Thursday, December 30, 2010

Oxfam bookshop, Market Harborough


I spent today culling my collections and taking books and DVDs to the the charity shops in town. One of those I went to is the new Oxfam bookshop in Market Harborough, which opened in the autumn.

It is a good shop, but you have to feel sorry for those trying to make a living from the book trade - there is also an Age Concern bookshop nearby. At one time, maybe 10 years ago, Harborough had three secondhand bookshops and a junk shop with a good selection of bookshops too. Now there is only Christine's Book Cabin.

Still, if it helps Oxfam raise funds to send bloggers to New York, I am all in favour of it.

Liberal England in 2010: Part 2

Part 1 was posted yesterday.

July

I pointed out that, contrary to what many believe, Keynesian economics do not mean a permanent deficit and marked Little Bowden Rec's role in the history of Liberal philosophy.

The Decorated west end of the south aisle at St Luke's Gaddesby, says Simon Jenkins, "appears to have been designed at the end of a riotous 14th-century party".

Elsewhere in Leicestershire, I found a newsreel about the kidnapping of an Earl Shilton boy in 1959.

And elsewhere on film, I discovered where the video for Paper Sun was filmed.

August

On holiday in Oxford, I met a fellow Lib Dem blogger. This holiday was to be the subject of posts for most of the rest of the year. I went on to Shropshrie, of course, and visited the Stiperstones Inn, of course.

Lord Bonkers remembered Richard Dimbleby's penis gourd.

Home from the holiday I praised Bridgnorth and pondered the relationship between Roberta Blackman-Woods and the abolition of slavery.

September

I wrote about the death of Cyril Smith and discovered the best index to a book ever.

Then it was off to New York, courtesy of Oxfam, to blog about the Millennium Development Goals summit at the UN. This was the view that met me when I came out of hotel and turned the corner. Probably the highlight of the week was attending a high-level meeting with Andrew Mitchell and the leading names in British development charities.

I returned to find Market Harborough had been taken over by the Pizzamen.

October

After many years writing House Points for Liberal Democrat News I decided to reinvent myself as the paper's TV critic with the fortnightly Calder on Air.

Discoveries this month included the lost village of Little Oxendon and the disused Scott church St Saviour's in Leicester.

I finally got to see Steve Winwood live, pointed out that the Liberal Democrats have driven the Guardian mad and tried to explain my obsession with The Stiperstones.

November

For reasons best known to itself, the Yorkshire Post quoted me extensively on the rise of Halloween and demise of Bonfire Night.

Mind you, Lembit Opik should have listened to me. And so should Judge Jacqueline Davies, but I bet she won't.

David Mitchell was trying too hard and, I wrote more in sorrow than in Ongar and Trivial Fact of the Day ended in a tie.

December

So this month, when I have called for an end to pledges, become impatient with protesting students and debated L.T. Hobhouse and T.H. Green with Richard Grayson.

The year ended with the perfect Christmas present from the Dowager Lady Bonkers.

Six of the Best 117

"It's been shocking to see the nursery for Labour wannabes, the National Union of Students, try to write off the hopes of a generation by implying that no poor person will be able to afford to go to university, when actually graduates on the lowest incomes will pay less under this scheme than they will under the NUS proposals." Caron's Musings welcomes the appointment of Simon Hughes as advocate for access to higher education, but asks why it is only for six months.

While A Liberal Helping argues that this appointment makes the role of Tim Farron as Lib Dem president more important.

Paul Crossley publicises the 38 Degrees petition against a factory farm for cows in Lincolnshire.

"You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?" The Guardian presents its Gaffes of the Year.

The New York Magazine takes a long cool look at libertarianism.

"One is caught between gloating and pity when viewing Australia’s current predicament; gloating because it has been a long time coming and pity because England fans know too well how it feels to be the underdog." Leg Side Filth considers England's victory at the MCG.

Stanley Unwin: The Pidey Pipeload of Hamling

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Liberal England in 2010: Part 1

The first six months of the year, as seen on this blog. Part 2 is here.

January

The connections between rock music and the Shropshire hills were an early concern. The post cited one musician who recalled hanging out with a lethal combination of rock and roll A-list and Shropshire farmers.

Nick Clegg's Demos pamphlet The Liberal Moment inspired a series of posts, which were the source for a review article for Liberator.

Talking of Nevill Holt, I delved into the strange history of the prep school at Nevill Holt, the house that is the model for Bonkers Hall. I later had an email from the mother of a former pupil who said she could vouch for the truth of every story except the coffins - and she imagines those were found when the hall was turned back into a private house.

Mind you, the later rumour that Ozzy Osbourne was to buy the place does look to have been unfounded.

I complained that laughing at the Daily Mail too often takes the place of constructive thought among Liberals.

The early lives of David Dimbleby and Hilary Benn were investigated and I argued that the Victorians were less Victorian than we imagine.

And, long before Michael Wood made it famous, I visited Kibworth.

February
Did you know there used to be nuclear missiles stationed near Market Harborough? Well you do now.

Another question: Will libertarian bloggers ever grow up?

As I rather fell out of love with the Britblog Roundup - one fellow host wanted to choose all the links himself, another slagged off any submission that did not reflect his Toryboy views - February saw the launch of a new feature: Six of the Best.

I was invited into the old Kingdom Hall in Market Harborough a few days before it was pulled down.

March

Lib Dems should argue with the people they almost agree with, I argued.

Twenty years of Lord Bonkers were marked by a Liberator article in two parts (namely part 1 and part 2).

House Points argued that the Conservatives are ungovernable and set out Calder's three Laws of Politics.

I was asked down to London for the ITV Ask the Chancellors debate and liveblogged it from the green room. In retrospect, the evening marked the high point of Cablemania.

April

As the general election campaign gathered pace, I speculated on why it was that Why Gene Hunt had become a national hero, but Labour didn't get him.
My moaning about the Guardian predates its turning against the Coalition: "these days the loyal Guardian reader is obliged to believe that a boy of 14 is perfectly capable of interviewing someone applying to teach at his school but cannot be trusted to look after a goldfish."

I mourned the the frankieboyleisation of society and one of my Saturday walks took me to Shortwood Lodge, near Lamport.

Harborough Liberal Democrats opened their election HQ in St Mary's Road, Market Harborough.

Meanwhile, the first televised leaders' debate was a contest between Flashman, Tom Brown and Sigismund the Mad Maths Master.

May

I complained about BBC Radio 4's election coverage. There was plenty of satire but no reports from the hustings.

When David Cameron made his "big, open and comprehensive" offer, I argued that the Liberal Democrats should accept it in some form.

I spent a day in a Westminster with no government - and upset the gorillas in suits who had appeared at Cowley Street.

Meanwhile in the Ukraine, the Clegg family pyramid still stands. And in Tur Langton you will find a fine Victorian church.

June

In Melton Mowbray I found the Boat Inn closed and reflected on the town's canal history. And in the Guardian I caught Polly Toynbee making an elementary mistake on taxation.

Then I went off to the Lowdham Book Festival in Nottinghamshire to speak about blogging.

And another Liberator article looked back on the leaders' debates.

Now read Part 2.

Aylestone Meadows football pitch plan branded "senseless"


I have written before about opposition to Leicester City Council's plans to site an AstroTurf sports pitch and an accompanying clubhouse and parking on Aylestone Meadows.

Yesterday's Leicester Mercury revealed that a report commissioned by the city council's own planning department shows that Aylestone already has more sports pitches than any other part of Leicester.

This strengthens the protestors' case that this new facility should be built somewhere else in the city and leave Aylestone Meadows for everyone to enjoy.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lord Bonkers liveblogs England's retention of The Ashes

01:17 Lord Bonkers has disappeared down his drive, leading a lengthy conga in the direction of the Bonkers' Arms. I suspect he has finished blogging for me.

01:09 The bells of St Asquith's are pealing!

01:07 We should be magnanimous in victory. Let us acknowledge that Ricky Ponting is the finest Australian captain ever to lose three Ashes series.

01:00 Meadowcroft is back. He says it was a good Shipping Forecast with the waters around Carlingford Lough proving particularly interesting.

00:58 As I recall we won the second test during the Shipping Forecast too.

00:54 Hilfenhaus caught behind. England win by an innings and 157 runs.

Open the champagne and Tizer!

00:52 One wicket to win. Come on Tim!

00:50 Meadowcroft has gone off to his potting shed to enjoy the Shipping Forecast.

00:48 Syd Little has holed out. Swann tossed one up and he swallowed the bait.

00:47 We have had to tap a second barrel of Smithson and Greaves here.

00:42 I wonder if that over will be Swann's swan song?

00:40 Much to Meadowcroft's disgust, the local Scout troup has improvised a receiver for digital radio using Cook's wok and a wire coathanger.

It sounds as though we may need it to pick up this Radio 5 Live extra station soon.

00:35 I am teaching a Well-Behaved Orphan how to mix a proper pink gin.

Education. Education. Education.

00:32 Drinks? A splendid idea!

00:31 I am demonstrating the correct way to play off spin using my walking stick and a bread roll propelled by the lovely Jo Swinson. She bowls a mean drifter.

00:26 My word that champagne looks inviting. A chap could get thirsty here. Come on England!

00:24 Prior misses a difficult catch off Swann. He needs my Bonkers Patent Mechanical Wicketkeeping Gauntlets.

00:22 I suppose we have to ask whether Christopher Martin-Jenkins is really called Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

00:17 The Flying Bellotti Brothers are putting on a gymnastic display while we all wait for the next wicket to fall. Sometimes I try to count how many of them there are, but I get a different answer every time.

00:15 Swann is on, bowling to Syd Little.

00:12 Ponting has been taken off to have his pinkie x-rayed. That happened to me once in Bangalore and it was Extremely Painful.

00:11 It's Jimmy Anderson. Let's hope he can straighten one up.

00:08 I knew Chris Tremlett's grandfather, you know.

00:04 My spies in Melbourne tell me that Harris will definitely not bat. So we need only two more wickets.

00:00 Meadowcroft is looking forward to the Shipping Forecast.

23:58 This Martin-Jenkins fellow does get players' names wrong. He has just called Bresnan "Peggy Ashcroft".

23:54 Just has a comment from someone who doesn't know who Norman Featherstone is! Don't they teach obscure Middlesex batsmen of the 1970s in our schools nowadays?

I am trying to raise Michael Gove on the telephone as we speak.

23:50 There are two expressions that strike fear into the human soul:
  • See me in my study after Prayers
  • The next commentator will be Christopher Martin-Jenkins
23:48 If these two stick around Strauss should consider releasing the tiger sooner rather than later.

23:44 Syd Little is on strike for Tremlett's next over. Up the snoot, Christopher!

23:41 Why wasn't Harris made to hop out and bat? They'll be doing away with cold showers next.

23:39 I have received a few worried emails. Let me emphasise that there is no question of the Australian barman being burnt in the wicker man on the village green.

That is unless they are still batting at lunchtime, obviously.

23:37 Johnson bowled by Tremlett. Cleaned him up good and proper, as they say in the East End.

Syd Little is the new batsman.

23:36 The Australian barman from the Bonkers' Arms has just been dragged in by some stout locals. Now we shall have some jolly sport with him!

23:34 It's Tremlett from the other end. Give him one up the snoot!

23:31 That one went through him like a dose of Gregory's powder, as Nanny would have said.

23:30 Bresnan opens the bowling. Come on, Tim!

23:28 The room goes quiet here as the England fieldsmen come out.

The Australians have obviously been caught and made to come back.

23:26 Rather worried that there is still no mention of the Australians. I suspect they started a tunnel from their dressing room at lunch on the first day and are coming up on the other side of the fence even as we speak.

Hope this escape does not take too much of the lustre off our victory.

23:23 I am pleased to hear Sir Geoffrey Boycott on the wireless. His grandmother would often turn out for my XI and was a dependable opener - even though she insisted upon batting with a stick of rhubarb.

23:18 I refuse to open the champagne until victory is secured, but the Smithson and Greaves Northern Bitter is flowing.

Incidentally, what did you think of Upstairs Downstairs? Personally I like there to be an element of escapism in the drama I watch.

23:11 Have just looked out through the curtains here at the Hall. The light is very bad! I hope things are better in Melbourne.

23:07 It is never difficult to distinguish between an Australian journalist faced with imminent defeat and a ray of sunshine.

23:03 It sounds as though the Australian XI has fled. I did send a telegram to Strauss telling him to post sentries. Young people never listen.

23:01 I can hear Jonathan Agnew even without my ear trumpet. Splendid reception! But then I pride myself on throwing a good party.

22:59 We are doing our warm up exercises here at the Hall. One must be ready.

22:55 The contingent from the Bonkers' Arms has arrived. Raucous singing is the order of the day. "Why should we be beggars with a new ball in our hand?" and so forth.

22:51 Have made my peace with Meadowcroft. On reflection he is right: we have no need on "drop-in" pitches. Our current system of growing them in situ and having them rolled by captive Tory council candidates works perfectly well.

The champagne is on ice. (As is the Tizer for the Well-Behaved Orphans.)

22:48 Have had my footman turn the wireless on. One must give the valves time to warm up when the commentary is coming all the way from Australia.

22:46 That's more like it! I have got away and The Women's Institute are staging an excerpt from Swann Lake. (It involves a sharp caught and bowled in a 50 over game at Trent Bridge. I find the woman dancing Dwayne Bravo particularly convincing.)

22:40 I have been cornered by a woman who wants to talk about site value rating.

To be frank, I shall be relieved when the Home Service coverage begins.

22:35 I make the mistake of suggesting to Meadowcroft that we could have "drop-in" wickets here at the Hall.

He stomps off muttering about "befangled new ways" - but not before stuffing his pockets with vol-au-vents, I note.

22:24 I learn from the BBC that Simon Hughes is to be appointed as a "special advocate" for access to education.

How he will combine this with his commitments to Test Match Special is not made clear.

22:21 A bit of gossip from the party. Apparently, Eddie Hemmings' wife's cat has stolen his mistress! (I think I heard that right.)

22:15 I am shocked at the assumption that Harris will not bat this morning because he has broken his ankle.

What wimps we have become!

I can recall more than one case of a batsman being brought to the wicket After He Had Died in order to help his team fight for a draw. (That said, I was always opposed to fixtures against the touring Haitian Zombies being granted first-class status.)

And if Harris has his leg amputated before start of play? I can recall Peg-Leg Utterthwaite making 1000 runs for Derbyshire before the war, and you never heard him whinge!

22:07 What should England's tactics be? The general view here is that Tremlett should give Johnson one up the snoot early on.

22:00 I have just had a long conversation with the Reverend Hughes about the place of uncovered wickets in the modern Church.

Funny thing is, I could have sworn I heard him broadcasting from Melbourne this morning.

21:53 My guests are arriving. I have been chatting to Norman and Lynne Featherstone. And, look, there are David Steel and David Steele enjoying a joke on the stairs.

And here is Elspeth Campbell, whom I still think would have been a useful first change on that belter at Perth.

Some people - the Flying Bellotti Brothers, Don "R.E." Foster, Dutchy Mulholland - have been here ever since Christmas.

So have the Elves of Rockingham Forest. Strictly speaking they were never invited in the first place, but I find it is best to keep on the right side of these fellows. One doesn't want to be turned into a frog, what?

And a couple of the Well-Behaved Orphans have got over the wall again. I must have a word with Matron.

21:40 When Douglas Jardine won his series in Australia in 1932-3, we knew nothing of it until a lone swimmer appeared at Tilbury Docks with the scorecard of the final test tucked into his woollen bathing suit.

How times change!

This evening we shall all be gathered around the wireless here at Bonkers Hall to listen to England's victory in the Melbourne test. Do join me and my guests for the party.

Liberal England archives

The monthly archives for this blog have only been showing half the posts they should for a while now. So I have switched to weekly archives.

In the long run the answer is probably to update to a new Blogger template, which is something I am currently plucking up the courage to do.

My music videos for 2010

I started choosing a Sunday music video when I finally got broadband access in October 2007. You can find the choices for 2007 and 2008 here and for 2009 here.

Some of these videos have disappeared since I posted them. Where possible, I shall edit the post and add an alternative version of the same song, but the moral is clear: enjoy these videos while they are still hot.

3 January 2010 Bananarama: Cheers Then
10 January 2010 Thin Lizzy: Whiskey in the Jar
17 January 2010 Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick: I Haven't Told Her
24 January 2010 Peter Gabriel: Here Comes the Flood
31 January 2010 Traffic: Light Up or Leave Me Alone

7 February 2010 Barrett Strong: Money (That's What I Want)
14 February 2010 Suzanne Vega: Luka
21 February 2010 Hank Williams: Move it on Over
28 February 2010 The Purple Gang: Granny Takes a Trip

7 March 2010 Kiki Dee: Amoureuse
14 March 2010 Zeep: Ghost Town
21 March 2010 The Style Council: Walls Come Tumbling Down
28 March 2010 Spencer Davis Group: Watch Your Step

4 April 2010 Clodagh Rodgers: Come Back and Shake Me
11 April 2010 The Yardbirds: Shapes of Things
18 April 2010 Skeeter Davis: The End of the World
25 April 2010 Blur: Blue Jeans

2 May 2010 Levellers: One Way
9 May 2010 Henry Gross: Shannon
16 May 2010 Traffic: Glad
23 May 2010 Sandy Denny: Bushes and Briars
30 May 2010 Peter Sarstedt: Frozen Orange Juice

6 June 2010 Elkie Brooks: Lilac Wine
13 June 2010 George Butterworth: A Shropshire Lad
20 June 2010 Black Carrot: The One That Got Away
27 June 2010 Richard Thompson: Hope You Like the New Me

4 July 2010 The Kinks: Do You Remember Walter
11 July 2010 CocoRosie: Smokey Taboo
18 July 2010 Scott Walker: The Amorous Humphrey Plugg
25 July 2010 Steely Dan: Do It Again

1 August 2010 Tomorrow: My White Bicycle
8 August 2010 Isley Brothers: Behind a Painted Smile
15 August 2010 The Stone Poneys: Different Drum
22 August 2010 Joe Jones: You Talk Too Much
29 August 2010 Lene Lovich: Angels

5 September 2010 Junior Walker and the All Stars: Shotgun
12 September 2010 Mr Fox: The Ballad of Neddy Dick
19 September 2010 Sting: Englishman in New York
26 September 2010 Mamarazzi: Grapefruit Juicy

3 October 2010 John Martyn: Solid Air
10 October 2010 Dr Feelgood: She Does It Right
17 October 2010 The Smiths: Reel Around the Fountain
24 October 2010 Steve Winwood: Dirty City
31 October 2010 The Move: Night of Fear

7 November 2010 Frank Zappa: Son of Mr Green Genes
14 November 2010 Steeleye Span: Boys of Bedlam
21 November 2010 Percy Faith: Theme from A Summer Place
28 November 2010 The Herd: I Don't Want Our Loving to Die

5 December 2010 Wizzard: Ballpark Incident
12 December 2010 Billy Fury: Wondrous Place
19 December 2010 Joanna Newsom: Baby Birch
26 December 2010 The Moody Blues: Go Now

Monday, December 27, 2010

Palmers pet shop, Camden


This shopfront took my fancy when I was in Camden for the Steve Winwood concert at the Roundhouse a couple of months ago.

The building is now occupied by a cafe, but a Camden News article from 2008 describes Palmers in its heyday:
George Palmer set up the shop in 1918 and counted famous faces among his customers. When Winston Churchill wanted a cat to prowl the corridors of Number 10, he popped into Palmers and went back to Whitehall with a ginger kitten. Mr Palmer was given a cigar and a signed copy of the PM’s autobiography as a thank-you. Charlie Chaplin wrote to them from Switzerland and bought two Abyssinian kittens.
Alison and Sue recall working as Saturday girls with their aunt, and the host of exotic creatures they shared the shop with. Sue said: “It was like a mini-zoo back then. The pet trade 50 years ago was amazing – you could literally sell anything. They had parrots, baboons, chimpanzees and mongooses.”

It is the opponents of the "big society" who are conservative

A few days ago the Guardian seized upon an opinion poll:
David Cameron looks set for an uphill challenge in making his vision of a "big society" a reality as new poll findings suggest people in Britain are more willing to give their money than their time to good causes.

A Harris poll for the Financial Times shows that the British public are more ready than most to make financial donations, but less happy about being asked to volunteer to deliver public services.

The findings raise doubts about the prime minister's aims of boosting "mutual responsibility" by supporting a new culture of volunteering and encouraging people to take an active role in their communities.
There is an odd reversal at work here. It used to be the left that had an optimistic, evenstarry eyed, view of the possibilities of social change.

Equally, it used to be the right that, as its waistcoat stretched over its stomach after dinner, said: "You can't change human nature." (Often it prefaced this remark with: "I used to be an idealist myself when I was young, but....")

These days the left is more concerned with defending existing public-sector spending and career paths than it is with bringing about social change. (It is, of course, just these public-sector employees who buy the Guardian and have their jobs advertised in its pages.)

There are those on the right who want cuts in public spending purely so they can cut taxes for themselves and their neighbours. However, given that all parties fought the last election affirming they would have to make radical spending cuts, these types take some disentangling from the political mainstream at the moment.

More interesting are those on the right who have grasped that government spending can entrench problems as well as solve them. Their "big society" remains a poorly defined concept, but it takes in ideas of localism and community control that, as a Liberal, I find very appealing.

It is because of big society ideas that I find myself surprisingly relaxed at out going into coalition with the Conservatives. What we need to do now is to ensure that they are put into practice.

Student of the Day

Well done, Qing Jing Mao. According to the Leicester Mercury, he:
lost more than £70,000 after spending up to 10 hours a day in a casino while studying economics at the University of Leicester.

Six of the Best 116

Helen Duffet on Liberal Democrat Voice has the video of Vince Cable's appearance on the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special. "You had total control and leadership. I thought it was really, really good. However, you have a tendency to lean slightly to the right," said that cheeky monkey Craig Revel-Horwood.

The Browser interviews the Lib Dem peer Alex Carlile about ethics in public life.

Conservative councillor Chris Whiteside praises Chris Mullin's second volume of diaries Decline and Fall.

It is now mathematically impossible to pay off the US national debt, argues The Economic Collapse.

Ianvisits spent Christmas Day at a special opening of the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury. And he was not the only one: "I was in for maybe an hour, but could probably do 2 hours to look at everything properly. You just couldn’t get to see everything due to the crowds, unless you wanted to spend hours in the place waiting for gaps to appear at the displays."

The latest Britblog Roundup is with my favourite host, Redemption Blues.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Moody Blues: Go Now



Christmas or no Christmas, the Liberal England Sunday music video has to appear. But as it is Christmas, let's take things easy with a sixties classic.

This is a cover of a song originally recorded by Bessie Banks. It was written by her husband Larry.

The Moody Blues version made number one in the singles chart in 1964. The lead singer here is Denny Laine, who was later to be a founder member of Wings.

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

C.F.G. Masterman by Lucy Masterman






Just what I wanted for Christmas. The Dowager Lady Bonkers found it via a bookdealer in Brig o' Turk.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to all our readers



This song is taken from the compilation LP A Very Special Christmas 3, which was sold in aid of the Special Olympics.

Like John Barleycorn Must Die, it came to Steve Winwood via the Watersons. It was sung by Lal Waterson on their 1965 LP Frost and Fire.

Mainly Norfolk quotes the folk pioneer A.L. Lloyd's notes on the sleeve:
This moralising carol was much used by beggars and others towards Christmas time. Its tune turns up over and again attached to such carols as The Fountain of Christ's Blood, Have You Not Heard of our Dear Saviour's Love, and The Black Decree, also to the favourite old dialogue-ballad of Death and the Lady, traceable to the sixteenth century.
Anyway, it feels appropriate to our new age of austerity.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

British family living in a cave - Christmas 1958



It's Christmas 1958 and the Smith family of Wolverley, near Kidderminster, are still living in a cave.

Click on the picture to go to the newsreel on the British Pathe site.

Later. Gary Allanach has tweeted this story from the Kidderminster Shuttle about a cave in Wolverley, quite possibly the same one, selling for £100,000 in July 2007.

Those Oldham East & Saddleworth candidates in full

Courtesy of BBC News:
  • Debbie Abrahams (Labour)
  • Derek Adams (British National Party)
  • Kashif Ali (Conservative)
  • Peter Allen (Green Party)
  • David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis Party)
  • The Flying Brick (Monster Raving Loony Party)
  • Loz Kaye (Pirate Party of the United Kingdom)
  • Stephen Morris (English Democrats)
  • Paul Nuttall (UK Independence Party)
  • Elwyn Watkins (Liberal Democrats)
Note the frantic contest to be first on the ballot paper.

David Cameron is the Daily Telegraph's real target

What is behind the Daily Telegraph's campaign of entrapment against Liberal Democrat ministers?

The answer can be found in a House Points column I wrote after the resignation of David Laws. There I wrote of the Daily Telegraph
That newspaper is the focus for a group of malcontents who don’t just resent the coalition: they resent all the changes David Cameron has made to drag his party back into the political mainstream.

In their political Lalaland the country is crying out for hard right-wing government – the sort of policies that did so much to bring William Hague and Michael Howard success at the 2001 and 2005 general elections.
The ultimate goal of these right-wing Conservatives is to overthrow David Cameron. To do that they must break apart the coalition. And they are embarrassing Liberal Democrat ministers in an attempt to do just that.

On the Financial Times website George Parker offers much the same analysis:
Senior Tories admit some Conservative MPs hope the wheels may be coming off the coalition and it will not be long before the British public gets a chance to elect a true-blue government, abandoning what they perceive to be the coalition’s soft approach on issues such as Europe, crime and electoral reform.

“Those MPs are deluded, bonkers, mad,” said one Conservative minister. “If it were not for the Liberal Democrats, there would be no Conservatives in government.”

Another senior Conservative said: “To those of my colleagues who think it would be good to have a general election, then I say let’s have a February election and see how they like it. I’ve fought a February election and it’s not very much fun.”
Once again we see the ungovernability of the modern Conservative Party.

Another favourite theme of mine is that modern Conservatives are not really Conservative at all. What they have to offer is crude libertarianism and an overweening sense of entitlement.

For the Conservative Party used to have a strong sense that this sort of entrapment and surveillance was unBritish. It was this sense that lay behind Winston Churchill's claim in the 1945 that Labour "would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo" in order to achieve socialism. From the same era, the High Tory novels of Angela Thirkell are full of paranoia about government snooping.

Today it is right-wing Conservatives who use the tactics of the secret police in an attempt to bring about radical change in society.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bernie Clifton made out of marzipan

Only in the Shropshire Star. Only in Oakengates, to be precise.

Six of the Best 115

The first Coalition Home Office bill to receive Royal Assent sees the cancellation of Labour's national identity card scheme. Lynne Featherstone rejoices.

Blunt & Disorderly has advice for all three parties: "The Tories need to see that some of their policies are half-baked ideas (they don’t seem to have thought much about the Big Society, for example); Labour need to be constructive, not petty; and the Lib Dems need to stop being a punch bag and develop a vision of their role in government."

"A high self-regard, lack of even a short historical perspective, and fetishisation of their consumer electronics has given these protesters an obnoxious idea of their own novelty. Their yearning for the easy economy of the status quo ante makes them not a radical new force in British politics, but a conservative backlash against new uncertainties. They are far less interesting than they consider themselves to be." Stratagem XXXVIII has little time for the student protestors.

Missive from Doktorb considers what the new constituency boundaries may look like in Greater Manchester if the number of MPs is reduced. Pleasingly, Littleborough & Saddleworth is reborn.

I was of a child of the sixties, when road safety involved the rather stern Kerb Drill ("At the kerb, halt.") Come the 1970s and kids learnt the more touchy feely Green Cross Code. Found Objects has a video from 1976 in which Jon Pertwee can be seen teaching it. I am not sure "Splink!" ever caught on though.

Blood & Treasure celebrates "the only authentic Christmas record ever to hit the charts".

Calder on Air: The Today Programme

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

I don't know if it was inverse sexism or a desire to find something positive to say about someone, but I was too kind to Sarah Montague. She has an annoying strangulated voice and tends to approach interviews with a fixed, tendentiouss line of questioning in mind and to keep to it even when the first answer shows that she has got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

Background Today

One morning last month I drifted out of sleep to find that Radio 4 had changed. There was no Today programme. Instead I woke up to an old episode of Matthew Parris’s Great Lives in which Lord Digby Jones spoke about his admiration for Winston Churchill. This was interesting, but turned embarrassing when it became clear that Jones sees himself as a bit of a Churchill figure too. Then there was a blissful episode of The Natural World, describing oystercatchers feeding on the shining mudflats at the mouth of the River Nene. I went to work happy.

I don’t suppose I was alone in enjoying this programming – the result of a BBC strike. When there was a major technical breakdown a few years ago and Today had to be replaced by music, the programme received more letters asking what the music had been than it received complaints.

Like me, I suspect many of those correspondents listen to the Today programme because they always listen to the Today programme. It becomes part of your morning routine. (Thought for the Day? It’s time I was brushing my teeth.) You do not listen to Today for enjoyment.

It would be easy to blame the presenters for this. John Humphrys glories in his ignorance of anything to do with science. Jim Naughtie is bursting to interrupt as soon as he finished one of his interminable questions – you can hear him making little noises all the time the interviewee is speaking. If the subject is something that Naughtie thinks himself an expert on, such as music, then the other person doesn’t get to speak at all.

Evan Davis is incredulous if he hears facts or opinions that are new to him. Edward Stourton has a habit of sounding superior by talking down his nose – just as Martin Jarvis makes Hubert Lane do in his readings of the Just William books. I bet they even look the same

Sarah Montague and Justin Webb offer more hope, yet I recently read an article by Webb in which he said that now he has settled in he is going to interrupt people more.

But really the problem is not the individual presenters, but the format of the programme. Ministers, journalists and professors are brought on to be interviewed, and they get five minutes if they are lucky. Often there are two people in the same slot, so they get hardly any time at all.

This format generally leads to unsatisfactory interviews and can be exploited. During the months when Railtrack had brought Britain’s railways to a halt, its executives who went on Today had obviously been taught to say nothing and say it slowly and repetitively. They knew that time would run out before the interviewer could hold them to account on behalf of the public.

So Justin Webb’s resolution to interrupt people more arises not from a love of the sound of his own voice so much as from a despairing attempt to make the programme’s rigid format work.

Is there an alternative? For a while Radio 5’s breakfast show did essentially the same job, but did it in a friendlier and looser way. It also helped that they had two presenters – Peter Allen and Jane Garvey – who were without the exaggerated sense of their own importance that those on the Today programme tend to develop.

Allen could rival Humphrys in the grumpy old man stakes when he wanted, but if it became clear that a politician was determined to say nothing of any interest to anyone then he was quite prepared to cut the interview short. This was far more damning – and far kinder to the listener – than any amount of Today-style bluster.

Then Allen and Garvey were replaced by Nicky Campbell and Victoria Derbyshire, two of the most irritating broadcasters known to humanity. So it was back to Today.

Is it the sports desk already? Time to put the porridge on.

David Howarth: Telegraph journalists may have committed a criminal offence

David Howarth, the former Lib Dem MP for Cambridge, has an article on the Guardian website asking whether Daily Telegraph journalists broke the criminal law in order to obtain their stories about Vince Cable and his colleagues:
Did the journalists and their editors intend through dishonest false statements to put ministers at risk of losing their jobs? Did they intend to make money for their paper? If either is true, a criminal offence has taken place. There is no free-standing public interest defence. Perhaps the journalists involved should now be preparing their answers to those questions.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Leicester & Swannington Railway in 1964



This amateur film is a piece of railway history as it shows the Leicester & Swannington just before it closed in 1964. The line already looks derelict, so it is a surprise when a train turns up towards the end.

The Leicester & Swannington was one of the first railways of the steam age, built to bring coal to Leicester from the west of the county. 15C has a few photographs of the line today

Monday, December 20, 2010

Vince Cable tells the truth about the nature of coalition government

The Daily Telegraph is presenting its report of what Vince Cable told two of its reporters who were posing as constituents at a surgery as some sort of scandal. Their report is headed: Vince Cable: I have the nuclear option, it's like fighting a war.

I read it as an honest account of what any government is like on the inside. As Vince himself says:
“You know I have never been in government, never been a minister, so I have no idea what it was like under the Labour government. My general impression was that it was more, they were same philosophy, but they didn’t like each other and it was very personal, whereas with the Tories, it is more professional. We may not have anything in common, but you have a professional process by which you arbitrate, negotiate and produce compromises. And the Cabinet does function as a Cabinet, in the way it is supposed to in the textbooks. We debate things across the table.”
In fact it sounds as though this government is operating more satisfactorily than most in living memory.

And Liberal Democrat members will be reassured to learn that our ministers are busy fighting to get our policies implemented.

Still, the Telegraph bills this as the first of several exposes of what Lib Dem MPs are saying in private, so we shall see if anything more damaging is to come.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Christmas in old England

From chapter 15 of The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White:
It was Christmas night in the Castle of the Forest Sauvage, and all around the castle the snow lay as it ought to lie. It hung heavily on the battlements, like extremely thick icing on a very good cake, and in a few convenient places it modestly turned itself into the clearest icicles of the greatest possible length. It hung on the boughs of the forest trees in rounded lumps, even better than apple blossom, and occasionally slid off the roofs of the village when it saw a chance of falling upon some amusing character and giving pleasure to all.
The boys made snowballs with it, but never put stones in them to hurt each other, and the dogs, when they were taken out to scombre, bit it and rolled in it, and looked surprised but delighted when they vanished into bigger drifts. There was skating on the moat, which roared all day with the gliding steel, while hot chestnuts and spiced mead were served on the bank to all and sundry.
The owls hooted. The cooks put out all the crumbs they could for the small birds. The villagers brought out their red mufflers. Sir Ector’s face shone redder even than these.
And reddest of all shone the cottage fires down the main street of an evening, while the winds howled outside and the old English wolves wandered around slavering in an appropriate manner, or sometimes peeping in at the keyholes with their blood-red eyes.
Now you see where Christmas at Bonkers Hall comes from.

Oh, and "scombre"? According to the University of Rochester glossary for The Once and Future King, it is a variant of scumber: "intr. Of a dog or fox: To evacuate the fæces.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Watch Edward Woodward in 1990



I have written before about 1990, the drama series about a dystopian future starring Edward Woodward and shown in 1977 and 1978.

The good news is that several episodes from the first series can be found on Youtube. The video above is the first part of the first series - just follow the links in Youtube after that.

I have not watched much of it yet. If old programmes turn out not to be as good as you remember them, it is worse than a disappointment because it spoils your original memory too. But see what you think.

Do remember that 1990 was far in the future when this was made.

Later. Most of 1990 has disappeared from Youtube, but here is a taste.

Anthony Howard has died

I am very sorry to hear that Anthony Howard has died. As I recalled back in 2005, I learnt a tremendous amount from the New Statesman under his editorship:
When I was in the sixth form I used to hurry down to Preedy's after school on Fridays to buy their only copy of the New Statesman. I usually got it, though I do recall missing out on the controversial issue produced to mark the Queen's Silver Jubilee. In those days before Princess Di and the royals' sell out to celebrity culture, it was still controversial to attack the monarchy.

For my 25p I got a leading article on the front page (which seemed terribly grown up), James Fenton's witty political commentary on page 2 and a Garland cartoon on page 3. Though I was pretty sure by then that I was a liberal and not a socialist, there was an awful lot to enjoy in the Statesman.
For that reason it meant a lot to me to write for a column for the magazine's website for a while. Now the magazine is unreadable to anyone not steeped in Labour's internal politics, which is much what happened to it after Howard gave up as editor in 1978.

The Daily Telegraph quotes Donald Trelford as saying:
"Tony had a prodigious memory for political anecdotes which stood him in good stead in later years as a book reviewer. He was an excellent editor of the New Statesman and The Listener and, if the timing of his career had been more fortunate, he should have edited a national newspaper."

Joanna Newsom: Baby Birch



Joanna Newsom's "Have One on Me", her third LP, is Uncut magazine's Album of the Year. It finds her occupying territory somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush.

This song, a lament for a child who is lost or never was, is described by the BBC Music review as "is lonesome country that builds into a majestic strut of spindly electric guitar and oriental melodies". This live performance was recorded in Amsterdam in May of this year.

Ed Miliband and the policing of language

I have always felt a little guilty about the picture I have painted more than once of the young Miliband brothers in their pyjamas listening to their father's tales of how Stalin had diverted the rivers of Central Asia to water the Uzbek cotton fields. Miliband père was on the far left, but he was no tankie.

But today's news in the Observer that Ed Miliband has banned the shadow cabinet from using the word "coalition" to describe the government makes me think I may have been on to something after all. This is a crude and clumsy attempt to deny the truth. It is double plus ungood.

An interesting question is whether Miliband's senior colleagues will take much notice. If they have sufficient strength of mind to be cabinet ministers, they will not take kindly to having their speech policed like this. And most of them did not want Ed as leader but his brother.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Six of the Best 114

Are the Tories giving the Lib Dems a free ride in Oldham East? asks Mark Ferguson on LabourList. He adds: "Although Labour are the bookies' favourites for the January 13th poll, sources close to the Labour campaign have suggested that they expect a close race. Having the Tories take things easily will certainly make things more difficult for Labour."

Jerry Hayes on ThinkPolitics gives another take on the forthcoming by-election: "The potential victim in this strange little event is MiliEd. He will be out classed and outshined by Balls. he will give the impression of being the organ grinder’s monkey If, in the unlikely event that Labour, wins he will only get some of the credit, but there will be screams to move Balls to a more visible role. Screams that MiliEd would be unwise to ignore, but loathe to act on."

Craig Dearden-Phillips on Social Enterprise asks another question: Are mutuals fit for purpose? "What does all this mean for public services? Perhaps the strongest message I got is that for the magic of employee ownership to work, it is vital that employee ownership is as near-total as possible."

Paul Linford offers his review of the political year 2010.

The career of Blake Edwards is celebrated by Self-Styled Siren.

While Andrew Hickey marks the passing of Captain Beefheart: "Beefheart is actually less original than his music sounds, but he was one of the great imaginative *synthesists* of all time, putting together the timbre of Chicago blues with the tonalities and rhythms of Ornette Coleman, and adding beat poetry on top."

Greyfriars Bus Station, Northampton, on the way out


The bus company Stagecoach may receive £5.5m during 2011/12 as compensation for having to move out of its base in Greyfriars Bus Station, reports the Northampton Chronicle & Echo.

I don't quite understand this. If I were Stagecoach I would be demanding compensation for having to use this dreadful hole in the first place.

Still, £5.5m is cheap if it means getting rid of one of Britain's most hated buildings. And congratulations to the excellent Lib Dem councillor Richard Church for his persistence in this cause.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The party leaders' Christmas cards

The continuing influence of the Tony Blair model of political leadership can be seen nowhere more clearly than in the three party leaders' choice of Christmas card.

Following the unlovable precedent set by the Blairs - who in their pomp seemed poised to supplant the Holy Family altogether - Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have each chosen a card depicting himself and his family. Nick Clegg has chosen a drawing by his children rather than a photograph, which makes his offence greater or letter according to your taste.

The whole concept seems vainglorious to me. What is wrong with something like a tasteful print of Bonkers Hall in the snow?

Liberal Democrat MPs are revolting

A striking observation from revolts.co.uk:
there now remain very few Lib Dem backbenchers who have remained loyal to the Coalition. Just nine backbench Lib Dems have not voted against the whips in this Parliament. Of these, four – Lorely Burt, Simon Hughes, Tessa Munt and Stephen Williams – abstained on tuition fees.
That leaves five Lib Dem MPs on the backbenches who have remained wholly loyal to the Coalition thus far. In addition to David Laws, they are Tom Brake, Malcolm Bruce, and Don Foster (all of whom voted in favour of raising the cap on tuition fees on Thursday) along with Sir Robert Smith (abroad on business at the time of the tuition fees vote).
Thanks to a tweet from the London Review of Books. It does not seem possible to link to individual posts on revolts.co.uk, but this one is on top at the time of writing.

Pet of the Week goes to a Market Harborough grasshopper

The winner is Isis, a female Egyptian grasshopper. If things had turned out differently she could be curled up in front of my fire now. For she was found up in a bag of salad bought from Sainsbury's Market Harborough.

More in the Leicester Mercury, where Helen Ikin, the grasshopper recorder for Leicestershire Entomological Society (who wins Job of the Day, incidentally), is quoted as saying:
"It's not exactly common for people to find them, but if something is found in food that has travelled from that part of the world it is usually an Egyptian grasshopper. A lot of people do keep them as pets. They are lovely creatures."
In Shropshire, by contrast, you are more likely to come home with a lizard in your broccoli.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stanley Baxter does Upstairs Downstairs



With this 1970s TV favourite returning to our screens, it is time to recall another 1970s TV favourite's take on it. Rose and Mrs Hudson are my favourites.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A walk in Bonkers Country


The Walking Englishman has a map and photographs of a walk in the countryside around Bonkers Hall - or Nevill Holt as he calls it for a some reason. Although the walk lies entirely in Leicestershire, this is precisely the area in which I imagine Lord Bonkers living.

This photograph, showing Nevill Holt, comes from the same article. There are hundreds more walks on the site.

Eminent Corporations by Andrew Simms and David Boyle

Corporations have neither bodies to be punished, nor souls to be condemned; they therefore do as they like.

So said Edward Thurlow, the 18th century Lord Chancellor.

Andrew Simms and David Boyle’s new book Eminent Corporations does much to bear this view out through its histories of eight famous British companies from the East India Company to Virgin. They tap into a rich lode of history with which I was largely unfamiliar.

The pattern is set in the first chapter on the East India Company, which is contributed by Nick Robins. Remarkable figures crop up, where many famous names are encountered: Robert Clive, Warren Hastings, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill.

And so on through Barclays, Cadburys, Marks & Spencer, Rover and BP to the BBC and Virgin. Many remarkable figures are encountered along the way, none more so than Michael Marks. He was born as the youngest of five children of a miller and tailor in what is now Belarus “probably in 1863”. Driven out by a pogrom, he arrived in London as a teenager who spoke only Yiddish. He ended up in Yorkshire working as a peddler and then running a market stall. He opened his first shop in Manchester in 1894 and then rest is history – a fascinating history detailed in Eminent Corporations.

Simms and Boyle’s model is Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, which is a slight problem for me in that I have far more time for those Victorians than I do for Strachey and his Bloomsbury companions. Strachey was concerned simply with showing that his subjects were too, too amusing, but his modern successors want to point morals. At times, with sudden lectures on the wickedness of Big Oil or claims that television is undermining our culture, they risk appearing tendentious.

If there is a moral it is probably more to do with the inevitable decline and fall of business dynasties. Again and again, we see family companies bringing in outside managers or becoming public companies, only for what made them great and distinctive being lost.

But it is for the stories and the great figures that you should read this book. I can see company histories written along these lines becoming an unexpected publishing success story.

There is a review of Eminent Corporations in the Financial Times by Jeremy Leggett.

The Liberal Democrats make it into Wikileaks

We were important than we realised, even before we went into government. The Guardian has details of cables discussing the Liberal Democrats, obtained from Wikileaks, sent back to the US by its London embassy.

A lot of the material is a convoluted account of events early in Nick Clegg's leadership when the party abstained on the question of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, having in the past called for one. The (rather tenuous) grounds given were that we wanted a referendum on our membership of the EU as a whole.

It is all ancient history now, and a reminder that debates which stir the passions are generally soon forgotten. Still, I hope we have heard the last of that ludicrous "in or out" referendum as a policy.

There is also an account of a complaint by Lembit Opik (presumably in a loud voice at a party) about Nick Clegg's leadership style. Oh, and:
"Opik told us he plans to run for Lib Dem President (a leadership role, but subordinate to Clegg) at the end of the year to give the Lib Dems an alternate voice inside the party."
For some reason the Guardian has decided that the section dealing with Lembit is the most important and highlighted it for you.

Finally, and in a way most revealingly, there is a glimpse of Ming Campbell's leadership:
XXXXXXXXXXXX says that so far Clegg has been decisive and thoughtful. In contrast, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, former leader Sir Menzies "Ming" Campbell was more like a chairman of the board, a style not in keeping with the way the unruly party actually operates. For example, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, Campbell would give directives while not understanding that the organizational structure to impose his edicts did not exist.
But who was XXXXXXXXXX, I wonder?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Six of the Best 113

On The Real Blog, David Boyle skewers the snobbery and instinctive support for centralisation of the BBC: "So stuff the BBC, I say – and the idea that decisions can only taken, under close guidance, by Oxbridge types with Masters in Public Administration. And only then, very occasionally. What the Localism Bill sets out is a means by which neighbourhoods can begin to take charge of their own destiny."

While Andy Mayer, writing on Liberal Vision, is not impressed by Richard Grayson's decision to work with Ed Miliband.

The big news in the blogosphere today is the decision by Iain Dale to hang up his mouse. Along with Tim Worstall, Iain's was one of the sites that got me into blogging and showed me how to do it. Thank you, Iain.

Jacob Heilbrunn, writing on The Huffington Post, pays tribute to the greatness of Richard Holbrooke.

Down at Third Man asks where all the young Australian cricketers have gone.

And in comedy, chicolita gives Frankie Boyle both barrels: "So please, don’t even try to tell me Boyle speaks truth to power, or says the unsayable. He won’t go near half the subjects Sadowitz covered 20 years ago and still does with astounding relish today. He mocks the weak and that includes those gullible enough to pay for the same dull crap in different packaging. It’s not offensive, just the comedy of complacency."

It's chess week on Radio 3


Chess, it seems, has always attracted craftsmen, artists and conversation as well as players. Whether or not you know the rules of the game, its language and concepts are pervasive and over the next week on Radio 3 we’ve a short season, Checkmate, exploring the game’s extraordinarily rich history and culture through a range of discussions, talks, and drama.
Full details on the Radio 3 blog.

Monday, December 13, 2010

King's Lynn to Hunstanton with John Betjeman


This film was made in 1962, seven years before the line closed. Some still dream of reopening it.

What advice will Richard Grayson give Labour?

Ed Miliband announced today that the former Liberal Democrat policy chief Richard Grayson will be contributing to the Labour Party's policy review. I fear that the Labour leader may be disappointed with the outcome.

I knew Richard when I was a member of the Federal Policy Committee for several years. I found him an amiable figure and it turned out that we had both attended Hemel Hempstead School at different times. In fact, the same teacher had taught Richard, his father and me.

But my chief memory of Richard's part in the committee's work was that he could get impatient if members proposed ideas that stood outside the social democrat mainstream. Perhaps that it was one reason why in that era the Liberal Democrats produced so many "us too" documents that could equally well have come from New Labour.

So if Ed Miliband is looking to Richard Grayson to leaven Labour's thinking he may be disappointed.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Distinctive policies and proportional representation

One of the arguments often used against proportional representation is that it will lead to a dull form of politics where all the parties are clustered on the same narrow strip of ground.

Nonsense, the advocates of PR have taken to replying. Under proportional systems parties have to make more effort of make themselves distinctive.

Is that true? And if it is true, what do voters in other countries make of this state of affairs?

The Liberal Democrat policy of having no rise in tuition fees - and ultimately abolishing them - was clear enough. But we were only ever going to enter government as the junior party in a coalition, and both Labour and the Conservatives were committed to raising fees. So though this policy was certainly distinctive, it was not one we were ever going to be able to put into practice.

Do voters abroad accept this sort of behaviour on the part of junior coalition parties because they are more used to coalitions? And if British voters will not accept it, how should we frame our proposals in future elections?

A frozen Leicester Market



Thanks to Great Food Leicestershire and Rutland magazine for pointing me to this short film by Nick Hamer.

It's the largest covered market in Europe, you know.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Billy Fury: Wondrous Place



British pop music in the early 1960s was dominated by a few impresarios. The early excitement of rock and roll had been tamed and the forces of commerce were firmly in charge again. In short the situation was much like the one British pop finds itself in today.

So it is a surprise to find such a sultry British single from 1960. Fury's version, which was a minor hit, is a cover of the original (far sunnier) US version by Jimmy Jones. It became more widely known after being used on a Toyota television commercial in the 1990s.

Richard Grayson on Mill, Hobhouse and T.H. Green

Because of Charles Kennedy's indolence as leader, Richard Grayson had a large say in the running of the party for many years. Which makes him a slightly unconvincing representative of the party's grassroots in today's front-page Observer report by Anushka Asthana and Allegra Stratton.

Richard Grayson has an article of his own on the Guardian website in which he complains:
all we hear from Nick Clegg is lots about John Stuart Mill. Rarely, if ever, is there talk of the Liberals cited by Ed Miliband, nor the originators of social liberalism such as LT Hobhouse or TH Green. A philosophy which seldom goes beyond Mill is firmly stuck in the 1850s, as if more than a century of social liberalism never happened.
The explanation for this can largely be found in an article on Mill that I wrote for Liberator in 2007:
It is fashionable to name check L.T. Hobhouse and T.H. Green, but I suspect that few who do so have really read their works. Hobhouse’s Liberalism is approachable, but hardly profound when set against Mill, while Green is next to unreadable. In part this is because Green’s heyday came during that brief period in the late nineteenth century when Idealism was the dominant force in British philosophy, and it is hard for we 21st-century realists to make much of him as a result. Equally, however, there was a tension in Green’s thought between his espousal of liberty and the enthusiasms, such as Temperance, which he derived from his religious views. The suspicion must be that he sometimes found it convenient to take refuge in obfuscation.
In short, Green is unreadable and Hobhouse is not that good. But I do strongly recommend Peter Clarke's Liberals and Social Democrats, which looks at the intellectual circles of which Hobhouse was a member.

I was also a little amused that Richard complains that Nick Clegg is stuck in the past, but can offer no alternative thinkers more recent than Hobhouse (who died in 1929) and Green (who died in 1882 ). I wonder what Professor Grayson would make of a student essay that presented these two as representatives of modernity?

In my Liberator article I did manage to mention more recent names: Karl Popper, Isaiah Berlin and Richard Rorty (who had only just died when I wrote it). But what we really need are some current-day Liberal thinkers.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Pupil premium vs tuition fees

From BBC News:
The poorest pupils in England will get an extra £430 spent on them next year under the government's pupil premium scheme, it has been revealed.

Schools will receive the money for every pupil whose parents have an annual income of less than £16,000.

Head teachers will be encouraged to spend it on reducing class sizes or more one-to-one tuition.
Sadly, this news will not receive a fraction of the attention that the increase in tuition fees has. and that is as true of the Lib Dem blogosphere as anywhere else.

Friday, December 10, 2010

This is York, 1953


britishrailways.tv


A 20-minute film showing a day in the life of York's station master. It's deeply nostalgic for me: the city did not change so very much between 1953 and 1978, when I went there as a student. It has certainly changed a great deal since I left in 1981.

Note the lyrical treatment of the lifting of rural branch lines. I don't suppose that parcel van lasted very long, but at least it is a reminder that closures began long before Lord Beeching.

Thank you, Charlie Gilmour

The son of a multi-millionaire rock star who wants the taxpayer to fund him to study history at Cambridge but does not recognise the Cenotaph.

He has managed to confirm every single prejudice I expressed in my post on tuition fees two days ago. Thank you, Charlie.

Six of the Best 112

The complete abolition of university tuition fees remains Liberal Democrat policy. In a powerful post, Contrasting Sounds looks at the daunting road that will have to be travelled if we are to get there. Meanwhile, "As it stands, the party policy just doesn’t reflect the democratic reality that the larger parties have no plan to increase taxes, because they (or at least Labour) don’t think people are willing to vote for it. This means the manifesto promises are more about keeping the party’s base happy than letting the electorate know what the party genuinely thinks they can get through Parliament."

In another important post, Millennium Elephant looks at the way forward for the Liberal Democrats after the tuition fees vote. If, as someone who himself perhaps hid behind a fictional persona for too long, I can offer a little unrequested advice, I feel that the idiosyncratic style of the posts on this blog is beginning to grate with the quality and seriousness of their content.

Liberal Vision, in the shape of Tom Papworth, has been reading the comments on the tuition fees controversy that the BBC website published yesterday. He finds a far greater range of views represented than most professional commentators would have you believe.

In a posting that went up last week while I was busy being a dutiful son, Jennie Rigg socks it to the Lighter Later crowd.

Writing on Dissident Voice, Adam W. Parsons dissects the seven myths of slums.

Richard Herley remembers his discovery of Richard Jefferies.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Winter ravens on the Stiperstones



Photo by Sabine J Hutchinson
http://www.virtual-shropshire.co.uk/


My favourite Shropshire hill ranges featured in this week's The Living World on Radio 4:
Lionel Kelleway travels to a remote part of Shropshire where thankfully the raven is making a remarkable comeback. Here on the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve he meets up with Leo Smith and Tom Wall from the Shropshire Raven Study Group, a group who have been studying these magnificent birds for nearly 20 years, and who have recorded the changes in the fortunes for these huge members of the crow family.

Meanwhile at the New Statesman

How has the magazine been getting on since it decided it could manage without my services?

The new Private Eye provides us with a clue:
Insiders at the New Statesman confirm that although editor Jason Cowley earns a handsome six-figure salary, around a third of his staff are unpaid interns. A review of their jobs board confirms that their soon-to-be-launched sister mag, Charity Insight, plans to staff itself from a rolling stock of unpaid interns with no guaranteed job at the end.
Socialism in action.