Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nick Clegg's The Liberal Moment: Chapter 3

Time for the third instalment of my desultory progress through Nick Clegg's Demos pamphlet The Liberal Moment.

Chapter 3 turns out to be the slightest of the three so far, with Nick concerned only to show that significant shifts in the political landscape can take place.

He cites 1906 and 1997 as examples, presumably because they fit well with his thesis that there is such a thing as progressivism and Labour and Liberals have jointly or separately represented it at various times.

But what about 1945 and 1979? How progressive was Jim Callaghan's Labour Party in 1979? And what about Mrs Thatcher? You can hardly call her a progressive in Nick's terms, yet her ideas still shape British society 20 years after she left power.

See also:
And you can download the whole pamphlet from Nick Clegg's website.

Headline of the Day

From the front page of the Guardian site at the moment:



Quite.

Heresy Corner on Roman Polanski

Top blogging:

Neither at the time, nor during the subsequent decades, has Polanski expressed the slightest contrition for his offence - nor, indeed, has he even accepted that he did anything wrong. He has, however, expressed a great deal of self-pity. He has repeatedly painted himself as the injured party.

And many of the leading lights of the film industry supported and continue to support him. Not only has he been allowed to continue his career in exile, he has been lauded, garlanded with honours in Europe and America, won an Oscar, been defended by the great and the good - and now that the law has finally caught up with him, his arrest has been denounced by the French minister of culture as an abuse of process.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vernon Coaker and common sense on childcare

The BBC reports:

Ofsted inspectors in England have been told by ministers to show "common sense" in interpreting laws on friends helping each other with childcare.

Two mothers had been told it was illegal to look after each others' children without being registered.

The reciprocal arrangement had been seen as providing a "reward".

Fair enough. But who are the ministers telling Ofsted this?

Go over to the Daily Telegraph and you find that the chief among them is schools minister Vernon Coaker.

That is a familiar name to anyone who has followed Labour's nationalisation of childhood over the past 12 years. As a backbencher and then a minster, Coaker has been one of the chief advocates of this process.

His greatest comrade-in-arms was Hilton Dawson, who left parliament at the 2005 election. Dawson later gained his reward when he was made the new chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers.

So it is ridiculous for Coaker to call on Ofsted to use commons sense. It is doing no more than applying the law which he did more than most to bring into being.

In dejection near Polly Toynbee

Polly Toynbee had a column in the Guardian yesterday extolling Labour's bright new generation and the party's achievements in Lambeth:
all around us are good Labour legacies of money well spent: the new school sports hall, the new primary school on Brixton Hill, nine new children's centres, health clinics, squads of neighbourhood police, and a spectacular sixth-form college next door to my home.
I was struck by her celebration of buildings rather than the life that goes on in them. The sixth-form college may be "spectacular", but does it provide its students with a good education?

And It has always seemed to me that one of Toynbee's weaknesses is that her writing fails to convey any sense that she is aware of the pleasures of family life. It is children's centres, children's centres, children's centres all the way.

More than this, I was strongly reminded of another piece of writing about South London. I knew it was by my hero Charles Masterman, but did not know where I had read it. Thanks to the wonders of the net, I was able to find what it was and share it with you.

It comes from the essay "In dejection near Tooting", which was collected in Masterman's 1905 book In Peril of Change. In it he describes that suburb as follows:

On every high hill towered a monstrous building of that particular blend of austerity and dignity dear to the municipal mind. Each was planned of vast spreading dimension, with innumerable blank windows, surrounded by high polished walls.

Down below in the valley, conveniently adjacent to the cemetery, was the immense fever hospital, a huddle of buildings of corrugated iron. In front was a gigantic workhouse; behind, a gigantic lunatic asylum; to the right, a gigantic barrack school; to the left, a gigantic prison.

And that, I think, is one of the differences between a liberal like Masterman, who celebrates life, and a social democrat like Toynbee, who celebrates institutions.

Looking at chapter 2 of Nick Clegg's The Liberal Moment, I discussed Peter Clarke's book Liberals and Social Democrats. In it Clarke draws a distinction between the liberal idea of moral reform and the social democrat or Fabian idea of mechanical reform - again suggesting a divide between life and institutions.

It is for that reason I believe that Clarke was drawing a distinction between liberal and social democrats, rather than arguing they were at root the same thing. This distinction is also one of the reasons why I am a liberal rather than a social democrat.

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Girl in the Headlines



I promised you a review of Girl in the Headlines.

Turns out that Cop Show has already written one for me. So watch the trailer and then go and read it.

I wonder what LoveFilm will send me next?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Capping bankers bonuses

Angela Knight - chief executive of the British Bankers' Association - has a piece on Comment is Free today arguing against the capping of bankers' bonuses:
Banking is after all a global business and the brightest can – and will – move to where the best deals are found.
Liberal England replies: Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

The invention of "antisocial behaviour" has weakend the fight against crime

In the years before Labour came to power in 1997 they made much of the concept of "antisocial behaviour".

Many people worried that this concept would see the police concerning themselves low-level nuisance behaviour by children and teenagers - the sort of thing a healthy community deals with informally.

In fact, whenever "antisocial behaviour" was described by Labour politicians, it turned out to include elements of quite serious criminality - vandalism, aggressive begging and so on.

Superintendent Steve Harrod, head of criminal justice for Leicestershire Police, told the inquest into the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter that:
"I'm not sure if people know but low-level anti-social behaviour is mainly the responsibility of the council."
This suggests that the result of the promotion of the concept of "antisocial behaviour" has not been the criminalisation of youthful mischief. Rather it has been that behaviour that was hitherto seen as criminal is now taken more lightly.

Chalk another one up to Tony Blair.

Support a new government database or the puppy gets it

This morning's Daily Telegraph carried new of yet another government database:

All dogs in Britain will be fitted with microchips which contain their owner’s details, under cross party plans designed to track family pets.

Owners will be forced to install the microchip containing a barcode that can store their pet's name, breed, age and health along with their own address and phone number.

The barcode's details would then be stored on a national database which local councils could access in a bid to easily identify an owner’s pet ...

If an owner failed to insert a chip, at an estimated cost of about £10, they could be fined or face the possibility of having their pet taken away.

The reasons the report given for the new database are that it will curb the trade in stolen dogs, prevent the use of animals in anti-social or violent incidents and reduce the "record number" of stray dogs being found on British streets.

But unless you have a pedigree dog, having it stolen is not a concern - the Telegraph cites the experience of Bruce Forsyth's daughter who "had her Yorkshire terriers snatched from the back of her BMW while she went shopping".

And however great the problem of dogs being used in violent incidents, their ownership being uncertain is surely not the problem.

So we are left with stray dogs. I am sure it is a good idea for people to have their dogs chipped, but is it such an issue in most areas that we need yet another compulsory national database to deal with it? I think not.

It would be wrong to finish without noticing a piece of sloppy journalism in the Telegraph report. We are told that experts say that being chipped is "relatively painless" for dogs.

Relative to what?

Colonel of the Day

Well done Colonel Jonathan Calder-Smith, who helps run the army unit responsible for recruitment.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Labour politicians: Welcome to the world you made

Baroness Scotland is fined £5000 for failing to keep proper documentation while employing a cleaner from overseas. Peter Mandelson is refused entry to the Labour Conference because of a problem with his security pass.

They had better get used to it. If Labour loses the next election a lot of politicians are going to get a rude introduction to the world they have made over the past 12 years.

Life as a former MP can be hard. And policies you supported when your party was in the ascendancy can seem less attractive when they suddenly apply to you. A lot of Tories who were defeated in 1979 found that the post-Thatcherite emphasis on competition and efficiency did them few favours now they were hunting for a job.

And next year a lot of former Labour MPs may not enjoy running up against the surveillance state they have voted into existence.

Baroness Scotland. Peter Mandelson. Now all we need is for two Labour MPs to be threatened with prosecution for looking after each other children.

Nico: I'm Not sayin'



There was a radio documentary on the Velvet Underground a couple of weeks ago and it included this single from 1965.

It is a Gordon Lightfoot song and the sound is very much of its period, yet's Nico's Germanic accent gives it a strange aspect too. The Seekers meet Greta Garbo.

Even more interestingly, the guitarist on this recording turns out to be a young Jimmy Page (though not this young). Wikipedia is good on his early career as a session musician.

Britblog Roundup 241

This week with a guest host: Nourishing Obscurity.

Will the real Nick Clegg please stand up?

Lucy Mangan wrote in the Guardian yesterday:

The leader of the Liberal Democrats had a tough conference, what with all the back-biting and curious decision to turn on Vince Cable, the only known member of the party outside – well, the party.

The real problem for Little Nicky, of course, is that he ain't got no schtick. Paddy Ashdown had "killing people for Britain, back in the day". Charles Kennedy had "I go on Have I Got News For You and at any point I might fall off this lectern!" and Ming Campbell had the undeniable kudos of having been present at the creation of the earth. What's the Cleggster bringing to the table? "I went to a public school but it's not as bad as Eton." That's not a third way – that's Cameron Lite. And boy, nobody, nobody wants that.
I thought we had all finished making jokes about Ming being old. I thought we now felt a little ashamed of them.

But she is on to something.

Because we do not know Nick Clegg very well. I am not so much thinking of a portion of the general public not knowing him at all - that comes with the territory for leaders of third parties and will be rectified at the general election.

I am thinking more of Liberal Democrat voters and members. Speaking for myself, I do not have a strong sense of who Nick Clegg is or what he stands for.

With his talk of private education and private health, attractive wife and young children, he makes life with the Cleggs sound rather Boden catalogue. (And Johnnie Boden was at Eton with David Cameron - you see Nick's problem.)

And Nick's successful campaign for the party leadership in 2007 was notably light on policy.

So when Stephen Tall left a comment on this blog saying:

Personally, I hope Nick adopts and stick to the style he's most comfortable with - if that's a conversational walk-about, so be it.

It seems very odd to criticise Nick's supposed obsession with marketing/spin experts, and then to urge he change his preferred speaking style in response to what Cameron does.

My reaction was that I had no sense of whether the walk-about style is in fact the one Nick is most comfortable with.

I suspect the real Nick Clegg owes a lot to his cosmopolitan - almost exotic - background and that the roots of his liberalism lie there too. It is a background Liberal Democrat members would like to hear about and it would chime with many voters in modern Britain. It would also help to differentiate him from David Cameron in the public mind.

But maybe Team Clegg are afraid that talking about Nick's background would frighten the horses?

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Satan's Harvest

I promised a review of Satan's Harvest and it was every bit as bad as I expected.

Tough guy Cutter Murdock (George Montgomery) inherits the family estate in South Africa, only to find it is being used to produce illegal drugs on an industrial scale. He spends most of the film more or less successfully dodging attempts to kill or otherwise him.

He is aided by Tippi Hedren - I fear her career went from The Birds to this turkey.

The only reason I rented this was that I was intrigued to discover that Matt Monro had acted in a film. But you wonder why he bothered, because he did not have much of a part. He played a baboon wrangler and was apparently provided to provide light relief.

He manages no more than chubby amiability. The effect is rather like Ricky Gervais turning up in a violent episode of Wild at Heart.

It turns out you can watch Satan's Harvest online. But I shouldn't bother.

The disc - Matt at the Movies - also contains a film of Monro singing. When Roy Castle turned up to sing, dance and play the trumpet I grasped the arguments in favour of allowing assisted suicide.

Nick Clegg's The Liberal Moment: Chapter 2

Let's look at the second chapter of Nick Clegg's Demos pamphlet. (I discussed chapter 1 here - at this rate of progress it will all be over by Christmas.)

Chapter 2 is titled "The progressive split" and looks at the way the Labour Party supplanted the Liberals after the First World War.

There is something wonderfully eccentric in a political leader issuing a pamphlet discussing the finer points of the Liberal Party's performance in the 1923 general election. I certainly don't want to discourage that, but I do wonder at the way Nick presents the rise of Labour as split in something called "the Progressive Alliance" (the capitals are his).

Many Liberals saw it as their duty, in the period before 1914, to encourage the representation of working men in the Commons. But when those working men got there most showed that socialism - or British Labourism - is a very different thing from liberalism.

And for modern Liberal Democrats our anti-Labourism is just as important as our anti-Conservatism. I knew I was not a Tory early on, but as a teenager I felt quite warm towards Labour. My intellectual opposition to Labour came developed when I was a student - partly due to the Labour left's equivocation over the Soviet regime.

I am also distrustful of this idea of a free-floating spirit of progressivism that alights from time to time upon different parties. It all sounds a bit sub-Hegelian to me.

It is great to see Nick discussing Peter Clarke's book Liberals and Social Democrats - a book I recommend to all liberals. It was much discussed at the time of the Liberal/SDP Alliance, but it always seemed something of a Rorschach blot to me.

Social democrats thought Clarke was arguing that in the Edwardian period liberals and social democrats were essentially the same thing. To liberals - or at least this liberal - the book thrillingly revealed a lost world of radical liberal intellectuals whose ideology was quite different from social democracy and had dwindled with the Liberal Party.

If The Liberal Moment does no more than send Liberal Democrats off to read Clarke's book it will have been well worth publishing.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lembit's dodgy great uncle Oskar and those other Opiks in full

Given this blog's interest in the family history of prominent Liberal Democrats (Nick Clegg and Matthew Taylor, for instance), I suppose I have to cover this story.

Tomorrow's Mail on Sunday tells us that Lembit Opik's great uncle Oskar Opik was a member of the Estonian puppet government during the German occupation in World War II. The paper links this story with Chris Huhne's attack on David Cameron at Bournemouth:

Dave’s dumped the Tories’ long term allies to jump into bed with the wackos and the weirdos. Never mind Britain’s place in the world. Never mind the need for global partners to tackle climate change, defence or crime.

David Cameron says he cares about climate change, but then joins up with the Czech ODS that denies it exists. Cameron says he will stand up for gay people, but then allies himself with a Polish party of homophobes. He says he cares about human rights, but then cuddles up to a Latvian party that celebrates Adolf Hitler’s Waffen SS. You can tell a lot about a party by the company it keeps.

This is all very interesting, but quite how Lembit's family background excuses the Tories' new allies escapes me.

And, while one cannot excuse joining a puppet government, we should not rush to judge the actions of those who found themselves trapped between Hitler and Stalin - a lesson people like Seumas Milne would do well to remember.

On a happier note, a Daily Mail article from last year told us:

here in Estonia, 'the attic of Europe', the surname Opik is treated with solemn reverence. His family is perhaps the brainiest the Baltic states have ever produced.

Perched in the Liberal Democrat MP's family tree are close relatives who bestrode academia in the fields of astronomy, geology, botany, physics, mathematics, psychology, ethnology and history, attaining the highest intellectual recognition in Britain, America, Australia, and the former Soviet Union.

This has the makings of a great film comedy. In earlier days he would have been played by Jerry Lewis or Norman Wisdom, but today Lee Evans would have to play the hapless Lembit, surrounded by a family of professors.

Down at the old Pump and Tap

I went to the Pump & Tap this lunchtime. It is the pub in Duns Lane, Leicester, that is threatened with demolition, along with the Bowstring Bridge, so that De Montfort University can build a swimming pool.

Fancyapint? describes it well:

Pump & Tap is a down-to-earth and refreshingly normal pub a very short walk from the trendiness of the Braunstone Gate area. There are two separate bars, decorated in a shabby and accidentally mismatched style; in the smaller of the two rooms an old fireplace sits at odds with the (not very comfortable) garden chairs we sat in. The larger bar is more lively and plays host to big screen footy action, along with live music and there is usually a mixed, genial crowd in attendance.

Three real ales keep the beery people happy, while the back garden is a useful refuge for the smokers, who can hide under the impressive railway arch which forms the back part of the open space.

The picture above shows this unique beer garden.

Hugh Alexander: Chess and the Cold War

I bought a copy of Standpoint today. I was pleased to find it had a chess column, but disappointed to find it was by Dominic Lawson. I know he used to be a county player, but - damn it - so did I, and you want to read someone who knows more about the game than you do.

But I take it all back because it was a fascinating piece. Lawson writes about Hugh Alexander who, like Harry Golombek, was a leading British player who worked at the code-breaking station Bletchley Park during World War II.

Lawson writes:
After the war, following a brief stint on civvy street, he returned to become the head of cryptanalysis at GCHQ, where he remained until his retirement in 1971, regularly refusing all promotions. On his retirement, he was offered a similar job at the NSA by the Americans, but he was already a sick man, dying in 1974 at the age of 64.
The remarkable thing was that, despite this career, Alexander represented Britain in six Chess Olympiads (the Olympiad is the world team tournament) between 1933 and 1958 and was, for much of that period, our top player.

He would have played in more Olympiads, writes Lawson:
were it not for the fact that Britain would not allow Alexander to play either behind or even anywhere near the Iron Curtain, so valuable did they believe the contents of his brains would be to our Cold War foes. 
Thus it was only when the leading Soviet and Eastern European players could be persuaded to play in the UK — or in matches conducted through the medium of the telegraph — that Alexander could match his chess skill against theirs. Yet on these rare occasions, Alexander — in an era when the Soviet chess players were generally regarded as unbeatable — proved himself able to win against the very best, something which no British player would be able to emulate until the arrival of Tony Miles in the 1980s.
I remember that Hugh Alexander wrote the chess column in the Sunday Times when I was first getting interested in the game in the early seventies. He appeared there under the impressive name C. H. O'D. Alexander as his full name was Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander.

You can find Hugh Alexander's chess games on the excellent chessgames.com site.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mr John Harris: An apology

In recent days we may have inadvertently given the impression that we do not have the highest regard for John Harris as a journalist. Headlines such as John Harris was a teenage Labour hack may have contributed to this unfortunate and unintended state of affairs.

We are happy to make it clear that we regard Mr Harris as quite simply the finest writer of his generation. Take, for instance, this passage from his contribution to the Guardian's Good conference, bad conference feature on the Lib Dems at Bournemouth:
Hats off to ... the brilliantly idiosyncratic folks gathered around the ginger group Liberator, who rightly treasure an underrated aspect of this lot: their internal democracy, which makes a mockery of the big two party's annual bunfights, and Labour's squashing of its membership and activists in particular.
We apologise if we have given any reader a misleading impression as to our opinion of Mr Harris.

We also like his haircut.

Subscription information on the Liberator website.

Lib Dem Conference 2009: An armchair view

It takes more than a failure to attend the Conference to stop me writing for Liberal Democrat News. This column appears to today's issue.

Calder not at Conference

Party leaders used to warn their members against passing outlandish policies at Conference because “the world is watching us”. In the case of the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats, it generally turned out that the world had better things to do.

Which was odd. Because my first political memories come from the days when the BBC cleared its daytime schedules to bring the nation uninterrupted coverage of the party conferences. Even Watch with Mother was displaced.

So if you were off school with a cold you got Ian Mikardo instead of Mary, Mungo and Midge. Pogles’ Wood was cut down to make way for Sally Oppenheim. And the combined forces of Russell Johnston, David Penhaligon and Alan Beith trampled all over Camberwick Green.

Perhaps it was always a controversial move. Informed sources suggest that as early as 1965 this rescheduling was described by one angry BBC insider as “flobba lobba lob”.

Whatever the truth of that, viewing this week’s Liberal Democrat from Market Harborough rather than Bournemouth has shown me how much things have changed since those days. And not only because it is now the Lib Dem leaders who provide the outlandish policies.

There is still wall-to-wall television coverage, but it is now found only on the BBC Parliament channel. Watching it there makes you feel a little ashamed of your specialised interest. You half expect the screen to freeze after five minutes and demand your credit card number.

What coverage remains on the main channels hardly shows the debates at all. Instead you get a pundit telling you what a politician has just said or what she is about to say or what you could hear her saying now if only the pundit would shut up and let you listen.

So the best place to see the Liberal Democrat Conference today is on the main news bulletins.

That is a great victory for us, but it is also a challenge. As the last Euro elections showed, a Liberal Democrat vote is no longer an anti-establishment vote. If people vote are going for us in the future it will be because they have heard what we have to say and like what we offer.

Which brings us back to those outlandish policies.

Common sense on relations between adults and children

It's from Jenni Russell and - amazingly - it's in the Guardian:

This removal of general authority from adults, and its gradual replacement by state-sanctioned interventions, is utterly corrosive. It infantilises grown-ups, who lose one of the roles that societies have always expected them to fulfil. It makes them timid, and demeans them in the eyes of their children, who see that they are powerless in the face of injustice. And by suggesting that adults may not approach, discuss or reprimand a child, it completely undermines the notion of a community, and the importance of social pressure and shame.

Exchanging these traditional bonds and constraints for sanctions imposed by schools, courts and police is not only wrong-headed, it is doomed to failure. The state can't enforce order everywhere and at all times; nor should we want it to.

I have said remarkably similar things in the past myself on this blog and in two essays in the Liberator Passports to Liberty series: Defending Families and Cohesive Communities (written with David Boyle).

The latter was passed by the Federal Policy Committee but never published by the party. Sometimes it is hard to have an influence.

Later. I have written too many pamphlets. In fact my most substantial contribution on this subject was a chapter in Liberalism - Something to Shout About.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Max Atkinson on Nick Clegg's Bournemouth speech

Max Atkinson, the speaking guru credited with turning Paddy Ashdown into an orator, has an article on his blog about Nick Clegg's speech at Bournemouth yesterday.

He writes of the "noticeable absences" in Nick's speech - no mention of the Conference rows over tuition fees and the "mansion tax" - and comments tellingly on his mode of delivery:

Given Mr Clegg’s obsession with not being regarded as a clone of Tory leader David Cameron, repeated in yesterday’s speech with jokes about Brad Pitt, I remain baffled as to why insists on aping the management guru-apparently unscripted-walkabout style of delivery that made Cameron stand out at the Tory leadership beauty parade in 2005 – and set him on course to win the top job.

If you want to assert how different you are from someone else, why on earth would you copy that person’s distinctive (for a British politician) style of delivery? Why would you do it if you aren’t as good at it as him? And why would you do it when even Cameron has increasingly given it up in favour of looking more ‘statesmanlike’ at a lectern?

I think that is right and hope to see Nick change his style for future set piece speeches. But I fear that some of those around him are determined he should follow the Cameron style guide to the letter.

Matthew Taylor to chair the National Housing Federation




Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat MP for Truro and St Austell, has been elected as the new chair of the National Housing Federation at its AGM in Birmingham. He will serve a three-year term.

He will stand down as an MP at the next general election.

Swine flu and anti-bacterial gel

The BBC reports:
A Dorset prison has removed anti-bacterial hand gel pumps after an inmate is thought to have got drunk drinking from them.
This gel is now everywhere.

I don't want to spoil anybody's fun, but as swine flu is caused by a virus, does anti-bacterial gel do anything to prevent its spread?

An interview with Spencer Davis

The Leicester Mercury ran an interview with Spencer Davis in the run up to his concert with the Animals last Saturday:

Earning a place at Birmingham University proved to be the catalyst for the band and Davis recalls travelling to the north of the city to check out a talented 15-year-old – Steve Winwood.

"What I saw was a unbelievable talent," said Davis. "It was like Oscar Petersen and Ray Charles rolled into one and along with Steve's brother, Muff, and Pete York we formed the band.

"We had a lot of hits, we played live on Ready Steady Go and they were great times."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lib Dems borrow to fund glossy mailshots

A year ago it was automated telephone calling. Today it is direct mailing of glossy leaflets. Cowley Street insiders do enjoy telling the press how ingenious they are.

An article in tomorrow's Guardian says:

The Liberal Democrats are to borrow money to help mount their first direct mailshot as part of an attempt to widen the number of seats they target at the next election to more than 200 – according to aides, their largest number of targeted seats ever ...

The party is taking a gamble, both financially and electorally, to exploit what it sees as Labour's endemic weaknesses after 12 years in power. The plan borrows from the controversial strategy adopted by the Conservative deputy chairman, Lord Ashcroft, which has allowed the Tories to send glossy political literature. The Lib Dems' mailshots will be scrutinised for references to the local candidate – which would see the party have to register the cost as election expenditure.

Also of interest is the forecast of "one senior member of the shadow team":
"We'll lose six to eight seats in the south and gain 10 to 12 in the north and climb up to 70 all in."
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Thoughts on Nick Clegg's speech at Bournemouth

My examination of Nick Clegg's The Liberal Moment (which has not so far got past chapter 1) must be put on hold. For it is time to examine his leader's speech at Bournemouth.

Nick was young and good looking and acting kind of tough, but the content left me underwhelmed.

On Afghanistan: "We should either do this properly or we shouldn’t do it at all." Well, which do we want? Presumably doing it properly would involve more spending, so how does that square with "savage" cuts in public spending.

On Nick's resemblance to David Cameron: It's easy, Nick. It's because you both went to public school and look as though you did.

Did Sir Menzies Campbell really opposed the invasion of Iraq? My memory was that he was away from Westminster receiving treatment for cancer during the whole of the

But then there was no mention of cuts in spending. Yes, some items of expenditure that should go were identified, but as far as I can see the money from every one of those was reallocated to some eyecatching new project. Of spending cuts to repay the government deficit, there was no sign at all.

There were a few brief mention of bankers and their bonuses scattered through it, but they were hardly a them of the speech. The only mention of freedom or civil liberties came in one short paragraph on what Chris Huhne would do as home secretary.

Judging by this speech, what the Liberal Democrats stand for today is fairness. But there are problems with making this the centre of our appeal.

"Fairness" is a playground word which all political parties now use because a) talking about equality frightens the horses and b) it goes down well in focus groups. But that means that it hard to stand out when using this word.

Besides it may well turn out that "fair" means very different things to people. Is it fair that people should be poor? No. Is it fair that people should be able to use their talents to earn high salaries? Yes. The hard thing is to reconcile such disparate views.

This is not meant as an attack on the leader. These or similar problems have beset the Liberal Democrats for years and the economic collapse has hit all parties like a train. But, given that Nick prides himself on being blunt and speaking out, you could have hoped for a bit more clarity today.

Bowstring Bridge to be demolished next month

The BBC Leicestershire pages are reporting that demolition work on Leicester's Bowstring Bridge is to start on 5 October.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lord Bonkers' introduction to the new Liberator songbook

Even as I post this, Liberal Democrats are gathering for the Glee Club in Bournemouth. There is a new Liberator songbook on sale there, with this introduction from Rutland's most celebrated peer...


Bonkers Hall
Rutland
Tel: Rutland 7

Whether one thinks of the traditional Christmas carol ‘Oakham All Ye Faithful’ or the more recent song ‘The Only Way is Uppingham’, there is no doubt that Rutland is rightly called ‘The Land of Song’.

I was myself deeply involved in the Rutlandbeat movement of the 1960s, not least as owner of the legendary Cavern Club, which was housed in the cellars of the Bonkers’ Arms. Many a band made its public debut there, amongst the beer barrels and spare mantraps, and the locals were never slow to make their displeasure known if any act on the bill did not cut the mustard. It is wonderful how fast someone in loon pants can run when pursued with pitchforks and flaming torches!

The contacts I established in the music industry were soon put at the disposal of our beloved party. It was I who commissioned ‘We Gotta Get Out of Third Place” for The Animals in 1965 and I who first recorded ‘Young Shirl’ – a tribute to Shirley Williams, then a Labour MP – later a hit for Gary Pluckett and, indeed, the Union Gap.

My recruitment song for the Women’s Liberal Federation – ‘Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter’ – was, it has to be admitted, more controversial.

There are those, I know who question whether the Glee Club can survive in these days of iPods and eight-track cartridge players. Today’s young people, they argue, are no longer schooled in communal singing.

Let us prove them wrong, fellow Liberal Democrats, by raising the roof with ‘The Land’, ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Nellie the Elephant’.

Britblog Roundup 240

Like a bird on The Wardman Wire.

Vince Cable in Leicester

From the blog written by Ian Griffin, business editor of the Leicester Mercury:

The thing about Mr Cable is that his monotone accountant-style delivery - which 12 months ago brought him a certain amount of ridicule - is exactly what's called for when making speeches about the economy these days.

Those measured tones had the 200 senior business figures at the Leicestershire Chamber of Commerce President's Dinner at the Ramada Jarvis Hotel in Leicester capitivated.

Man sentenced for abuse in Jersey children's home

Yesterday Gordon Wateridge was sentenced to two years in prison for sexual assaults carried out on teenage girls at the Haute de la Garenne children's home on Jersey.

One thing struck me about this story: the name of the judge who sentenced him. It was Sir Christopher Pitchers.

Back in the 1980s Chris Pitchers was our only local SDP activist. I remember his being rather disconcerted when, at the height of the row over the merger of the two parties, he arrived at a district by-election in the town to find that we had put up a Liberal candidate. We reasoned that, if the Alliance no longer existed, he could hardly fight under a Liberal Alliance banner.

But Chris helped us without argument and I am sure he is now very good at the judging.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nick Clegg's The Liberal Moment: Chapter 1

It's five days since I was sent a copy of Nick Clegg's new Demos pamphlet The Liberal Moment. High time that I started reviewing it.

Chapter 1

A couple of passages interest me here.

At the core of progressive thought is the idea that we are on a journey forward to a better, and especially more socially just, society; it’s a political ideology that stems from a restless, optimistic ambition for change and transformation.

At the core of conservative thought is a determination to preserve, protect and defend. Conservatives are primarily governed by caution about the unintended consequences of change, reluctant to change the status quo, especially to alter the social pecking order in society.

Conservatives tend to believe we are at risk of decline if we don’t protect things as they are; progressives tend to believe we are capable of more, and better, if only we change the way things are.

The concept "progressive" is currently extremely. It is being used so widely - it is, for instance, claimed by all three main political parties - that I wonder how much it really means.

The definition Nick gives - "the idea that we are on a journey forward to a better, and especially more socially just, society" - does not answer all these doubts. The idea of what constitutes social justice varies greatly from party to party and from person to person. I am sure that Mrs Thatcher saw her governments as making society more just. She would have seen herself as allowing those who work hard to win the rewards they deserve.

I also wonder whether an uncomplicated optimism about the future really characterises modern liberalism. Certainly, many of the local campaigns we engage in involve defending the status quo. My own current concern for the Bowstring Bridge in Leicester is a good example of this.

The truth, I suspect, is that somewhere around the oil crisis of 1973 most liberals gave up on this version of progress and embraced concern for the environment and their local communities as a central feature of their philosophy. Nick straightforward dichotomy between progressive and conservatives does not recognise this important shift in liberal belief.

The second passage from chapter 1 that interests me runs:

Progressive liberalism has always been and always will be about the dispersal and distribution of power. Liberalism conventionally starts with the notion of freedom; a central abiding tenet of liberalism is the harm principle – that a man or woman must be free to do as they choose except where it affects or limits another’s freedom. It is articulated most clearly by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty in 1859:

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

The minor point here is that Lloyd George was certainly a progressive liberal in that he was irreducibly anti-conservative, but he was not much interested in the dispersal of power. You can make a strong case that it was his government that built the modern centralised British state.

More importantly, while I am delighted to see John Stuart Mill and On Liberty quoted in a pamphlet by a Lib Dem leader, I am sorry to see the idea that it is the "harm principle" that is important about Mill's book.

As I wrote in an article for Liberator a couple of years ago:

It seems we have become obsessed by Mill’s harm principle. Yet it is only a small part of On Liberty: the essence of that work is not concerned with curbing liberty at all but is a glorious hymn in favour of its expansion.Writing in Prospect magazine last year, Richard Reeves put it well:

for Mill, liberty consists of much more than being left alone. It requires choice-making by the individual. "He who lets the world… choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation," he writes. "He who chooses his plan for himself employs all his faculties." For Mill, a good life must be a chosen life.

Or as The Levellers said more recently: "There's only one way of life, and that's your own, your own, your own."

The reason the harm principle is cited so often, I suggested, is that those who are arguing in favour of curbs on our liberty find it easy to quote Mill in their support.

And sure enough, when Nick returns to the principle in a later chapter it is to make this point:
Liberalism is not a doctrine of anarchy. Mill, who (sic.) I quoted earlier, did not argue that power should never be exercised against an individual but that power should be exercised against an individual to prevent harm to others.
No, we are not anarchists, and Mill pointed the way to a greener view of economics that is very attractive to modern liberals. But let's not blame him every time we make a compromise.

The curse of the Lib Dem Blog of the Year award strikes again

Last month I floated the idea that winners of the Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year award were stricken by a curse. That was because, at the time of writing, only one of the three blogs to win the award was still being written.

It seems I was on to something.

Yesterday evening Himmelgarten Cafe won the 2009 award. Earlier this evening its writer, Costigan Quist, announced that the blog was closing down.

A day is a long time in Liberal Democrat blogging.

Trivial Fact of the Day

A review by Ferdinand Mount in the current London Review of Books (to be viewed by subscribers only, I am afraid) reveals that Arthur Ransome, when a boy, was taught to skate by the exiled Prince Kropotkin.

More on Kropotkin at Birkdale Focus.

John Harris was a teenage Labour hack

[Later. Don't read this posting: read this one instead.]

John Harris is all over the Guardian website giving the world his - largely unflattering - view of the Liberal Democrat Conference.

It's time to remind ourselves that Harris is not a rock journalist with a silly haircut who has turned his attention to politics later in life.

For, in a piece on Hazel Blears that he published in the Guardian in May, Harris wrote:
I first encountered Hazel Blears in 1985, when she was a 29-year-old solicitor and Labour councillor with frizzed-up hair and Ben Elton glasses, and I was a Thatcher-hating 15-year-old. We initially met in the Cheshire town of Knutsford - where, prior to a takeover by a gang of Trotskyists given their instructions by the shadowy force known as the Militant tendency, I was in charge of the local branch of the Labour party Young Socialists.
No further questions, m'lud.

Lib Dem Blog of the Year winners

Congratulations to:
  • Best new Liberal Democrat Blog (started since 1st September 2008)
    Mark Reckons by Mark Thompson
  • Best blog from a Liberal Democrat holding public office (The Tim Garden Award)
    Lee Green Councillor by Brian Robson
  • Best use of blogging/social networking/e-campaigning by a Liberal Democrat
    Jo Swinson MP for her live-tweeting from Parliament, plus engaging with the public through Facebook and website
  • Best posting on a Liberal Democrat blog (since 1st September 2008)
    Parliament, The Telegraph and Jo Swinson by James Graham
  • Best non-Liberal Democrat politics blog
    Slugger O’Toole
  • Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year
    Himmelgarten Cafe by Costigan Quist.
More at Liberal Democrat Voice.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Watermelon "has same effect as Viagra"

That's what Newsbeat, the radio news for young people, says.

Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band: Take it away.

Spencer Davis Group: Dust My Blues



After last night there can be only one choice. On this 1967 recording from Finnish TV Spencer sings while Steve Winwood plays a mean Blues guitar.

Life must have seemed good to Davis in 1967. He had a cheesy pop star haircut and the group he led had had two number one hits. Legend has it that the Winwood brothers favoured naming the group after the loquacious Davis so that he could do all the press interviews while they stayed in bed.

Then Steve Winwood, who was nine years younger than Davis, left to form Traffic with some younger musician friends he liked to jam with, and life became more difficult.

Davis recruited new players replace the Winwood brothers (Muff went into producing at the same time that Steve left), but never enjoyed much success again. Some of the later Spencer Davis Group tracks like Time Seller and After Tea still sound good today in a mildy psychedelic way.

Incidentally, Elton John was one of the people Davis auditioned and rejected in this period. Another of his connections with rock history is that he used to date and play as a duo with Christine Perfect, who became Christine McVie and a member of Fleetwood Mac.

Spencer Davis now lives in California. Introduced by John Steel at his Market Harborough concert last night as having come "all the way from Los Angeles," he modestly replied, "I've just come from Wakefield."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "I'm free!"

Another week at Bonkers Hall draws to a close.

Sunday

Earlier this summer I was proud to join the candlelight vigil for the delightful Mollie Sugden: her touching concern for her pussy was a credit to her and did much to engender the renewed concern for the environment that one finds in so many young people these days.

But then “Are You Being Served” – How I used to roar! – was always more than just a comedy: historians agree that it did much to keep the flame of Liberalism burning in the hostile atmosphere of the 1970s.

In particular, I read John Inman’s repeated cry of “I’m free!” as a magnificent show of defiance in the face of tyrants everywhere.

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

Previously on Lord Bonkers

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Nick Clegg in the bog

On to the penultimate entry.

Saturday

Towards its Northern reaches, the Bonkers Hall Estate opens out on to wild moorland. It is a desolate landscape of bog and heather, the haunt of red grouse, curlews and hamwees. Young Clegg is determined to go hiking there and, after giving him a stern warning about keeping to well-trodden paths, I wave him on his way.

Later, driving in the Bentley, I come upon him floundering in the mud. “I’ll send a man to pull you out,” I cry as I motor past and think no more of it. Later, as I am enjoying an Auld Johnston, that most prized of Highland malts, after dinner, a filthy figure staggers in through the French windows.

“You said you’d send someone to help me,” he sobs. “Sorry, old man,” I return, “that was an aspiration, not a commitment.”

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

Previously on Lord Bonkers

Harborough Hoards and History Day

Last Sunday it was Arts Fresco. Yesterday Market Harborough was again en fête, this time with Harborough Hoards and History Day to mark the reopening of the town's museum.

Harborough Museum has been closed for months while it has been refurbished to house the Hallaton Treasure, which consists of 14 excavated hoards of coins and associated finds including a Roman helmet, ingots, tankard handle, jewellery, pig and dog bones and pottery. They date from c. 100 BC to 50 AD.

The helmet is still being conserved, but will eventually be on display at the Harborough Museum. It is particularly interesting because it appears to be a ceremonial helmet that would have been presented as a gift. The theory is that it was presented to a British chieftain who had fought as a mercenary for Rome.

I was particularly interested in the Iron Age coins. Some have inscriptions, but what language are they in? One theory is that the coins were inspired by Roman coins their makers had seen and that they had roughly copied the Latin inscriptions without understanding them.

All of this suggests that there may have been a lot of contact between Britain and the Roman Empire well before Julius Caesar landed at Walmer in 55 BC.

As well as the newly reopened Museum there were Roman, Civil War and World War I re-enactments in the Square, costume displays at the Harborough Theatre and stalls under the Old Grammar School. The town was not as busy as last Sunday, but it was good to see another cultural event here.

And then there was Spencer Davis and the Animals in the evening.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Hiding from Loulou Harcourt in the shrubbery

It's Sunday and we have reached Friday.

Friday

The names of every great Liberal are to be found in the Visitors Book here at the Hall. As a boy I was dandled upon the knee of Mr Gladstone (a first-rate dandler, as I recall) and had my hair ruffled by Sir Charles Dilke. I also spent an entire weekend hiding from Loulou Harcourt in the shrubbery, but this evening I shall pass over that without further comment. Later, when I came into man’s estate, I was able to entertain Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith and Lloyd George myself.

Since then I have played host to every Liberal or Liberal Democrat leader at some time or another. Little Steel spent the weekend trying to persuade me to close the old place down and merge with the Duke of Rutland’s Belvoir Castle (the very idea!) whilst Kennedy was very taken with the Bonkers' Arms.

This evening the latest in this long line arrives in the shape of Nick Clegg. Over dinner I am able to give him the benefit of the wisdom acquired during a lifetime in public service, but I fear our pure Rutland air is too heady for him as he falls asleep over the cheese.

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

Previously on Lord Bonkers

Doctor, I'm a little hoarse

The Shropshire Star continues its return to form:

A pony wandered into Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital and walked through the corridors after escaping from a nearby field.

Staff and patients were left astonished when the black-coated animal, named Beauty, was discovered inside the hospital yesterday afternoon.

Baroness Scotland faces questions over £170,000 expenses

More pressure on the attorney-general. Again from the Sunday Times:

The attorney-general, Baroness Scotland, is facing serious questions about payments of £170,000 that Cabinet Office rules say she was not entitled to receive.
Scotland is already at the centre of a row after she was found to be employing an illegal immigrant as a cleaner.

It emerged yesterday that she has for years been receiving an allowance intended for peers who live outside London, despite saying her main home is in the capital.

Labour staff face DNA tests over ballot box tampering

You have to laugh.

From the Sunday Times:

In a move that has been labelled “bonkers” by insiders, Ray Collins, Labour’s general secretary, wants to collect samples from all workers at the party’s Victoria Street headquarters who could have been involved in spoiling ballot papers in the bitter contest for the constituency of Erith and Thamesmead.

Among the candidates running for selection was Georgia Gould, 22, the daughter of Lord Gould, one of the architects of New Labour. The selection process was marred by claims that she was being “parachuted” into the safe seat by the Labour party machine and being given unfair help by powerful figures including Alastair Campbell and Tessa Jowell.

A hustings in April had to be called off after seals were broken on a ballot box containing postal votes at party headquarters.

Animals and Friends plus Spencer Davis, Market Harborough

I have just got back from seeing the Animals and Spencer Davis, so here is the obligatory indistinct snatched concert photograph.

I went out of curiosity but enjoyed it far more than I expected. It was every bit as much a Spencer Davis Group show as an Animals show. We got Keep on Running, When I Come Home, Somebody Help Me, Every Little Bit Hurts, I'm a Man and - as the encore even after House of the Rising Sun - Gimme Some Lovin'.

The Animals consisted of John Steel, the band's drummer since it was formed (he was playing in a jazz band with Eric Burdon as early as 1957), Mickey Gallagher, the keyboard player who first played with them in 1965 after Alan Price left, Johnnie Williamson on lead guitar and Pete Barton on guitar and lead vocals.

Spencer Davis is perhaps beginning to look his age - he is singing songs at 70 that Steve Winwood sang for the Spencer Davis Group when he was 17. But Pete Barton gives him good support on vocals and Gallagher, in particular, is superb, making I'm a Man and Gimme Some Lovin' every bit as exciting as they should be.

I can recommend the show to any fan of the British Blues scene. As well as House of the Rising Sun and the Spencer Davis Group tracks, you get other Animals songs like Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, Don't Bring Me Down, It's My Life and (dedicated, to cheers, "to soldiers everywhere") We Gotta Get Out of this Place. All that and some Blues standards too.

Goodnight Market Harborough, wherever you are.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

From Gumley Hall to Iain Duncan Smith

At my first meeting of Harborough District Council we were discussing our response to the Thatcher government proposed poll tax. Like most ruling Tory groups around the country, ours thought it was a great idea and told Whitehall that it should be brought in at once, not phased in over 10 years as proposed.

Like a good Liberal Alliance councillor I moved an amendment in favour of a local income tax. "It cannot be right," I said, "that the rich man in his castle pays the same as the poor man at his gate."

At which Tim Brooks, Tory councillor for Great Glen and owner of Wistow Hall, rose to say that I should bear in mind that owning a large house entailed considerable expense.

He later resigned from the council on being made Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire - we had a higher class of by-election in Harborough in those days.

I saw Sir Tim, as he now is, across the room at the reception after Vince Cable's lecture on Thursday evening. And I remembered that I had come across him when researching Gumley recently.

One of the tenants of Gumley Hall in the 19th century was Thomas Tapling, who was Conservative MP for Harborough when he died there in . The subsequent by-election was won for the Liberals by my hero J. W. "Paddy" Logan.

This auction record reveals that Sir Tim's wife Ann (nee Fremantle) is the granddaughter of Tapling's sister.

Not only that. Ann's niece Elizabeth is married to the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith. In 2003 the Daily Mail reported:
Wife Betsy, whose work for her husband is under parliamentary scrutiny, contributes to the IDS budget through her stake in a family property company, Thomas Tapling & Co., which is co-managed by her father Lord Cottesloe.
Thomas Tapling & Co., incidentally, began in the 19th century as a manufacturer of textiles.

All this is a reminder of the persistence of Tory dynasties, both locally and nationally.

I don't know if this interests anyone else, but I wanted to write it down somewhere before I forgot it.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The public stoning of Billy Bowden

After Wednesday the Lord has placed...

Thursday

At the opera house in Oakham for a gala to celebrate England’s Ashes victory.

We are treated to an excerpt from Swann Lake, an opera about a promising young off spinner who overcomes his “bad boy” image and problems against short-pitched bowling to become a trusted member of the team – Carlos Acosta’s Peter Siddle is particularly moving.

Other items in the programme include a selection of Strauss waltzes and the international premiere of Bopara’s Duck Quintet. Jimmy Anderson’s “O Superman” (a tribute to Andrew Flintstone) is perhaps a little avant-garde for some tastes, but it behoves one, in these days of bakelite and reverse swing, to move with the times.

The evening closes with the public stoning of the irritating umpire Billy Bowden, so we all leave in good spirits.

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

Previously on Lord Bonkers

Time to get savage with City bonuses

Nick Clegg's interview in the Guardian this morning will be remembered for his "In some cases we will be quite bold, or even savage, on current spending".

However severe the public sector deficit, I think that could have been better put.

But what struck me more was Nick's floating of the idea of means testing child benefit. On the one hand, the paper says he is cautious of destroying "middle-class solidarity" with the welfare state. On the other:

"I find it odd that people on multi-million pay packages from the city get child benefit. That's patently silly and patently unfair."
I think he had it right the first time. Bringing on a stage army of multi millionaires to scare people into opposing the commitment to universal child benefit does not look good politics to me.

If we are concerned about the size of pay packages in the financial sector we might look at more effective regulation. Unfortunately, Nick was quick to say he disagreed with Lord Turner's call for taxation to be used to curb excessive bonuses in the City.

Speaking personally, it would not trouble me if we were savage with the financial sector.

Later. Paul Waugh is sound on this too.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Saying no to size zero

The week continues.

Wednesday

Enjoying a post-theatre drink at one of London’s more select nightspots with a couple of popsies, whom should I come across but our own Lembit Öpik? He has with him the delightful Katie Green, whom I recognise from the billboards.
It transpires that they are hard at work on a “Say No to Size Zero” campaign so that those jolly girls who show off the latest designs on the catwalk can have three square meals a day and still find work.

I am able to tell them that the first Lady Bonkers fronted – and I used the term advisedly – just such a campaign in the 1920s and succeeded in winning sponsorship from the Zeppelin airship company.

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

Previously on Lord Bonkers

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Tinchy Stryder makes an investment

A second day with Rutland's most popular fictional peer.

Tuesday

Lunch at my club with my old friend Tinchy Stryder. Following his success in what my more hep acquaintances call “the hit parade”, he has more than once sought my advice on the investment of his new-found riches. I have, for instance, been able to point him in the direction of a Good Thing in Rutland Railway Consols.

Today he informs me that he is determined to invest in a Liberal Democrat MP, but cannot make up his mind which. Whom would I recommend?

We run through the possibilities: Alan Beith? “I fear you may not be quite His Sort of Thing.” Hazel Grove? A lovely girl, but perhaps a little too racy for the staid Tinchy. Mark Oaten? I have to explain certain delicate matters to an incredulous Stryder – several times.

Eventually we hit upon the perfect answer: Norman Lamb. He has an agreeable manner, a most lovely constituency and, I am informed, a large majority. I shall have the papers sent over to Tinchy by fast bicycle tomorrow.

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

Previously on Lord Bonkers

Friday, September 18, 2009

Following the Liberal Democrat Conference

If, like me, you will not be in Bournemouth for the Lib Dem Conference, do not despair.

You can find all the news on the party website.

When the Beatles played Tenbury Wells

It's some time since we had a story from the Shropshire Star, so let's enjoy a little pop history:

They were hurtling towards number one in the pop charts and starting to generate the kind of hysteria that would make young girls and boys scream like jet planes.

It was at this moment that Tenbury Wells woman Pat Lambert sat down for supper with The Beatles.

The date was April 15, 1963, the day the Fab Four came to Tenbury and, as one of a group of friends who booked the band to play, town hairdresser Pat was one of the privileged few who shared a meal with John, Paul, George and Ringo before their show at the Bridge Hotel.

Those Beatles Shropshire songs in full:
  • Hard Day's Knighton*
  • Here Comes the Clun
  • Long Mynd Sally
  • Things Clee Said Today
  • Ludlow Submarine
* I know, but Knighton railway station is in Shropshire.

Girl in the Headlines and Satan's Harvest

One consequence of my Digital Camera Diet is that I have been rapidly filling the free space Photobucket provides. It became clear that I was going to have to upgrade my account to Pro.

When I came to do it I found that if I joined Love Film I could do so for free. As I was already planning to do just that, it was a bonus.

My first two films have arrived - two films that have cropped up on this blog but I have never seen : Girl in the Headlines and Satan's Harvest. Oddly, there appears to be no waiting list for obscure British films from 40 years ago.

Reviews will no doubt follow. I expect Girl in the Headlines to be surprisingly good and Satan's Harvest to be enjoyably bad.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Swine flu parties

Normally I do not post his lordship's diary until Liberator has been mailed to subscribers. As most subscribers will be collecting their copy from the magazine's stall at Bournemouth I shall be posting his latest thoughts over this weekend.

Monday

This summer has been dominated by talk of “swine flu”. The wireless news reports have come thick and, indeed, fast: a woman in Biggleswade has a sore throat; a schoolgirl in Kendal is feeling a bit under the weather; a man in Dingwall has stayed in bed and not gone to work, but hopes to get up later because there is a film on Channel 4 he would like to see.

Physicians have advocated various cures or palliatives: some swear by this new Tamiflu; others cleave to the traditional standby of oinkment.

One controversy has been the advisability or otherwise of “swine flu parties”. I am strongly in favour of them: this flu bug does not seem as terrible as all that and it has been very good for my pigs as they have got to meet many new people. Scrubbed to a gleaming pink, they have presented themselves at people’s houses and been entertained to a slap-up tea; in return, they have been able to display the fine table manners I have taught them and learned to engage in polite conversation.

An advantage for the hostess is that she can be sure that every last morsel of food will be consumed.

Will Hay quiz prizes are in the post

Copies of Graham Rinaldi's biography of Will Hay have been sent to the two lucky winners.

In the comments on that post, Chris Black asked another question: Where was Will Hay's spot.

In the absence of any guesses, I shall now reveal the answer: Will Hay's spot was (and is) on Saturn. Hay, you see, was a keen amateur astronomer.

There now follows an obvious comic payoff:

Well, it's better than having a spot on Uranus!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vince Cable, Eric Ravilious and the Bowstring Bridge

After work this evening I went to hear Vince Cable give a public lecture at Leicester University. The audience was a good mixture of academics, students and local Liberal Democrats.

Speaking to the title "Is the Economic Crisis Over?", Vince gave his analysis of the causes of our current problems. They were the complexity of the financial instruments that the banks developed, the imbalance in the global economy (with high levels of savings in China and low levels in the West) and government complacency.

He went on to say that, thus far, the government had absorbed the costs of the crisis in its own budget but that this cannot continue for much longer because of the collapse in its revenues. At present public spending accounts for 48 per cent of the economy and revenue from taxation only 35 per cent.

How do we stop it all happening again? Vince said conventional banking operations should be separated from the casino side of the business, so that government never has to bale out the casinos again. He also counselled the government against selling off its bank holdings too rapidly, because it probably won't get a good deal from them at the moment.

Answering questions from the audience, Vince spoke of meeting executives from Northern Rock. So ingrained was the belief that everyone should be a homeowner that those executives thought they were heroes for selling people 125 per cent mortgages for six times their salaries.
In short, it was an informative and authoritative performance from Vince, again showing his ability to appear to rise above politics while being intensely political.

After the meeting I met Ian Ridley of Harborough Liberal Democrats and Liberator fame and Ben Ravilious. Previously I had met Ben, one of the leading campaigners against the demolition of Leicester's Bowstring Bridge, only through Twitter.

He turns out to be grandson of Eric Ravilious, who is one of my favourite artists.

Spencer Davis plays Market Harborough

An envelope arrives in the post. It contains a ticket for a concert at Market Harborough Leisure Centre on Saturday night.

On the bill? The Animals & Friends plus Spencer Davis.

Yes, Spencer Davis is playing just around the corner from me, so I had to go.

While I was on Harborough District Council I seconded the motion that got the Leisure Centre built. I always knew it would come in useful one day.

Nick Clegg launches The Liberal Moment

Nick Clegg today launched a new pamphlet - The Liberal Moment. You can download a copy from the party website.

There it is billed as follows:

This pamphlet is about the future of British politics. Specifically, it is about the future of progressive politics in Britain. It is obvious to most people that Labour’s time is up. This Government displays all the hallmarks of a government running out of road – tired, ideologically incoherent, and internally fractured.

The question for progressives is what comes next? Is it inevitable that the red-blue/blue-red pendulum of British politics must swing again away from the progressive hopes offered by New Labour in its early days, only swinging back in many years to come once the Conservatives have had another go? Or is there life still left in the ideals of fairness, social mobility, sustainability, civil rights and internationalism which are the lifeblood of progressive thought?

My argument is simple: if progressives are to avoid being marginalised by an ideologically barren Conservative party, bereft of any discernible convictions other than a sense of entitlement that it is now their turn to govern, then the progressive forces in British politics must regroup under a new banner. I believe that liberalism offers the rallying point for a resurgent progressive movement in Britain.

The party website also adds: "Please note: this is not official Liberal Democrat policy".

While James Graham reads it as follows:
With his Demos pamphlet published today, it has to be said that Nick Clegg has ruled out any chance of doing a deal with the Conservatives in the event of a hung parliament following the next election. That isn’t quite the same thing as saying he has ruled in a deal with Labour but it does look as if our latest flirtation with equidistance has come to an end.
Nick's office kindly arranged a briefing late yesterday afternoon, but I was too busy earning a living to take part. (I'll never make a blogger.)

And I haven't read the thing yet either. When I have, I'll tell you if I agree with James.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Old St Pancras Church

I have shown you Sir John Soane's mausoleum and The Hardy Tree in it its churchyard. Here is Old St Pancras itself. It is an oddly rural looking building for such an urban setting.

When I arrived there were people coming and going. I thought I was going to achieve my ambition of getting inside to have a look.

But when I reached the door there was a handwritten note saying: "PRIVATE BOOKING TODAY. THE CHURCH IS NOT OPEN TO VISITORS". If I were a believer I would be quite offended by that.

I did consider faking a spiritual crisis to gain admission - "I need an altar and I need it now" - but thought better of it.

It turns out that the church will be open this weekend as part of the London Open House Weekend. I don't know if I will get there as there is the attraction of the reopening of Harborough Museum on Saturday.

But I'll get inside Old St Pancras one day. Even if I have to do something extreme like go to Divine Service.

Lord Gnome on the Bowstring Bridge

The Bowstring Bridge has made it into the new Private Eye.

Unfortunately they refer to the Pump & Tap, the pub that is also threatened with demolition, as the "Pump & Tab". Shurely shome mishtake?

Why isn't Mark Reckons shortlisted for Blog of the Year?

Oh dear. I had just regained my usual cheerful equilibrium when I looked at the shortlists for the Lib Dem Blog of the Year awards again.

And I saw that Mark Reckons has not been shortlisted for the main award.

I find this inexplicable. In my book he was one of the two favourites to win it.

Rather than rant about cliques, let me be try to be constructive.

Writing your blog posts in the style of essays or newspapers comment articles is a perfectly valid method. There are some excellent examples of blogs using this approach on the shortlists. But it is not the only way of blogging and should not be the only way that the Blog of the Year judges reward and thus encourage.

Those judges should make more effort to reflect the variety of blogging approaches that flourish in the party. Mark's recent interviews are an excellent example of what I am talking about.

Mark Oaten's sex life was the most remarkable thing about him

I don't want to keep attacking Mark Oaten, but a myth about him is in danger of developing. It is fuelled both by Oaten himself and by his supporter Mark Littlewood.

Let us be clear. Mark Oaten was not a dangerous, exciting politician brought down by a straitlaced press and public opinion. He was probably overpromoted when he was made Lib Dem shadow home secretary and his performance while in the rule was neither particularly impressive nor particularly liberal.

As evidence I refer you to a post of mine from a couple of years ago. It reminds us that though Oaten was happy to talk about abolishing prisons after he had left office, while he was in the post he presented himself as the apostle of "tough liberalism".

An earlier posting of mine may help too. I do hope Mark and the other libertarians of Liberal Vision will agree there is no simple trade off between security and liberty.

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Vince Cable is speaking in Leicester tomorrow

Later: Details here.

The following press release reaches me, but I am not sure precisely where it comes from:

On Thursday 17 September, Vince Cable MP will give a lecture at the University of Leicester entitled The Economy: The Way Forward.

Vincent Cable has been an MP for Twickenham since 1997. He read Natural Science and Economics at Cambridge University, where he was President of the Union, followed by a PhD at Glasgow University. He worked as Treasury Finance Officer for the Kenya Government, then lectured at Glasgow University in economics; worked as a first Secretary in the Diplomatic Service in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; was Deputy Director of the Overseas Development Institute, this included a period working for the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, John Smith MP and was Special Advisor on Economic Affairs for the Commonwealth Secretary General, Sir Sonny Ramphal.

From 1990 Mr Cable worked for Shell International and from 1995 was Shell's Chief Economist. He has also been head of the economics programme at Chatham House.

Since becoming an MP, has been appointed a fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford and at the LSE. Mr Cable has been the Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor since November 2003 and is currently Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats. He founded and has, until recently, chaired the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Policing and Victims of Crime. Mr Cable has published several books, most recently the best seller The Storm, and reports on international economics, trade and environmental issues.

The lecture will take place from 5.30pm-6.30pm in the Rattray Lecture Theatre, followed by a reception in the Senior Common Room Park Lounge, 4th floor CWB.