Tuesday, January 31, 2012

GUEST POST An economic liberal case for a consumer-driven economy


Adam Smith
Matt Burrows asks how we can build public confidence in the free market.

There has been much talk recently about the reform of capitalism and political economy. There is genuine anger among people about the conduct and the lack of accountability of political and economic elites. This is coming from places I would not expect (i.e. right-of-centre voters) and it is worrying.

I welcome David Cameron's criticism of “crony capitalism”, but I doubt whether the Conservative Party would do all that is necessary to provide change. City financiers fund the Conservatives to 50 per cent of its income (as Nicholas Watt and Jill Treanor showed in the Guardian last year) and the city bonuses demonstrate a desire to revert to `business as usual'.

The general approach of the Right and its big business allies gives succour to anti-capitalists and the Left and its predilection for over-taxing and overregulating wealth creation at the time the economy needs that the most. Labour has been trying to re-establish its socialist credentials and distancing itself from the Blair years. Indeed, Ed Milliband described himself a Socialist.

Therefore Liberals (Lib Dems or not) are ideally placed to reform capitalism. As late as the mid-1960s, the Liberal Party was the party economic liberalism (see James Parry's chapter in Prime Minister Portillo and Other Things That Never Happened). Somehow this was sidelined until recently, allowing Thatcherism and then New Labour to claim (parts of) it with considerable popularity. With the Orange Book we started to take back this position.

One sense of Liberalism - the “little man” against the political and economic establishment" (see James Parry again)- has resonated with me. I prefer “individual citizen” in place of “little man”, but the sense is clear and nor more relevant than the present time. The current economic difficulties, the 'phone hacking and MPs expenses scandals have shown poor judgement by both political and economic elites.

The lamentable conduct has done much damage in the past few years. If popular anger is left unchecked it could harm this country's competativeness by undermining the recovery and dampening entrepreneurship. Therefore, public confidence among consumers in the capitalist economy must be restored. In our own lives,  we are more likely to buy from a company from which that we had received good product or service before.  Why is it that that is not applied more generally?

Being a consumer is what unites us all. There is a need for strong consumer legislation and tough action to prevent (or minimalise) monopolies, monopsonies and anticompetitive practices. These measures are key to the relationship between provider and consumer, and ought not to be merely a bolt-on or concession. There must be both the political will and resources to implement them. Then consumers would have confidence in the businesses and organisations with which they deal and the law and regulatory system able and willing to back them up.

I seek more a consumerist economy than a capitalist one. Adam Smith favoured free markets and in the Wealth of Nations he set out several preconditions for a free market. Among these is the complete knowledge of products by consumers. I want to see government champion its fulfilment. It is curious that the Thatcherite revolution in the Conservative Party seemed to overlook the qualifying aspects of Adam Smith’s work.

This can be applied in two further ways. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) promotes both British business and regulates it. How can it perform both effectively? A Prime Minister can shape Whitehall departments almost at will but a Haldane Review is needed for a reconfiguration of government departments to have some permanence.

Therefore, firstly, I suggest a Department of Consumer and Environmental Protection in Whitehall, taking over some responsibilities from (BIS), such as the acting as sponsor department for the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and Office of Fair Trading (OFT). This department should be headed by a Secretary of State, sit in Cabinet and serve as the consumers' champion at the heart of government. This might also bring in some regulatory responsibilities from Energy and Climate Change. A Department for Commerce would take over the responsibility for promoting British business and entrepreneurship.

Secondly, there must be inclusion of consumer groups, and at last one small business organisation – e.g. Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) - in any economic discussions with Government along side big business representation (CBI, IoD and the trades unions (TUC). The inclusion of small business representation is important. They can suffer as the consumer does at the hands of big companies e.g. late payment of invoices from larger business and public sector customers. I would also like to see included charity representation and the smaller trades unions.

One further tentative idea would be to change the Companies Act so that companies be compelled to balance the investment return of their shareholders with the interests of their customers and employees. They would have to account for their activity in this way as part of their annual report. I appreciate this would be burdensome but It should focus minds to develop ways to further these objectives. There is a precedent for this: charities are required to report on the public benefit of their activity in their Annual Report to the Charity Commission every year.

I have tried to show how the relationship between the individual and the economic and power structure can be improved through a consumer-led approach. It would allow the market to function normally yet providing the accountability in the economic sphere that elections do in the political.

You can follow Matt Burrows on his blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Liberal Democrat East Midlands Region Spring Conference

The party's East Midlands Region Spring Conference takes place on Saturday 18 February 2012 at Abington High School, Station Road, Wigston Magna LE18 2DU.

Norman Lamb MP and Bill Newton Dunn MEP will be among the speakers and the programme also includes:
  • Policy debates
  • A Special General meeting to approve the rewritten regional constitution (you spoil us!)
  • Workshops
For the full programme and bookings see the East Midlands Liberal Democrats website.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mayfair Parish Council?

The Evening Standard carries the intriguing news that there are to moves for Mayfair to become the first area of central London to have its own parish council in almost half a century.

It quotes a resident as saying the recent dispute over Westminster City Council's attempts to introduce new parking:
"proved that there was a democratic deficit. We need a model that works and this is it."
The report also says that church leaders are among those promoting the idea, but I hope they have grasped the difference between a parish council and a parochial church council.

The Guardian, the M25 and the 15th century

Today's Guardian carries the welcome news that English Heritage has bought the Great Barn at Harmondsworth, which John Betjeman once called "the cathedral of Middlesex".

However, I wonder if Maev Kennedy meant what she said in her second sentence:
Just beyond the sprawl of Heathrow, the Great Barn at Harmondsworth has stood between the roaring M25 and the M4 motorways and the straggling warehouse and industrial estates around the airport perimeter since 1426. 
Presumably not, as a revised version now appears on the newspaper's website. Still, the printed version has won her this blog's prestigious Bizarre Newspaper Sentence of the Day award.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Six of the Best 220


The View from Creeting St Peter ponders the Twitter-fuelled resignation of Eirian Walsh Atkins as head of constitutional policy at the Cabinet Office.

"As a proud Englishman I feel outraged that Welsh and Scottish MPs can enforce laws on the people of England, whilst vice versa isn’t possible. I believe that an English Parliament is the only way ahead, allowing English people to vote for parliamentarians to make decisions that directly affect them; on health, on education and on economic development." Neil Woollcott makes a robust contribution to the debate on Scottish independence.

And Landon Thomas Jr, in the New York Times, offers another perspective on the future of the United Kingdom that is seldom heard: "This year Wales... is expected to receive about £14.6 billion, or $22.6 billion, from the central government. The money is used to cover what Wales cannot raise itself from taxes and borrowing. Most people do not think of Britain - home to many of Europe’s most outspoken eurosceptics - as having a monetary union. But it does, and these money transfers are the essence of what makes Britain’s common currency a success in knitting together a collection of regions and historically separate countries with different languages, cultures and economic profiles."

The case of Stephen Hester shows that bonuses are a reward for power, not performance, argues Stumbling and Mumbling.

Progressive Transport.believes that cars kill cities.

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer was released during the autumn of 1970, yet this political satire has many contemporary resonances says Steven Fielding.

Roy Harper: One of Those Days in England



Roy Harper is an artist who gets many passing mentions in Rob Young's Electric Eden, but never a paragraph to himself. Yet Alex Petridis in the Guardian recently called him "the most original, and the most underrated of the singer-songwriters who followed the 60s folk boom".

Here he is on The Old Grey Whistle Test with a song that owes much to the 1960s, though the lyrics - "One of those days in England with the country goin' broke" - certainly belong to the economic problems of 1977. This was a year when we almost won Eurovision with a number called "Rock Bottom".

Harper's best-known song is probably "When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease". He sang in on Test Match Special last summer, and if you explore the later segments of that View from the Boundary interview you will come across the unlikely juxtaposition of Aggers and the trashing of hotel rooms.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Anthony Blair found hiding out near Market Harborough

From the Harborough Mail:
A prisoner who walked out of an open prison was found hiding near Harborough, a court heard. Anthony Blair (25), reacted with anger and swore at Judge Richard Bray when three years’ imprisonment was added to his sentence. 
Northampton Crown Court heard on Friday last week that Blair was jailed for seven-and-a-half years at Teeside Crown Court in December 2008 for wounding with intent and stealing and handling stolen vehicles. 
He was serving the sentence at HMP Ford, an open prison in West Sussex, went he walked out on August 3 last year. 
Alex Bull, prosecuting, said while Blair was on the run, an £18,000 Ford Ranger was stolen from Lower Lodge Farm, Harborough on August 11. 
Yet when police officers went to the Brook Meadow lakeside retreat between Sibbertoft and Lubenham two days before Christmas, they found both it and Blair.

The Women's Social & Political Union Headquarters, Leicester



A poster in the window of an empty Leicester shop advertises last November's Cycles and Suffragettes event. You can find the shop in Bowling Green Street, in the shadow of Fenwick's department store.

Whoever put it there knew must have known that, a century ago, that shop houses the headquarters of the Leicester branch of the Women's Social and Political Union. Below is a picture of it in those days, borrowed from a website about the great Leicester suffragette Alice Hawkins.

I expect Nora Logan was a regular visitor too.


Only in the Guardian...

In the course of a review in today's Guardian, Jenny Turner quotes from A Card from Angela Carter by Susannah Clapp:
[It's] hard to exaggerate the visceral anti-Thatcherism of the 1980s
Among the sort of people who review books for the Guardian, certainly. But the old girl did win three consecutive general elections.

Call it Eliza Carthy Syndrome.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A tube train at Leicester


I came home from work early one afternoon this week. Just south of Leicester station I saw a London Underground train. Presumably it was on its way to or from the Litchurch Lane Works in Derby.

This train had a pair of class 20 locomotives (a rare sight themselves these days) and a buffer wagon at either end, but there was still something moving about seeing a tube train in such circumstances.

It reminded me of a pit pony allowed up from the depths for a short while to frolic in a sunlit meadow.

Later. Judging by later reports, this train was on its way to the test track at Old Dalby near Melton Mowbray.

Two grandsons of the 10th US President are still alive

Thanks to the New York Magazine for confirming a story that has been going the rounds for a few days and thus providing us with our Trivial Fact of the Day.

John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States of America, was born in 1790 and in office from 1841 to 1845. Remarkably, two of his grandsons are still alive.

One of them, Harrison Tyler, explains how this has come about in an interview with the magazine:
"Both my grandfather - the president - and my father, were married twice. And they had children by their first wives. And their first wives died, and they married again and had more children. And my father was 75 when I was born, his father was 63 when he was born."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Six of the Best 219

It has been a day for Liberal Democrat bloggers to think the unthinkable on education. On Lib Dem Voice Tom Smith circles nervously around the issue of grammar schools.

Too lib·er·al [adj.] has no such inhibitions: "Pupils, from low-income families, should have the ability to apply for a government certificate to meet the tuition costs of a private school. The poorest in society should not be excluded from the best private facilities in the country; we cannot achieve greater levels of social mobility if we restrict the poorest to the state sector."

Basing police officers in schools was the sort of policy that made New Labour purr. But an article by Lizzie Schiffman on Huffington Post suggests that it has the effect of criminalising more youngsters. Recent research in Chicago "found that 20 percent of all juvenile arrests in 2010 took place on school grounds. Nearly one-third of those arrests were for simple battery charges - offences that in previous years would have been written off as schoolyard skirmishes and punished with suspensions or other penalties doled out by the school."

Rob's Blog is appalled by Conservative-run Cornwall Council's ban on tweeting from meetings.

With the current debate over Scottish culture and independence near to the surface, Out in the Shires looks at Ronald Neame's 1960 film Tunes of Glory.

Brain Pickings tells the story of a disastrous 1897 expedition to the North Pole by balloon.

How will Nick Clegg's call for more tax cuts be received by his fellow Liberal Demcrats?

At the last election my party promised to raise the personal allowance to £10,000 for ordinary taxpayers. And I am extremely proud that the Coalition is on track to do so over the course of this Parliament. We’ll make sure that anyone earning £10,000 or less will pay no income tax at all and for those on middle incomes, the first £10,000 they earn will be tax free. 
For millions of basic rate taxpayers – ordinary, hardworking people – that means paying £700 less in income tax each year, around £60 a month. 
In the 2010 Budget we increased the tax allowance from £6,475 to £7,475. This year we have already announced a planned rise of an additional £630 - meaning that a total of 1.1 million more people will no longer pay income tax at all. 
But today I want to make clear that I want the Coalition to go further and faster in delivering the full £10,000. Because, bluntly, the pressure on family finances is reaching boiling point.
Nick Clegg's speech to the Resolution Foundation today has been well received by the press and Liberal Democrat bloggers.

"Nick Clegg's call for tax cuts may save the Lib Dems from annihilation" suggests Daniel Knowles on the Daily Telegraph site (a trifle melodramatically, but then - judging by his photograph - he is only 14). While Prateek Buch for the Social Liberal Forum is enthusiastic, seeing the proposed changes as part of the Liberal Democrats' fairness agenda.

For what it is worth, I am enthusiastic too. One of the problems Labour regularly runs into is that, despite its rhetoric, it is difficult to make the rich pay more. Of course, there are things you can do, such as taxing property rather than income, but the result is that increased public spending tends to increase the burden on lower earners until they become unwilling to bear it.

Certainly, I found this argument easy to make during one of my rare television appearances.

But not all my Liberal Democrats will agree with me. Because this is very much the debate we had at our Bournemouth autumn conference in 2008. There the party agreed to fight the following general election promising tax cuts, but as a Daily Telegraph report from the time shows, there was a significant minority in the party that did not agree with this strategy:
Opposition to the programme was led by Evan Harris, the party's science spokesman, and fellow MP Paul Holmes, who argued that those in most of need of help were too poor to receive any benefit from tax cuts. 
Their amendment sought to bind the party to tax cuts only after other priorities had been met, including tackling child poverty and climate change. 
Telling delegates about the plight of hard-up families in his constituencies, Mr Harris added: "Most are so poor that they will never pay taxes."
The vote in Bournemouth was clear enough - conference voted three to one to approve the new policy - but no debate can settle such a question for all time.

And it is notable that those in the party who have been less enthusiastic about the Coalition have emphasised their opposition to cuts in public spending.

If money has been found to cut tax, won't they (whether they have called themselves "Progressives", "Social Liberals" or use some other slightly vaguely defined category) now be calling for a reduction in those cuts?

Or will they keep their heads down because Nick Clegg's speech has gone down well and it is good to see the party pursuing a clear strategy at last?

Pun of the Day

Congratulations to Andy Wilson for slipping this into a Guardian cricket report this morning:
Swann, who grew up in Towcester, then popped up at Nottinghamshire.

Headline of the Day

A victory today for the Daily Telegraph:

Swingers sprayed stranger in face with bear repellent

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The case of William Mayne revisited

William Mayne was one of Britain's very best children's writers from the 1950s until his death a couple of years ago. And in 2004 for he was gaoled for two-and-a-half years for offences against children.

Now a post on Freaky Trigger by someone who calls himself pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør (as is his right in a free country) returns to this troubling case:
It seems to me challengingly important, because so challengingly dreadful, to propose that a genuinely lovely writer, a writer deeply worth reading, by children and adults, can at the same time be an abusive man who betrayed trust and responsibility. 
We’re all contradictory, and writers are especially well used to firewalling the sensitive imagination off from the reaches of life that are experienced rather than imagined, for all kinds of reasons, good and bad. And all writers — and this certainly includes me — write as much for an imagined reader as the readers they happen to know and meet in life. 
Who were Mayne’s imagined readers? What do his books tell us?
pˆnk s lord, if I may call him that, makes great claims for Mayne's writing:
Sand is an amazing book, quite unlike any children’s novel before it, at least by any other author I can quickly bring to mind. At one (not unfamiliar) level, it’s a sketch of the fascination and antipathy between secondary modern boys and grammar school girls, in a small never-named northern coastal town — and as such fits into its time, the time of kitchen sink cinema and Coronation Street, the Beatles and, well, Ballard, actually. Because — in its deceptive, even diffident way — it’s a closer cousin to Ballard, Beckett and Camus than anything you’d surely expect to encounter in children’s books.
But I am convinced that these claims are entirely justified. William Mayne is an extraordinary writer.

Pˆnk s lord plans to read or re-read all the Mayne books he can find and (I think) to blog about them.

In the mean time, you may be interested in my own post The death of William Mayne. It has acquired 70 comments and gives us a clearer picture of the man and his activities.

Harborough man spends five days on top of a pole

Thanks to top Harborough tweeter @solarpilchard for alerting us to this film from 1959 on the Media Archive for Central England website:
Jenny Martin begins the report with a piece to camera explaining that Jack Watling is squatting up a pole in Market Harborough to publicise a film. She then calls upon the services of fireman Tom Alcock to carry her up a ladder to Mr Watling's hut at the top of the scaffolding structure. She then interviews Watling about his experiences of spending five days and nights in his hut.
Which film was he publicising? The Harborough Mail has gone to its archives and promises to tell us next week.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Michael Crick meets Rupert Matthews

Michael Crick had a report on Channel 4 News this evening about the continuing saga of Roger Helmer's resignation (or not) as one of the MEPs for the East Midlands and whether Rupert Matthews will replace him.

In his accompanying blog post he writes:
When I went to see Rupert Matthews at his home in Surrey today he refused to speak on camera. He doesn't want to upset his chances. 
Off-camera, he denied several times to my face that he was a teacher for the IMU, and had merely designed the course. Yet in the IMU's online video Matthews talks to camera of being "your tutor for the course". Matthews denies being a professor for the university, though they were calling him such up to the end of last week. 
And he denied that IMU gives out degrees, though their website quite clearly offer masters degrees. All very odd.
I agree with Crick's conclusion:
Conservative HQ says it will do what it can to help Matthews take over Helmer's seat. But they still want to question him. And I can't help feeling that question process will lead to Matthews being rejected, or persuaded to abandon his claim. That would be a pity in a way, for Rupert Matthews would be a lot more colourful than most MEPs.
And from a purely selfish point of view, if he does not become and MEP I shall be robbed of a stream of blog posts that write themselves.

If you want more background to this affair, read my earlier posts on Rupert Matthews.

Claire Tyler is the new chair of Cafcass

Children & Young People Now reports that the Lib Dem peer Baroness Claire Tyler has been appointed chair of Cafcass - the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service:
Education Secretary Michael Gove, who appointed Baroness Tyler, said her appointment would "help ensure that children’s interests are always at the heart of care and family court proceedings". 
She joins after a tough four years for the court service, which has battled to cope with a dramatic increase in caseloads since the Baby Peter case, as well as fend off criticism from MPs and unions. 
Latest figures indicate Cafcass is winning its battle to reduce the number of unallocated cases. By the end of March last year there were just three unallocated cases, compared with 986 by the end of August 2009.

Six of the Best 218

Welcome to The Libertine, "the blogging platform for young Lib Dems".

"All his life, Havel lived by the belief that if you wanted something to happen, you had to do something to make it happen, and damn the consequences, including arrest and prison, and possibly even death. Speaking about the early days of the post-Stalin thaw, he once said: “The more we did, the more we were able to do, and the more we were able to do, the more we did.” It is a fine summary of his attitude, and, in a sense, his legacy." Paul Wilson writes about the legacy of Václav Havel in the New York Review of Books.

Jock Coats argues, against George Monbiot, that libertarianism is naturally green.

The solution to hospital bed crises is not necessarily more beds, argues Slugger O'Toole, looking at the experience in Northern Ireland.

Nicholas Whyte looks at Scotch on the Rocks, a strangely prescient thriller written in the 1960s by Douglas Hurd and Andrew Osmond.

"Few places I've visited have such a powerful and unique identity as Dungeness and I could see instantly why Ravilious had felt at home. The lighthouses and miniature railway and power stations and eccentric little houses were part of it, but what appealed to me most was the evidence of passing time." James Russell follows in the footsteps on Eric Ravilious and Derek Jarman.

Headline of the Day features a moose

We have a new winner in the shape of the Huffington Post:

Dorothea Murphy, Alaska Woman, Fights Moose With Shovel

Monday, January 23, 2012

Konrad Smigielski and the destruction of old Leicester



This is a video from the University of Leicester that offers a re-evaluation of the career of Konrad Smigielski, the city's planning officer from 1962.

It argues that, though Smigielski is often blamed for the worst aspect of Leicester's redevelopment (the ring road, the loss of ancient buildings in the city centre), he deserves credit for many features of the city that are admired today, such as the preservation of New Walk and the improvement of some of its Victorian suburbs.

There is more about Konrad Smigielski and Leicester in a post by Jones the Planner. For better or worse, we never did get the monorail he proposed.

Stroking the black dog: A carnival of mental health

Ellen Arnison at In a Bun Dance is hosting a carnival of posts about mental health.

British R&B bands of the 1960s

Andrew Hickey is serialising his new ebook on The Kinks. In the first part he writes of British rhythm and blues bands of the 1960s:
Like many British bands in 1964 and 65, the Kinks were attempting to sound like the American blues music of a previous generation. The problem is that like many of those bands, the Kinks were not particularly strong either vocally or instrumentally, and simply couldn’t carry the weight of this material. 
When Muddy Waters or Bo Diddley sing “I’m A Man”, the implicit meaning is “so don’t call me ‘boy’”. When white teenagers from the Home Counties sing the same material, it comes out sounding more like “I’m a grown man, now, mummy, so you can’t make me tidy my room!” 
The best of the British R&B-oriented bands, like the Animals or the Zombies or the Spencer Davis Group, got away with this by having astonishingly good vocalists – and all of these bands soon moved away from the R&B sound.
Andrew seems spot on to me here, and not just because he compliments to two of my very favourite bands.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Does the location of the polling station affect how you vote?

A post by Jon Henley on the Guardian's Shortcuts blog suggests that it may:
A new US study has found "significantly more conservative social and political attitudes" among people near churches than those near municipal buildings like schools. Since both serve as polling stations, voting location could affect a close-run election. 
The research is reinforced by a 2008 study by Stanford business school, which found that in Arizona's 2000 elections, people voting in schools were – regardless of other factors – more likely to support higher education spending. In a control experiment, people shown images of churches proved less likely to back stem cell funding. "Environmental cues", they concluded, may in some cases influence voting outcomes even more than political views.

Leonard Cohen: Famous Blue Raincoat



Leonard Cohen has been in the newspapers this week because of the release of his album Old Ideas. His later style may not be to everyone's taste: "Catch Leonard Cohen's UK tour before his voice drops outside the range of human hearing," as someone said when he released The Future in 1992.

Come to that, Cohen's earlier wasn't to everyone's taste either, but I find this wonderfully bleak.

More about Leonard Cohen on his official website.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chelsea, Peter Osgood and Swinging London

As an armchair Chelsea fan (though I was there when we drew the FA Cup final in 1970) the advent of Gullit and Vialli and "sexy football" seemed like a restoration of the natural order of things. Chelsea should be a glamour club that wins a cup now and then. The subsequent Premierships under St Jose were something quite outside the expectations or experience of the club's fans.
I once wrote. To which I can add today: under AVB, Chelsea are pretty much back where they belong.

Just how much of glamour club Chelsea was in the sixties was made clear in a Jewish Chronicle article by Greg Tesser a few weeks ago:
Chelsea were London's glamour club at the time, attracting a host of celebrity supporters. People like the actor David Hemmings, the photographer Terry O'Neill and, on occasion, Hollywood stars like Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen, would regularly lunch at Alvaro's on the King's Road before making their way to Chelsea's ground, Stamford Bridge, to cheer on Osgood and company. 
I was an occasional guest at Alvaro's, and had struck up a friendship with O'Neill, who, along with David Bailey, was the most fashionable photographer in London and the former husband of the actress Faye Dunaway. 
It was not long before the national press cottoned on to the idea of footballers as celebrities and Osgood, playing for a club with so many glamorous supporters, soon became a glamour figure. When the Hollywood actress Raquel Welch was interviewed in The Times and (thanks to a little bit of Terry O'Neill persuasion) informed the world that she really admired Osgood, interest in him and Chelsea mushroomed.
Tesser goes on to describe a successful attempt to persuade Welch to attend a game - the straitlaced Chelsea manager Dave Sexton was against the idea, but Jimmy Hill smoothed things over and she was seen at Stamford Bridge.

Welch did not attend what he calls the post-match "tea room" at Stamford Bridge, Tesser says, but she was about the only celebrity of the day who did not:
Welch never attended the post-match "tea-room" at Stamford Bridge but she was about the only A-list celeb who didn't. Regular visitors convening for refreshment after matches included Michael Caine, John Cleese, Ronnie Corbett, Tom Courtney, Michael Crawford, Leonard Rossiter, Dennis Waterman and even United States Secretary of State and Nobel Prize-winner Henry Kissinger. They were all, as Osgood used to say, "Blues nuts". 
Another fan was the Jewish comic actor Marty Feldman. Marty lived above me in Wellesley Court in Maida Vale and I introduced him to Osgood. I do not know which of them was more starstruck. Feldman at the time was one of the most sought-after comic performers in the country, but even so I remember him saying wistfully to me: "I wish I had Osgood's talent".
Those really were the days.

Nottingham Liberal Democrats' Winter Mini-Conference


I spent this afternoon at Nottingham Liberal Democrats' Winter Mini-Conference.

It was an excellent event and could well provide a model for other local parties. Liberal Democrats can be so concerned with campaigning that they seldom make the time to discuss policy or the party's wider philosophy. Meanwhile, our national party conferences can be prohibitively expensive, are increasingly managed and require you to give your passport number, inside leg measurement and a DNA sample.

So there is certainly a role for more local events that enable party members to learn about and debate policy questions

There were three speakers: William Davidson from ALTER (the Lib Dem group Action for Land Taxation and Economic Reform); Dr Corinne Camilleri-Ferrante, a consultant in public health medicine, and Bill Newton Dunn MEP.

William  Davidson gave a good summary of the case for taxing land values. This is an idea that has been around in the party since the 19th century - indeed, suggested that Henry George's classic work on the subject from 1879, Progress and Poverty, outsold Karl Marx's Das Kapital in the English-speaking world.

The basic idea behind land value taxation is that the state should tax the profits that private landowners make because of public investment - say a new railway station increasing the price of nearby houses - should be taxed so that the public gets the advantage instead. At the same time, the state would have less need to tax income, profit or economic activity in general.

Land value taxation was implemented to an extent by Liberal governments early in the 20th century, but abandoned in the 1920s. There has been a recent revival of interest in the idea and it is now Liberal Democrat policy to use a form of the tax as a replacement for business rates.

My concern, which I tried to frame in a question, is that the idea of land value taxation was developed in a era when the great villains, in Liberal eyes, were landlords who refused to allow the fullest economic development of their estates. Nowadays, Lib Dem campaigning is often predicated on the idea that it would be a good thing if land were not developed to its fullest extent, and I wonder how this fits with taxing land values. Anyway, there is plenty more about the idea on the ALTER website.

Corinne Camilleri-Ferrante made an impassioned case against Andrew Lansley's Health and Social Care Bill. You can read her view for yourself in a Guardian article published last week.

I was convinced that we should campaign to retain the duty of the Secretary of State for Health to provide services. This is particularly necessary if you are a good Liberal who wants to see more diversity and local management in the system, as there then needs to be someone at the centre who will act to fill any gaps that emerge. David Cameron's recent intervention on the quality of nursing care is a good example of what can sometimes be necessary.

Beyond that, I always find it hard to disentangle concern for the patient, the defence of professional interests and the resistance to change we all feel in our jobs in such contributions. For instance, Corinne was concerned that local government is to take more responsibility for public health, but that seems to me a thoroughly good thing.

The idea that we should just leave it to the doctors won't really do: as someone pointed out from the floor, the British Medical Association opposed  the setting up of the National Health Service ("...and Lloyd George's Health Insurance Act," I helpfully added).

Finally, there was Bill Newton Dunn - eloquent, patient, polite, as he always is. He gave us a master class on European politics and the current economic crisis.

Somehow MEPs sounds less like politicians than Westminster MPs. In part this is because so many of us know too little about European politics, so such talks always have an element of education about them. But it is also because there is something of a democratic deficit about the whole European project - see this week's election for a new President of the European Parliament for an example, though Bill told us that there are moves to make this process more open and to involve the public more in future.

He also, surely rightly, argued that David Cameron's problems with Europe have their roots in his decision to seek support in the last Conservative leadership by promising to take the party out of the European People's Party where is natural allies are to be found. More encouragingly, Bill suggested that Cameron has now realised the dangers of isolation and is trying to do something about it.

Oh, and this being a Lib Dem event, there was someone who wanted to solve the problems of interpretation at the European Parliament by forcing everyone to learn Esperanto.

Overall, it was a really good event and, as I began by saying, its format could well be copied by other local parties. It ran from noon until four o'clock, meaning that Nottingham people did not have to give up a whole Saturday and those of us who came from further way could travel at a civilised hour.

The venue was the comfortable surroundings of the city' masonic headquarters. There was a Wi-Fi network there, so I had thoughts of tweeting from the event, but I did not have the password (or perhaps the handshake) to allow me to use it.

Lord Mayor of Leicester could be suspended

From the Leicester Mercury:
The Lord Mayor of Leicester could be suspended after an investigation concluded he had brought the office of councillor into disrepute. 
Veteran politician Rob Wann was referred to the city's standards board over claims he had five parking tickets cancelled by senior council officers and received a free parking permit to which he was not entitled. 
Independent investigator Jon Wigmore issued a report to the city council's standards board on his findings this week. 
The law states such reports should not normally be handed to the media. 
However, a copy has been leaked to the Mercury and we have decided to publish its findings as we believe it is in the public interest to do so.
Publishing such a report can currently lead to a prison sentence under Section 63 of the Local Government Act 2000, but that section of the law is about to abolished.

Robert Wann (not to be confused with the city's elected mayor Sir Peter Soulsby) maintains his innocence and says he has done nothing wrong.

Friday, January 20, 2012

I'm just wild about Hari

Well, not wild exactly, but I do think that Johann Hari's resignation from the Independent was the right outcome.

As I said in July of last year when the scandal broke:
He has always seemed to me more of an academic essayist than a journalist. A good example are his slightly irritating appearances on The Review Show, where new film or novel has to be compared with three others to make sense of it. 
So it was no great surprise to me that he should turn out to be more at home copying passages out of his interviewees' books than taking notes of what they say.
The sanest summing up of the affair I have read was posted by Splintered Sunrise in the same month - I included it in a Six of the Best at the time - who emphasised that Simon Kelner, the newspaper's former editor, must take a share of the blame.

It is worth reading the whole post, but this is the key passage:
Again and again, we come back to Kelner. 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 (comparing Hari’s columns on the Indy site with his own site, one sees that Indy editorial broke up his long paragraphs and corrected a few obvious howlers, but little else); he clearly was never given the training or mentoring he needed (and if Hari thought he didn’t need training, Kelner should have insisted) 
Hari was given plenty of resources – one hears stories of Indy interns doing mountains of photocopying that would then be couriered over to the great man (couriered, I ask you, as if he was Peter fucking Mandelson) – but didn’t give him what he really needed, a guiding hand.

Headline of the Day

Today's award goes to the Daily Mirror for:


Man arrested in Saddam Hussein statue buttock investigation

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A tribute to Kodak

From BBC News:
Eastman Kodak, the company that invented the hand-held camera, has filed for bankruptcy protection. 
The move gives the company time to reorganise itself without facing its creditors, and Kodak said that it would mean business as normal for customers. 
The company has recently moved away from cameras to focus on making printers, to try to stem its losses.

MEP resignations show what's wrong with the list system

European Voice reports that the Liberal Democrat MEP Diana Wallis is to resign as MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber. Apparently she wants to "take a break from politics" and believes it is time "for someone with fresh eyes to take over".

All of which makes it a little odd that Diana stood as president of the European Parliament earlier this week.

But there is a deeper issue here. Because Diana's resignation appears to form part of an increasing trend for MEPs to stand down between elections.

I suppose the thinking is that it will help resigning MEP's party in the next election if its list boasts more people with experience in Brussels.

But there is a danger that these resignations give the impression is in the gift of the resigning member or that member's party rather than the voters.

The fact that Diana is likely to be succeeded by her husband Stewart Arnold strengthens the impression that Euro seats are the member's personal property to give away, but the Roger Helmer and Rupert Matthews saga (Gollygate? UFOgate?) has made it clear - see the comments on this post - that the seat is in the gift of the retiring member's party.

One thing is for sure: the voters are not consulted.

All of which should remind us how bad the list system is. As someone said in a tweet to me today, we must make sure it is not used for elections to a reformed House of Lords.

With thanks to Lib Dem Voice.

Six of the Best 217


Richard Clare on Liberal Democrat Voice wants your help in stopping the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer.

Is lack of funding really the only possible explanation for a school's weakness? asks Eaten by Missionaries. "Even the late Labour government's worst enemies would concede that it spent a lot of money on schools in the days when boom and bust had still been abolished. There hasn't been time for the effects of austerity (whether one considers it painful but necessary or ideologically driven) to filter through. So if comprehensive schools have been failing because of lack of funding, then there really is no hope."

Cicero's Songs reminds us that "the deepest instincts of the Labour Party remain collectivist and tribal.".

Writing for Youngzine, Anita Ramachandran notes that 2012 is the International Year of Cooperatives.

"It’s a wonder Dickens didn’t explode and perish long before his death in 1870, at age 58. Quite apart from the act of composing his novels, he was a whirlwind, living a life that is nearly unmatched in its vigour. He had one entire career as a magazine editor, another as an actor and manager of theatrical productions, still another as a philanthropist and social reformer. The record of his private engagements alone — dinners, outings, peregrinations with his entourage of family and friends — is exhausting to read." In the New York Times Review, Verlyn Klinkeborg hears the whirling sound of planet Dickens.

IanVisits peeks behind the hoardings at Blackfriars Station.

Headline of the Day

Well done to the Leicester Mercury for:

Drink-driver was caught in a nappy and a bonnet

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Write a guest post for Liberal England

A reminder that Liberal England is now accepting guest posts. So far 24 (count 'em) have appeared:
If you would like to write one yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

I am chiefly interested in political posts, but if you are a regular reader you will know that this blog is noted for its eclectic range of interests...

The long history of Boris Island

The proposal for a Boris Island airport in the Thames estuary has put me in mind of the debates of the late 1960s and early 1970s over whether London needed a third airport and, if so, where it should be sited.

Writing on a Guardian blog, Andy Beckett reminds us that Edward Heath's government fully intended to build a similar scheme at Foulness (or Maplin as it more euphoniously came to be called) in Essex:
t would have multiple runways and new transport links to London, to relieve the already-notorious noise and congestion at Heathrow and help regenerate the poorer eastern side of the capital. Heath was very keen, and the plan quickly acquired faintly sci-fi features: "a brand-new jet city" to be built nearby, "tracked hovercraft" to whisk airport users to London. Speculators bought up whole streets around the planned London terminus near King's Cross. 
In 1973, construction started on the grey-brown Essex mudflats. A gravel "trial bank" 300 metres long was erected, to see if an airport could withstand the North Sea storms and deep estuary quicksands. 
Riding the rising tide of early 70s environmentalism and political militancy, local opponents of the project organised themselves flamboyantly as the Defenders of Essex, and seduced visiting reporters with picturesque arguments such as the damage likely to be done by the airport to Southend's cockle pickers. Meanwhile, in Westminster, an unholy alliance of Labour MPs and austere Thatcherites-in-the-making such as Norman Tebbit questioned the rising cost of the scheme to taxpayers.
In those days the easiest way to get a round of applause on Any Questions? (the panel usually seemed to consist of Richard Marsh, Arianna Stassinopoulos, Michael Clayton - "editor of Horse & Hound" - and Russell Braddon) was to call for prestige projects like this airport, Concorde and the Channel tunnel to be abandoned. And eventually the airport and the tunnel were abandoned.

It turns out, if you read an excellent paper published by the House of Commons Library - Aviation: proposals for an airport in the Thames estuary, 1945-2011 - that Maplin and Boris Island are just two of many schemes for an airport on the Kent or Essex mudflats.

You may enjoy the Pathetic Motorways entry for the unbuilt M13 too.

Jonathan Meades on France starts tonight

A new series by him is a television event, but the BBC has allowed Jonathan Meades on France little publicity.

So let me tell you that you can see the first part, Fragments of an Arbitrary Encyclopaedia, on BBC Four tonight at 9 p.m. The BBC Four website tells us:
Jonathan Meades travels through Lorraine and explains why, although close to its eastern border, it has become the symbolic, or even mystical, heart of France and a stronghold of a romantic nationalism that is also expressed by such diverse means as typography, music, engineering, exquisite urbanism and, above all, a sensitivity to Germany's proximity.
The second film, to be shown next week, is A Biased Anthology of Parisian Peripheries and third remains a mystery for now.

You can read an interview with Meades about the series on The Dabbler and there is plenty more from the great man at the MeadesShrine on Youtube.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Otters filmed in the River Welland at Market Harborough



Hurry over to the Harborough Mail website for the footage:
One of them plays with a beer bottle in the video, shot near the Northampton Road bridge in Harborough at about 5.30pm on Tuesday night (January 17).

The Guardian catches up with Liberator's editorial on police commissioner elections

There will be an article in tomorrow's Guardian by the paper's home affairs editor Alan Travis that quotes the editorial of the January issue of Liberator. That editorial is highly critical of the Liberal Democrats' decision not to contest the new police commissioner elections in November - as was this blog.

Travis writes:
The January edition of Liberator, the long-established voice of the party's radical activists, has attacked the decision in virulent terms, calling it "an act of political lunacy". 
Its editorial accuses the party leadership of political cowardice and goes on to ask: "Is this really the party that was prepared to stand up for civil liberty throughout the New Labour years, but which now has nothing to say on how voters are policed or how the police behave?"
The only slightly odd thing about this is that the January issue of Liberator was with subscribers before Christmas. You can read the editorial Travis refers to - it is the second item of Commentary and titled "Running Scared - on the Liberator website.

Local News Story of the Day

From the Cambridge News:
Theft victim who caught up with crook 'concerned about youth fitness' 
A long-distance runner has donated cash to promote youth fitness after catching a thief who snatched his laptop. 
Peter Stevens was in his car outside his home in Beche Road, Abbey, Cambridge, when the hooded thief opened the rear door and grabbed the computer. 
The 34-year-old runner and IT expert chased him and was surprised when he caught up with the thief after just 225 metres. 
Realising the game was up, the puffed-out criminal dropped the laptop, allowing Mr Stevens to pick it up. 
Mr Stevens said: “I was appalled by how unfit this guy was. I thought it would take a lot longer to catch up with him."

Leicester rail crash 1949

"It's become a Leicester legend: the night a railway engine and tender derailed and fell into Tommy Wadsworth's backyard in Northgate street. It's still talked about to this day."

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Sutton Trust, private schools and social mobility

Stephen Tall writes in slightly wary support of the proposal from the Sutton Trust that the government should fund places for poor students at the best private schools:
But those who think Sir Peter is wrong-headed should reflect seriously on what their alternative to the status quo is. 
Sure, everyone on the liberal-left champions the comprehensive ideal that all local state schools should be great schools — but decades later we’re still waiting. And in the meantime thousands of pupils are losing out each and every year, while the intelligentsia which wrings its hands at the thought of selection by merit happily games the system to ensure their own kids don’t suffer.
Like Stephen, I am attracted to this idea but feel a little guilty about it. But the size of the problem with the current system was brought home by the recent two-part BBC4 documentary on the history of grammar schools. It quoted figures showing how the percentage of state schools pupils at Oxbridge has declined since the 1960s.

A Spectator Coffee House article by Peter Hoskin quoted much the same figures in a passage from A Class Act by Andrew Adonis and Stephen Pollard:
Modern mythology has it that the number of privately educated children at Oxbridge is on a steadily declining path. And indeed it was - in the heyday of the state grammar schools in the 1960s. By 1969 only 38 per cent of places at Oxford were awarded to private educated children - a sharp reduction for the private schools even on their 1965 proportion. And yet in the 1990s, thanks to the destruction of the grammar schools and the consequent decamping to the private sector of many of the most able children, the figure now hovers around the 50 per cent mark.

Nick Clegg's speech on responsible capitalism and the John Lewis economy

The Liberal Democrat website has the full text of the speech on responsible capitalism that Nick Clegg gave at the Mansion House today. It is worth reading the whole thing:
Our problem is what Jesse Norman has called crony capitalism. It’s easy to throw rhetorical rocks at directors, bankers and businesses. But, if we are honest, this is as much a failure of politicians and regulators, the authorities too often cowed by corporate power. Whether that is political parties of all stripes in hock to vested interests or regulators struggling to stop supermarkets from putting the squeeze on small suppliers, whether it’s politicians kow-towing to media barons, the problem is endemic. 
There’s nothing new about it. Kings have always bestowed privileges on their favourite merchants. Corporations will naturally seek a dominant market position. It’s one of the reasons liberals from John Bright to the present day have been such fierce advocates of free trade. The agricultural landlords of the 19th century and early 20th century were happy for working people to pay more for their food because of protective tariffs. What Lloyd George in 1906 memorably called ‘stomach taxes’. So long as their own profits were protected. 
This has always been capitalism’s greatest danger: a tendency for the rule makers and the money makers to get too close. And we saw the consequences of that closeness play out in the most dramatic fashion right here, in the City, just three years ago. It was a political failure; a regulatory failure; and a market failure too.
As I discussed with his kinswoman Deirdre Razzall earlier today, another Liberal pioneer in this field he could have mentioned is Theodore Cook Taylor.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chris Huhne hails 50p tax rate decision as a Lib Dem victory

John Bingham in the Daily Telegraph reports Chris Huhne's interview on BBC Radio 5's Pienaar's Politics:
Mr Huhne indicated that the 50p rate was set to stay, remarking: “I think we've won that argument.” 
He said that this was “partly, I think, because people simply realise that this is not an appropriate moment to send out a signal that we're going to tax well off people less”. 
While insisting it had been a collective decision, he nevertheless suggested that pressure from the Liberal Demoracts had forced Mr Osborne’s hand. 
“The Conservatives don't have an overall majority, so they need, if they want to get a finance bill through, if they want to get anything else through, they need to have Liberal Democrat support in the House of Commons and that's absolutely crucial,” he said,

Six of the Best 216

"The current Cabinet of the United Kingdom consists of twenty three members, each department also has several junior ministers. In post-devolution Britain, majority of social policies (health, education,et al) are devolved to regional bodies – the power of Westminster is reduced. And this proposes an intriguing question: Can the Prime Minister justify a large Cabinet?" Too lib·er·al [adj.] makes the case for smaller government.

iRadar gives five reasons why he will not be voting for Ed Miliband.

David Hunt, Conservative peer and the new head of the Press Complaints Commission, recently made the extraordinary claim that bloggers pose a greater challenge than the tabloid press. Richard Wilson has since been in correspondence with him and is far from reassured.

"Croydon once had civic leaders with the vision to commercialise the town centre in the 1960s, replete with subsidised arts and national quality concerts at Fairfield. The recent barbaric destruction of arts provision must have played some role in making Croydon less attractive as a national HQ for Nestlé – playing down to Croydon’s image as a cultural desert." Inside Croydon looks at the decline of the borough under recent Conservative administrations.

Landscape Architecture Blog considers the shared space crossing outside Sloane Square tube station.

"Painting the Forth Bridge" will no longer do as a metaphor for a task without end. Now The Victorianist looks at its construction in the 19th century - and provides this post with its illustration.

Simon Dupree and the Big Sound: Kites



Inspired by Christmas on Earth Continued, it is time for me to show you the first single I ever bought, because I must have done so a few days after that happening happened. I still have the disc, though I don't own a turntable to play it on at the moment.

Kites was released in October 1967 and reached no. 9 in the chart the following week. So I suspect that I bought it with a Christmas record token - I have the amount of 7/6 in mind, but it was all a long time ago.

Simon Dupree and the Big Sound consisted largely of the three Shulman brothers, almost recruited Elton John as their keyboard player and later metamorphosed into the progressive rock band Gentle Giant.

All of which was pretty cool for a seven-year-old, I hope you will agree. Perhaps they put something in the school milk in those days?

My first LP was less cool: Band on the Run by Wings. I thought the title track and Jet were great singles when I was 13 - that is the age when you spin the dial after hearing a favourite track, hoping to find another station that is playing it so you can hear it again right away.

But it all sounded pretty tame by the time I sent it to a charity shop.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Christmas on Earth Continued: 1967 The Winter of Love

I came across a priceless (for me) clip of Traffic playing live in 1967 the other day. It turns out to come from an event called Christmas on Earth continued held at Earls Court on 22 December of that year.

Marmalade Skies (from which I have borrowed the illustration here) says of it:
The last major underground event of the year is “Christmas On Earth Continued”, billed as an “All-Night Christmas Dream Party” and held in the vast London Olympia on the 22nd. Pre-publicity is hopelessly inadequate and this, plus a particularly severe winter freeze, results in a sparse attendance and financial disaster for the organisers, despite a fabulous line-up of acts—Jimi Hendrix Experience, Eric Burdon, Pink Floyd, The Move, Soft Machine, Tomorrow, Graham Bond Organisation, Sam Gopal and Paper Blitz Tissue. The Who fail to turn up!
And someone writing on the Pink Floyd fan site A Fleeting Glimpse disproves what they say about the sixties by painting a vivid picture of it:
Olympia was a much more cavernous venue than the Ally Pally, and the focus was on two stages, facing each other across the vast hall. Bands were playing alternately, causing the majority of the 10,000 crowd to turn, first left for fourty minutes, then right and so forth, like a colony of paisley penguins! 
The light shows, if anything, surpassed the amazing Ally Pally event the previous July, with the wall to wall coverage and dreamscapes. ( Mark Boyle's Sensory Laboratory was specifically billed as support for Soft Machine, and the Floyd had announced the first appearance of their fabulous new '3D lightshow'.) We were absolutely wired for a good time and the bands didn't disappoint us. 
Soft Machine, with Kevin Ayers resplendent in pre-punk black string vest, climaxed with the ultimate Dada version of 'We did it again' as Robert Wyatt leapt into a full bath of water, that just happened to be on-stage with them! At least, we assumed it was water. 
Tomorrow powered through their unique mix of heavily Beatles influenced psychedelia. During 'Strawberry Fields Forever' Twink(drums) and Junior (bass) performed a mimed fight whilst being subjected to the most powerful strobe light effects I've ever witnessed. Steve Howe was a revelation, moving from raga to classical to Barrett - style anarchy with an almost arrogant ease. 
Traffic, still with Dave Mason, even performed 'Hole in my shoe'. Steve Winwood was into his white cheesecloth period, and their music was so unlike anything else around that they occupied a totally original space. The song, 'Here we go round the Mulberry Bush' was very typical of their trippy, watery sound at that time. 
Hendrix - voom! All light shows were killed for his performance. Noel Redding was constantly niggling Jimi, playing bass behind his head as Jimi performed his tricks with his guitar. It was the first time I saw Hendrix with his Gibson Flying Arrow, and the tension on-stage produced some electrifying music.
Christmas on Earth Continued is also remembered for a sad reason. As Alison's Wonderland says:
Sadly, the Christmas on Earth festival also marked Syd Barrett's last major show with Pink Floyd. By the time of the concert, Barrett had suffered a significant mental breakdown due to stress and excessive drug use, allegedly exacerbating symptoms of schizophrenia, though Barrett's sister denies this diagnosis. At the concert, Barrett was observed to just stand on stage with his guitar, his arms hanging limp at his side, while Roger Waters played the same bass line over and over again.
Anyway, here is that clip of Traffic. They play Dear Mr Fantasy (which Steve Winwood still plays today) and Giving to You:



And here are various clips of Jimi Hendrix playing at the same event:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Some posts on The Corridor (a cricket blog)

Finding myself in possession of the password for what seems to be an otherwise abandoned cricket blog, I have added some posts this week:

Later. And now my password no longer works.

In which I have a story published in the Shropshire Star

A story in my favourite newspaper begins:
One in four office workers complains of “chronic boredom”, turning to coffee and chocolate to lighten up their day. 
People are also more likely to have an alcoholic drink at the end of a boring day at work, a study of office-based employees showed. 
Four out of five of those surveyed by occupational psychologist Sandi Mann said boredom caused them to lose concentration, and half believed it led to mistakes.
Which is rather pleasing, because that story originates from a press released I sent out in the course of my day job.

All media professionals will agree. It doesn't get much better than getting a story into the Shropshire Star.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Richard Reeves discusses John Stuart Mill's On Liberty



This is an issue of the excellent Philosophy Bites podcast devoted to an interview with Richard Reeves, author of John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand.

The interview concentrates on Mill's On Liberty. Note in particular Reeves' important point that the widely quoted 'harm principle' is not the core of Mill's argument in the book.

If you enjoy this interview you may want to watch a video of a lecture Reeves gave on Mill at the University of Richmond, Virginia, in 2009. You could even read an old Liberator article of mine, Why John Stuart Mill is the greatest liberal, that owes a lot to Reeves' arguments.

Charles Kennedy set to lead pro-Union campaign in referendum

A report in tomorrow's Guardian claims:
Alistair Darling, Charles Kennedy and the former Tory leader in Scotland, Annabel Goldie, are being lined up as the main faces of the pro-union campaign in the referendum on Scottish independence, sources in the three parties confirmed Wenesday [sic] night.
The report also says that Labour and Liberal Democrats have expressed the hope that David Cameron will adopt a lower profile in future.

Will Charles and co. be enough to save the Union? Certainly, the rise of the SNP has been greatly eased by the way that almost all the considerable figures in the other parties have chosen to make their careers at Westminster rather than Holyrood. He may now face more formidable opposition.

But, having been told when young that the future lay in great conglomerates, I grew up into a world more notable for the break up of multinational states - Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union. It is hard to resist the feeling that the tides are at present in favour of the SNP.

Another question is how hard the Conservatives will try to save the Union. It used to lie at the heart of their identity, but in this way - as in so many others - the modern Conservative Party has little connection with traditional British Conservatism.

I doubt that David Cameron will want to be the prime minister on whose watch the United Kingdom broke up. But it is hard for him to resist the calculation that it would be much easier for the Conservatives to win a majority at Westminster if there were no Scottish members there.

And, as we were reminded in King's Lynn, to the average Tory member the Scots are just a bunch of ingrates who take more than their share of public spending.

The SNP, equally, is convinced that an independent Scotland would be much more prosperous. They cannot both be right.

My own suspicion is that the end of the Union would make surprisingly little difference to Scotland or England, which is why I find that I am not dismayed at the prospect.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Six of the Best 215

"I know that some people who agree with me that Thatcher was a divisive and damaging Prime Minister are boycotting the film.  My advice to them is swallow your pride and go and see it." The Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams, our man in the front row of the stalls with a bucket of popcorn, has been to see The Iron Lady.

If you take Stephen's advice then you will probably want to read a three-part survey of the development of Margaret Thatcher's voice and oratory by Max Atkinson.

The Slog casts a scathing eye on the career of shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy.

"The underground remains of Northampton Castle could be brought to the surface under new proposals to regenerate a historic area of the town," reports the Northampton Chronicle & Echo. The picture here shows the only portion of it currently to be seen above ground, and that has been moved from its original position.

Spitalfields Life pays tribute to Ronald Searle by reprinting some drawings he made there in 1953.

"There are places that touch the soul so deeply it hurts." Diary of a Desperate Exmoor Woman on the home of the children's writer Alan Garner.

The restored Hallaton Helmet is coming to the Harborough Museum

The ceremonial Roman helmet found at Hallaton in Leicestershire in 2000 has been restored and was revealed to the press today.

BBC News quotes Dr Jeremy Hill from the British Museum explaining its significance:
"You can't underestimate the shock and surprise this had when it was first found - Hallaton really transforms our understanding of the Roman conquest of Britain." 
He added: "Even if it went into the ground in 43, 44, 45AD, that is changing what we normally think is happening in the Roman conquest. 
"We normally think of the Roman conquest of Britain as Romans versus us. Here you probably have a situation where local Britons are fighting on the Roman side."
The Hallaton Helmet will be displayed permanently at the Harborough Museum from 28 January alongside the other finds from the site.

Guardian wins Weak Diary Story of the Day

The Guardian Diary used to be one of the best things about the newspaper, breaking and pursuing substantial stories of its own.

Those days are a couple of decades past. Even so, an item Hugh Muir gave us today stands out for its vacuity.

Here it is in full:
Historians, meanwhile, continue to be fascinated by our ruling coalition. And they wonder, what other examples are there of questionable figures going out of their way to propel Tories to power? My man in the archives discovers that in 1899, the aspiring Conservative politician Winston Churchill stood as the Conservative candidate in the Oldham byelection. Posters sprung up around town urging electors to vote for Churchill, who was "top of the card" – and would surely be "top of the poll". And who printed and published those posters? One "WE Clegg". Send for the genealogist.

Monday, January 09, 2012

David Dimbleby and the demise of Nationwide

As I am not a great admirer of David Dimbleby - his career surely owes more to family connections and bladder control than talent - I was intrigued to come across this account of the demise of the popular BBC1 programme Nationwide under the editorship of Roger Bolton.

It was written by Ian Jones in 2002 and a revised version now appears on Off the Telly:
The climax of this, however, and the twist which in hindsight sealed Nationwide’s fate, was the enlistment of David Dimbleby as a new host in January 1982. This was solely Bolton’s doing. Dimbleby had been wooed by former Nationwide producers before, but turned them down; now he made the move, impressed with the expressed intention of Bolton to jettison the frippery and promote hard-nosed investigative journalism. 
“I think it displays rather a narrow vision for a programme like Nationwide not to cover events in, say, Israel or Poland,” Dimbleby sniffed. Regardless of the merits of this perception, what was arguably of far greater importance was whether Nationwide itself, with its very particular character, history and legacy, was and ever could have been the vehicle for such a stern-lipped agenda. 
Viewers certainly didn’t think so. “Nationwide is the only programme that covers matters of interest about Britain which do not necessarily warrant coverage by the national news or even national press. Hands off Nationwide, Mr Dimbleby,” an angry correspondent wrote to Radio Times. “Face the facts,” declared another, “it is all a dreadful mistake. Return the chubby chap to ‘Miserama’ and give us back Frank and Sue and the rest with their everyday stories of real people.” 
There was indeed a perversity in filling up a programme structured to “present the facts, the people, and the background of the country we live in” with a stream of foreign news stories. Dimbleby himself displayed a singular lack of charm and viewer rapport that was a trademark of the programme. He was even billed, controversially, above Frank Bough in Radio Times. 
If that wasn’t enough, his arrival was marked by yet another makeover with a further “new” theme – an acutely irritating synthesiser-heavy concoction with little trace of a tune – plus a title sequence that bizarrely harked back to that first ever “here’s-your-region” effort of 1969. Ratings slipped still further; and though Dimbleby’s “temporary” departure in April ‘82 became a permanent one, the damage was done. Management decreed the programme unsalvageable.
Later. And, thanks to TV Ark, you can hear the theme and even see a little of Dimbleby in Nationwide action. Scroll down to Nationwide 1982.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice