Sunday, May 31, 2009

Noel Harrison: The Windmills of Your Mind



Which singer from the 1960s competed for Britain in two Winter Olympics?

The answer is Noel Harrison, who was part of the skiing team at Oslo in 1952 and Cortina d'Ampezzo (Italy) in 1956.

He is best known for this song, which was used on the soundtrack of the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968. Written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman and Michel Legrand, it won the Oscar for the best original song that year.

Harrison specialised in the songs of people like Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour - he had a hit in the USA with Aznavour's A Young Girl - and Leonard Cohen. He also enjoyed some success in America as an actor, with a leading role in the spin-off The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. This article gives a good picture of his career.

Noel Harrison is still performing today at the age of 75. His accent, both now and in his heyday, is an interesting study - public school leavened with notes of Anthony Newley cockney.

And, of course, Harrison is famous for being his father's son. He is the son of Rex Harrison by Colette Thomas, the first of his six wives. Rex Harrison won the best song Oscar the year before Noel with "Talk to the Animals" from Doctor Doolittle and a very different singing style.

Rex Harrison's other wives included the actresses Kay Kendall and Rachel Roberts. Another of them, born Elizabeth Rees-Williams (Katherine Parr to his Henry VIII) has had four husbands. Her first was Richard Harris and she is now married to Jonathan Aitken.

Her father David Rees-Williams, later Baron Ogmore, was a minister under Attlee, but went on to join the Liberal Party. He was its president in 1963-4.

You see how it all fits together?

A code of conduct for MPs would do more harm than good

Gordon Brown has told the BBC that he intends to introduce a legally binding code of conduct for MPs.

The BBC report says:
The new code of conduct would be written into the Constitutional Renewal Bill, due to be brought before Parliament later this year.

It is thought likely to include minimum service commitments to constituents, with those who break it facing possible fine or even ejection from their seats.
This stands things on their head. It is not the government's job to hold MPs to account. It is MPs' job to hold the government to account.

Equally, if constituents believe their MP is not adequate level of service then they are at liberty to throw him out at the next election. Besides, what is an adequate "service commitment"? It is highly arguable that most modern MPs are too weighed down with casework to keep a close enough watch on the executive.

The importation of codes of conduct and "standards" boards into local government has done nothing to increase respect for local councillors, who now seem to be treated - and behave - like schoolchildren. Reporting councillors from other parties for trivial offences now seems to be one of their chief occupations.

This is my worry about the current enthusiasm for giving constituents the power of recall over their MPs. For instance, Nick Clegg has said:
We should create a power of recall so if an MP is recommended for suspension by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, 5% of constituents can petition to remove that MP from office, prompting a by-election.
Requiring a recommendation of suspension by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards sets the bar high, but it is still easy imagine opposition parties continually bringing complaints against the candidate who has defeated them. Even if those complaints all prove unfounded, it would do nothing for the tenor of political debate locally or nationally.

Do not underestimate how vindictive parties can be when they lose a seat unexpectedly. In Richmond upon Thames, for instance, the Tories brought Adrian Slade to the brink of personal bankruptcy with legal challenges to his return of expenses when he captured the Greater London Council seat from them.

The reforms we need are a change to the electoral system to abolish the concept of a lifelong safe seat for many MPs - I am agnostic as to the form that reform should take - and the publication of MPs' expenses, as already happens at Holyrood.

Trivial Fact of the Day features Jerry Springer

Jerry Springer was born in Highgate tube station.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A perfect day





I buy the Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood DVD and then go out into the Leicestershire countryside.

While I am out, Chelsea win the FA Cup.

I find the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans in East Langton

Friday's House Points, in which I quoted some Commons speeches by the Liberal MP J. W. Logan, sent me off to the village where he lived.

The Langtons - Church Langton, Thorpe Langton, Tur Langton, East Langton and (though it is only a few houses) West Langton - are a group of villages in Leicestershire, a few miles north of Market Harborough. Like so much of the eastern side of this county, they are beautiful but hardly known.

I went first to East Langton because Mr Logan used to live at the Grange there. More than that, Logan was a major railway contractor and according to the Victoria County History he maintained a cottage home in the village for the children of men killed on his works.

This is something I have known for years. Even so, I suspect that I had already invented Lord Bonkers' Home for Well-Behaved Orphans when I first read about Logan's orphanage.

Anyway, today I decided to find the real orphanage. The county history gives the modern name of the house and a search of the web showed that it was in Back Lane. And the helpful landlady told me where that was.

So here is the nearest thing you will find to the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans...




Not at all an institutional building - in fact, it must have looked quite modern if this is the original house from the Edwardian era. It is reminiscent of some of the more expensive established homes in my old ward in Market Harborough.

The pub was The Bell and as it is in East Langton it has to be one of the inspirations for the Bonkers' Arms...



More about East Langton and Church Langton another day: there is much more to tell.

Meanwhile, here is the dog who lives at The Bell. His name is William.

Liberal Democrats ahead of Labour in new opinion poll

The Sunday Telegraph reports a new ICM poll:
Asked who they would support in a general election, only 22 per cent of voters back Labour, with the party slumping behind both the Conservatives on 40 per cent and, crucially for Mr Brown's future, the Liberal Democrats who are on 25 per cent.

Lord Redesdale and squirrel pie

Paul Parker of the Red Squirrel Protection Partnership (RSPP) is leaving his native Newcastle.

Parker set up the RSPP with the Lib Dem peer Lord Redesdale. They aim to protect and restore the population of red squirrels in the North East by eradicating greys.

According to the BBC:

Now he says demand for greys from top chefs means he needs to expand.

He is working with landowners in the south of England to maintain supplies of squirrels for restaurants.

As ever, Lord Bonkers had the essential of the story right:
Redesdale explains that he hopes to win the contract from Walker’s Crisps to provide their new squirrel flavour. By the sound of it, if successful he could be on to a Very Good Thing.

Catriona Bhatia chosen to fight Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

From the Hamilton Advertiser:

Tweeddale councillor Catriona Bhatia has been selected by Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale Liberal Democrats to fight Scotland’s only Tory MP, David Mundell, at the next General Election.

The constituency, of over 2000 sq miles, is one of the largest in Britain and includes most of Clydesdale.

The paper says she gained over 70 per cent of the vote.

Friday, May 29, 2009

House Points: J. W. "Paddy" Logan in the House

Today's House Points column in Liberal Democrat News is based on an earlier posting on this blog.

Past times

With MPs away for Whitsun, we go back to an era when they put their hands in their own pockets rather than those of their constituents.

I have written before about J. W. “Paddy” Logan, Liberal MP for Harborough 1891–1904 and 1910–6. How he gave Market Harborough its cricket ground and swimming baths and started a brawl in the House.

But there was more to Logan’s politics than fisticuffs. Here are three of his Commons speeches from 1896.

Logan opposed customs duty on tea:
The right hon. Member for Thanet had said that if the Tea Duty were abolished the bulk of the revenue of the country would have to be found by the Income Tax paying class. But who was it who enabled them to pay the Income Tax if not the working class? It was the men who worked for him [Mr. Logan] who enabled him to pay the Income Tax.
He was less tolerant of faith schools than I am:

In the Board Schools the children were not taught to curtsey to the squire or to the parson. In the Church Schools the children were taught to fall down and worship the great god of the Clerical party ...

What the children were being taught in thousands of villages today might be summed up in the words: God bless the Squire and the Squire's relations, and make us know our proper stations.

And Paddy Logan was sound on bicycles. When the Member for Mid Tipperary complained of "the reckless riding of cyclists, especially lady cyclists, in the crowded thoroughfares," Logan pointed out that:
a large number of clerks, artisans, and others now used cycles to enable them to get home, and by the aid of which they were enabled to house their families in healthy neighbourhoods, away from the slums and crowded areas of large towns.

He also asked whether they did not have an equal right to use the streets as the owners of carriages and men who run coaches as a hobby.

Logan was even something of a visionary. When another MP called for bicycle licences , Paddy suggested “the money so collected should be allocated for the purpose of providing a well-kept track for the use of cyclists”.

50 Years of Island Records





Visit the official website.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lib Dems match Labour in the blogging stakes

George Eaton writes on the New Statesman site:

Conservative blogs have established a clear lead over their left-wing rivals, according to a new report published today.

The study, carried out by Social Media Affairs, found that 19 per cent of bloggers identified as Conservative Party supporters compared to 16 per cent each for Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The report Politics Online 2009 coincides with the launch of Social Media Affairs, the UK’s first major directory of political blogs.


I do not know if we are doing well or Labour is doing badly, but it is remarkable that we are level with them here.

It seems you can download the report from the Social Media Affairs site if you register.

Nick Clegg: Bar the gates of Westminster

Nick Clegg has an article in this morning's Guardian outlining his 100-day action plan to reform British politics:
let us bar the gates of Westminster and stop MPs leaving for their summer holidays until this crisis has been sorted out, and every nook and cranny of our political system has been reformed.
The Lib Dem leader's proposals are summarised in an accompanying news report:

• By week three legislation would be passed to introduce fixed parliamentary terms of four years from 2010, denying the prime minister the right to name the date of general elections.

• By week four the new Commons Speaker would convene all-party talks to introduce a series of changes to parliamentary procedure that would be agreed by day 100. These include handing MPs the right to decide the parliamentary timetable, ­giving MPs a greater chance to scrutinise government spending and subject ministers to confirmation hearings.

• By weeks four to five parliament would pass legislation to allow a referendum to be held on electoral reform – the alternative vote plus system proposed by the late Lord Jenkins – that would be held on day 100.

• By weeks six to seven parliament would pass legislation to replace the House of Lords with a wholly elected senate.

The demand for fixed-term parliaments is familiar in radical circles, though presumably there would have to be provision for calling an election outside the agreed timetable if there was stalemate at Westminster and no one could form a government.

Giving MPs more power over the executive is the least glamorous demand here, but almost certainly the most important. I wrote about the need for it in House Points last week.

I find it hard to work up too much enthusiasm for the alternative vote, in particular because it will do little about the greatest evil of our current electoral system: the safe seat.

Finally, I do support an elected upper chamber, but we do need to recognise that in the last 30 years the Lords has often reflected public opinion more faithfully than the Commons has. It is the lower house that is most in need of reform.

Still, Nick has seized the headlines with this initiative, so well done to whoever thought it up.

Baby Peter sentences to be reviewed

Of course he was no longer a baby when he died, but at least we are allowed to give him a name now.

Anyway, the BBC reports that the sentences in the case are to be reviewed to see if they should be referred to the Court of Appeal:

Last week Baby Peter's mother, her boyfriend and their lodger were jailed for causing or allowing Peter's death.

Peter's mother must serve at least five years and the lodger at least three years. The boyfriend was given life for rape, with a 10-year minimum term.

He had been convicted of raping a two-year-old girl.

He was given an additional 12-year jail term, to run concurrently, for his "major role" in Peter's death.

There is always danger of injustice if the sentence in a case is determined by the amount of publicity it received. But it is hard to believe that justice has been done here when you compare these sentences with the 13 years given to Chris Lewis for smuggling cocaine.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Mother Kelly's Doorstep and Danny La Rue

Last month, while answering Iain Dale's 20 firsts meme, I said that the first famous person I had met was Danny La Rue, when I was aged about 8. I was one of the children asked up on to the stage halfway through one of his pantomimes - Queen Passionella and the Sleeping Beauty, to be precise. We sang "Doe, a Deer", as it happens, and having a deep voice I was given the first line.

Anyway, my strongest memory of the evening, apart from my own performance, is of Danny La Rue coming out in front of the curtain, as himself, and announcing that someone had died and singing his own signature tune "On Mother Kelly's Doorstep" as a tribute to him.

I have tried to make sense of this memory in recent years, assuming that the person who had died was the writer of the song. But on investigation he turned out to be George Stevens, and he died in 1954.

Then a few days ago I heard Barry Humphries on Desert Island Discs. One of the records he chose was "On Mother Kelly's Doorstep, as sung by Randolph Sutton.

Sure enough, Wikipedia tells us that Sutton made a famous recording of the song and died on 28 February 1969. Which dates my first and last West End performance to within a day or two.

Next week on Among my Fragrant Souvenirs I shall be interviewing the late Dame Anna Neagle. I shall say goodbye this week with the lovely, lovely Danny singing our song.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Father Alton preaches at St Asquith's

And so 0ur week with Rutland's most popular fictional peer draws to a close.

Sunday

One can take this ecumenical business too far. Upon arriving at St Asquith’s, I find that the Revd Hughes, perhaps tired after his exertions in the outfield yesterday (which included a fine running catch to dismiss Baroness Thomas), has elected to put his feet up and invite Father Alton to preach the sermon.

I am not sure that giving it both barrels against birth control and self-abuse is quite the right idea and he has rather lost his audience long before he reached his peroration. Still, he proves a decent enough cove when we knock back the communion wine afterwards and he lets slip that, what with Tony Blair and Ann Widdecombe, he is thinking of seeking political asylum with the Strict Baptists.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lembit saved from the pot

“Lembit has large claws which are very strong so I do my best to avoid them as they can have your wrist or fingers off easily. You have to be very careful handling them and I try not to pick them up!”

Not the Lib Dem MP for Montgomery, you booby. He is talking about a huge lobster that has survived in British waters for 40 years.

According to WalesOnline, the two-foot long crustacean was about to be shipped to Spain and a seafood restaurant. But it has been rescued by the charity Sea Trust.

A wreath for Alan Duncan's political career

Things are hotting up in Rutland & Melton.

Oakham Artist Jo Goodliffe places a wreath outside the office of Alan Duncan MP in Melton Mowbray to mark the end of his political career.

Thanks to Martin Brookes.

Matlock Bath

I have been to Matlock Bath in Derbyshire, which is a little piece of Blackpool set down in the incomparable Derwent valley.

There are one or two good shops there - notably Fabric Design - and I did find a Buddhist cafe.

But it was closed.

Enjoy a free ride on Alan Duncan's lawnmower

Martin Brookes sends me this picture of Alan Duncan's constituency office in Melton Mowbray.

It shows the artist Jo Goodliffe handing tickets for a free ride on Duncan's lawnmower, which the Rutland & Melton MP attempted to buy through his Parliamentary expenses.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: I take on the Women's Liberal Foundation

We enjoy our penultimate day at Bonkers Hall.

Saturday

Today sees the first match of the season for Lord Bonkers’ XI (if one overlooks our traditional Easter tour of the Holy Land) and upon having the curtains opened for me I am pleased to observe that the weather has held. I waste no time in rising and am soon outside supervising Meadowcroft as he mows the pitch (which he describes as “green as a Fenian’s frog a-munching lettuce”).

Our opponents are a powerful team drawn from the Women’s Liberal Federation (or whatever they call themselves these days), but accurate seam bowling by Professor David Starkey wins the day.

As ever, Miss Fearn’s teas are a highlight of the day. I find even the Credit Crunch looks less menacing when viewed over the brim of a large Victoria sponge.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Monday, May 25, 2009

The now traditional Bank Holiday Lolcat

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

How Britain's Got Talent really works

Yesterday I questioned whether Susan Boyle is quite the unknown that Britain's Got Talent makes her out to be.

Craig Murray, writing of the experiences of a family friend who has been a contestant in the current series, gives us an insight into how the programme works:

Nadira and I spoke with Julia Nadienko this afternoon before her performance tonight in the semi-final of Britain's Got Talent, and she had been crying. She said they were forcing her to dance to music that was totally unsuitable, and not allowing her choreography.

Interestingly, she said that the same thing had happened at the first round televised audition. She had taken with her a CD of Arabic drum music to do a traditional belly dance, but had not been allowed to do it, and instead told to dance to Shakira and with a more pop choreography.

That contradicts the whole carefully presented image of the show, of which the story line is that at the auditions the acts just turn up and nobody knows what exactly they are going to do.

That image of spontaneity was manifest most spectacularly in the case of Susan Boyle, where the video made famous on You Tube pretends that the judges did not even know she was a singer or whether she would be any good. The judges then proceeded to manifest what, when you know the truth, you can see is terribly ham acted astonishment.

In fact, just as Julia had her music and choreography altered before her audition, the show would have already seen Susan Boyle, have known exactly what Susan Boyle was going to do, how good she was, and had quite probably chosen the song for her. I bet even the clunking jaw dropping of the judges was rehearsed.

The "Susan Boyle moment" was a brilliantly produced fake.

Yes, she is a good singer but, as I have often argued, nothing on television is what it seems.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Firebridge to Skyshore by Siobhan Logan

On Saturday I attended the launch of Firebridge to Skyshore, Siobhan Logan's book of poetry and prose inspired by the Aurora Borealis.

Siobhan is a fellow member of Leicester Writers Club, and I have heard many of the poems in the book read at meetings over the past couple of years. Writing as good as this makes me feel I am just a hack journalist.

Rod Duncan and Siobhan Logan herself have written accounts of the event, which took place at the Friends' Meeting House in Queens Road, Leicester.

This gives me an excuse to mention the blog devoted to this pleasant suburban high street: Queens Road, Clarendon Park, Leicester.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Rutland prison blues

Our week at Bonkers Hall continues.

Friday

Having complimented we Rutlanders on our low crime rate yesterday, I learn this morning that there is a prison riot going on in the county. Let me add at once that few if any of the felons involved will prove to have come from hereabouts when the inquiry is held. It has always seemed to me a mistake to accept prisoners from other counties when, because of the policing strategy mentioned above (together with judicious use of the Jack Straw Memorial Reform School, Dungeness, and the success of the Reverend Hughes Church Lads’ Ping Pong Club), we live in such a crime-free paradise.

I fear that if there is one thing in which there should not be free trade, it is the human criminal. For what would happen if people stopped breaking the law? The answer is clear: the companies running the bridewells would agitate for innocent people to be gaoled to keep them in business. Indeed, I wonder if this is not the reason why this government has passed so many new laws. If you look into it, I expect you will find that the prison operators are generous funders of the Labour Party.

Be that as it may, I post pickets of gamekeepers on every approach to the Hall, and ensure that they are armed with the stoutest orchard doughties, in case someone escapes.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Nick Clegg orders review of Lib Dem peers' expenses

This story was posted on the Guardian website yesterday:
Nick Clegg intensified pressure for reform of Lords' allowances today when he said peers from his party would change the way they claim under the current system, which he described as "wholly unsatisfactory".

The Liberal Democrat leader said the peers would not only have to abide by the letter of the rules relating to the overnight allowance, but by their spirit as well.
Lord Bonkers was unavailable for comment last night.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lord Bonkers' G20 demands are slowly being met

Lord Bonkers' participation in the G20 protest march is rapidly bearing fruit.

First it is announced that Honeysuckle Weeks is to return to the electric television.

Now Tom Croft has been called up by the British Lions.

Step by step, the war on barbarism is being won.

Susan Boyle: Cry Me a River

There are 27 billion people googling "Susan Boyle" and I want my share of them.

You may not have heard her recording of Cry Me a River. It is rather good, even if its existence makes you wonder if she is quite the unknown that Britain's Got Talent has made her out to be.

They Might Be Giants: Birdhouse in Your Soul



This week's video comes from 1990 and is dedicated to Sir Peter Viggers and his ducks.

Britblog Roundup 223: The one you can claim on expenses

There is no doubt over the topic of the week, but as I am beginning to suffer from indignation fatigue I am leaving MPs' expenses until last.

Good things

First a sad, beautifully written posting from fretmarks:
The bird loves the boy because he is entirely full of joyous, manifest amazement at the bird. The boy just loves the bird because he is a bird. And the birdoole does that chops-fluffed-little-flirting twitch of the head, and the boy does it back. And soon the bird and the boy are both swaying sideways backwards and forwards dancing at each other, although the boy has to shift his grip on the plastic sea lions to cover both ears with his palms, because the bird is so delighted he’s screeching at the top of his lungs.
And:
I tell him that I like his sea lions very much.
He frowns as if he’s assuming upon himself the responsibility of my being one of the elect, and says, ‘lots of people think they are…’ he pauses contemptuously ‘…seals’.
But of course they are sea lions! I say.
Yes, he says.
We glory in the importance of accurate classification.
Day to Day Life of a Very Lazy Gardener considers another good thing: boutique wines from Hungary.

Elsewhere Rod Duncan looks at book launches, Nee Naw at Percy Pigs, and Conservengland celebrates Frankimass.

Diamond Geezer dares to hope that the Euston Arch my be rebuilt one day.

And if you think double entendres are a good thing then you will love Little Frigging in the Wold (Fnarr! Fnarr! Warf! Warf! K-Woo! K-Woo!)


Bad things

Jennie Rigg gets cross about all sorts of wrongs.

More specifically, The (Daily) Maybe reports doubts about the Libertas list for the Euro elections and Penny Red looks at the BNP's attitudes towards women. Brian Barder thinks a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty would be a bad idea.

Ros Scott exposed some housing problems in the House of Lords.

Cruella-Blog takes aim at sexism in the word of work ("We're not victims of biology - we're victims of misogyny.") and, on the f word, Amy Clare replies to "a particularly infuriating article in the Daily Mail about women without children".

Lavengro in Spain looks at attitudes towards homosexuality and finds Britain a not particularly liberal place, with British Muslims less tolerant than their coreligionists in France and Germany.

While 853 takes on something really bad: National Express train services.


Fight of the Week

Craig Murray slams Charles Crawford.

Charles Crawford slams Craig Murray.


Expenses

Having done my best to put it off, here goes.

Pajamas Media offers a view of the scandal from across the Atlantic and Two Doctors add their own analysis from Scotland.

Writing on Liberal Conspiracy, Alan Thomas wants an immediate general election. Paul Evans (also on Liberal Conspiracy) and Amused Cynicism look at ways out of this crisis, and Charles Crawford examines the impact of information technology on the political system.

Amused Cynicism has some proposals too.

Quaequam Blog! thinks one MP has been unfairly treated, while Mr Eugenides thinks that Nadine Dorries has been the author of her own misfortunes.

Peter Black is transfixed by the saga of Peter Hain's aga.


Next week

Next week's Roundup will be in the care of Suz Blog.

Please send your nominations, as ever, to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Fighting crime in Rutland

Day 4 in Lord Bonkers' house.

Thursday

I was shocked at the police behaviour in London. Whilst I did not suffer the worst of it myself – I should strongly advise the Metropolitan force not to try to kettle me – what I saw made a sorry contrast with what I am used to in Rutland.

Here we insist that each village is provided with a red-faced, jolly policeman, who is supplied with his own police house and spends his time alternately clipping unruly youngsters around the ear and helping old ladies across the road (often, it has to be admitted, when they have no particular wish to cross).

The result is that we have not only a low crime rate, but also some of the best-behaved children and fittest old ladies in Europe.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Leicestershire County Council refers conduct of Tory deputy leader to police

From the Leicester Mercury:

Police have been called in to look into alleged dirty tricks relating to the upcoming county elections.

Leaked e-mails show that County Hall deputy leader Nicholas Rushton offered a pre-election deal to get a rival candidate to stand down in the Valley division in North West Leicestershire.

For two years, a legal row between the council and community has been ongoing over the use of Hardulph's Primary School, in Breedon on the Hill, as a community centre.

Villager Simon Jones decided to stand as an independent in the June 4 elections because he believed that Coun Rushton had not represented the area properly on the issue.

As a result of this challenge, several e-mails show that Coun Rushton said he would guarantee a new village hall, and this would happen if Mr Jones pulled out of the election, which he did.

The newspaper goes on to say:

An arrangement was drafted by Mr Jones' election team to be signed by him and councillors Parsons and Rushton.

But when he saw the agreement, Coun Parsons said he would not sign it.
He took it to chief executive of the council John Sinnott and once the authority looked at it they referred the agreement to the police.

Simon Galton, an old colleague of mine from Harborough District council and now leader of the Lib Dem group on the county, is quoted as saying:

"Prior to this meeting [a special cabinet held on 22 May], the Liberal Democrat group were extremely concerned that the Conservative administration were intending to allocate money contrary to the agreed council budget.

"It would be completely wrong for the Conservative administration to provide a community building in one community to ensure the re-election of the sitting Conservative councillor."

More episodes of Foyle's War are being made

Anthony Horowitz was interviewed on Radio 4 this morning. He confirmed that more episodes of Foyle's War are being filmed.

This takes care of one of Lord Bonkers' reasons for going on the G20 march.

While we are waiting for them to be shown, enjoy the Foyle's War website.

Scenes from Market Harborough Cemetery

I went up to look after my stepfather's grave yesterday evening and took my new camera with me.

Britblog Roundup: A reminder

On Sunday I shall be hosting this week's Britblog Roundup again.

If this week you have seen any British blog posts you think particularly fine - and, yes, that can include ones on your own blog - send the links to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com by Sunday lunchtime and I shall do the rest.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Why I went on the G20 march

Our week at Bonkers Hall continues.

Wednesday

Like many of my readers, I demonstrated in London during the G20 summit. There are those who criticised us for lacking an agreed programme for change or even a common set of demands, so let me make it clear why I, for one, was marching through the capital that day.

I marched because the global financial and economic systems are in crisis. I marched because current economic policies and institutions have overseen a system scarred by high levels of poverty and inequality, and are contributing to an environmental catastrophe. I marched because we have still not achieved proportional representation for Westminster elections, site value rating or a knighthood for the saintly Norman Baker. I marched because Honeysuckle Weeks is no longer on the electric television, because of Twenty20 cricket, because people now call railway stations “train stations”. I marched because of Jonathan Ross, because schoolboys no longer wear short trousers, because you cannot get a cooked breakfast on trains any more. I marched because I can no longer patronise the Woolworth’s Pick ‘n’ Mix counter (even if I don’t tell Nanny), because Tom Croft was omitted from the British Lions touring party to South Africa, because you don’t get proper wet fish shops any more.

I hope this will silence my critics.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lib Dem Blogs is back

On Wednesday we reported that Ryan Cullen was having financial and technical problems keeping Lib Dem Blogs running.

The good news is that the Liberal Democrat blogosphere has had a whip round and Ryan says:
A big thank you to everyone who has donated so far. In under 24 hours I had enough money to purchase the new hosting plan, and in under 48 hours managed to get everything back up again.

Only two MPs in the shop at one time

You may have enjoyed the notice on Have I Got New for You earlier this evening. You can find the original on Flickr. - it comes from a newsagent's in Oakham.

A reader from Rutland sent me the link earlier in the week. I would have blogged it, but for some reason I cannot copy the photo properly.

House Points: Something rotten in the House of Commons

My House Points column from today Liberal Democrat News continues my current practice of 1) being rather preachy and 2) stealing all Chris Huhne's best lines.

Rotten business

So, in a reverse of the pantomime that takes place when he is appointed, the Speaker has been dragged from his Chair. And the expense system is going to be sorted out.

That does not mean that everything at Westminster is now rosy. On Tuesday the Policing and Crime Bill came back to the Commons. This is a measure that covers – among other things – police reform, prostitution, lap dancing, gang injunctions, alcohol-related disorder, extradition and the proceeds of crime and aviation security.

Yet, as Chris Huhne complained, the government had allocated only one day to the Report stage of the bill. With the result that there were only 30 minutes to debate another matter covered by the bill – the future of the DNA database.

This is typical of the way that the Commons operates. The volume of legislation shovelled through is absolutely immense: some 3600 new criminal offences have been created under Labour and, almost incredibly, the Policing and Crime Bill is the 66th criminal justice Bill since 1997.

As Chris said, “It is becoming abundantly clear that quantity does not make up for a lack of quality.” And because the government refuses to allow sufficient time for debate in the Commons, “We rely on the unelected House of Lords to do our job for us - for which, frankly, we should be embarrassed and ashamed.”

At the heart of this problem lies the way in which the government has sole responsibility for setting Commons business. We saw this in the way that the Speaker had to be driven out by public humiliation because it is so hard for backbenchers to get a debate.

Chris said that this arrangement was introduced during the First World War as an emergency measure. Few other legislatures allow the Executive to decide business in this way and no other Western democracy forbids private members’ motions.

Or as the Labour MP Lynne Jones put it: “If there is something rotten with the body politic in this country as far as expenses are concerned ... it is right that there should be media and public attention on the work that we do. Equally, attention should be paid to the rotten way in which we conduct our business. Today is a supreme example of that.”

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The benefits of free trade

A second day at Bonkers Hall.

Tuesday

Spring has come to Rutland. Budget day finds me strolling on the quayside at Oakham, and I reflect upon the benefits brought by Free Trade.

Once we scanned these waters for Viking longships or German U-boats; now the world’s shipping arrives crammed with the good things of the season: wheels of Stilton and toppling towers of Melton Mowbray pork pies; tender asparagus from the Vale of Evesham and plump sticks of rhubarb from the West Riding of Yorkshire; richly patterned carpets from Persia and peppermint rock from Hunstanton and Herne Bay.

As I remarked to our own Vince ‘High-Voltage’ Cable the other day, whatever economic problems we face, the world must never again descend into protectionism.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Anthony Steen is a gift to David Cameron

Is David Cameron embarrassed by Anthony Steen?

Incredibly, he blamed Labour for introducing freedom of information laws, before adding: 'I have done nothing criminal. Do you know what it's all about? Jealousy.

'I have got a very, very large house, some people say it looks like Balmoral. . . but it's a merchant's house of the 19th century. It's not particularly attractive, it just does me nicely.'

Mr Steen, who will stand down at the General Election after 35 years, insisted he had behaved 'impeccably' and dismissed the scandal threatening the entire political system as similar to 'an episode of Coronation Street'.

Mr Steen claimed more than £80,000 from the taxpayer over four years for work at his £1million Devon mansion, including for the treatment of trees.

Asked whether he believed his expenses claims should have been revealed, he said: 'No. What right does the public have to interfere with my private life? None.'

Not a bit of it.

Ever since he became leader, Cameron has had the task of decontaminating the Tory brand. How can he convince voters that the Tories do not care only for the rich and powerful?

Then along comes Anthony Steen playing a pantomime villain, giving Cameron the chance to slap him down and give the impression that his party has changed. Never mind that Cameron's father-in-law owns a large part of the Home Counties: this episode has given him his Clause IV moment.

There is another point. I was chatting to a former Labour MEP last night, as one does, and she pointed out that forcing a few knights of the shires out of the Commons at the next election over things like duck houses will give Cameron some safe seats into which he can parachute some bright young things from Central Office.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Sir Clement Freud

Liberator 333 (we are halfway there!) has reached subscribers, so we can spend another week with Rutland's most popular fictional peer.

Monday

Sad news arrives this morning as I learn of the death of my old friend Sir Clement Freud. I recall speaking for him at his by-election in the Isle of Ely, supported by his faithful companion Henry the bloodhound. Indeed, there were those in the constituency party who thought that Henry would make the better candidate, but he gave a ruff performance at the selection meeting and Cle carried the day.

Be that as it may, I am told they still talk of my speech in the Fens. In it I observed what an irony it was that the Liberal candidate had won fame on the wireless by avoiding deviation in his conversation when his grandfather had become famous by talking of nothing else.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

River Jordan, Little Bowden

This is a shot taken just around the corner from my house. It shows the River Jordan, where the young John Illsley fished for sticklebacks.

From the Gospel of Matthew (3:13-17):
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
I feel a controversial bestseller coming on: Did Jesus Come From Market Harborough?

A later post discusses how the River Jordan got its name.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lib Dem Blogs needs your help

Ryan Cullen writes:

Unfortunately I can no longer maintain LibDemBlogs on my current hosting package and due to financial constraints I can no longer personally afford to carry on upgrading the hosting.

A new VPS hosting solution would cost nearly £300 a year to run. In the past it has been suggested that I charge a fee to each blog which is aggregated for pushing traffic to their sites. With 218 active sites each paying around two pounds these costs could be covered. I know that times are tough for most people so I won't introduce a "pay-and-display" scheme. However what I am doing is asking for donations to keep the site alive.

Until I can afford to purchase the new hosting it will not be possible to display any new posts.

You might like to go over to Lib Dem Blogs and make a small donation to keep this useful service running.

James McQuillan, The Apprentice and chess

As he is being set up as the star of this evening's programme, let me repeat my theory that James McQuillan was not a child chess champion as the programme claims.

BNP leader to attend palace garden party

Queen: Have you come far?

Griffin: No, but this goose step doesn't half take it out of you.

Chris Lewis gets 13 years

Chris Lewis, the former Leicestershire and England cricketer, has been convicted of smuggling cocaine into Britain.

Thirteen years sounds steep to me. And, though it does not excuse him, my favourite memory of Lewis is seeing him in the nets at Grace Road (Leicestershire's county ground) with a queue of boys waiting to bowl to him.

Not many test players would bother to do that.

Britblog Roundup is returning to Liberal England

On Sunday I shall be hosting this week's Britblog Roundup again.

If this week you have seen any British blog posts you think particularly fine - and, yes, that can include ones on your own blog - send the links to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com by Sunday lunchtime and I shall do the rest.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Douglas Hogg's grandfather

Douglas Hogg - the MP who charged the taxpayer for cleaning out his moat - has announced today that he will not be standing at the next general election.

Hogg is the son of Lord Hailsham, but his grandfather was a Conservative politician too - Sir Douglas Hogg.

In his The Guardsmen: Harold Macmillan, Three Friends and the World They Made, Simon Ball records Macmillan's reminiscences of the formation of Bonar Law's government.

Macmillan had called on a duke (not having the book in front of me, I cannot tell you which):

I found Lord Derby in conference with him. The Duke ... pointed out the extreme weakness of the front bench in the House of Commons ...

"Ah," said Lord Derby, "you are too pessimistic. They have found a wonderful little man. One of those attorney fellows, you know. He will do all the work."

"What's his name?" said the Duke.

"Pig," said Lord Derby. Turning to me, the Duke replied, "Do you know Pig?" ...

It turned out to be Sir Douglas Hogg!

The Church Stretton Hum

It is not only Sudbury in Sufflok that has a Hum.

They have one in Church Stretton too, says the Shropshire Star.

Sir Stuart Bell once published a pornographic novel

As Stuart Bell is popping up everywhere in support of the Speaker and the ancien regime in the Commons, this is a good moment to remind ourselves that he once published a pornographic novel called, ahem, Paris 69.

This is a family blog, so I shall not repeat any of it here, but readers who like that sort of thing should scroll down to the bottom of this article by Francis Wheen.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Britblog Roundup 222

Hosted by A Very British Dude.

Tory PPC in four-letter word blog shock

Next week's Diary will be written by Richard Graham, PPC for Gloucester

says Conservative Home.

It should make interesting reading, because Richard Graham has run into a spot of bother.

The BBC says:

A local Conservative Party association has apologised after its candidate for the next general election was accused of insulting the sitting Labour MP.

Writing on his blog, Richard Graham, Tory candidate for Gloucester, appeared to use a four-letter expletive about his opponent over the expenses row.

Local MP Parmjit Dhanda has written to David Cameron asking for an apology for such "disreputable behaviour".

The Tories said it had been a "genuine" but "unacceptable" typographical error.

For once, the Google cache lets us down. But Labour Home gives a pretty good idea what the word was.

Dozens of MPs claimed for phantom mortgages "with help from Commons officials"

Liberal England: Reading the Daily Mail so you don't have to.

Snailbeach District Railway waggon returns to Shropshire

From the Shropshire Mines Trust website:
50 years after the Snailbeach District Railway closed, a SDR hopper waggon has returned to the Locomotive Shed. When the line closed in 1959, all of the rolling stock was sold off and two of the hopper wagons ended up at the Talyllyn Railway.
A few years ago, the railway contacted our member Peter Sheldrake and asked if we wanted the remains of these waggons. Arrangements were made to collect them and bring them back home but all that remained were the bases and axles. During last winter, member Barry Ellis lovingly restored one of them to its original condition.
It was delivered back on Good Friday 2009 and will be pushed out for visitors to see when the Visitor Centre is open.
I had better emphasise that the Trust has nothing to do with the peculiar people (who all shared the same IP address) who left comments on this post.

Early day motion in support of Stuart Syvret

A Commons early day motion expressing concern at the arrest of Senator Stuart Syvret has been put down. It reads:

That this House deplores the arrest and detention of Senator Stuart Syvret by the Jersey Police Force for alleged infractions of data protection laws; notes that the Senator was in receipt of information disclosed in the public interest, with which he is attempting to hold the Jersey government to account for a variety of profoundly serious child protection and clinical governance failures; condemns the manner of the Senator's arrest and the subsequent searching of his home by the police without a search warrant; further condemns the fact that substantial quantities of his constituents' private data were taken and copied by the Jersey police; considers this an intimidatory and anti-democratic action which the Senator is virtually powerless to challenge given the politicisation of the Jersey judiciary and the propensity of the Jersey legislature to oppress minority members; and calls on the Secretary of State for Justice to fulfil his duties by exercising his constitutional powers to intervene and ensure good governance and the proper administration of justice in Jersey through requiring a separation of powers and the imposition of effective checks and balances in order that survivors of child abuse, and other victims of malfeasance gain the proper protection of justice; and considers that through such actions the UK will return to compliance with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, obligations which are breached by tolerating the situation in Jersey.

So far there are four signatories, including the Lib Dem MP John Hemming.

Obesity in fish

Saturday's Daily Telegraph brought us something new to worry about.

Why won't the Ministry of Fish act?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Daily Telegraph: Officials colluded over MPs' mortgage claims

Doing the best to speed the Speaker on his way, tomorrow's Daily Telegraph reports:
Parliamentary authorities, overseen by Michael Martin, the Speaker, gave secret permission for some MPs to over-claim for thousands of pounds in home loan interest in deals that led to the systematic abuse of the taxpayer-funded expenses system.

Mr Speaker Martin replies to Nick Clegg

Here.

The scandal over MPs' expenses is part of the fall out from the credit crunch

A couple of MPs appear to have committed offences that should land them in court, and many more have done themselves very well at the public expense.

But the causes of the anger over MPs' expenses goes beyond indignation at what has been done with our money. That anger is so great because this affair has laid bare what an unequal society we have live in.

That inequality was seen in its most extreme form, at least before the credit crunch, in London. In an article I have quoted before, John Lanchester - writing in January 2008, just as the economy was collapsing - described a friend of his:

Not all City types are vile, obviously. My friend Tony isn’t vile. We have many interests in common and chat easily about all sorts of things. But I’m sometimes made aware of a significant gap between us. It’s a philosophical and practical gap, and it is to do with money.

Tony will complain about the price of things – about parking permits, or the cost of the Playstation 3 he’s promised his son – but I’ve begun to wonder if this is a purely formal acknowledgment of the value of money to other people. Tony’s ‘basic’ is £120,000 a year; in a good year he earns a bonus of £500,000. In a very good year he is paid a million pounds.

He is polite about this but the details slip out nonetheless. He bought a second home on Ibiza and I was commiserating with his complaints about the usual things (builders, local regulations) until the cost of the house was mentioned: £1.4 million.

A fundamental economic gap of that type does open up a distance between people, however many other things you have in common. He happened once to mention what he (as a head of department) pays new recruits, straight out of university: ‘45k a year, with a bonus of between ten and twelve grand guaranteed.’

I pointed out that in many cases that would mean these 22-year-olds would be earning more than the heads of department in the universities they’d just graduated from. He shrugged and laughed. ‘It is what it is,’ he said.

Does this extreme inequality matter? Lanchester argued that it does:

The presence of so many people who don’t have to care what things cost raises the price of everything, and in the area of housing, in particular, is causing London’s demographics to look like the radiation map of a thermonuclear blast. In this analogy only the City types can survive close to the heart of the explosion.

At this time of year, when the bonus stories come out, you can understand why. A bar announces that it is offering the most expensive cocktail in the world: £35,000. That buys you a shot of cognac, a half bottle of champagne, a diamond ring and the attentions of two security guards to protect you for the rest of the evening. A deli, at the special request of a customer, creates a £50,000 Christmas hamper. Word gets out, and another customer immediately orders two more.

The expense of London is forcing people further and further out of the city, and making life harder and harder for the ones who remain.

Nick Cohen has often been ridiculed for talking about the middle class poor in London, but I think he is on to something. He is fond of quoting the novelist James Hawes on the subject, and I put a relevant passage from Hawes (with added paragraph breaks, as I often do when quoting books and articles on this blog) on my old anthology blog Serendib back in 2006. It comes from his novel Dead Long Enough:

It must be there, somewhere, we all thought: the forgotten island. An oasis in between the impossible places everyone on earth knows from postcards and the inconceivable places no one has ever heard of except the poor sods that live there.

It must be there, still, somewhere: nothing flash, not the kind of place where shops selling chromium taps punctuate boulevards of ridiculously-named cafes: just a neighbourhood where ordinary, hardworking, untrustfunded, child-having, educated-ish, interesting-ish people can afford normal, sociable little houses with modest gardens for the kids.

With the odd pub where you can take said kids and have a quiet pint and maybe the occasional friendly word with other late-thirties blokes who are trying to read large newspapers and enjoy their pints while likewise minding their kids.

With schools where said kids will not be attacked every day because they are not in the Young NF and/or don't know what Gangsta Rappers should wear when they are eight. And neighbours who don't play White Trash Thrash or Devastation Techno and don't kick in your car just for the fuck of it and axe-murder one another on Saturday nights when the gear runs short.

And only half a dozen stops from town.

And you can afford.

The kind of places that used to exist. That surely used to exist?

But since none of us is an oil analyst, corporate lawyer or suchlike, the result, circa the millennium was: Hahahahaha!

This may explain why we all hate the rich nowadays. And it certainly explains why MPs have been tempted to feather their nests. To live in London today you need serious money. And unless you are in the City you feel hard done by, even though you earn a fortune by most people's standards.

When we have finished enjoying ourselves at MPs' expense - it makes a change from them enjoying themselves at our expense - we should turn to the real villains and sort out the culture of the City.

Lisa Hannigan: I Don't Know



It's not the most original choice, as I saw this on Jools Holland's Later a few days ago, but I think I am in love. Mostly it's the plait.

Lisa Hannigan reminds me a little of Bjork, though I suspect you are less likely to be attacked with a dried cod if you say the wrong thing to her.
More about Lisa Hannigan on her own website.

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch goes to war

This photograph comes from the Modern Mechanix website and shows an armoured train on the 15-inch gauge Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch railway during Word War II.

The history page on the railway's own website says the line "was used extensively during the building of PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) which fuelled the Allied invasion force".

At the climax of The Elusive Grasshopper, Malcolm Saville imagined a trainload of policemen arriving at Dungeness to arrest the smugglers:

As they ran down the platform they could all see the engine - not as tall as Dickie - and four miniature, unlighted coaches gliding towards them. Macbeth barked and then, from the shadows by the restaurant, Sergeant Robins stepped out and said:

"Keep out of the way, if you please. This is a train for poor tired policemen."

With a quiet hissing the little locomotive pulled up gently. The driver got out and, towering above his engine, wiped his hands on an oily rag while, from the unlighted coaches, came about twenty large uniformed men. The effect was so ludicrous that Penny was reminded of Gulliver in Lilliput. Arlette began to giggle, while Dickie whistled in delighted amazement.

"Some day I've got to drive that," he whispered. "I've got to do it before we go back."

Sunday Times names man who sold MPs' expense returns to Daily Telegraph

The Sunday Times says:

A former SAS major who supports the Conservative party has been named as the middleman in the ring that sold details of MPs’ expenses to The Daily Telegraph for tens of thousands of pounds.

John Wick, 60, who runs a corporate intelligence company in the City of London, is known to have approached newspapers on behalf of the people who obtained the data.

Until a year ago he was a member of the Carlton club, which allows only supporters of the Conservative party to join.

Sunday Times: Michael Martin "waged reign of terror" over expenses

From today's Sunday Times:

The expenses scandal is poised to claim its biggest victim as Michael Martin, the Commons Speaker held responsible for blocking reform, suffers a volley of damaging allegations this weekend.

For the first time one of his former aides has broken ranks to speak out about his “reign of terror” that allegedly prevented officials from defusing the expenses crisis.

Martin is also facing questions after three senior law enforcement officials appeared to challenge his account of the botched police inquiry into Damian Green, the Tory MP.

They will have to drag him out of the chair bodily - a reverse of the pantomime that takes place when the Speaker is chosen - but it looks as though he is on the way out.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lord Ryder and Baroness Uddin

Unwilling to let the Telegraph have all the fun, the Sunday Times has been investigating the affairs of a couple of members of the upper house.

There's Lord Ryder:

A former acting chairman of the BBC has claimed more than £100,000 in expenses from the House of Lords by saying that a converted stable on his parents’ country estate is his main home.

Lord Ryder was given the money to cover the cost of staying overnight in London as he claimed he was living away from his “main residence” in Suffolk.

However, inquiries by The Sunday Times have found that Ryder mostly lives in his £2m family home in central London, a mile from the Lords. His mother says he is only an occasional visitor to the estate.

And then there's Baroness Uddin:

A Labour baroness who lives in low-cost social housing has a palatial family holiday mansion overseas.

Baroness Uddin lives in a three-bedroom house in Wapping, east London, which is heavily subsidised because it is intended for people who cannot afford to buy property in the area.

However, for almost a decade her husband Komar has also owned the mansion in Bangladesh, which is decorated with Italian marble and bears a crest similar to that of the House of Lords on its gates.

Keith Vaz and the Leicester Mercury

It is not just the national press that is making hay with the MPs' expenses story. Regional and local papers are running with it too.

Keith Vaz is MP for Leicester East and here is his local paper in pursuit of him:

Normally, if you’re looking to doorstep a politician you ride out to their home and knock on their door.

With Keith “three homes” Vaz, however, it’s hard to know which doorstep you should chose.

Should it be the Leicester one, the modest semi-detached on Uppingham Road where he told the BBC this week that he lives? Or the more extravagant residence in Stanmore, north west London, the £1.5 million home about 15 miles away from his place of work?

Or the Westminster pad which he needs, he says, for those early morning meetings?

Ouch.

Even where their is no impropriety involved, MPs will not enjoy having their affluent lifestyles laid bare in this fashion.

Market Harborough Congregational Church

Having bought a digital camera I thought I would have a go at setting myself up as a poor man's Unmitigated England or English Buildings.

This is Market Harborough Congregational Church, to be found at top of the High Street. I used to have a copy of John Betjeman's First and Last Loves, which contains a drawing he made of the building.

The red brick building behind the chapel that you can glimpse on the left of the photograph is the Jubilee Hall. It was the polling station and the scene of the count when I captured Market Harborough North from the Tories in 1986.

I have also been to bookfairs and an East Midlands Lib Dems conference there.

Why have you gone blue in the face, Tompkins?

Oh for God's sake:

Clip-on ties are replacing knotted school ties, as schools worry about health and safety worries, says a survey of school uniform suppliers.

The Schoolwear Association says 10 schools a week in the UK are switching, because of fears of ties getting caught in equipment or strangling pupils.

There are also claims that clip-on ties can stop pupils from customising the size of the knots in their ties.

"Worry about health and safety worries"? Now that is worrying.

Where does Daniel Kawczynski sleep in London?

Wouldn't it be Scarier? raises an intriguing question about the Tory MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham.

Improbably long tunnel digest

The BBC reports:
Plans for a tunnel linking Bolivia to the Pacific Ocean have been unveiled by three architects who say it could put an end to a 130 year-old dispute between the landlocked country and its neighbour, Chile.
The tunnel would be 93 miles long and run from the Bolivian border to an artificial island created in the Pacific Ocean from earth dug to build the tunnel.

It would be good news for the Bolivian navy, if no one else.

But that is nothing when you read about what might have happened in communist Czechoslovakia.

Again according to the BBC, there were plans to build an underground rail link under Austria to the Adriatic. This one would have been 255 miles long and, again, the spoil would have been used to build an artificial island - this one with an airport on it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Peter Oborne: Vince Cable for prime minister

Peter Oborne writes in tomorrow's Daily Mail:

So what should we do? One part of the answer is to cherish those politicians who really are honest and decent. It is important that this number includes David Cameron.

Top of the list, however, is the wonderful Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable, who claimed next to nothing in allowances, bought no flats, stole no taxpayers' money and made the daily Tube journey from his home in Twickenham to Westminster. (And, of course, he got it dead right on the economy.) How we need him as our prime minister!

What a wise commentator the man is!

Guardian says Speaker Martin to go before next election

From the Guardian website this evening:

Michael Martin will stand down as Speaker by the next gener al election after senior Labour figures warned his position was becoming "not tenable".

As MPs prepare to table a no confidence motion against him next week, friends of Martin say he is making plans for his resignation and wants to go on his own terms.

Lord Foulkes, who has been a friend of Martin's since they were elected in 1979, said it was "logical" for him to stand down in the next year. Martin, 63, will have been Speaker for 10 years next year.

It sounds like an attempt to buy off the current moves to get rid of him at once.

Later. The Daily Mail says the men in grey suits will go to see him next week:
One senior MP said Mr Martin had the "hide of a rhino", but lacked "political antennae".

Nadine Dorries SHOUTS A LOT but gives few answers

The Daily Telegraph has now turned to the puzzling accommodation arrangements of Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire.

She replies on her blog - lots of random capitals but few answers.

Later. rhetorically speaking... sums up the positon helpfully.

House Points: The worst Speaker of modern times

My House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Speaker cornered

The 19th century journalist Walter Bagehot famously divided the British constitution into its dignified and efficient parts. At its best, the role of Commons Speaker fulfils both these roles. But with Michael Martin in the chair it is neither dignified nor efficient.

It was not just that, in Nick Clegg’s words, “the Speaker got it wrong, very wrong” on Monday. His performance was the most embarrassing thing seen at Westminster in living memory. He spectacularly misjudged the public mood over MPs´ expenses, positioning himself as a shop steward defending his members’ perks rather than a wise elder who could lead them out of the current crisis.

He was appallingly rude to both Kate Hoey and Norman Baker, not even allowing them to finish their points of order before he attacked them.

And it was particularly crass of Martin to tell Hoey that “some of us in this House have other responsibilities". When the storm over the police search of Damian Green’s office broke, he ducked his responsibilities and sought to blame everything on the Serjeant-at-Arms.

He is lucky she didn’t clock him one with the mace.

I have written before that the West of Scotland Labour Party seldom represents the intellectual flower of the Scottish nation. Michael Martin is a particularly instructive example of this truth. He is uncertain when reading the words the clerks have put in front of him and almost incoherent when forced to think on his feet.

Our fashion expert writes: If your head goes a lurid shade of puce when you get angry, it is not a good idea to be the first male Speaker to dispense with a wig.

Now the Tory backbencher Douglas Carswell is threatening to put down a motion of no confidence in Michael Martin. He has not yet tabled it, but has been told by Commons clerks that his proposed wording is in order.

This is a startling development – unthinkable under any recent speaker. Yet on Tuesday Carswell told the Guardian that he hopes to have collected half a dozen signatures by the end of next week.

Martin may yet limp on until the general election, but whatever happens he is doomed to go down as the worst Speaker of modern times.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Daily Telegraph puts Shahid Malik in the frame - and exposes Hazel Blears

Tomorrow's Daily Telegraph turns its attention to the justice minister Shahid Malik.

As with all these expenses reports, it is hard to judge its truth or fairness until their had been wider debate. But one fact strikes me.

The Telegraph says:
Since being elected in 2005, Mr Malik has claimed the maximum amount allowable for a second home, amounting to £66,827 over three years. Last year, he claimed £23,083 from the taxpayer for his London town house, equivalent to £443 per week. The Telegraph can disclose that the “main home” for which Mr Malik pays out of his own pocket - a three-bedroom house in his constituency of Dewsbury, West Yorks - has been secured at a discounted rent of less than £100 per week from a local landlord who was fined for letting an “uninhabitable” house.
What did Hazel Blears say the other day while waving that £13,000 cheque in our faces?
Challenged over why she "flipped" the designation of her second home, Blears said she was "forced" to name her constituency address as her second home by Commons officials: "The only reason that my Salford home was designated my second home was at the insistence of the fees office, who said that when you become a minister you live in London."
But it is clear from Shahid Malik's case that ministers can have their main residence outside London if they choose. So it looks as though Hazel was not telling the truth.

Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese

An article in today's Guardian by Steve Rose tells the story of the friendship between the two film directors.

Though many today would name him as the greatest ever British director, when the two first met in 1975 Powell was living in obscurity and poverty. His reputation had never recovered from the furore over his 1960 film Peeping Tom and many of his best films were known only in inferior, re-edited versions.

Scorsese describes their meeting thus:
"He was very quiet and didn't quite know what to make of me," Scorsese recalls. "I had to explain to him that his work was a great source of inspiration for a whole new generation of film-makers - myself, Spielberg, Paul Schrader, Coppola, De Palma. We would talk about his films in Los Angeles often. They were a lifeblood to us, at a time when the films were not necessarily immediately available. He had no idea this was all happening."
What followed was remarkable:
After Scorsese found him, Powell was taken to the US by Francis Ford Coppola and feted by his new Hollywood fans. They saw him as a kindred spirit: a fiercely independent film-maker who had fought for, and justified, the need for complete creative freedom.

Coppola installed him as senior director-in-residence at his Zoetrope studios; he took teaching posts; retrospectives were held of his work; and the great and good of Hollywood queued up to meet him. Scorsese even had a cossack shirt made in the same style as that of Anton Walbrook's character in The Red Shoes, which he wore to the opening of Powell and Pressburger's 1980 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

To that event, Scorsese brought along his editor on Raging Bull, Thelma Schoonmaker. "Marty told me I had to go and see Colonel Blimp on the big screen," Schoonmaker later tells me. She introduced herself to Powell, they hit it off, and four years later they married.
Michael Powell died in 1990.

The article also confirms that Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker are working on a long-promised documentary about their appreciation of British cinema.

A tale from the Brecon and Radnor by-election

One of my favourite by-election stories - I now forget where I heard it - comes from the 1985 contest in Brecon and Radnor.

A young Liberal activist was telling at a polling station out in the wilds somewhere, when an elderly farmer turned up.

"What are you doing?" he asked. "I always take the numbers for the Liberals."

It turned out that for years the farmer had come along on polling day, collected numbers for a couple of hours and then taken them home with him.

It represented a folk memory of Lloyd George's day. Any Liberal organisation in the area had long since disappeared. All the was left was the ancestral knowledge that taking numbers somehow helped the party.

Professor Strange: Victorians, modesty and piano legs

Following his thoughts on trainspotting and normality, here is another contribution from Professor Strange. It was first published in Clinical Psychology Forum in February 2004.

Victorians, modesty and piano legs

The Victorians do not get a good press these days. A random trawl of the Internet finds the American AIDS Czarina complaining of a ‘Victorian society that misrepresents information, denies sexuality early, denies homosexuality particularly in teens, and leaves people abandoned with no place to go.’ A sermon tells us that ‘Thanks to the 1960s, we have given up Victorian hypocrisy when it comes to ourselves.’ And a journalist announces that ‘Victorianism today is generally interpreted to mean little more than an atmosphere of sexual repression and hypocrisy’.

Well, I knew Victorians; I worked with Victorians; Victorians were friends of mine. (Indeed, I cannot wholly rule out the possibility that I was a Victorian myself.) And I do not believe that they were any more repressed or hypocritical than we are today.

Yet this libel persists. So much so, that many otherwise intelligent people are convinced that the Victorians were so afraid of the power of sexuality that they felt obliged to cover up the legs of their pianos. Perhaps you believe it too?

You are not alone. An Australian website on sexuality and modernity is convinced they did. Another on culture and colonisation reports that ‘An era that could wrap table and piano legs with frilled covers that men may not harbour “certain” ideas is incredible, to say the least.” How true! For something does not fit when a website on the Victorian pantomime tells us that “audiences were not accustomed to viewing the legs of a pretty actress, especially in an era when even piano legs were cloaked for modesty's sake! However, in a male or ‘Breeches’ role, the actresses were allowed to display as much leg as they dared.’

So piano legs have to be swathed but, in certain circumstances it is fine for human legs to be displayed? The Victorians I knew were odd, but not that odd.

The truth – and I am indebted to Matthew Sweet’s 2001 book Inventing the Victorians for what follows – is that the Victorians did not cover the legs of their pianos at all, unless it was to keep off the dust or children’s boots.

The idea that anyone would worry about the eroticism of furniture first surfaced in Captain Marryat’s A Diary in America, published in 1839. He reported that the word ‘leg’ was not used in polite society across the Atlantic, and that when he visited a ladies’ seminary his guide informed him that the mistress of the establishment, in order to demonstrate her ‘care to preserve in their utmost purity the ideas of the young ladies under her charge had dressed all these four limbs in modest little trousers, with frills at the bottom of them!’

No doubt the guide was making fun of Marryat’s credulity, but the story soon caught on in nineteenth century Britain. How those Victorians enjoyed poking fun at the straitlaced Americans! Nothing so absurd would ever be seen over here.

Somehow the story remained in circulation, and when the publication of Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians made it fashionable to scoff it was recycled to make fun of the people who had originally found it so funny. In my experience the Victorians had more go that the Bloomsbury types who came after – Virginia Woolf was particularly hard work – but the mud has stuck to this day.

Just as the Bloomsbury lens distorts our picture of the Victorians, so the Swinging 60s have given us a false view of the 1950s. But they want to close the College Library and there are macaroons for tea, so that story will have to wait for another day.