Thursday, October 08, 2015

Denis Healey: The Best Prime Minister Labour Never Had?

While Britain watched The Great British Bake Off, BBC2 showed this excellent documentary on the career of Denis Healey.

You can now view it on BBC iPlayer, and I urge you to do so.

The still above shows Ken Livingstone, Tony Benn and a young Jeremy Corbyn during the 1981 deputy leadership election in which Healey narrowly defeated Benn and quite possibly saved the Labour Party.

It seems Corbyn is determined to ensure that achievement is only temporary.

Michelle Thomson was to play a starring role at SNP conference

From the Telegraph website this evening:
Michelle Thomson was due to play a “starring role” alongside Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney winning over the business community at next week’s SNP conference, Labour has said.
The Edinburgh West MP, whose property dealings are the subject of a police investigation over potential mortgage fraud, was due to speak at a fringe event addressing the question: “What is stopping UK businesses from exploring new markets?” 
Labour also published a corporate agenda for the Aberdeen conference showing Mrs Thomson was due to appear at a business breakfast meeting next Friday with Ms Sturgeon followed by a lunch with Mr Swinney, the Deputy First Minister.
Oscar Wilde adds: One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.

A Lib Dem haiku for National Poetry Day

A candidate stands
His deposit flutters off
On the soft May breeze

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

James Fox on Performance

Performance is one of the key British films of the 1960s and James Fox's portrayal of a gangster, all hooded eyes and half-smiles, can be seen in inferior copies to this day.

He recently spoke to the Guardian about making the film:
Playing a gangster was quite a departure for me. I’d mostly played upper-class types. But I’d hung out with Donald Cammell, who wrote the screenplay and co-directed, and I think he’d seen a side of me that said: “James is a raving nutcase, so let’s steer him in the direction of the East End and see what happens.” 
And it worked: I fell in love with my character, Chas Devlin, a south London gangster. I prepared for the role very seriously, even visiting Ronnie Kray in Brixton prison. The meeting was quite formal, though – what we really needed was to talk to people on the outside. 
Much more useful, to perfect the manner and accent, were my visits to the Thomas A Becket pub on Old Kent Road with Johnny Shannon, who played gang boss Harry Flowers. John Bindon, who once dated Christine Keeler and had a role as a violent mobster, also had underworld connections.
Sandy Lieberson, the film's producer, is also interviewed:
Donald Cammell originally envisaged Marlon Brando in the Chas Devlin part, but that was always a bit of a fantasy. We were pretty sure James Fox could pull it off, having seen him in films like The Servant. 
Mick Jagger was on board from the start, and he brought to the role all the fame and notoriety that was attached to his own name at that time. We wanted to exploit his unusualness, the androgynous sexual aura that hung around him – something that’s harder to appreciate now that he’s a grandfather and such a figure of the establishment.
The photograph above shows Fox and Jagger on set.

Now see Jagger sing Memo from Turner from the film.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Six of the Best 543

"It seems to me that the Left's narrative about neoliberalism is too naive to overcome it - it understands none of the appeal of its original ideas. It is somewhat vacuous - a fairy tale about nasty people overturning the great and enlightened Keynesian consensus of 1945." David Boyle says it is time for Liberals to read Hayek again.

Jonathan Fryer reviews a new biography of the Soviet spy Guy Burgess.

"[Joe] Orton’s ‘gutter’ was not the brutal and bustling industrial landscape of the North, but the drab monotony of a comfortable city whose council housing reflected its unimaginative mediocrity." Municipal Dreams on the history of Leicester's Saffron Lane Estate.

Morgan Jeffery asks if Doctor Who is in crisis.

"La Shrubsole ... is, in the parlance of the men’s game, quite a “Big Unit”, but light on her feet with an attractive habit of placing herself in the field by skipping from side to side, with her hands extended horizontally, as though dancing to a rendition of 'Nymphs and Shepherds Come Away' only she can hear." Backwatersman bids farewell to the 2015 cricket season and incidentally explains a famous quotation from F. Scott Fitzgerald.

A London inheritance climbs the Caledonian Park Clock Tower.

Bishop Peter Ball and Elizabeth Butler-Sloss

BBC News reports today:
Sex abuse victims of former Sussex bishop Peter Ball are suing the Church of England for hundreds of thousands of pounds. 
Ball, 83, who admitted offences against 18 teenagers and young men in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, is being sentenced at the Old Bailey on Wednesday.
I am not a believer in conspiracy theories - you don't have to be when evidence of the extraordinary unwillingness of the establishment to see Bishop Ball suffer for his crimes is openly available.

When Peter Ball resigned as Bishop of Gloucester in 1993, after receiving a police caution for committing an act of gross indecency against a teenage trainee monk, he was given a grace and favour house by the Prince of Wales.

In the current court case, a deal with struck with the Crown Prosecution Service. By pleading guilty to the offences for which he will be sentenced tomorrow, he avoided more serious charges.

As the Church Times reports:
Bishop Ball pleaded not guilty, on Tuesday, to indecent assaults on two boys aged 13 and 15 in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to proceed with these charges. 
Phil Johnson, who first made allegations against Bishop Ball in 1996, claims that he was abused at the age of 13. He told The Guardian that he had been “silenced and denied justice”. He has lodged a complaint with the Director of Public Prosecutions and with the Crown Prosecution Service.
You can hear Phil Johnson in the audio recording above.

The other person taking part is Baroness Butler-Sloss, who had conducted an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in the Chichester diocese. Peter Ball was Bishop of Lewes before he went to Gloucester.

As you can hear, Butler-Sloss does all she can to persuade Johnson to agree that Ball should not be mentioned in her report.

Pet bearded dragon Barbara found alive four days after fire at owners' home in Sundridge Park

Well done to Bromley's News Shopper, winner of today's Headline of the Day Award.

I suspect the insurance investigators will want a word with Barbara.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Cat-astrophic closure hits Leicester

Leicester's first cat cafe has closed its doors.

The Mercury reports:
Cats, Cakes and Coffee opened in exclusive Stoneygate at the beginning of August. 
The venue announced on its website on Thursday that it was "ceasing to trade" that day. No reason was given. 
A statement posted online by the café read: "It's been an eventful few months, and to those of us who have supported us we thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

George Osborne first and 10 (whatever that means)

Last week the Guardian told us:
George Osborne wants to have an NFL franchise based permanently in London within the next five years to confirm the city’s status as the “sporting capital of the world”. 
The chancellor met with NFL executives, team owners and former players at Downing Street as the Miami Dolphins prepared to face the New York Jets at Wembley stadium on Sunday. 
Osborne said he would “love to have a team here based in the UK playing in the NFL” and he believed Britain was making steps towards that goal. “The real prize, the real touchdown for London, would be to get a team based here,” he said.
My first reaction is that Osborne should have more important things to do with his time. Bringing an NFL franchise to London is the sort of task that should consume a wacky backbencher, not the chancellor.

But this enthusiasm of his does confirm that he is not a traditional Conservative. If he were, he would be worrying about how to persuade more children to take up rugby or cricket,

To someone of Osborne's cast of mind, America is the future. His enthusiasm for elected mayors, a role unknown in British local government until recently, confirms this.

As I argued in a recent post on a cricket club in David Cameron's constituency, this sets Osborne apart from his prime minister.

But already this enthusiasm for all things American looks dated.

For the group of Tories who produced Britannia Unchained - Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore, Liz Truss - the future is Singapore.

And for the former Liberal Democrat MP Jeremy Browne in his Race Plan, the future is China. That dictatorship makes an odd beacon for 'authentic liberalism'.

Still, Jeremy is not alone. Today Jeremy Hunt expressed the hope that, thanks to cuts in welfare, we would all have to work as hard as the Chinese.

Who knows where the future will pop up next?

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Geordie haka

[The video has disappeared from Youtube, but you can view it here.]

England have gone out of the World Cup.

But we can take comfort in the discovery that the haka originated, not among the Maoris of New Zealand, but in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Alex Salmond banned from flight after booking ticket as Star Trek captain

The Independent wins our coveted Headline of the Day Award.

East Midlands Liberal Democrats Autumn Regional Conference

This event takes place on Saturday 7 November at Derby Moor Community Sports College. Moorway Lane, Littleover, Derby DE23 2FS.

The keynote speakers will be party President Sal Brinton and the blogosphere's own Mark Pack.

Full details and booking information on the East Midland Lib Dems site.

The Clash: Janie Jones

 Last week, when I chose Rooftop Singing by New World, I quoted a site that said:
The pop group New World were tried at the Old Bailey for trying to fix the outcome of the show on which they appeared.
It seems there was rather more to it than that.

In 2012, as news of Jimmy Savile's crimes gripped the nation, Andrew O'Hagan published an extraordinary article on the BBC and child abuse in the London Review of Books.

At one point he said:
Until now, no one thought to examine Children’s Hour and the world around it, much less the payola scandal involving radio DJs in the first flush of Savile’s fame. Janie Jones, a singer, appeared at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in 1973 on 26 charges, which included controlling prostitutes and offering them as bribes ‘to BBC men as inducement to play records’. 
The men in the case were often referred to as Mr Z or Mr Y, or ‘unnamed broadcasters’. The court heard how Mr Y, ‘a television producer’, might have made a 14-year-old girl pregnant and could therefore be blackmailed. Mr X later answered questions about a cheque for £100 he gave to one of the girls but said he didn’t know she was a prostitute. ‘I thought she was much too young to be involved in anything like that,’ he said in court. 
Others remanded on bail included Jack Dabbs, a former producer of the radio programme Worldwide Family Favourites, Len Tucker, a theatrical agent, and several record promoters. 
At the time of the trial arrest warrants were out for members of the New World pop group who had won TV’s Opportunity Knocks ten times. 
The big trial that followed is now forgotten. According to the Times, ‘a shop assistant, aged 18, referred to as Miss G, said at the Central Criminal Court yesterday that Miss Jones said she could get work in modelling and television commercials, but she must play her cards right.’ ‘Playing her cards’ meant going to bed with producers and showbusiness people.
O'Hagan seems to be right when he says this trial has been forgotten. It is surprisingly hard to find out about it or how New World fitted into the more serious charges. My impression is that the band members were not tried and acquitted if they were tried.

To know for sure, you would have to read the memoirs of New World's lead singer John (Fuzzy) Lee

The Needle has published the report of the BBC investigation that took place after the affair. It is so redacted as to be comic.

But there is one undoubted outcome of the affair.

The first track on The Clash's first LP was about Janie Jones and mentioned payola. And it's a lot better than New World.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Denis Healey (1917-2015)

W.G. Grace died at Mottingham in Kent in 1915. Two years later Denis Healey was born there.

Healey was one of the giants of politics in the early 1970s when I started to take an interest in it.

The best tribute and analysis of his career I have seen today is that by Michael White in the Guardian:
By 1945, Healey had already packed in a lifetime of experiences denied to future generations. A beach master in charge of logistics (US actor Lee Marvin was another) at the bloody Anglo-American Anzio landings in Italy (1944), Maj Healey would turn down a lieutenant colonelcy as well as an Oxford fellowship to study the philosophy of art in favour of politics. 
After making a ferocious class warrior’s speech at Labour’s pre-election conference in 1945 (“Your speech may have cost us victory,” he was warned) he narrowly failed to win Tory Pudsey in Clem Attlee’s landslide. 
Losing a marginal seat was probably a lucky escape. He became instead international secretary of the Labour party, nominated by party grandees Hugh Dalton, Harold Laski and Nye Bevan. 
It was a hugely important post when British Labour’s prestige was at its peak in the ruins of post-war Europe, and Healey quickly became a key adviser to the new foreign secretary, the powerful but unlettered Ernie Bevin, writing a stream of pamphlets articulating Bevin’s position against the neutralist and pro-Soviet Left.

Sad news: Market Harborough councillor Pete Callis has died

Pete Callis, Liberal Democrat councillor for Market Harborough's Logan ward on Harborough District Council has died.

He has been one of the members for the ward since 1991 and sat for the town's old West ward between 1979 and 1983.

Pete was also one of the town's county councillors between 1993 and 2009.

My old friend Phil Knowles, leader of our group on Harborough DC, has paid tribute to him:
"Many people in Market Harborough will be deeply shocked by the news of Pete Callis's death. 
"He has been a very long serving and well loved member of the district council. 
"He also represented the town at County Hall for 16 years 
"He had been a friend for more than 30 years. 
"It is very sad news and he will be missed by very many people. 
"Our condolences and thoughts are with Celia and his family at this time."
The Leicester Mercury quotes Blake Pain, the Conservative leader of the council, as saying:
"Our condolences are with Celia and his family. 
"Pete was a man of principles and integrity and represented the interests of his constituents. 
"He was council chairman when I first was elected to the council in 2007. 
"He contributed a great deal to the council and the town."
When I moved back to Harborough in 1984 it was Pete who collected me and all my stuff in his van.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Take the last train to Dufftown

This video shows the last British Rail working on this line, which ran in 1991.

It has since been reopened by enthusiasts as the Keith & Dufftown Railway.

The significance of Charlotte Church on Question Time

I never quite saw the point of Charlotte Church. A young girl who could sound like an adults soprano was remarkable, but why not just listen to an adult soprano?

Boy trebles, by contrast, have a discrete repertoire to sing and their careers are mercifully brief.

Church is still with us and has branched out into politics, aided by Question Time's mania for celebrities.

It is also striking how often these days the people who speak up for the views of the Labour left now come from showbiz.

That trend will only accelerate, given how few Labour MPs share their leader's views. It also seems that expressing left-wing views is now obligatory if you want a career in comedy.

The right-wing alternative, which consisted of people who played golf with Jimmy Tarbuck, seems to have died out in recent years.

Charlotte Church did not enjoy appearing on Question Time last night, but her tweet above is instructive.

Though right-wingers always complain that the show's audience is biased against them, the BBC is at pains to make it representative of the wider public.

So it may not be unfair to see Charlotte Church as experiencing discomfort on encountering the electorate and then retreating to the cosy womb of social media.

There she need meet only people who agree with her.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAs this approach is likely to be typical of the Coybynista in the coming months, it is appropriate that she should represent them on Question Time.

Six of the Best 542

Stephen Tall will be running naked down Whitehall. Well, almost.

"The great thing about the ‘new politics’ – or at least the new politics we have lately been privileged to endure here in Scotland – is that it’s just as fetid and grubby as the old politics it replaced." Alex Massie on life under an SNP government.

Peter Ashley remembers having cider with Laurie Lee.

"Though admirable, longevity is rarely a virtue of good satire. Brass Eye ran for seven episodes, causing more merry hell during that time than HIGNFY has caused in 25 years." David Waywell does not welcome the return of Have I Got News for You.

"Charlie Brown's dog, Snoopy ... reads widely, favouring Leo Tolstoy, Hermann Hesse, and Miss Helen Sweetstory, author of the Bunny-Wunny books." Athar Yawar diagnoses the Peanuts characters for The Lancet.

Victorian Masculinity offers its Top 10 neo-Victorian  novels.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Bonus Secrets of the Underground

I have posted most of their videos about individual lines. Here are some more interesting scraps from Londonist.

The Duke of Rutland is standing in a by-election

Thanks to the people who tweeted me about Britain's most esoteric by-election today.

It is an election to fill a vacancy for a hereditary peer to sit on the crossbenches in the Lords. There is an electorate of 30 and 17 candidates.

One of the candidates is the Duke of Rutland. As his candidature statement (seen above) mentions his membership of Ukip, he would make a funny kind of crossbencher.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Lord Bonkers tells me he went to the bookies today and was offered very long odds on the Duke.

Welcome to the new Liberal Democrat bloggers

Two new blogs appeared on LibDemBlogs in September.

tompkin98blog - written by Thomas Mercer - has been going for a while. Here it is on the refugee crisis:
My opinion is that the UK to an extent needs an influx of younger people within it as the population ages and native born people have less children per household than before. There are skill gaps within our society that can only be plugged by foreign nationals coming in, alongside the fact there are certain jobs within our society natives are not prepared to do but foreign nationals will, low skilled menial jobs many of those natives on benefits refusing to work refuse to do.
I particularly like the way he end each post with "Thanks for Reading".

The other new blog is James' Political Ramblings, written by James O'Neill. There is just one post so far: a trenchant one on Labour's new leader:
All the evidence points to Mr Corbyn being a threat to the United Kingdom. My reasoning for this is threefold: first is his commitment not to launch airstrikes on the so-called Islamic State in Syria. Second is his complete disdain for the majority held view in Northern Ireland: that Northern Ireland should remain a part of the United Kingdom. Third is his economics and his absolutely abysmal decision to appoint John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor.
If you have a new blog you would like to appear here next month, please add it to LibDemBlogs.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Vanished Leicester: Emmanuel Baptist Church (1965)

Copyright © Dennis Calow

The University of Leicester Special Collections site labels this as "Emanuel Baptist Church, New Park Road".

But it is clearly the same church I have twice blogged about, saying it was in Leamington Street. Perhaps it was on the corner?

Anyway, here it is again photographed some years earlier, complete with a very 1965 car and small boy.

People who never lived in Harborough: 1. Graham Chapman

Game Show Host: Good evening and welcome to Stake Your Claim. First this evening we have Mr Norman Voles of Gravesend who claims he wrote all Shakespeare's works. Mr Voles, I understand you claim that you wrote all those plays normally attributed to Shakespeare? 
Voles: That is correct. I wrote all his plays and my wife and I wrote his sonnets. 
Host: Mr Voles, these plays are known to have been performed in the early 17th century. How old are you, Mr Voles? 
Voles: 43. 
Host: Well, how is it possible for you to have written plays performed over 300 years before you were born? 
Voles: Ah well. This is where my claim falls to the ground. 
Host: Ah! 
Voles: There's no possible way of answering that argument, I'm afraid. I was only hoping you would not make that particular point, but I can see you're more than a match for me!

Graham Chapman never lived in Market Harborough, so there will not be a plaque in his honour put up here.

The reason this story came to be published is a moral tale about, not just the credulity of this blogger, but also the limitations of local newspapers.

There is going to be a plaque on Catherwood House on The Square, the home of Caffe Nero. But it will be in honour of the town's Nobel Prize winner William Bragg.

The local council announced the news on its website and included a mocked up image of what it will look like. They used a picture of the existing plaque to Chapman in Melton Mowbray.

Someone at the Harborough Mail saw it and assumed that Chapman had once lived here.

These days the Mail is edited from Kettering or Daventry or somewhere even further afield. The days when it had an editor who knew everyone in town and could check a story like this with one phonce call are long past.

My own excuse was that I knew Chapman's father had been a police office and had lived at various places across the county.

And, years ago, I was interviewed on BBC Radio Leicester about comedy writing. At one point the interviewer mentioned that Graham Chapman had come from Market Harborough.

I thought he meant Melton, but I was too polite to contradict him and he did plant the seed of the idea in my mind.

That, and it was a nice sunny idea so I thought I would go and photograph Catherwood House and use it in a blog post.

Thanks for various local tweeters.

Norman Baker talks to Andrew Neil and the Sussex Express

Norman Baker was on the Daily Politics last week talking about life as a Coalition minister. You can see the interview above.

He has also been talking to the Sussex Express:
To many people Norman Baker is as authentic a part of Lewes as the Castle or the Brewery, epitomising the county town the way, for example, Jilly Cooper epitomises the shires or Pam Ayres epitomised Norfolk [the geography a bit off in both cases]
Against the Grain is the perfect title for his biography. 
Like Lewes, he is slightly bohemian (not for effect), plain speaking, anti-authoritarian, quirky and possibly an uncomfortable political bedfellow. (David Cameron memorably described him as ‘the most annoying man in Parliament’). Times columnist Matthew Parris called him ‘a classic House of Commons bore’ but also said: ‘you underestimate him at your peril.’ 
His book is full of astonishing revelations and the most wonderful, insightful gossip. Did he keep a diary? “No, I collected press cuttings, partly because it was a defence if someone said: ‘You said that’ and I knew I had not but also partly because at that stage I thought I might write something. 
“I also had access to papers, particularly for the Ministry of Transport but while at the Home Office I decided I would keep detailed notes.” 
His book vividly describes his early territory as a local councillor, and later an MP representing – among other villages – Glynde and Firle. “In the Civic War, Firle was Royalist and Glynde was Parliamentarian – I think they still see it in that way a little.”
I am sure Norman would like me to point out that Against the Grain is published by Biteback.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Steam on the Lynton & Barnstaple

Sixteen minutes of narrow-gauge goodness, filmed on Sunday.

The  Lynton & Barnstaple Railway opened in May 1898. It was taken over by the Southern Railway in 1922, closed in 1935 and partially reopened in recent years.

Read about the progress with restoration.

SNP MP withdraws from party whip as police probe property deals

From STV News this evening:
MP Michelle Thomson has withdrawn from the SNP whip after police launched an investigation into property deals conducted by her lawyer. 
The MP's solicitor was struck off by the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal over several deals where Mrs Thomson used his services. 
After that ruling, Police Scotland has confirmed it was instructed by the Crown Office to investigate “alleged irregularities relating to property deals" in 2010 and 2011 following the Tribunal ruling. 
Mrs Thomson insisted she would cooperate with any investigation into the deals but said she would withdraw from the party whip as the probe was ongoing.
Michelle Thomson is MP for Edinbugh West, a seat held by the Liberal Democrats before May's general election.

Jeremy Corbyn did once welcome the prospect of an asteroid wiping out humanity

Jeremy Corbyn began his first speech as leader to a Labour Party Conference like this:
You might have noticed in some of our newspapers they’ve taken a bit of an interest in me lately. Some of the things I’ve read are this. According to one headline: "Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the prospect of an asteroid ‘wiping out’ humanity.” 
Now, asteroids are pretty controversial. It’s not the kind of policy I’d want this party to adopt without a full debate in conference. So can we have the debate later in the week!
How the audience laughed!

Except that Jeremy Corbyn did once welcome the prospect of an asteroid wiping our humanity.

In May 2004 he put his name to Commons early day motion 1255, which is worth quoting in full:
That this House is appalled, but barely surprised, at the revelations in M15 files regarding the bizarre and inhumane proposals to use pigeons as flying bombs; recognises the important and live-saving role of carrier pigeons in two world wars and wonders at the lack of gratitude towards these gentle creatures; and believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again.
There were only three signatories: the late Tony Banks, Corbyn and his new shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

This a minor point, but it does point to important truths about Labour today.

The first is their seething hatred for the press. After more than 30 years in the wilderness, how does Corbyn begin a speech he can hardly of dreamt of making? By attacking the press.

He must also have been sure this would get the audience on his side from the start.

And the second truth is that many of the 'smears' that Corbyn supporters complain of are nothing of the sort. They are simply his own words being quoted back at him.