Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sir Alan Ayckbourn

Alan Ayckbourn, the BBC reports, is recovering from a stroke in hospital in Scarborough.

The playwright, of course, is famous for living in the Yorkshire resort and for opening all his plays there. Which reminds me of a funny story...

Ayckbourn was walking along the front there one day, when he was accosted by a stranger.

Mr Ayckbourn, isn't it?

It is.

I was looking at the paper the other day and I noticed that you have two plays running in the West End.

Yes, that's right.

I hope you don't mind me saying so, but you must be doing quite well out of that.

Yes, I suppose I am.

Mr Ayckbourn, there's one thing that's always puzzled me. If you got all this money, why don't you live in Bridlington?

Monday, February 27, 2006

George Galloway on the Danish cartoons

I am told that George Galloway disputes the words that have been attributed to him, so out of fairness and prudence I am withdrawing this post.

Lord Bonkers writes: Do you know Prudence? Lovely girl.

Predicting the leadership contest result

Fancy yourself as a political Mystic Meg?

There are competitions at The Apollo Project and politicalbetting.com.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Political Cartoon Gallery

The Political Cartoon Gallery has opened at 32 Store Street, London WC1, close to Goodge Street Station.

The gallery is open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. – 5.30 p.m. and on Saturdays 11.30 a.m. – 5.30 p.m.

It also has a website.

Ming's Jag

Niles's Blog has the latest developments.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Nanny knows best

Thanks to Simon Titley for drawing this BBC story to my attention:

A Sudanese man has been forced to take a goat as his "wife", after he was caught having sex with the animal.

The goat's owner, Mr Alifi, said he surprised the man with his goat and took him to a council of elders.

They ordered the man, Mr Tombe, to pay a dowry of 15,000 Sudanese dinars ($50) to Mr Alifi.

"We have given him the goat, and as far as we know they are still together," Mr Alifi said.

Leadership polls

This morning's Guardian reports the results of an exit poll conducted at this week's London hustings:

The Guardian's survey of 422 members is the largest conducted to date and offers an indication of the mood of the party, rather than a precise cross-section of opinion. Carried out at the final campaign hustings in London on Thursday, it gives Mr Huhne a clear lead, despite the fact that he was elected to parliament only last May, with 152 first preference votes (36%). Sir Menzies garnered 124 (29%) and Simon Hughes, the party president, 87 (21%). But 59 (14%) of the Lib Dems were still undecided.

If the findings were echoed in the actual ballot, Mr Hughes would be knocked out and the second preference votes of his supporters redistributed to Sir Menzies and Mr Huhne. That would allow Mr Huhne to retain his lead with 184 votes in total, with Sir Menzies relatively close behind on 161 - with 53% and 47% of votes in the final round (thus excluding undecideds in the survey and Hughes supporters who did not indicate a second preference).

The Special Bets site has got hold of somebody's canvass returns:

Special Bets have heard that Menzies Campbell is "marginally" ahead of Chris Huhne with Simon Hughes in 3rd place but "not as far behind as some of the more dire predictions for Simon".

The key piece of information is that among Simon Hughes supporters, their 2nd preferences are very encouraging for Ming - with "Over 60%" expressing Ming as their 2nd preference choice.

The site claims these results have been "adjusted for the natural bias involved with a partisan canvasser". Even so, it hard to know how credence to give them.

Yet more on (Miss) Marple

Will Howells has the latest developments.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Miss Marple heaven

This is what hard-core fans of the real Miss Marple will want.

A box set of all 12 BBC adaptations starring Joan Hickson.

United 4 Belarus

The other day I pointed readers to a posting about Belarus on Cicero's Songs.

Now Liberal Democrat Youth and Students has launched a national campaign "to raise the profile of the last dictatorship in Europe".

Well, you know what they mean. So please visit United 4 Belarus.

(Thanks to Forceful and Moderate.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Other Lib Dem bloggers in the Guardian

My dear, simply everyone is in the Guardian today.

Well, Peter Black and Mary Reid anyway. As well as Lord Bonkers, of course.

Lord Bonkers in the Guardian

Every day the Guardian carries a feature called Today on the Web. It consists of short extracts from blogs on a particular theme. (Ironically it does not appear on the paper's website.)

Today's Today on the Web is on David Irving, and it includes Lord Bonkers' comment on the subject from Monday.



It does not credit the thought to his lordship, and fails to reproduce his characteristic use of capital letters for Very Important Concepts.

So far I have not dared show him the cutting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Thornborough Henges

Good news from North Yorkshire. The county council has turned down a application from Tarmac to increase its quarrying operations near Thornborough Henges.

Thornborough Henges? All you could want to know here.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

An e-mail from David Steel

Yesterday it was Shirley Williams. Today it is David Steel.

Writing of Menzies Campbell, Steel says:
His bad luck was not to enter the Commons earlier than he did in 1987. Had he done so, he would probably have been leader instead of Charles Kennedy and possibly even Paddy Ashdown.
It's hard to resist the thought that it was all our bad luck that Ming did not enter the Commons in 1974. Then he might have been leader instead of David Steel

Britblog Roundup 53

Tim Worstall's weekly selection of the best in British blogging is in place.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

An e-mail from Shirley Williams

Shirley Williams has sent me an e-mail:

Dear Jonathan

I am writing to you to let you know why I am supporting Ming Campbell to become leader of our Party.

Liberal Democrats can celebrate the commitment, talent and hard work of our MPs and peers. These qualities will take us much further given time and experience. Ming Campbell is the leader we need to guide us through the challenging years ahead. Years in which security and liberty need to be carefully balanced...

Enough already.

If liberals accept that there is a simple trade-off between security and liberty - so that the less liberty we have, the more secure we are - then we have already lost the battle.

Someone should have told Mark Oaten this when he was the Lib Dem shadow home secretary. He regularly accepted this view in his speeches in the Commons.

I know he believed in "tough liberalism", but did he really believe that the inhabitants of North Korea are the most secure in the world?

So Shirley's e-mail does not make me wish I had voted for Ming.

Still, it was nice to be reminded on Desert Island Discs the other day that she almost beat Elizabeth Taylor to the plum role in National Velvet while she was evacuated to America during World War II.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Kaliningrad and Belarus

Read Cicero's Songs on the Baltic.

Pink ties excepted

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News.

Is it a coup?

The premier’s jet taxied along the remote African airstrip. Cleared for take off, it gathered speed. Only at the last moment did the pilot notice the flames shooting from one of the engines…

Back home the plotters wasted no time. The new premier forced a bill to bring in identity cards through a cowed parliament. He announced new border controls and plans to put the nation’s youth into uniform.

Living in Britain this week has given us an idea of what is must feel like to live through a coup. It has certainly given us a better idea of what a Gordon Brown government would look like.

And all those on the left who have been hanging on through the Blair years to see Brown become prime minister have had a shock. For, pink ties excepted, it has not been a pretty sight.

For Brown seems even keener on the “War on Terrorism” – 90-day detention and all – than Blair is. And there is plenty more to worry about.

There is his snowplough approach to questioning. Whether he is facing a select committee or John Humphrys, the other guy is never allowed to get a word in.

And there is his extraordinary take on Britishness – a Union Flag to salute in every garden is just the start of it. Brown loves American ways, but this flag-wagging has its origins in nervousness about the West Lothian question.

In the Commons, Scottish and Welsh MPs can vote on measures affecting only England, but their equivalent legislation is debated at Holyrood or Cardiff. This is unsustainable in the long run and leaves a Scottish prime minister presumptive in a delicate position.

The traditional Liberal answer to this is regional government for England, but it is hard to detect much enthusiasm for it amongst the voters – except in Cornwall, where it is not on offer.

Another approach would be to encourage a revival of the more benign side of English nationalism. The Empire, after all, was largely a Scottish enterprise. We English would have been happy to stay at home brewing good ale and perfecting our morris dancing.

Brown’s solution is to wrap himself in the flag. But this will work south of the border. If nothing else, his overenthusiastic patriotism is terribly unEnglish.

Brief Encounter locations

Here is a site telling you all you want to know about Carnforth station and all the other places used in this film.
Fred Jesson: You've been a long way away.
Laura Jesson: Yes.
Fred Jesson: Thank you for coming back to me.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Why I voted for Chris Huhne

Leaving aside personalities and negative points about the other two candidates (as you never should in politics) my chief reason for voting for Chris Huhne was as follows.

The great virtue of Charles Kennedy's leadership was that he was not attracted to alliances, pacts or mergers. He managed to untangle us from the joint Cabinet committee - the last vestige of Paddy Ashdown's Project - without adverse consequences. Under him the Liberal Democrats fought as an independent force.

But his great weakness was a lack of interest in the details of policy. The result was that our shadow ministers went off in their separate directions, following their own instincts or listening to interest groups as the fancy took them.

So it is today that we have a notably dry economic outlook, oppose intervention in Iraq but are quite keen on it elsewhere, oppose choice in the health service, apparently oppose any parental choice between schools and wish to see more state intervention in the family than even New Labour has countenanced. And the list goes on and on.

Some of these policies are right, some are even popular. What is less clear is how they hang together as a programme for government or as a "narrative", to use the vogue word.

Whoever the new leader is, he will have to start forging connections between these disparate elements and encouraging the party to look at some of them again. Of course, whoever that leader is, he may forge connections I do not like or take aim at the wrong sacred cows, but the job has to be done.

My positive reason for voting for Chris Huhne is that, of the three candidates, he is the most likely to have the vision and the intellect to do it. Whatever you think of his support for environmental taxation, this coupling together of environmental and economic policy is just the sort of idea we should be looking at to give our policy platform coherence.

The belief that a party leader should foist his own views on the party is a modern heresy. Liberal Democrat policy must be made by the party as a whole. But after years of laid-back leadership under Charles Kennedy we need someone who can guide policy development and lead us towards the right answers.

I believe Chris Huhne is that man.

How I voted

It was as I expected at the start of the campaign:
  1. Huhne
  2. Campbell
  3. Hughes
Huhne is still clear favourite with the bookies.

Blogcode box and Jawbox

I have added the latest gizmo to this blog - a Blogcode box.

The idea is that it will identify other blogs which may interest my readers. (Er, isn't that my job?)

It seems to work. Already I have used it to come across Jawbox. He is even a Chelsea fan too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Marplestolic succession

In a comment on an earlier posting, Mike Holmans mentions that Agatha Christie herself expressed the wish that the young Joan Hickson would one day play Miss Marple.

You can find the full story here.

Incidentally, my mother used to have a tortoiseshell cat called Miss Marple.

Post offices: Lamb on line

The following e-mail reaches us...

At the spring conference in Harrogate in March, Liberal Democrats will be debating a motion from the Federal Policy Committee calling for reforms to Royal Mail and policies to save the Post Office network.

The proposals for the Royal Mail include plans for shared ownership under which just over half the shares are owned by the staff and the government with the rest sold to small investors and the markets.

The aim is to create a successful Royal Mail that protects services to households and allows the company the full commercial freedom to invest without having to compete with schools and hospitals for government capital.

The funds raised from the sale of shares would be used to create a £2 billion investment fund for the Post Office network - reinvigorating the existing branches and opening new ones where they are needed.

I am very keen to involve members directly in discussions about our proposals and to answer any questions and concerns. To help do this I have set up a web forum linked from my website through which I will be available to answer questions this Thursday 16th February from 6.30pm to 9.30pm.

I would be delighted if you were to visit the site at that time and post any questions or raise any issues. I will be answering as many as I can straight away and posting the answers on the site for people to read.

My website address is: www.normanlamb.org.uk

I look forward to your visiting the forum. You can also see the full text of the motion at the site.

Best wishes

Norman Lamb MP

Lord Bonkers on the leadership election

Lord Bonkers' latest diary has been posted on his website.

Rutland in winter. Earth stands hard as iron and water like a stone; this morning I distinctly heard frosty wind make moan. Snow has fallen, snow on snow – and I shouldn’t be surprised if it fell snow on snow too. All in all, the fields are white as a newly scrubbed orphan.

Good God! Merciful Heavens! I count myself a pretty broad-minded fellow – I went to Uppingham – but really! What has been going on? Kennedy! Rising Star!! The Reverend Hughes???

A hastily scribbled note is brought to me at Bonkers House in Belgrave Square, where I am staying for the week, by a friendly pigeon. It reads: “Help! Clegg and Teather are holding me prisoner. I am being pumped full of monkey glands and they have made me sell the Jag. Ming.” Poor Campbell. As I once observed to him, “the thenzies, Menzies, you are easily led”.

Welcome back Ballygobackwards

One of my favourite satirical websites used to be Ballygobackwards, with its unique take on life in Northern Ireland.

After a long dormant period, it's alive!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

More on Miss Marple

I have been trying to work out why I believe Joan Hickson was a much better Miss Marple than Geraldine McEwan.

In part it is the two performances. McEwan is visibly acting the whole time - all those little smiles and grimaces - whereas Hickson hardly seemed to be acting at all. Outwardly she was all stillness, yet she managed to convey the underlying intelligence and the core of moral steel which brought murderers to justice.

And in part it is the people around them. With some of them now over 20 years old, the Hickson Miss Marples are beginning to look like a late manifestation of the mid-century Britain in which they were set. Such figures as Joan Greenwood and George Baker appear in the cast list; one of the films was even directed by Roy Boulting.

McEwan, by contrast, has to put up with the company of people like Dawn French and Harry Enfield. It's a prejudice of mine, but was there ever a more self-regarding and overrated generation than that which came to prominence in the 1980s? And even if you like these figures, there profile is such that they are always bigger than the characters they play.

I am not a great Agatha Christie fan. Her plots, with their fondness for impersonation of one character by another, are too convoluted. I gather that the Hickson films took some liberties with those plots, and the current series is taking more.

That does not worry me, as I tend to go along with these long crime and detection films for the ride rather than in any serious attempt to solve the mystery. There is nothing like a Morse or a Midsomer Murder to make you forget your troubles, and fidelity to the original novel is not that important as long as it is a pleasant ride.

So my feeling is that Joan Hickson's was an impeccable performance set off by a frequently immaculate supporting cast and sensetive direction. And Geraldine McEwan's is a lesser performance which is often hindered by the setting in which it has been placed.

Common sense on the Iraq video

It comes from the saintly Craig Murray. He writes:

I may surprise you by starting with the observation that, on the scale of violence we have visited on Iraq, this was a negligible incident. People on all sides are dying every day. I have heard enough first hand accounts, from British diplomats and military, from journalists and NGO workers, to know that if it had been U.S. troops facing that mob of stone throwing youths, they would simply have opened fire and blown some of them away. The media would report that another eight “insurgents” had died in a “firefight”; it would be lucky to make a footnote.

If the troops had been mercenaries – and these so-called “PMCs” vastly outnumber the British army in Iraq – it would not have been a video camera but a heavy machine gun shooting from an upper window. In fact, what the soldiers here were doing is exactly what snatch squads did to members of mobs in Northern Ireland for thirty years.

And:

The British troops are in a completely impossible situation. Their role is to support a corrupt and inefficient Iraqi puppet administration which is incapable of exercising control, and would do little for good if it did have control. The vast majority of the Iraqi population do not want us there.

The real good that this video might have done is in driving home to the British public, against the ceaseless propaganda of the mainstream media, that we are not wanted. That stone-throwing crowd were Shias, for God’s sake. The official propaganda says that they are on “our” side.

Gordon Brown skewered

I am trying to write Friday's House Points about Gordon Brown this evening. But it is hard to compete with Brendan O'Neill's article on Spiked.

The pre-speech leaks suggested Brown was going to launch a war of ideas to defeat the terrorists. In fact, he proposed remaking British society to protect against their (vastly exaggerated) threat. He said we need new laws to silence terrorists or their sympathisers, new ID cards to foil them, and a new focus on security in every government department to make sure that they never harm a hair on our heads.

This is not a culture war; it is the cultural equivalent of hiding in the trenches and putting up enough sandbags to keep the enemy at a safe distance. Brown's speech powerfully demonstrated that the real problem today is not a threat from without to our national security, but rather an internal sense of national insecurity - a top-down fear and uncertainty that means the threat of terrorism to society is blown out of all proportion and any Western value worth defending can be sacrificed on the altar of safety.

In this sense, Brown's speech did indeed send a powerful message to the terrorists: if you want to hurt British society, and get us to change our way of life and write off our civil liberties, then just plant a few homemade bombs on the London Underground.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Free speech and progress

Gary Duncan has a good liberal article in The Times this morning:
Freedom of expression has been, and remains, the seedbed from which Western economic, social and scientific advancement has flourished. It has been the catalyst for the prosperity that we all enjoy. In earlier times, too, swaths of the history of economic and technological progress are, in fact, a story of heretical rebellion against dogmatic orthodoxy, and thus a testimony to the power of free expression.
Read it too for the sad story of Thomas Aikenhead, the Scottish theology student executed for blasphemy in 1696.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The (real) Thick Of It

Some things are worth reading even though they are in the Daily Mail.

Like this.

The last word on Dunfermline and West Fife

The Financial Times reports:
The Labour candidate, Catherine Stihler, showed how out of touch she was with the mood of the constituency when she warned supporters on polling day that if they stayed at home "they risked waking up to a Scottish National party MP on Friday morning".

Around the Lib Dem Blogs

The leadership campaign has acted as midwife to a remarkable number of new Lib Dem blogs. Go to Lib Dem Blogs Aggregated for the latest list, but Alex Wilcock's Love and Liberty is particularly worth a visit.

Elsewhere, Iain Sharpe has been saying some nice things about me. Apparently I am "the nice cop ... of Bloggers for Huhne" and even "the world's favourite Liberal Democrat blogger".

But he has also pointed out that I should be very worried that Nanny from Hell Polly Toynbee is also backing Chris Huhne, mentioning a posting I once made about one of her articles.



It is a worry. But my fellow cop James Graham (the nasty one, according to Iain) points to an Observer article which may explain Polly's backing for Huhne. It seems she is a Clapham neighbour of his and a recent dinner party guest.

I would be nervous of having dinner with Toynbee. She might make you eat up all your junket. But perhaps this explains that her support for Huhne owes more to friendship than a shared political vision. I certainly hope this is the case.

Elsewhere, Stephen Tall reprints the top 50 Lib Dem target seats under the new parliamentary boundaries. It's a sign of the times that as many as 22 of them are currently Labour held.

And Femme de Resistance at Forceful and Moderate reports on the BBC Question Time Lib Dem leadership special.

Winter sports latest

Ski-jump flop Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards has branded Scotland's Olympic-winning curlers a bunch of lesbians
says the Daily Record.

Now back to the underwater moguls team competition, where Britain is doing very well in 23rd place.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A sit in at the Star & Garter

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News. This being neutral is killing me.

Standing charge

With the leadership election in full swing, House Points has to be careful. Mention one candidate and you have to mention them all. Pay tribute to Boodle in one sentence, and you are obliged to say nice things about Coodle and Doodle in the next. So I’ll leave you to make up your own minds while I look at parliamentary contests 150 years ago.

In March 1854 the Attorney General brought in a bill to prevent corruption. When you read the evidence quoted in the debate, you can see why.

Canterbury saw bribery on a large scale, but the individual voters had a problem. A lot of the money stuck to the fingers of candidates’ agents and never reached them.

So they cut out the middleman. They took to meeting in a pub and selling their votes en bloc at so much per head. One family was nine or ten strong and always charged £10 per vote. It’s no wonder that in some small boroughs electoral corruption was the inhabitants’ chief source of income.

Cambridge was closely contested in 1845. Realising this, some voters staged a sit in at the Star & Garter unless they were paid. There was a stand off until one of the candidate’s agents came to the pub, called a register of his supporters and handed them a tenner each. Some got their money so late they had to run to arrive in time to vote.

Meanwhile in Essex, two candidates from the same party spent £30,000 on only 845 Maldon electors; £2,150 went on beer alone.

But the most creative voters were those in Barnstaple. One year they were alarmed there were only two candidates for the two-member seat. That meant no contest, and no contest meant no bribes.

The answer was obvious. They met to draw up an advertisement inviting a third person to stand. They did not mind what his politics were. The important thing was that there was a contest. They sent their notice off to The Times, but the unsporting editor refused it.

Purely by coincidence, of course, both Barnstaple and Cambridge are now Liberal Democrat seats. But neither Nick Harvey nor David Howarth is standing for the leadership, so I think it is safe to mention them.

Lib Dems win Dunfermline by-election

The BBC reports:

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have toppled Labour to win the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election.

Candidate Willie Rennie overturned a huge Labour majority in what had been a safe Labour seat.

Returning officer Douglas Sinclair declared that Mr Rennie had secured 12,391 of the votes.

Labour's Catherine Stihler received 10,591. SNP candidate Douglas Chapman was third with 7,261 votes and Scottish Tory Carrie Ruxton secured 2,702 votes.

Will this have any effect on the leadership election? Perhaps.

We were told after Charles Kennedy was bundled out of the leadership that the party was "traumatised" and that we needed Ming Campbell's statesmanship to help us through what was bound to be a difficult period. Senior figures like David Steel even called for him to be elected without a contest.

We heard these calls even more after the fall of Mark Oaten and, to a lesser extent, when Simon Hughes had his troubles with the News of the World.

Well we are not traumatised now. And we are free to vote for whom we want.

And so to bed.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Vince Cable on David Cameron

The Lib Dem shadow chancellor has a thoughtful article in today's Guardian:
It is a long way from the champagne bars of Notting Hill to the bowling clubs of Frinton-on-Sea. By pitching strongly for the first constituency, Cameron may be seriously alienating the second.

Events move on

Overnight another YouGov poll appeared. This one put Chris Huhne in first place, with Ming Campbell second and Simon Hughes third.

The result is that Huhne is now the bookies' favourite.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Oh no it isn't. Oh yes it is

politicalbetting.com has more debate on yesterday's supposed YouGov poll results. Peter Kellner denies these are the right figures, but the site's informant is standing by his claim.

Meanwhile, Chris Huhne can be encouraged by a report in this morning's Times.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A two-horse race?

Guido Fawkes is claiming that YouGuv was commissioned to conduct a poll of Liberal Democrat members and the results came up: Campbell 40, Huhne 34, Hughes 24.

He also claims that these results have not been in the media because they were not to the taste of whoever paid for the poll.

As Quaequam! says, "if true this is nothing but good news for Our Chris".

Later. politicalbetting.com has the story too:

My informant tells me that the survey was commissioned by a wealthy backer of Ming Campbell who is also a big donor and he told me his name.

I was given the figures of Campbell 40%: Huhne 34% and Hughes 24% on first preferences. My information is that while the Hughes second preferences would split in Huhne’s favour they do not split enough for him to win.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Failing health MOTs

Government proposals for people to be given individual health MOTs echo Liberal Democrat policy. No doubt David Cameron's Conservatives will support them too.

But never forget the first law of politics. When people of good will in all parties are united behind a measure it almost always proves disastrous.

So, for a dissident voice, turn to Dr Michael Fitzpatrick on the Spiked website:

The new approach to health and illness marks a dramatic break with tradition - but not a progressive one. In the recent past, health was regarded as the normal state of affairs and illness was considered an exceptional departure from normality, a transient state through which the patient passed - with the blessing of medical authority (even if no great benefit accrued from medical intervention ) - before returning to good health and a familiar level of social functioning.

Now health has become a state that can only be attained through a high level of personal awareness and commitment to a prescribed lifestyle, through intense vigilance against health risks and through a willingness to submit to regular professional intervention in the cause of preventing disease (or at least of detecting it at an early stage).

Esmond Knight

Why not visit the site dedicated to this British actor?

Because I've never heard of him.

Nonsense. He is a notable figure in Shropshire screen history, and he appeared in A Canterbury Tale - recently voted one of my favourite films and also one of the favourites of Peter at The Apollo Project.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Geraldine McEwan is not Miss Marple

Joan Hickson is.

I am trying to watch Sleeping Murder on ITV, but it's just not right.

Such frightful oiks

I have just been watching Boris Johnson on the Roman Empire on BBC2. He argued that the Germanic tribes that overthrew it were motivated, amongst other things, by "chippiness".

So the Vandals, Huns, Goths, Visigoths and Ostrogoths were like grammar school boys who resented the Romans' flashier uniforms and superior sporting facilities?

Priceless.

Hot Lips Mussolini

Except that he played the piano.

Yesterday's issue of The Times carried an obituary of Benito Mussolini's third son Romano, who had a considerable reputation as a jazz musician - and an apologist for his father's dictatorship. Romano was also the father of Alessandra Mussolini, the far-right MEP.

Found via Tim Worstall, who has childhood memories of hearing him play.

Don't do that thing, Ming

Yesterday's Daily Telegraph had an interview with Sir Menzies Campbell. As the accompanying news report says:
The Liberal Democrat leadership contest takes a new twist today, with the front-runner, Sir Menzies Campbell, effectively anointing Nick Clegg as his successor. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the acting party leader says that 39-year-old Mr Clegg - seen by some as the Lib Dem answer to David Cameron - will at some stage be "a very powerful candidate for the leadership".
It happens that I agree that Nick Clegg will make "a very powerful candidate for the leadership". He would have made a very powerful candidate this time. He should have stood. If he had I might well have voted for him.

But the next-leadership-but-one is not in Ming's gift. By hinting that he believes it is, he is doing neither his campaign nor Nick Clegg's reputation any favours.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Chasing nymphs around a pool

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. You may detect echoes of this posting about Bolsover Castle and of half a dozen columns where I have moaned about the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

Olympic dreams

After our recent alarums and excursions, there is something reassuring about questions on culture, media and sport. You know they are going to be a waste of time.

Two Labour backbenchers stood out even amongst Monday’s festival of dross: Natascha Engel and Derek Wyatt. The former has flown beneath the radar of this column up to now. The latter has been one of our heroes because he used to play rugby for England.

Engel asked the question provincial MPs always ask. How will my constituency benefit from the 2012 London Olympics? More precisely, she wanted an Olympic-size swimming pool built in her North-East Derbyshire seat “or perhaps in Bolsover”.

Don’t laugh. There is nothing funny about Bolsover. Life there is not all slagheaps and Dennis Skinner. Before the mines opened at the end of the nineteenth century that part of the East Midlands was an aristocratic playground. And Bolsover Castle, a seventeenth century pleasure-dome, is particularly worth a visit. You could certainly imagine one of the Cavendish family chasing nymphs around a pool.

But nowhere outside London will see much benefit from the Olympics. Security considerations meant all the bidders emphasised how compact their venues were. So Scotland will host no more than a few football matches at Hampden Park and lose anything up to £40m of Lottery sports funding for the privilege.

And Derek Wyatt? He recalled the happy days before fall of Communism when East Germany and the Soviet Union dominated the medals table. “One reason for that was that they tested their young children at school at the ages of seven and 11.” Couldn’t we add heart tests and hand-eye co-ordination tests to children’s new health MOTs and identify future champions?

I have always thought Liberals should worry more about public health policies that we generally do. If they are to be used to pack children off to some New Labour version of East Germany without the steroids, we should be very worried indeed.

Meanwhile, behind the gloss of the Olympics and the funding for elite athletes, things look less healthy. Tessa Jowell boasted that “we have school sport for two hours a week in 64 per cent of our schools”. The more you look at that statistic, the less impressive it becomes.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Amongst my fragrant souvenirs

It's hardly the Shropshire Star, but I have taken to looking at the Hemel Hempstead Gazette site.

Amongst other things, it has some good local history pages. This one looks at Hemel in 1973, which particularly interests me as that is the year I left the town and moved to Leicestershire.

And one item stands out:
    • Herbert Christopher of the Hemel Hempstead Amateur Dramatic Society declared that the town needed a theatre. He said: "What a terrible thing it is to confess that a town beginning to approach 80,000 people does not possess its own theatre." HHAODS went on to buy the former St John's church hall at Boxmoor (now Boxmoor Theatre).
It happens that I have played St John's church hall. Boxmoor County Primary School stood next to it and as the school hall was not remotely large enough for plays or fetes, we put them on in the church hall instead.

In 1970 I played the innkeeper in our nativity play. My great memory of the experience is that I had to look at the Virgin Mary and exclaim: "My God, poor girl, she's half dead." I did so with such conviction that everyone laughed.

That is enough theatrical memoirs for now. But I hope to have my own show on Radio 2 one day.

There is no Lib Dem Orange Order

Andrew Pierce's story in The Times, which I discussed earlier this evening, makes free use of the term "Orange Bookers" to describe the ambitious group of MPs supporting the Campbell campaign.

But that is nonsense. The Orange Book authors included Mark Oaten, and he always intended to stand for the leadership himself. They also include Steve Webb, who is supporting Simon Hughes, Susan Kramer, who is supporting Chris Huhne, and Huhne himself.

It was notable that another of the authors, Paul Marshall, was reported - again by The Times - to be ready to withdraw his funding from the party if Simon Hughes became leader. But if there is an organised Orange Book group behind Menzies Campbell, it contains only a few of the authors.

Besides, the essays in the Orange Book were a more mixed collection than is often thought. I argued this in my review in Liberator when it first came out, and the same line has since been taken by Iain Sharpe and Joe Otten.

So the term "Orange Bookers" does not appeal. Is Pierce taking the pith?

The campaign gets serious

There have been some interesting stories in today's press.

The ePolitix site quotes a Simon Hughes interview with the Evening Standard where Hughes complains that Sir Menzies Campbell was planning his leadership campaign before Charles Kennedy resigned. The story ends:

He said Sir Menzies had been planning his campaign at the same time as publicly pledging loyalty to Kennedy.

"As soon as Charles went, Ming declared within minutes and clearly there was a campaign ready to take off," Hughes told the London Evening Standard.

"I had not anticipated Charles going, never wanted that to happen and had not made any preparations to stand. I had not been planning to stand against Charles."

Hughes also contrasted his own energetic campaigning style with that of the 64-year-old acting leader.

Then there is the intriguing story in this morning's Times, written by Andrew Pierce. It begins:

Chris Huhne, the dark horse for the Liberal Democrat leadership, faces accusations of betraying his colleagues by reneging on a deal not to run in the contest.

The Times has learnt that Mr Huhne, who entered Parliament at the last election, promised in a private meeting with Sir Menzies Campbell that he would not enter the race.

Mr Huhne, a former MEP who is barely known outside Westminster, promised to support Sir Menzies and sealed the deal with a handshake after a 50-minute meeting shortly after the resignation of Charles Kennedy. But barely one hour later Mr Huhne, a Treasury spokesman, returned to Sir Menzies's office in the Commons to declare that he had changed his mind.

His decision not only dismayed Sir Menzies, 64, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, but also caused uproar among the group of young modernising Lib Dem MPs who are seen as future leaders.

We can draw two conclusions from this. First, the Campbell campaign is rattled by the progress Chris Huhne is making; second, that Ming is being poorly advised.

The picture that is emerging is of a group of young MPs who see Ming Campbell as a short-term leader who will fight only one election, leaving them free to thrash the leadership amongst themselves in three or four years time. It is reminiscent of a dealers' ring at an auction.

Charles Kennedy had to go, not so much because of his drinking, but because the party was drifting under his leadership. Would a Ming Campbell leadership on these terms be much of an improvement?

The Times also carries a more sympathetic interview with Huhne, written up by Alice Miles. On this point it says:

They thought there was a deal; he didn't. On the other hand, Sir Menzies's backers only seem to have remembered the supposed agreement now that support for Mr Huhne is growing.

Mr Huhne questioned the value of a leader simply keeping the seat warm for someone younger and fresher to emerge. "The questions are going to be, given the likelihood of what may happen after the next election, how long would Ming be leader after the election? Would he be prepared to fight another election? I think that's very important for the authority of the leader because if a leader is regarded as somebody who is there for a relatively short period of time, there is a danger that they become essentially the chairman of an ongoing leadership campaign amongst all of the young cardinals who are supporting an old pope."

My feeling is still that it would have been better for Nick Clegg (and perhaps one or two of Ming's other backers) to have stood for the leadership this time.

One reason I am supporting Chris Huhne is precisely that he has shown leadership qualities. He has grasped what the party needs and that there is an opportunity open to him and seized the day.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Adrian Sanders on cricket broadcasting rights

The Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay gets it absolutely right:

The ECB should have had more faith in the England cricket team to succeed in the Ashes. A lack of confidence in the England team to inspire the nation and increase interest in the game resulted in a hasty agreement with Sky to end free to air cricket coverage.

Cricket was sold short by its governing body.

For more on this issue, see a posting of mine from December 2004.

Let's get our Willie in

Full details of the Lib Dem campaign in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election can be found here.