Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Six of the Best 799

"Are they hiding something, or is it simply that they are so confused and divided by the outcome of the referendum that they daren’t doubt its legality?" Paul Tyler asks why Labour is silent on the possibility that Russia interfered with the 2016 EU referendum.

Judges in Canada are sentencing youth offenders to chess with promising results, report Monique Sedgwick, Jeffrey MacCormack and Lance Grigg. Chess joke: After 37 consecutive Berlins they break down in tears and promise to go straight.

Talking of Chess, Sarah Hurst looks at the Kremlin's plans to maintain control of world chess.

Ian Visits on the revival of London's pedways.

"The character of Dido was the embodiment of many of that small girl’s dreams, as, when Joan grew up to be a writer she was able to give her all the wonderful adventures she had imagined for herself, and encourage others to be bold and follow their dreams as well." Her daughter Lizza Aiken celebrates Joan Aiken's heroine Dido Twite.

Paul Steele takes us on a walk through some of this blog's sacred places, including White Grit and the Stiperstones Inn.

Harborough Conservative councillor joins the Liberal Democrats

Photo of Broughton Astley from Geograph © Kevin Flynn

Mark Graves, who represents the Astley ward in Broughton Astley on Harborough District Council, has switched to the Liberal Democrats.

Formerly a Conservative, he has joined the Liberal Democrats and joined the Lib Dem group on the council.

Phil Knowles, who leads that group, tells me he is delighted to welcome Mark to the Liberal Democrats:
"He is committed to working hard for the community and brings with him many talents that will complement the Lib Dem group on Harborough District Council perfectly."
Note that I have avoided using the word "defected," which usually appears in such stories. We are talking about local government here, not the Cold War.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Weirdstone (for Alan Garner)

A short film by Adam Scovell:
With the film, I wanted to try and surmise two things that seem inherent to Garner’s work.  The first is the special relationship Garner has with the landscape of his native Cheshire, of Alderley Edge and the surrounding rural locations.  Tying into this was the second aspect, of how this landscape allows the questioning of the role of time, its effect on space and the philosophy behind it

Christopher Chope is the school bully

Embed from Getty Images

Let's give Sir Christopher Chope a hearing:
"The objection was to do with the bill not being given enough time to be heard and debated properly. 
"There are concerns surrounding the details of this bill and these need to be debated properly. 
"If the government want this bill then there is nothing to stop them giving more time to it and I would welcome that. The objection is not to the bill in principle. 
"Any concerns that we do have could be addressed if we are given more time. 
"I’ve got broad shoulders so I can cope with the criticism, but I do feel I have been made a scapegoat in this."
No, he's not talking about his decision to block Wera Hobhouse's bill to criminalise upskirting.

This is Chope talking to his local paper the Daily Echo in 2010 after he had blocked a bill that would have protected Third World countries from "vulture fund" operators.

It's a reminder of just how long he has devoted his Friday afternoons to frustrating the efforts of other backbench MPs to make the world a better place.

He was doing it with the late Eric Forth long before Philip Davies came along.

Why does Chope do it?

Some defend him because he does not believe in these private members' bills at all. But he has moved his own in the past. And since when has a single backbencher got to decide how the house operates?

There are those in the Commons who would abolish the monarchy. Should they oppose all new legislation because they don't believe it should have to receive royal assent?

No, there is something of the school bully about Chope. He takes a delight in coming across shiny-eyed new MPs who are ardent to change the world and showing them that the Commons is no place for such ambitions.

He's like a prep school tough who raids the junior dorm on the look out for teddy bears and photographs from home that he can taunt younger boys with ever afterwards.

Yes, private member's bills can be unnecessary, badly drafted or play to the gallery. But at heart Chope is just the school bully.

Which is why I am not surprised to see he is given to whining about being a "scapegoat" when his activities are exposed.

As prep school headmasters used to be given to observing, bullies are always cowards.

Ireland's libraries to open seven days a week till 10pm: In Northamptonshire 21 are being closed

Add mismanagement by its ruling Conservative group to the huge cuts made to local council funding by the Coalition and Conservative governments, and you have a crisis at Northamptonshire County Council.

One result of this is that the council is proposing to close 21 public libraries across the county.

Meanwhile in Ireland:
The public will be able to use most libraries seven days a week from between 8am and 10pm under new plans to double the number of visitors over the next five years. 
Nearly 200 of the State’s 330 public libraries will open for longer, while the public will be able to take and return books when the libraries are unmanned using scanners. 
The extended hours will give members more opportunities to study, use wifi, hold meetings and, in some cases, use libraries’ free "hot-desking" facilities to work remotely from offices.
It is hard to resist the conclusion that Britain is becoming a more backward country and that Brexit will make this process worse.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Tim Farron makes the trains run on time

Good news from the Guardian:
A vintage train operator that normally runs journeys for enthusiasts has stepped in to provide rail services to the Lake District after the operator Northern cancelled all of its trains following a timetabling fiasco. 
West Coast Railways, which runs charter trains along some of the UK’s most scenic routes, formally launched its first service on the Lakes line on Monday, two weeks after Northern suspended all journeys and introduced a replacement bus service.
A 40-year-old diesel engine and carriages will carry passengers free of charge along the 10-mile route from Oxenholme to Windermere six times a day, from 9.25am to 7pm. It is understood that the Department for Transport will meet the £5,500 daily cost of running the service.
And there's more:
Tim Farron, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, worked with a local passenger group to arrange for West Coast Railways to run services on the line. “We’re nine hours into the service and we’ve been on time throughout the day,” he said. 
“It’s a victory for the can-do over the can’t-do. We’ve shamed the Department for Transport and Northern rail by making something happen. We are doing them reputational damage every time we run a train and they don’t.” 
He added: “Let’s be honest, Northern rail run trains that are a bit less old, but a lot less nice. Northern rail run Pacers, which are a bit less elderly but without the charm.”
Well done to Tim and the local campaigners. If privatisation had allowed more such local initiatives I would find it easier to support it.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Camber Castle from above in 1931: Malcolm Saville there in 1945

When they came up to the gap in the walls which once had been a gateway they saw that nothing but the central tower remained inside, Sheep were nibbling on the very ground where Henry VIII's garrison may have sat down to eat, ivy climbed the walls from which armoured sentinels had watched the Channel, and from the crumbling mortar of the keep lusty wallflowers were swaying in the wind. 
They stood for a moment in the big, grassy space. The sun beat down upon them, and they were sheltered, too, from the breeze which was rustling the leaves above them. The only sound was the monotonous baaing of the sheep and the ceaseless song of the larks overhead. 
Malcolm Saville, The Gay Dolphin Adventure, 1945

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A stable lad and an unstable lad

Our week at Bonkers Hall ends with the old boy's unique insight into the events behind A Very English Scandal.

For myself, I am pleased that no one else seems to have used this "a stable lad and an unstable lad" line about Norman Scott.


This moving moving-television drama about Jeremy Thorpe has awakened some distressing memories, not least of the fate of poor Rinka whom I always found a Good Girl. I did my best to warn Norman Scott, who was a stable lad and an unstable lad, against taking up with Thorpe, but he was not to be told.

What a dismal crew we were in those days! I turned down both Cyril Smith’s and Clement Freud’s applications to become trustees of the Bonkers’ Home for Well-Behaved Orphans, and subsequent revelations have only confirmed my wisdom in so doing.

Equally, if MPs arranged to have a constituent bumped off every time the casework he, or indeed she, generated became a nuisance, representative democracy would soon grind to a halt. No, with certain notable exceptions that I am too modest to mention, the Liberal Party of the 1970s was not a thing of which one could be proud.

At least the screening of the drama has led to my being asked to give lectures on the period over the summer. I shall be alternating “The Peter Bessell nobody knows” and “Ten fascinating facts about Emlyn Hooson” to audiences in a number of our leading seaside resorts. As seems only proper, I shall be arriving at each by hovercraft.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Labour Live? The old Liberal Party got there first

All that coverage of Labour Live yesterday awakened a distant memory. Hadn't there been a Liberal Party fun day at Knebworth round about 1980?

When I tweeted that question I received three replies confirming it had taken place, including this one from someone who had been at the event:

Someone else suggested the Liberal Party had held more than one fun day at Knebworth.

A bit of googling produced the confirming snippet from Campaigning Face to Face by Wynn Hugh-Jones above. (It's a good book. I'm in the index.)

What I most remember from this episode is a fragment of song that used to be talked of in Liberator and Liberal Revue circles.

Set to the tune of Joni Mitchell's Woodstock, it began:
By the time we got to Knebworth
We were half a carload strong.
I think that may have been where it ended too.

Lonnie Donegan: World Cup Willie

I have seen something you will never see: England win the World Cup.

While I have vague memories of World Cup Willie, the 1966 tournament's mascot, I have no memory of this song. You can hear why.

In those more innocent days before the England team has its own official supermarket, the song was not even a hit.

Lonnie Donegan, a figure from the era before the Beatles and the British Invasion, must have seemed an odd choice to sing it even at the time.

Note that in those days the England fans had no problem in wrapping themselves in the Union Jack.

The fashion for the flag of St George dates only from 1996, when both England and Scotland qualified for the European Championship, which England hosted.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Stop Backing Brexit banner unfurled at Labour Live

Congratulations to the young activists who displayed this banner at Labour Live today.

It reminds me of the day a friend and I carried an "Abolish Hunting" banner around the Fernie Hunt Pony Club gymkhana, though I suspect that was rather more dangerous.

Photo stolen from Guido Fawkes' chief reporter Ross Kempsell.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: And the bonus ball will be 22

Today's entry will do nothing to quieten the gossip in the Bonkers' Arms. There have already been allegations that Lotd B. gets racing tips from the Wise Woman of Wing, and this looks like the work of the Elves of Rockingham Forest to me. They are never short of a bob or two.


In view of my comments on Monday, I feel it only fair that I should let you know when I am writing this. It is the afternoon of 19 May and I am about to settle down to watch the F.A. Cup final. I rather fancy Chelsea to win with the only goal of the game, perhaps scored by young Hazard from the penalty spot. 

If anyone were to ask me to forecast this evening’s winning Lotto numbers, I should say 1, 3, 34, 36, 48 and 52. And the bonus ball will be 22.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Braybrooke and the Children of the Hum

The wires are to reach as far north as Market Harborough, as I blogged the other day, because National Grid power lines cross the Midland main line at Braybrooke.

Today I went to look for that spot. Some 35 years ago a footpath crossed the railway there. Today you use a footbridge.

Because I did not take a map with me this afternoon (it was rather a spur-of-the-moment visit) I did not find that bridge.

At least I got so far out of the village looking for it that I decided to walk back to Harborough.

Exploring the village I found a lane I had not encountered before and was very aware of the power lines that cross it.

So here are some photographs inspired by Hookland and the Children of the Hum.

Six of the Best 798

"Few watching this week’s pitiful events will have thought that Westminster any longer has much claim to be called the Mother of Parliaments." Chris Grey on another week of Brexit.

Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin reckon universal basic income and rewilding can save society from collapse.

It’s undeniable that the Donald Trump is wrecking the US-led international order. The only question left, says Fred Kaplan, is whether he's doing it on purpose.

"Macfarlane says it has been inspiring to hear of how the book is making a genuine difference. Among the many messages and photographs he has received was one about a school in Whitby in which 170 children left the classroom for a day to visit the woods, beach and riverbanks nearby." Chris Burn reports on the campaign to get Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris's The Lost Words into schools.

Christopher Jackson interviews Henry Blofeld, who gives us a glimpse of the politics of the England dressing room and of the Test Match Special commentary box. (He like Graeme Swann but not Sir Geoffrey.)

Sam Roberts discovers the less-known Northern end of New York's Broadway.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Jonathan Meades at Sutton Bridge

Jonathan Meades is one of this blog's heroes.

And I have often mentioned the day in 2009 when England regained the Ashes because I kept to my bargain with God and did not look at the score as I walked from Sutton Bridge to the ornamental lighthouses at the mouth of the Nene.

When I reached them I found we had taken three more wickets, two of them by run outs. Surely evidence of divine intervention?

Put these two factors together and you get this clip from Meades' film Double Dutch which puts him into the landscape I walked through that day.

You also get one of his best visual jokes.

If you want to watch the whole thing, go worship at The Meades Shrine.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Freddie, Fiona and "Gammon!"

The duo who contributed so much to the Liberal Democrats' 2015 general election campaign are back together. How can Brexit possibly resist?


Full of excitement, Fiona rings me to tell me of her latest plan: she and the other members of her new party are to hire a car. “We’re going to Lancashire and Lincolnshire. Or are they the same place? Anyway, the idea is we cruise round and whenever we see someone who looks as they voted Leave we point at them, shout ‘Gammon!’ and roar with laughter.”

I ask if she imagines this will help the forces of light win a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union and she goes rather quiet.

“And what about Freddie?” I then ask. “You two are in different parties now aren’t you?” At this Fiona brightens. “So he’s coming along with us. You see, we have decided to form a coalition.”

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

The wooden knights of Northampton Castle

The ruins of Northampton Castle were cleared in the 19th century to make room for Northampton Castle railway station, which is still open today and just called Northampton.

A gate remains, though it was re-erected away from its original location, and you can find a bit of a mound that looks as though it should have been the castle's motte but wasn't.

The good news is that the wooden sculptures of knights that were once to be found in the town centre have made their way to the castle site.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Paddington to Reading in 1960

In my experience Royal Oak was the best place for trainspotting at Paddington.

I posted the companion video St Pancras to Luton in 1960 last year.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: He later entered the Foreign Office

I never fail to be impressed by the way Lord Bonkers keeps up with the latest news - and the latest ways of making money.


Did you see that that boys at Uppingham are to be allowed to wear skirts? Things were very different when I was a pupil there, though one of my chums did escape by dressing as Matron and got as far as Houghton on the Hill before the rozzers caught up with him. He later entered the Foreign Office.

You may also have read that my firm Rutland Analytica is accused of swinging the result in the last election in the Bonkers Hall ward. What we did, and you have to admit it was Terribly Clever, was to combine different sources of data and use them to send messages carefully designed to appeal to individual voters.

For instance, by studying the electoral register and the accounts of the Bonkers Hall Estate, we were able to find those for whom the message “Your rent falls due on Lady Day: Vote for Lord Bonkers” was particularly pertinent. Really, I can see nothing wrong with this.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Lembit Opik and Parmjit Singh Gill in space

A press release reaches us:
Former Liberal Democrat MPs Lembit Öpik and Parmjit Singh Gill join Conservative MP Nigel Evans as newly elected Members of Parliament for Asgardia, the first space nation. Asgardia recently closed its Parliamentary elections and appointed 147 members to its Parliament, tasked with representing the best interests of over 200,000 Asgardian citizens from all over the world. 
But where, I hear you ask, is Asgardia?

Asgardia: The Space Kingdom explains:
Asgardia will be a fully fledged, independent nation inhabited on a low Earth orbit. It began with a satellite, Asgardia-1, that was launched in 2017, to be followed by an orbital satellite constellation launch in 2019-2020, and later by other satellite constellations and Space Arks, as well as by settlements on the Moon.
I think they have chosen their representatives wisely.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Protesting against "Protest Trump"

The old boy obviously feels strongly about this.


A message arrives from Jo ‘Gloria’ Swinson via the electric Twitter urging me to “Protest Trump”. I send a telegram by return telling her that neither I nor any of my staff will be protesting Trump.

Neither, I point out, will we be wearing plaid trousers or eating grits (whatever they are). The reason I have booked every charabanc in Rutland for that weekend in July is that we are going to protest against Trump.

You will say that ‘protest’ is shorter than ‘protest against’ and that Americanisms always catch on sooner or later – don’t the young people say ‘hoosegow’ and ‘rannygazoo’ all the time nowadays?

But these things matter and if the Liberal Democrats insist upon protesting Trump then I shall have no alternative but to protest against them as well as protest against Trump.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mr Gladstone found alive!

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Behind the falafels

How, I hear you ask, have Freddie and Fiona been getting on? Lord Bonkers has the answer.


Wandering the well-kempt streets of one of London’s more prosperous boroughs, I come upon a superior sort of street market. Among the stalls selling organic coffee and artisan gin, who should I find but my old friend Freddie?

“We’ve started a new political party,” he tells me enthusiastically. “We’re going to unite the centre of British politics and win the next election.”

I ask who he expects will vote for them. “Oh, everybody. You know, sensible people. The sort of people who worked at Liberal Democrat HQ between 2010 and 2015.”

“And is Fiona a member too?” I ask.

“She’s started her own centre party. Their stall is over there behind the falafels.”

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary:

Lord Adonis to debate Brexit in Kettering

Lord Adonis is to take part in a debate on whether there should be a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

The debate will take place at St Peter and St Paul Church in Market Place, Kettering, on Friday 22 June from 7.30 pm.

His opponent will be Philip Hollobone, the town's Conservative MP.

This is a free event, but if you want to attend you must book your place via Eventbrite.