Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Brideshead Revisited

Prompted by the new film version, Peter Bradshaw writes about the effect of the 1980s television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited on a generation of young Tories:

A whole generation of appalling 80s Oxbridge hoorays, culminating in the Bullingdon Club of David Cameron and Boris Johnson, found in it a manifesto for escapist self-love and this came down to the fact that it was a fantasy that was affordable.

Everyone was on grants. Brideshead Revisited was the Full Grant Fantasy Epic, as redolent of the 80s as Beverly Hills Cop. The awful truth was that the predominantly middle-class strivers of 80s Oxbridge were often financially as well off, or perhaps even better off in ready cash terms, than Sebastian and Charles were in the 20s - during university term-time at any rate. Their income was regular, independent of family whim, guaranteed by the state and fees were paid off at source.

He goes on, including a link to that strangely elusive photograph:
That excruciatingly embarrassing group picture of the 1987 Bullingdon Club (Evelyn Waugh called it the "Bollinger" in Decline And Fall) featuring David, Boris et al, striking silly poses, is essentially a picture of tragic middle-class wish-fulfilment.

They and others of similar interests could wear silly tail-coats or other accoutrements and get drunk at local restaurants, and when the vac came - well, it was not a question of motoring to Brideshead, or even to Charles's picturesque and elegant world of loneliness, but in most cases a National Express coach to a nice house in the suburbs, and the stable, uncool family which underpinned the aspirational, exam-passing commitment that got you to the dreaming spires in the first place.

Hazel Blears and Stephen Pound: Film stars

The latest Calder's Comfort Farm can be found on the New Statesman website:
I have been told that Glenda Jackson, an obscure backbencher who was briefly a transport minister, appeared in a film once. It sounds unlikely to me.

Britblog Roundup 189

At A Very British Dude.

The Financial Times on Black Monday

A Berlin government official, asked about the general situation, told the FT: "We are walking on the edge. This is a really, really serious situation and we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. The catastrophe we've just averted with this bailout may still happen in the end. No one can say."
Read the full report.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The disappearance of the building societies

Chris Dillow writes at Stumbling and Mumbling:

Bradford and Bingley lived for 149 years as a mutual company. It lasted just eight years as a quoted firm. Halifax survived for 144 years as a mutual, but just 11 as a quoted company. Northern Rock lasted 157 years as a mutual, 11 as a quoted.

Not a single building society that demutualized in the 90s now survives as an independent company.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

He goes on to discuss possible reasons why the building societies have done so badly as quoted companies.

On a personal note, my mortgage was originally with the Leeds Permanent. It was taken over by the Halifax, which soon afterwards demutualised and turned itself into a bank. I received shares which I promptly sold, despite being told by someone that keeping them was a "no brainer". I am feeling rather pleased with my judgement now.

Chris Huhne supports Ros Scott for Lib Dem President



Watch his video on Ros's campaign website.

Michael Meadowcroft learns the nature of local radio

Martin Kelner has a piece in the Guardian Media section today that mentions his time in local radio. He remembers presenting an evening show for several northern local radio stations that combined news and sport:

My guest was the former Liberal MP Michael Meadowcroft, newly returned from former Yugoslavia, where he had been advising on how democracy could be brought to the region.

Alongside my conversation with Meadowcroft, I was to take regular reports from numerous midweek football matches across the north. While I was lining up the football reports, I half-listened to the internationally renowned expert on democracy explaining how unstable the situation is in the Balkans, and how it was essential for the future of Europe that a lasting peace was achieved.

"The Balkans," he said, "is where the flame was lit that ignited the Great War, and it is no exaggeration to say that if we do not get this right, it could lead to a confrontation from which the world might not recover."

To which I responded with the immortal words: "I'm afraid I'm going to have to interrupt you there, there's been a goal at Chesterfield."

Adil Rashid continues to improve

Time for an update on this blog's great hope for English cricket: Adil Rashid, Yorkshire's 20-year-old leg spinner.

Rashid was awarded his county cap a couple of week ago. Then, in the match against Sussex at Hove, where Yorkshire were fighting against relegation from the first division, he scored a career best 111 before taking 7-136 in the Sussex second innings. The result was that he finished as the third highest wicket taker for the English season.

The sage of Taunton, Vic Marks, writes about the selection of the England party to tour India this winter:

The second spinner is likely to be Graeme Swann. Yorkshire's Adil Rashid continues to advance, but the word is that he will not be selected yet and that he will benefit from more grooming.

There is the consolation that the Aussies would love to have an Adil Rashid learning his trade in state cricket. They have just plucked out the 36-year-old wrist spinner Bryce McGain for their tour of India. McGain has played 19 first-class matches in his life.

The economic crisis is a tough test for David Cameron

Yesterday morning Iain Dale looked forward to the Conservative Conference:
I shan't shed any tears if the Conservatives get no big headlines from their conference. Steady as she goes, should be the motto of the week. Boring is good.
I don't think that will do for the Tories.

The world economy is facing its gravest crisis for at least 35 years, and the main opposition party should be content if it has nothing much to say? It hardly gives anyone a reason for voting them into government.

And I am not being partisan here. (Perish the thought.) I said much the same about the Liberal Democrats when discussing our recent party political broadcast.

In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley gave a better summing up of the challenge facing David Cameron:
Over the past 12 months, whether the issue has been Northern Rock or the 10p tax band, the Conservatives have been pretty effective at whacking the government but much less impressive whenever asked to detail what they would do.

When pressed for an answer, Mr Cameron tends to reply with the travel advice of the Irishman: 'I wouldn't start from here.' That might get him through a television interview. It won't get him through a premiership.

Here is where we are and it is a dark and scary place. Here is where millions of voters are shivering in fear about whether they will still have a job or a home in six months time. Not only does the country expect a better answer from the Tories, it deserves a better one.

Just a few weeks ago, Mr Cameron was planning to leave Labour to stew in its unpopularity and keep the substance to a minimum at his own conference. He won't get away with that now. The country looks for seriousness from the man who wants to be its Prime Minister. If he doesn't have any answers, then David Cameron really will find himself on the conference stage without any clothes on.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Young Knives: The Decision



Just to prove that not all my choices come from the 1960s, here is a contemporary band. Not only that, but they originally came from Leicestershire - Ashby de la Zouch, to be precise.

It is hard to resist the feeling that you have heard this song before somewhere (Supergrass? early Blur? early Divine Comedy?), but impossible to say exactly where. Maybe music is like writing: if you copy enough different people you become original.

I suppose the band's English eccentricity is rather studied - the bass player is called The House of Lords "because he's big and all all important decisions have to go through him". But is that any sillier than calling yourself The Edge?

If you want to see The Young Knives playing live you can here, but I like this video. It starts like Mitchell & Webb and ends like The League of Gentlemen.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ed Balls pictured in Nazi uniform

The Daily Mail - which has the photograph - reports:
Ed Balls makes great play of the fact that his Oxford contemporaries David Cameron and Boris Johnson were members of the Bullingdon Club, notorious for its rowdy drunken behaviour.
Last year, 41-year-old Mr Balls declared: 'World-class education not for all, but for the privileged elite - that is Cameron Conservatism. And who is David Cameron's chosen candidate to be Mayor of London? A Bullingdon Club throwback to a bygone age.' 
Coming from a man who was pictured in a German officer's uniform staring at the crotch of a fellow student wearing comedy plastic buttocks, his words have a somewhat hollow ring.
Balls, it seems, was a member of an all-male Oxford drinking club called the Steamers.

Maybe that is what you get for sending your son to a public school?

Creative protest at Shropshire cemetery

A Shrewsbury graveyard at the centre of a row about tributes being left by graves has been branded with a clear message to council bosses.

Visitors to the Chaffinch area of Emstrey Crematorium were left upset today after spotting the 3ft high, 12ft long message “Mean Buggers” branded on a verge bank with what appears to be weed killer.
The Shropshire Star has a photograph.

TV Film of the Week: Lost

Though really I should rename this feature Obscure British TV Film of the Week You Probably Won't Have Seen That May be Better Than You Expect.

A woman leavers a child in pram outside a chemist's shop and goes in. The woman behind the counter is Joan Hickson. You relax, knowing that you are in safe hands. Add to that the fact that the other customer in the shop is a teenaged Barbara Windsor, and you have one of the most appealing aspects of this film.

Because Lost features an extraordinary cast of faces that are familiar from other British films or televison - at least to us now, even if they were not so well known when it was made. As well as Hickson and Windsor, there are Joan Sims, George Woodbridge, Dandy Nicholls, William Lucas, Glyn Houston, Shirley Anne Field, Eleanor Summerfield, Meredith Edwards and Thora Hird.

The star is David Farrar, who was once one of Michael Powell's favourite actors. Think of him galloping his horse over the Long Mynd in Gone to Earth as the wicked squire on his way to ravish Jennifer Jones, or of his manly knees sending the nuns mad with repressed lust in Black Narcissus.

Like other Powell stars - Roger Livsey, Eric Portman - he was more vital than the Johnny Mills types who were favoured by other British directors of the period. Perhaps because of this, Farrar was to give up acting soon after Lost and emigrate to South Africa.

The other notable thing about Lost is that it uses quite mundane London and Home Counties locations, giving you the chance to see the 1950s in colour. The cosy picture of Britiain it presents was probably wishful thinking even when it was made, but there are enough twists in the plot to keep you watching.

Lost is being shown on Monday 29 September at 1.40 p.m. (Channel 4).

Lib Dems get an automated call from Eddie Mair

Ouch.

Around the Lib Dem blogs

Liberal Democrat Voice reports four Lib Dem local by-election victories in key constituencies. Hurrah!

Jennie Rigg has an article at Liberal Conspiracy asking how its readers can bring themselves to vote Labour.

And James Graham asks some tough questions of Lembit Opik over on Comment is Free.

Friday, September 26, 2008

New Statesman article on Clegg's cold calling

The New Statesman website has an article on the Lib Dem robocalling debacle:
The worry for ambitious Liberal Democrats is not just that the plan Clegg announced to cold call 250,000 people turned out to be an embarrassment: it is that those around him were so besotted with the idea.
I wonder who wrote it? Upon studying the site, I find it was me.

EU blogger registration plan scuppered

Calls in the European Parliament for bloggers to be registered by government received a lot of coverage in a recent Britblog Roundup here.

EU Observer reports that the idea has died a death:
MEPs passed a resolution with 307 votes to 262 calling on the European Commission and member states to safeguard pluralism amongst newspapers, television programmes, radio and on the internet in an era of ever-concentrating media ownership.
The resolution also called for "an open discussion on all issues relating to the status of weblogs" - much softer language regarding blogs than had earlier appeared in the report on which the resolution was based.
Was the threat exaggerated, as so many Euro stories seem to be? Read EU Observer's report and judge for yourself.

Iain Dale says:
I suspect this isn't quite the end of the story and that periodically they will return to the issue, as is usual in EU matters. Eternal vigilance is required!

Labour plans blogosphere rebuttal unit

From PR Week:

the Labour Party is exploring plans for an online rapid rebuttal unit, designed to kill off damaging stories circulating in the blogosphere.

Former lobbyist Derek Draper will oversee the initiative, having recently been called in by Labour’s general secretary to advise on how the party can communicate its message.

Labour strategists are keen to respond to the growing influence of right-wing blogs. The eventual system could resemble a modern-day version of Labour’s famous Excalibur unit, which was successfully used to kill negative stories by Tory-supporting newspapers in the run-up to the 1997 general election.

Draper will meet sympathetic bloggers and web-savvy political campaigners over the next few months to thrash out the details.

A bit of free advice to Labour strategists: encourage Derek Draper to go back to California.

Meanwhile, the Tories have had rather a good idea for their Birmingham Conference next week:
Head of new media Rishi Saha has worked with regional organisation Screen West Midlands to identify ten influential bloggers in the area, who have been given free VIP passes to the conference.
If they ever meet in Leicestershire, I shall expect to receive accreditation.
Thanks to Guido Fawkes.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chris Huhne on identity cards

From the Independent:

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said cards were a "grotesque intrusion" on the liberty of the British people and would be regarded as a "laminated Poll Tax" if made compulsory.
That's the stuff to give them.

The paper also quotes the admirable Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty:

It's going to take more than pastel colours and flowery design to persuade us to surrender our privacy and billions of pounds to boot.

"Picking on foreign nationals first is the nastiest politics; as costly to our race relations as to our purses."

David Davis says:

"There is no justification for requiring every British citizen to have an identity card and for innocent citizens to be required to submit their fingerprints to a state controlled database, with all the risks that go with that."
Which makes it rather a shame that he had a rush of blood to the head and resigned as shadow home secretary.

I fear the authentic voice of Toryism is to be found elsewhere:
MigrationwatchUK chairman Sir Andrew Green said the cards were "essential" to tackle illegal immigration.

Ros Scott publishes her manifesto

You can find it on her campaign website:

You are about to elect a new Party President. Our existing President, Simon Hughes, will end his term of office on December 31st - the election of his successor is a chance for you to decide who will be, in the words of the Constitution, "the principal public representative of the Party and Chair of the Federal Executive".

Constitutionally it's a key role, but it's so much more than that. As the only person, other than the Leader, who is elected by the entire membership, the President should be someone who represents that membership not just to the outside world, but internally, to the Leader, to the decision making bodies and to the paid executive.

All you need know about Liberal Conspiracy

Jennie Rigg - better known as The Yorksher Gob - has an article on Liberal Conspiracy about the Lib Dem Presidential race.

The second comment begins:
I’d like to hear someone make a case for the Lib Dems full-stop. Seriously - what are their socialist credentials?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New NICE guidelines on ADHD and Ritalin

I was pleased to see that NICE has published new guidelines that recommend that Ritalin should be prescribed less often to children diagnosed with ADHD - attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

As I am feeling all blogged out tonight, I shall refer you to an article I published in Open Mind magazine a few years ago:

A psychologist I know gives her last lecture of each year on a paper entitled ‘The aetiology and treatment of childhood’. It describes a worrying condition, with symptoms like short stature, emotional immaturity and a reluctance to eat vegetables – or ‘legume anorexia’. The good news is that when sufferers are investigated 10 years later they have almost all got better.

Yes, it’s a joke – a clever American satire on the way professionals turn normal human behaviour into a medical problem. But a lot of notes get taken before her students realise this.

The adventures of Lembit Opik

With James Graham in the grip of an existential crisis, it falls to me keep you up to date with the progress of the MP for Montgomeryshire.

The hot news is that Lembit has resigned as Lib Dem shadow housing spokesman to concentrate on his Presidential campaign. No shame there: Ros Scott stood down from her front bench position in the the Lords earlier this year for the same reason.

But do not despair: Lembit is not going all serious on us. He is to take part in a celebrity edition of Bargain Hunt. The Islington Gazette reports:

Socialite Tamara Beckwith and Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik - who recently split up with his Cheeky Girl partner - will compete at Criterion auction house in Essex Road, Islington.

High profile businesswoman Ruth Badger and former Tory MP Edwina Currie, who once had a fling with former Prime Minister John Major, make up the famous four.

Finally, Ronnie Fearn has disappeared from the list of supporters on Lembit's campaign website.

When GMEX was Manchester Central

While I was a student at York (the year was probably 1980) a couple of friends returned from a trip to Manchester enthusing about what they had found - a huge disused station with a train shed on the scale of St Pancras. It was standing empty and just being used as a car park.

This was Manchester Central. Today it is better known as GMEX, the venue of the Labour Conference this week.

Subterranea Britannica (from which I have borrowed the photograph) has the history of the station:

From Manchester Central trains ran on the CLC network to Liverpool, Chester and Stockport. The Midland railway ran express trains to London St. Pancras.

These trains continued until 1968 when they were diverted to Manchester Piccadilly but after a few years discontinued. One of the most famous trains to run in the second part of the 20th Century was the Midland Blue Pullman introduced in 1960 which ran from the station until 1966 by which time the West Coast Main line had been electrified.

Norman Lamb: Lib Dems would settle for Alternative Vote

Next Left has an account of a fringe meeting at the Labour Conference in Manchester. Among those taking part were Peter Hain and Norman Lamb:

Peter Hain was running late for the event, but he had a good opening line.

"I am sorry for being late. But before I came here, I thought I had better go and give a speech on electoral reform."

This generated a hearty cheer from Lamb on the platform, as well as applause and laughter from much (if not all) of the audience.

To which Hain said:

"But wait until you hear what it was. I am for the Alternative Vote - and not for proportional representation."

To which Lamb shouted: "We'll take that. We'll take that" from the platform.

Next Left suggests this has long been the position of most of the LibDem frontbench, but notes that they may have "difficulties convincing their party that AV is a step in the right direction if the holy grail of STV can not be gained".

Watch this space.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Geoff Hoon and Ruth Kelly to leave Cabinet

Newsnight has just claimed there is to be a Cabinet reshuffle next Friday.

They say that Geoff Hoon will be sent to Brussels as Britain's new European Commissioner and that Ruth Kelly has chosen to stand down.

The programme is tipping Liam Byrne and Jim Murphy as the ministers to be promoted.

Geoff Hoon is being interviewed at the moment and has certainly not contradicted any of this.

Take your hands off our Ronnie, Lembit

On Sunday Duncan Borrowman posted a video by Ronnie Fearn that made it clear he is supporting Ros Scott as Party President.

Since then Lembit's campaign site has had a redesign, but Ronnie is still included in its list of supporters.

A comment on Duncan's posting suggests that Jonathan Fryer should not be included in that list either.

Later. As Duncan says in his comment below, Ronnie Fearn's name has now been removed from the list.

Tiger cubs raised by a pig

The BBC wins Cutest Video of the Day for this effort.

And it also wins Worst Grammar of the Day for the text that accompanies it:
A pig has been rearing three tiger cubs on a farm in southern Ukraine after being abandoned by their mother.

Vince Cable coming to Harborough

I am pleased to see that Vince Cable will be the guest at Harborough constituency Lib Dem's 1st Logan Dinner on 19 March 2009.

The dinner is named in honour of J. W. "Paddy" Logan, who was Liberal MP for this constituency 1891-1904 and 1910-16.

For more about him, see an old House Points column of mine.

An interview with Michael Medwin

Following Michael Medwin's appearance on Heartbeat the other day, here is an interview he gave to the Radio Times back in 1980.

It comes from a site dedicated to television series Shoestring. This was the programme that brought Trever Eve to fame. He was a private eye with his own radio phone in, and Medwin played the station's boss.

The latest Lib Dem party political broadcast



This is the party political broadcast we Liberal Democrats put out during our Conference last week.

I have two comments.

The first is to ask whether it would not have been more impressive with real people rather than actors.

The second - more importantly - is to wonder whether people want politicians who will "listen". As Simon Titley points out in the current Liberator, politicians have never listened more in history and have never been more despised.

I can't help thinking that in the current climate we Liberal Democrats should be talking. What voters want is politicians who know the way out of this mess.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nick Clegg: "I think it's about 30 quid now, isn't it?"

Does it matter that Nick Clegg did not know how much the state pension is? I am afraid it does.

At Bournemouth the Liberal Democrats insisted - to an almost comic extent - that they stood for the interests of "ordinary, hard-working families". Nick's own speech was studded with cameos detailing the struggles of people he has met.

If you make this the focus of your campaign, and imply that other parties and your critics within your own party are out of touch with the average voter, then you look pretty silly when you make a mistake like this.

What worried me was not so much that Nick got it wrong so much as the flippant, dismissive way he referred to "30 quid a week".

Labour's attempt to brand David Cameron as a "toff" never looked like working, not least because it is a word no one uses outside a Kevin Maguire column. But Nick should beware of coming across as too much of a yuppie (to use a slightly less outdated word). Think of his talk of educating his children privately or of economising by moving from Ocado to Sainsbury's. And what sort of life does he imagine people could live on "30 quid a week"?

Just because Tony Blair and David Cameron have made it look easy to be a public school type in modern Britain and not rub people up the wrong way does not mean that it is easy. Be yourself, Nick, but do be aware of the effect your attitude can have on other people.

Jeremy Hargreaves argues that expecting politicians to know the level of the state pension is like expecting them to know the latest plot twists in Eastenders. But this does not convince me.

I agree the demand that politicians should share every demotic concern is silly (though a politician who really did enjoy soap operas would be endearing), but most people will be acutely aware of the level of the state pension because one of these days it will make up a large chunk of their income.

If Nick makes it so clear that this is not the case for him, the "ordinary, hard-working families" he cares about so much may question whether he really has their interests at heart.

Leading selective school reduces pupils' homework

The BBC reports:

A top school has radically cut the amount of homework it sets, saying too much will put pupils off learning.

Tiffin boys' school, in Kingston, south west London, has limited homework to 40 minutes per night, saying pupils should have more time for their own interests.

In the days when I was at school it was generally accepted that comprehensive state education was child-centred while grammars and the private sector were obsessed with results.

While there are still private schools that are exam factories, this report confirms my impression that this situation has largely been turned on its head.

As I understand it, the Tiffin School is in the state sector - but only just.

September Carnival of Children's Literature





To be found on Jenny's Wonderland of Books - a posting of mine is included.

Britblog Roundup 188

This week at Suz Blog.

Please visit and enjoy, as Susanne had to wrestle with technical problems to get it posted.

TV Film of the Week: Guns at Batasi

An honourable mention to The Man in Grey, which is being shown on Channel 4 on Thursday (1.40p.m.). It is one of those wartime films concerned with Anglo-American relations and it stars Margaret Lockwood, Stewart Granger and James Mason. As you would expect there is plenty of bodice ripping and swashbuckling.

But Guns at Batasi is more surprising. Made in 1964, it deals with an unfashionable subject for British films - the retreat from Empire - and stars Richard Attenborough as a wholly convincing Regimental Sergeant Major. With his honourable but ultimately outmoded values, he is a Blimp of the other ranks.

As in every post-war British film, David Lodge plays a sergeant. The appearance of Mia Farrow is less expected.

But is is Attenborough's film. As the New York Times review says:

As the sergeant major, who is as stiff as a ramrod and an unblinking slave to the letter of military law, Richard Attenborough makes a proper hero to his tough mates, who are not averse to mimicking him.

In the face of attack by African troops and a Bofors gun or a showdown with the African leader of the revolt, he proves his mettle in unflinching, steely style. Mr. Attenborough's opportunities to ham it up are many, but even in the face to climactic orders to return to England he delivers a shaded performance that gives stature and meaning to what could have been a stereotyped role.

Guns at Batasi is being shown on Friday 26 September at 1.25 p.m. (Channel 4).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Headline of the Day

From the Telegraph website:
Orphaned hare raised in woman's bra

Nick Clegg on selling the pupil premium

Last year I linked to Learning from Europe, the pamphlet Nick Clegg wrote on his pupil premium scheme with Richard Grayson. This policy idea was at the centre of Nick's campaign - if you were being unkind, you would say it was the only policy idea in his campaign.

In that posting I praised Nick for his innovative thinking but commented that "Learning From Europe does not address the question of how you would sell the pupil premium to parents whose children would not benefit from it."

During last week's Liberal Democrat Conference Nick gave an interview to the Guardian on his ideas for the public services:
A special £2bn fund to target spending on the most disadvantaged children in schools through a pupil premium will be hard to sell to the middle classes, Clegg admits. But he says it is the best way of ensuring their support for state schools by improving the performance of disadvantaged children in early education, allowing brighter children to be stretched.
I am not sure I quite follow the logic, but at least he is aware that there is a problem to be done in winning support for this policy among the middle classes.

Michael Medwin in Heartbeat

Three weeks ago Heartbeat borrowed a plot from an old British film. Tonight it borrowed an actor.

Hello to Michael Medwin (born 1923), who made his movie debut 1946 and is clearly still going strong. You may remember him as the radio station boss in Shoestring.

Later. I have now found an interview he gave to the Radio Times in his Shoestring years.

Mandy Miller: Nellie the Elephant



Despite what people say, the songs in the Liberator songbook do change from edition to edition. This year one of the new ones was "Nellie the Elephant", which was my favourite song when I was very young. I was therefore sorry to hear it massacred by the Glee Club audience.

In the hope of encouraging a better show next year, I present here the definitive version of the song. It also reached the charts in 1984 in the hands of the Toy Dolls, but I find their version takes it too lightly. Is there a more moving lyric in any song than "The head of the herd was calling, far, far away"?

Mandy Miller was a British child star of the 1950s. I have seen only her first two performances, both of which were in Ealing films at the start of the decade. She had a cameo part in The Man in the White Suit and starred in Mandy.

But her career lasted into the 1960s and she appeared on television in episodes of both The Saint and The Avengers. After that she gave up acting, left for America as an au pair girl and eventually married there.

Another point of interest about her recording of "Nellie the Elephant" is that it was produced by George Martin. Until he brought the Beatles to it, the Parlophone label was best known for issuing novelty and comedy records like this one.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lib Dems at 21 per cent in new poll

Political Betting has the details.

Children's writers and their politics

The news that J. K. Rowling has given the Labour Party £1m leads me to think of other children's writers and their politics.

My own boyhood favourite Malcolm Saville voted Labour in 1945, but later became chairman of Lewes Conservatives.

E. Nesbit and her husband Hubert Bland were among the founders of the Fabian Society. They jointly edited the society's journal and even had a son named Fabian.

Arthur Ransome was a journalist in Russia during the Revolution and married Trotsky's secretary, but his own politics in the era remain a matter of debate.

Nick Clegg lightly stuffed by Paxo

At about the time the Liberal Revue was starting in Bournemouth on Monday, Newsnight showed Jeremy Paxman's interview with Nick Clegg.

Nick acquitted himself reasonably well, but the interview did show the problems with our current policy of promising to save £20bn of wasted government spending but not saying where those cuts will fall.

Nick gave two defences of this approach.

The first, which is also the one commonly offered by Cowley Street insiders, is that we cannot give too much details now in case the other parties steal our plans. I do not find this convincing. If you are aware that the government is wasting billions of pounds of taxpayers' money, how can it be to your disadvantage to say so loudly as soon as possible?

The second is that we do not know what state the economy will be in after the next election. That is true, but if things are so uncertain, how can we be so specific about the sum we are going to save.

What Nick needs to do is to promise something headline catching like "a slaughter of the quangos" and then have half a dozen strong examples to back this slogan up. Unless we build support for such an approach first, we risk being painted by Labour as a party of hard-faced cutters of public services.

Of course, the scrapping of identity cards would be a great headline catcher in this context, but the savings have that have already been snaffled by Chris Huhne for his policing reforms. Add to that the fact that Vince Cable is not being used more to front these tax plans, and you have to wonder whether there are tensions at the highest level in the Lib Dems.

The ARCH blog is back

Good news. The ARCH blog - ARCH as in Action on Rights for Children - has woken up.

Iain Dale: George Osborne should not be Tory chancellor

Yesterday Iain Dale suggested that if (Iain said "when" - arrogance may yet be the Tories' undoing) David Cameron becomes prime minister he should make Kenneth Clarke chancellor of the exchequer.

I have always liked Clarke, and the Tories should certainly have made him their leader after losing the election in 1997. He would have busked it and kept the Tories cheerful while they worked out how the hell they were going to fight back against Tony Blair.

But what is really interesting here is where this leaves George Osborne. Iain writes: "The idea of making Ken Clarke Chancellor should in no way be taken as a criticism of George Osborne."

Oh yeah?

The rationale he gives for this is that we are not living in normal economic circumstances. After the next election we will be "entrenched in a recession".

Yes, the current situation is extreme, but difficult economic circumstances are always a possibility and cannot necessarily be foreseen. You can never appoint someone as chancellor and be sure he will not have heavy economic weather to deal with.

If Osborne is not a suitable chancellor in the current situation, he is not a suitable chancellor at all.

Maybe we should see this argument by Iain as a tribute to Vince Cable's grown up authority. If it marks a break from the belief that our leaders must all be Andrex puppies, I for one shall be delighted.

Ian Macwhirter on David Cairns

From Iain Macwhirter Now and Then:
David Cairns is being described as an obscure Scottish politician of whom we know nothing. That may be true in England, but not north of the border, where Cairns is well known and respected as one of the brightest and ablest politicians in the Scottish parliamentary group, and a sound media performer. The departure of the Scotland Office minister has caused blank astonishment among the Scottish political classes precisely because he seemed the ultimate party loyalist. If Cairns can turn against his leader then anyone can.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Most Complained About Local Authority in Shropshire

According to the South Shropshire Journal:

Ludlow Town Council is the most complained-about authority in the county, according to figures released by standards committees across Shropshire.

In south Shropshire, there have been 20 complaints about breaches of the councillors’ code of conduct since May this year, when a new system for reporting breaches came into force.

Fifteen of the complaints were made about Ludlow Town councillors.

Earlier postings on this blog will show you why.

"Ming's Memoirs" from The Liberal Revue

I performed this sketch in the Liberal Revue on Monday night at Bournemouth. I wrote it with Mark Smulian.

Voiceover

And now on Radio Liberal Revue, ‘A Book at Bedtime’. We present a reading from the unpublished chapters of Ming Campbell’s memoirs.

Reader

1st March 2006. I am elected leader of the Liberal Democrats. Extraordinary. How did that happen?

Elspeth says I will have to go to something called ‘a Spring Conference’. I wonder what goes on there? I never bothered with them before.

I fear it will be ghastly.

2nd March 2006. To Harrogate for this ‘Spring Conference’. It is ghastly.

3rd March 2006. A press report says I watched ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ in my hotel room while eating fish and chips. Absurd.

Firstly, Elspeth would never allow it.

Secondly, I have searched all the channels and Victor Sylvester does not have a show on any of them.

1st September 2006. Chris Rennard comes on the telephone – what a useful invention that is, by the way. I am sure it is here to stay – Chris Rennard tells me there is a party conference in two weeks’ time.

Why? They had one only six months ago. Can’t these people leave me alone?

I suppose I will have to appear on the wireless. And submit to fatuous questions like "why did I want to be party leader?"

I didn’t. It was all Elspeth’s idea.

15th September 2006. Arrive at conference. Surprised there are so many people there. And cinematographers from the television.

Why? How could any sane person be interested in these proceedings?

Elspeth says there are five days of it. Dear God.

Start to draft my speech. Find after an hour that I have a sheet of paper covered in the words, "Let me out".

16th September 2006. I make a tour of the stalls area. Dreadful experience.

Accosted by a lunatic dressed in a bird of liberty codpiece. He wants me to sign it!

One stall is raffling tea on the terrace with me. Who let them do that?

I shall probably get some ghastly couple who wear party sweatshirts smeared with printers’ ink and want to show me photographs of their holiday in Dunstable.

16th September 2006 – later. Tea. With a ghastly couple who wear party sweatshirts smeared with printers’ ink. They show me photographs of their holiday. In Dunstable.

2nd January 2007. Some balls-aching business has arisen over Trident. Blair wants to replace it, so do the Tories and I decide we need a distinctive policy. Announce we should replace half of it.

10th March 2007. All manner of tedious people are threatening to vote against my brilliant compromise on Trident.

Others want to know which half we are going to replace.

Chris Rennard tells me I will have to speak from the floor. Really! I thought the only good thing about being leader was that I would never have to do that again. My oratory is so persuasive that I win by a whole 40 votes.

31st July 2007. Rather good results in Sedgefield and Southall. But then I hear Chris Huhne’s friends – a select group – have been going round telling journalists I’m so decrepit I can hardly get off my commode in the mornings.

Infernal cheek of the man. He’s never got over losing to me.

Elspeth says I should ask him to conduct a review of our policy on abandoned mine shafts.

15th September 2007. Another conference! I use the same speech as last year. No one notices.

4th October 2007. A delegation of MPs tells me the party will collapse if I stay as leader. Apparently I sound old fashioned and am hopeless on television.

Point out that Lloyd George was no great shakes on television. And why do I need to be on Facebook? Asquith wasn’t. Mr Gladstone never made films for YouTube. Did him no harm.

Make decent show of reluctance, and then resign while Elspeth is out of the room.

2nd January 2008. I am relaxing in my Edinburgh mansion. Bliss.

Chris Rennard rings to tell me it is Spring Conference in two months’ time. I tell him I won’t be there.

In fact, I’d sooner bugger a capercaillie.

Calder at Conference

A column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Turbulent times

There are two certainties about the Liberal Democrat Conference. The first is that the weather will be good. In fact, if I weren't a Lib Dem I would always choose mid September for my holidays.

It's just that, because of the second certainty, your house might not be there when you got back. Because you can also be sure the British economy will collapse.

This year share values are tumbling. Last year it was Northern Rock. And at Harrogate back in 1992, Sterling fell out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on Black Wednesday.

One thing is different for 2008. Conference still lasts five days, but this one started on Saturday rather that Sunday.

This has been popular with teachers, who in the past found it difficult to attend at all. At least now they get two full days.

So far, they have perhaps not made best use of them. I am told that Saturday's consultative session on education was dominated by them, but most began by saying pointedly it was a pleasure to be able to come to Conference at last. By then they had used up their time, so we never got to hear their exciting ideas on improving schools.

It is never hard to distinguish between a teacher with a grievance and a ray of sunshine, as P.G. Wodehouse might have put it, but maybe they will have got over it in time for next year.

Talking to a member of the organising committee, there is a worry that starting on a Saturday will lead to a situation where ordinary party members come for the weekend, but lobbyists and commercial exhibitors don't appear until Monday morning.

That would be what the Beveridge Group would call “a two-tier conference”, and it would be a shame.

******

We used to worry the Lib Dems were known for supporting proportional representation – and nothing else. This week I heard a story suggesting that has changed.

An MP (the meeting took place under Chatham House rules, so I cannot tell you it was David Howarth) reported falling into conversation with a young man on the train home from London.

“Tell me,” he said, “what is the Lib Dem position on electoral reform?”

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Meet the Impertinent Girls

Another week with Rutland's most celebrated peer draws to a close.

Sunday

I have decided to dabble in popular music once again (my part in the phenomenon that was Rutbeat in the 1960s has yet to be fully chronicled) and am on the lookout for new talent to add to my stable of artistes. When I say “stable,” I mean it literally, as that is where the recording studio is located.

This morning I audition a charming pair of twins who go under the name of “The Impertinent Girls”: they are not very good singers, but I gather that is no longer regarded as an impediment to a career “in the business” – much as one need no longer believe in God to be a Church of England minister.

Their rendering of a song encouraging the listener to touch a certain part of their anatomy is regarded as a certain “hit” by all who hear it. My only worry now is keeping them away from poor Lembit.

People who like This Sort of Thing should now read:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fewer five-year-olds are letting the government down

Is it just me or is this barking mad?

From the Guardian:
The proportion of five-year-olds who showed the expected levels of being motivated to learn, as well as knowing about their own culture and other peoples' beliefs rose 1%.

Mark Littlewood gets thumped again

It's not just Adrian "Boom Boom" Sanders he should worry about...

Over at Dib Lemming, Steph Ashley puts the boot in:
I picked up a copy of the 'Cameron Effect' report that had allegedly caused all the trouble. It doesn't make pretty reading. In fact, it amounts to forty pages of "ooh, you'd better be scared, the tories are coming", followed up with a rallying cry from Liberal Vision and the Taxpayers' Alliance (more swivel-eyed lunatics then) to the Lib Dems to not stop at tax cuts for those who need them, but give tax cuts to everyone.

Booing Lembit at the Glee Club

On the New Statesman site Paul Evans reports:
Glee Club is traditionally the time when spirits are raised, and songs such as fiscal reform classic ‘The Land’ are enjoyed by all. This year though, Lembit Opik’s traditional harmonica bit was greeted by a chorus of boos from a section of the crowd – who began to chant “I’m for Ros!” – in reference to the Montgomryshire MP’s rival for the post of party president, Baroness Scott.
Perhaps the people booing were music critics?

Ray Wilkins returns to Chelsea

The Times reports that Ray Wilkins is to return to Chelsea as assistant coach following Steve Clarke's departure to West Ham. This looks a shrewd move that will help keep the club in touch with its roots: Wilkins made 198 appearances for Chelsea between 1973 and 1979, and became captain of the club when he was only 18.

Those who remember him only as the bald bloke who passed the ball sideways to Bryan Robson for Manchester United and England will be surprised to learn what an exciting player he once was. In Chelsea days he took all the free kicks, instigated all the attacking moves and scored his share of goals.

He was captain in 1976-7 when Chelsea won promotion back to the old first division. I got my first Saturday job that winter and there was a televsion shop across the road. If I saw a picture of Steve Finnieston or Kenny Swain just before five o'clock, it meant they had scored and Chelsea had probably won.

In those days he was always known as Ray "Butch" Wilkins. He was never the same player after he lost that nickname.

Later. Richard Williams has also written a generous tribute to Wilkins.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: In charge of the Cowley Street press office

Saturday

In these days of Bakelite and the electric cinematograph, it is important for political leaders to appeal to the younger voter. As Cowley Street was rather undermanned over the holiday season, I naturally offered to lend a hand with the drafting of Nick Clegg’s press releases.

So when it transpired that a company called PA Consulting had lost an electronic-type computing memory stick (I am told that is the correct term), which contained personal details of all 84,000 prisoners in England and Wales (it must have been a very long stick), I naturally sprang into action and drafted the following in our Leader’s name: “Charlie Chaplin could do a better job running the Home Office than this Labour Government.”

As you can imagine, I was feeling tolerably pleased with myself, so it was no little shock when I was informed that Clegg thought this “old-fashioned”. Ever a team player, I swallowed my pride and produced something more à la mode for him the following day: “Frankly the Keystone Cops would do a better job running the Home Office and keeping our data safe than this government.”
I also suggested he say that “Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary is as lost as Mollie Sugden in ‘Come Back Mrs Noah’,” but that was not thought suitable. Really, how much more up to date can one get?

People who like This Sort of Thing may enjoy:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nick Clegg's speech: More impressed than I expected to be

Thanks to the BBC for the tag cloud. That page also has the full text of the speech and a video of Nick giving it.

I watched Nick Clegg's speech on television in the Lib Dem News office at Bournemouth, having just helped write this Friday's front page story about it. From a purely professional point of view, I was pleased that all the passages we picked out to quote received resounding applause.

My first reaction was that it was a pleasing change that there was so little angst before the speech. With Ming and, latterly, Charles Kennedy there was so much speculation about whether they could save their leadership each year, that the occasion became fraught for everyone concerned. Not only that, but Nick looked good and sounded good.

I liked the section on children - this was not featured in the party's press release on the speech but it will be in the Lib Dem News report - and three cheers for this on education:

We can engage parents, too - giving them the power to set up schools if that's what their community needs.

Like parents did in Lambeth with help from a Liberal Democrat council.

Making education people-sized, people-shaped.

That means making sure there are different kinds of school.

To suit different kinds of children.

One size fits no-one.
That is how speeches are set out - it looks like a poem.

I think the "Labour is finished" and "I can tell you where we're headed. Government" were a mistake. The Labour government may well be finished, but I think we have had enough talk of replacing parties for a while. And the latter quotation has unwelcome echoes of David Steel.

We also need a list of spending cuts that will win public support. Nick began the process:

When government has proved itself incapable of keeping people's data secure.

Why is it spending nearly thirteen billion pounds on a botched NHS IT system?

When our soldiers need inexpensive, off-the-shelf armoured vehicles today.

Why is government spending fourteen billion on over complex tanks that won't be ready for years?

When we want local government to respond to the needs of local people....

Why are they spending more than a billion pounds filling in forms for Whitehall inspectors?
But this list also displays the dangers. Of course we are against botched IT systems, but it is hard to believe that IT will not play an increasing role in the health service and that it will not cost a great deal of money as it does. More work is needed here.

We also need to think harder about how we come to grips with David Cameron. He is a bit of an Andrex puppy, but as we have an ever more endearingly puppy-like leader of our own that may be a hard charge for us to make stick.

Overall, though, I was impressed, and more impressed than I expected to be. I just hoped we did not lose to much support by cold calling the voters afterwards.

Cold calling gets cold shoulder

The Lib Dem plan to contact more than 250,000 voters by telephone with a recorded message from Nick Clegg does not impress Patrick Goss.

He writes on his editor's blog for TechRadar UK:
I'll lay it on the line – I normally vote Liberal Democrat; I hate ID cards, I didn't think we should have got into Iraq and even as I get older and set in my ways I still find more often than not that I agree with Britain's third party.

But when a party is so utterly out of touch with the voting populace that they start to believe that a cold call phone call by a machine is an appropriate way of putting them back in the running it makes my blood boil.

I find cold calls infuriating. Every time someone from a mobile phone company rings me up to urge me to trade in my handset I feel my hackles rising and the blood flooding into my face.

But when that call is not even by a real human being – which at least gives me the satisfaction of 'explaining' why it is inappropriate to be calling me in my already skimpy home time – I make a silent vow not to buy whatever that company is selling. Ever.
Bizarrely, this plan seems to have been the subject most discussed at yesterday's press conference about the leader's speech, which was conducted by Danny Alexander.

Well, maybe it will work.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Lord Bonkers' Diary: “Still single? Yngle!”

Friday

My unfortunate experiences in Peking notwithstanding, I have to admit that the Olympics were great fun. The important thing now is to continue to interest our young people in all these new events we have discovered. With this in mind, I have agreed to act as a consultant to the British Yngling Board.

You must know yngling: it’s the sport that is sweeping the nation. I would go so far as to say that, at a party, if you wish to mingle, a good opening gambit is “Do you yngle?” I intend to build upon this with a poster campaign; I envisage a picture of a worried man with the caption “Still single? Yngle!” and another showing a sporty young lady captioned “I tingle when I yngle”.

Add to this a new snack named Pryngles, an event at Dungeness under the title “Yngle by the Shingle” and an episode of Emmerdale in which the Dingles yngle, and I think you will agree that I am more than earning my corn.

People who like This Sort of Thing should now read:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The end of a beautiful writing career

I was walking past the Bournemouth International Centre when I met Ben Davies, the editor of the New Statesman website, coming the other way. He is the man with whom I devised Calder's Comfort Farm. Naturally, we went for a beer and swapped the gossip of the day.

The only problem is that I was carrying a copy of the Daily Mail at the time.

Of course, I was able to explain that the newsagents had run out of all the broadsheets. Besides, it is possible to enjoy the Mail as a comic, much as one read the Sun in the 1980s...

I'll get me coat.

Pauline Prescott and Miss Marple in Bournemouth

Walking up the hill past the Bournemouth International Centre to the Highcliffe after appearing in the Liberal Revue last night, I was reminded of a couple of incidents from the history of that short, steep stretch of road.

In 1999 John Prescott was driven down it. When it was suggested this wasn't a very environmentally friendly thing to do and he should have walked instead, his defence was that he had taken the limo:
"Because of the security reasons for one thing and, second, my wife doesn't like to have her hair blown about."
And if you watch The Body in the Library, the first of the Miss Marple adaptations starring Joan Hickson, you will see that the Highcliffe and the road past it feature prominently.

The Body in the Library was shown at Christmas 1984, so was presumably filmed that summer. I attended my first Liberal Assembly at Bournemouth in the September of that year, so it is nice to have a record of how it looked in those days (if you ignore the extras in 1940s clothes).

That Liberal Assembly took place at the old Winter Gardens. The Bournemouth International Centre had just been built and the Liberal Party had been offered the chance to be the first organisation to hold an event there.

But the conference organisers thought, despite the offer of a juicy discount, it would not be a good idea for the party to act as guinea pigs and discover all the problems with the centre.

Is John Reid behind the rebellion against Gordon Brown?

Heresy Corner, one of my favourite blogs, thinks so.

Mind you, if anything can make you feel warmer towards Brown it is the prospect of Reid returning from the political dead.

Here is a reminder of Reid's career.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Meet Paris Stilton

Thursday

Dinner with Paris Stilton, the Leicestershire cheese heiress.

People who like This Sort of Thing should now read:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lord Bonkers 4 Ros

Read the great man's endorsment here.

Later. I note that Lord B is up at the top of the list of Ros's supporters under Peers, while I am down the bottom under Other Party Members. I have created a monster.

How "Make It Happen" should have happened

I have just attended the end of the debate on the new Lib Dem policy document or mini manifesto Make it Happen.

The motion approving it went through unamended as the amendment calling for the party to prioritise public spending over tax cuts was defeated by a two to one majority.

I think this was right, as I am sure there are plenty areas in which public spending can be without a detrimental effect on the poor or anyone else. It's just that it would be nice to be told what they are.

Last time I wrote about Nick Clegg's presentation of Make It Happen I said:

What he should have done was to emphasise the Lib Dem war on surveillance, centralisation and state control - in short, large chunks of the New Labour project. Then he could have said something like: "Look if we scrap ID cards and all these quangos and databases, we will save billions of pounds and be able to cut your taxes."

That, I think, would have proved popular. By announcing the tax cuts first and then saying we shall hunt for spending cuts to fund them, he makes it easier for our Labour opponents to paint us as a hard-faced party that wants to run down public services.

I still think that holds good.

What Nick and the Liberal Democrats desperately need now is a list of popular spending cuts that would be popular and stem from Liberal principles. Scrapping ID cards would be one if it had not already been snaffled as part of the funding package for Chris Huhne's policing reforms.

Another could be slaughtering the quangos. Tim Farron hinted at this, and his was the best of the speeches I heard this afternoon. It's approach should have been the one used all along.

As it is, we have a headline figure of £20bn, but no explanation as to where it will come from. And Nick Clegg varies between saying he will cut tax, reassign it to different spending priorities and that it is far too soon to say, depending on whom he is speaking to.

Another column for the New Statesman website

I write a fortnightly column - "Calder's Comfort Farm" - for the New Statesman's website.

The latest one was posted this morning. It discusses, among other things, Alistair Darling's holiday on Lewis:

Swings are chained up on Sundays lest children imperil their immortal souls by playing. Nor does the local television station help. Last time I was there, peak-time viewing was a programme in Gaelic about a poet who emigrated to Canada and then died. That sort of thing wows them in Stornoway but can have done little to lighten Darling’s mood.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The enthronement of Tavish Scott

Wednesday

To Holyrood to congratulate Tavish Scott upon his election as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. There is something of an Apostolic succession to his assumption of this eminent position: Scott used to work for Jim Wallace, who, in turn, began his political career carrying Laura Grimond’s shopping; and Laura, you will recall, was the wife of Jo Grimond, whom some historians believe to have been present when Joseph of Arimathea landed at Budleigh Salterton, bringing with him the tenets of Liberalism on tablets of stone.

When one adds to this weighty heritage the Scots’ predilection for politicians with either two surnames or two Christian names – one thinks of Menzies Campbell, Russell Johnston and Nicol Stephen – then, despite the obvious appeal of someone called Ross Finnie, his victory was assured.

Incidentally, when I arrive at the Scottish Parliament, I am asked if I know Mike Rumbles. “Yes,” I reply, “I am afraid he does.”

People who like This Sort of Thing should now read:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Animals: House of the Rising Sun



No time for sociological observations today. Just one of the great songs of the sixties.

Britblog Roundup 187: The Bournemouth edition

This roundup comes to you live from the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth. To be more precise, from the Roma Internet Cafe, 20 St Michael's Road.

It's not quite the Stiperstones Inn - there is no cat, for instance - but the coffee is good and it is a lot cheaper than the broadband access at the Bournemouth International Centre. There are some free terminals there for Lib Dem bloggers, but you have to stand to use them. Given the large number of submissions this week, I did not think that was a good idea.

So let the fun begin

Blogging

They regulate our bananas, they threaten the British sausage and now it appears that the Brussels bureaucrats want to get their claws into the blogosphere too.

Open Europe Blog says: "The EU has had an issue with the internet for a while now ... Basically they don't like the internet because they can't control it."

And continues:
Eurocrats are especially upset because many bloggers, being of an anarchic disposition, are anti-Brussels. In the French, Dutch and Irish referendums, the MSM [mainstream media] were uniformly pro-treaty, whereas internet activity was overwhelmingly sceptical.
Tory MEP Daniel Hannan takes up the story:

The EU's solution? Why, to regulate blogs! Back in June ... MEPs began to complain that unlicensed blogs were "polluting" cyberspace with "misinformation and malicious intent". They wanted "a quality mark, a disclosure of who is writing and why".

At the time, I dismissed it as the ramblings of a single dotty MEP. Not even the European Parliament, I thought, would actually try to censor the internet.

I was wrong. We now have the full report and, sure enough, it wants to "clarify the status, legal or otherwise, of weblogs", and to ensure their "voluntary labelling according to the professional and financial responsibilities and interests of their authors and publishers".

With a glorious lack of self-awareness, the Euro-MPs behind the report elaborate their motives: "The report points out that the undetermined and unindicated status of authors and publishers of weblogs causes uncertainties regarding impartiality, reliability, source protection, applicability of ethical codes and the assignment of liability in the event of lawsuits. It recommends clarification of the legal status of different categories of weblog authors and publishers as well as disclosure of interests and voluntary labelling of weblogs."

You have been warned. How such a system could possibly operate without a secret police operation on a Chinese scale is a mystery to me.

Charles Crawford offers a voice of sanity here:

Above all there is a way to 'validate' the best bloggers.

It's called the marketplace, millions of judgements by millions of people, evolving over time, exploring what makes sense and what does not.
The Lib Dem Blog of the Year awards were announced here last night. Liberal Democrat Voice has the results.

And Blogzilla says Google must try harder on privacy.

Mystery Item of the Week

This posting from Redemption Blues has been nominated. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer won't display this site properly. But I am sure it is a very good posting.

Politics

Who has the worst job in politics? The Daily (Maybe) will tell you.

Why are the Conservatives known as the Tories? Telford & Wrekin Council Watch has one child's theory.

Susanne Lamido reports the story of the Lib Dem councillor from Camden who reckoned he could represent his constituents in Kentish Town while doing a PhD in Arizona. I know we have e-mail and all sorts of useful things these days, but it was inevitable that he should resign his seat when the story broke. Informed sources (i.e. some people I was drinking with last night) suggest that it was as much a surprise to his colleagues in the Lib Dem group on Camden as anyone else.

Stephen's Linlithgow Journal looks at the history of the political phrase of the week: "lipstick on a pig". Looking for a Voice disapproves of the introduction of Sharia law to Britain and fears the "Vortigern effect".

Boris Johnson has taken a break from mayoring to write a column critical of the UN Panel on Climate Change. If you to live off-grid, Ruscombe Green can recommend a good book.

Elsewhere, Lancaster Unity speculates on the BNP's dodgy financial returns, while the commune has the latest on the internal politics of the SWP.

Green councillor Jason Kitcat talks about the Green's new leader Caroline Lucas. And The Daily (Maybe) is concerned at recent developments in Bolivia.

How does gender impact on landmine clearance? The F Word explains.

Penny Red and Stumbling and Mumbling are both critical of calls for "balanced migration".

Knickers

The F Word writes on the pleasures of underwear:

It’s hard to articulate the reasons why. I think in part it emanates from the fact that it’s not something that’s visually apparent to the people I meet everyday, it’s a personal choice not influenced by anyone else and, as I have got older, it has (in all honesty), helped me appreciate my body more, and understand that, while I may not be traditionally attractive, that I am still a sexual being.

Plus, considering the fact that I do not dress sexually on a day to day basis, I like the contrast, something about which (until now) only I knew about.

And A Very Public Sociologist talks about Channel 4's The Sex Education Show:

If some people pick up on the information around contraception and body image and helps them lead safer, more fulfilling sex lives, than that's all for the good. But I can't shake the thought that SES is more geared toward navigating the world of contemporary commodified sexuality than anything else.

The Blog of Funk suggests things are very different across the Atlantic:

So complete is the conservative victory over the American mind, you'd think the 60s revolution, make love, not war, never happened.

Miscellaneous

¨°º©[ Fink ]©º°¨ offers a list of links - one thing we are not short of this week. Good name for a blog, though.

Dr Who fans are all geeks? Wrong, says the Yorksher Gob.

Razor-blade of Life remembers school dinners, while Lady Bracknell is Sound on superlambananas.

A Somewhat Old, But Capacious Handbag debunks astrology. With footnotes. And Random Acts of Reality describes the problems of ambulance management.

Philobiblon has been reading Diary of an English Resident in France During Twenty-two Weeks of War Time from 1916. And Early Modern Whale has been watching the Tour of Britain cycle race. Thanks to the wonders of video, so can you.

Farewell

That, I hope, is all the nominations taken care of. So it's goodbye from sunny Bournemouth. Already, thanks to Unmitigated England, I feel the green of the Welland valley calling me home.

Next week's Roundup will be at Suz Blog.

Nominations, as ever, should be sent to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday: Brain Cotter fails to catch fire

Another day, another entry...

Tuesday

I awaken to the alarming news that a peer has caught fire at Weston-super-Mare. I have to make several telephone calls, including one to the Somerset Fire Brigade, until my mind is set at rest and I am satisfied that the story does not concern my old friend Brian Cotter. (He is now a member of the Lords, having sat for the aforementioned resort between 1997 and 2005. He lost the seat despite my last-minute poster campaign under the slogan “Don’t be a Rotter, Vote for Cotter”). Coincidentally, I am told that there has been a small conflagration involving another Weston peer: Jeffrey Archer (it seems that only his underpants were involved).

To celebrate Brian Cotter’s deliverance, I take a party of especially Well-Behaved Orphans to the pier on Rutland Water for candyfloss. Its superstructure has never been quite the same since it was dynamited in 1939 to prevent German troops landing, but it still has much to offer the agile holidaymaker.

People who like This Sort of Thing should now read:

Those Lib Dem Blog of the Year award winners in full

Here are the winners announced at last night's ceremony:
Congratulations to all the winners. Lib Dem Voice has an audio recording of the prize giving.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Expelled from China

Liberator 328 will be on sale from the magazine's stall at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth. But Lord Bonkers has insisted that I make his Diary available to people who are not attending. "I feel I owe it to my public," he remarked.

So here goes.

Monday

At last the journalists are leaving me in peace after my deportation from China over my part in a demonstration in favour of Tibetan independence. I have to confess that the account of events which has gained currency is not strictly correct.

I yield to no one in my admiration of the Dalai Lama – among his many other good qualities, he is as jolly a fellow as ever danced on a table in the Bonkers’ Arms – but the placard which I was carrying when the local rozzers apprehended me did not say “Free Tibet” but “Free to Bet”: I was hoping to encourage the worthy Chinamen to wager on the outcome of such events as the rhythmic gymnastics and the Greco-Roman wrestling. Unfortunately, the authorities took a dim view of this and I was on a seaplane home before my feet had touched the ground.

Despite this, I retain my admiration of Chinese culture – and of Chinese food in particular. When I mentioned this to the arresting officer, he asked what my favourite dish was. “Number twenty-six,” I replied.

Kirsty Williams is the bookies' favourite

I am not sure how much is being wagered on the contest, but WalesOnline reports that Kirsty Williams is the odds-on favourite to become the new leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

She is quoted at 1/2, Jenny Randerson at 6/4 and Eleanor Burnham at 8/1.

But "betting expert" Carl Williams says:

“While Kirsty Williams has to be the favourite at the moment, it would be foolish to write off Jenny Randerson, who if she stands would be a very strong candidate.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

Andrew Adonis and Kingham Hill School

Having welcomed the idea a couple of years ago, I can only welcome the announcement that more children "in danger ... of being taken into care", as the BBC nicely puts it, will be offered places at boarding schools funded by the state.

Indeed, it is a shame to learn from The Times that only 15 children have been given places in those two years.

But what really interests me here is the career of the minister who made announcement, Andrew Adonis.

He is almost unique in the modern Labour Party in coming from a poor background (which does not stop him being a hate figure for many on the left). Even that tribune of the people John Spellar turns out to have been educated a leading public school - Dulwich College. (Something he shares with Raymond Chandler, P. G. Wodehouse and Bob Monkhouse.)

According to Wikipedia, Adonis (originally named Andreas) is the son of a Greek Cypriot father and an English mother. His mother left the family when he was a toddler and he was placed in care shortly afterwards and lived in a council children's home until the age of 11.

Aged 11, he was sent to Kingham Hill School in Oxfordshire. As he writes on the school's website (Plymouth is the name of a house at the school):

arrived at Plymouth in April 1974 after an extremely unsettled few years in a children's home. It was one of the first times I had seen the English countryside, and the first time in England I had been so far from London. It was also mid-way through the school year. So all in all, it was a shock to the system, and to begin with an unhappy experience.

But Plymouth and KHS soon came to supply all I lacked in life outside: stability, friends, values and a sense of self-worth and self-belief.

Looking at the accompanying photograph, Kingham has clear similarities with the Bonkers' Home for Well-Behaved Orphans, but Adonis goes on to say: "I could write so much more of these seven years, but suffice it to say that they pretty well made me what I am today."

I doubt that Adonis would be a minister today if he had continued living in Her Majesty's Children's Homes.

Another former pupil of Kingham Hill School is the Irish political journalist Bruce Arnold. He wrote a series of four novels in the 1970s and 1980s - the Coppinger novels - about the school, beginning with "A Singer at the Wedding". I read them many years ago and recall reading an extract from the first novel in The Times when I was at school myself.