Sunday, July 31, 2011

Liberal Democrats Conference security precautions: Latest

Danny Alexander interviewed in the Guardian

Today it was Vince Cable in the Observer: tomorrow it will be Danny Alexander in the Guardian. Substantial interviews with Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers are the flavour of the month.

The silly season? A new Lib Dem media strategy? Or a recognition by the press that their Liberal Democrats face electoral oblivion narrative no longer rings true?

Danny defends the Coalition's policies on tuition fees and makes the usual attacks on Labour's economic credibility. But the political lessons he draws with his own Hebridean and Highland background are more interesting:
Alexander hymns the rootedness of Highland life, and that commitment to community may explain why he sits so easily in a government led by a liberal Conservative wedded to the notion of the big society. 
"I'm very keen on community engagement and voluntary action. It's a liberal concept. Go to some of these islands where they've taken ownership of the land. Gigha is often cited – a tiny island with a population of 150. The community now owns the island, they've set up their own shops and businesses, the economy's thriving, the school is growing, all because of community action. There is nowhere in the country where what David Cameron would call the big society is more in evidence than in these island communities."

Traffic: Feelin' Good



It is simply months since we had any Steve Winwood or Traffic, so let's put that right with this track from Traffic's LP Last Exit. This was, in the words of Wikipedia, "a collection of odds and ends put together by Island Records after the initial breakup of the band".

Feelin' Good was one of two tracks recorded live at a concert performed at Filmore West in San Francisco. There are lots of versions of it around, but there is not another one with organ like this on it.

There is also a live Canadian video of the song from the same era. Unfortunately, it was a time when Canadian TV was still in black and white and did not own any lights.

As I said, Feelin' Good (or Feeling Good) is everywhere these days, but I did not realise where it came from until recently. The famous Nina Simone recording of the song dates from 1965, but it was not some standard. It comes from the Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse  show The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd, which opened that year.

This is a surprise if you had Newley and Bricusse down as purveyors of dodgy musicals. Though Newley does have his place in British cultural history. He links the 1940s golden age of British films with the pop culture of the 1960s, and he taught a generation of performers that you did not have to put on an American accent to sing. And he was being lined up for a permanent role in EastEnders when he died in 1999.

Traffic reformed in 1970 to make their best LP John Barleycorn Must Die. While doing so they recorded a live concert for the BBC. And you can find the whole thing on Youtube, with part 1 here.

As John Peel says:
"With all the stories of groups breaking up constantly in the music papers, it's really nice to have one of the all time great ones get together again and it's even nicer to have them on this programme."

Traditional End of the Month Lolcat

How absolutely fascinating

The vindication of Vince Cable

This morning's Independent on Sunday has an in interview with the man who is, again, everyone's favourite politician:
Mr Cable is not triumphalist about the spectacle of the Murdoch empire crumbling, but takes time to point out that his "instincts were right and they are shared by the majority of people". He says it "looks like" Murdoch's days as an overbearing media mogul are over, and Ofcom's "fit and proper" test of ownership of BSkyB will be "critically important" in deciding if the Aussie octogenarian has a future in Britain. Mr Cable hopes the forthcoming reviews will lead to a "presumption against cross-media ownership".

He is "somewhat surprised by the scale" of Tory contact with media executives, particularly from News International. The Lib Dems have observed it all from the comfort of the moral high ground. "We have come out of that, as a party, creditably, because we were never part of the sucking-up to Murdoch that happened with the other two parties, for their own reasons. We were often on the receiving end, but we never compromised. We maintained our independence and that's what we are proud of."

As a result, the Lib Dems head to their conference in Birmingham next month in reasonably good shape. One poll put them on 16 points – double where they have been at their lowest ebb. The Business Secretary believes the Lib Dems have four years to prove their "economic competence" and brace themselves for another onslaught from the Tories as well as Labour. While Nick Clegg has taken a "terrible pounding", he has "shown strength of character" and the party as a whole remains strong. "There is not going to be any great bloodletting or calls for leadership change."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A trip to Sheffield to watch the British Chess Championships


Nigel Short standing and laughing, C.J. de Moi (you know, C.J. off Eggheads, with his back to the camera), Richard Pert sitting and his twin Nicholas obscured. It's almost like being there, isn't it?


I had though of going down to London today to see Bobby Fischer Against the World, but as I was in that frame of mind I thought I would let the film wait and go to Sheffield to watch the British Chess Championships instead.

They are being held at the Ponds Forge leisure centre in the centre of the city. The complex also has an Olympic-standard pool and it turned out that the national junior swimming championships were also being held there today. This gave scope for all sorts of comic misunderstandings and also suggested a challenging new form of the biathlon, but I managed to end up watching the right event.

I had intended to spend most of my time in the commentary room, where you can here the games explained by an expert. Last time I was at this event was at Southport back in 1983. I remember being in the room for the extraordinary Jonathan Mestel vs Julian Hodgson game. We were all suggesting moves and trying them out on the demonstration board, yet again and again the actual moves played surprised us.

But today I had found a seat in the front row and decided to stay there. I was also quite impressed that I had played two of the eight players on the top four boards - these games were shown on computer monitors. One was Nigel Short - I took part in a simultaneous display he gave when he was only 14 (mind you, I was quite young myself then too). I got a good position out of the opening, he offered a draw and I chickened out and accepted it.

The other championship leader I had played was Richard Pert, whom I remember losing to horribly in the Leicestershire League when he was at Oakham School. Today he had been drawn against his twin brother Nick (who is slightly the stronger player) and, perhaps not surprisingly, the game was quickly drawn.

They were replaced on the monitor by a game involving the Leicester grandmaster Mark Hebden. This too was a quick draw, but it was a much bloodthirstier affair. Mind you, it involved an opening that has been deeply studied and widely played, so it was perfectly possible that the whole game has been played before somewhere.

And there was a 22-move checkmante. Gawain Jones is one of the bright young things of British chess, and his opponent made the classic mistake of grabbing a pawn with his queen before he had completed his development. The punishment was swift. Top players normally resign before they are checkmated, but the etiquette of the game is that if your opponent had played particularly brilliantly then you allow him to checkmate you, and this game did end with a particularly pretty mate.

Nigel Short was playing a younger man whose body language suggested he was very aware that he was playing someone who had once challenged Garry Kasparov for the world title. His play suggested that too, as he did all he could to swap off pieces and head for what he imagined would be a drawn ending.

You could feel Short's mind working as he did everything he could to find winning chances in a dull position. When I left to catch the train home I thought that Short had been stymied, but when I checked at home I found that he had won in the end.

This championship is being billed as the battle of the generations, with Nigel Short and Michael Adams, who have been the leading British players for a couple of decades, being challenged by Gawain Jones and David Howell.

The final game on the demonstrations boards featured Howell against Adams. It was a real grandmaster battle and when I left I thought that Adams was about to settle for a draw. Again, when I checked at home I found he had won it.

One of the great talents of top grandmasters like Adams and Short is the ability to keep their concentration and keep trying to win for hour after hour. Lesser players tend to wilt under this pressure, even if their position on the board is objectively equal.

An honourable mention too goes to Jovanka Houska. Her game against the male grandmaster Stephen Gordon went up on the board just as I was leaving. She had a better ending and managed to win it even though it came down to a technically difficult position.

Tomorrow (Sunday) is a rest of the day, but you can follow the leaders' games on the championship website next week. The final round is on Friday.

One other point: in my earlier post on the championships, I said it was the strongest ever. While this may be the first time that four players as strong as Short, Adams, Howell and Jones have taken part, my impression is that the tournament is not particularly strong in depth. This could be simply because I am out of touch with the game and don't know many of the players these days, but I have heard other commentators say this too.

Roberto Di Matteo wins Football Quote of the Day

The Chelsea assistant manager on the club's great hope Josh McEachran:
In Italy we would feed him pasta to build him up but, as he's still growing, he'll get stronger.

Cromford: Spend your holiday in an Oasis cover


If this photograph of the waiting room on the disused up platform at Cromford Station looks familiar, that may be because you have seen it on the cover of the Oasis album Some Might Say.

And, though its website is a little out of date, it seems that you can take a holiday at Cromford Station Watiting Room too.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Michael Crick and Jeffrey Archer

 Michael Crick has just left the BBC after 94 years to join Channel 4 News. This evening Newsnight showed some of his finest moments, and this confrontation with Lord Archer of Weston Super Mare was certainly one of them...

Six of the Best 177

"Since World War II every single liberal President has reduced the national debt, while every single conservative one has increased it," writes Contrasting Sounds. And he has a wicked graph to prove it too.

Kathy Pollard has to deal with the bitter legacy of Suffolk's controversial former chief executive: "people still want to talk about Andrea Hill. It’s not a topic I raise with them – many are still irate about the salary, the cost of personal photo-shoots, coaching, expensive hotels, etc. This unfortunate saga seems to have cast a long shadow over Suffolk and has badly affected the reputation of a once excellent County Council, at both local and national level. We almost need a truth and reconciliation commission, so that people can get things off their chest."

A reasoned defence of online anonymity can be found on TechnoSocial.

Splintered Sunrise considers the fall of Johann Hari and finds that Simon Kelner, his editor at the Independent, must take much of the blame: "He hired a raw young star about whom doubts had already been expressed at the New Statesman, and relentlessly promoted and protected him. Hari didn’t get the firm editorial hand a young journalist needs; his columns don’t seem to have been subjected to fact-checking or serious editing ... he clearly was never given the training or mentoring he needed ... Hari was given plenty of resources ... but [Kelner] didn’t give him what he really needed, a guiding hand."

IanVisits introduces us to the owls of Wembley Park Station.

A Supreme Court judgment said that Star Wars is set in the future; a Prominent Legal Blogger scoffed; but Heresy Corner argues convincingly that the judges were right.

On preferring Ludlow to Zoe Williams

 
And so they came to Ludlow, which some say is the fairest country town in England. In the twelfth century its wall were pierced with seven gates of which only one now remains, but everything else about it today is overshadowed by its magnificent castle, a memorial to the days when its courtyards echoed to the ring of steel and armoured knights rode over the drawbridge to fight the marauding Welsh.

Below the castle walls, at the foot of the cliffs, the lovely River Teme half circles the town before tumbling under two bridges on its way to add its clear waters to those of the muddy Severn.

Malcolm Saville, The Secret of the Gorge (1958)

To see Ludlow as Malcolm Saville saw it you have to visit it out of the tourist season. Autumn is best, when the leaves of the woods on the other side of the Teme are turning. In high summer it can seem crowded and a little too pleased with itself.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the first Town with Nichloas Crane last night. Crane is an amiable and intelligence presence - his book Great British Journeys is worth seeking out - and for me pictures of Shropshire's hills and ancient buildings are a form of pornography. Commendably, the programme also looked at a part of the town that the tourists never visit.

Not everyone enjoyed it though. Step forward Zoe Williams, who now turns up in the Guardian in all sorts of capacities. In today's issue she was pretending to be a television critic:
The market is "its beating heart, where people have been shopping for bargains for nearly 1,000 years". Unfortunately for them, all they'll be able to buy now is some novelty mustard for a fiver and an assortment of peg bags, but there's always Tesco. Sorry, that was unnecessary and disrespectful. They also have very good cheese. In the "Cathedral of the Marches" (to be precise, it is just a very large parish church), Crane looks as if he might break into a jig. It was built on the back of sheep, apparently. It is large. You've got to give it that.
I have to ask again the question that I asked on 17 July 2011:
Why does a 37-year-old educated at Godolphin & Latymer School and Lincoln College, Oxford, feel the need to write like that?
This pretence of adolescent anti-intellectualism has become no less irritating over the past year. I start to wonder why her parents spent all that money on school fees if this is how she was going to turn out. At least Polly Toynbee writes like a grown up.

And, incidentally, by my calculation ZoeWilliams is now 38.

These days Williams is just as likely writing what are supposed to be hard-edged political pieces about cuts in public services. Yet remembering her trying to be the ditzy but loveable woman columnist who cheerfully admitted to going private herself, I just can't take them seriously.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Popbitch told us Sara Payne's phone had been hacked on 8 July

From the Popbitch email for 8 July 2011...


Are the school summer holidays too long?

At this time of year you cannot go long without hearing some airhead presenter asking if the school summer holidays too long. After all, they will tell you, these long holidays came into being only because children were needed to help with the harvest.

Which is nonsense, of course. The harvest starts just as the schools are going back for the start of a new academic year.

And the summer holidays are not too long. The current opposition to long school holidays reveals two unlovely but widely held assumptions. They are that parents do not much enjoy their children's company and that, left to their own devices, children will be incapable of finding something constructive to do.

These arguments were rehearsed in the Observer last Sunday. Barbara Ellen took the part of the kooky woman columnist:
I would always have argued that school holidays are too long. For parents, that is. A case of: "My child, I would fight a lion for you, but if you ask me to play another game of Connect 4, I may have to suffocate myself with Moon Sand."
Apparently she is not paid as much as Private Eye's Polly Filler, so has no useless Ukrainian au pair.

The side of the angels was taken by Francis Gilbert, who also countered the strongest arguments for shorter holidays - that children from less-stimulating homes can regress over the course of them.
In some boroughs, such as Tower Hamlets, where I live, the poorest children's academic performance has actually significantly improved in recent years for a number of reasons, one of which has been the improved provision that the borough has provided during the summer holidays.

Activities such as tennis, canoeing, trips away and film-making are all now offered free of charge during this time. The point is that the activities are voluntary.
The call for shorter school holidays was last around in the early days of New Labour, though it was often hard to tell if it was part of its educational agenda or its public order agenda. I do hope Michael Gove is not going to prove similarly authoritarian.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

High Peak Junction, Cromford

Start from the terminal basin and walk a little way along the Cromford Canal and you will come across High Peak Junction.

This is where the Cromford and High Peak Railway began, reaching Bugsworth Basin near Whaley Bridge by a combination of conventional railway and rope-hauled inclines.

It was later to be connected with the Midland Railway near Cromford, but originally all goods were transshipped from the canal before being taken over the Derbyshire hills towards Manchester.

Amazingly, this line not close until 1967, which means that Sheep Pasture Incline (which begins at High Peak Junction) and its engine house were in use until then. Today the trackbed forms part of the High Peak Trail and you can climb the incline yourself and see this remarkable gradient post.

Elected police commissioners seem an increasingly bad idea

I have no fundamental objection to the introduction of elected police commissioners, and the police must be democratically accountable is some way, but I have never been clear what problem this initiative is designed to solve.

Now, if Michael Crick is right, comes news that the introduction of elected commissioners is to be bungled:
The Conservatives are seriously considering not standing candidates for the elections for the new elected police commissioners which are due to take place next May - providing the legislation gets through parliament ...

Rather than stand candidates under the Conservative banner, the party is actively considering instead whether to put its support behind other contenders, such as prominent and distinguished local individuals who decide to stand for the posts, perhaps as independents.
Local newspapers are full of loud-mouthed businessmen who announce that the local council is useless and that they will stand at the next election so that they can ensure it is properly run. Usually they are never heard of again. But it seems that they will now be backed by the Conservatives.

It is not fashionable to defend political parties, and every party finds it hard to find candidates these days, but we do need them to weed out the more obvious crooks and incompetents.

Instead it seems that the Conservatives are to abdicate this responsibility, while keeping the faintly anti-democratic philosophy that was behind the idea in the first place. As with elected mayors, they want someone who will knock heads together and get things done.

Meanwhile, Crick reminds us, the BNP and UKIP are certainly planning to fight police commissioner elections. The dangers are obvious and the Conservatives should drop the whole idea. At the very least, they should have the courage and nous to fight the elections they intend to land us with.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

GUEST POST Arts Fresco, Market Harborough, 9-11 September 2011

Hazel Cook, the festival's director, explains that this year's Arts Fresco will be bigger, brighter, and bolder than ever before.

Born of a chance conversation along the lines of, "Oh go on then... I really don’t see why not," Arts Fresco is now the most popular street arts event the East Midlands, attracting audiences from all over the country to Market Harborough.

The event includes a sparkling mix of innovative performances ranging from the beautiful to the astonishing, the whimsical to the bizarre and on to the downright silly. In addition to the professional line up, the family friendly programme includes lots of interactive workshops where anyone can have a go at trying out a new arts based skill or making something special.

It is amazing to think that Arts Fresco has been going for 10 years now and has become such an important part of Market Harborough’s annual calendar. Like many other locals, my initial involvement with the event was as a happy member of the audience. I distinctly remember turning up in the centre of town one day and being astonished at the exotic mix of characters who had rolled into town. I was dazzled, amused and left completely speechless by some of the acts and resolved to find out if there was anything I could do to help out…

Volunteering of course being a slippery slope, I soon found myself in charge of the marketing and then, as the founder George Kitson (then in his mid eighties) and the then artistic director Cat Loriggio decided to step down, I found myself the chairman.

This proved a fairly lonely (and rather scary) place for a while as working with other members of the board we slowly raised the money, then recruited our festival management team and then the acts for our first Arts Fresco event. Thankfully, all our hard work paid off and we were rewarded not only with another brilliant day out for all the family but also with a huge increase in the numbers attending and the knowledge that we’d seamlessly managed the transition to the new team. Phew!

Arts Fresco had traditionally been run on a Saturday relying on passing shoppers for an audience however, moving the event to the Sunday proved hugely successful with the audience almost doubling year on year and local traders enjoying the benefits of a brand new trading day.

This year, as part of the 10th Anniversary celebrations we have made another bold decision and that is to move the main event to Welland Park. This means we can spread the event over three days and introduce more complex acts into the programme.

This year we are delighted to have the award winning Bash Street Theatre company performing the amazing CliffHanger! in the Arts Fresco Big Top. We also have the brilliant Best of Leicester Comedy Festival Review Show with tickets to both booked in advance earning free entry to the Enchanted Evening Promenade itself an extraordinary opportunity to see the Millennium Mile magically lit up with fire sculptures, candles and other twinkling lights.

The programme will also include an innovative Talking Statue trail – these will be made by teams of local people working alongside the acclaimed Spiral Theatre company and will be sited in prominent locations all around town in the week leading up to the event. Each sculpture will have its own story to tell and these will be available to download direct from the Arts Fresco website.

We have an amazing line up for our traditional Sunday programme featuring some of the country’s leading street performers – acts I’m sure will delight, inspire and wow new and old members of the audience alike.

If you'd like to become part of it do please email me, Hazel Cook.

Six of the Best 176

As Neil Monnery points out, James Brokenshire's plan to retain the DNA records of innocent people goes against the Data Protection Act, European human rights legislation and the Coalition agreement.

Is lower and slower economic growth such a bad thing? asks The Yellow Bastard.

Welcome to Spiderplant Land has been volunteering on an archaeological dig: "It was a fantastic experience and I wish I could go into more detail about the site and its history but out of respect for the work that the team are doing now and in the future, I must respect their wishes not to name the site. I may be able to do this at a later date when the site is closed but not as yet."

More modern ruins are the concern of Dark Roasted Blend, which visits the failing steel town on Gary, Indiana.

And Sibling of Daedalus looks at wartime ruins: colour photographs and video of London in the Blitz.

Let's end with something in a rather better state of preservation. Austin Rathe discovers the Nottingham Arboretum: "Well, it's lovely. Smaller than most of Nottingham's more well know parks but much more interesting, the contract to the next door Forest recreation ground could not be more stark, the Arboretum has a lovely mix of grounds, trees, sun and shade. I snapped a few photos, and would recommend you visit if you have half an hour to kill in Nottingham."

Support for Jo Swinson from the Daily Telegraph

Jo Swinson, Lib Dem MP for East Dunbartonshire, has won support from an unexpected quarter for her argument that the heroines of children's television are too "pink and princessy".

Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Andrew Brown says:
She has a point, doesn’t she? Boys have plenty of robust role models with occupations on offer – Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder and so on. But where can girls look for inspiration? Peppa Pig, Upsy Daisy from In the Night Garden, and Bella from The Tweenies – robust isn’t the word that springs to mind. Apart from Dora the Explorer, few of them have proper jobs.

Partly, I suppose, this reflects what television producers think parents want. There’s a fashion for princessy or ballet-related themes with anything to do with girls. Perhaps it’s to do with anxiety about girls growing up too fast, a desire to preserve them in a candy-floss cocoon of hyper-feminine, pre-sexual innocence.
As Brown goes on to point out, children's books have always offered a more satisfying range of characters:
On the printed page, you find any number of tough, fearless female role models. Just think of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice, surprising herself with her own courage, stands up to the Queen of Hearts, who’s crimson with rage and screaming, “Off with her head!” It’s an invigorating illustration of how to face up to bullies.

Richard Jefferies Festival, Swindon, 24-28 August 2011



Full details on the Richard Jefferies Society website.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Former gas lamppost, Market Harborough








Seen in a Market Harborough jitty.

I first noticed this in 1973 and photographed it on Sunday.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Rutland International Arts Festival

Lord Bonkers' latest Diary was written on the final day of the Rutland International Arts Festival. At his suggestion, I am reproducing the whole Diary as single blog post now that the new edition of Liberator is with subscribers.

I sit on the terrace at Bonkers Hall, enjoying a hard-earned macaroon and cup of Darjeeling as I survey the crowds in their Sunday best and the trim marquees erected by the Queen’s Own Rutland Highlanders under the supervision of Regimental Sergeant Major Carmichael. Yes, you join me on final day of the Rutland International Arts Festival.

As ever, the Festival is taking place in the Hall and its grounds, as well as at numerous locations across the village and beyond. The performance of The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, for instance, took place in the Bonkers’ Arms and, though the double booking with the darts match was inadvertent, I am told that, if anything, it added to the drama.

If I may offer an unbiased opinion as Chairman of the Organising Committee, Patron and occasional performer, our annual cultural festival is widely recognised by the world’s leading arts administrators as being a unique event. There is Edinburgh, they often say, and then there is Rutland. In short, it is the eel’s eyebrows.

I could not be present at the Marat/Sade myself as I was at the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans to cheer on their now traditional play. Good as it was, I must have a word with Matron in the morning as there was an awful lot of noise from under the stage towards the end of the performance and the little mites did not reappear to take their bow after it was over.

I have also had the rare pleasure of going to the pictures in my own cricket pavilion. The film I saw was Mulholland Drive, which has certainly made me see the more affluent suburbs of Leeds in a different light (high tea with the Wainwrights was never like that), even if the reels were obviously exhibited in the wrong order. Such are the riches of the week that I could equally well have seen Annette Brooke’s Lord of the Flies or The Outlaw Ian Swales at the same venue.

Elsewhere there has been a traditional huppert show on the village green for the children and, of course, there has been a rich diet of theatrical performances on offer in the Village Hall. Unfortunately, the responsibilities of office mean that the parliamentary party has been unable to put on its usual performance of Shakespeare – for many years, people would come for miles to admire Cyril Smith’s Bottom – but there has still been much to enjoy. Tomorrow I shall be taking in a production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Anyone Can Birtwistle, which I imagine offers a guide to those ambitious to gain Labour seats in the North, and a musical by one Willy Russell entitled: John, Paul, George, Ringo... & Lorely Burt.

This year I have taken the precaution of staging all the musical events on an island in the middle of Rutland Water. It is not that I object to Susan J. Kramer and the Dakotas playing their “rock and roll” for the young people: the problem is the jazz. Meadowcroft, naturally, was all for there being a large jazz component in this year’s festival, and when I ventured to demur he started leaving copies of the Horticulturalist’s Journal about the place with various job advertisements ringed in red crayon. I took his point, which is why I shall be staying well clear of the shores of the Water this evening. For Meadowcroft will be playing in a concert with the former members of Earl Russell’s Big Band. (You may recall that I offered them sanctuary here on the Bonkers Hall Estate after their leader died. Charitable as we Bonkers have always been, I still think his brother Bob could have Done More.)

Elsewhere on this final evening of the Festival, you can hear the Elves of Rockingham Forest and their “plangent melodies and Aeolian cadences (no money returned)”, while I shall be at the performance of Beith in Venice (Benjamin Britten’s controversial last opera) that is being staged in my own Ballroom.

Some will then take their refreshment in the Bonkers’ Arms – rest assured: extra casks of Smithson & Greaves’s Northern Bitter have been laid in – or at the hog roast on the village green. Miss Fearn will be on hand to offer her assorted fancies, while Mrs Patel from the shop will no doubt be offering her delicious Norman Lamb rogan josh.

The most discerning lovers of the arts will have bought tickets for the Festival dinner, at which I happen to be the guest of honour. Talking of the celebrated Aldeburgh composer, I have a feeling that during the meal I may be prevailed upon to retell my celebrated anecdote about the chamber concert that we put on in my boathouse many years ago. There was a high tide on Rutland Water that night and strong winds; the result was that the waves burst into the boathouse, sweeping away performers and audience alike. I had the foresight to snatch up a double bass as it floated past and paddled myself to safety (accompanied by Benjamin Britten on the piano).

If that were not treat enough, the evening and the Festival will close with the traditional firework display. I like to keep the most spectacular effects under my hat – not literally, you understand – but I fully expect to see such pictures as the Bird of Liberty and a likeness of Nancy Seear painted in the midnight skies. On evenings like this, there is nowhere else one would wish to be but Rutland.

Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South West 1906-10, opened his diary to Jonathan Calder.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Cromford Canal


The canal restoration movement has had some remarkable successes, notably the reopening of two trans-Pennine routes - the Rochdale and the Huddersfield Narrow - that were thought to be lost beyond recall as recently as the 1970s.

But projects can regress as well as progress. When I first visited Cromford in the 1980s it was possible to travel some miles from the terminal basin in a horse-drawn narrow boat. But the Cromford Canal Society folded at the end of the decade - I recall there was some scandal but not its details.

The result is that the canal at Cromford has gradually silted up and would now require major dredging before such a boat could use it again.

There are now new efforts to restore this waterway, and it would not be hard to make it navigable from Cromford down to Ambergate and beyond. If this is ever done, it will make a spectacular trip.

The Cromford used to join the main canal system at Great Northern Basin near Langley Mill. The major problem any scheme for restoration throughout would face is Butterley Tunnel, which closed to navigation because of mining subsidence around 1900.

Still, the good news is that there is again an organisation working to bring this restoration about: Friends of the Cromford Canal.

Was Vince Cable right to describe some American right-wingers as "nutters"?

Yes.

The strongest British Chess Championships ever

Leonard Barden wrote in the Guardian yesterday:
The British championship, which starts in Sheffield on Monday, is the strongest in the event's 107-year history, with almost all of England's top grandmasters taking part. There will also probably be a rare head-to-head between the former world finalists Michael Adams and Nigel Short, who are both in good form. Adams tied first at the World Open in Philadelphia, Short at the Commonwealth Open in South Africa.

The other interesting prospect is a clash of generations as the long supremacy of Adams, 39, and Short, 46, is challenged by the ambitious and fast-rising David Howell, 20, and Gawain Jones, 23, who aim to take over the top boards in the national team ...

Short and especially Adams have psychological edges in that their losses to other Englishmen in classic games are very rare. True, most of their chess is played abroad, but they also have an aura of invincibility. Short recently lost to Jones in Bunratty, Ireland, but Adams has not been beaten by an English opponent for more than a decade.
The British Chess Championships 2011 starts tomorrow and has its own website, where some of the games will be relayed live.

For an explanation for the rise and partial fall of British chess see an earlier post of mine.

Amy Winehouse: You Know I'm No Good



Sometimes the obvious choice is the right one.

My only reservation about Winehouse as a performer is that she attended stage school, and you always fear that people like that are about to start tap dancing - even Steve Marriott in some songs. Certainly, when I saw Alanis Morisette live I felt she was not a rocker so much as playing a rocker.

But, as rock journalists say, de mortuis nihil nisi bonum and that.

Democracy Now interview with Nick Davies on phone-hacking scandal

Rupert Murdoch as Don Corleone

Yesterday, discussing an Observer article by Henry Porter and Toby Helm on News International's threats against the Liberal Democrats, I mentioned Phillip Blond's tweet "it sounds more like Sicily than London".

Funnily enough, Henry Porter develops just the same comparison in another article in todays' paper:
Murdoch has probably never been rougher than in defending the company against the phone-hacking allegations that imperilled the deal once it was referred. Direct threats were made to senior figures at newspaper groups.

One was delivered in a private meeting last March with Alexander Lebedev and his son Evgeny Lebedev, who owns the Independent group of newspapers and the London Evening Standard. The meeting, which was initiated by Murdoch, was presented to the Lebedevs as an informal chat where they would get to know each other and talk about the newspaper business.

Soon after their arrival, the atmosphere changed and Murdoch began to remonstrate with them about the Independent's coverage of his affairs. He said he had three volumes of clippings from their newspapers, attacking him. He was particularly exercised about the offence done to his family – and called the coverage "a vendetta". He ended with a threat. Until then he had held James back from launching an attack on the Lebedevs, but he didn't know how long he would be able to do that.

One is reminded of Vito Corleone speaking about his headstrong son, Sonny, and indeed the Murdoch obsession with family seems strikingly Sicilian.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Winehouse and the Romantic view of the artist

That sad news about Amy Winehouse has reminded me of the sadder side of discovering the career of Steve Winwood. It was realising how many of his collaborators of the sixties and seventies, from Jimi Hendrix down, died ridiculously young.

It makes you wonder if the idea, which goes back to the Romantics, that an artist should be an alienated and self-destructive figure has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Observer: News International threatened Lib Dems over BSkyB bid

Henry Porter and Toby Helm report in tomorrow's Observer:
Rupert Murdoch's News International launched a campaign of bullying against senior Liberal Democrats in an attempt to force through the company's bid for BSkyB, high-level sources have told the Observer.

Lib Dem insiders say NI officials took their lobbying campaign well beyond acceptable limits and even threatened, last autumn, to persecute the party if Vince Cable, the business secretary, did not advance its case.

According to one account from a senior party figure, a cabinet minister was told that, if the government did not do as NI wanted, the Lib Dems would be "done over" by the Murdoch papers, which included the now defunct News of the World as well as the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.

The accounts are only now coming to light, say sources, because the minister involved feared the potential for damage to the party, which was already suffering a dramatic slide in popularity after going into coalition with the Tories.
If this is true, and if the reports of the company conducting surveillance on the lawyers of people it had wronged are true, it suggests that News International's activities went far beyond anything that can be described as journalism.

As Phillip Blond tweeted the other day, it sounds more like Sicily than London.

Paddington in 1962

Friday, July 22, 2011

Arkwright's Mill, Cromford



Today I visited one of my favourite places - Cromford in Derbyshire - to meet a couple of old friends from university and look at a little industrial archaeology.

The photograph shows part of the Arkwright's Mill complex. The oldest building on the site dates from 1771 and is described by the Arkwright Society website as "the world’s first successful water powered cotton spinning mill".

In 2001 the Derwent Valley Mills,  stretching 15 miles from Matlock Bath to Derby, became a World Heritage Site. They represent the birthplace of the factory system in the 18th century as water power was harnessed here for textile production. Later Lancashire was to become predominant in cotton production, with the result that man of these mills survive without having been redeveloped.

Of course, being the birthplace of the factory system is a questionable accolade. These early mills resemble barracks or even forts - there were even gun ports to protect the West Mill counting house in Belper - which suggest their builders expected the hands to have mixed feelings about their fate.

The restoration of Arkwright's Mill in Cromford is proceeding, and the Arkwright Society appears to be taking over other heritage sites in the town  and taking good care of them. The village's distinctive railway station has been restored and the Society is looking after the canal basin too.

I should also add that the Derwent Valley, like so many early industrial sites, is extremely beautiful. And you should also visit Scarthin Books if you find yourself in Cromford.

Nick Clegg talks to Julian Huppert about phone-hacking

Thursday, July 21, 2011

In praise of Bleak House

I spent last week watching the 2005 BBC adaptation of Bleak House. You may recall that it was shown in 30-minute episodes the early evening just after EastEnders, rather than on Sunday afternoons, and was widely and justifiably praised at the time.

But it is important to appreciate why it worked so well. It was not, as the person writing the blurb on the box seemed to think, that the adapters rescued the story from Dickens' sentimentality. It was that by employing something close to a soap opera format they stripped away some of the faulty preconceptions that have gathered around our greatest novelist in the past 150 years and recaptured the novel's original spirit.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with Phil Davis as Smallweed, Tomothy West as Sir Leicester Dedlock and Johnny Vegas as Krook outstanding.

It is hard to find anything to grumble about. It was great to have Warren Clarke in the cast, but perhaps he was made to sound and look too much like his enemy Dedlock. And, as the commentary points out, their little Jo the crossing-sweeper radiated good health even when he was meant to be dying. That's the welfare state and popular affluence for you. It is not a problem David Lean faced in 1948.

That commentary is a disappointment in that it appears on only three of the fifteen episodes, but then the BBC seems to have a habit of advertising commentaries on DVDs that turn out not to cover all the discs. Still, it is very good as far as it goes and amusing in a couple of places, where the director hymns the brilliance of Andrew Davies, only to be told that the line she loves was written by Dickens.

The greatest praise I can give this adaptation (the BBC's website for it is still up) is that it has made me want to read the novel again. Angry. Funny. Satirical. Warm hearted. Politically astute. There are few to match it in the English language.

Six of the Best 175

Who wants elected police commissioners? Not Paul Crossley and not more than 100 Lib Dem council leaders and group leaders either. And not me either, come to that.

"The queues had started over seven hours before the committee began ... And while it was a festive mood, it was also tense: the official line as to how many people would get into the room kept changing, and some people were certainly facing a wasted day. Questions popped about. Was space being cleared for the Dowler family? Had the tiny Wilson Room been chosen so as not to look like a show trial? Was Jemima Khan trying to hop in? At one point, we were told that the doorkeepers were considering letting us sit on each other’s laps if we so fancied. Westminster reporters were heckling sketchwriters about their slim chance of making it in. So when we later found out that the front of the queue had been a gang with a bag full of shaving foam, 'comedy' wasn’t the first word that sprang to mind. Nor was 'activism'. 'Shabby oaf' and 'stupid tit' were some of the descriptions I did hear." Alan Connor saw the Murdochs give evidence to the select committee and gets Jonathan May-Bowles about right.

Writing in the Scientific American, John Horgan the curse of iatrogenesis - the harmful effects of medical treatment.

Jason MacLennan on Yes! argues that the key to reviving cities is to make them more child friendly: "Children in every neighborhood—urban and suburban—have been robbed of opportunities as we’ve drained the life out of our cities and created vast sprawl of bland and unhealthy suburbia. Most profoundly, kids across all strata have lost a sense of freedom. City children have sustained a figurative loss as their neighborhoods’ vitality and relevance has faded, leaving many without hope for the future. Suburban kids spend an unhealthy amount of time in the car getting from one spot to another in their over-bland environment, leaving many bored, unengaged, and overweight."

"No one left Blockbusters filthy rich, but everyone left feeling richer for the experience of taking part.  The Weakest Link and Deal Or No Deal are by contrast all about the prize, the undignified struggle to walk away with as much money as possible.  The experience is purposefully excruciating and the majority of those taking part walk away with nothing." The New Drivel sees this change in television quiz games as symptomatic of the moral decay of British society.

Kettering Babylon. Go Litel Blog go ... considers Northamptonshire vs India in 1932 and the dark side of the county's cricket in that decade: "Having their best players variously incapacitated, in prison or dead cannot have improved Northamptonshire’s performances," he reasons.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Northampton Development Corporation encouraged aliens from outer space



Northampton is a much stranger place than I had realised. And it's not just because of its wholly fictitious underground railway or its secret passages.

Back in 1980 the town's development corporation wished to persuade more people to settle there. So, naturally, it hit upon the idea of issuing a single that described distressed extraterrestrials reaching the town and finding it much to their liking.

Or as the lyrics put it:
Aliens from Outer Space
Who needed help from the human race;
And they found new energy
At Northampton.
You can learn more about how this remarkable piece of music came to be issued in an old news report.

Two other points are worth noting.

The first is that "Energy in Northampton" was sung by Linda Jadim, who went on to appear on the rather better known "Video Killed the Radio Star" by Buggles.

The second is that if you liked "Energy in Northampton" you may enjoy the B-side too.

If the Big Society happens it will be in spite of the Conservatives

I have more time for the concept of the "Big Society" than most Liberal Democrats, if only because the alternative we tend to offer - "community politics" - is so ill defined too. Trying to draw distinctions between them, as some do, strikes me as an attempt to nail two different jellies to the wall while separating geometric precision.

Certainly, I have little affection for the idea, common in the Labour Party, that all social enterprise must be undertaken by the state or not at all.

But it has become clear to me that the Big Society is not a simple alternative to government. National, and in particular local, government is an important part of the patchwork that might make up the Big Society.

Take village schools. It is true that government need not run them, but in any conceivable future it will be local or national government that funds them.  And anyone who wants to see villages as flourishing communities will want to see them do that. And, as I have pointed out before, village schools are just the sort of institution that should gladden the hearts of proper Conservatives.

That is not how they see it in Shropshire, where the Tory council has spent the day closing village primary schools. Five are to go: Ifton Heath, Barrow, Masesbury, Shawbury and Hopton Wafers.

Stiperstones School, which concerns this blog for obvious reasons, has been given more time so that it can explore plans to form a federation with Chirbury Primary School.

A similar arrangement is take place elsewhere in the county. As the council's account tweeted from meeting:
Cabinet members say they are delighted that Lydbury and Onny have come forward with an alternative to closure. #SCcabinet
Lydbury is Lydbury North near Bishop's Castle, whose school is shown in the photo I have borrowed from the Shropshire Star.

But there is something back to front here. If the Shropshire cabinet was so keen to avoid closure, why was it not using its resources to find an alternative.

Instead it simply proposed closure and left the people of those villages, whose taxes pay for the council, to do the work of showing it was wrong.

So in Shropshire they have a Tory council still wedded to the stale old agenda of centralisation and standardisation, and local people with the energy and vision to find something better. If the Big Society does flourish in Shropshire it will be in spite of the Conservatives and not because of them.

Conservative Home is still the Continuity IDS

Sayeeda Warsi will be replaced says top source. Cameron needs a Pty Chrmn to bat for him in difficult times. Warsi too lightweight to do so.
So tweeted Tim Montgomerie late last night.

The idea that the Conservatives' current troubles are down to Baroness Warsi is a novel one. In fact, all Conservative cabinet ministers have been conspicuous by their absence over the past few days. It seems unfair to pick on her.

But then Tim has long had it in for Sayeeda Warsi. As I blogged back in January of this year, an unremarkable lecture the Baroness gave at Leicester University was the subject of an operation by right-wing Tory journalists that was intended to make her seem extreme and disloyal.

And Tim was happy to join in with this, tweeting:
BREAKING at @Spectator_CH The accident prone Sayeeda Warsi did NOT clear her speech on Islam.
There is plenty about Warsi for the Tory right to dislike: woman, Muslim, black, working class... And attacking her allows its members to have a go at the more touchy-feely aspects of Cameronism without appearing disloyal to their leader.

It happens that Tim Montgomerie recently wrote an article that gave a clear idea of the Tory right's agenda beyond ditching Warsi. In the Daily Telegraph he reported the results of a Conservative Home poll in which the site's readers were asked to name Cameron's three biggest mistakes.

The results were entirely predictable:
  1. Not holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty;
  2. Supporting climate change policies;
  3. U-turn on NHS reforms;
... and so on.

As Liberal Burblings asked at the time: "Has the news that they didn’t win the last general election not yet reached the Tory faithful?"

Conservative Home speaks  for the Tory rank and file. And never forget that it was the Tory rank and file that brought us William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith. David Cameron came close to winning the last election precisely because he did not give his activists what they wanted from him.

The average Conservative activist is now like his or her Labour counterpart of a generation ago: enthused by ideology and wholly unaware of how the party appears to the wider electorate.

It is these activists for whom Conservative Home speaks. Those who call in the "Continuity IDS" are not far wrong.

Steam over the Welland Viaduct

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Liberal Democrats to split on badger cull when we should oppose it

I am disappointed by the government's decision to go ahead with a cull of badgers in an attempt to combat bovine TB. I am even more disappointed of the Liberal Democrat MPs being split on the issue in an attempt to placate their individual voters.

Andrew George, to his credit, has come out against the plans, but I suspect in general the overall picture will be as painted by ePolitix.com:
Rural Lib Dems MPs like Tim Farron support a cull, while urban Lib Dems such as Chris Huhne and Greg Mulholland will be opposed.
Desmond Carrington, writing on the Guardian Environment Blog, sets out some of the science that makes the case for a cull unconvincing Ieven if he can't spell "perturbation"):
But the coalition government is on stickier ground when it comes to the science: it pledged a "science-led" approach. First, even after the pilot studies of free shooting, there will still be no scientific evidence that such culling reduces TB, given that the "peturbation" effects will not be measured.

Peturbation is the disruption by culling of badgers' social groups which is known to lead to higher TB rates in surrounding areas. Spelman's chief scientific adviser, Professor Bob Watson, acknowledged this, telling me it was an "expert judgement" that the peturbation effects would be no worse than with other killing methods. That's opinion not science, in my view. And don't forget that all of the authors of the 10-year trial instigated by Lord John Krebs think culling is an ineffective method of tackling TB.

The other science problem is that Spelman had already all but killed plan B: vaccination. She said this was the solution everyone wanted, but had already cancelled five of the six vaccination trials set up by the previous government. The last government said an oral vaccine for badgers would be available by 2015: this government says they now don't know when - or even if - one will be ready. I find that hard to swallow when a paper has been published showing success in Ireland.
There are resources for fighting the cull on the RSPCA and Badger Trust sites.

Jonathan May-Bowles commits ritual suicide with custard pie



In 1970 the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima ritually disembowelled himself following the failure of his attempt at a nationalist coup. Today at Westminster the soi-disant comedian Jonathan May-Bowles achieved something similar with a custard pie - albeit with the assistance of a tasty left hook from Mrs Murdoch.

You can say that May-Bowles is an idiot who ensured that the Murdoch would receive sympathetic headlines after their interrogation by the select committee. You can call him another Charlie Gilmour. You can suspect that he is about as funny as athlete's foot or Aaron Barschak.

But I prefer to be charitable and assume that his act of ritual immolation with his own custard pie was a selfless protest against what Britain has allowed itself to become by pandering to the Murdochs, carried out with an instrument that harks back to the best comedic traditions of our national life.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rebekah Brooks turns her fire on the Daily Mail

When it comes to our current scandal, it is well worth keeping an eye on the New York Times.

Here is an extract from a long article published on the paper's website today:
Over the last several months, Ms. Brooks spearheaded a strategy that seemed designed to spread the blame across Fleet Street, interviews show. Several former News of the World journalists said that she asked them to dig up evidence of hacking. One said in an interview that Ms. Brooks’s target was not her own newspapers, but her rivals.

Mr. Dacre, The Daily Mail editor, told his senior managers that he had received several reports from businesspeople, soccer stars and public relations agencies that the News International executives Will Lewis and Simon Greenberg had encouraged them to investigate whether their phones had been hacked by Daily Mail newspapers. 
“They thought it was unfair that all the focus was on The News of the World,” said one News International official with knowledge of the effort. The two men have told colleagues they did not make such calls, but two company officials disputed that.

Mr. Dacre confronted Ms. Brooks over breakfast at the plush Brown’s hotel. “You are trying to tear down the entire industry,” Mr. Dacre told her, according to an account he relayed to his management team.

Ms. Brooks, whose tenacity is legendary, was not deterred. At a dinner party, Lady Claudia Rothermere, the wife of the billionaire owner of The Daily Mail, overheard Ms. Brooks saying that The Mail was just as culpable as The News of the World. “We didn’t break the law,” Lady Rothermere said, according to two sources with knowledge of the exchange. Ms. Brooks asked who Lady Rothermere thought she was, “Mother Teresa?”
Rebekah Brooks vs the Daily Mail? It's a bit like trying to decide whom to root for in a battle between Godzilla and Stalin.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder free until 12 August

[Later. In fact it looks as though it will remain free to download.]

As my earlier post about this report was the most popular one ever on this blog (easily topping my earlier triumph with the one about flying saucers being sighted over Shropshire), I thought this was worth recording.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder will now be available for free download from the British Psychological Society until 12 August.

We have also made it easier to access: now you simply have to register with the website before downloading the report.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Six of the Best 174

Could a sentence in Sir Paul Stephenson's resignation statement bring down David Cameron? Martin Tod asks the question.

Splash blog! calls for the return of the Liberal Summer School: "A party can become top heavy. Sometimes burdened by its leading lights and activists, that is inevitable and not always bad per se but one which can suffocate new thinking and priorities. And a party in power (even if only in coalition) can easily take on the narrowness and conservatism of the establishment."

Alex Foster tells us that you can now read Lib Dem Voice on your Amazon Kindle. Make no mistake, gentlemen, these "computers" are here to stay.

Ronald Dworkin in the New York Review of Books suggests that Obama should learn from FDR. Here is Franklin Roosevelt speaking at Madison Square Garden in 1936: "We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace - business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me - and I welcome their hatred."

It's not quite Snailbeach, but SomeBeans has an interesting article about a trip to visit lead-mining remains in the Yorkshire Dales.

A reader directs me to Nelsons of Stamford and their pork pie wedding cake. As he says: "It's almost worth getting married for."

Introducing Neil "Wolfman" Wallis

Channel 4 News has published a useful guide to Neil Wallis's dealings with the police, but how was he viewed by his journalistic colleagues?

Milne Media, and one of the commenters on the post in particular, give us a useful insight:
At the People a favourite game of reporters was to dream up ways of killing him. The baseball bat death in The Untouchables was ruled out as being too humane.

On not being impressed by the top brass of the Metropolitan Police

Even leaving aside the concerns about their closeness to News International, the recent appearances of the leadership of the Metropolitan Police before the Commons home affairs select committee were deeply uninspiring.

An anecdote once retailed by Lord Donoghue sprang to mind:
I am reminded that a senior detective inspector from Maidenhead once explained to me: "You have to understand that the root of this country's law and order problem is that our police are a lot thicker than the villains."

Hackgate: The Movie



"Terribly Amusing." - The High Leicestershire Radical

Detroit Emeralds: Feel the Need



It is time to venture again into the desert that was the 1973 UK singles chart - and it could worse for two or three years after that.

I liked this single at the time, though I had to look it up to be certain that the singers were the Detroit Emeralds and not the Detroit Spinners, who enjoyed chart success that year too.

It turns out the Detroit Emeralds, like General MacArthur and Bill Clinton originally came from Little Rock, Arkansas. This song, which reached the top five of the UK chart in 1973, finds more gentle Detroit soul (though they were never with Motown) shading into disco.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Classicism and Iron Jelloids in Leicester






I have become rather fond of this funny little building on the London Road in Leicester that used to house a cafe.

How can you resist the slightly fantastical classical detailing and the remains of an advertisement for Iron Jelloids on the side wall?

Jan Masaryk on Rupert Murdoch

Dictators are rulers who always look good until the last ten minutes.
At least I think it was Jan Masaryk. Some people attribute the quote to his father Tomas Masaryk, but - either way - I cannot find where it was said.

I should also admit that I came across this quotation in the introduction to Gideon Haigh's Ashes 2011, where he applies it to the sudden collapse of Australian supremacy in cricket.

Garry Kasparov on Bobby Fischer

Garry Kasparov, world chess champion between 1985 and 2000, writes about his predecessor in the Daily Telegraph:
I dreamed of playing Fischer one day, and we eventually did become competitors after a fashion, though in the history books and not across the chessboard. He left competitive chess in 1975, walking away from the title he coveted so dearly his entire life.

Ten more years passed before I took the title from Fischer’s successor, Anatoly Karpov, but rarely did an interviewer miss a chance to bring up Fischer’s name to me. “Would you beat Fischer?” “Would you play Fischer if he came back?” “Do you know where Bobby Fischer is?”

Occasionally I felt as though I were playing a one-sided match against a phantasm. Nobody knew where Fischer was, or if he, still the most famous chess player in the world at the time, was plotting a comeback.

After all, at 42 in 1985 he was still much younger than two of the players I had just faced in the world championship qualification matches. But 13 years away from the board is a long time. As for playing him, I suppose I would have liked my chances and I said as much, but how can you play a myth?
I am now looking forward to seeing the film Bobby Fischer Against the World...

The Guardian: All this and Correction of the Day too

There's no denying it: the Guardian is on a roll. Not only is it busy engineering the fall of the House of Murdoch: it has won my prestigious Corrections of the Day award for this effort from this morning's edition:
A light-hearted column ... attributed two quotations on ambition to Macbeth. The first, "vaulting ambition which o'erleaps itself" is indeed from Macbeth. The second, however, "ambition is a good servant, but a poor (sic) master" comes from Laura Ingalls Wilder's These Happy Golden Years.

John Betjeman on the Somerset & Dorset in 1963

Friday, July 15, 2011

Those former Lib Dem Leicester South by-election headquarters in full

The Liberal Democrat headquarters in May's Leicester South by-election has become a florist's shop.


Meanwhile, a little way up the hill on London Road, the building we used in the 2004 contest (which has been empty for some years) is undergoing serious renovation. I shall keep a close eye on developments.

Leicester Labour lavishes praise on Lutfur Rahman

At the end of June I mentioned Andrew Gilligan's accusation that staff from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets had canvassed for Labour in Leicester in their work time.

I have not learned anything further about the truth of otherwise of that, but David Maclean at the Leicester Mercury has turned up footage of Lutfur Rahman, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, and his party being thanked afterwards by leading figures in the Labour Party in Leicester. It's so dull that I am not inflicting it on you, but you can see it if you can follow the link to David's blog. The Labour bigwigs who feature include Keith Vaz, Sir Peter Soulsby and Jon Ashworth.

What is remarkable about the occasion is that Rahman is not a member of the Labour Party. More than that, as Maclean points out, he was removed as Labour's candidate for mayor of his borough on 21 September with the following statement:
Having received a number of serious allegations concerning both the eligibility of participating voters and the conduct of Lutfur Rahman, the NEC has decided to investigate the allegations made. 
As a result, administrative action has been taken to remove Lutfur Rahman as a candidate pending the investigation. Nominations for Tower Hamlets mayor close this week and in the circumstances the NEC had no option but to impose another candidate.
After being dropped by Labour Rahman stood as an independent against the Labour candidate and won the election. You might think that would make him unpopular in Labour circles, but they don't seem to mind in Leicester.

Thanks to the reader who drew this to my attention - and for the observation that there is only one woman present and she leaves with Ashworth after 30 seconds.

How the Uncle books anticipated the Murdoch press

It is always good to discover another fan of Uncle. The other day Cristina Odone wrote in the Daily Telegraph:
If the worst came to the worst, and her teachers suddenly joined the three-quarters of a million strikers on Thursday, I can entertain my daughter with her favourite “Uncle” books. Or rather, with the early volumes from that quirky Sixties series. The three later books are only available second hand, and are going for more than £1,000. 
One reason, according to devotees (and J P Martin’s works featuring a fabulously wealthy elephant and his loathsome foe Beaver Hateman command a cult following), is that publisher Jonathan Cape finds the series “classist”. Uncle is unashamed about his wicked wealth, and that, apparently, makes for uncomfortable reading in our egalitarian times.
I don't know if that is the real reason, but the continued obscurity of this wonderful series of children's books does need an explanation. And I own copies of two of those three later books, but they are battered ex-library copies and I doubt very much if they would fetch £1000 apiece.

As we are talking of Uncle, this is a good opportunity to salute the Revd J.P. Martin for his foresight in anticipating the Murdoch press in the shape of the character Hitmouse:
Hitmouse, a wretched little person who is the chief reporter on the Badfort News and who lives in a Nissen hut outside Badfort, was sitting by Hateman. He was bristling, as usual, with skewers and writing in a hating book.
That is from Uncle Cleans Up. In Uncle and his Detective we learn that he makes notes for the Badfort News in his hating books and never travels without it.

The parallels with the Murdoch press are uncanny.

Mind you, the tabloid press is not without its attractions. And Uncle, while unquestionably good, can be terribly pompous. If I lived in his castle of Homeward, I think I would read the Badfort News, despite the terrible things it says about him.

And, moving with the times, it seems you can read the Badfort Times online for yourself.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Peter Ashley's Unmitigated Stamford



With thanks to Wartime Housewife.

The Browns and the Murdochs

In his speech in the Commons yesterday Gordon Brown spoke of
those at News International who took the freedom of the press as a licence for abuse, who cynically manipulated our support of that vital freedom as their justification, and who then callously used the defence of a free press as the banner under which they marched in step, as I say, with members of the criminal underworld.
Fair comment and it is impossible not to have sympathy for Gordon and Sarah Brown over the disgusting way that the Sun exposed their son's illness.

But as Matthew d'Ancona shows in the Evening Standard tonight, the Browns' behaviour in the light of this criminality and callousness was quite bizarre:
Flick through the pages of Sarah Brown's memoir, Behind the Black Door, and, time after time, you come across warm mentions of the Murdoch family and of Rebekah Wade. A few examples: in October 2007, less than a year after the Sun's story about Fraser, Rupert and Wendi Murdoch are visiting Chequers - with the result that, instead of speaking live on Sunday, Gordon pre-records his interview with Andrew Marr announcing that there will be no snap general election. Elsewhere in the book, Murdoch is "a very solicitous host and very touching in the affection he shows for Wendi". Mrs Murdoch, for her part, is thanked in the book's Acknowledgments.

In June 2008, she "comes to Chequers with a group of mutual girlfriends. It is a girls-only night and we have the excuse of celebrating Wendi's upcoming fortieth birthday. The guest list includes Emma Freud, Shriti Vadera, Claudia Winkelman and Kirsty Young, as well as Elisabeth Murdoch and Rebekah Wade, who both have fortieths to celebrate, too….. ….It turns out that Rebekah has sent a platter of gourmet cheese and booked the guy who sold her the cheese as he happened to be an out-of-work magician."
As d'Ancona suggests, the answer is not straightforward hypocrisy but something closer to Orwellian "doublethink": "to survive and prosper, politicians and, by extension, their spouses, often have to accept and believe directly contradictory propositions".

Still, as Nick Clegg said earlier today, you sensed a whiff of history being rewritten in Brown's speech. He would have liked to be the brave loner who stood up to Murdoch's newspapers, but the reality was very different.

Harborough Lib Dem councillors table motion of no confidence in local NHS Trust

Liberal Democrat members of Harborough District Council have tabled a motion of no confidence in NHS Leicestershire County and Rutland Primary Care Trust (PCT) over its mishandling of the redevelopment of St Luke's Hospital in Market Harborough to the authority's next full meeting.

The motion, to be debated at the next full meeting of the council, reads:
On The Matter of the Harborough Hospital

The anger and dismay at the inability of the PCT to provide/complete Harborough's long awaited new/refurbished hospital and in particular the modular minor procedure/endoscopy unit is cause for deep concern. The PCT has a record of broken promises and missed deadlines on this matter, and in our opinion has badly let down the people of Harborough.

As the Elected body representing the People of Harborough this Council registers its lack of confidence in the PCT, its Executive and Board in this matter.

If the Council is mindful to support this Notice of Motion a letter outlining the decision of this Council should be sent to the Chairman of the PCT with copies to our Local MP and the Health Minister.

GUEST POST Grandparents or adoption: who would you choose?

Peter Hulme, Campaigns Officer for Grandparents Plus, introduces the charity's campaign Keep Families Together.

Who would you want to bring up your children if you weren’t around? Some readers might not have thought much about it. But for many others this will be a question that has deeply affected you personally or someone close to you.

There are very good reasons for trying to keep children with grandparents or other family members if the worst should happen. Our charity, Grandparents Plus, is campaigning for more support for grandparents and other family members to Keep Families Together and to stop children being needlessly taken into care or put up for adoption.

It is estimated that 300,000 children in the UK aren’t able to live with their parents. Most of them are living with grandparents, older siblings or other family members. This could be because parents have died or because of parental drug or alcohol misuse, illness, domestic violence, disability, imprisonment, abuse or neglect of children or a combination of these factors.

Grandparents Plus has launched an interactive video entitled “Who would you choose for me?” to highlight the issue. It features a girl who cannot live with her parents and must either be raised by her grandparents or placed with an adoptive family. The viewer gets the chance to decide how her story should end.



Policy makers and service providers all too often fail to recognize the contribution of grandparents and other family carers in raising children. In many cases they don’t get the support they need. In other cases they are obstructed from raising their grandchildren because of age discrimination by children’s services.

Grandparents Plus aims to fight this injustice through our Keep Families Together campaign. Our research shows that when deciding where children should be placed local authorities often give greater weight to the ‘permanency’ of adoption instead of recognising the love, stability and family links that grandparents and other family carers can provide. Families are being torn apart because adoption is seen as the default option.

Some grandparents are afraid of getting support from social services because they fear their grandchild will be taken away. One grandparent, a former district nurse, told us: “I didn’t want [social services] to be involved because I worked with them for 30 years and they often make the wrong decision.”

In other cases grandparents have had to spend thousands of pounds on legal costs to prevent their children being adopted. You can read more about these cases in our new report Too Old to Care?

We recognize the value of adoption for many children. But placement with family and friends is usually preferable because of the continuity of family relationships and sense of identity – as well as love and stability - that they can provide for a child. High rates of placement breakdown for adoption (from 10-50 per cent) reflect the fact that it is just not that easy to “transplant” a child from one family to another.

Grandparents and other family carers make a massive contribution to society by giving children a secure future and save the country billions by keeping them out of care. But they need more support from local and national government. They should be recognised as carers, protected from welfare cuts, given a national allowance and access to respite care.

State interference can be catastrophic when children are taken away from families unnecessarily. It is far more sensible for children’s services to work in partnership with the wider family to support those who are willing to step in to care for children. We all need to ask ourselves: “What future would I want for my child?”

Back our campaign to support family and friends carers: Keep Families Together.

Further reading