Thursday, September 24, 2020

Download the new Liberator free of charge to read what's really going on in the Lib Dems

The new Liberator - the first online-only issue of the magazine - can be downloaded free, gratis and for nothing.

While you are on the Liberator website you can sign up for its email newsletter so you will know as soon as a new issue is posted.

The magazine always carries a wide range of articles, but I usually turn first to Radical Bulletin, which has news about the Liberal Democrats that you will not find anywhere else. 

This time, for instance, you can learn who funded the two leadership candidates' campaigns, what went wrong with the selection of the party's London mayoral candidate and how our internal disciplinary mechanism is being choked with minor complaints.

In case that all sounds good too be true, tomorrow I shall start posting Lord Bonkers' Diary from the new Liberator.

Why it's a smart move for Hutchison Ports to pay Chris Grayling £100,000 a year

There's been a lot of adverse comment about the decision by Hutchison Ports to pay Chris Grayling £100,000 for seven hours' work a week for a year.

Critics point out that the firm with no ships that Grayling hired to run ferries in case of a no-deal Brexit has gone bust this week owing £2m. But they are missing the point.

What Hutchison Ports will undoubtedly be doing is listening to Grayling's advice and then doing the precise opposite of what he recommends.

So £100,000 represents excellent value for the company's shareholders. I may invest in it myself.

Six of the Best 961

"A basic income will be the best, fairest and simplest way to safeguard the most vulnerable in society and care for those who need it." Christine Jardine writes for the Daily Mirror.

Stephen Bush reviews two books on Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.

"I’ve been threatened numerous times during the course of my career but now face a daily barrage of abuse - from being threatened with rape to personal attacks on my appearance. I live in the community I work in, as do many of our reporters. Yet we do not feel safe." Behind Local News reveals the onslaught of online abuse journalists now face.

Rachel Aldred and Anna Goodman find that the low-traffic neighbourhoods scheme implemented in outer London has led to decreased car ownership and use and to increased active travel.

"The most remarkable features of the ‘vision’, apart from a failure to mention the original purpose of the National Trust and the reasons for more than a century of bequests to it, are an insulting assessment of its public, a blithe confidence in its powers of clairvoyance, and a slick, obfuscatory jargon." Nicholas Penny is not impressed by the National Trust's new vision.

"So Andrey Tarkovsky loved Star Wars?" The director's son talks to Max Dax.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The tidal Thames in colour (1935)


In this 1935 colour film we follow the tidal Thames downstream from Teddington through the Pool of London to Docklands and beyond. (A comment on YouTube identifies the locations and vessels for us.)

It all looks beautiful, though I doubt the river was terribly clean in 1935, but the choice of music makes the film seem even longer older than it is.

I recall a series of videos (now vanished) that showed footage of the last days of British steam accompanied by Motown classics and other music that was in the charts in those years.

As so much of that music still sounds modern, it was a counterbalance to easy nostalgia. Here the music pushes down that side of the scales hard.

Thanks to Isle of Dogs Life.

Is social class the elephant in the Liberal Democrat room?

One of the best things about our party is that we are so sensitive to the many reasons that people can suffer discrimination.

Yet I cannot recall any Liberal Democrat blogger or tweeter noting that, after two consecutive Lib Dem leaders educated in state schools, this year saw a contest in which both candidates has been privately educated.

Is social class the elephant in the Liberal Democrat room?

At least 2020 did not see a contest where the two candidates had been to the same expensive school. This happened when Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne disputed the party leadership in 2007.

Police may patrol Kent border after Brexit


Today's news that, as far as hauliers are concerned, there will be customs posts at the Kent border is not news as far as readers of this blog are concerned.

Because I wrote about it at the start of last month:
That's right. Brexit won't just introduce a hard border with our European neighbours: it will, as far as hauliers are concerned. introduce borders within the UK.

Why didn't business leaders speak out sooner? We heard little from during the referendum campaign.

I suspect they could not believe any government could be this mad.
At least the haulage industry is speaking up today.

Politics Home quotes Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association:
"We already know this. It’s what we’ve been saying for many months. We know that traders and haulage operators will face new customs controls and processes and we know that if they haven’t completed the right paperwork their goods will be stopped when entering the EU.

"Mr Gove stresses that it’s essential that traders act now to get ready for new the formalities. We know for a fact that they are only too keen to be ready 

but how on earth can they prepare when there is still no clarity as to what they need to do?
"Government’s promises that the UK will be ready for business on 1 January are just a whitewash, and right now it appears that traders and haulage operators are being left to carry the can."

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The abandoned copper mines of Alderley Edge


Martin Zero is our guide into and under Alan Garner country.

A competition for young nature writers

My Wildlife, a free-to-enter competition, is looking for writing by young people on the theme of nature. There are two age categories: 8-10 and 11-16 years. 

Writing can be in almost any form, including descriptive pieces, short stories, personal reflections, letters, journalism, diaries and accounts - fact or fiction. The organisers are not looking for poetry or plays.

Mike Pringle, director of the Richard Jefferies Museum at Swindon, is one of the organisers of the competition.

He told the Swindon Advertiser:

"When the Covid-19 crisis struck, many of us realised just how precious nature – the great outdoors – is and how much it can do for our wellbeing.

"Our learning officer suggested that maybe we should let young people tell us what they think of it, and the competition was born."

You can find full details of the competition, which closes on Friday 27 November, on the Richard Jefferies Museum website.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Christmas 1959 in Nottingham

It's 1959 and, says the blurb on the British Film Institute site, Beryl Reid is on at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, a trolley bus passes the Palais de Danse and the Christmas tree is present and correct in Old Market Square. 

Most intriguing of all are the Nottingham characters posing for the camera at the start of this amateur reel shot by local filmmaker F. Pole. A forgotten fragment of 1950s life preserved for posterity.

Click on the image above to view this film on the BFI site.

When John Pugh quoted Evelyn Waugh in the Commons

Yesterday I posted my answers to a short questionnaire about some of my favourite and least favourite reading

One of the books I mentioned was Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall, and today I found this comment on that post:

Waugh's "Decline and Fall" is a good choice. I once used it in the Commons debate on the Academies Bill to general mystification as no-one who would have read it could have missed the irony of that particular proposal. Philistines !

"The Bill suggests that simply calling schools academies without the dosh will work some special magic. I am personally intrigued by this relabelling exercise.

There may be a day when simply calling an institution a "school" might be some sort of insult or an indication of failure. I do not know whether other hon. Members have read Evelyn Waugh's "Decline and Fall" but in it the hapless Paul Pennyfeather seeks a teaching job through an agency having been expelled from Oxford. He is told by the man at the agency:

"We class schools...into...Leading School, First-rate School, Good School and School. Frankly...School is pretty bad".

Interestingly enough, Waugh's unfortunate character Paul Pennyfeather was expelled from Oxford for indecency, having been de-bagged by drunken members of what Waugh calls the Bollinger Club. There is a slight resonance in that.

The comment was anonymous but a search of Hansard revealed that my hunch was correct: the writer was the former Liberal Democrat MP for Southport, John Pugh.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Luisa Porritt talks to the Ham & High

Tomorrow's Hampstead & Highgate Express has an interview with Luisa Porritt, who is certain to be named as the new Liberal Democrat candidate for the London mayoral election:

The Lib Dem has spent most of her life in London. She was born at the Royal Free Hospital and grew up in Camden. While she will inherit part of the manifesto that Ms Benita was set to run on, she refers to her experiences in London that underpins her initial pitch to voters. 

She hits out at the "kleptocracy" behind empty homes in the capital and says Sadiq Khan hasn’t done enough to protect free travel for under-18s in the recent government bailout of Transport for London. There’s also perhaps a glimpse of a potential campaign slogan, returning to themes that London needs to be "safer, fairer, and greener".

"That encapsulates the key challenge we’re facing," the 33-year-old said. "Whether we’re tackling air pollution or making young people in London feel safe. It is utterly tragic, and I don’t want to keep opening a newspaper and hearing about another young person who has died unnecessarily. Sadiq Khan has a poor record on that."

Dickens, T.H. White and Susan Hill

In the October 2019 issue of Clinical Psychology Forum I answered a few questions about my taste in books for its Books R Us feature.

The book you most often recommend

When I tell people they should read Dickens, which is often, it is Great Expectations I recommend. It is of manageable length, extremely good and contains all the Dickensian themes you could wish for.

The book you should have read but didn't get round to

It’s a long list - as, more shamingly, is the list of books I have started but not persevered with - but at the top is War and Peace.

The book you wish you had written

Ultimately, of course, it’s just Cinderella for boys, but I admire T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone inordinately. It is funny and sad, wise and silly, steeped in history and turns anachronism into an art form.

The book you wish hadn't been written

Wishing books hadn’t been written is not so far from wanting to burn them, so let’s talk about books I wish I hadn’t read. Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler crime novels are a recent example. I tried one and found I was supposed to care more about the careers of the detective’s extended middle-class family than I was about the fate of the abducted child. What really shocked me was the disregard of the rules of the genre. I tried another to see if it was better. It wasn’t.

The funniest book you know

The older I get, the more I appreciate wit employed in writing with a serious purpose. Paradoxically, setting out to be funny for the sake of it feels cold blooded. So let me choose a young man’s book: Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh.

The Kinks: You Really Got Me



Released in August 1964, this may well be the most influential British single as its power chords were later to influence both heavy metal and punk rock.

But then there is something very punk about You Really Got Me's genesis: its novel distorted guitar sound was achieved by taking a razor blade to Dave Davies' amplifier. Characteristically, he and his brother Ray cannot agree on whose idea this was.

Some believe that Jimmy Page played the guitar solo here, but both he and Dave Davies deny this.

Kara Jayne writes:
It’s been argued that perhaps the persistent Jimmy Page rumour was fostered by the established British rhythm and blues community that simply couldn’t fathom that an upstart band of teenagers could produce such a powerful and influential guitar track, seemingly out of nowhere.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Canadian police make arrests as tempers flare in lobster feud






Our Headline of the Day Award goes to BBC News.

Dire Straits, Market Harborough and the decline of branch banking

Over to Leicestershire La La La:

Multi-platinum Dire Straits’ bassist Jon Illsley was born in Leicester on June 24, 1949. He spent five years in the city before his father accepted the post of Westminster Bank deputy manager in Market Harborough and the family moved to Shrewsbury Avenue, Little Bowden.

Surrounded by fields and once fond of fishing for sticklebacks in the nearby River Jordan, Jon had what he described as an “idyllic” childhood. No, it doesn’t sound very rock, does it? Dire Straits formed in John’s flat in London in ‘76 in the middle of a punk revolution. Back then Pick Withers, another Leicester native, was their drummer.

Regular readers will be familiar with the Jordan, but here is Shrewsbury Avenue.

What interests me about this report is that

  • the Westminster Bank was once an independent concern (it merged with the National Provincial Bank in 1968)
  • local branches once had not only managers but deputy managers too
  • the job paid so well that you could afford to live on an unadopted road

Years ago, when I had an important letter to post I had a superstition that led me to climb the hill and use the little box you see in the photo above.

Government looking at electrification north of Market Harborough

During the last general election campaign Boris Johnson blurted out a promise to electrify the whole of the Midland main line.

Under present plans the wires will stop at Market Harborough.

On Thursday the Nottingham Labour MP Alex Norris asked the transport minister Andrew Stephenson what was being done to keep this commitment.

Stephenson replied:

Further electrification of the midland main line is currently at an early stage, but it is being examined by Network Rail. The Department will continue to work closely with Network Rail on the development of a proposal for this, including approaches to advancing the delivery of electrification across the route.

That doesn't sound very committal to me, but someone has got very excited by it:

Midlands Connect Director Maria Machancoses has welcomed news that the government is for the first time in 3 years looking again at electrifying the Midland Main Line.

Maria called the news a ‘massive boost for the region’ and a key step towards a ‘Midlands rail revolution’ allowing us to be better connected whilst decarbonising the network sooner.

We shall see.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Finsbury Park to Moorgate: The lost Tube line

Jago Hazzard relates the history of the Northern City Line from Finsbury Park to Moorgate.

He does not mention it, but the former Gainsborough Studios building in Islington, which turned up on this blog recently, was originally the power station for this line.

Six of the Best 960

"Through the long Covid months, it was only England that Boris spoke for, and spoke to, at those teatime briefings from Downing Street. Meanwhile, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland did their own devolved things." Neal Ascherson foresees the end of the United Kingdom.

Andrew Page presents 25 unquestionable benefits of Brexit - hear him.

We need to overhaul what we grow, and how and where we grow it, if we are to make the most of our land and fight climate change, says Natalie Bennett.

"Craigie was contributing to a new environment that encouraged the formation of modern identities for young women, who would write in with their problems, escape into the worlds of torrid romance stories, compare their lives to those of the stars or fashion their own appearances and lifestyles based on beauty, health and relationship advice." Hollie Price looks at the early journalistic career of the film documentary maker Jill Craigie (who later married Michael Foot).

"Though they come to us via our hubbub-filled Instagram feeds, these stand-alone pictures are as quietly stunning as any made by our greatest American artists of alienation and loneliness, from Edward Hopper to Arthur Dove." Naomi Fry appreciates The Simpsons as art.

Mark Valladeres tours Suffolk by public transport.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Market Harborough has a Poets Estate too

He walked down Coleridge Close, turned right into Tennyson Avenue, then left into Wordsworth Drive, and down the snicket into Station Road.

It isn't only Reginald Perrin's Climthorpe that has a Poets Estate. Today I explored one of the many parts of Market Harborough that didn't used to be there and came across this collection of roads.



Jeremy Corbyn, Seumas Milne and Claire Fox

Embed from Getty Images

The final item in Kevin Maguire's latest Commons Confidential column for the New Statesman reveals the existence of a hitherto undiscovered circle of hell:

Labour criticising Johnson’s award of a peerage for the Brexit Party’s Claire Fox, who once said she didn’t think child porn ought to be removed from the internet and has in the past defended the IRA, prompted a senior figure to recall Jeremy Corbyn halting an onslaught against the ex-MEP. 
Printed leaflets highlighting her record were pulped instead of being delivered on polling day in the 2019 Peterborough by-election. Disgruntled Labour campaigners suspected that Seumas Milne’s friendship with Baroness Brexit kiboshed the plan.

More than 200 naked convicts on the run after prison escape in Uganda

Sky News streaks off with our Headline of the Day Award.

Responsible Child is back on the BBC iPlayer


The Liberal Democrat peer Navnit Dholakia has long been campaigning to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Britain. It is currently 10, which is low by international standards.

Before a general election was called for last December, Lord Dholakia had succeeded in taking a bill through the Lords to raise the age to 12.

This debate was dramatised in the play Responsible Child, which received a BAFTA nomination for the best single television drama of 2019.

Responsible Child has reappeared on the BBC iPlayer, where it will be available for at least the next year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Introducing Ealing Studios

This video was made by the British Film Institute. Its blurb on YouTube runs:

What makes a film an 'Ealing' film?  Why should we cry at 'Mandy'? What has 'The Man in the White Suit' got to do with the atomic bomb? And what might Ealing films teach us about the world today? 

In this short video find out why Ealing Studios are so important in the history of filmmaking with broadcaster Matthew Sweet and BFI curator Mark Duguid.

Across the fields from Great Bowden to Market Harborough

The best walk back to Market Harborough from Great Bowden is the path across the fields. A history history teacher once told me that it used to be the main route between the two settlements - it also formed part of our school cross-country course.

On Saturday there were bulls in two of the fields it crosses, but they ignored me. Perhaps they were too busy admiring the pattern of ridge and furrow left by medieval ploughing?




Tuesday, September 15, 2020

City A.M. alleges Sangeeta Siddhu-Robb “bought her way in" to Lib Dem London mayoral election

From City A.M. this evening:

Sangeeta Siddhu-Robb, a millionaire businesswoman, was yesterday forced to drop out of the race to be the Liberal Democrats’ [London] mayoral candidate, after it was revealed she had delivered a public antisemitic tirade in 1997. ...

Liberal Democrat insiders have said Siddhu-Robb was chosen for the party’s shortlist for her potential to inject the party with sorely needed funding, meaning she effectively "bought her way in".

This confirms my view that the unsuitability of Siddhu-Robb as a candidate should have been revealed before her name reached the selection committee.

The report goes on to quote someone from Siobhan Benita's campaign - she recently stood down as the Lib Dem mayoral candidate and resigned from the party.

Its source says a large reason behind Benita’s decision was because the party was

"skewing its process of choosing candidates so they can get funds in” with Siddhu-Robb being a prime example.

"We were introduced to Geeta [Siddhu-Robb] as a donor of the party and someone from that wing,” they said.

"They wanted her to be a candidate so she could bring in money and wealthy connections, but there wasn’t proper scrutiny of her. 

"There’s just a serious lack of professionalism."

The Grantham Canal from West Bridgford to Cotgrave


I have been to Meadow Lane Lock and found the start of the Grantham Canal on the opposite side of the Trent.

This video takes you a whole lot further, following the remains of the canal as far as Cotgrave.

The Conservative Party is following the doomed path of all revolutionaries

Four years ago, after a meeting of Corbyn supporters had booed the name of Sadiq Khan, I wrote a post saying Corbyn's revolution was following the logic of all revolutions.

In it I quoted the philosopher and broadcaster Bryan Magee:

There is a situational logic to revolutions. Disparate groups unite to overthrow an existing regime, but once they have succeeded in doing so the cause that brought them together has gone, and they then fight one another to fill the power vacuum that they themselves have created. These internecine struggles, usually savage, among erstwhile allies perpetuate the revolutionary breakdown of society far beyond the overthrow of the old regime, and delay the establishment of a new order. 

As you can see from the tweet above, the same thing is now happening to the Conservatives.

Tim Montgomerie, as editor of Conservative Home and chief of staff of Iain Duncan Smith, was at the forefront of the revolution that saw the Conservative Party stop being Conservative and instead become an alliance between the forces of global capital and terminally aggrieved voters.

But that will not save him. It's off to the tumbrils in the morning.

Ships to tie up at Shrewsbury bus station

Red faces at BBC Shropshire today.

I have a soft spot for Shrewsbury bus station, as it's where you set off for Church Stretton, Stiperstones and Bishop's Castle, but it will be good to see the Severn made navigable again this far upstream.

To be serious for a moment, you can read about the now defunct Severn Navigation Restoration Trust online.

Thanks to a vigilant reader.

Six of the Best 959

"The party needs a degree of national strength and purpose if it is to present a convincing local challenge anywhere. To do so it needs to champion causes that the Conservatives and Labour are ignoring, but which are both popular and highlight the party’s values. Matthew Green on the Liberal Democrats' search for a strategy.

"Britain is a country where food poverty is an almost invisible national scandal. Almost invisible because, although we see the food bank boxes at the end of the supermarket checkouts when we shop, the people who are going hungry tend to tuck themselves away. The stigma and shame of poverty, and of not being able to afford to feed yourself and your family, means that people sometimes don’t seek help, they don’t talk about their situation." Jack Monroe says no one who has experienced food poverty would stand by and let it spread.

"The UK leaving the EU meant that there would have to be a customs border somewhere between the UK and Ireland, either on land, between Northern Ireland and the Republic, or in the sea, between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Once the UK was outside the single market and customs union, there would have to be import/export paperwork, border formalities and checks somewhere between the two." Flip Chart Fairy Tales makes clear Boris Johnson's continuing refusal to face reality.

Richard Byng asks if we should halt the rise in the prescribing of drugs for pain and distress.

In January 1943, a daylight German bombing raid killed 38 children and six teachers at Sandhurst Road School, Catford. Running Past tells the story.

Reggie Unthank takes us to the planes of Norwich.