opinion poll has the Lib Dems on seven per cent.

It may be that politics-as-usual will not resume before May of next year. But the worry is that it will do so before that and, by the time we are back in the game with a new leader, the public will have forgotten all about us.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Dramarama: Snap (1987)

Dramarama was an ITV series of one-off plays for children. Each had a science fiction or supernatural theme. After a one-off programme was shown in 1982, it ran to seven seasons between 1983 and 1989.

The genuinely unsettling Snap, with its echoes of M.R. James and Romney Marsh locations, was shown in 1987.

The sudden recovery of disturbing memories

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I used to be sceptical of the idea that traumatic memories could suddenly resurface.
But in recent years I have had some experience of this myself as two memories – not traumatic but a little disturbing – reappeared without warning.

The first dates from my days as a student at York. There was not much to do on campus on Sunday afternoons, so I got into the habit of walking to the next village and buying a meal from the one shop that was open there.

I remember these Sunday afternoons as being always foggy with an almost violet light. “Fog in the Vale of York” was a recurrent theme on the radio weather forecast in winter.

One afternoon I was taking this walk, and as I passed a house I saw a body bag being carried out.

The second takes me back to Boxmoor primary school. When you moved on to secondary school there were two choices. You either went to Hemel Hempstead School, which had just gone comprehensive after being a very traditional grammar school, which is what I did. Yes, reader, I once wore a school cap.

If you didn’t get a place there, you went to the former secondary modern Bourne Valley, which was seen as being second best by a distance.

The top class at Boxmoor was not large, even though some children had been moved up to it early to balance numbers, so only three boys were given a place at Bourne Valley.

Two were good friends of mine and the parents of both appealed, trying to get them a place at the former grammar.

One was the son of a doctor and, as my parents forecast, he duly won his appeal. The other boy didn’t and the memory that resurfaced was of him sitting in the boys’ cloakroom at Boxmoor crying at the unfairness of it all and of the rest of us standing around awkwardly not knowing what to do.

An interesting thing about the reappearance of these memories is that in neither case could I find any reason why it should have happened when it did. There was no connection with what I had been doing or thinking at the time.

It makes me worry a little about what might bubble up next.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Lib Dem leadership election postponed until May 2021

The decision is announced this evening in an article by party president and joint acting leader Mark Pack on the party website.

Television commercials for Midland Counties ice cream

One of the highlights of the canal holidays we had when I was a little boy was Midland Counties Ice Cream. In Hertfordshire it was all Walls or Lyons Maid, but further north they had a different company with different lollies.
So I blogged back in 2010. Sadly, the Midland Counties television commercial in that post, with its canalside scenes, is gone from YouTube.

But do not despair. If you click on the image above you will be taken to a selection of Midland Counties commercials on the British Film Institute site.

The BFI says:
Like a Neapolitan ice cream block, these early TV ads for the frozen delights of Midland Counties are stacked together in a medley of flavours. Back to back the individual distinctions of any single advert melt away, revealing the clichés in phrases and framing behind them. 
The pause at the end of each advert, known as the “TV hold”, would have been edited out for broadcast. Left intact it marks an awkward pause in which the often flimsy set-up of the ad threatens to collapse around it.
You can read more about Midland Counties ice cream on the J. Lyons & Co. site.

A tour of Southwell Minster: Mythical creatures, green men, animals of the forest

While we are all isolating ourselves, videos like this are close to unbearable.

Next year at the Saracen's Head.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Six of the Best 916

David Boyle looks to life after the coronavirus: "I'm not sure anyone will miss the airlines and airports (except the British, of course, who fly more than any nation on earth). The future of food looks set to be local with short supply lines after all. But if the economy was in such a dire situation before, then it may be that some government support for salaries will have to be semi-permanent."

From miraculous cures to paranoid conspiracies, misinformation about coronavirus is going viral at a disturbing rate say Ella Hollowood and Alexi Mostrous.

"Even nowadays, with parents the stunned and submissive onlookers at their children’s lives, a middle-aged man would think twice about meeting the family of the 17-year-old son he’s knocking off." Alan Bennett on W.H. Auden in love.

Film School Rejects chooses the 50 best coming of age movies ever.

"Astérix doesn’t beat brute force by superior cunning and intelligence – he does it thanks to his unexpected access to even bruter force than the enemy can deliver." Mary Beard considers the most celebrated Gaul.

Patrick Mulkern looks at the career of Patrick Troughton, who was a hundred years ago today.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Former Lib Dem MP stranded in New Zealand

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The Eastbourne Herald reports:
Ex-Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd, who is stranded in New Zealand due to the coronavirus outbreak, is leading the call for all holidaymakers there to be repatriated. 
Mr Lloyd and his partner Cherine arrived in Auckland at the beginning of March on the first stop of a holiday in New Zealand and Australia. 
They toured the North Island and headed to the South Island staying with friends and family but were then told their route home via Sydney in Australia on April 2 would have to be brought forward. 
But then Australia closed its borders and when Singapore closed as a transfer airport, the couple said they realised they were stranded in New Zealand.
Lloyd tells the paper that he has discovered that hundreds of other UK residents are also stuck in New Zealand.

Ruddington Fields station, Great Central - Nottingham

Great Central - Nottingham's base is at the former army depot at Ruddington. To reach it trains have to reverse down a branch after they have reached the line's northern limit.

The site also houses a transport museum and stands in Rushcliffe Country Park.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Six of the Best 915

"This week, we’ve seen far more of Boris Johnson than we ever thought was possible. With No 10 now home to a live, daily broadcast, Johnson’s Achilles heel (one of many), has truly been exposed - his need to be adored. The result is pandemonium for the rest of us." Charlotte Moore on Boris Johnson's approach to coronavirus - at least before this evening.

Johnny McDermott finds lessons for the Liberal Democrats in T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone.

"The simple truth is that the torrent of online rumour-mongering is simply filled by a vacuum left where official communications should be." James Ball says we should not blame social media companies for the government's failure.

Peter Black asks if the BBC's Question Time has run its course.

"In the confines of an idyllic English meadow a grisly hell breaks loose. A group of deserting Civil War soldiers team up in order to seek out a pub but are soon ensnared by O'Neil, a terrifying necromancer and alchemist, who orders them to hunt for buried gold." Jason Barlow recommends viewing A Field in England while practising coronavirus distancing.

"Glenn McGrath was launched down the ground in his first over, Shane Warne yawningly swept into the grandstand. Hollioake looked like a man born to do exactly this, not just once but many times." Barney Ronay celebrates the brief career of Ben Hollioake.

Film based on Malcolm Saville story released on DVD.

The British Film Institute has just released its Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box Vol. 2.

This consists of three DVDS, each containing three British Film Foundation films. And one of the films is Treasure at the Mill from 1957, which is based on a book by this blog's hero Malcolm Saville.

IMDB has a summary of the plot:
Fourteen-year-old John Adams lives alone with his mother, who works as a cleaning lady for a living. It's holiday time now. John shares his free time between two activities, helping Mr. Wilson, an old antique dealer who is also his mother's employer, to put his books in order and strolling along the pond on the banks of which stands a charming old mill. 
Now, Mrs Adams has shown John a casket containing a parchment indicating that a treasure has been buried at the mill. The boy has a dream : finding the treasure and buying his deserving mother a cottage. To this end he will be helped by Merrilyn (16), Hilary (14) and Harry( 10), the children of the new owners of an estate by the pond.
On the other hand his plans will be thwarted by Mr Wilson, who will show his true colours : greed and spitefulness... 
The Bumper Box will set you back £29.99, but you could try offering four sheets of toilet paper or a paracetamol tablet.

I have my own copy of this book, but the illustration above is borrowed from the Malcolm Saville centenary website because I am too lazy to scan the wrapper. Thanks John!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Lib Dems to table social care amendments to the Coronavirus Bill

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PoliticsHome reports that the Liberal Democrats are to table two amendments to the Coronavirus Bill when it comes before the Commons tomorrow.

They are designed to ensure that moves to temporarily relax councils' social care duties do not lead to standards slipping.

The government bill waives some of local authorities' responsibilities towards vulnerable people as set out in the 2014 Care Act.

The website says:
The Lib Dem amendment would order the Health Secretary to produce a "comprehensive" report every three months if the Coronavirus Bill passes, spelling out "how the Government will guarantee provisions for social care while this Act is in force". 
The first one would have to come within just ten days of the emergency law being passed, and would require MPs to be updated on funding available to support social care providers - as well as Government plans to keep standards at "as high a level as possible". 
A second amendment demands that the Government guarantees social care providers will have the cash required to meet local needs - with the Lib Dems warning that the system is "already overstretched".
It quotes are new health spokesperson Munira Wilson:
"Ministers need to prepare for the worst if staffing levels in the social care sector are badly hit, but also commit to doing everything possible to maintain current standards. Lower standards should not become the new norm in an already overstretched social care system."

Columnist says people feel they can trust the Lib Dems again

We Liberal Democrats have become more used to being kicked than praised. So it was good to read this from Barbara Ellen in the Observer:
I can’t be the only one who remains grateful to the Lib Dems for offering a safe political harbour from Corbynism and Brexit. I also applaud how they stuck to their Remain principles, without trying to work both sides. If nothing else, this helped dislodge the mud that’s stuck to them since the 2010 Tory coalition. While there’s much to be done, people feel they can trust the Lib Dems again.

Brenda Lee: What'd I Say

Brenda Lee was in London for the 1964 Royal Variety Performance. As the blurb on YouTube explains, in search of an updated sound she met Mickie Most, the hot producer at the time.

They chose Is It True? as the A-side of a single and Brenda picked What'd I Say as the B-side. She wanted to be the first female to cover Ray Charles controversial 1959 hit.

The sound proved too raw for her US record company and a different track was used as the B-side over there.

The guitarist here is Jimmy Page and there is a good article about Brenda Lee in Rolling Stone.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Caldon Canal in 1972

Photo: Harry Arnold

My March 1972 issue of the IWA Bulletin carries this photograph of the Caldon Canal near Hazlehurst Junction, where its branch to Leek and main line to Froghall Basin diverge.

The Bulletin says that the line to Froghall was about to be restored.

I walked the whole of the Caldon over two days in the spring of 1988. The walk began in the centre of Stoke-on-Trent and took me to the Churnet Valley.

Part of this were so remote they carried the river, canal and a railway, but no road.

Matthew Taylor, Percy Harris and Charles Masterman

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Matthew Taylor, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Truro, was adopted as a baby by the film and television writer Ken Taylor and his wife.

In later life he decided to trace his birth mother, with the result that I blogged in 2008:
This morning's Times revealed that Matthew Taylor, the Lib Dem MP for Truro, who was adopted as a baby, has traced his birth mother. It turns out that she is the granddaughter of Sir Percy Harris, who was a prominent Liberal MP. 
Sir Percy was first elected to the Commons for Harborough at a 1916 by-election. There was an official truce between the parties, but he had to overcome strong opposition from Thomas Gibson Bowles, an Independent candidate backed by Lord Northcliffe and the Daily Mail. 
Like Charles Masterman, Harris was identified with the social reform wing of the Liberal Party but remained loyal to Asquith because he did not trust Lloyd George and his machinations with the Tories. The result was the he failed to receive the Coupon in Harborough in 1918 and the seat was lost to the Tories for the first time since 1891. 
Sir Percy returned to the House as MP for Bethnal Green South West in 1922 and was to hold the seat until 1945, by which time he was the last Liberal MP left in London. When the Liberals ran Tower Hamlets in the 1980s canvassers reported meeting old people who still voted Liberal "because of Sir Percy".
Later in that post I wrote that
Families do have an amazing way of rolling back the years. In a second Times article on the story, Matthew writes of his birth mother:
She has visited us twice and when I was Liberal shadow chancellor she sat in the Commons for the first time since she watched her grandfather speak as a little girl, to see my response to the budget.
When this story broke, Matthews's grandfather Sir Jack Harris was still alive at the age of 101. The reports said he had recently published his memoirs, so I ordered a copy in the hope it would contain some recollections of Harborough politics almost a century before.

From that point of view the book proved a disappointment - it read like the work of a man approaching his hundredth year.

He did write about the Harborough by-election of 1916, which his father Percy Harris won, but his memory proved disappointing:
My father was given the seat of Market Harborough by the party, where he was ... totally unknown. He managed to win this seat because there was a big Liberal swing when the Asquith government was elected in 1908 (sic). However, in a swing back in the next election he lost his seat.
As regular readers of this blog will know, the truth is that Harborough had been Liberal since 1891, largely because of the efforts of the mighty Paddy Logan.

And as I say in the post quoted above, Percy Harris lost Harborough in 1918 because he refused the Coupon from the Lloyd George coalition.

Yes Jack Harris did have something interesting to say about his father's political career:
My father wished to pursue his political career by standing for parliament for Bethnal Green, which he already represented on the London County Council, but party HQ thought otherwise. They sent down a man called Masterman, who was unknown to the electorate, to stand for the seat. He promptly lost it to the Conservatives.
In fact Masterman won the by-election, but had to fight another in the seat when he was promoted to the cabinet and lost that one.

So I turned instead to Percy Harris's memoirs Forty Years In and Out of Parliament and found confirmation that, as well as being comrades, he and Charles Masterman were rivals.

Percy Harris had been adopted as prospective candidate for Bethnal Green South West, where the sitting Liberal MP was expected to resign soon. Then Charles Masterman was disqualified as an MP elsewhere in London because of irregularities with his return of election expenses, and the national party saw a Bethnal Green by-election as an opportunity to get him back into the Commons.

Masterman won the nomination to fight the by-election, but Harris writes:
A number of angry Radicals walked out of the meeting, formed a Labour association, and proceeded to adopt a candidate.
For more about Charles Masterman's career, see an article of mine in Liberator.

Archy Kirkwood and the Average White Band

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Alwyn Turner's masterly survey of the UK singles charts of my early teenage years for Lion & Unicorn has reached March 1975.

One of the top ten in the week he chooses was Pick Up the Pieces by the Average White Band. Alwsyn rightly describes them as "Britain’s best-ever funk band".

When I chose Pick Up the Pieces as one of my Sunday music videos I repeated some lines from Norman Baker's Against the Grain where he remembered an unsuccessful gig by his band The Reform Club:
As well as members of the band, we had roped in Archy Kirkwood, the Lib Dem MP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, on guitar, and Chris Berry, our Eastbourne candidate, on keyboards. 
Archy was a competent rhythm guitarist and had been in a Scottish band in the 1960s, half of which went on to be the Average White Band, though not Archy's half.
This morning I sent the link to this post to Alwyn, and of course he knows more than I do.

It turns out Arch was a member of a band called The Kingpins and only one of its members, Onnie McIntyre, later joined the Average White Band.

Googling The Kingpins does not get you far, but it does lead you to the site of another band member, Lex Gibson, and reveals that this history got scrambled so there was once a rumour that Archy had been in the Average White Band himself.

My own first involvement with Archy Kirkwood was at my first Liberal Assembly at Bournemouth in 1984.

This was the era of big debates on nuclear weapons and we radicals wanted people with clout on the platform so they would be seen voting against David Steel's support for cruise missiles.

So I got there early and took a seat on the platform, only to give it up to Archy just before the debate began.