Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nottingham Arkwright Street remembered

On Tuesday I posted a video showing the final days of the Great Central. Of particular interest to me was the footage of Nottingham Arkwright Street.

This station was memorably described by P. Howard Anderson in his Forgotten Railways: The East Midlands:
Passengers aboard a train approaching Nottingham from the south enjoyed a superb panorama of the city rising away beyond the rooftops of Broadmarsh, and this sight could be quite breathtaking when familiar landmarks were silhouetted against an evening sky.

But the occupants of the miserable dwellings overshadowed by Arkwright Street station were hardly appreciative of this spectacle, for the platforms were at roof level and only a matter of yards away from their windows. As far as the amount of noise, the lack of daylight and privacy, and the sheer ugliness of their environment were concerned, these were the unhappiest properties in the city.

Just as it had deputised for Victoria at the turn of the century, Arkwright Street gained a new lease of life when that great station closed its barriers for the last time in 1967. It had been disused for over four years, but with a coat of paint and a new sign over the entrance of the ageing buildings and platforms on the east side became a terminus for trains from Rugby Central.

But this was never intended to be a permanent arrangement and within two years the diesel railcar service was withdrawn leaving Arkwright Street quietly to decay once more.
There is more about Nottingham Arkwright Street, including photographs of its demolition, on the Disused Stations site.

The Alternative Vote: How it works and why you should support it

Nick Clegg is holding a town hall meeting in Leicester tomorrow

The Deputy PM is holding a "town hall" style question and answer session at the Showcase Cinema de Lux in High Cross, Leicester, tomorrow evening (Friday 1 April).

If you want to attend, book a place via the Capital FM website.

More on the FCO's Human Rights and Democracy report 2010

I blogged about this report earlier today. It is now online.

In fact the FCO's Human Rights and Democracy 2010 site is a model of its kind.

Take it away, William...

End of the Month Lolcat arrives on time

funny pictures - Mmmm!                                    SPRING has a wonderful flavor!

See more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our

Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Report

I had hoped to be in London this morning for the launch of this document, but I am just too busy with the day job this week.

So instead here is an extract from the official press release:
The report is a comprehensive look at the human rights work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) around the world in 2010. It highlights the UK’s human rights concerns in key countries and is a further concrete demonstration of the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to strengthening the FCO's work on human rights at home and overseas.

The report is more comprehensive than previous years, is being hosted online to make it much more accessible to the public and the website will include updates every three months to highlight key human rights events and actions that take place in each of the featured countries of concern. The update for the first three months of 2011 will also be published online today. People will be able to comment on the report and read, share and host the sections of the report that interest them.
The report and the first quarterly update are not online yet, but I am told that when they are, you will find them here.

The press release also names 26 "countries of concern". They are: The 26 countries of concern are: Afghanistan, Belarus, Burma, Chad, China, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Robbery: 1967 film shot near Market Harborough


Robbery, a 1967 film starring Stanley Baker, presented a fictionalised version of the Great Train Robbery. The robbery itself was filmed near Theddingworth on the Market Harborough to Rugby line, which had just closed.

The photograph above, which taken from a discussion of the film on BritMovie, shows the bridge over the gated road from Theddingworth to Gumley.

Now Market Harborough Movie Makers are proposing to make a short documentary about the making of Robbery and would like to speak to anyone who helped with the filming. Especially, says the Harborough Mail, anyone who helped to rock the mail coach to simulate travelling at speed whilst the cameras filmed the post office sorters inside.

Local councillors and social media

Jeremy Rowe, a Liberal Democrat member of North Cornwall District Council, has an interesting article on the Local Government Improvement and Development website describing his experience of social media.

That experience began with what must have felt like a disaster. After taking part in a light-hearted conversation with a number of other tweeting councillors during a three-hour debate on member allowances, he found himself on the front page of the Western Morning News under the headline "What a bunch of Twitterers".

But what happened next was instructive. Jeremy's number of followers tripled almost overnight and then:
The point at which I realised that it was all truly worthwhile was when a student at University College Falmouth contacted me. She said that her course colleagues all logged on to Twitter at the start of a Cornwall Council meeting to follow proceedings from the councillors’ perspective. Here were a group of people often described as ‘hard to reach’ who simply wished to be engaged with through a method that suited them.
Still, he remains convinced that Twitter and other forms of social media are no substitute for leafleting, knocking on doors and "looking at the whites of your voters’ eyes".

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Six of the Best 145

Virtually Naked attended the launch of the Yes2AV campaign: "There was, of course, a Nick Clegg shaped elephant in the room that the journalists set about pointing out with glee. The Deputy Prime Minister is currently in South America, but his lack of presence is becoming a focus for No campaigners, there was even a group of Labour No types outside in Clegg masks. It is clear that he and Miliband need to lance the boil and share a platform."

The Liberal Democrats are to leave Cowley Street. The Potter Blogger has found ideal new premises for the party.

Nat Wei looks at the prospects for community councils in the Big Society.

"it's more important than ever to give children's remarkable, spontaneous learning abilities free rein. That means a rich, stable, and safe world, with affectionate and supportive grown-ups, and lots of opportunities for exploration and play. Not school for babies." Alison Gopnik on Slate argues that teaching children more and more, at ever-younger ages, may be counterproductive.

Spitalfields Life looks at the work of John Thomson, a 19th century pioneer of street photography. The blog reproduces a series of stunning photographs, one of which I have borrowed.

Cricket was already being played in London 200 years before Thomson took his photographs, as Flannelled Fools shows: "Mitcham was the venue for the game by the late 1680s and claims to be the oldest cricket ground still in use.  Lord Nelson of Trafalgar fame is reputed to have been a spectator to games at the turn of the 18/19th centuries. It still retains its pub, the Cricketers Arms, though the original was destroyed by bombs in World War II."

SWP leading light is Lord Acton's great grandson

A corking Trivial Fact of the Day. It turns out that the Socialist Workers Party's leading theorist Alex Callinicos is the great grandson of the great Liberal historian Lord Acton.

I am endebted to Dave Osler on Liberal Conspiracy for the lead. Osler says that Callinicos is Lord Acton's grandson, but a little research shows that he is in fact his great grandson.

Alex Callinicos's mother was the Hon. Ædgyth Bertha Milburg Mary Antonia Frances Lyon-Dalberg-Acton. She was the daughter of Richard Lyon-Dalberg-Acton, 2nd Baron Acton. And he in turn was the son of John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton.

Lord Acton, as the first baron is usually known, was often quoted by the radical Young Liberals of the 1960s. He is best remembered today as the originator of the maxim:
All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The Lib Dem HQ for the Leicester South by-election?


Look what I noticed on the way to work this morning. Could it be?

Given that the shop looked like this by the time I was going home, the answer is probably yes.


The good news, if this is our headquarters for the forthcoming by-election, is that it is very handy for the railway station and only two doors from one of Leicester's best Indian restaurants.

Meanwhile, our from the 2004 by-election still looks like this.

Later. It's official. Our new campaign office is at 66 London Road.

Tom Brake talks sense on responding to violent demonstrations

A pattern has become established in British politics over the past 20 years. Every time there is a terrorist outrage or an outbreak of serious public disorder parliament rushes to give the police new powers.

Those powers are hardly used afterwards, but that does not stop further powers being given to the police the next time there is a terrorist outrage or an outbreak of serious public disorder.

This process seems to be taking place in the wake of the violence in London on Saturday. The Independent quotes Theresa May speaking in the Commons yesterday:
"Just as the police review their operational tactics, so the Home Office will review the powers available to the police. I have asked the police whether they need further powers to prevent violence before it occurs. I am willing to consider powers which would ban known hooligans from rallies and marches and I will look into the powers the police already have to force the removal of face-coverings and balaclavas.

"If the police need more help to do their work, I will not hesitate in granting it to them,"
At least Tom Brake is talking sense. The co-chair of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary policy committee on home affairs, justice and equalities, said:
"We must not have a knee-jerk reaction to what happened. "Clearly there was a small minority who were out to cause trouble. We need to look in detail into whether the police have sufficient powers to tackle that, or whether they can be deployed differently to ensure such violent scenes don't happen again."
You will not be surprised to learn that Labour takes a different view:
The Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, who has summoned Bob Broadhurst, commander of the Met, to appear before the committee today, called for "bold and radical" measures, but added: "What we need is a big and open conversation with the police, giving them whatever they need to police... effectively."
You would hope that the "big and open conversation" would be with the public. But the danger is that Labour - embarrassed by the violence after the demonstration and toying with the idea of outflanking the Coalition from the right - will demand more draconian action than Theresa May currently envisages.

The last days of the Great Central


Great Central in the 1960s from Morrie Greenberg on Vimeo.

This is another of those irresistible (to me at least) videos combining vintage railway film with a contemporary soundtrack. This one shows the very last days of the Great Central, accompanied by commercial and BBC radio and the odd television theme.

The whole of the line is covered, which means - at the end that interests me - you get footage of Rugby Central, Lutterworth and Leicester Central. And then it is on to the famously decrepit Nottingham Arkwright Street - the Great Central's Victoria Station had already closed by then.

One amusing aspect is seeing the stations between Leicester and Loughbrough closed and decaying. They have since been restored and reopened by the modern Great Central and now exist in a state of pristine nostalgia which may not reflect how they ever looked in their working life.

I shall leave you with two thoughts...

If the Great Central had remained opened it could have become the modern HS2 with much less disruption.

And the line north of Nottingham (not shown here) was built by my hero the railway contractor and Liberal MP for Harborough J.W. Logan.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Public funding of the arts: Leicester shows big is not always beautiful

I spent part of Friday at the Creative Garden event at Phoenix Square in Leicester. I met some old friends, made some useful new contacts and listened to some of the formal presentations.

One woman - I walked in halfway through her talk - seemed to be telling us exactly which boxes a work of art should tick. (Says who?) It is strange to invoke "diversity" to justify trying to make everyone work in the same way.

And Ross Grant, leader of the city council's Conservative Group and the party's mayoral candidate, spoke on arts policy. His talk was meant to be entitled "People not Palaces", but whoever did his PowerPoint slides had rendered it as "People not Places".

His point was that the age of big capital projects like the Phoenix Centre and the new Curve theatre in Leicester is over. The city council even spent another £400,000 on an abortive new art gallery. (Everyone hated the proposed design, at least for the proposed site on New Walk, and by the time it had been looked at again times had changed.)

Grant was interested in getting artists and craftsmen into empty shops in the city centre. Just putting up two large buildings and declaring that you have created a "Cultural Quarter" will not do. And, as someone from the audience said, if you disperse the culture more, people are more likely to spend money in local shops/

My own experience of Leicester's Cultural Quarter is through my writing group. We are not wholly satisfied with our current premises, so the committee decided to look into using some of the new facilities in the new quarter. We would like to be there, they would like to have us, but it turns out that a self-funded group like ours cannot afford the rates they charge for a room.

Grant said this is rather like what happens with council-run premises for new businesses. People who do not know much about business decide what facilities a new start up will require and produce facilities that only an established company could afford to rent.

The moral, as ever, is that the level of public spending is not the most important factor. It is quite possible that if a lesser sum could have done more good for the arts in Leicester if it had been spent in a more sensible way. Shiny new buildings are not always the answer.

This morning's Guardian quoted an Arts Council spokesman as saying that the £52m it somehow managed to lose on The Public in West Bromwich was "old news". This rather suggests an unhealthy sense of entitlement among the publicly funded arts sector and is another sign of the silly money that was thrown at the public sector in the later Blair and Brown years.

And tomorrow's Guardian has an article on arts funding by Polly Toynbee. You will not be surprised to learn that she regards the level of spending as the only thing that matters.

Conservatives select their candidate for the Leiceser South by-election

Jane Hunt, who fought the Leicester East constituency at the last general election, has been chosen as the Tory candidate for the Leicester South by-election, reports Conservative Home.

She was chosen from a shortlist of three which also featured Peter Bedford and Dr Teck Khong.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An indispensable site for alumni of the University of York


Hurry over to Duck of the Day. York students will understand.

Spencer Davis Group: Stevie's Blues



It was my birthday on Friday, so I am allowed a Spencer Davis Group track.

In the course of an interview with Steve Winwood that is a bit on the exhaustive side even for me, Vintage Guitar Magazine says:
Probably the best example of Winwood’s guitar playing from his Spencer Davis years is “Stevie’s Blues” – almost inexplicably authentic and mature, with a gutsy, distorted guitar tone that’s amazing even by today’s standards.

Six of the Best 144

Should the Coalition abandon its public spending cuts in the fact of yesterday's demonstration? No, says Free Radical.

Bagehot of The Economist attended the Labour Party's "People's Policy Forum" in Nottingham on Friday: "The speakers reeled off, with expert ease, the names of the programmes and allowances and schemes that they currently use, or work with. This was Gordon Brown’s social democratic client state on parade. Inside the walls of the policy forum, all public spending was good, and private companies exist to pay more taxes."

Stephen's Liberal Journal is sad that Hugh O'Donnell ("the voice of common sense") is leaving the Liberal Democrats.

"Lawrence was a ground-breaking, revolutionary writer in his subject matter, in the way he wrote and in the language which he used." The Solitary Walker looks forward to the new television adaptation of Women in Love.

The New History Lab offers a history of Leicester in 10 objects.

Finally, a warm Liberal England to an important new website: LibDems Who Point. "Are you a LibDem who points? Have you found the ultimate evil miscreant pothole, tree root, pile of snow, patch of graffiti or pile of litter? If so, we want to know about it and help you in your battle to name and shame it." Remember: where we point, we win.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Leicester politics getting stranger by the day

Leicester politics have been particularly interesting to late and show no sign of calming down any time soon.

The latest news is that Nigel Porter, one of the two Conservative councillors for Aylestone (of Meadows fame), has resigned from the party and will fight the seat for the Liberal Democrats in May's elections.

According to the Leicester Mercury:
At Thursday night's full council meeting, Coun Porter launched a scathing attack on his former group, branding them a "rabble" and saying that Coun Grant would not win the mayoral election, for which he is Tory candidate.

It received a standing ovation from many Labour councillors, including the full council cabinet.
Meanwhile, the city's Lord Mayor Colin Hall is resigning four weeks early due to "health and other reasons." Again according to the Mercury:
Coun Hall has not been re-selected to stand as Labour's council candidate for New Parks at May's election, and he is known to be against the idea of an elected mayor.
The consensus seems to be that he has done a good job as Lord Mayor (a purely ceremonial post - the city will elect its first executive mayor in May) despite a - how shall I put it? difficult start.

Ed Miliband supports spending cuts

Here is Ed Miliband making his first speech as Labor leader to the party's annual conference last September:
Let me say, I believe strongly that we need to reduce the deficit.

There will be cuts and there would have been if we had been in government.
Some of them will be painful and would have been if we were in government.
I won’t oppose every cut the coalition proposes.

There will be some things the coalition does that we won’t like as a party but we will have to support.

And come the next election there will be some things they have done that I will not be able to reverse.

I say this because the fiscal credibility we earned before 1997 was hard won and we must win it back by the time of the next general election.
Whether he will say the same thing today remains to be seen.

Later. He did, sort of:
He was heckled by a small number of protesters when he said that "some cuts" were needed, but most people applauded his speech.

Friday, March 25, 2011

St Saviour's for sale

Last autumn I visited St Saviour's, the derelict George Gilbert Scott church in Leicester.

This week came news that it is up for sale. As the Leicester Mercury reported:
St Saviours, which could seat a congregation of 1,000 people, is being sold as part of a package with a former neighbourhood centre next door, which used to be a church school.

Rupert Harrison, managing partner at Andrew Granger and Co. said: "This is a really special property the like of which is rarely seen on the market.

"It is important to secure a sustainable new use for such a beautiful and historic building and so we have spent some considerable time working with Leicester City Council and English Heritage to bring the property to market.

"We feel that it represents a great opportunity for a developer or individual with real vision."
Instinctively I am with Emmanuel Maphosa, 48, who is quoted by the Mercury as saying: "Whatever it becomes, it is important to remember it was once a place of worship." But then I have always been a very High Church atheist.

Should you experience an overpowering urge to see St Saviour's yourself, you could combine that pleasure with a spot of canvassing for Zuffar Haq. The church stands in the Leicester South constituency where there will soon be a by-election.

Calder on Air: 10 O'Clock Live, 2012 and Mrs Brown's Boys

My column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Satirical selection

I grew up on tales of how Private Eye and That Was the Week That Was brought down Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas Home. And there were times during the last years of Tony Blair’s government when it seemed that Rory Bremner was the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. In retrospect, that may have had more to with the limited effectiveness of the real opposition parties than with the bite of his satire, but for a while his style of political comedy swept all before it.

If 10 O’Clock Live (Channel 4) is anything to go by, that era has long past; certainly, the show will not have Ed Miliband looking nervously over his shoulder. In part this is the fault of its presenters. Lauren Laverne is pleasingly sparky, but is not clear her talents are suited to this sort of programme. Charlie Brooker is a welcome presence, but he has been doing far more interesting things elsewhere of late. In its best moments his recent series How TV Ruined Your Life suggested that he has it in him to become a new Adam Curtis.

But Jimmy Carr and David Mitchell? They have been on every panel show screened for the last five years. I doubt if either has been home during that period: each must have a sleeping back rolled up somewhere behind a studio sofa so that they be on hand in case Phill Jupitus drops out of a show at the last minute.

Carr just isn’t that funny, which is a problem when you are a comedian, while Mitchell is a good example of what logicians call the Stephen Fry Fallacy. This is best defined as the belief that if someone sounds like and Oxbridge don and dresses like an Oxbridge don then they must be a great intellectual.

Mitchell’s limitations were made clear when he interviewed Nigel Farage. When the programme was first put together, the producers no doubt imagined Mitchell ripping apart the likes of the UKIP leader with his mighty intellect. As it turned out, he was unable to lay a glove on him and Farage and his pubby bonhomie rather thrived on the format. Come to think of it, he was funnier than Jimmy Carr.

The real problem with 10 O’clock Live, however, is not the presenter but its lack of purpose. Bremner, Bird and Fortune had at its heart a moral outrage at Blair’s war with Iraq and the comedy flowed from that. 10 O’Clock Live, by contrast, is just four people turning up to to try hard to be funny about the week’s news.

Were they for or against action in Libya? It was hard to say. Which side were the presenters on in their studio debate on health warnings of packaging? I doubt if they knew themselves.

2012 (Channel 4) is another attempt at satire, this time dealing with the London Olympics, and it ought to have been celebrating. Its first episode was concerned with a ridiculously complex clock that was designed to count down the hours until the Games begin. A few days later the real Olympic clock that had just been set up in Trafalgar Square broke down.

A victory for satire? Not quite. While fun, 2012 is far too polite to bite anybody. So much so that Sebastian Coe was willing to appear in it. In allowing this it made itself the Official Satirist of the London Games. The viewer was reminded of the toe-curling occasion when Mrs Thatcher insisted upon starring in a specially written Yes Minister sketch.

Finally, do try to catch an episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys (BBC1). It’s not that it is good: it’s that it is bad. Unbelievably bad. When they come to compile lists of the worst programmes ever, it will feature prominently. And you will be able to say that you saw it.

Charles Kennedy is not a Keynesian

Talking about public spending and the deficit on Andrew Neil's This Week last night, Charles Kennedy said he was "on the unreconstructed Keynesian end of the argument".

Except that he isn't.

Charles's leadership of the Liberal Democrats broadly coincided with the years in which things the economy was going well. In such circumstances a consistent Keynesian would have been calling on the government to run a surplus and pay off debt.

But Charles did nothing of the sort. Like the rest of the Liberal Democrats, he spent the early Blair years demanding higher public spending. In particular, at the 2001 general election we were very critical of Labour for not having spent more on education.

The point of this post is not to have a go at Charles. It is to ask whether counter-cyclical Keynesian spending polices are politically possible.

Because when the economy is doing well the clamour for higher spending will always be hard for governments to resist. Blair and Brown managed it for a while, but when the former's foreign policy adventures threatened his re-election he succumbed the pressure and hugely increased spending.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Thursday, March 24, 2011

GUEST POST A beginner's guide to anarchism

Ruth Kinna is the author of A Beginner's Guide to Anarchism (Oneworld Publications, 2009).

Anarchism is often said to have a sporadic history: defeat in Spain in 1939 marks the end of the international movement which had its origins in the First International; 1968 was a year of resurgence, sparked by student protest and the rise of the new left; and the Battle for Seattle in 1999, the global justice movement’s coming out party, was anarchism’s most recent manifestation.

Though each wave generates a good deal of enthusiasm and some affection, a negative image of the anarchist still prevails. The alter-globalisation movement and organisations like Reclaim the Streets encouraged an association with party-going carnival "fluffies," but the bearded, bomb-throwing terrorist remains a powerful trope (witness the character "V" in V for Vendetta), and the balaclava of urban youth, the punk and the eco-warrior are modern takes on it - search for ‘anarchist’ on Google image search and see what appears.

In different ways, each speaks to the suspicion and unease that the idea of "anarchy" stirs. Anarchism might be interesting and, compared to other currents of radical and socialist thought, an attractive "libertarian" alternative, but anarchism is still linked with violence, utopianism and rebellion in equal measure. Do either graffiti artists or their audiences realise that the circle scrawled around the A is actually an O and that the symbol stands for "anarchy is order"?

The answer is probably very few and too many still confuse ‘anarchy’ with the Hobbesian mess that anarchists associate with the state. How, then, should anarchism be understood and what do its recent manifestations have to do with the politics of Peter Kropotkin, Michael Bakunin or P.-J. Proudhon, to name three of the anarchist movements leading thinkers?

The Beginner’s Guide was written with a number of aims in mind: to provide an accessible account of anarchist politics; to highlight the diversity of the movement and unpack some of the myths attached to it. As importantly, it has been designed to introduce anarchist ideas without adopting prescriptive definitions. In keeping with the diversity at the heart of anarchist politics, it neither presents a check-list of core beliefs nor a supposed set of essential theoretical assumptions (for example, an "anarchist conception of human nature").

Anarchism is linked to anti-statism, but this can be and is understood in myriad ways: in relation to capitalism, as a form of anti-authoritarianism, as a rejection of institutionalised power, as a set of social relations, a combination of any of these, and so on.

The first chapter of the book discusses three different approaches to anarchism: the canonical, which identifies the founding fathers and key thinkers; the categorical - an approach which groups anarchists into schools (for example "philosophical", "communist", "individualist") - and which spawned a movement that demands ‘anarchism without adjectives’; and the historical, which traces the emergence of the political and labour movements which sprang up across the world in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries.

Each has something to tell us about anarchism, but it is through an appreciation of their interrelationship that we learn the most about the perennial concerns of self-identifying anarchists and the ways in which these concerns translate into theory, into ideas about political practice and organisational ideals. This is a rich tradition of political thought and action, innovative, passionate and creative, and it embraces late, great revolutionaries like Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, the Christian anarchism of Leo Tolstoy and contemporary activists like Bob Black and John Zerzan. Class struggle anarchists, anarcha-feminists, anti-civilisation anarchists are all part of the mix.

Subsequent chapters focus on particular themes: conceptions of the state; ideas of anarchy and approaches to action. The rejection of centralised power is a strong theme in anarchist writing, but so too is the state’s hypnotic authority which leads us to adopt roles that militate against individual reflection and conscience. In the state, Fredy Perlman argued, we wear masks; and even if we agree with the decisions that we are charged to take, we are infantalised by Leviathan and the processes which structure daily life.

The book explores a number of ideas of anarchy. Amongst these is the practical utopianism of Colin Ward and Paul Goodman, two inventive, creative subversives whose reflections on education, squatting, urban design, gardening and a whole host of other issues continues to inspire community-action groups. Ward, in particular, took his lead from Kropotkin, whose critique of the state (in The State its Historic Role and Mutual Aid) pointed to the possibilities of co-operation, local initiative and the development of non-hierarchical organisations. Not quite the big society. Practical anarchy not only by-passes government, it also develops its own moral rules and it challenges market-capitalism.

The anarchists’ understanding of the intimate relationship between ends and means is one of the themes of the final chapter. This has led both to a principled rejection of parliamentary politics and the aspiration to take power in the state – for benevolent or other purposes.

Anarchists stand against vanguardism. They are advocates of direct action, though they understand this in a variety of ways and adopt very different attitudes to questions of violence, disobedience and protest. Because they reject institutional politics, anarchists are often dismissed as hopeless idealists. Anyone prepared to engage with the order that anarchists see at the heart of anarchy will find this a strange reversal.

If you want to find out more, the book is available at Housemans online shop.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Six of the Best 143

Writing for Liberal Democrat Voice, Mark Pack looks at the party's influence on today's Budget: "George Osborne’s previous strange absence from the debate was put to rest when he announced a series of pieces of good news on the Green Investment Bank: starting a year earlier, £2 billion more in funds and, crucially, it can borrow."

Caron's Musings asks if anyone likes Nick Clegg's concept of "alarm clock Britain". Judging by the Lib Dem twittersphere and blogosphere, the answer is no.

Again on Liberal Democrat Voice, Dominic Carman explains why he wants to be our  candidate as Mayor of London. Whatever his faults, for many Lib Dem members he will have one overriding virtue: he is not Lembit Opik.

The Big Society has been flourishing in Liverpool for years, argues Richard Kemp.

The New York Times has a good obituary of Elizabeth Taylor: "Her co-star was Mickey Rooney, a more experienced actor, and he gave her some advice on how to summon up tears: pretend that her father was dying, that her mother had to wash clothes for a living and that her little dog had been run over. Hearing that sad scenario, Ms. Taylor burst out laughing at the absurdity."

Diversions by Barry Booth is a 1968 LP with lyrics by Michael Palin and Terry Jones. Andrew Hickey will tell you more.

Wheatsheaf Works to be redeveloped


Last summer I blogged about the Wheatsheaf Works - the vast former Co-operative Wholesale Society boot and shoe factory in Knighton Fields Road East, Leicester.

Today comes news that the buildings are to be redeveloped by by Urban Rhythm - the Market Harborough based regeneration arm of the Leicestershire housebuilders The Hazelton Group.

Insider Media Limited quotes Richard Hazelton, the commercial director of the parent company, as saying:
“We’re sure our refurbishment of the grade-II listed buildings, which have been left derelict for the past ten years, and development of the surrounding site will act as a catalyst to draw homeowners to the area and help to regenerate the local community."

Leicester Labour at each other's throats

It is an open secret that all is not sweetness and light in Leicester Labour Party, particularly following the blatant way in which Jonathan Ashworth was parachuted in to fight the forthcoming by-election in Leicester South.

Even so, an account of the latest meeting of the Labour group on the city council, published on the blog of the Leicester Mercury's political correspondent David MacLean, makes remarkable reading:
A row between a local councillor and a political figure came close to the pair landing blows on each other because of the intense fury, a cabinet member claimed.

Meanwhile a different cabinet member, it is alleged, was left tearful after witnessing the “bullying and arrogance” of one Labour faction. “I can’t put up with this for any longer,” they were heard to say.”

Other claims were made which, even if published as blind items on this blog, would stray into dangerous legal waters.
David's blog will be worth following in the weeks leading up to the by-election.

Lord Bonkers remembers Elizabeth Taylor and Fred Titmus

Please could you look into this and run the correct paragraph? That would be Terribly Kind.
B.
The names of Elizabeth Taylor and Fred Titmus, whose passing we mourn today, remind one of many an August day at the Home of Cricket. After John Price had given the openers one up the snoot, the Middlesex captain would turn to Taylor and Titmus in the secure knowledge that no other county possessed spinners better able to exploit the dusty late-season wickets. The dread legend “c Parfitt b Titmus” or “st Murray b Taylor” appeared next to the name of many a celebrated batsman in those warm sixties summers.
Or
The names of Elizabeth Taylor and Fred Titmus, whose passing we mourn today, remind one of the Golden Age of cinema. No party was could be said to have begun until they had made their entrance. It has to be admitted that Taylor’s technique was more suited to the camera: as was sometimes all too apparent to the viewer, Titmus received his training in the Shakespearian theatre. He was also renowned as a “hellraiser”, but together they reigned unchallenged as The First Couple of Hollywood.

Zuffar Haq to fight Leicester South by-election for Liberal Democrats

It was announced this morning that Parmjit Singh Gill has stood down at Lib Dem candidate in Leicester South and that the by-election will instead be fought by Zuffar Haq.

Zuffar, who fought Harborough at the last general election and has family roots in Leicestershire that go back for almost a century, will make a very strong candidate.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How Aylestone Meadows were saved





In fact I have been warned that someone may come back with a similar planning application one day, but I thought this photograph of the demonstration outside Leicester Town Hall last night was worth sharing.

As I blogged then, the planning application to build football pitches together with their associated floodlights, clubhouse and car parking, was rejected by six votes to five. And the Leicester Mercury as a full account of the evening's events.

Thanks to Jenny Cook for the photograph.

Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit and zeugma

I am watching the second of the film (released in two parts) made from Charles Dickens' novel Little Dorrit by Christine Edzard in 1988. The cast is extraordinary and Dickensian in a way that would be hard to assemble today: Bill Fraser, Max Wall, Joan Greenwood, Alec Guinness, Patricia Hayes, Kathy Staff, Robert Morley, Jonathan Cecil...

Little Dorrit herself is played by Sarah Pickering, who came from Market Harborough and went to my school. In 1988 I was a district councillor and her father was one of our environmental health officers. Sadly, if IMDB is right, she has not worked since.

But my reason for writing this post is that a snatch of dialogue spoken by Miriam Margolyes as Flora Finching, which turns out to come straight from the novel, has just made me laugh out loud.

Speaking of the late Mr F. with her characteristic lack of punctuation and breath, Flora says:
he proposed seven times once in a hackney-coach once in a boat once in a pew once on a donkey at Tunbridge Wells and the rest on his knees
Quite something, when the words were written more than 150 years ago. They call this rhetorical device zeugma. It's from the Greek, you know.

Ten ways to spend World Water Day

Today is World Water Day. To mark it that excellent charity WaterAid has harnessed some of those questionable consumer surveys to produce "some startling comparisons between the time the UK population spends on everyday activities and the time people in the world's poorest countries spend fetching water".

I rather like:
2. I say! The average man will spend five hours a week staring at different women (Kodak Lens Vision Centres). In one week, the average woman in a developing country would have spent 21 hours collecting water.

Monday, March 21, 2011

New unit arrives at St Luke's Hospital, Market Harborough



The regional news this evening showed welcome footage of the units for the new day care unit arriving on site at St Luke's in Market Harborough.

This report from a few days ago, recorded when those units were still sitting at Tilbury Docks, shows my old friend Phil Knowles and reveals that the local primary care trust has been no more forthcoming with the Harborough Mail than it was with the Leicester Mercury.

House of Commons votes to support action in Libya

This evening the House of Commons overwhelmingly supported of international action against the Gaddafi regime in Libya. Only 13 MPs voted against the motion and no Liberal Democrats were among them.

I too support the motion, as it would have been more than I could stomach to see Britain sit back and do nothing while Gaddafi massacred his opponents

How things will turn out in the long run is, of course, far from clear. But the current action does expose the dishonesty of Blair's argument over Iraq that no policies are available in such situations other than mounting an invasion and doing nothing.

Aylestone Meadows saved

According to a tweet from Peter Bedford, Leicester City Council's planning committee has turned down the application to build sports facilities on Aylestone Meadows by six votes to five.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Liberal Democrats to propose changes to Coaltion's health reforms

Tomorrow's Guardian reports that proposed changes to the Coalition's health reforms are being drawn up by the Liberal Democrats following the vote at the party's Spring Conference in Sheffield. The newspaper says that they are
likely to focus on areas such as ensuring that GP commissioning boards have a duty to prevent cherry-picking by the private sector, and that the boards contain locally-elected councillors or are scrutinised by councils.

They would also look at the structure, aims and membership of the proposed economic regulator, Monitor.
I am pleased that the reforms concentrate on the need for more local democracy in the NHS. Simply calling on the government to "Save the NHS" by defending professional interests, as Labour does, will not do.

Because worthwhile reforms are always likely meet with opposition from that quarter. Both Lloyd George's Health Insurance Act and the National Health Service were opposed by the British Medical Association.

An interesting question is how wedded the Conservative Party is to these reforms. They are very much Andrew Lansley's reforms, forged during his long years holding this portfolio in opposition.

Lansley undoubtedly believes in them, but it is quite possible that other Tory cabinet ministers will conclude that they are not worth the row they are going to cause. Liberal Democrat hostility may give the Tories the excuse they need to drop or water down his ideas.

The Shadows: Wonderful Land



I have had this tune in mind as a possible Sunday video for some time. The recent death of Jet Harris, the Shadows' original bass player, has prompted me to choose it this week.

Wonderful Land, which was composed by Jerry Lordan, stayed at number one for eight weeks in 1962, longer than any other single in the 1960s. But then, according to Wikipedia, The Shadows are the third most successful act, in terms of British chart singles, after Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard. (Jet Harris's wife, you may be surprised to learn, had an affair with Cliff Richard.)

What strikes you today is the innocent optimism of the tune, even if the wonderful land in question must surely be the USA. You can detect the same quality in other tunes of the early sixties - notably Telstar.

Market Harborough for sale

Or at least a part of it may be.

Today's Sunday Telegraph reports that David Ross (owner of Nevill Holt, which is now generally accepted by literary scholars to be the model for Bonkers Hall) may be selling up the assets of his struggling Kandahar property venture.

The Telegraph says those assets include:
shopping centres and leisure assets. Its biggest properties include Jackson Square shopping centre in Bishop's Stortford, valued at £55m, and a shopping centre in David Cameron's constituency of Witney.
And as I discussed last year, they also include the St Mary's Place shopping centre in Market Harborough, as well as the two buildings in High Street which house the Subway sandwich shop and the Monsoon clothes shop.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Jain Temple, Leicester


I am devoted to my little digital camera, but it really needs a sunny day to produce good results. Well, it was a sunny day in Leicester, so here is a shot of the Jain Temple in Oxford Street.

Jainism is one of the world's oldest faiths. It is followed by several million people in India and by sizeable numbers of migrant Jains in Europe, East Africa and North America. But as far as I am aware this is the only Jain temple in Britain. Read more on the temple's own website.

As that excellent publication Where Leicester has Worshipped reveals, the temple was originally a Congregational chapel and then a United Reform church. The Jains moved to Oxford Street in 1984 and the temple was officially opened in 1988.

Immigration enforcement demonstrates Calder's Second Law of Politics

Calder's Second Law of Politics holds that: "The more power that government has, the more arbitrarily that power will be exercised."

As an illustration take these two stories from the past week.

BBC News told us:
Up to 181,000 migrants who should have left the UK since December 2008 could still be here, according to UK Border Agency estimates.
Meanwhile, I was being asked to publicise an event on 26 March that is being staged to urge the Coalition to deliver fully on its promise to end the immigration detention of children:
Not only was a child detained on Christmas Day, as many as 100 children were detained by the UKBA in the first six months of the coalition government.
I rest my case.

Since you ask, Calder's First Law of Politics holds that if people of good will from all parties are united in support of a measure, that measure is bound to turn out to be a disaster.

Parmjit Singh Gill and Jonathan Ashworth to stand in Leicester South by-election

Congratulations to Lib Dem Voice for scooping everyone with news that Parmjit Singh Gill has been selected to fight the Leicester South by-election for the Liberal Democrats. Parmjit won the seat at a by-election in 2004, only to lose it at a by-election the following year.

This afternoon, via Twitter, came news that Jonathan Ashworth has been chosen as the Labour candidate.

A Labour insider adds: Frankly, I am amazed that he got it. He is only Ed Miliband's PR chief and the husband of the Labour staffer who ran the selection process.

Later. The voting figures are on the Leicester Labour website.

Labour and Lib Dem Mayoral candidates oppose development of Aylestone Meadows

There are signs today that the campaign against the building of football pitches and their associated facilities on the nature reserve at Aylestone Meadows in Leicester his heading for victory.

The front page of today's Leicester Mercury reports that both Sir Peter Soulsby, the Labour Mayoral candidate, and Gary Hunt, his Lib Dem counterpart, have both said they will not go ahead with the plan if they are elected on 5 May. The Conservative candidate, Ross Grant, is quoted as making a confused-sounding call for a review.

Just as significant may be the words attributed to Robert Wann, Labour's cabinet member for culture and leisure, who has been the chief enthusiast for the scheme:
"I will continue to support the application but I would like it to be noted that this is an issue I inherited.


"I can't wait for it all to be over – it has been a tough year."
This is, of course, nonsense. I am reliably informed that until he breathed life into it the application to develop Aylestone Meadows was going nowhere.

And less than a month ago Wann was boasting to the Mercury:
"If we get the decision at 5pm, I'll have the 'dozers on by 7pm."
Still, if even Wann can see that the game is up then it looks as though the Aylestone Meadows campaign has been won.

Six of the Best 142

Lorna Spencely has sympathy for an old adversary, Robert Halfon, is under threat of legal action from Liverpool John Moores University over views he has expressed in the House of Commons about that university and Libya.

This is not the only case in which Parliamentary privilege must be defended. In a post everyone should read, Anna Raccoon writes; "Mr John Hemming, MP for Yardley in Birmingham, rose to his feet and used parliamentary privilege to list some of the secret prisoners, the people who have lost their liberty in the UK behind closed doors; the court orders which detail the secret injunctions – not for the benefit of footballers or bankers ... but the injunctions, not mere ‘super-injunctions’ that the media could not mention, but ‘hyper-injunctions’ which even prevented the aggrieved citizen from appealing to their MP for help."

Don't look to headteachers to defend our liberties: TES Connect reports they are about to complain that requiring schools to obtain parental permission before gather biometric data on children will impose a "huge bureaucratic burden".

Stephen Williams, Lib Dem MP for Bristol West, has been out meeting the city's homeless.

With everyone's attention turned to Libya, The Daily (Maybe) has a digest of reports of protest and repression elsewhere in the region.

Good news from Unmitigated England: Peter Ashley has a new book coming out. Cross Country looks at "Southwest Cumbria, Herefordshire & Shropshire, North Norfolk, Romney Marsh & Dungeness, North Cotswolds, Essex Estuaries, Wiltshire-Dorset Borders, North Cornwall Coast and High Leicestershire (of course)."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Labour names its shortlist for the Leicester South by-election

From the Leicester Mercury:
Jonathan Ashworth, a former adviser to Gordon Brown, is regarded as a front-runner among the hopefuls, who were quizzed by party bosses in London yesterday.

Three Leicester city councillors – Patrick Kitterick, Mian Mayat and Neil Clayton – are also on the list.

The fifth shortlisted candidate is Jennifer Channer, a councillor in Barking and Dagenham.
That shortlist will do little to change the minds of those in Leicester Labour circles who think the whole process is a stitch up for Jonathan Ashworth, who is Ed Miliband's PR adviser.

Later. A reader tells me that the fifth candidate is Josephine Channer - the Mercury got her name wrong.

Lib Dem gain in Tunbridge Wells will increase Tory jitters over UKIP

Last night the Liberal Democrats gained the Pembury ward of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council from the Conservatives.

That result in full...

Claire Brown (Lib Dem) 578
Robert Rutherford (Con) 450
Victor Webb (UKIP) 297

This is not such a surprise as the ward has been Liberal Democrat in the past. And, as the recent Shrewsbury result showed, it is still possible for us to make gains from the Conservatives in areas where we have a history of campaigning.

What is notable here is that is may have been the intervention of UKIP that cost the Conservatives the seat. At least that is how it will be seen by right-wing Conservatives and increase their disquiet about the concessions that were necessary in order for David Cameron to obtain his coalition deal.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A tsunami in the Bristol Channel: How safe are Britain's nuclear power stations?

Last August I wrote:
In truth, the economic arguments against nuclear power were always stronger than the safety ones.
But events in Japan make that seem a little overconfident.

Ah, you say, that is in Japan. We don't have tsunami in Britain.

But perhaps we do. A few years ago I watched a television documentary which suggested that a flood that took place in the Bristol Channel in 1607 may have been caused by a tsunami.

With commendable honesty, a Burnham-on-Sea tourism website has a page discussing the theory:
The flood occurred around 9am on the '20th January 1606', although in the modern calendar this is the 30th January 1607. The event is recorded on plaques in a number of churches, including those at Kingston Seymour in Somerset, and in Monmouthshire at Goldcliff, St. Brides, Redwick and Peterstone.

The Kingston Seymour plaque reads: "An inundation of the sea water by overflowing and breaking down the Sea banks; happened in this Parish of Kingstone-Seamore, and many others adjoining; by reason whereof many Persons were drown'd and much Cattle and Goods, were lost: the water in the Church was five feet high and the greatest part lay on the ground about ten days."
As to what could have caused it:
A possible cause of the proposed tsunami is not yet known, but the possibilities include a landslide off the continental shelf between Ireland and Cornwall, or an earthquake along an active fault system in the sea south of Ireland.

This fault system has apparently experienced an earthquake greater than magnitude 4 on the Richter scale within the last 20 years, so the chance of a bigger tsunami earthquake is a possibility. It may also have been a combination, in that an earthquake might have triggered a submarine slide.
Maybe the Hinkley Point and Oldbury-on-Severn nuclear stations should not have been built?

Save Stiperstones School website


The campaign to save this Shropshire village primary school now has its own website - Save Stiperstoens C of E School.

The Railmobile: Is this the transport of the future?


britishrailways.tv

No, as it turned out. And I should like to take this opportunity of apologising to all women drivers for the commentary.

Why does Private Eye back the farming lobby so uncritically?

Every fortnight The Agri Brigade, the Private Eye column written by "New Bio-Waste Spreader" offers uncritical support to the farming lobby. Which is odd for a supposedly anti-establishment magazine when that lobby is to skewed to the interests of big farmers.

Two weeks ago the column offered an unashamed defence of the Common Agricultural Policy. Surely a radical magazine should be pointing out that this policy costs taxpayers in the West billions and excludes farmers in developing countries from our markets?

And, as the current issue points out, the whole thing is a racket to redistribute money from the poor to the rich. Lord Heseltine, for instance, receives £900,000 a year from the EU.

Elsewhere in the current issue, New Bio Waster Spreader defends the plans for a " super dairy" that was turned down after objections from the Environment Agency. He shows little concern for animal welfare and is much taken with a crackpot scheme for growing trees on abandoned upland pastures.

The best you can say for this column is that it is not as bad as it used to be. A few years ago it was full of vituperation. Any politician who dared question the need to divert large amount of public money to wealthy farmers was viciously attacked and given a rude nickname. Its writer in those days was also a huge snob - Margaret Beckett's caravan kept him in copy for weeks.

What is this piss poor column doing in the Eye?

My theory is that Ian Hislop took over a magazine that reflected the prejudices of its previous editor. Richard Ingrams was essentially a Tory Anarchist with a few left-wing notions that he got from his great friend Paul Foot thrown in. Ruralism was certainly part of this mix, though in those days the magazine's coverage of farming was chiefly concerned with abusing the NFU.

The Ingrams mixture worked and produced a popular magazine, though quite why it worked was always a bit of a mystery. It was certainly a mystery to Hislop, who seems wary of tampering with the Ingrams formula.  with the result that Private Eye now appears increasingly, er, formulaic.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Bruderhof commune at Bromdon in Shropshire



This newsreel on the British Pathe website (click on the picture to go there and view it) shows the Bruderhof commune at Bromdon in Shropshire (the nearest village of any size is Stoke St Milborough) in 1959.

The Bruderhof are a Christian group with Anabaptist and Hutterite roots that was founded in Germany in 1920. The group was dissolved by the Nazis and many of its members fled to Britain or Paraguay. Their first British commune was in the Cotswolds, but they seem to have abandoned it in favour of Bromdon before long.

It is hard to discover very much about the Bruderhof's history on the Internet, but there is a page about this commune on the BBC Shropshire site. The comments reflect that fact that the group was wracked by division and controversy in later years.

Today the site of this commune appears to be occupied by a caravan site.

Later. There is more information on a new website about the Bruderhof.

How Robert Wann has changed his tune over the environment

One notable feature of the controversy over the proposed development of Aylestone Meadows in Leicester has been the way that Robert Wann, the City Council's cabinet member for culture and leisure, Robert Wann, appears to have gone out of his way to antagonise those who are opposed to his plans.

He has accused them of being "selfish" and talked of "the alleged ecological issue at the proposed site". Overall, he has given the impression of caring only about football and having no sympathy for the natural enviroment.

This is puzzling, because in 1990 Leicester was proud to be designated Britain's first environment city. And until recently the Riverside Park, of which the Aylestone Meadows form part, was the city council's flagship environmental project.

Wann's recent pronouncements certaintly contrast with this passage:
Participation in green spaces in Leicester is high, with people getting involved in many different ways and for many different reasons. This has always been encouraged and with Groundwork Leicester and Leicestershire (along with other organisations) volunteers help with the management of some of Leicester’s key nature reserves; people learn more about our natural heritage; and communities build ownership for their local green space..
That is part of the foreword from a document called Leicester Biodiversity Report 2008. You can download it from the Local Action for Biodiversity website. And the author of that foreword? It is Cllr Robert Wann.

Meanwhile there are concerns over the use of herbicides on the football pitches if the development of Aylestone Meadows does go ahead. How will this effect the surrounding nature reserve? Is it possible to maintain a football pitch without them?

More evidence that Aylestone Meadows is the wrong place for football pitches and all their attendant development.

How television drama and comedy have portrayed politics

Steven Fielding has a post on Ballots and Bullets looking at television comedies dealing with politics that were screened before the advent of Yes Minister.

Some of the examples he gives are single episodes of well-remembered comedies like Steptoe and Son and Rising Damp. And everyone has heard of Dennis Potter's play Vote Vote Vote for Nigel Barton even if they have not seen it.

But he does produce some long forgotten series that dealt with politics: Swizzlewick, The Whitehall Worrier and Best of Enemies.

As Steven says, his list is not exhaustive. One obvious omission is the situation comedy No Job for a Lady, which starred Penelope Keith (at the height of her post-Margot fame) as a Labour MP.

A more serious take on the subject is promised at Love Thy Neighbour, I Claudius and Thunderbirds, a one-day conference on television being held at the University of Leicester on 8 April. One of the subjects in the programme is "Corridors of Power: The depiction of the House of Commons in television drama".

The Return of the Rutland Panther

“It was very black and had a brown sheen and it ran off very quickly towards Northfield Farm,”
Nicola Squires of Whissendine told the Rutland and Stamford Mercury.

And the newpaper has a photograph of the beast's pawprint.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nigel Clough on The Big Match in 1973



Aww.

This is a bit of football history, quite apart from this very early television appearance by the future Derby County manager. Because Brian Clough, Nigel's father, managed Brighton after he left Derby and before he joined Leeds United.

As Wikipedia puts it:
Such was the loyalty to Clough that along with himself and Taylor, scouts and backroom staff completed the walk out, following the pair for their brief spell with Brighton and Hove Albion. He proved less successful on the South Coast than with his previous club, winning only 12 of his 32 games in charge of the Division Three side.
Whereas eight months earlier Clough was managing a team playing Juventus in the European Cup, he was now managing a club who, just after his appointment as manager, lost to Walton & Hersham 4–0 at home in an FA Cup replay. On 1 December 1973, his side lost 8–2 at home to Bristol Rovers. Albion eventually finished in 19th place that season.
A few years later he made Nottingham Forest the champions of Europe.

You can also find Brian Moore's interview with Brian Clough after Brighton's 8-2 defeat on YouTube. It is a reminder of how charming Ol' Big Head could be when he wanted.

States of Independence, Leicester, Saturday 19 March

On Saturday an "independent press day" will be held at the Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Oxford Street, Leicester. The States of Independence website promises:
Stalls from dozens of independent publishers.

Workshops, readings and book launches.

Independent presses from across the region (and some from around the country) will be on site, together with many regional writers whose work is published by large and small independent publishers.
It goes on to say:
Sixty writers, mostly from the East Midlands, will be reading from their work at an events programme to accompany an equal number of independent publishers and writers' organisations staffing bookstalls and displaying their work.

Authors include nationally known figures such as Bali Rai and Maria Allen. Events planned include the first outing for the shortlist of the East Midlands Book Awards and panels on everything from sex and sensibility through to the Moomins and philosophy. There are surgeries with a literature agent, readings galore and we look at genres ranging from speculative fiction through to graphic novels.
The day is organised by Five Leaves Publications in Nottingham and the Creative Writing Team at De Montfort University.

I shall be going along and may also look in at the Green Light cafe being run by Transition Leicester.

GUEST POST Against the Comment is Free view of politics

Jonathan King currently lives in Italy and is writing a dissertation on the Liberal parties of the UK and Norway.

People don't really like the nitty-gritty of politics. People like football. They like teams and generalisations. “Oh, your team won but they didn't deserve it.” “Yeah but two years ago your team did such-and-such.” Or, more commonly where I live in Italy, “Your team are all fascists, we're all communists”.

This dogmatic and blunt approach to parties is intensifying and I can't stand it. It's also one of the reasons why I can't stand football, but that's another matter. The Guardian's Comment is Free area is rife with such religious rhetoric, prophesying the “doom” of the Lib Dems and “revenge” against the pariah Nick Clegg.

I'm a student and I feel like I have to defend Tory policies after I get outed as a Lib Dem. “How can you be a Lib Dem? You should be left-wing if you're a student!”

Well, it happens that I am. I can oppose certain moves by a coalition in which my preferred party is a junior member. I actually feel that without the Lib Dems in coalition, the plans of the Tories would be far closer to the apocalyptic descriptions of what is happening now from many in the Labour camp.

What I will not do is oppose it in such a way that says “the baddies are in power, let's go back to the goodies” because in my book, Labour were far from perfect and even far from progressive or even economically left-wing. I find it hard to believe they would have magically solved the current economic problems without any tears.

Unfortunately, this argument is often not about politics at all, it's about a desperate continuation of some shred of class warfare. The Tories are toffs, Labour are the working people. Between those more obsessed with economics it's the free-marketeers vs. the social democrats. Here in Italy the names seem more polarised, but it's the same issue, if you don't fall into one of the camps, you don't make sense. “What? So you're not fascist or communist? And you call yourself a radical/progressive!?”.

Sadly, I don't foresee this binary approach changing any time soon, mostly because I know a lot of people want to vote No to AV to punish the Liberal Democrats for even existing, for even representing another choice than the left-right divide.

Finally, from a student's perspective, I can't help remembering something. The Guardian says that around 52,000 students marched against the raising of tuition fees. Tuition fees that were first implemented by Labour during a period of massive economic growth. These students were ignored by the Tories who are in power, but the Lib Dems take all the flak.

I remember, as a young teenager, marching against the Iraq War. Organisers said there were two million of us. We were protesting against the pointless loss of human life, and not just the prospect of a little more personal debt. We were ignored by the Labour government as they sided with possibly the worst right-wing government in my memory – the American Republicans under George W. Bush.

Those of you that say “getting into bed with the Tories” is tantamount to copulating with Lucifer, you must have short memories and short sight to give such short shrift.

Gary Hunt chosen as Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of Leicester

Leicester Liberal Democrats chose their candidate in Leicester first Mayoral election at the weekend. He is Gary Hunt, a councillor for Knighton ward on Leicester City Council.

Gary told the Leicester Mercury:
"I believe my 24 years as a councillor, time on the regional development agency and running a business gives me a unique insight into Leicester."
He is the third candidate to be selected by a major party. Ross Grant will stand for the Conservatives and Sir Peter Soulsby for Labour. A number of independents, including David Bowley, have also announced their intention to stand.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Yesterday's protest march at Aylestone Meadows



From today's Leicester Mercury:
Nearly 400 people, some with horses and dogs, turned out yesterday to protest against plans for a football pitch on a nature reserve.

The Save Aylestone Meadows campaign wants members of Leicester City Council's planning committee to reject a proposal for a floodlit pitch in Braunstone Lane East when it meets next week.

The plans have been recommended for approval by officers despite the site in Aylestone Meadows being part of a nature reserve and designated "green wedge".
Save Aylestone Meadows will be holding a gathering outside Leicester Town Hall at 4 p.m. next Monday before the planning committee meeting that will consider the application.

Time for the Liberal Democrats to stop looking like Tories

Having signed up to govern in coalition with the Conservatives for five years, the Liberal Democrats face the problem of maintaining a separate identity in the public eye. While making that coalition work, we have to make ourselves attractive enough and distinctive enough  to retain existing our supporters and gain new ones. Because in 2015 we shall have to fight an election as an independent party.

Given this need to differentiate ourselves from the Conservatives, why oh why did we choose a blue background for the platform at the Spring Conference in Sheffield?

The party high command will tell you that it is "aqua" but it looked like blue on the television news behind Nick Clegg's speech. If you are trying to convince the public that you are not a slightly paler version of the Tories, it does not make much sense to colour yourself that way.

Similarly, Max Atkinson (the man credited with turning Paddy Ashdown into a considerable orator) has questioned Nick's fondness for the apparently unscripted, walkabout style that David Cameron adopted in his early years as Conservative leader:
If you want to assert how different you are from someone else, why on earth would you copy that person’s distinctive (for a British politician) style of delivery? Why would you do it if you aren’t as good at it as him? And why would you do it when even Cameron has increasingly given it up in favour of looking more ‘statesmanlike’ at a lectern?
This post was written 18 months ago, but Nick was still using that style in Sheffield.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Campaign to save Aylestone Meadows wins support from Europa Nostra


Hundreds of people marched (very carefully) through the Aylestone Meadows nature reserve in Leicester this afternoon as part of the campaign against Leicester City Council's plans to build sports facilities on it.

The protest was the lead story on the BBC regional television news this eveneing and the BBC News website says:
Leicester Friends of the Earth spokesman Malcolm Hunter said: "We are all for more sports facilities in Leicester, but there are other places where they could go.

"To put this development on part of the Aylestone Meadows local nature reserve would make a mockery of Leicester's claims to be Environment City," he said.

He said traffic and lighting would cause disruption to the habitat and wildlife, which included herons, bats, kingfishers, grass snakes, badgers and otters.

The project is also opposed by Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and the Leicester Civic Society.
Meanwhile the protesters have won support at a European level. Europa Nostra a pan-European federation of 250 heritage NGOs active in 45 countries, has issued a letter opposing the council's plans:
To whom it may concern
In 1989, the Leicester Riverside Park won a Europa Nostra Awards Diploma, for the creation of a recreational open space for leisure, sport, nature conservation and educational purposes. Through its Awards scheme – then and still - Europa Nostra promotes best practices in cultural heritage protection and conservation through the ‘Power of Example’, aiming to inspire and encourage others to also cherish and enhance their works of art, buildings, monuments, sites and cultural landscapes.
We also congratulate Leicester on its designation as Britain’s first Environment City and have noted on the city’s ‘Leicester Environment City’ website the following statement as part of Leicester's vision:
Leicester will protect and enhance wildlife habitats in our city and ensure its actions have only positive impacts on wildlife in the wider world.
It has been brought to Europa Nostra’s attention that the Leicester City Council will soon be deciding on plans to introduce a football pitch on Aylestone Meadows within the city’s Riverside Park. Upon our study of the proposed development made available by the city planning department, this football pitch is extensive and includes tall high-powered lighting masts, an additional practice field, a large clubhouse with changing facilities for 10 teams, a broad parking lot, and the whole surrounded by high fencing.
Such a facility will clearly severely affect the park’s tranquillity, its nature and its wildlife’s habitat and night-time darkness, as well as disturbing non football-playing park visitors’ appreciation of the natural riverside ecology and environment, and their other sporting activities, such as walking, jogging and horseback riding - equally valid and deserving of support as is being offered football.
Leicester’s Riverside Park - a natural oasis in the heart of the city – clearly plays a significant role in the city’s ‘Environment City’ image. It is obvious from the intensity of protests against the football project, that the city’s citizens love their park strongly and identify it with the proud environmental image of their city.
We have heard from numerous individuals and local groups, including the Aylestone Meadows Appreciation Society, Leicester Civic Society, Leicester Friends of the Earth, CPRE and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, who have officially objected to the proposal and continue to oppose the development.
It is difficult to see how the proposed development can be reconciled with Leicester’s Environment City vision described above, and we therefore support the protests against the proposal to build the football facility on Aylestone Meadows.

Harper Simon: Wishes and Stars



The other day I was playing a CD of tracks by modern singer-songwriters that had been given away free by a magazine. It was on in the background while I was doing something else, so I wasn't listening too closely.

But one of the songs caught my attention. Here was someone who has been listening to Paul Simon, I thought.

Well he had, because the singer turned out to be Paul Simon's son.

As Sophie Heawood wrote in The Times last year:
Born in New York in 1972, Harper was named after his mother, Peggy Harper, who had married Paul Simon two years previously, in the year that Simon and Garfunkel split up ... His parents divorced when Harper was only a few years old, and Paul released Still Crazy After All These Years, inspired by the break-up.
So he is a late developer but, as Heawood discusses, that is not unusual in the sons of big music stars.

This song is pretty and sweet, though it is not hard to find some ropey performances by Harper Simon elsewhere on Youtube, so perhaps the studio is kind to him.

Does he sound like his father on purpose? Perhaps not.

I recall seeing footage of Liam Botham bowling during his brief cricket career. He looked exactly like his father. But, uncannily, he looked exactly like Ian Botham had when he first appeared on the test scene, complete with a pronounced check in his run a couple of strides before he reached the crease.

When Ian Botham ironed that out he became a much faster bowler. Liam cannot have seen him bowl like that. And if had modelled his action on his father's, it would surely have been on the action he had when he was bowling at his best.

Oh, and despite what the song says, Harper Simon never travelled to Graceland with his father.

Six of the Best 141

Paula Keaveney reports back from the Liberal Democrats' Spring Conference, which was held in Sheffield this weekend.

Someone else who went to Sheffield is John Healey, Labour's shadow health spokesman. Olly Grender, writing for the New Statesman website, hopes he learned from the experience: "John Healey came with a typical 'blood up the walls' statement already prepared. Instead he found a party that is business like, considered and professional. Perhaps he can go back to his colleagues and tell them there are other ways to oppose."

This is a lesson that some of the protesters outside the conference need to learn too, argues Caron's Musings.

Mark Thompson's Blog attended what was billed as a "fair, impartial AV referendum debate" in Reading. It turned out to be a waste of his time.

Archbishop Cranmer asks why Roman Catholic priests who join the Church of England receive so much less publicity than CofE clergymen who move the other way.

Have you ever wondered how many nipples there are in the National Gallery? I know I have. Well, Londonist has the answer. "The results show that Flemish painting, as typified by Rubens, are the most nudish in European art collected by the National Gallery. However, other regions, most notably the Italian peninsula contribute a greater overall number. 274 examples of exposure can be found around the gallery, with men and women almost equally outgoing."