Sunday, November 30, 2008

Harriet Harman breaks ranks on Damian Green arrest

The leader of the house has become the first cabinet minister to distance herself from the arrest of the Tory immigration spokesman. The BBC reports:
Harriet Harman has said she is "very concerned" by the arrest of Conservative immigration spokesman Damian Green.

Ms Harman also said she understood MPs' anger at the way police officers had raided Mr Green's Parliamentary and constituency bases.

And she said protection of MPs' offices from police raids must be reviewed.
A sign of the way the wind is blowing?

Argent: Hold Your Head Up

Later. The original video has disappeared from Youtube, so I have had to replace it with one that makes nonsense of the comments below. But it is still a great song.

As John Denver kindly explains, this is the band that Rod Argent formed after the Zombies. You will see that Argent himself (on keyboards) has followed the change in fashion between the mid sixties and the early seventies assiduously.

It's a great record, even though I am not convinced anyone can play two guitars stuck together like that.

The Cheeky Girls at the Oxford Union

Yesterday's Independent reported how they got on.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Baby P: For legal reasons we can't know what the legal reasons are

There have been two developments in the case of Baby P - or Peter, to give him the dignity he was denied in life. Both involve excessive secrecy.

Lynne Featherstone has now read the Serious Case Review. You may recall that Ed Balls was at first unwilling to release it even to directly interested MPs and tried to hide behind the Information Commissioner.

Having read the report, Lynne writes:

What I can say is that having read the document I am even more of the opinion that it would be in the public interest for it to be published - obviously with some parts anonymized and with a tiny - very tiny - bit of editing of any personal information around the family.

Otherwise - how will all those who have an interest or experience or knowledge or expertise be able to judge Ed Balls action when the investigative report comes in on Monday? That report he has said he will publish - but surely the wider audience can only benefit from understanding how resonant the original document is and was.
The second point is that the sentencing of the three people convicted over the child's death has been postponed for at least three months. But we are not told why beyond the usual formulation of "legal reasons".

There may be good reasons for this and for the anonymity of all involved in the case. but unless we are given some clue as to what these reasons are, it is hard to see why the public should have confidence that justice is being done.

Speaker Martin: "He's Spartacus"

Speaker Lenthall, 1642
"May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here; and humbly beg your Majesty's pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what your Majesty is pleased to demand of me".
Speaker Martin, 2008
"Help yourself, his office is down the corridor."
People used to behave that, true to his earlier working life, Michael Martin used to behave more like a shop steward for MPs than a Speaker. They won't be saying that any more.

Incidentally, one of the five members Lenthall was protecting was Arthur Haselrig. At the height of the Lib Dem hegemony in Market Harborough, the Tories had to bring in two members of the Hazelrigg (as it is now spelt) family from distant Noseley Hall to fight and lose town seats.

It is sad to see a good radical family fallen so low.

Brownies are a fire hazard - Official

From the Hemel Hempstead Gazette:

Carol singing brownies have been banned from a Hemel Hempstead shopping centre because they are considered a health and safety risk.

Little girls from the West Herts guides have sung for pensioners at a special late night Christmas shopping event in Marlowes for more than a decade.

But the centre's managers decided they would not be invited to this year's event because they would obstruct fire escape routes.

Apart from marking another step in the decline and fall of Western civilisation, this story caught my attention because it quotes the Guides' division commissioner, Gill Oxtoby.

When I attended the long-demolished Fields End Primary School in Hemel Hempstead in the 1960s, its headmaster was a Mr Oxtoby. I wonder if by any chance they are related?

Mitre tip: Archbishop Cranmer.

Friday, November 28, 2008

House Points: The future of fishing

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Kettles of fish

MPs assembled the other day for a great Commons occasion. Not the pre-budget report but the annual debate on fisheries. It featured a figure that this column has become obsessed with over the years: the Minister for Fish. Last Thursday there was a new one in plaice: Huw Irranca-Davies.

Hansard calls him the "Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs," but we know what that really means.

It is always an important debate for members with fishing interests in their constituencies, and many of them are Liberal Democrats. Alan Beith, Alan Reid, Andrew George and Alistair Carmichael all took part. Even Ming Campbell lowered his sights from the finer points of international diplomacy to plead for the lobster fishermen of Pittenweem.

The history of the fishing industry is a tragedy. The apparently endless bounty of the oceans has been all but exhausted by overfishing. This has inevitably led to regulation, but the absurdities of centrally imposed rules lead to fish being thrown back dead because it is illegal to land them.

Most MPs called for more local regulation of fishing. Though some may dream of a return to a free-for-all, for most this was just a wish for more sensible regulation.

Others will point out that fishing is now regulated by the EU via its Common Fisheries Policy and wonder if their industry was uppermost in Edward Heath’s mind when he negotiated Britain’s entry. It is easy to imagine an allegorical painting entitled The Sacrifice of Poseidon to Europa. In it Heath lies chubbily naked on a bed of haddock with his arm around the neck of a bull… Just me, then.

Perhaps there is a parallel with the pre-budget report after all. The seemingly bottomless sea of credit has also been fished out. Individual voters now realise they will have to pay back every penny they have borrowed, and their debts are no longer being made to look insignificant by rising house prices.

In this light Alistair Darling’s cut in the rate of VAT looks very like a red herring. And soon we will have to find the money to pay for it too.

No cormorants were harmed in the writing of this column.

Gordon Brown and the X Factor

File under "Ludicrous Populism".

From The Times:
Now Gordon Brown has caught the bug. The PM has been bombarding contestants on The X Factor with missives urging them to rebel against Simon Cowell’s strictures.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Arrest of Damian Green by counter-terrorism police is an outrage

The arrest of a shadow cabinet minister under anti-terrorism powers can only have taken place with sanction from the highest level. And, if the Daily Telegraph is correct, then it is clear that Green's offence is embarrassing the government:
It is understood that the inquiry is focusing on four Home Office documents allegedly obtained by the Conservatives. Last November, documents from the private office of Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, were leaked to the opposition.

They showed that ministers had known for four months that thousands of illegal immigrants had been cleared to work as security guards but had not told Parliament.
Other documents included information about an illegal immigrant working at House of Commons and a list of Labour MPs preparing to vote against the Government's anti-terrorism measures.
Moreover, by acting in this way the government will only strengthen the public perception that it has something to hide on immigration. You would have to be quite extraordinarily stupid to think anthing else. In fact, it hard to think of anyone who who could be so mind-numbingly stupid as to approve this action.

Hello, my name is Jacqui Smith.


Last night's 15 Minute Musical on BBC Radio 4 dealt with the travails of the Liberal Democrat leader:

I would kill myself, but I can see the headlines now: "Boss of Cheeky Girl's ex-fiancé dies alone and friendless."
But it has a happy ending of sorts.

In which I win a cup

I am clearly fated never to win Lib Dem Blog of the Year, but I did win the Non-Fiction Award at the Annual Dinner of the Leicester Writers Club this evening.

It's the first time I have had custody of a silver cup since I gave up chess.

Dumbing down in British universities

Yesterday I questioned Phil Willis's attitude towards those who suggest there may have been some dumbing down of standards in universities.

Laurie Taylor's satirical column about the University of Poppleton, written for the Times Higher Education Supplement, is a lot nearer the mark:
Dumbing down

Janet Fluellen, our Director of Curriculum Development, has enthusiastically welcomed the news that a cross-party panel of MPs has asked academics to submit evidence of dumbing down in universities.

"We are so committed to this exercise," she told The Poppletonian, "that we have constituted a high-powered dumbing-down committee (myself and the vice-chancellor). Any Poppleton academic with evidence of slipping or falling standards should submit their claim to this committee together with their name, age, departmental affiliation, number of years in service, a recent passport-size photograph, a P45 and a small DNA sample."

An interview with the curator of the Giles cartoon exhibition

Following yesterday's posting about the National Cartoon Archive, a correspondent writes to tell me of an interview with Nick Hiley on The Bloghorn - the diary of the Professional Cartoonists' Organisation.

Nick is the curator of the exhibition Giles: One of the Family, which is now on at the Cartoon Museum in London.

Melanie Phillips dissected

rhetorically speaking... has a nice posting on the unique logic used by the Daily Mail columnist:
Unlike lesser practitioners of the art, Phillips doesn't ignore contradictory or inconvenient evidence. Rather, she incorporates such material as the central proof of whatever she's arguing.
As an example of this the blog quotes yesterday's piece for the Spectator website:
For sure, [Obama] has made some solid and reassuring appointments, such as his Treasury team. But did anyone really believe that a radical president would appoint obvious radicals to key roles in his administration? Maybe he really was a centrist all along. But if not, the one thing Obama is not going to do is torpedo his presidency at the very start by displaying a radical bent.
In other words, "Obama's failure to behave like a crazy radical is in fact proof that he is a crazy radical."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The British Cartoon Archive

The archive is located in the Templeman Library at the
University of Kent. Visit its website.

Survivors again

Despite - or rather, come to think of it, because of - my love for the original series in the 1970s, I did not watch the new version of Survivors.

But there is a very good thread about it on Crooked Timber. It takes in the sociological significance of that original series, 1990 (so I am not the only person who remembers it) and John Wyndham.

Phil Willis attacks critics of Labour university policy

Imagine an inquiry into an aspect of government policy. Would you have any confidence in that inquiry if its chairman called on critics of the policy to "put up or shut up" and challenged them "to come out from the woodwork"?

You would have very little confidence at all. You would probably conclude that the chairman was a Labour hack. You might even worry about what was going on in the darker recesses of his mind. Rats and cockroaches live in the woodwork, don't they?

Except that the person speaking in Phil Willis, Lib Dem MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough and the chairman of the Commons innovation, universities, science and skills select committee.

Yet the Times Higher Education Supplement, which reports Willis's remarks, recently ran a survey on the subject and found:
Of the 500 readers who took part in the survey, nine out of ten participants said resourcing constraints were having an adverse effect on academic standards, and seven out of ten said the rise in the number of top degree classifications did not indicate an improvement in standards.
So it is hard to see why Willis is being so bullish in favour of government policy. No doubt some people do oppose wider access to university education for unworthy reasons, but there is enough evidence - if only anecdotal - to justify a fair-minded inquiry. Surely the role of a select committee chairman is to be impartial and to put those giving evidence at their ease?

But then Willis has always had a side to his politics that is more Labour than many Labour supporters. His was the dominant Lib Dem voice on education for several years after 1997, and because of that we ended up opposing all parental choice in secondary school admissions. I doubt that any Liberal Democrat candidate anywhere campaigned on that policy.

Search of the Day

Late yesterday evening someone from Liverpool Googled:
rutland water leonard cohen

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Parliamentary Idiot of the Day: Nigel Griffiths

Even among Labour backbenchers, the MP for Edinburgh South stands out.

Guido Fawkes has the story.

Rachel Johnson wins Bad Sex in Fiction award

Another triumph for the Johnson family. Boris's sister Rachel has defeated Alastair Campbell, amongst others, to win this year's Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award.

The magazine's deputy editor Tom Fleming said of her work: "It's a mixture of cliché and euphemism, but it's also very spirited – A plus for effort."

If you go to the Guardian website you can judge for yourself.

Armenia retains chess title at Dresden Olympiad

From Associated Press:

Armenia won its second straight gold medal at the Chess Olympiad Tuesday by defeating China 2.5-1.5 in the 11th and final round.

Armenia's only win came on board four where Tigran L. Petrosian beat Li Chao. Armenia finished the tournament alone in first place with 19 points. Two points are awarded for each match win and one for a tie.

Israel took silver with 18 points after beating the Netherlands 2.5-1.5.

The United States took bronze on a tiebreaker after upsetting second-seed Ukraine with a 3.5-0.5 drubbing, getting wins from Gata Kamsky against Vassily Ivanchuk on board one, Alexander Onischuk against Pavel Eljanov on board three, and Yuri Shulman against Zahar Efimenko on board four. Hikaru Nakamura of the United States drew Sergey Karjakin on board two.

The rout left the teams tied at 17 points but gave the medal to the U.S.

You can find all the games on the official Olympiad website. England faded after a good start and finished 15th. We used to do better.

Calder's Comfort Farm: A is for Aardvark, Aaronovitch and ABBA

The latest Calder's Comfort Farm is up on the New Statesman website:
Because everyone should challenge the Guardian's pieties. When I was at a loose end in London I used to hide in the bushes outside the newspaper's offices. As the journalists walked passed I would whisper things like "Bright working-class kids did better when their were grammar schools" or "Polly Toynbee supported David Owen's Continuing SDP".
It was great fun. I made Simon Hoggart cry once.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vince Cable's response to the pre-budget report

The Liberal Democrat website has the full text:

"What I fail to see is how the economy receives a major stimulus from, for example, a £5 cut in the price of a £220 imported flat-screen television or a 50p cut in a £25 restaurant bill. Surely it would be much more sensible to put money directly in the pockets of low-paid workers by cutting their income tax, rather than offering them a pathetic £25 and, if they earn over £20,000 a year, the prospect of tax increases.

"The Government have at last, after 11 years, acknowledged that there is a problem of inequality relating to the tax system. What they propose is a higher rate of tax for very high earners, after two years-possibly. What is needed, surely, is a comprehensive approach which involves cutting income tax for low-paid middle-income families and removing the vast plethora of tax reliefs and allowances from which the wealthy benefit, rather than this very limited fig leaf for redistributive policy.

An interview with Nick Clegg

The new issue of Total Politics has an interview with Nick Clegg by Shelagh Fogarty:
Clegg seems to be a man at ease with himself, courteous to the people around him but clearly the centre of the action.
But she is disappointed by his choice of biscuits.

Britblog Roundup 197

This week put together by Mick Fealty.

I'm a man

Charlotte Gore, and many other bloggers, have been trying out Gender Analyzer:

We created Genderanalyzer out of curiosity and fun. It uses Artificial Intelligence to determine if a homepage is written by a man or woman.
And it is 65 per cent certain that Liberal England is written by a man. That's butch enough for me.

Take it away, lads.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Albert Hammond: Free Electric Band

Here is a song from Gibraltar's greatest gift to the pop world that I remember from Top of the Pops in 1973 and have hardly heard since.

It was Hammond's only UK hit, though he had several in the USA and also enjoyed considerable success as a songwriter in partnership with Mike Hazelwood. They wrote "The Air that I Breathe", which was a hit for The Hollies, for instance.

Hammond is the father of the imaginatively named Albert Hammond Jr, who is a member of The Strokes. I believe them to be popular with the young people.

Cipriani's struggles show the media should not pick the England team

Cast your mind back to the end of the 2007 Six Nations. England had Jonny Wilkinson coming back to fitness and while he was away we had discovered two promising fly halves. Toby Flood had the authority and calmness to control a match, while Shane Geraghty looked an exciting, more attacking option.

Since then the two of them have been junked in favour of Danny Cipriani, whose performances have never looked likely to justify the extraordinary faith that has been placed in him.

Because of his tabloid lifestyle, it was natural that the newspapers should show interest in him. But a team is in trouble when the newspapers are choosing the national side. (Remember the extraordinary promotion of the Hollioake brothers to the England cricket team and how quickly the selectors subsequently lost interest in them?)

And a tabloid lifestyle is not much of a recommendation anyway. As Lembit Opik will confirm, dating a Cheeky Girl doesn't necessarily help you win when in matters.

Mike Catt writes in the Telegraph:
For Cipriani's sake, I would play Toby Flood at fly-half against New Zealand next week. At least Flood will threaten the gain line. At the moment Cipriani is standing deep and shovelling the ball sideways, giving his outside backs no chance.
And I would also pick Harry Ellis rather than Danny Care. Perhaps, as a Leicester Tigers fan, I am biased, but you cannot base your strategy on the hope that your scrum half will make a 50-yard break in every game. If you want someone to link with the back row and keep the team moving forward, then Ellis is your man.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

BBC website profiles Alistair Carmichael

The BBC has a sympathetic profile of the Lib Dem MP, concentrating on the amount of travelling he has to do as MP for Orkney and Shetland:

He has to travel from the islands to Westminster and back, a round trip of 1,400 miles, not to mention making his way around his widely scattered constituency - the UK's most northerly.

Mr Carmichael told the BBC: "Go back 150 years ago and the MP came up for a summer tour and met some of the locals to get soundings.

"They went back to Westminster and that was usually it for the year."

Myth of the Day: William Webb Ellis invented rugby football

When England and South Africa contested the rugby world cup final last autumn they were playing for the Webb Ellis Cup.

Why? Because, as everyone knows, when a schoolboy at Rugby, William Webb Ellis picked up the ball during a game of football and ran with it, thus inventing a new sport.

Except that, as a website put together by Peter Shortell proves, he almost certainly didn't.

Webb Ellis, who died in 1872, the year after the Rugby Football Union was formed, was probably unaware of his supposed role in the invention of the game, much as Harry Calder almost died without knowing he had once been one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year.

Anyway, good luck to England in the return match today. I was once the teenage Martin Johnson's ward councillor here in Market Harborough.

Happy birthday, Benjamin Britten

Britten was born in Lowestoft on 22 November 1913.

As On an Overgrown Path records, his birthplace (21 Kirkley Cliff Road) is now a five-star guest house.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ed Balls 0 Information Commissioner 1

Yesterday Ed Balls told the Commons that he could not release the full, confidential, serious case review of the case of Baby Peter because of professional advice and an earlier ruling of the Information Commissioner. As I reported, the Commissioner then issued a press statement issuing himself from Balls's decision.

Today Balls relented and announced that the report will be shown, on privy council terms, to five MPs, including Lynne Featherstone and David Laws.

It would be interesting to know if the original decision came from Balls or his civil servants and how enthusiastic he was to overturn it.

House Points: Haringey, Philip Hollobone and ocarinas

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

I had intended to write the definitive column on Baby Peter and Haringey, but Philip Hollobone and his ocarinas broke in. His bizarre contribution has also been noted by Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East, but no one else. He is lucky.

House of fools

Who to blame for the scenes at prime minister’s questions last week? Least at fault was David Cameron. Though his later questions amounted to "What did you just call me?" he was entitled to raise the death of Baby P.

Cameron asked if it was acceptable that the review into the child’s death had been overseen by Haringey’s own children's services director. Lynne Featherstone and our councillors have rightly been asking more pointed questions than that.

More to blame was Gordon Brown. He has always had a tin ear for anything beyond economics and last Wednesday his answers were particularly graceless. He has arrived at a state of mind where, even as the economy collapses around him, he is so convinced of his own righteousness that anyone who questions him must have base motives.

But the real villains were Brown’s backbenchers for barracking Cameron. They heard him mention a Labour authority and social workers and that was enough for them. This ingrained belief, even in the face of the strongest evidence, that "their people" can do no wrong is one of Labour’s least appealing characteristics.

The death of Baby P - wouldn’t it be more dignified if we were allowed to call him by name? - was raised again when Ed Balls answered questions on Monday. He tried to slip a statement through. Mr Speaker cut him sort short and said he would have to come back another day and do it properly. The atmosphere was tense.

At which point the Tory Philip Hollobone took it into his head to stand up and ask Balls this question:

On another subject, the ocarina is an easy-to-play, easy-to-learn, easy-to-teach circular flute, and the centre of the UK’s ocarina industry is in Kettering. My constituents, David and Christa Liggins, actively promote the use of this low-cost musical instrument in schools across the country. Would the Secretary of State agree to meet my constituents and me to discuss how this low-cost instrument might help the Government to teach more school pupils how to play musical instruments?

So now Kettering is not only home to Britain’s ocarina industry: it is also home to the House of Commons’ greatest fool. Quite an accolade for the town.

My chess career

My mention of the current Chess Olympiad in Dresden reminds me of one of my proudest boasts in the game.

I once beat an Olympiad top board player while playing for Richmond & Twickenham in the London League in 1983 or 1984.

In fact, I beat someone who has played top board for two different countries at Olympiads. His name is Simon Le Blancq and he played top board for Zimbabwe in 1984 and for Guernsey-Jersey in 1986, 1988 and 1990.

I admit that neither country is a chess superpower, but it is a claim to fame of sorts.

Suggestions that BNP sympathisers are behind Waltham Forest smears

Earlier today Lib Dem Voice reported that leaflets claiming the Liberal Democrats want to legalise paedophilia being pushed through voters’ doors in Waltham Forest. They are being distributed in the Hale End & Highams Park ward where there is currently a council by-election campaign taking place.

Now Lancaster Unity says:

Images identical to those on sick leaflets claiming the Liberal Democrats condone paedophilia are available on the British National Party (BNP) website ...

This has fuelled speculation that BNP members or sympathisers are behind the smear campaign.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Information Commissioner distances himself from Ed Balls

Today Ed Balls told the Commons:
The hon. Gentleman [Michael Gove] will know, as I wrote to him and to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) this morning, that yesterday I endeavoured to see whether I was able to release the full, confidential, serious case review to parliamentarians, but the clear professional advice given to me was that that would be the wrong thing to do, given the ruling of the Information Commissioner and the importance of making sure that in future, serious case reviews are done properly.
How then to explain the following the following press statement issues by the Information Commissioner's Office today? It says:

The ICO has not been consulted in relation to the release of the case review file regarding the tragic circumstances of the 'Baby P' case. We have not made a ruling on this case.

The Data Protection Act is not a barrier to sharing personal information when necessary. However, case review files are likely to contain, not only sensitive personal information about the subject of the review, but often about third parties too, such as friends, relatives and professionals. This is a particular consideration where the matter is the subject of such emotive debate, and there may be safety issues for those involved in the case.

There will be circumstances where reports need to be scrutinised by select committees and other bodies to ensure that important lessons are learned. Data protection does not prevent appropriate individuals from accessing relevant information in these circumstances.

At the very least, Ed Balls needs to find himself some new professional advisers.

Thanks to Looking for a Voice.

Headline of the Day

From the Shropshire Star:
County man linked to £20 drug raid
Sadly, if you read the accompanying story it is clear that this is not another sign of the essential innocence of rural Shropshire. They mean £20 million.

World Philosophy Day: A short film about Richard Rorty

To celebrate World Philosophy Day, here is a short film about Richard Rorty.

Rorty died last year - you may also want to read his Daily Telegraph obituary.

How social work responds to criticism

The most depressing thing I have read today is the contribution of Dr Ray Jones to a brief Guardian symposium on the baby Peter case. He is professor of social work at Kingston University and St. Georges University of London and a former director of social services.

Jones writes:

When the media and public bigots, zealots and hypocrites are out on their witch hunts is probably not the best time for measured reflection about child protection. But there is a danger that politicians, afraid of their own public lynching, will give in to the mob.
No doubt there have been reactions of this sort, but it is outrageous to characterise all criticism of the actions of Haringey council in this way.

A profession that believes it can do no wrong will never learn from its mistakes.

Quote of the Day

Thank you to the kind people at Birkdale Focus for drawing my attention to Paula Parry, the leader of the Conservative group on Sefton council.

According to the Southport Visiter, she said of the disgraced Tory MEP Den Dover:
“I’m sure he’s not broken the law, but possibly been creative with his expenses."

Now the Curse of House Points strikes down Anne Moffat

I recently reported that my Liberal Democrat News column House Points has developed a curse. Both Jonathan Ross and George Osborne have been struck down by it.

Now it has claimed a third victim: Anne Moffat, the Labour MP for East Lothian.

Back in April I wrote:

I know what’s wrong with the Labour Party these days. It’s called Anne Moffat and sits in the House of Commons for East Lothian.
Her crime? Attacking the saintly Norman Baker, that's what.

Now J. Arthur McNumpty reports that she has fallen foul of her local party:

when discussions started regarding her re-selection, it turned out that her local colleagues were less than enthralled at the prospect ...

... of the six branches in the (Westminster) Constituency, three voted against her gaining an automatic re-selection for 2010 ... and a further Branch, Prestonpans, was deadlocked on the matter. Even the local Fabians rounded on her: it was Union support that kept her in place, but the row simmered on, with the local party Executive seeking an "open vote" on her re-selection at an ugly meeting that saw her flounce out after reading a prepared statement.

I expect news of her deselection any day now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Heresy Corner on John Sergeant and the death of democracy

Top blogging:

In the judges' despair and Sergeant's popularity can be detected the elitist's fear and mistrust of the mob. In public life today, politicians are keen to give away power, to palm off responsibility onto unelected quangoes and committees or upwards to Brussels or the IMF, to appeal to supposedly objective science. For to decide questions in a manner that is politically accountable is to allow the public to have a voice.

And except in questions of "law and order", where public prejudices may to a limited extent be indulged, this is to go against the grain of a governing class that assumes it knows what is right and that public opinion is there primarily to be manipulated.

Liberator: No connection with the firm next door

Listening to Newsnight discussing the failures of Liberata over students' maintenance allowances, I feel I should point out that it has no connection with the esteemed Liberator magazine even though it is pronounced the same way.

Nor does the magazine have anything to do with Jabez Spencer Balfour and the Liberator Building Society:

In the late 1860s, he was employed by and soon became the head of the Liberator Building Society, which lent money to the deserving.

The idea of “philanthropic finance” had great appeal for Britain’s Nonconformists, and the society’s slogan — “a free home makes a free man” — was a further lure for those depositing their savings. By 1886 the Liberator had grown into one of Britain’s biggest building societies and property developers.

Its apparent stability was entirely fraudulent. Quite simply, Jabez and his cronies — well-paid accountants, lawyers and other professionals — decided what profits and dividends each part of the company should earn, and invented the figures to match them. Jabez probably never earned any profits at all; the deposits and shareholders’ funds, however, provided him with a glittering lifestyle.

In Balfour's defence, he did build the National Liberal Club.

Rugby Quote of the Day

James Haskell celebrates his elevation to the England starting XV:
"Without sounding cheesy, it's a big challenge to play against Burger."

Chess Olympiad 2008, Dresden

This is being well covered, with live coverage of some games, at Chessdom.

England are in an encouraging seventh place.

Later. In fact, after five rounds England share the lead with Russia, Armenia, Germany, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. But they playing Russia today and look like losing the match 3-1.

And there is much better coverage on the official Olympiad website.

Even later. Armenia retained the title.

Brian Paddick and Hugh Paddick

In view of the erstwhile Lib Dem Mayoral candidate's current adventures in the jungle, it is time to remind ourselves that he is related to the late Round the Horne actor Hugh Paddick.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The attraction of the Stiperstones

Why am I always going on about the Stiperstones?

These photographs by a gentleman named Graham may help you understand.

The history of child abuse inquiries

The other day, while discussing the death of Baby P (can't we all, like Heresy Corner, call him Peter now?) I wrote:
Ed Balls has now announced yet another enquiry, but such enquiries have had remarkably similar findings going right back to the death of Dennis O'Neill in 1945.
The extent to which the death of Dennis O'Neill and the events that followed it set the pattern for later deaths and inquiries can be seen from this article on the Community Care site:

Sir Walter Monckton’s one-man, four day inquiry opened on 10 April 1945. He found that the Goughs had been selected “without adequate inquiry being made as to their suitability” and that “there had been a serious lack of supervision by the local authority”.

Shropshire Council’s public assistance officer had informed Newport officers that he was “unable to see his way clear to arrange supervision of your cases” because Newport was paying the Goughs a higher boarding out allowance (fostering fees) than Shropshire’s rates. “Disparities of this kind had caused trouble in the past. It was not a question of saving money but of avoiding friction with foster-parents,” the inquiry said.

On 20 December 1944, a clerk from Newport, a Miss EM Edwards, was in Shropshire to discuss the payments dispute. While there she was asked to visit the boys, although the inquiry found she “had little experience to qualify her to undertake a visit to supervise the children in their foster home”. Nonetheless, she knew things were not right.

In her report she recommended the “immediate removal” of the boys and commented that she “several times impressed upon Mrs Gough the necessity of calling in a doctor for Dennis”. Neither authority responded with any urgency. In Shropshire, the report was put aside for an officer to deal with “on his return from annual leave on the 10 January” – Dennis died on 9 January.

The issues that contributed to his death – poor record-keeping and filing, unsuitable appointments, lack of partnership working, resource concerns, failing to act on warning signs, weak supervision and “a lamentable failure of communication” – were not buried with Dennis O’Neill. These failings were to feature regularly in inquiries held into the death or abuse of children in care for the next 60 years – up to and including that of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié.

The death of Maria Colwell in 1973 is always mentioned when there is a new child abuse scandal involving a local authority. The death of Dennis O'Neill seems to have been forgotten. I came across it by chance myself because of my Shropshire fixation.

Hackney backs down over Iain Sinclair book

The Hackney Gazette reports that the borough council has backed down over its decision to withdraw an invitation to Iain Sinclair to launch his new book in one of its libraries:

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman said: "The council was never against Iain Sinclair launching his book in Hackney and the decision to cancel the planned launch of his forthcoming book from Stoke Newington library was not motivated by the desire to ban or censor his opinions."

She added that the council now plans to invite the author to speak at one of its events early next year, likely to be held in council premises.

Found via a complex route starting with Bridget Fox.

Baby P, anonymity and the internet

Martin Belam writes about the difficulty of keeping information out of the public domain in the internet age. The identities of Baby P and those convicted of harming him are projected by legal injunctions, but their names are not hard to find with a little Googling.

He concludes:
It is difficult to see how much longer the court ruling can be expected to hold. If the anonymity restriction is lifted, it will at least remove the curious moral anomaly that people who worked on the case are free to be named, shamed and hounded by the press, whereas the actual perpetrators of the dreadful crime are protected by the state from the prying public.
It will also allow the child the dignity of being remembered under his full name.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reg Varney: His part in our downfall

This morning I quoted with approval Andrew Collins' thoughts on the passing of Reg Varney: "Anyone younger than 40 will presumably struggle to place Reg, but it is their loss."

Nil nisi bonum and all that.

But it has to admitted that there is a case against. Three years ago I quoted Jonathan Pearce's reaction to seeing one of the On the Buses films on television:
It was quite a shock watching the film. It was a reminder of how greatly Britain has changed since the early 70s.
For starters, the constant leeriness towards women, the assumption that any vaguely attractive woman was nothing more than mattress-fodder, makes even yours truly - no fan of political correctness - feel uneasy.
One of the main themes of the story is how the manager, in a drive to improve the efficiency of the layabout male staff, decides to hire a group of women drivers. The men regard this move as a disaster and a threat to "their" jobs (probably correctly).
What is particularly striking is how the shop steward of the bus-drivers' union makes it clear that as far as his union is concerned, women have no place in a bus, except either as a customer or as someone he can molest.
Now Chris Dillow has levelled a new charge against him:
His portrayal of Stan Butler did much to perpetuate the image of the 1970s worker as a bone-idle work-dodger; we forget today just how enormously popular On the Buses was. And this in turn might subconsciously have contributed to the popularity of Thatcherism.
How many of those who, when asked by Tories in 1979 whether the working class had become too big for its boots, conjured up a picture of Stan Butler and so voted for Thatcher?
He also believes Reg may be responsible for our current-day low savings ratio because of his patronage of the first "hole in the wall" cash machine.

Britblog Roundup 196

This week at Suz Blog.

So farewell then Reg Varney

Reg Varney has died at the age of 92. Console yourself by visiting the On the Buses Tribute Site.

And Andrew Collins reminds us:

On 27 June, 1967, Reg Varney was the first person in the world to use a cashpoint machine. The first ever electronic ATM was installed at Barclays Bank in Enfield, North London, and for reasons I have yet to specify, Reg was the first to use it.
He also says "Anyone younger than 40 will presumably struggle to place Reg, but it is their loss."


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Roxy Music: Do the Strand

In view of this blog's recent preoccupation with Otis Ferry (and the plot still thickens) and Bryan Ferry, there is only one band to choose this week. As I wrote the other day:

I would not like to see Bryan Ferry locked up. He and Roxy Music were two of the very few good things about chart music after the demise of glam rock (which was not much good itself) and before the rise of punk and new wave.

If you remember the TV series The Rock 'n' Roll Years, which showed news footage to the accompaniment of contemporary pop songs, they had to play three Roxy Music tracks to get any decent music at all when they got to 1975.

And do not forget that Ferry's bandmate Brian Eno is Nick Clegg's youth affairs adviser.

This is one of Roxy Music's best early songs. It is worth sitting through the minute or so of chat at the start.

Brian Eno is the exotic creature in the silver top playing what our resident music expert calls "a funny electronic thing".

Joke of the Day

It can be found, courtesy of Kennth Williams and Kenneth Horne, at Blognor Regis.

Now read more about Kenneth Horne.

Wild Edric

Since I mentioned the legend of Wild Edric in Calder's Comfort Farm a couple of weeks ago, two things have happened.

Nigel Sustins has kindly sent me a copy of his Wild Edric: A Narrative Poem, which I shall be reviewing for Liberator.

And I have remembered this stirring quotation from John Wood's 1944 book Quietest Under the Sun: Footways on Severnside Hills:

Though the Stiperstones stand as long as the world endures the doom of the land we love may be inevitable unless the descendants of the Saxons rise and throw off that remaining relic of the Norman Conquest: class privilege based on a superiority that is not of mental nor even physical powers, but merely built up from one generation to another on the continued assumption of usurped authority, particularly associated in the minds of ramblers with the private ownership of uncultivated land.

The day that the English - or Scots or Welsh - tramper can cross the moors of his native Britain without fear of impediment from game-preserving landowners or their hirelings, that day will the Devil be finally foiled and the spirit of Wild Edric be liberated for ever from its dungeon beneath the Stiperstones.

That's the stuff to give the troops.

Foxton Locks

Someone once complained that they never know which parts of my writing are true and which I have made up. A safe rule is that the more incredible something is, the more likely it is to be true.

So when I wrote on Comment is Free last year:

Back in the 1980s I spent a summer working for the Liberal party conference office. This being the old Liberal party, it was naturally housed in two semi-converted narrow boats moored deep in the Leicestershire countryside.
every word was true.

It was the 1985 Liberal Party Assembly, which was held at the Caird Hall in Dundee. And those boats were moored at Foxton, famous for its two staircases of locks and once the site of a remarkable inclined plane that lifted boats up the hillside in Edwardian days.

This was not the first time I had visited Foxton. The first time was on a canal holiday - I lived in Hertfordshire in those days - when I was 11. At that time you had to be that sort of age to find the remains of the inclinced plane as they were with covered with gorse bushes and no adult could penetrate the tunnels between them. That gorse has long since been cleared.

Over the years the remains have been cleaned up and interpreted half to death. I suppose it is progress of a sort, making their story accessible to more people, but as at Snailbeach I am glad I knew them in their undiscovered days.

In 1985 the Liberal Party Assembly office was moored in what had once been the arm taking boats to the bottom of the inclined plane. It was overhung with trees and easy to miss if you did not know it was there. When I saw it yesterday many of those trees had been felled and it had lost its mystery.

There are gains to the modern Foxton. I had a drink by the open fire in the Bridge 61 Free House, which feels like a miraculously surviving old pub but in reality has been open only for a couple of years.

The Foxton Locks Inn across the canal was a far more modest establishment in 1985 (when I think it was called the Bridge 61 - are you still with me?) and I am not sure it was a pub at all in the 1970s.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gordon Brown is behaving like a small-town Tory

On Wednesday Gordon Brown accused David Cameron of being party political because he raised the Baby P case at prime minister's questions. Today, says the BBC:

Gordon Brown says he is disappointed by "partisan talk" after the shadow chancellor warned his actions could lead to sterling's collapse.
Brown has clearly convinced himself that he always acts in the national interest and that those who criticise him can only do so from base motives.

It is tempting to compare him to the dictator of some old East European state. But he reminds me more of the Conservatives I used to tangle with in local politics.

For decades their type had run the town with their own business interests firmly in mind, but if you ever questioned this they would look aghast and accuse you of being political.

Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor

Of course, I don't watch them myself.

I really don't watch Strictly Come Dancing, but I know that John Sargeant has emerged as a cult figure. However, he is not quite the innocent journalist taking his first steps in the world of show business that many must think him. Because Sargeant was an actor before he was a journalist.

As I wrote on this blog back in the days when no one read it, Sargeant:
appeared in Alan Bennett's 1966 comedy series On the Margin. (It was widely expected that Bennett would cast Sergeant's Oxford contemporary Michael Palin, but he thought him "too showbiz".) The tapes of it have long been wiped, but it contains some of Bennett's most famous sketches - his NORWICH monologue, for instance.
And The X Factor? Read Charlie Brooker in this morning's Guardian on the dreadful Eoghan Quigg:
Weird. Eerie. Like the spectral figure of an infant chimney sweep that suddenly appears in an upstairs window, gazing sadly at your back as you walk the grounds of a remote country mansion on a silent Christmas afternoon; alerted by an indefinable chill, you turn and, for the briefest moment, his wet, sorry eyes meet yours... and then he's gone.
Of course, I don't watch them myself.

Howard League report on youth justice and child custody in Jersey

The publication of the report from the Howard League for Penal Reform yesterday failed to excite much interest yesterday. It seems that if there are no cellars or shackles in the story the press does now want to know.

The Community Care website does have the story:

Although young people at the island's secure children's home, Greenfields, did not feel unsafe at the time of the inquiry, former residents reported "highly credible evidence" of "abusive" experiences.

The Howard League report said: "Staff and young people told us that practices going back many years have given cause for serious concern. Particular concern was expressed in relation to practices relating to isolation, single separation or solitary confinement that could be regarded as abusive."

The organisation found that "a culture of fear and intimidation" prevented some staff speaking out, although this view was not shared by all. "Whatever the truth of these perceptions, we believe that these kind of difficulties have serious consequences for the care of children," the report said.

Meanwhile, Stuart Syvret has 37 questions for those who have rubbished the investigation at Haute de la Garenne.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Don't waste time building a wooden horse...

From BBC News:

A manhunt is under way in western Germany for a convicted drug dealer who escaped by mailing himself out of jail.

The 42-year-old Turkish citizen - who was serving a seven-year sentence - had been making stationery with other prisoners destined for the shops.

At the end of his shift, the inmate climbed into a cardboard box and was taken out of prison by express courier. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Calls for Kenneth Clarke to be shadow chancellor grow

Back in September Iain Dale started a hare running by suggesting that Kenneth Clarke should replace George Osborne as shadow chancellor. Now The Mole on First Posts suggests that senior Conservatives are pressing David Cameron to make just this move.

Looking back, I see that I was rather rude about Iain's attempt to suggest that his call was no reflection on George Osborne's performance. He suggested that Osborne would have made a good chancellor in normal circumstances, but that Clarke was more suited to a recession.

Maybe there is something to this after all. Can one divide all politicians between those suited to good times and those suited to hard times? A provisional list might look like this:

Good times
Tony Blair
David Cameron
Nick Clegg
George Osborne
David Miliband

Hard Times
Gordon Brown
Margaret Thatcher
Vince Cable
Denis Healey
Alistair Darling

Well, it's a thought.

Of course the death of Baby P is a political matter

Developments in the Baby P case today include the news that a former Haringey employee had raised concerns about the standard of social care in the borough with ministers. Rather than listen to her the council had obtained court injunction preventing her from speaking about the matter. See the report on the Daily Telegraph site.

If this is the attitude Haringey takes to criticism how will it ever learn when things are going wrong?

To keep up with developments I recommend the blog written by Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dem MP for part of Haringey.

Lynne is quoted on the Telegraph site too, talking about Haringey's use of an injunction against Nevres Kemal:

"It is absolute obstruction," she said.

"You have to think that everyone is acting on behalf of their own self interest, to protect themselves.

"Nowhere is the interest of the child being served. An injunction on the social worker is madness."

I think she is right to take up this issue. But I wonder what those Lib Dems who seemed so appalled that David Cameron raised it in the Commons on Wednesday think about it.

On reflection I think those most at fault for those unedifying scenes were Labour backbenchers. They heard Haringey Council and social workers mentioned and rode to the defence of their people by barracking Cameron. It was this that made him genuinely angry and he had every right to be angry.

And one of the best things about being a Liberal Democrat is that you are not caught up in the often over-cosy relationship between Labour councillors and their Labour supporting staff. As Lynne shows, this leaves us free to raise issues like the death of Baby P.

Incidentally, wouldn't it be more dignified if we were allowed to give the child his real name?

Otis Ferry: Prison life is not tough

Earlier this week, in my column for the New Statesman website, I wrote about the bizarre claim that Otis Ferry is being held as a political prisoner. Yesterday he hit hit the national headlines after complaining that prison is too soft.

I quote, of course, the Shropshire Star's telling of the story:

The joint huntmaster of the South Shropshire Hunt said: “Contrary to popular belief, prison life is not tough, and in this namby-pamby society we even get our own televisions, although I have quickly realised that watching it is quite a punishment in itself."

House Points: Strengths and weaknesses of Lib Dem economics

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.


Last time the Liberal Democrats called a Commons debate on the economy, the treasury minister Angela Eagle was scathing. Our motion read "like the storyboard for Apocalypse Now or perhaps even Bleak House." Why, it even said Britain faced the risk of recession! "Fortunately for all of us," Eagle reassured the House, "that colourful and lurid fiction has no real bearing on the macro-economic reality."

For good measure, she added: "Hysterical overreaction … might attract a few cheap headlines … but it is not mature or responsible."

That was April. Eagle was in her place again on Monday, but in a very different world. As Philip Hammond, the Tory shadow treasury minister pointed out, her reply to Vince Cable’s opening speech used the words "global" or "globally" 21 times. There was no mention of any of the policy or regulatory failures made in the UK.

But then Vince is, well, invincible at present. One commentator describes him as the nation’s kindly uncle. Another writes: "Everyone likes him. He predicted this crisis but is not crowing about it. He is comprehensible, calm and human. Can’t we just get him to sort it all out?" One even claims he is descended from Sir Thomas More.

All of which means it is safe to ask a few questions about Lib Dem economic policy. Our first package - the 4p cut in income tax funded by green taxes and closing loopholes for high earners - is well understood. But is our second package - the £20bn of spending cuts - so clear?

There was some wobbling during the Bournemouth Conference, but eventually it was widely agreed that the £20bn would be used to fund our different spending priorities. There would only be tax cuts if there were something left over after that.

Today that money is earmarked for tax cuts, with a danger of confusion or double counting. The other day Nick Clegg said we would use the money saved by scrapping identity cards to cut income tax, but Chris Huhne still proposes to spend it on more police officers.

While Super Vince bestrides the globe, none of this matters much. But we do need to agree a clear policy in time for the next election.

Ludlow town councillors call in the police

I promise myself I will stop writing about Britain most dysfunctional local authority. But as long as it keeps producing stories like this one from the Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser...

Police are investigating alleged financial irregularities at Ludlow Town Council.

In a statement, West Mercia Police confirmed it had received a complaint and was looking into it.

Town councillors Michael Bradley and Tony Pound have said that they went to police to report their concerns. “We had tried to get the matter investigated internally. We felt that there was no option but to take the matter to the police,” said Councillor Bradley.

Photo Caption of the Day

From the BBC2 Newsnight page:
Parliamentarian of the Year Peter Mandelson with George Osborne. You couldn't make it up.
But they did make it up. Parliamentarian of the Year went to Vince Cable.

You would think that, what with all the money it has saved by suspending Jonathan Ross, the BBC would be able to afford some competent journalism.

Later. It is nearly eight in the evening and the faulty caption is still in place.

Today's Guardian deserves an honourable mention in this category. It claimed to be showing us a photograph of John Maynard Keynes at the Bretton Woods conference of 1994.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Vince Cable wins Parliamentarian of the Year

The Spectator's Coffee House blog has the full list of the winners of the Spectator/Threadneedle Parliamentarian Awards:
  • Newcomer of the Year: Peter Mandelson

  • Inquisitor of the Year: Rt Hon Frank Field

  • Peer of the Year: Baroness Manningham-Buller

  • Speech of the Year: Diane Abbott

  • Resignation of the Year: Rt Hon David Davis

  • Minister to Watch: Rt Hon Ed Miliband

  • Campaigner of the Year: Ben Wallace

  • Readers’ Representative: Nadine Dorries

  • Parliamentarian of the Year: Dr Vincent Cable

  • Politician of the Year Mayor: Boris Johnson
Congratulations to Vince.

Coffee House also has Matthew D'Ancona's introductory address and comments on the winners. And you can find the gossip from the ceremony on Conservative Home.

Brian Paddick: I'm a poltician, get me in there

What to make of Brian Paddick's decision to appear in I'm a Celebrity...?

At the Lib Dem Conference a couple of months ago Brian was working the fringe hard and had a media adviser in tow. From which I conclude that he is serious about continuing his political career.

From that I conclude that his appearance in ...Get Me Out of Here is not a sign that he is giving up his political career but an attempt to further it. It will be interesting to see if it works.

Meanwhile, how am I going to contact one of my MEPs here in the East Midlands. I refer to a Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk.

Child abuse on Jersey

Long ago - so long ago that this blog did not exist - I wrote a House Points column (the one for 27 June 2003) about abuse in children's homes:

There is something voyeuristic about the media’s emphasis on sexual matters. Reading the report of the 1992 inquiry into Leicestershire’s children’s homes, what comes through above is the squalor the children lived in and the inadequacies of those who regarded themselves as skilled therapists.

But these points never make the headlines. Nor do the appalling outcomes for children brought up in public care.

I thought of this today when it was announced that Jersey police no longer believe that there were any murders of children at Haute de la Garenne. It was always likely that the more lurid stories would turn out to have little basis in fact, but that does not mean that we can forget about Jersey.

This blog's guide to all things on the island, Senator Stuart Syvret, believes that this announcement is an attempt to divert attention from the Howard League for Penal Reform report on youth justice and child custody issues in Jersey, which will soon be published.

He writes:
But so crassly obvious is this stunt that some UK journalists who have contacted me are already falling about laughing at it.

Why the need to marginalise and distract attention from the Howard League report?

The Howard League has undertaken a detailed, independent investigation into youth justice and child custody issues in Jersey. A study which has examined the evidence, looked at the law, spoken with victims and whistle-blowers – and – particularly problematically for the Jersey oligarchy – the era they’ve been examining is comparatively recent.

The late 1980’s, 1990’s and up until 2006 and the present day.

An era, in fact, which is so recent that many of the key figures involved – for example many senior civil servants – are still in post.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bend over, Den Dover

The BBC reports:
A Conservative MEP is being expelled from the party after the EU Parliament told him to repay £500,000 in expenses paid to his family for office work.

Den Dover, a former chief whip who has denied any wrongdoing, was stripped of the party whip after an EU probe found him guilty of a conflict of interest.
Thanks to Costigan Quist for alerting me to the opportunity to use this headline.

Bryan Ferry is Innocent

Many thank to Stephen Tall at Lib Dem Voice for drawing the latest Calder's Comfort Farm to his readers' attention.

Unfortunately, he must have read it rather quickly: "Jonathan Calder looks at Bryan Ferry’s position as a ‘political prisoner’." It is not Bryan Ferry but his son Otis whom a Tory MP has claimed is a political prisoner.

I would not like to see Bryan Ferry locked up. He and Roxy Music were two of the very few good things about chart music after the demise of glam rock (which was not much good itself) and before the rise of punk and new wave.

If you remember the TV series The Rock 'n' Roll Years, which showed news footage to the accompaniment of contemporary pop songs, they had to play three Roxy Music tracks to get any decent music at all when they got to 1975.

And do not forget that Ferry's bandmate Brian Eno is Nick Clegg's youth affairs adviser.

Time to sort out Haringey children's services

From The Times website:

The Times has also learnt that Haringey Council, sharply criticised after the death of Victoria Climbie eight years ago, hampered the investigation into the death of Baby P by not handing over all their information to murder squad detectives.

It was only when the trial got to court and the judge requested that they provide all their evidence that police officers were able to see everything they had.

A senior source involved in the inquiry said: "The council came in with pages and pages of stuff that we had no idea existed and had never seen before."

Gordon Brown's response on this case at prime minister's questions today reminds us that he has a tin ear when it comes to anything but economics and I suspect their was a touch of the deep-grained Labour instinct to protect their own in their too. David Cameron's indignation was far more appropriate to the occasion.

Ed Balls has now announced yet another inquiry, but such inquiries have had remarkably similar findings going right back to the death of Dennis O'Neill in 1945. What is needed is the will to do something about the situation.

If the deaths of Victoria Climbie and Baby P. do not make the case for the government to go in and sort out children's services in Haringey, it is hard to see what could.

EU scraps mythical laws on the shape and size of vegetables

You remember all those European laws on the size and shape of vegetables? And how we are always being told they are a myth put about by the Eurosceptics?

The good news is that the EU is going to scrap them.

Nick Clegg sets out Lib Dem response to global downturn

Nick Clegg made a speech to the Commonwealth Society last night. You can read the full text on the Politics Home website:
Global cooperation is the best - I believe the only - answer to these problems. The only way to dig our world back out of recession. The only way to create the growth, trade, and international rules we need for a fairer, greener, safer planet.
There is also some comment on the Spectator site.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Otis Ferry stays behind bars

I as I wrote earlier, the latest Calder's Comfort Farm reports the claim of Daniel Kawczynski, the Tory MP for Shrewsbury, that Otis Ferry is being held as a political prisoner.

Tonight, courtesy of the Shropshire Star, comes the news that:

Rock star’s son Otis Ferry was told he will remain behind bars today after his counsel withdrew a bail application.

Countryside campaigner Ferry, 25, of Eaton Mascott, near Shrewsbury, son of Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry, appeared at Gloucester Crown Court this afternoon.
Ferry’s barrister Guy Gozem told the court he would not proceed with a scheduled bail application, but did not give a reason.

Ferry, who has been on remand in HMP Gloucester for eight weeks, could face another four months in custody as he awaits trial for robbery, assault and “witness nobbling” charges.

More praise for Vince Cable

Look, I am sorry if this is getting tedious, but someone has to record it for posterity.

Here is the sketch by Andrew Gimson from this morning's Daily Telegraph:
Mr Cable is having a good war. Unlike just about everyone else, he has the ability to see what is coming next, and other commanders are left struggling to explain why they are only saying now what Mr Cable pointed out some time ago.


The BBC is about to show a remake of the cult 1970s series Survivors.

Maybe it will be wonderful, but the whole enterprise feels like a mistake. Shouldn't we be inventing our own fables rather than living off the imaginative capital of an older generation? Even watching old cult series is risky: if they are not as good as you remember them, you spoil that memory.

Anyway, here are the opening titles of the original series. Get that surge in the music as the spilt virus hits the floor.

Calder's Comfort Farm: Otis Ferry

My latest column for the New Statesman website considers the claim that Otis Ferry is being held as a political prisoner for his protests against the hunting ban:
I rang a number of prisons and they all (those who did not put the phone down on me, that is) confirmed it is not their usual practice to release inmates because it is their birthday. Nor are they allowed out for the new hunting season - unless they are convicted millionaire fraudsters in an open prison, obviously.
All this and Lembit Opik too.

Idiot of the Day: Gordon Taylor of the PFA

The Ipswich Town footballer David Norris, who made a public gesture of support for the jailed player Luke McCormick after scoring a goal on Saturday, has rightly been fined by his club.

McCormick was jailed after causing the deaths of two young boys while driving back drunk from Norris's wedding.

But it is the remarks by the of the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association and reputedly Britain's highest paid trade union official, Gordon Taylor, that stand out for their idiocy:
"In fairness to the lad, he could not have realised the consequence of his actions."
First, Norris is not a lad. He is a man of 28.

Second, why could he not have realised the consequences of his actions? If he is bright enough to find his way to training every day, he is bright enough to have been able to foresee that this action would be grossly insensitive and cause widespread offence.

There is something about Taylor and his cloying voice that makes you feel you want a bath after hearing him speak. That feeling is redoubled today.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Nick the Punk vs The Fink

Nick Clegg was invited to write a piece for Danny Finkelstein's superblog Comment Central this morning making the case for immediate tax cuts. He writes:

We would cut the basic rate of income tax by 4p (that's an extra 1000 quid per year for someone on 30k) by ending the tax relief on pensions for top earners, upping green taxation and charging capital gains as income. Straightforward, costed and workable.

But I want to go further. More fair tax cuts for people who really need help. Where’s the money to pay for it? How about redirecting spending from the NHS computer systems that never see the light of day; surveillance databases that make us the most spied upon nation in the world; and pointless ID cards that won’t help catch criminals? By the time we’re fighting a general election we will have identified £20bn of mis-spent money. No vague gestures at ‘red tape’ – we’ll let people know exactly what current spending we’re redirecting.

This is the sounds clear enough, but the doubts remain. At the Lib Dem Conference in September the agreed line seemed to be that the £20bn would be used on our own spending priorities, and it was only the surplus after that had been done that would be available to fund tax cuts.

And Chris Huhne always says the savings from scrapping ID cards will be used to pay for more police on the streets. Here is a press release from less than a fortnight ago saying just that. Clearly there is still some work to do here.

You can also so read Finkelstein's reply on Comment Central:
Proper tax cutting means overall tax cuts that come from changing the organisation and scope of the state. It requires proper reform and takes time. Punk tax cutting is borrowing to cut taxes or announcing unconvincing tax cuts based on dubious "savings" just to be able to say you are cutting specific taxes by a given amount immediately.

Ros Scott says the Lib Dems must stay radical

Interviewed in the Guardian, the new president of the Liberal Democrats, Ros Scott, says:

"We have got to shout out for things we believe in: small scale government, locally delivered services, protecting the environment and no to a third runway at Heathrow."
Pointing to the way that Labour and the Conservatives have agreed over Iraq and the economy, she also says:
"We have got to be shouting loudly about a different way of doing things.

"Too much money is spent chasing centrally determined targets and bureaucracy, she said, insisting the Labour government was still spending a huge amount on management and systems.

"We need less centralisation from government and we need a government that is more supportive of international institutions."
It is all good stuff, though it appears to involve us in a lot of shouting. I also like her recognition that "there is a fine line between being radical and being daft".

Britblog Roundup 195

The latest roundup is in place at the blog of Mr Eugenides.

A biography of Chris Wood

Last week I directed you to a website devoted to the work of Chris Wood, who played the flute and saxophone with Traffic.

I have read suggestions recently that a biography of Wood is to appear. The Radio London website says that the author is Dan Ropek, who writes:

Mention Chris Wood to most people (even music fans) these days, and most likely all you'll get is a quizzical look. If you include the name 'Traffic' as well, then you may hear: 'Oh yeah, he was good, whatever happened to him?' And that, in a nutshell, is why I am working on his biography. Chris was a great multi-instrumental musician, the co-writer of many of Traffic's best songs, and in the twenty years since his death he has never really gotten the recognition he deserved.

I got interested in his music the same way most of you probably did – through Traffic records. Although, a song like "Dear Mr. Fantasy", goes so far back in my consciousness that I could not tell you when I first heard it; I do know that over the years the music has held up extremely well. More than that, while some of what passed for popular music from the sixties era today sounds quite dated, Traffic's music has somehow kept pace with the changing world – the depth is still there.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The third most visited Lib Dem website

Thanks to Simon Titley for alerting me to the fact that, according to Alexa, Liberal England is the third most popular Liberal Democrat website, behind only Lib Dem Voice and the official party website.

I have no idea how Alexa calculates this, but I am not going to argue with them.

Declining Liberal Democrat membership

A correspondent has been looking at the internal party election results recorded on Colin Rosenstiel's website and working out what they tell us about changes in the Liberal Democrats' membership over the years.

Party membership, based on the number of ballot papers issued in each leadership and presidential election, has been as follows:

2008 (presidential): 60,357
2007 (leadership): 64,713
2006 (leadership): 72,064
2004 (presidential): 72,868
1999 (leadership): 82,827
1994 (presidential): 101,091
1992 (presidential): 101,768
1990 (presidential): 82,455
1988 (presidential): 80,071
1988 (leadership): 80,104

Between 2006 and 2007, the loss was 10.2%. Between 2007 and 2008, the loss was 6.7%. And between the membership peak in 1992 and 2008, the loss has been 40.7%.

I do not know how this compares with other political parties or other organisations, but it does show the challenge facing Nick Clegg and the party's new president, Ros Scott.

Benjamin Britten: War Requiem

For Remembrance Sunday. Mstislav Rostropovich conducts the "Requiem aeternam" from Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, in a performance recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in 1993.

The Britten-Pears Foundation website describes the genesis of the work:

On the night of 14 November 1940 the burnt offering was Coventry Cathedral, victim of the Luftwaffe bombs.

The circumstances of its destruction dictated that the festival in 1962 to mark the consecration of its successor would always have a distinct soberness in comparison to the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the completion of the new cathedral at Guildford the previous year.

When Britten was asked to write a work for Coventry’s new cathedral, he took the opportunity to make his most profound statement on the nature of war and it was surely inevitable that as a committed pacifist from an early age, he would seek to emphasize the building’s turbulent history ...

Dedicated to the memory of four friends, War Requiem is a profound and deeply disturbing creed, particularly notable for its juxtaposition of war poems by Wilfred Owen alongside the Catholic Mass for the Dead.

You can read more about Coventry Catherdral elsewhere on this blog. And, as I recorded when discussing Dudley Moore's affectionate parody of Britten and Pears, the first recording of the War Requiem sold 200,000 copies within five months of its release in 1963.

The Britten-Pears Foundation site also celebrates the composer's friendship with Rostropovich.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Congratulations to Ros Scott

Ros Scott has been elected as the new President of the Liberal Democrats. The voting figures, announced at Cowley Street earlier this afternoon, were as follows:
  • Ros Scott 20,736 votes (72%)
  • Lembit Opik 6,247 votes (22%)
  • Chandila Fernando 1,799 votes (6%)

There were 49 spoilt ballots and the turnout was 47.8%, up +0.4% on last time.

But before you get too excited about this, in the 2004 Presidential election 34,335 votes were cast, against only 28,782 this time, suggesting a significant decline in party membership.

This is an overwhelming and deserved victory for Ros. As Costigan Quist says, it is a victory for Ros's hard work. And as James Graham says, it is a victory for her intelligent use of the internet.

Lembit has tested to destruction the proposition that there is no such thing as bad publicity. He now needs to take himself more seriously in order to persuade others to take him more seriously. He has a Westminster seat to retain and will no doubt return to the Lib Dem front bench soon.

Otherwise... As I write this, Neil and Christine Hamilton, as if in dreadful warning to him, are appearing on Hole in the Wall.

Lord Bonkers adds: The immediate aftermath of any election is a time for magnanimity. I hope no one will make fun of Linda Jack for writing:
So what of Lembit? When he wins next week (and there can be little doubt now that he will) ...

Jeremy Wright: A star is born?

I think I have discovered the authentic voice of backbench Conservatism in the shape of the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth.

The other day Wright appeared to be favouring a compulsory national DNA database. Here he is speaking in the Commons on Thursday:
I agree with the Minister that one of the best ways of dealing with crime is to intervene early, before any unlawful behaviour has even been thought about.
I think he was speaking up for voluntary work with young people, but Jeremy Wright is clearly one to watch.

The most difficult job in world politics

Forget Barack Obama: he only has two wars and a global economic crisis to contend with.

Think of Martin Taylor-Smith: he has just got himself elected to Britain's most dysfunctional local authority.

Vince Cable, the nation's uncle

The Cult of Cable just continues to grow.

Writing in the Spectator, Lesley Beresford describes public reaction to the recession:
We regressed to childhood, and became incapable of accepting responsibility for our actions. We looked to parliament, in loco parentis, to clear up our mess (and to the likes of Vince Cable who, in his role as the voice of reason, became in our national, collective transference the kindly uncle who looks out for you).