Sunday, October 31, 2010

Get your own Nick Clegg mask





Great news! Thanks to FunkyBunky it is now possible to buy a Nick Clegg mask. Hours of fun for all the family pretending to be the Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister.

The only snag is that, such has been the demand, this product is currently out of stock. No doubt they are reprinting as I type.

The Move: Night of Fear



Not that I entirely approve, but here is something for Halloween.

The original line up of The Move - Ace Kefford, Carl Wayne, Roy Wood, Trevor Burton and Bev Bevan - playing on the German TV show Beat, Beat, Beat.

The Move Information Station describes the band's prehistory:
The five original members of the group had all played with local bands during the years of the beat boom of the early Sixties. Despite the successes of other provincial groups in the early Sixties, Birmingham's bands seemed to lag behind in the race to become national stars.

According to Roy Wood, the reason was that Birmingham audiences - at the time, considerably wealthier than their cousins in Liverpool or Newcastle - were mainly to be found on the supper-club circuit where they expected to hear note-for-note copies of the chart hits of the day rather than original new material or versions of old or obscure rock'n'roll or R&B numbers.

By 1965, only the Rockin' Berries, the Spencer Davis Group and the Moody Blues had broken out of the Midlands into the national circuit - groups like the Redcaps, Carl Wayne and the Vikings and Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders remained in the shadows.

Despite appearing regularly on a children's TV show called 'Five O'Clock Club', by late 1965 singer Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders' guitarist, Roy Wood, both felt that the group was in a rut. Sheridan left to go solo on the cabaret circuit, while Roy Wood joined forces with a number of musicians from other small-time Birmingham groups in a general reshuffle which earned the newly-emerging ensemble their name - the Move.

Carl Wayne brought Chris ('Ace') Kefford with him from Carl Wayne and the Vikings. Kefford - known as 'the singing skull' because of his gaunt looks - played bass. The pedigree of drummer Bev Bevan included a stint with Denny Laine and the Diplomats (Laine's gig prior to joining the Moody Blues) and guitarist Trevor Burton came over from Danny King's Mayfair Set.
And Television Heaven had more on The Five O'clock Club.

Later. The first video I posted has gone from Youtube, so here is one with groovy dancers.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Should Harriet Harman be prosecuted for her remarks about Danny Alexander?

You will have heard that today Harriet Harman referred to Danny Alexander as a "ginger rodent" in a speech to a Labour conference in Oban.

To her credit, she later withdrew the remark and apologised. But it does raise an interesting question. Could Harriet Harman be prosecuted under the Equalities Act that she herself did so much to bring on to the statute book?

To begin with a couple of sources that not everyone will trust...

At the start of the month the Daily Mail published an article on this act, which was adopted and passed by the Coalition. Under the headline "Death of the office joke: Coalition enacts Harriet's PC equality law which means ANYONE can sue for ANYTHING that offends them" it reported:
t creates the controversial legal concept of ‘third party harassment’, under which workers will be able to sue over jokes and banter they find offensive – even if the comments are aimed at someone else and they weren’t there at the time the comments were made.

They can sue if they feel the comments ‘violate their dignity’ or create an ‘intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’.

A one-off incident is enough to sue – there is no need for the ‘victim’ to have warned the perpetrator that their comments are unwelcome.
While an article by Tim Black for Spiked argued that the Act does not simply consolidate existing legislation but introduces a number of new offences in the field:
The most notable of these is the concept of ‘third-party harrassment’. So while it was already an offence for an employer to pick on an employee on the basis of race or gender, an employer will now be liable for any employee ‘harrassment’, too. This means that if someone at work feels that someone else’s comments ‘violate their dignity’ or create an ‘intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’, they can sue their employer.
As I said, these two sources will not satisfy everyone - for the record I have written twice for Spiked but never for the Daily Mail - so here is a less controversial one.

An article on the BBC website - "The new Equality Act and you" - says:
Harassment will have the same definition across all strands of discrimination.

The focus will be on preventing "unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating a person's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment".

A one-off incident may amount to harassment, and so the victim need not have made the perpetrator aware that the conduct was unwanted.

The definition covers conduct which is "related to" a protected characteristic - a protected characteristic being sex, race, religious belief etc.

This means that there is no need for the particular employee's characteristics to be the reason for the unwanted conduct in order to trigger liability.
I take this to mean that because many Scottish people have red hair Harman's remarks should be seen as racist, even if she had no intention to offend or harass the Scots.

And are the remarks offensive? As I understand it, if Danny Alexander finds them offensive, then they are offensive. The question of Harman's intent does not arise.

Besides, the Conservative MP Stewart Jackson who, as he points out, shares a workplace with Harman and Alexander, has already tweeted that he finds the remarks offensive. That is the end of the matter, isn't it?

I was surprised and disappointed when the Coalition passed Harman's Equalities Act unexamined and unamended. I suppose the need to detoxify the Conservative brand took precedence over any considerations of liberty for the masses.

But as far as I can see there is an open and shut case for Harman to be prosecuted under it. Can anyone give any good reasons why she should not be?

The Congregational Chapel, Minsterley


I went to Minsterley chiefly to photograph its church, but I was also taken with this Congregational Chapel.

The website Shropshire's Nonconformist Chapels (which I highly recommend) describes it as follows:
In 1795 the "chapel house" was licensed for nonconformist worship. A joint church of Independents and Baptists was formed in 1803 which continued until 1833 when they separated, with the Independents building this chapel and the Baptists building the chapel at Lordshill ...

The chapel in Minsterley was built of brick which is now rendered. An upper floor was inserted in the late 19th century to be used as a schoolroom. The chapel was still in use by the Congregational church in 2003.
I shall have to go back to Lordshill chapel and photograph it one day. In the mean time you can see it in the 1950 Powell & Pressburger film Gone to Earth.

This completes the middle Sunday of my holiday, which I have been blogging about since the Iron Church at White Grit.

Labour fought the last election on a promise to curb Housing Benefit


Our goal is to make responsibility the cornerstone of our welfare state. Housing Benefit will be reformed to ensure that we do not subsidise people to live in the private sector on rents that other ordinary working families could not afford. And we will continue to crack down on those who try to cheat the benefit system.
An extract from a speech by a tough-minded Coalition minister? No, that paragraph is taken from A Future Fair for All, the manifesto on which Labour fought the last election. You will find it on page 20.

Which goes to show how ridiculous the rhetoric of the last week - ethnic cleansing, final solution and all - has been.

Because the last Labour manifesto was right. Housing Benefit is a bit of racket. If costs the taxpayer £21bn a year, and if you inject £21bn worth of purchasing power into any market it is bound to push prices up. And to push them up both for those who receive the benefit and those who do not.

Of course there must be safeguards during any transitional period, but the case for reform is clear.

Labour's present tactics remind me of their initial response to Margaret Thatcher's premiership. Then they thought that the slogan "Ditch the Bitch" was an appropriate and effective response. The Conservatives went on to win three more general elections.

Thanks to a tweet from Matt Smith.

Later. Matt says in the comments that he saw the story on Peter Black's blog.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Friday, October 29, 2010

Six of the Best 102


Andy Crick wishes Boris Johnson would go away.

While Rachel Olgeirsson has had enough emails from Cowley Street and Lib Dem Presidential candidates already.

David Maclean wonders what is going on within Leicester Labour Party: "When Vaz’s man can’t get the outright blessing of his own party members, something is up."

By banning a mildly satirical advertisement for ice cream, the Advertising Standards Authority is reintroducing a blasphemy law to Britain, argues the National Secular Society.

Tim Worstall complains we have "this crazed system whereby if at one point in your life you need a housing subsidy then you get that subsidy for all your life. To take just one example. At some point Lee Jasper qualified for a council house in London. Yet, when he was earning £100,000 a year as an advisor to Ken Livingstone he was still in that council house and still getting that subsidy."

This weekend will see the first passenger trains between Porthmadog and Caernarfon on the Welsh Highland Railway, reports the BBC North West Wales pages. The service will open to the public next spring.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stiperstones vernacular


The sudden rise of the lead mining industry in this remote part of England in the mid 19th century meant that the Stiperstones area has the feel of the Wild West. Shanty villages were thrown together with materials like corrugated iron and their hastily abandoned remnants can still be found today.

Snailbeach has this atmosphere most strongly, but you even find it down at Minsterley - a larger village on the main road to Shrewsbury.

You may have to hurry though. A planning notice on a nearby lamppost suggests this shop may soon be replaced by a more conventional building.

Ironic Death of the Day

Johnny Sheffield, who played Boy in the Tarzan films of the 1930 and 1940s, died at his California home last week at the age of 79.

According to the New York Times:
The cause was a heart attack several hours after he fell off a ladder while pruning a palm tree.

A new video from Susan Kramer

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Holy Trinity, Minsterley


Across the road from Minsterley's Bridge Hotel (which was called the Miners' Arms in the days when the nearby Stiperstones lead mines were operating) stands the village church. It was built in 1689 which Pevsner says is:
a rare date for a church in the country, and the church is indeed both interesting and attractive in its naive handling of the new semi-classical, semi Baroque motifs.
A Birmingham Post article gives more of the history of the church and also discusses the maidens garlands that you will find inside:
Our ancestors had a different way of marking the death of an unmarried woman. In England they made her a maiden’s garland, carried before her funeral procession or borne on her coffin. The garland was a crown made of thin hoops of wood, wrapped in white lace.

And to the crown they tied ribbons and gloves and little paper flowers of blue or red. To that they then added real flowers. When the coffin was lowered into the ground, the garland remained in the church, to yellow with age and gather dust.

Six of the Best 101

If the Alternative Vote had been in use at the 2010 general election, the Liberal Democrats would have won 32 more seats, and a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition would also have had a Commons majority, find the British Politics and Policy at LSE blog.

Mark Pack ponders the perils and pitfalls of allowing, and moderating, online comments.

"Michael Gove is to be commended for publishing the two Serious Case Reviews (SCR) on the tragic events leading up to the death of Peter Connelly (Baby P). Labour always refused to do so – but if that somewhat overused phrase ‘lessons must be learned’ is to mean anything – then publishing SCRs is a real step in the right direction," says Lynne Featherstone.

Virtually Naked discusses Ed Miliband continuing lack of alternative economic policy, as revealed at prime minister's questions today.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with Sir Peter Scott's lighthouse near Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire. Now it is for sale, reports Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service.

Crying All the Way to the Chip Shop presents the headstone of Tony Wilson, the Manchester music mogul.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How the bicycle made us taller

There is fascinating letter from Peter Barnes on today's Guardian Obituaries page:
The work of James Tanner ... is replete with thought-provoking observations. His time as a pupil at Marlborough college appears, later, to have afforded him access to the records of the medical officer and the natural science master dating from 1873. Using these as a baseline, Tanner showed how the average height of the boys when aged sixteen and a half had risen by half an inch a decade over an 80-year period.
In Foetus Into Man (1978), he suggested that this "secular trend" was in part a consequence of improved nutrition, but also attributable to genetic factors. The latter included the increased incidence of procreation outside the village community, a key factor in which was the introduction of the bicycle.

Liberator quizzes Tim Farron and Susan Kramer

From the new issue of Liberator:
This year’s Liberal Democrat presidential election was unexpected. The incumbent (Ros Scott) was widely assumed to be running for a second term. It seemed unlikely that Ros, a popular and successful president, would face a contest.

Then in early September, after nominations had opened, Ros suddenly announced she would not be re-standing. There was much speculation at party conference about why she had taken this decision – and why so late (see RB, page 4). There was also speculation about who would stand, given the difficulty for anyone of getting a campaign off the ground at such short notice.

Two potential candidates (Jennie Rigg and Jason Zadrozny) soon dropped out, leaving us with a choice between one MP and one ex-MP (the latter rumoured to be about to become a peer). And this is hardly surprising. With the exception of the Lib Dems’ first president (Ian Wrigglesworth), every successful candidate has been a sitting MP or peer.

The electorate is the whole party membership, voting in a postal ballot. The turnout last time (2008) was 47.8%, the previous time (2004) 47.3%. Assuming 65,000 members, a similar turnout this year would produce about 31,000 votes. Given that activists comprise – at most – about 15,000 members, ‘armchair’ members would predominate even on this low turnout.

Ballot papers have already been sent out. The deadline for returning them is 10 November and the count will take place on 13 November. In the meantime, Liberator has asked both candidates a series of questions and here are their answers.
Read the answers on the magazine's website.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mervyn King calls for radical reform of the global banking system

Daniel Pimlott writes on the Financial Times website:
New global rules on how much capital banks must hold are insufficient to prevent another crisis, and reforms to the financial sector need to be much more radical, according to the governor of the Bank of England.

In a speech in New York, Mervyn King listed problems with the main existing reforms to the financial system, such as the higher capital requirements demanded by the Basel III proposals, the British government’s levy on banks, and efforts to identify systemically important institutions and design better ways of letting them fail.

Reforms might need to go farther and could include demanding capital levels many times higher than the levels set out in Basel III, splitting up banks or requiring the use of debt instruments such as contingent capital that left creditors more exposed when things went wrong, Mr King said.

His comments provide a forewarning of the position the Bank is likely to take as it extends its control over financial regulation.
You can final a PDF will the full text of Mervyn King's speech on the Bank of England website.

It is certainly more radical than anything we have heard from a leading politician recently. Bank of England thinking and Treasury thinking can be two different things, but it is very encouraging if this speech gives a clue to the direction in which government economic policy will develop.

Together with today's pension proposals from Vince Cable, it gives renewed hope that the Coalition may yet proved a radical reforming government.

Simon Hughes is not Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Stephen Tall reminds us of an important but subtle distinction in a Comment is Free article on the Guardian website:
Simon's full title is Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons. (Navnit Dholakia is the party's "other deputy leader" representing Lib Dem peers in the Lords.) He is not, therefore, deputy leader of the party, though that is how he is styled in the media.
He does not say this to denigrate Simon, but to emphasise that his recent and well-founded concern about the Coalition's housing and social security proposals should be seen in a proper light.

Mind you, this is a distinction that the party has been happy to blur when it has suited it. As Stephen goes on to point out, we were happy to describe Vince Cable as our "deputy leader" when he was at the height of his popularity.

It also occurs to me that the Liberal Democrats have rather a lot of senior but slightly ill-defined positions. As well as a deputy leader the parliamentary party in the Commons also has a chair. And we are currently electing a new President of the party as a whole.

Do we need all these posts and are we clear what the role of each is?

Mentioning the chair of the parliamentary party reminds me that when Mark Oaten held this post he was always described in the press as "Chair of the Liberal Democrats". For some reason this confusion has not plagued later holders of the post.

Evan Harris: You won't catch me in ermine

Yesterday I blogged a Mail on Sunday report that Evan Harris would be among the new Liberal Democrat peers soon to be nominated by Nick Clegg.

Today Evan tweeted to say this is "rubbish".

Liberal England: Spreading and scotching unfounded rumours since 2004.

Later. There is more speculation - well founded or not - from Michael Crick.

Tankerville lead mine, Shropshire


The remains of the Tankerville mine can be found down a steep track about a mile south of Stiperstones village. They have recently been conserved by the Shropshire Mines Trust. For a few brief years in the 1860s and 1870s this was the most productive lead mine in the country. Read more about its history on the Trust's website.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Skull found in Sir David Attenborough's garden solves 1879 murder mystery

Our Story of the Week comes from the Daily Mail.

David Laws: Why I am proud of the Pupil Premium

David Laws has an article on the Pupil Premium in tomorrow's Guardian:
The pupil premium is designed to have two beneficial effects. First, because the extra money follows the child, it will ensure that deprivation funding is far better targeted than it is now. Second, the premium will deliver extra money to the schools with the highest level of challenge – giving them an opportunity to combat disadvantage. Too few schools facing real challenges currently have the money to make a difference, for example with more one-to-one tuition, a longer school day, holiday classes, or paying more to attract the best teachers.
Laws also argues that the premium does represent extra money for schools.

More on Wilson, Keppel and Betty

The other day I posted film of Wilson, Keppel and Betty - or at least of Wilson and Keppel.

The best article about them I have found is the one by Luke McKernan:
There are certain key pieces of archival film that stay in our collective consciousness and remain remembered by everyone. Film archivists know them so well because they are requested again and again.

There is Chamberlain waving his piece of paper promising ‘peace in our time’; there is the couple dancing the Charleston on the roof of a car as it drives down Kingsway; there is the procession of impractical and helplessly clumsy early aircraft crashing in succession into the ground; there is that hapless lady dignitary trying to launch a ship with a champagne bottle that will not smash; there is the suffragette throwing herself under a horse at the 1913 Derby; there are the troops going over the top in the Battle of the Somme; and there is the sand dance of Wilson, Keppel and Betty.

I worked at the National Film and Television Archive for a number of years, and I think it is probably true to say that this one piece of film was requested by the public more times than any other.
He concludes:
They inspired many imitators, but none came close to the mixture of anarchy, suggestiveness, humour, grace and knobbly knees that made Wilson, Keppel and Betty a unique phenomenon.
And there is more footage of them on the British Pathe site. Click on the picture to go there.

Steve Winwood: Dirty City



Look, you can't be surprised about this. It's another song from Monday's concert at the Roundhouse - this one kindly filmed by philhonley.

Dirty City comes from Nine Lives, Steve Winwood's latest LP. The Hammond organ sounds exciting whoever is playing it, but this song doesn't really take off until the last three minutes, when Winwood lets fly with the guitar solo. Eric Clapton plays it on the LP, but this version does not suffer by comparison.

We have already seen Winwood as a guitar hero on Dear Mr Fantasy from Clapton's Crossroads guitar festival. What I did not realise until recently was that when Winwood backed American blues legends on UK tours as a young teenager, it was not on keyboards but the guitar.

In fact, Winwood could not afford his first Hammond organ until after the Spencer David Group had their first number one (Keep On Running). I have heard hms explain in interviews that this was a very practical decision: most venues around the country had awful pianos and if there was a good one then the "pop group" was not allowed to use it. So it was much better if you could, as it were, bring your own organ.

For a glimpse of the young Steve Winwood playing blues guitar, try Dust My Blues.

Professor John Carey follows in my footsteps

Professor John Carey, reports the Richard Jefferies Society website, will be giving this year’s Richard Jefferies’ Birthday Lecture on Saturday 6 November at Liddington Village Hall starting at 2.30 p.m. His title is “After London and other Utopias and Dystopias” and no prior booking is required for this event, which is open to the general public and free to attend.

I have written about After London here before and it does seem to be discussed more often these days. Though generally seen as a nature essayist, Jefferies also played his part in the development of children's literature and science fiction.

I gave the Richard Jefferies’ Birthday Lecture at Liddington Village Hall myself back in the mid 1990s.

Peerages for Brian Paddick and Evan Harris?

Simon Walters in the Mail on Sunday says "it was claimed last night" that 44 new peers are to be created by the Coalition "to stop Labour sabotaging their policies in the Upper House". He doesn't say who made the claim though.

He goes on:
Mr Cameron reportedly intends to award 29 peerages to Tory donors and other political allies, with 15 for Mr Clegg's Liberal Democrats. By contrast, Ed Miliband will get just ten new Labour peers.

It is the biggest influx from a governing party since Tony Blair handed out a record 47 peerages when Labour won power in 1997, giving his party a majority in the Lords for the first time.
Who will those 15 new Liberal Democrat peers be? Walters speculates:
Lords insiders say Liberal Democrat candidates include Brian Paddick, the former Scotland Yard Deputy Assistant Commissioner, who stood as the party's London mayoral candidate in 2008, and qualified doctor and anti-abortion campaigner Evan Harris, who lost his seat as Lib Dem MP for Oxford at the Election.

Three Liberal Democrat donors who each paid up to £250 a month into Mr Clegg's private bank account before he became party leader are also said to be under consideration.

They are Ian Wright, a senior executive at drinks firm Diageo; Neil Sherlock, head of public affairs at accountants KPMG; and Michael Young, a former gold-mining executive.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why I love the Stiperstones


Longstanding readers of this blog will know that I return, in thought and in person, to the Stiperstones – a range of hills in south Shropshire. When I wrote a much mourned (at least by me) column for the New Statesman website I pretended to live there. Why do these hills mean so much to me?

First, I have been going there for over 20 years: I first visited them on 3 June 1989. I can date my first visit so exactly because I recall carrying a radio in my backpack and hearing, rather unexpectedly, England play well and beat Poland 3-0, a victory which did much to ease their path to the 1990 World Cup. Goals by Lineker, Barnes and Webb. When you have been visiting a place for a long time and been happy there, then returning there, simply thinking of the place makes you happy.

Second, 20 years before I visited them I was familiar with the Stiperstones from the Lone Pine books by Malcolm Saville. My favourite children’s author (unlike Enid Blyton, whose publicist he had been) set his stories in “real places you can explore for yourself”. One of those places was the Stiperstones, although one of his sons, the late Revd Jeremy Saville, once told a meeting of the Malcolm Saville Society that he was sure that when the first Stiperstones book, Seven White Gates, was published, his father had not visited these hills. Its forbidding atmosphere was copied from the novels of Mary Webb.

Third, the Stiperstones are a striking landscape. The crest of the hills is crowned with strange rocks likes the tors of Dartmoor, one of them known as the Devil’s Chair. And when you round the corner on the way into Stiperstones village from Tankerville you encounter the “purple-headed mountains” you were promised by the childhood hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful. Let no one tell you the Midlands are flat.

Fourth, there are the remains of the 19th-century lead-minding industry. There is the great complex at Snailbeach and the remains of lesser undertakings scattered elsewhere. For a time the deposits of lead ore here were the richest in Europe, but they proved to be limited and were soon worked out.

Fifth, there is the areas dark folklore and social history. On the night of St Thomas’s Day (21 December) all the ghosts of Shropshire are supposed to gather around the Devil’s Chair. And in 1945 the death of a boy caused a revolution in the treatment of children in public care. The Stiperstones are not conventionally pretty and they can be bleak and brutal. That is part of their attraction.

Sixth, the watering holes in this remote area are far better than you are entitled to expect. The Stiperstones Inn welcomes everyone and serves food and good beer all day. Its lack of competition has not made it uncaring, like some rural pubs I could mention. And The Bog Centre, with its homemade cakes and local crafts, is surely a model for the Big Society.

The photograph shows Shelve Pool. It is not, as I imagined, a remnant of lead mining, but was dug in the 17th century as a fish pool by the More family. It can be reached only on foot, which makes the walker feel comfortably smug.

Emu attacks Johnny Carson

We have all seen Emu beating up Michael Parkinson many times, but I have never come across this before. It has just been mentioned on Loose Ends on Radio 4.

Later. Sorry, that video has disappeared from Youtube.

A German visits Market Harborough



I've no idea what he is saying about us, but I like the pictures.

He'd better not be laughing at our morris dancers though.

The Liberal Democrats have driven The Guardian mad

There is a telling exchange in Stuart Jeffries' interview with Armando Iannucci in this morning's Guardian.

When Iannucci says:
"The cuts aren't about economics any longer – they're about ideology. And the ideology is that a big state is bad and state interference is bad."
Jefferies invites him to agree with the proposition: "So the US Tea Party agenda has been smuggled into British politics?"

And Iannucci readily does:
"Absolutely, and nobody so far is fighting against it. Take quangos. The ones they're keeping are the ones that benefit business, while cutting the arty-farty ones that cost very little and arguably earn money."
I wouldn't go to the wall to defend every decision the Coalition made in its bonfire of the quangos, but there are a number of points to be made here.

The first is that Jeffries has a rather clunking interviewing style - you suspect that, deep down, he believes his readers are more interested in the views of S. Jeffries than of anyone else.

Then there is Jeffries' and Iannucci's shared lack of economic sense. How can the cuts not be be about economics "any longer" when the Coalition has only been in power for six months? And what is his alternative? Higher taxation? Higher borrowing? Sticking his fingers in his ears and humming?

Most important, though, is that this another example of a common form of Guardian thinking - what I once termed "polytoynbeeism":
You divide the world into two groups: there are sensible people like you and your readers, and there are people who hold ludicrous views. There can be no middle position.

Mark Steel has based a whole stand up and journalistic career on this trick. His every column or routine runs in essence: "So the Tories say X do they? I expect they say Y and Z too!" And everyone laughs.

They laugh because this technique is a form of political group grooming. It reminds you how generous and sensible you and your allies are, and how cruel and stupid your opponents are.
Here the proposition Jefferies and Iannucci are advancing is that there are people who agree with every last penny of spending by the last Labour government and there are people who support the Tea Party agenda. There can be no middle position.

I am sure Iannucci does not really believe this. He could hardly write such subtle comedies if he did.

And this position allows no room for what I suspect is the majority position among the British people. That is that they were willing to support the higher public spending under Labour but became increasingly sceptical about the value for money it represented and impatient with the nannying side of the government's agenda.

Oh, and it also makes it impossible to account for Labour's defeat at the last general election.

Elsewhere, Jefferies gives the game away by writing:
He has another idea for the series. "We have to cast someone who is utterly thrilled to be in power, amazed to find themselves in government, but who has death in their eyes when it comes to enforcing the cuts." This sounds as though he's – please God, make it so – poised to make Nick Clegg the butt of his next satirical series.
Again we see that, interesting though Iannucci is, Jeffries thinks that it his own opinions that Guardian readers will most want to hear.

And why is Nick Clegg the enemy rather than the Tories? To answer that, we need to turn to another Guardian article.

On Monday Julian Glover wrote:
British politics is a lot like the class system. You're supposed to know your place, and if you are a Liberal Democrat that place isn't meant to be breakfasting with the prime minister at Chequers. He's the first liberal leader for generations to mistake democracy for an invitation to help run the country. He's broken the code. He's slept with the wrong sort. He's even married them. And now he's being hated for it.
He later added:
This mindset does not judge the coalition for its actions but condemns the fact that it exists. The fury – far beyond the scale of anything the Lib Dems expected – is rooted in a hostility to pluralism that regards Conservatism as something approaching an evil, and any Lib Dem association with it an unnatural compromise. Presumably, the only acceptable outcome would be ceaseless Labour rule.
Exactly so. And it is this hostility to pluralism that leads intelligent people like Jeffries to take refuge in such absurd simplicities. You are either with him and vote Labour or you are against him and support the Tea Party.

In much the same way, Labour spent years blaming the Alliance for "letting Thatcher in" in the 1980s. As though, had the Alliance parties agreed to magically disappear, the British people would have made the absurd figure of Michael Foot prime minister.

There are other factors at work here too. The Guardian's staff has always been a battleground between Labourites, Marxists and Liberals. Jeffries is a former jazz critic of Morning Star (seriously), so we can guess which wing he lines up on.

The Liberals were clearly in the ascendant when the newspaper backed the Liberal Democrats in the last election. Since then there has been a backlash - see the absurd piece on Danny Alexander by Marina Hyde that is also in today's paper.

Economically, the Guardian relies heavily upon the public sector for readers and for advertising. It's recent retreat into ideological simplicities represent a sort of core readership strategy.

But, just as when a political party adopts a core votes strategy, this risks putting off floating readers. Or even loyal readers like me who do not work in the public sector and would rather like an adult approach to the current political situation.

Rewritten slightly after someone kindly pointed out I had attributed some of Iannucci's words to Jeffries.

Jo Swinson MP backs Susan Kramer to be next Lib Dem President

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Consanguinitarium, Earl Howe Street, Leicester



This building, to be found in a back street near Leicester railway station, was a surprise discovery. Who or what is a consanguinitarium?

It turns out that the Leicester Consanguinitarium was a charitable foundation established by the architect John Johnson. It was originally built in Southgate Street (presumably somewhere near the modern Southgates) and was described thus in an article by Jack Simmons for the Leicestershire Archaeological Society:
It comprised first a block of four houses, which he put up "in Southgate Street, near the Water-house pump ... on the spot where he was born"; and behind, partly screened by this block, the Consanguinitarium. This was a charitable foundation for the benefit of his relatives. It was a battlemented stone building, with Gothic windows, containing five small houses.
Life at the Consanguinitarium does not sound a barrel of laughs. As Simmons goes on to record, the inhabitants were hedged around with a remarkable list of regulations.

A second article, by Terry Cocks in a recent issue of the newsletter of the Leicestershire Historical and Archaeological Society (p.2), says:
In 1878 a new Consanguinitarium, designed by his great-great-nephew Robert Johnson Goodacre (1826-1904) was built in Earl Howe Street; this building was sold some years ago, but the charity is still extant.
This removal and rebuilding is recorded by a plaque at Earl Howe Street.

Six of the Best 100

Liberal Democrat Voice has video from a Presidential hustings with Susan Kramer and Tim Farron taking questions online and from a live audience. Me? I have just voted for Susan.

Welcome news today was the prospect of a scaling down of the baroque vetting and barring scheme that the last government put into place for anyone who wanted to volunteer to work with children. Lynne Featherstone, the minister in charge, has the details.

Times Higher Education considers an underreported aspect of the Brown report: the prospect of greater state control of the traditionally autonomous university sector.

"Both the Coalition's Spending Review and the Labour Party's response completely miss the big picture. We need an overhaul of the entire financial system if we're to avoid crashes in the future," says Susanna Mitchell on the NEF Blog. The problem, she argues, is debt in all its forms.

Rob Reynolds - What's Next? celebrates the appearance of Twitter hashtags on screen in BBC programmes.

Finally, Londonist continues its quest to find a ghost in every borough. This time it covers, alphabetically, Greenwich to Kingston.

Rutland International Airport

It's a location that has been mentioned from time to time in Lord Bonkers' Diary. But now a Rutland county councillor wants to build it for real.

RAF Cottesmore is to close soon and Gene Plews, who sits for Oakham South East, thinks he knows what should be done with it. He told the Leicester Mercury:
"I believe it is ideally suited for a regional airport.

"It has all the ancillary services needed and can handle aircraft as large as a Boeing 757 and a Galaxy transporter.

"It is close to the A1, would service a local need, and could boost tourism. It has great links to London."
However, Lord Bonkers' current-day successor is not keen. Alan Duncan, MP for Rutland and Melton, says:
"It is a totally inappropriate site for a regional airport.

"The road links are inadequate."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Comprehensive Spending Review: Nick Clegg comes out fighting

The Guardian is reporting an exclusive interview with Nick Clegg on the front page of tomorrow's paper.

It says that he has attacked the Institute for Fiscal Studies' methods of measuring the fairness of the CSR and quotes him as saying:
"We are going to spend 5% more of national income on the state at the end of this process that Tony Blair and Gordon [Brown] were in 1997. We are going to employ 200,000 more people in the public sector at the end of this process. I think it is a cavalier misrepresentation to claim somehow it is a scorched earth policy."
This latter point is an important one and a measure of how public spending ran out of control in the last few years of Labour government.

I am not an expert on the methodology the IFS uses, but I am rather pleased to see someone having a go at it. Because the IFS is treated with such reverence these days - replying to George Osborne on yesterday, Alan Johnson seemed to think that citing it settled any argument - that it is becoming unhealthy for democracy.

Whether or not a policy is fair is a moral judgement, not just a technical, economic one. Though the real problem here is the concept of fairness. It has been embraced by all the parties precisely because of its vagueness. Talking about equality and how desirable it really is would risk frightening the horses.

Opening Sentence of the Day

Won by the BBC News website with:
An East Sussex vicar who is believed to have abused a former altar boy was allowed to serve at a church despite being convicted of possessing a gun.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Liberal England anticipates Steve Bell

A couple of weeks ago Simon Hoggart wrote:
Strange meeting with David Cameron during the Tory conference this week. I was at the Spectator party with Steve Bell, who, as you cannot have failed to notice, always draws the prime minister with a condom over his head. They have discussed this before, at a chance meeting during the election campaign, when Steve explained that it was because his skin appeared remarkably smooth and even taut, so it looked as if his head was encased in tight rubber.
In a Liberal Democrat News House Points column from October 2005 I said of Cameron:
His complexion is so unblemished that, like Elijah Wood in the Lord of the Rings films, he appears to have had his face covered with a thin layer of plastic film.
You read it here first.

The Imperial Hotel, Mere Road, Leicester








Just up the road from the derelict St Saviour's Church stands this distinctive building. Latterly known as the Imperial Hotel, it was built by Arthur Wakerley as a Temperance hotel for his model Leicester suburb North Evington. Today it seems to be in the hands of the YMCA, but looks empty.

Arthur Wakerley was a Liberal, Leicester's youngest every mayor and an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate. Much more about him and North Evington will follow, I suspect, if only because I know his great granddaughter through Leicester Friends of the Earth.

Steve Winwood at the Roundhouse

I finally got to see my musical hero at the Roundhouse on Monday. As Steve Winwood had his first British number one (Keep on Running by the Spencer Davis Group) 45 years ago, I was afraid I would be the youngest member of the audience. The cheer that greeted Higher Love suggested I was not.

What I got was very much what I expected from reading reviews of recent Winwood gigs. There were songs from every period of his career, and he was backed by a band that, with its bongo player and saxophonist, owed a lot to the Traffic line up of the 1970s. His still has that grear voice even after all these years

Songs from his most recent LP, Nine Lives, were well represented and sounded even better live. If anything Winwood was too generous in allowing other members of the band their time in the spotlight, because the highlights of the concert came when he left his Hammond organ, picked up a guitar and went to the front. He blew us away with Dear Mr Fanstasy and Dirty City.

Thanks to Youtube you can enjoy Can't Find My Way Home from Monday evening too. You can even here Steve Winwood talk at the end of the song, which he did not do much at the Roundhouse.



Later. Or there's this.

Prime Minister's Questions and the Comprehensive Spending Review

At Prime Minister's Questions last week Ed Miliband was light on his feet and David Cameron's inner Flashman began to surface. Labour MPs left with a spring in their step.

They won't have been feeling so happy today. Cameron found the right tone this time, managing to patronise the Labour leader without sounding bullying. And Miliband's attempts to point to dissension within the cabinet (quoting Kenneth Clarke and Chris Huhne) were made to sound petty as a result.

Then came the Comprehensive Spending Review. George Osborne's approach, as one commentator said, was pure Gordon Brown. He bombarded the House with statistics. Before his listeners had time to consider a figure, they had been hit around the head with another six.

In his pomp Brown would appear before the Treasury Select Committee and not give them a chance to ask any questions. It was figures, figures, figures all the way. Osborne has not yet reached that level, and today he struggling to get through his speech as Iain Duncan Smith's frog had taken up residence in his throat.

And then came Alan Johnson. As a tweet from the Sunday Telegraph's Patrick Hennessy said:
AJ sounding a bit like Frankie Howerd - "Deficit? Oo-err missus" etc - but, amazingly, it's working!
I am not convinced it did work, and it certainly won't do in the long run. Johnson is endearing, but he is no one's finance director. He is the boozy regional sales manager who is not always too careful with the paperwork.

All this is about personalities and not the ishoos, but the problem for Labour (and for dissident Liberal Democrats, come to that) is that they have not yet formulated any alternative economic policies. Osborne's claim that his cuts in departmental budgets are lower than those Alistair Darling would have made my be sharp practice, but it does make the point that a re-elected Labour government would have done something very like this.

So over to you, Mr Miliband.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Six of the Best 99

The Liberal Democrat History Group has published a revised edition of its Liberal Leaders: Leaders of the Liberal Party from 1828 to 1899. Mark Pack presents his revised biography of Viscount Melbourne.

Neil Stockley find that public understanding of the Alternative Vote is very low but suggests there is evidence that the referendum can still be won.

"The gracelessness and naked greed which Rooney and Moyles have displayed may make their fall a very satisfying morality tale. Fortune is not all a one-way street, and it is as well for all of us to remember that. In the face of life's triumphs and disasters, it is still as well to retain a measure of humility and a sense of proportion." Cicero's Songs is less than impressed by two celebrities in the news this week.

A West Walian Perspective - Mark Cole reminds us that it is nearly five years since Ariel Sharon fell into a coma.

The station hotel at St Pancras will reopen on 5 May 2011, reports Property Week. When I first knew the station in the 1970s that seemed an impossible dream.

New History Lab compares photographs of Leicester scenes taken a century apart.

Evidence that A levels have got easier

I was interested in an article in the Guardian today in which Joanna Moorhead compares her experiences as a student at the University of York's Goodricke College 30 years ago with those of her daughter, who has just begun studying there. I was interested not least because I was at Goodricke 30 years ago too. (It has magically changed location since then, by the way.)

But what really struck me was a passage towards the end where Moorhead describes meeting her former supervisor Adrian Leftwich, who still lectures at York:
one of Leftwich's colleagues, electronics lecturer Ken Todd, monitored the maths performance of first-year electronics students between 1989 and 2004, and found that an A-grade achiever in 2004 would have been down towards the bottom of the class 15 years earlier.
No wonder that York, like many other UK universities, now runs remedial classes in basic skills for students who know their stuff on their specialist subject, but don't make the basic grade for numeracy and literacy.
"One thing you notice about essays these days is that many students simply haven't got the fundamental writing skills that almost all had in your day," says Leftwich.
Every year when record A level results are announced, Liberal Democrat bloggers ridicule anyone who suggests this may be because examinations have got easier rather. But in the face of such evidence that looks the most convincing explanation. Particularly as York remains one of the most sought after universities.

Calder on Air: The Apprentice, Kibworth and international football

My Calder on Air column from last week's Liberal Democrat News.

Appalling apprentices and fearful football

There is, of course, nothing real about television – and that is doubly true when it comes to ‘reality’ television.


Take The Apprentice (BBC1), which has just started a new season. The premise is that what we are watching is the country’s brightest and best young business people striving to win the glittering prize that is a position with Sir Alan Lord Sugar’s company.

But is that a job to get so excited about these days? Sugar’s greatest achievement in business is the part he played in making the personal computer a consumer product. That keyboard with the integral tape deck his Amstrad machines boasted was a masterstroke. And the fact that now makes us smile is a sign of how long ago his finest hour was. Most of us would be hard put to say exactly what his companies have sold since.

Whatever the answer to that one, we know what Sugar has been doing outside the world of business. Because last year, in a clumsy stab at populism, Gordon Brown asked him to join his government as ‘Enterprise Tsar’. His most memorable contribution in that role was to swear at a BBC interviewer and then say: “Can't we get off this bloody recession kick once and for all? I don't think we're in one now, OK?”

If Sugar is not the figure the programme likes to pretend, what about the contestants? Here it is impossible to get past the paradox at its heart: if these are such high-powered young thrusters, why have they got all that time on their hands to take part in The Apprentice?

Perhaps the earlier series did feature people with genuine business ambitions, but you suspect the latest crop is more interested in a career on television. It is all great fun to watch – this is the contest where you wish everyone could lose – but all the reality has gone out of this reality show. Because contestants know what is expected of them. Hence the soundbites about “everything I touch turns to sold” and “I’m Stuart Baggs: The Brand”. You suspect they are here only because Big Brother has been cancelled.

Worst of all, though, is the picture of the world of work that The Apprentice paints. Everything, from the gruesome Alan Sugar jokes that everyone feels obliged to laugh at (“I've read your CVs and you look good on paper. Then again, so does fish and chips”) to the bullying and bitching among the contestants, is calculated to put decent people off the idea of a career in commerce.

Look into it closely, and you will probably find that the whole thing is funded by our competitors.

******

Things are much more pleasant on Michael Wood’s Story of England (BBC4), where the fortunes of one village over the centuries are being used to illuminate the history of the whole country.

And that village is Kibworth, where in an earlier life I once acted as agent in a local by-election – a task made more difficult by the fact that everyone in the village seemed to be called Iliffe. I am afraid we did not make history.

The photography here makes the south Leicestershire countryside look ravishing and Wood has already explained the presence of all those Iliffes. Their ancestors were Vikings.

******

These days the England football team resembles the England rugby team of the 1970s. You do not so much support them as suffer with them.

Even before Tuesday’s bleak draw with Montenegro, ITV’s decision to devote a whole evening to the game seemed odd. A few years ago, when they had won the rights to show Premiership highlights, they proudly announced that they would plan Saturday night’s schedule around them, only to abandon the idea when they realised how few people were watching.

The truth is that a small number of people are passionate about football while the bulk of the population is quite uninterested. And if England go on in their current style then that number will so be a lot smaller.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wilson, Keppel and Betty vs the Nazis

In Saturday's Independent D.J. Taylor wrote of the latest Go Compare commercial:
the ad is a spirited homage to Wilson, Keppel and Betty, an inter-war variety act featuring Jack Wilson and Joe Keppel, along with nearly a dozen different "Bettys" – who were criticised by Goebbels, who thought their bare legs "bad for the morals of the Nazi youth". They retired from the stage as late as 1963. All of which confirms my long-held belief that, even now in the hi-tech 21st century, most of the roots of British entertainment curl up from the old-style variety hall.
So the next time the English Defence League turns up in Market Harborough we should face them like this...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The X Factor: Is anything what it seems?

Last night Liberal Democrat blogger Fraser Macpherson posted some praise for Mary Byrne's performance in the X Factor.

In passing he mentioned that two years ago she won an Irish TV (TG4) talent show called Nollaig No 1 under the name Mary Lee. And indeed she did.

Reading about her on the web, it is clear that winning this Gaelic-language show failed to give her a hit record it promised. Even so, she is hardly the humble Tesco checkout operator will self-esteem issues that the X Factor has presented her as.

Is anything on X Factor quite what it seems?

David Laws hints at a return to government

Last month the talk was all of David Laws retiring from politics at the next election. At the least the talk on this blog (from The Sun via the Pink Paper site) was.

A report on the BBC News site this afternoon paints a very different picture. It suggests he has hinted at a return to government and quotes him as saying:
"Everybody in politics wants to be in the front line ... Everybody wants to have their hands on the levers. I don't think I'm exceptional in that regard politically. Everybody wants to be in the front line."
That quotation comes from an interview with John Pienaar to be broadcast at 7 p.m. this evening on BBC 5 Live.

Ultimately, of course, David Laws' future may depend on the report of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. But I hope we will see him back in the cabinet soon.

The Smiths: Reel Around the Fountain



It is funny how the history of popular music gets rewritten. Ask now who the greatest band of the 1980s was and it is likely that The Smiths will be the most popular choice. Yet in their day they hardly troubled the top 10 at all.

But then their rivals for that accolade, at least in my mind, The Housemartins needed the novelty of the a cappella Caravan of Love no get them to number one.

This is This Smiths at their darkest and was recorded at the Hacienda to boot. All that and a quotation from A Taste of Honey too.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

St Saviour's Church, Leicester


Leicester's excellent civic society has launched a new campaign: Save St Saviour's Church.

St Saviour's is a massive brick church in the Highfields district of Leicester. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the architect of the Midland Hotel at St Pancras, and built between 1875 and 1877. It has been out of use for five years and has recently suffered from vandalism.

The church, its stone-faced spire contrasting with the red brick bulk of the rest of the building (not sure about that, Sir George), will be a familiar landmark to anyone who travels through Leicester by train. I went there today to have a closer look.

Everything is now firmly locked, though it is possible to wander around the outside of the building. At some stage its name was stuck on to the front in plastic letters. Most have now fallen off, making it resemble Reggie Perrin's employer Sunshine Desserts.

Far sadder is the neighbouring school, which was latterly a neighbourhood centre. It is another large building, but it is in a bad way and will be past saving if someone does not step in soon. It is hard to resist the impression that the Church of England has just locked the doors and walked away.

The irony is that religion is thriving all around St Saviour's. Highfield is the heart of Leicester's Muslim community and well supplied with new mosques. There are bills advertising madrasahs, which give religious instruction to children, in the windows of many houses.

Part of me left the area mourning Western decadence and the decline of Christian England. Then I remembered that neither religion is true.

Jonathan Fryer backs Susan Kramer for Party President

Friday, October 15, 2010

Nick Clegg secures his Pupil Premium

In what turned out to be my last House Points column for Liberal Democrat News, I called on party members to enjoy being in government.

I certainly enjoyed Nick Clegg's announcement of an extra £7bn to help the education of children from poor families. As tomorrow's Guardian reports it:
Nick Clegg has wrung from the Treasury "additional" funds to pay for his idea of a fairness premium that would see extra support allocated to poorer pupils. The scheme will cost £7bn during the course of this parliament.
At a speech today in Chesterfield, the deputy prime minister was coy about the money, saying this could be shown only next Wednesday in the comprehensive spending review. But officials say Clegg decided late yesterday to go early with an announcement, a decision which had the support of David Cameron and George Osborne but surprised senior and middle ranking Treasury officials.
Today Clegg repeatedly described the funds for his fairness premium as "additional" – making clear he wants the money to come mostly from outside the education department rather than merely outside the schools budget by cutting "non-essential" education projects such as youth clubs and after-school activities, as had been suggested.
A senior No 10 aide said: "The money for this will come from outside the education budget. We're not just rearranging furniture – this is real new money from elsewhere in Whitehall."
This is very good news and I wish the Liberal Democrat blogosphere had been as exercised about it as it has been about the question of fees for students.

Great Oxendon tunnel ventilation shaft








Halfway along Great Oxendon railway tunnel there is a ventilation shaft. It emerges in a field on the edge of the village.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shropshire gardener grows 70lb cabbage

Hurry over to the Shropshire Star site for the full details.

Six of the Best 98

Kiron Reid gives his initial thoughts on the Browne report into student finance and the funding of higher education.

Today's cull of quangos is welcomed by Wera's Blog, but she wishes that more thought had been given to explaining its rationale.

While Gemma Hampson, writing on Social Enterprise, looks at the prospects of that sector taking over many of the functions that those quangos currently fulfil.

David Boyle, writing on the for nef (the New Economics Foundation) looks at the conventional wisdom that supermarkets act as "anchors" for new developments: "Previous experience suggests that, while stores like Waitrose can be an anchor, stores like Tesco often have the opposite effect – claiming to anchor economic recovery, but actually surreptitiously devouring the businesses around them."

The Cat's Meat Shop seeks the lost obelisk of Ludgate.

Elsewhere in London, Found Objects remembers The Scala: "In the not so distant 1980s past the Scala was the city’s premier repertory cinema, showing at least three different arthouse films (not “movies”) 364 days a year on a single large screen, and all-nighters every Saturday. One had to pay a nominal membership fee and the cheap-as-chips ticket price allowed one to sit through all three films. During presentations one could watch the resident cats chasing mice down the aisles."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tory MP refuses to vote for liberty

It is hard to be enthusiastic about this BBC News report that London local authorities are likely to be granted more powers:
The legislation would:
  • Require people issued with penalty charge notices - for example over littering or parking - to provide their name and address to council officers
  • Allow councils to recover the cost of street cleaning from polluting traders
  • Require fast food sellers to display their hygiene rating and allow councils to crack down on unlicensed car dealers.
But I was more struck by the comments of the Conservative MP for Finchley & Golders Green, Mike Freer:
"Many of us in this house would like to turn back the clock to a gentler age, but sadly we do live in an irresponsible society where many individuals cause problems for residents.
"Many of us would prefer a reduction in regulation and a lessening of the intrusive nature of government - both national and local.
"However, we do have a responsibility to address the real issues facing Londoners."
Well, if you want "a lessening of the intrusive nature of government" then why not vote for it and oppose this bill?

I am afraid that when it comes down to it, few Tories are keen on liberty - unless it is liberty for people just like them.

Tuition fees: No easy way out for the Liberal Democrats

There is no easy solution to the tuition fees conundrum for the Liberal Democrats.

Our ministers have agreed to abstain on the question if they are not happy with the final proposals, while many of our backbench MPs have been so vocal in their opposition to any change that they have no option but to vote against those proposals.

Personally, I would happy to go back to a system of free higher education, but that is because I believe that the university sector has expanded far too much.

So much so that it is in danger of becoming exploitative. Young people are now charged thousands for a piece of paper that no longer means that much. One of the reasons that I took a part-time Masters degree as a mature student was because I felt my first degree was in danger of devaluation by this educational inflation.

If Labour's target of having half of young people taking degrees then the person of average academic ability would have a degree and that piece of paper would be worthless.

I also object to the assumption both that higher education is an industry like any other - Labour gave the game away by asking Lord Browne to lead the inquiry - and that it is justified by its effect on the economy.

Missives from Doktorb puts it well:
The depressing manner in which Uni as a gateway to mega-bucks jobs and economic stability has been accepted without question is perhaps the more vital question. When did education for the good of the mind become unfashionable? It is this question which has been forgotten by almost everyone involved in the debate.
I suspect that a few universities will close in the coming years and I will not mourn them. But it is clear that most will stay open and that the current numbers of students will more or less be maintained.

If this is the case then it may well be that the Brown proposals are not so objectionable. Figures accompanying a Telegraph blog post by Neil O'Brien suggest that they would a more progressive system of charging than exists at present.

But that still does not mean that there is an easy way out for the Liberal Democrats.

Finding Little Oxendon


The first time I tried to reach the lost Medieval village of Little Oxendon it was via Market Harborough golf course. But I was a young teenager and got told off.

I finally made it on Saturday, thanks largely to the website of Natural England and its page about the open access area which includes the site of this deserted Medieval village.

Even so, I had trouble finding the right spot. In part this was due to an uncharacteristic lack of confidence in my map reading, but mostly it was down to the cows.

They were everywhere.

I was forced into a faintly unsavoury study of the genitals of any nearby beasts to make sure there was not a bull in the field with me. Even though that came out negative on the testicle front, it was still unnerving to turn round and find yourself being followed by a long line of bullocks, calves and their mothers.

When an electric fence entered the equation too I turned back. But then I found a fenced off, and thus cow free, path that led to the correct field.

When I got into it, there turned out not to be a lot to see beyond humps and hollows in a green field. But over the hedge I saw the greens, dinky little flags and ulcer-like bunkers of the golf course, so I was on the right lines all those years ago.

On the way back I met a man doing some late blackberrying with his young daughter. He said that the farmer could give people a guided walk and explain where everything had been in the village.

He might be able to keep the cows at bay too.

If you are interested on deserted Medieval villages, read more at Abandoned Communities or Lost Villages.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two points on university fees

Leaving aside the trauma of Liberal Democrat MPs who signed the pledge to oppose increases in tuition fees for the moment, there are two points that need reiterating this evening.

The first is the one I made yesterday. Once a university education became the normal expectation of approaching half the nation's young people, sooner or later the system of funding the sector from taxation was bound to collapse.

The second is the question asked by Jackie Ashley in the Guardian yesterday. She wrote:
Isn't it bonkers to wrap up the cost of university research with the job of teaching 19-year-olds? Shouldn't the funding be divided? Most students know a good researcher isn't necessarily a good teacher. The top-notch universities have to be pushed to focus on other ways of paying for research – including business links, sponsorship and alumni funds.
All of which suggests that there is more to Greg Mulholland's call for a wider review of higher education than a wish to dodge the fees question.

Great Oxendon Chapel




Great Oxendon still has a pub on the Market Harborough to Northampton road, but there is no shop and the village school has closed and become the village hall.

There is also a tiny former Nonconformist chapel, which now seems to serve as an outbuilding for a modern house. The owners keep it nicely, but under my Rural Properties (Restoration of Original Use) Bill they would still be obliged to preach two-hour sermons to the locals every Sunday.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Six of the Best 97

Lib Dem Presidential candidates Tim Farron and Susan Kramer were both at the Scottish party's conference in Dunfermline on Saturday. So was Caron's Musings.

"A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting," said Andrew Marr at the Cheltenham Literary Festvial. On Liberal Democrat Voice Stephen Tall shows he is "a little bit of a hypocrite".

ffranc says has his own take on the subject: "I may be inadequate, but I am no longer pimply."

Writing on the Prospect site, Angus Kennedy defends study of the Classical world: "There is altogether too much concern to make things relevant to today, to bring them closer, when in truth we will learn more from their very distance, strangeness and, yes, irrelevance."

English Buildings hopes that Hasting Pier, recently damaged by fire, may yet be saved.

The death of the film director Roy Ward Baker is marked by Unmann-Wittering Blog.

University tuition fees and widening participation

The Liberal Democrat wish to scrap tuition fees for university students never did fit comfortably with Labour'a ideal of expanding participation. Certainly, it is hard to see how this policy could be afforded if we reached the target of having 50 per cent of young people attending university. I, for one, was happy to support Liberal Democrat policy precisely because I was sceptical about the expansion of the university sector.

Labour would defend this expansion on the grounds that it is making university education to working-class youngsters who have not been able to benefit from it in the past. My impression, however - does anyone have any figures on this? - is that what happened over the Blair and Brown years was that progressively less academically inclined middle-class children found themselves attending university. I am less convinced that there was any noticeable improvement in the percentage of working-class children who got there.

What we face now, I fear, is increasing tuition fees and a fall in participation rates. More than that, we now have a university sector that behaves like any other industry. The Bowstring Bridge saga in Leicester, with which readers of this blog will be all too familiar, has shown De Montfort University behaving just like any other major local employer - a little too friendly with the council and a little too dismissive of the views of local residents.

Liberal Democrat MPs may yet resist a rise in tuition fees, but making universities behave more like universities and less like international corporations will be a far harder task.

Why Susan Kramer wants to be President of the Liberal Democrats

Hanging Participle of the Day

The winner is Anna Kessel of the Guardian for this effort in her piece about Ashley Young:
After coming on as a half-time substitute in the friendly against Hungary at Wembley two months ago, Fabio Capello praised Young's contribution.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Great Oxendon railway tunnel







Under the outskirts of Great Oxendon village runs a tunnel on the former Market Harborough to Northampton railway line - now the Brampton Valley Way.

It must be one of the few railway tunnels to have a website devoted to it.

Dr Feelgood: She Does It Right



There is a happy parallel universe where music moved straight from sixties R&B to punk. In that universe, Dr Feelgood were the leading group of the early seventies.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

St Helen's, Great Oxendon - 17th century graffiti

Today I went to Great Oxendon, a Northamptonshire village to the south of Market Harborough. While I was away the town had a visit from the English Defence League on the way to Leicester - more of that another day perhaps.

The website The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland describes the village church and its setting:
St Helen's stands alongside the busy A508, the main road from Northampton to Market Harborough, from which a short and extremely steep track provides access, clearly not the original means of approach.
Its location, in open fields 0.4 miles N of the present village of Great Oxendon can only be explained by assuming that it also originally served medieval Little Oxendon, now a deserted village 0.5 miles to NW.

The small size of these two holdings given in Domesday adds weight to this assumption. The present village of Little Oxendon lies 0.5 miles to the W of the church. The rolling countryside provides a convincing explanation for the abnormal height of a tower built to be seen from both medieval settlements.

More of Little Oxendon another day too.

St Helen's was locked, but I was still able to see what I best remembered about it. This early graffiti is carved into the soft stone around the door. There is even one date that may come from the 16th century.

Chris Huhne's Telegraph interview: Nothing to see here

There has been a disproportionate amount of coverage this morning for Chris Huhne's remark, in the course of an interview with the Daily Telegraph, that when it comes to reducing the public sector deficit, the government is not “lashed to the mast with a particular set of numbers”.

In view of that coverage, it is worth quoting his words to the Telegraph in full:
Asked if the cuts might be scaled back if economic indicators worsen, he indicates that he is not “lashed to the mast with a particular set of numbers.
“I’ve never known one Treasury Red Book to be exactly like the last one.
“There is always a change. It is a bit like setting sail. If the wind changes, you have to tack about to get to [your destination]. Global growth could be either higher or lower. We just don’t know, and it’s not sensible, outside the Budget period, for governments to make speculations about what is going to happen.
“The right time to look at that Budget judgment is when we come up to the Budget in the spring. The key thing then is to look at things in the round and remember the overall objective is to stabilise and begin to reduce the public debt to GDP ratio.”
Personally, I would have found it worrying if Huhne had said much else. "We are committed to our plans no matter how much the situation around us changes" would not have been an encouraging to hear.

I don't blame the Telegraph for making a lot of Huhne's remarks - it is, after all, their own exclusive interview. But I do wonder why it led all the BBC Radio 4 news bulletins this morning.

In fact, I have two answers to that question, The first is that the BBC is wedded to the idea that politics must be reported in terms of "splits" and "gaffes". It is therefore unable to cope with the sort of discussion you get under healthy cabinet government.

The second is that there is rarely enough news on a Saturday morning to justify a three-hour Today programme. Last week the BBC desperately oversold a study claiming that 'ADHD' has a genetic basis. (Ben Goldacre has a column on this in today's Guardian.) Today it did the same with Chris Huhne's interview.

Time to rethink Radio 4's weekend schedule?