Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mental Health Carnival

You can find the February Mental Health Carnival on mrsshortiesmind. The January one was at In a bun dance.

I shall be hosting the March carnival here on Liberal England.

Carol at Dance Without Sleeping, whose idea the carnival was, explains the thinking behind it:
Mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed off, I should know. 
The Mental Health Carnival is a chance to share experiences and learn more about what people go through, plus its great therapy to write about it.
So if you have written something about mental health on your blog that you would like to share more widely, please send me an email with the details.

Andrew Hickey pays tribute to Davy Jones

The Liberal Democrats' pre-eminent expert on the Monkees pays tribute to Davy Jones, who died today:
Jones was primarily an actor, rather than a singer or songwriter, which is why he doesn’t come across especially well in my book, because it focuses on the music. Were I talking about the band as entertainers though, I would have placed Jones at the top of the list.

Was Jenny Tonge forced to resign for stating an obvious truth?

In the introduction to his Vanished Kingdoms, Norman Davies remarks that "All states and nations, however great, bloom for a season and are replaced."

It's a good thing he is not a Liberal Democrat. Because, though it is hard quite to discover quite what it was that Jenny Tonge said that led the leadership to announce that she would have the whip withdrawn unless she apologised, press reports suggest that it was her statement that "Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form."

The Roman Empire disappeared eventually, so did the Ottoman Empire and I would not bet too much on the United Kingdom still existing in its present form in five or ten years' time.

I have known Jenny for almost 30 years, from the days when she was a councillor and I was a young activist in Kew. Perhaps that makes me biased, but I cannot understand why she has been forced to leave the Liberal Democrat group in the Lords.

What is the company she was keeping? Was it something else she said during her speech at Middlesex University?

We are owed an explanation by the leadership. Over to you, Nick

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Boris Johnson advertises Colman's Season & Shake

A ghost story from Much Wenlock


Photo by Sabine J Hutchinson


The mention of the haunted workplace in Six of the Best 230 put me in mind of this tale.

This photograph shows Raynalds Mansion in Much Wenlock, where I went several times in the 1990s for the Festival at the Edge. The half-timbered front dates from the 17th century, but the building behind it is much older.

One year I joined a guided walk around the town. Outside Raynalds Mansion we were told the story of some children who were evacuated to the town and housed here during World War II.

On the first morning they came downstairs and demanded to know who the children in funny clothes they had been playing with were.

Six of the Best 230

A former Vestal Virgin
"The cream of Scotland's Lib Dem blogosphere..." begins a post on A Scottish Liberal. But it gets better after that and reports a searching interview with Willie Rennie.

"I don’t like how the SNP has been cosying up to News International, nor how Alex Salmond is big chums with Rupert Murdoch these days. And I don’t like how many SNP members/supporters appear to be falling into line and accepting this." A Burdz Eye View examines an unlovely development in Scottish politics.

The Learning Spy asks who inspects Ofsted. It's a good question.

Paganism did not wither away, it was consciously destroyed says the always-interesting Heresy Corner: "Within a few of generations of Constantine's conversion to Christianity another Roman emperor, Theodosius I, acting under the influence of a Milanese fanatic later known as St Ambrose, made the practice of the empire's traditional religion illegal. Temples were closed, soothsaying was outlawed on pain of death, the Oracle of Delphi was shut down, the Olympic Games were cancelled after more than a thousand years of quadrennial celebration, Plato's Academy in Athens was forced to close its doors (many of its leading lights fleeing to sanctuary in Persia), the Vestal Virgins were forcibly married off."

Lady Don't Fall Backwards celebrates the career of the children's television writer and director Richard Carpenter, who died yesterday.

"I tend to be on my own for at least an hour or so, and occasionally hear the sound of footsteps following me; running, whispers and the sound of children laughing or playing. Noises will immediately halt if I go to investigate the source of the occurrence,  and start again, if I stop paying attention to it/them." Too lib·er·al [adj.] on working in one of the most haunted buildings in Canterbury.

Tom Brake publishes report on the future of policing

Today Tom Brake, co-chair of the Lib Dem backbench committee on home affairs, justice and equalities, published a report on the future of policing.

Trusted, Professional and Effective: British policing at its best proposes a number of changes to police forces in England around three key areas, which will change the culture of police for the better:
  • more trusted – listening to local people and making policing much more responsive to communities’ priorities;
  • more professional – setting up the new police professional body with a key responsibility to recommend detailed national minimum recruitment standards for the police;
  • more effective – making evidence based policing the defining feature of 21st century policing by establishing the world’s first Institute for Policing Excellence.
The proposed reforms including measures to:
  • make Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) more accountable to the public between elections;
  • create safeguards against the expansion of the role of PCCs;
  • create an Institute for Policing Excellence;
  • create a Police First development scheme based on the success of Teach First;
  • encourage Police and Crime Panels to veto plans to cut police numbers unless all measures to cut bureaucracy have been exhausted
Tom Brake says:
“We have fantastic police officers who are dedicated, able and trying to do their best by the community they serve. Yet as an organisation, the police suffers from a lack of confidence and trust. 
“Many of the criticisms relate to a perceived lack of fairness in the way people have been treated. Labour’s legislative assault on our civil liberties has been disastrous for the reputation of the police who enforced it. 
“It is essential that we clear up Labour’s legacy and end people’s feeling that they are both over-policed and under-protected. This paper demonstrates how the Liberal Democrats would do the right thing to restore public confidence.”
In the introduction Brake thanks Sally Hamwee, his researcher James Kempton, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust for financial support and "all those who have submitted evidence and met me to discuss the issues facing policing today".

Headline of the Day

Well done to our old friend the Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser:
Man falls out of tree into a ditch in Ludlow
I hope is is OK: the report goes on to say it is "unclear what his injuries were".

Later. A strong second is this happier tale from the Rutland Times:
Cat rescued from tree in Oakham
Even later. And then from BBC Scotland comes:
'Oldest sheep' dies after falling off cliff

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sarah Teather and the "educated liberal elite"

I long ago concluded that one of the keys to a calm, happy life is not watching Question Time and not listening to Any Questions? Too many Dimblebys for a start.

But these days those programmes dominate my Twitter stream while they are on, so it can be hard to remain wholly ignorant of them. And there are times when you just have to take notice.

On Friday the Lib Dem minister Sarah Teather was on the panel for Any Questions? The second question asked how work experience has managed to get such a bad name.

In her reply (which begins at 10:00 in the recording) Teather said:
“I think it is interesting to look at who is fighting this campaign ... There is unfortunately an educated liberal elite who believes that jobs in retail are beneath them.”
Oh dear.

What is a Liberal Democrat minister doing using "liberal" as an all-purpose term of condemnation for someone who is not a Conservative? Can't she use that sort of thing to American Republicans and those who ape them?

And in many ways using "educated" as a derogatory term is worse.

I am all in favour of people starting work at the bottom or organisations (I did plenty of it myself), but there are particular problems with the government's scheme.

The first is that people should be paid for the work they do. The second is that if you give supermarkets a never-ending supply of shelf-stackers for free, why should they pay anyone to work in that role? This schemes is in danger of destroying jobs rather than creating them.

And then there is "elite".

Sarah Teather was educated at Leicester Grammar School for some years. Despite its name, this was founded only in 1981 and has always been a private school.

Since you ask, the fees per term are £3,620.

If I were Sarah Teather's parents, I would be asking for a refund.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nick Harvey calls for review of welfare-to-work programme

Tomorrow's Guardian reports that Nick Harvey, the defence minister and Lib Dem MP for North Devon, has written to Chris Grayling calling for an urgent review of the implementation of the government's welfare to work programme.

In the letter, says the paper, Harvey calls for the programme's funding mechanism to be reviewed:
"In low-income rural areas such as Devon which will be the last to pick their way out of the economic crisis, only the locally focused third sector such as Pathfinder can really deliver. 
"I would urge a review of the supply chain and reconsideration of the tail-end funding model."
Interestingly, Harvey seems to have given an interview to the Guardian too:
Harvey told the Guardian that small companies and voluntary groups cannot wait to be paid, unlike large companies such as A4e. 
"The small guys can't possibly carry the risk," Harvey said. "Round here they are usually not-for-profit social enterprises who don't have access to big pools of capital. They need paying as they go because they just haven't got the cash flow to cope otherwise." 
"It is in everybody's interests that the Work Programme should succeed. But they risk undermining the delivery of it if making the payments after the event causes the small frontline providers to go out of business. The prime contractors are chosen on the basis that they are big enough to have access to capital and have a viable business model. They wouldn't be able to deliver it, certainly in rural areas, themselves. So they need the locally based frontline providers and risk driving them out of business if they don't carry this risk instead of passing it onto the small providers."
Note that this is not a condemnation of the aims of the programme, but an expression of concern about whether it can be implemented in the way the government currently envisages.

My own view is that the Conservatives are dazzled by the private sector. They expect people like A4e to find the long-term unemployed jobs without having any clear idea how, at a time when the economy is so depressed, they will do it.

While, as we have learnt from the public sector during the Blair years, the emphasis on reaching targets just encourages gaming. That is what is behind reports like the one in the Independent this morning.

The Waterboys: The Stolen Child



Take a poem from W.B. Yeats' early, Celtic Twilight period, have it set by Mike Scott of the Waterboys, with his weakness for the children's books of C.S. Lewis, and you fear that you will end up with something dangerously twee.

But I like this song. It appears on The Waterboys' LP Fisherman's Blues, but I know it from the Yeats compilation Now and in the Time to Be.

There are live versions on Youtube, but I think the narration on this studio version adds something to it. Serious, with notes of twinkling and Father Jack, it is by Tomas Mac Eoin.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

An unanswerable case for a minimum price for alcohol

The fall of Emma Harrison and A4e

From the Independent:
A day after resigning as David Cameron's jobs adviser, Emma Harrison last night also stepped down as chairman of the Government contractor A4e amid investigations into accusations of fraud at the company she founded. 
Ms Harrison, who took home a dividend of £8.6m last year despite concerns that her company had not met government standards, said she did not want the "continuing media focus" on her to be a "distraction" for A4e. 
The firm and a subcontractor are currently at the heart of police investigations into fraud and four former A4e employees have been arrested and bailed.

The fall of Harrison reminds me of an article in the Guardian last year by Aditya Chakrabortty:
Look at our household names: take out retail, banks and commodities and the things you're left with bear names such as Wessex Water or Centrica or Arriva. In other words, they do things the public sector used to do – pump water or pipe gas or lay on public transport. 
Alternatively, they're outfits such as Serco, or Capita and they're bidding for contracts from the government; or they're engineers bidding for PFI projects. Now look at the big names in America or Germany: there are firms such as Google or Siemens. 
Over here much of the private sector isn't adding anything or innovating – indeed, it's tricky to do that when you're running an administrative office or supplying water. They're simply taking contracts and cutting staffing costs.
That said, the last time I quoted this article some disagreed with his Chakrabortty's views in the comments.

What is happening to university libraries?

I have recently developed an interest in Graham Wallas. One of the thinkers at the heart of Peter Clarke's Liberals and Social Democrats, he began as a thoroughgoing Fabian but later broke with them over their support for protectionism and because he came to distrust their rather mechanical approach to politics.

There are two books devoted to Wallas: Between Two Worlds: Political Thought of Graham Wallas by Martin J. Wiener and Graham Wallas and the Great Society by Terence H. Qualter.

I have recently bought both via Amazon. When the books arrived I was surprised to find they had both been disposed of by British university libraries.

Why are universities getting rid of books when they are accepting more students than ever before?

Yes, time moves on. But Wallas is not as obscure as all that. Anyone researching the history of the Fabian Society will soon find that he was a significant figure in his day.

Has the undergraduate curriculum narrowed? Do students work from handouts now? I think we should be told.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Six of the Best 229

Living on Words Alone is not impressed by a Liberal Democrat letter than raises the spectre of the BNP in an attempt to win votes. Certainly, things have rarely ended happily when Labour has tried this tactic.

Joe Paxton writes on Comment is Free about the experience of being unemployed in Britain today: "The Jobcentre has done nothing but hinder me in my search. When I was asked what qualifications I had, and I told them about my degree, Btecs, A-levels, AS-levels and GCSEs, they responded with "Are you sure? Have you got certificates to prove that?"

"Meanwhile my youngest (5) is being urged by the school to log into the computer at home to hear somebody reading a story to him. Clearly it is considered too much to ask us actually to read to our children ourselves." The Real Blog on the grooming our children to be online drones.

New Public Thinking has been set up in recognition of the fact that (pace the BBC) there are many interesting thinkers to be found outside the walls of the academy.

We Chelsea fans have come round to the idea that the team plays better when Fernando Torres is not in the team, but Alrick Brown has the figures to prove it.

Taking of the beautiful game, The Great Wen reprints a 1972 article about London's football gangs. It casts an unexpected light on the bookies' favourite to be England's next manager.

A reminder that the state is a bad parent

I didn't watch the BBC series Protecting Our Children, but the reviews and the reactions of people on Twitter suggested that it was very good.

But I sensed from this reaction that behind it was the idea that if a child was taken into care then, if it could hardly be called a happy ending, it did at least mean that the child was no longer at risk of harm.

Judging by a report in the Guardian this morning, that may be an overoptimistic view:
More than half of children in care are given less than a week's notice before being moved to live in a different placement, a survey has found. 
The annual Children's Care Monitor found that 55% were given seven days' notice or less, while nearly one in four (23%) was only told they had to go on the day of their move.
It gets worse (though not entirely clear):
The report also found that 29% of care-leavers taking part in the survey were not in either education, employment or training. The percentage of those leaving care who had work or training has fallen from 17% in 2009 to just 12% now.
And:
The national director for learning and skills, Matthew Coffey, expressed concern that many young people were leaving care without a job, training place or course of study to go to.
Coffey said: "It is worrying that the percentage of care-leavers in work or training has been steadily falling from 17% in 2009, to 15% in 2010 and down again to 12% in 2011. 
"Of those about to leave care, it is equally concerning that the percentage saying they receive help in finding work fell from 60% last year to 52% this year."
I have been seeing depressing figures like this for as long as I can remember, and once quoted some of them in a post referencing an article in an educational psychology newsletter.

When Frank Dobson became health secretary in 1997 he seemed genuinely ashamed of the poor outcomes for children in public care and determined to do something about them. I now wonder if he had much success.

But some people are still trying to make things better. The other day at work I came across the YoungMinds report Improving the mental health of looked after young people: An exploration of mental health stigma.  You can download the whole thing from that page.

There are no easy answers here, but we can at least be honest about that.

If we listen to Stephen Hester we have learnt nothing from the banking crash

The Independent tells us that
Royal Bank of Scotland yesterday launched a concerted fightback against the mounting outrage over its decision to spend £785m on bonuses despite reporting a £2bn loss – almost double the previous year's figure.
And it quotes the bank's chief executive Stephen Hester:
"The noise around RBS is damaging to the prospect of achieving the goals everyone needs of it. So far in the latest three years we have overcome that noise, and we will try to keep doing that, but no one should be under any illusions that you can't have your cake and eat it."
In other words, Hester is convinced that he is right about everything and that any attempt to question his judgement is therefore bound to be harmful.

Does that remind you of anyone? A former chief executive of RBS perhaps?

In a blog post written three years ago and entitled Macho management is irrational and inefficient, I quoted a Times article about a familiar figure...
Goodwin, nicknamed “Fred the Shred” for his brutal cost-cutting, was an autocratic and fearsomely controlling boss. He even set dress rules for fellow executives that included wearing ties with RBS logos. 
At Goodwin’s “morning prayers”, where he delivered decisions and rarely accepted dissent, he pursued an ambitious expansion strategy.
I'm sure Goodwin had harsh things to say about "noise" too. And the same post quoted Alex Brummer on Adam Applegarth, the former head of Northern Rock, the building society turned bank whose collapse was the first sign to the public of things to come:
He had a reputation as a martinet who was difficult to challenge. 
An insider said: 'He had an iron grip on the company. Any alternative plan or idea was rejected by those close to him on the basis that "Adam wouldn't like it".' There was no feedback. He surrounded himself with 'yes men' and Northern Rock ended up with people in senior positions who were not fit for purpose. 
The company raced on, brushing aside worries about rising interest rates (which might leave its customers unable to pay their monthly mortgage) and a faltering housing market (which could drop them into negative equity). Applegarth rode roughshod over the bank's board of directors, who lacked the confidence or ability to call a halt to this imprudent expansion.
My point is not that Hester is a ludicrous incompetent like Goodwin or Applegarth. It is that if we behave as he demands and refrain from questioning his decisions, there will be no way of finding out if he is until he is.

You could say that Hester has failed to take into account that he is effectively working in the public sector. Certainly, he would have been less likely to be bundled out of accepting his bonus if he had been working for a private company.

But if the banking collapse has taught us anything it is that all banks are ultimately underwritten by the taxpayers. Therefore we should all take a close interest in the decisions of their chief executives. We may have to pay for them one day.

The threat to Ironbridge


From the Shropshire Star:
Telford & Wrekin Council is to borrow £5.6 million to help stabilise Ironbridge Gorge and avert a catastrophic collapse into the River Severn, it was revealed today. 
Town hall chiefs are now negotiating with the Government to secure an additional £14.4 million it is estimated will be needed for the work. 
Council deputy leader Councillor Richard Overton said the stabilisation work was absolutely vital. 
A total of £15 million has already been spent trying to save the Gorge from collapse at the Lloyds but no more has been done to shore it up since that work was completed nine months ago. 
The Government last year vowed to foot 60 per cent of the £20 million bill to complete the stabilisation work, which would have left the council £8 million to find. 
Councillor Overton said: "Now we have committed £5.6 million in our budget we hope that the Government will go just that extra mile and fund the remaining £14.4 million needed."
The Lloyds (East and West) turns out to be an area of former coal mining activity between Ironbridge and Coalport.

For an idea of how unstable the geology is in the Ironbridge Gorge, see what happened at Jackfield in the 1950s.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The shorter John Bercow

Abolish party conferences so everyone can look at me on television instead.

Lord Bonkers is here to help you


Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England...

This time last year I offered to answer problems sent in by my young readers in Liberator magazine. As the exercise was widely agreed to have gone Rather Well, I thought I would repeat it.

To refresh your memories, here is the advice I gave:
As I pointed out last year (in all modesty), I have unparallelled political experience and I can also claim to be a Man of the World.

Remember too that I have many friends and employees upon whom I may call. Meadowcroft can tell you when to prick out your begonias, Nanny is an authority on child-rearing and health problems, and the Reverend Hughes on spiritual matters.

As I also pointed out last year, I fear I cannot enter into individual correspondence, but all your emails will be read - especially if they include a 5/- postal order.

I should also add that all letters will be treated in the strictest confidence (though I have to have something juicy to bring to the table at the Bonkers' Arms of a Friday evening, obviously).

Please send your problems to me at Bonkers Hall.

A 20-minute fight in the House of Commons

Whatever did or didn't happen in Strangers Bar last night, it is nothing when set against the events of 1893 as Gladstone’s second home rule bill was going through the House.

As I wrote in an old Liberal Democrat News column about my hero J.W. Logan, the former Liberal MP for Harborough:
On the night of 27 July, as he waited for the throng to clear, Logan crossed the chamber and sat down truculently beside Carson on the Conservative front bench. Hayes Fisher, a Tory MP, pushed him away. Logan elbowed back and was grabbed by more Tories, whereupon the Irish Nationalists waded in to support him. 
For the next 20 minutes elderly, frock-coated MPs belaboured one another. Hats were flattened, coats torn and faces bruised. Onlookers in the galleries began to hiss and eventually the Serjeant-at-Arms restored order.
If you follow the link to the full column, you will find a comment from someone whose great-grandfather was shot dead by Logan in an accident.

Nobody's perfect.

Your Move Next (1969)



Thanks to Chris Matthews for tweeting a link to this 1969 film made by the Greater London Council to encourage workers and businesses to move out of London.

As so often with films of this type, it is a strange mixture of the nostalgic (as a little boy in the 1960s I lived in the new town of Hemel Hempstead) and the modern - buildings of this period still look modern, though cars of the same era look ridiculously old fashioned. It is also a mixture of the benign (light and air for children to grow up in) and the faintly Soviet (the assumption that central planning was necessary and efficient).

Add to this Michael Aspel using his stilted 1960s BBC newsreader voice and there is plenty to enjoy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Morality, positive economics and the price of music

As a tribute to Marie Colvin, the Sunday Times journalist who was killed in Homs today, her newspaper has made her final report freely available rather than keeping it behind the firewall. I think this is a fitting gesture.

When Whitney Houston was found dead her record company Sony immediately raised the price of her recordings. Though I have no strong opinion in the matter and this move was quickly reversed, it strikes me that this was rather a crass thing to do.

So there you are: two moral judgements about a private company's pricing decision. There is nothing very odd about them, is there?

But read on...

It happened that Liberal Democrat Voice had a weekend debate on this second case, asking "Should music be priced by morality?"

I joined in because the first contributor assumed that those who disagree with Sony's decision must be calling for government to regulate the music industry. Not so: they may just be voicing their disapproval of that decision. I was far more concerned about the importance of good ethical reasoning than I was about Whitney Houston.

That debate soon began to generate more heat than light, so I did not persevere with it. But it is notable that another contributors made the same assumption: that if you voice disapproval of something then you must want the state to take action. And a third took the related view that if something is not banned by the state then it must be fine morally.

I find this view mistaken and rather worrying. What defines a liberal society is precisely that there is a large and vital sphere of life beyond the confines of state action. In Moscow 50 years ago the state and civil society were one and all moral questions were settled by the state. That is how they live in Tehran today, but it is not how we want to live in Britain.

As I said in one of my contributions to that thread, I feel that the prevalence of such views even in a Liberal Party does something to support the views I expressed in my (slightly pretentiously named) Eight sceptical theses on moral rights - particularly no. 3:
The more rights we ascribe to people, the more we tend to make the government mighty. If there is, say, a right to work, who can have the duty to give employment but the state? This process tends to make the individual citizen a spectator in important moral questions.
I think what we are seeing here are the effects of that spectator status. Today's young liberals have grown up in a world where all moral questions have been settled and codified in legally bindings codes. If any disputes arise over them, they are settled by judges, not citizens or their elected representatives. All that remains is to ridicule those who are so stupid or so wicked as to disagree.

One other point I noted from the debate was that some thought that economics could tell us the morally right price to charge. iRadar has gone to much greater lengths on his own blog to try to prove that point - supply and demands curves and all.

But economics cannot tell us that there is a morally right price, because that is not what it is setting out to do. As the admirable, short Wikipedia entry for positive economics says:
Positive economics (as opposed to normative economics) is the branch of economics that concerns the description and explanation of economic phenomena. It focuses on facts and cause-and-effect behavioral relationships and includes the development and testing of economics theories...
Positive economics as science, concerns analysis of economic behavior. A standard theoretical statement of positive economics as operationally meaningful theorems is in Paul Samuelson's Foundations of Economic Analysis (1947). Positive economics as such avoids economic value judgements. For example, a positive economic theory might describe how money supply growth affects inflation, but it does not provide any instruction on what policy ought to be followed.

Emlyn Hooson 1925-2012

Lord Hooson, who died yesterday, was leader of the Welsh Liberal Party from its inception in 1966 until 1979, and MP for Montgomery from 1962 to 1979.

He won the seat at a by-election following the death of the former Liberal leader Clement Davies and retained it through five general elections. The Shropshire Star has a photograph of him being carried through the streets of Welshpool after the constituency's result was declared in October 1974 election.

As his Daily Telegraph obituary makes clear, he was not afraid of controversy:
After Liberal losses in the 1970 election, Hooson told the Liberal Assembly that the public wanted a middle-of-the-road party, blaming Jo Grimond and Jeremy Thorpe for trying to take it Leftward. When the Liberals merged with the SDP in 1988, he backed Alan Beith for the leadership against the less cautious Paddy Ashdown. 
Hooson attracted abuse from party activists, particularly the Young Liberals who at one conference waved sticks of rhubarb at him when he opposed sanctions on South Africa. Yet they were allies in opposing the Vietnam War, and the Young Liberals’ leader, Peter Hain, relied on Hooson’s advice when forced to apologise to Edward Short, Leader of the Commons, for suggesting he was implicated in the Poulson affair. 
Hooson opposed both Grimond’s readiness to keep the 1964 Labour government in power, and the Lib-Lab Pact concluded with James Callaghan by Steel. But the leader he trusted least was Jeremy Thorpe. When Grimond retired in 1967, Hooson stood against Thorpe partly on policy grounds but also because of a deep and, as events would prove, shrewd distrust of Thorpe’s character.
He also enjoyed a distinguished legal career. The Telegraph says:
Hooson also enjoyed a distinguished legal career At the Bar, Hooson earned a reputation as a cool, clear thinker and lucid advocate. In 1960, at 35, he became the youngest Silk for many years.
Hooson defended Ian Brady in the Moors Murder trial and, so Disgruntled Radical always tells me, prosecuted Alan Turing when he was tried for 'indecency'.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The first Lady Bonkers at the wheel

This is the end of our latest visit to Bonkers Hall, but stand by for an exciting announcement from Rutland most popular fictional peer.

Oh, and subscribe to Liberator.

The first Lady Bonkers at the wheel
Some years ago, a police constable called at the Hall to tell me that there had been a complaint lodged against me. One of my motors had burst through a farmyard gate scattering the chickens, narrowly missed the farmer as the driver shouted “Get out of the way, you damned fool!” and then made its escape by ploughing through a hedge and racing across a field of newly planted wheat.

I explained that it had been the First Lady Bonkers who had been driving and he went away entirely satisfied.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hull City 1 Chelsea 3 from 1966



This weekend the papers were full of tales that Didier Drogba had stopped his Chelsea team mates in the tunnel before the start of the second half at Goodison Park last Saturday and gave his own team talk.

Chelsea legend has it that Terry Venables would do this regularly in the 1960s. So much so that Tommy Docherty grew tired of having his orders countermanded and sold Venables to Spurs, buying my boyhood hero Charlie Cooke to be the team's playmaker in his place.

This video of an FA Cup quarter final replay from 1966 shows Venables still at Stamford Bridge and paired in midfield with another notable future manager, George Graham. Around them you will find Chelsea legends like Peter Bonetti, Chopper Harris, Bobby Tambling and Peter Osgood.

Osgood suffered a broken leg later that year and some observers will tell you that, as a result, he never quite became the great that he threatened to be. Certainly, he looks pretty special for a 19-year-old here.

Hull City were in the old third division in those days, and this quarter final replay was an important date in the club's history. On BBC Memoryshare a young Hull fan recalls the day:
Me and my mate of the time Pete Townend went off to see that game. As we approached the North stand entrances you could see thousands of people snaking back from each of the turnstiles and we wondered if we would ever get in. Eventually we did but for the first 15minutes we never saw a ball kicked as we paced up and down trying to find away in through the vast crowd on the terraces. 
Suddenly a man shouted to us both to go to him with that he lifted me up above his head and shouted lads coming over in turn we were passed right down to the gravel track that surrounded the pitch and sat just to the left of the goal at the north stand end the nearest i had ever been to the hallowed turf..

John Lydon, Steve Winwood and the taming of punk

Geoffrey Pearson's hugely influential Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears was first published in 1983. It argued that concern about unruly youth was nothing new and was, perhaps wrongly, seen as arguing that unruly youth was nothing to be concerned about.

Early on, Pearson showed how, in Coronation year, Teddy Boys had been treated as they personification as all that way wrong with British youngsters of the early 1950s. By the time of the Silver Jubilee of 1977, they had become part of the pageantry of our history.

He quotes a local paper:
Bradford Teddy Boys turned the clock back 20 years on Saturday when they gathered at an open-air concert in the city centre. To the delight of shoppers who stopped to watch they revived some of their favourite dances like the solo bop and the catwalk.
I sense that something similar has happened to punks. In 1977 they represented all that was wrong with Britain. If one of them should appear in a Diamond Jubilee event this summer, it is easy to imagine him being cheered by the crowd.

This reflection is prompted not so much by my recent affection for The Surprises as by the news that a new Public Image Ltd album is to appear in June. As I reported in September of last year, that album was funded by John Lydon's fees for doing those Country Life butter commercials and recorded at the studio on Steve Winwood's estate in the Cotswolds.

Winwood was never part of the stadium rock movement that so enraged punk - by the late 1970s he was playing on the records of numerous other artists' records and issuing a first, slightly tentative solo album.

But as he said at the time:
"He's a very interesting fellow and I like him a lot. We were enemies, so it's ironic that he ends up out in the country recording. You wouldn't have thought we'd have much common ground but we did."
For better or worse, punk has become one more moment in British history.

Leicester is the CCTV capital of Britain

Big Brother Watch has published a new report that shows local authorities have spent £515m on their CCTV operations in the past four years:
There are now at least 51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by local authorities, with five councils now operating more than 1,000 cameras. In comparison, £515m would put an extra 4,121 police constables on the streets – the equivalent of Northumbria police’s entire force.
You can download The Price of Privacy from the pressure group's website.

This is report is of particular interest to citizens of Leicester, as it reveals that their city has become what the Leicester Mercury calls "the CCTV capital of Britain" with more than 2,000 cameras monitoring them:
The city council has spent £3.7 million on new cameras over the past three years, and the number of surveillance cameras now stands at 2,083. It means the authority has more cameras than any other council in the country.
To set this extraordinary sum in context, look at this Mercury report from December of last year:
Plans have been drawn up by Leicester City Council to cut spending on bus services, libraries, festive decorations and homeless hostels – and more cuts will be announced by the council next week. 
Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has announced draft budget proposals for children's services, housing, transport and neighbourhood services which will save a total of £600,000. 
Bus services and libraries face some of the heaviest cuts – though spending on road maintenance and children in care will increase. 
Next week, a second announcement will reveal even greater cuts to other areas of council spending. 
Sir Peter said: "We're being forced to cut £40 million over the next two years."
Leicester City Council has a horribly difficult situation to deal with, but I wonder if this attempt to curb crime and disorder by funding more and more cameras while cutting other services is not self-defeating. Public order comes from citizens  - whether they are in the public sector, the private or somewhere in between - going about their lawful business and naturally keeping an eye on what is going on, not from more and more heroic attempts at public surveillance.

And don't think that Leicester's cameras are confined to the city centre. As I showed 18 months ago, you can find them at the top of tall metal poles in areas of council housing miles into the outskirts.

Still, maybe it is appropriate that a city where 52 of the 54 councillors are from the Labour Party should look like something from beyond the old Iron Curtain?

"We didn't burn him!"

In November I blogged about the case of the Revd Mark Sharpe, who was seeking to sue the Church of England for constructive dismissal after, he claimed, being driven from his post as rector of Teme Valley South by a campaign of intimidation.

The Shropshire Star said he had compared his former village parishioners to characters from the television comedy The League Of Gentlemen.

Today the Star reports that a judge has ruled that Sharpe cannot bring his case "because he is effectively employed by God".

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Fanny Craddock and the Great Train Robbery

Fanny Craddock and the Great Train Robbery
I was sorry to see Anthony Worrall Thompson up before the beak for shoplifting, but there are so many chefs on television these days that they cannot possibly all make a living and some will inevitably turn to crime. I have no reason to think that they will be among them, but Michel Roux Jr would have only to give people a Hard Stare and they would hand over their wallets without complaint – much as he now persuades an egg to crack and separate itself simply by looking at it – while Heston Blumenthal would be a useful chap to have in the XI if you wanted someone to mix the explosives to blow a safe.

Besides, there is nothing new in this: Fanny Craddock was believed by Scotland Yard to be the brains behind the Great Train Robbery but, despite years of surveillance, they were unable to pin it on her. Marguerite Patten, by contrast, has always struck me as a Thoroughly Good Sort.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tory MP launches extraordinary attack on David Cameron

The Northampton Chronicle reports that Brian Binley, the Tory MP for Northampton South, has "launched an extraordinary verbal volley at his own party and described Prime Minister David Cameron and his government as a 'shady, back-street second-hand car dealership'."

Go to Brian Binley's blog and all you will find for today is a post attacking the appointment of Professor Les Ebdon as the new head of Offa.

Judging by the text the Chronicle gives, that post was heavily edited a little earlier this evening:
“I was incensed that the Government treated Parliament with such utter disdain in failing even to give adequate consideration to the Select Committee’s concerns. But that is nothing to the contempt I feel for this disgraceful assault on what people in the country should be able to expect from Ministers – as policy-makers, not backroom dealers playing fast-and-loose with people’s lives. 
“That Ministers seem prepared to trade one-off exchanges at the potential expense of our national prosperity and future well-being is a disgrace. Their apparent glee at having mollified each other’s ambitions leaves me cold. 
“The time is fast approaching when the Prime Minister needs to get a grip and cease leaving the impression that his agenda is determined by the imprint of the last Liberal Democrat who sat on him. This rotten episode smacks of all the worst elements of a shady, back-street second-hand car dealership, and is an utterly shameful way to make policy”.
I gave my own take on Professor Ebdon and Offa earlier this evening.

Six of the Best 228

The Snow In The Summer or So-So gives Liberal Left's "statement of values" a thorough going over.

"It appears that one of the previous, hated, Labour government schemes for even more, very expensive, snooping on millions of innocent people's internet and phone activities, is being resurrected by the Coalition government with the misleading title of the Communications Capabilities Development Programme." Spy Blog briefs us on a worrying development.

Craig Dearden-Phillips says the Tories are half-right about making it easier to sack mediocre people.

On The World, John Freeman recommends some reading from the Arab world that will help us understand what is going on there.

"After Barcelona fell to Franco's fascist forces in the last months of the Spanish Civil War almost half a million Spanish Republican civilians and soldiers struggled across the eastern Pyrenees to what they thought would be freedom in France. But the French government, which had signed a European non-intervention agreement, herded the refugees into settlements which [Pablo] Casals describes as concentration camps and which were known elsewhere as les Camps du M├ępris - camps of scorn." On an Overgrown Path searches for traces of a discreditable episode in French history.

New American reports that the president of the Swedish Association for Home Education and his family have been forced into exile in Finland.

Pro-hanging Labour councillor wants to be Leicestershire's police commissioner

We last came across Sundip Meghani as one of two Labour councillors from Leicester who backed the return of the death penalty:
"It's a complicated issue but I'm in favour of capital punishment in some circumstances. I think it may be wrong to restrict the death penalty solely to the murderers of children and police, because that gives some lives more value than others. But multiple killers should be eligible for execution."
Now comes news from the Leicester Mercury that he fancies being the county's first elected police and crime commissioner:
"It's such a big and important job, I'm giving it the consideration it deserves."

Vince Cable right to hold firm over Professor Les Ebdon and Offa

The row over the appointment of Professor Les Ebdon as the new head of the Office for Fair Access (Offa) - Vince Cable was called to the Commons today over it and by all accounts acquitted himself well - has its roots in the huge expansion of higher education.

Back in the 1970s, as a comprehensive pupil who was eligible for free school meals and armed only with a rather ropey set of O level results, I applied to five good universities. I was interviewed by four of the five (the fifth made me a generous offer without interview), and two of those interviews involved writing essays while I was in the department. At the end of the process I had five offers, including on of two Es.

I doubt this could happen today, and an article by John Springford on the Social Market Foundation website
Academics have less and less time to run a thorough application process. The more resources the application process uses, the less cash they have for other priorities. The Research Assessment Exercise [RAE] encourages them to focus on research, rather than undergraduate administration. And they don’t suffer any financial penalty if their degree outcomes are poor – although they do suffer reputational damage. For this reason it is rational for them to focus on A-levels.
So it is the climate the government has created through the RAE that has led to the current obsession with predicted A level grades. Maybe setting up Offa is a typical example of government spending more in an attempt to undo the damage wrought by its original spending, but if that climate is going to change then it looks as though it will have to be the government that does it.

Critics of Ebdon's appointment, and of Offa in general, have cried "social engineering," claiming that the product of good schools will be disadvantaged. To an extent they are right: some products of good (which to most critics turns out to mean private) schools will suffer from a fairer system - and Springford goes on to point out why.

He reproduces a graph published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England which maps the percentage of students obtaining good degrees (a 2:1 or better) against the A level results they had previously achieved:
It shows the proportion of university students who got a 2:1 or first by the grades they got at A-Level. State educated pupils do a lot better given their A-level result – the gap in the proportion getting good degrees is between 3 and 10%, depending on what A-levels the students achieved.
Springford goes on to ask why privately educated children don't do better:
Private schools are notoriously good at getting children into university. Exam results are better on average. They offer interview practice and more help with applications. But once at university, this help disappears, so private school students revert to their inherent ability. The gap that opened up between state and privately educated students in secondary education closes at university.
He concludes that Offa may be doing the universities a favour if it pressures universities into accepting more students from state schools.

And this shouldn't surprise us. Anyone recruiting teenagers to a sports team or a theatre group would naturally be interested in future potential as much as achievement to date. Why should education be any different? In fact, there is something wrong with, even ridiculous about, an education system that is not concerned with potential.

Parents send their children to private schools because they tend to be good schools and they want the best for their children. But parents also pay the fees because they think that a private education will give their children advantages over state-educated children of equal or even greater ability. So the idea that the existence of Offa is somehow unfair is nonsense. Those who hold it merely demonstrate how quickly privilege turns into a sense of entitlement.

I would rather see this challenged by universities having the time and incentive to expend more effort on the admissions process, even if that means accepting fewer students - modern undergraduates are being promised more from higher education that it can ever deliver. But I will accept Offa as a second best.

One final point. Vince Cable went to the Commons today because the universities minister David Willetts was "detained in Antartica". (Yes, really.)

That was just as well judging to his response that Oxbridge students might be asked to study for an MA rather than talk loudly in restaurants for a couple of years and then write a small cheque:
"Those MAs have been around for hundreds of years. They are well understood and they are an established part of the history of these institutions. Perhaps the opposition's rootless rationalism means they have no taste or love for those conventions and traditions that have developed over centuries, but we rather like ancient traditions."
I hope the penguins get him.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Meet the Russells

Meet the Russells

If there is a family to rival the Attenboroughs (who have always struck me as a talented version of the Dimblebys) for fame, it is the Russells. I think first, of course, of my old friend Bertrand, author (with Norman Whiteside) of Principia Mathematica; if I were to be asked to sum up his character in a phrase, I should say that he was “Terribly Clever”. Then I think of dear Conrad: Liberal theorist, historian of the Civil War and leader of his celebrated Big Band.

There were, however, other Russell brothers who were remarkable men in their own right and deserve to be celebrated. I speak of ‘Hotel’ Russell, who went into the catering trade, and Russell Russell, who travelled in paper bags for many years.

Yet it is the youngest Russell brother who, as Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, has achieved the highest eminence of all; indeed, he has just been knighted. Here he is, only the other day, replying to a constituent who had written to him questioning the idea of buying a new Royal Yacht:
Are you serious? Don’t you have more important things in your life to be worried about without bothering me with this? I am not sure if you have actually read the wording of the Motion, but if you had you would have seen that I am one of the Sponsors. Thus I was one of those who was behind it being Tabled in the first place. And I am very proud that I was able to. I have pride in our nation’s history and its maritime heritage. A new Royal Yacht would be in Britain’s national and international interests. Are you not capable of understanding this?
If anyone deserves a knighthood, then Bob Russell does. Or, to put it another way, if Bob Russell deserves a knighthood then anyone does.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...

Most belated End of Month Lolcat ever

I have just noticed that I did not post a Lolcat on or about 31 January. Please add your own caption to this one.

Untitled

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Derwent Valley Light Railway, York



When I was an undergraduate at York, the bus from the university into the city used to cross a bridge over an overgrown single-track railway.

This was the Derwent Valley Light Railway, which in those days ran from Layerthorpe in the city for four miles out to Dunnington. When it opened in 1913 it had run almost to Selby: in 1981 it was to close altogether.

One day I walked the line to Dunnington and back. Though it shows track that had long gone by then, the video above gives a good idea of the way the line looked in its final years. So decrepit was it that I was surprised when I met a very mixed freight train coming the other way.

The line has gone now apart from a half-mile stretch that still operates in the Yorkshire Museum of Farming at Murton Park. (There is still a Derwent Valley Light Railway Society too.)

This seems a shame in the city that is home to the National Railway Museum. Couldn't it have been used to give some of that museum's locomotives a little exercise? The Derwent Valley did run steam trains of its own in its final years in an attempt to tap the tourist trade.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Welcoming Ruth Davidson

Welcoming Ruth Davidson

There are too few characters in politics nowadays, so I was delighted to see Ruth Davidson chosen by the Scottish Conservatives. She is the first lesbian kick-boxer to lead a British political party since Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10
Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary...
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

The Surprises: Little Sir Echo



After posting their seminal Jeremy Thorpe is Innocent the other day, I have become rather attached to The Surprises.

There is an article about the band on Punk77 by its guitarist John Wormald:
The band met in Moseley, Birmingham, all living within a stone's throw of one another. I suppose it was inevitable that we all bumped into one another at various pubs and parties. A combination of being students/on the dole etc...we had the time and the attitude. We started playing just sitting around in the flat next door with band members of Dangerous Girls, and did quite few gigs on the Moseley scene. We did a few gigs, our first was supporting Dexies Midnight Runners, and we also played on the same bill as The Beat and UB40. It was inevitable that we would try and put out a record...
That record was an EP. It included Jeremy Thorpe, Flying Attack and the song above. And at least one the track was played on the John Peel Show, which was the dream of all new bands in those days.

Where are they now? John Wormald explains:
Janice Connolly is very active on the comedy scene, having appeared on Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, and as her alter ego "Mrs. Barbara Nice" (she's got a website). Rob, the drummer on the record, is still active on the music scene I believe, collaborating with Boo Hewardine. John Nestor the bass player runs a greengrocer's in Dorset (well, that's what I've heard), and Conrad Schwartz, lead singer and guitarist is technical director of the Dominion Theatre in London. I'm still in Birmingham, running my own business.
For a gentler take on Little Sir Echo, try the Bonzos.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The fall of David Attenborough

It is time to spend a few days at Bonkers Hall, home of the Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

The fall of David Attenborough

It was in the 1930s that I first came across the Attenborough brothers, Dickie and David. This was through my friendship with their father F.L. Attenborough, who was then the Principal of University College Leicester. As I was Chancellor of the University of Rutland at Belvoir at the time (as indeed I am now), our paths often crossed. Though I always sensed that he was a little envious of our famed Department of Hard Sums, he was never less than a gentleman and conducted himself with great dignity after the Leicester crew was eaten by the Rutland Water Monster during the traditional race between the two universities. (That, incidentally, is why the race has taken place on the Grand Union Canal ever since – ‘health and safety’ is no modern invention).

Of course, even in the days before the Research Impact Exercise, universities were to some extent rivals. Had ‘F.L.’ known that we were in the habit of kidnapping Leicester professors as they strolled down New Walk and bearing them off to Rutland to teach for us, I fear that relations between us would have been cooler; but, as Nanny once observed, what the eye does not see the heart does not grieve over.

I first met, I say, the Attenborough brothers in those days. Dickie was always adamant that he was to be an actor, though I have to confess I did not take his ambitions entirely seriously until I saw his Pinkie. Later he was to win near equal fame as a director – I thought his Oh! What a Lovely Waugh (a biography of the novelist) particularly well made. David, by contrast, was never happier than when hunting for fossils or collecting lizards and was eventually to turn these enthusiasms into a career, rising through the ranks of the BBC to occupy the honoured place in the life of our nation that he did until so recently.

How sad, then, to see that career end in ignominy! Why David thought that he would be able to get away with dressing up in a polar bear costume and filming himself, I cannot begin to imagine. Perhaps the desire to win the honour of being the first man to capture one of the beasts performing its legendary tap dance became too strong for him?

Broadcasting has had its share of scandals, God knows – one recalls the contortionist on Opportunity Knocks who recruited a phalanx of supporters to sit in the front row with outsized foam hands and influence the clapometer, and also the actors dressed as sheep on One Man and His Dog that did for Phil Drabble – but surely poor David’s fall will prove the greatest of all?

Feet of clay: Beveridge, Keynes and eugenics

Jonathan Freedland has an article in the Guardian today looking at the attraction that eugenics held for left-wing politicians in the first half of the 20th century:
The Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and their ilk were not attracted to eugenics because they briefly forgot their leftwing principles. The harder truth is that they were drawn to eugenics for what were then good, leftwing reasons. 
They believed in science and progress, and nothing was more cutting edge and modern than social Darwinism. Man now had the ability to intervene in his own evolution. Instead of natural selection and the law of the jungle, there would be planned selection. And what could be more socialist than planning, the Fabian faith that the gentlemen in Whitehall really did know best? If the state was going to plan the production of motor cars in the national interest, why should it not do the same for the production of babies?
All good Liberals will be aware of this tendency among the Fabians, but we cannot draw much comfort from Freedland's article. Because he also points out that two Liberal heroes were implicated in the eugenics movement too.

John Maynard Keynes was director of the Eugenics Society from 1937 to 1944, and
William Beveridge, who argued that those with "general defects" should be denied not only the vote, but "civil freedom and fatherhood."
I did not know of Keynes' involvement in this movement, but my impression of Beveridge was that his views veered between individualism and collectivism over his career. Perhaps he had more sensible things to say too?

This may be overkind to Beveridge. Freedland links to an article that Dennis Sewell wrote for the Spectator in 2009. It shows that the words Freedland quotes date from 1909, but the he held similar views 30 years later:
On the evening that the House of Commons met to debate the Beveridge Report, Beveridge himself went off to address an audience of eugenicists at the Mansion House. He knew he was in for a rough ride. His scheme of family allowances had originally been devised within the Eugenics Society with a graduated rate, which paid out more to middle-class parents and very little to the poor. The whole point was to combat the eugenicists’ great bugbear — the differential birth rate between the classes. However, the government that day had announced a uniform rate. Beveridge was sympathetic to the complaints of his audience and hinted that a multi-rate system might well be introduced at a later date.
So it seems that Beveridge was a convinced eugenicist throughout.

What moral do we draw from this?

Certainly not that Keynes and Beveridge are beyond the pale. We are never going to agree with everything an historical figure wrote and thought, and people can often be a mixture of the very good and very bad. Hilaire Belloc, for instance, was both a raving antisemite and a uniquely acute critic of the dangers inherent in corporatist society.

But I do think this little bit of intellectual history should remind us of a certain style of argument that is popular in the Liberal Democrats. Often difficult modern-day problems are dismissed simply by citing the name of a past hero.

Should we reform the social security system? Read Beveridge. Can we reconcile individual liberty and economic equality? Read L.T. Hobhouse and T.H. Green. Whatever shall we do about the economy? Read Keynes.

Liberal Left even wanted to drag Gladstone into it the other day. As I recently argued myself, this constant citing of long-dead figures makes our self-styled radicals oddly conservative in practice.

If you add to this a fondness for quoting the party constitution or party policy as a way of countering people who ask awkward questions, and we start to look like a church, complete with saints and sacred texts.

Let's remember that all heroes, even Liberal heroes, have feet of clay and be prepared to a little more thinking of our own.

Lord Lucan, I presume?

It must be Forgotten News Stories of the 1970s week.

One of the most-read posts on this blog yesterday was the one about Joyce McKinney and the 'Manacled Mormon'. Now the Lord Lucan case has been remembered too.

On Monday the South East edition of the BBC Inside Out programme will cover claims that Lord Lucan was smuggled out of the country after he murdered the family's nanny. A woman who worked for Lucan's friend John Aspinall will say she used to arrange for his children to fly to Africa so that the peer could view them "from a distance".

The programme will be shown only in the South East, but it will be available on the BBC iPlayer.

Hitler's love child?

Saturday's papers are full of the story that Hitler had a son with a French teenager while serving as a soldier during the First World War. See the Daily Telegraph, for instance.

I don't believe it. And there is a much more interesting story in this field that I don't believe either.

That is the story that Unity Mitford had Hitler's love child.

More on the Leicestershire smallpipes

Back in 2008 I blogged after coming across a reference to the Leicestershire smallpipes. "A variety of bagpipes native to this county?" I wondered.

The answer is probably not. A post on a Mudcat Cafe bulletin board says:
Most English bagpipe designs are based on very scanty evidence such as old pictures and carvings found in churches, or drawings in old books. Occasionally actual relics of pipe chanters are found, which makers study in great detail and take loads of measurements. The rest is imagination combined with experimentation to get a pipe that is playable and in some recognisable pitch. 
The Leicestershire pipes were based on such a design that happened to be found somewhere in Leicestershire. There is no evidence that similar pipes were widely popular in that region, but it's as good a name as any to distinguish it from others.
But the good news is that I have found a video of Julian Goodacre, who makes the instrument today, playing the Leicestershire smallpipes.

And I still like to think that, centuries ago, this would have been a common sound in Melton Mowbray and Woodhouse Eaves.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Six of the Best 227

The Yellow Bastard asks if the Liberal Democrats are missing a trick by not championing England.

Alex Hilton, on LabourList, sends a humdinger of an open letter to Ed Miliband: "My problem is that you are not a leader. You are not articulating a vision or a destination, you’re not clearly identifying a course and no-one’s following you. You’re simply coming out with unintelligible guff in response to the latest headlines and seemingly hoping that we’ll think its impenetrability is down to our lack of understanding rather than your lack of coherence." In defence of the Labour leader, I don't think any leading politician has a vision beyond getting our debts down at the moment.

Phillip Blond and Graham Allen, writing in the Independent, say we need a magna carta for true local government.

The TES reports that pupils who speak English as an additional language have achieved an academic breakthrough, with new figures showing that for the first time a higher proportion have gained five 'good' GCSEs than their native English speaking counterparts. A Department for Education spokesman gives a sane response: "It is good to see any pupils making progress, but we want to make sure that those from all backgrounds are doing well."

Stratagem XXXVIII finds the Serious Organised Crime Agency has started policing copyright infringement and taking down websites they suspected of distributing copyrighted music.

Diamond Geezer visits Charles Dickens' birthplace in Portsmouth.

The Sensational Alex Salmond Band: Danny Alexander (Feed Him to the Pandas)

I spoke too soon. After
we have this deeply unfair song about the Liberal Democrat MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey and Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Thanks to @abjtal on Twitter.

The Leaning Traffic Light of Market Harborough

It's been the talk of the town this week, so here is The Leaning Traffic Light of Market Harborough before some spoilsport puts it to rights.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Alastair Cook as a chorister at St Paul's

I first posted this on The Corridor but, as is his right, the owner has taken his bat home and deleted the whole blog.

So here, at 1:11, is England's opening batsman and one-day captain in his days as a choirboy at St Paul's.

More signs that tax is for the little people

The Daily Telegraph has more evidence of senior Whitehall companies being paid through private companies, apparently as a way of avoiding higher tax bills:
The Daily Telegraph has uncovered a raft of new examples in deals worth up to £475,000 each. 
These include one tax adviser at the Office for Tax Simplification, the head of internal channels at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and several “associates” and directors at the National College for School Leadership.
I suppose that is one way of 'simplifying' tax.

The Rising of the Moon by Gladys Mitchell

It is wrong to get too upset about a poor adaptation of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen. However bad it is, the novel is still there and you know there will be another one along in a minute. It is hard to be so calm about a poor adaptation of an obscure work that you particularly like, because you know that it is probably the only one you will ever see.

BBC4 is currently repeating the Mrs Bradley Mysteries, which were first shown in 1998 and 1999. These are adaptations of a few of the many crime novels by Gladys Mitchell (1901-83), and there is much to enjoy about them - notably the cast. Last week's Murder at the Opera featured not only the regulars Diana Rigg, Neil Dudgeon and Peter Davison, but also David Tennant and Roy Barraclough - Doctor Who to Les Dawson in one move.

I know Alex Wilcock is a fan of this series and he ought to write one of his appreciations about it.

This week's episode was less remarkable, though still enjoyable. But you would not have gathered from it a hint of what a remarkable book Rising of the Moon is or that it was set, not in some ill-defined Midsomer village, but in a carefully recreated Brentford, with its canals and weirs, where Mitchell herself grew up.

From my limited sampling of her work I know that Mitchell was a very uneven writer, but in The Rising of the Moon she created something like a British Ray Bradbury - a gothic coming-of-age story.

As an essay on a Gladys Mitchell fan site puts it:
She sets out to create a world filtered through the eyes of her thirteen-year old narrator, Simon Innes, and to that end she succeeds on every page. It's not just a perspective, it's an entire ideology that Miss Mitchell offers in her young protagonist. Simon and Keith have scruples; they are cunning and resourceful, in the best meaning of those words; they have their own particular code of honour. They also have a thorough understanding of how their world operates (parental laws; omissions which are not the same as lies), and Simon's subdued narrative prose bolsters this point ... 
The Rising of the Moon is filled with careful, believable details. Some readers may wish the narrator to stay away from such off-topic digressions, but in truth, the village murder investigation remains at the centre, which is where such exotic news would surely be placed in a village boy's world. Detailed observations on everyday life only serve to make this story more vivid. 
Another great touch: the inclusion of a complete circus poster, with all of its patter ("Crowned Heads Have Seen It. Unknown Multitudes Have Seen It. Come and See for Yourself the Riotous Fantasy of Sublime Terror and Beauty.") lovingly recreated. Such a poster, offering the unbelieveable claims of the circus, would be an unforgettable tract to a thirteen-year old boy. 
Miss Mitchell observes and offers these details with unerring consistency. Simon and Keith operate on their own young-adult logic, which does not always run parallel with that of their elders' (e.g. the boys decide it's best to fake evidence to establish Jack's innocence). However, such behaviour is always truthful to the character of the participants, and such insight is commendable in its author.
Yes, the book is still there. I hope this adaptation will encourage people to discover it rather than put them off.

I am fed up with being preached at by atheists

My religious position is clear enough: I am a High Church atheist. I like church music and church architecture, but that doesn’t mean God exists. You could say I was Anglican by temperament but not by belief.

I had many good friends when I was doing my first degree, but in those days I was something of a professional atheist. I saw it as part of my job as a Philosophy student. In particular, I found the arguments of the Christian Union (CU) simplistic and its habit of appealing to the emotions of lonely or immature young people unattractive. Interestingly, in view of what follows, my impression is that the majority of keen CU types were studying science subjects.

Over the years, though I find the Evangelical style of Christianity that the CU represented distasteful to this day, I have lost my enthusiasm for arguing with religious people. As you get older you come to realise that we all live by beliefs that we cannot possibly prove – in politics quite as much as religion.

And even when I was at university and sending for humanist publications, I resented the idea that if you were an atheist then you automatically embraced a whole range of predetermined positions on social issues – what you might call today ‘the full Evan Harris’. Then and now I had more doubts about the morality of abortion than are fashionable amongst Liberal atheists, though today I am a stronger support of assisted dying than I used to be.

Times moves on and I find the modern proselytising atheist movement unattractive – unattractive in the way that I used to find the CU unattractive, and often for the same reasons.

The version of atheism that attracted me as a student had Bertrand Russell and David Hume as its leading figure and it shared its best qualities: it was wise, witty and sceptical. This philosophical atheism gently but firmly pointed out that Christians were making claims about the universe that they could not begin to prove.
Russell was certainly an atheist, whereas Hume probably believed that there was a deity of some sort, but that there was little we could sensibly say about him. This philosophical form of atheism, you will see, was a broad church.

Today’s atheism is different. It does not deal in scepticism but in certainties.

I do not underestimate the brilliance of Darwin: everyone should read The Origin of Species, if only for the quality of the prose. Why isn’t scientific writing like that now? I suggest it is because of the emphasis on ‘publication’: papers are written to be published, not read.

And Darwin was a wonderful liberator of human thinking. If you read William Cobbett, an intelligent but not conventionally academic writer from the early 19th century, you will see that he cannot make sense of nature without God. (I remember using a quotation from Rural Rides in an essay on miracles to make just this point. Some linguistic philosophers would see the cry “it’s a miracle”” as an expression of joy but to Cobbett – I was rather proud of this phrase – it was an explanation, not an exclamation.) But after Darwin we could explain nature without God. The world looked different.

Yet somewhere this modern scientific atheism has hardened into a dogma. Just take a look at Twitter, where the stars of the movement spend their time mocking those who do not share their views and their acolytes send them links giving new names to laugh at. It does feel remarkably like a religious movement.
Such an approach does not accord with the view of science I learnt from the works of Karl Popper, where what characterises it is precisely a willingness to see its hypotheses refuted. The modern atheist does not entertain the possibility that he or she may be wrong.

Take the recent court case involving prayers before meetings of Bideford town council. Our modern atheists have rejoiced over this: to me it looks like an unreasonable demand that everyone else must share their views.

The strongest argument against prayers at such meetings is that they may discourage people from standing for the council in the first place. But I am not convinced.

I became a member of Harborough District Council at the age of 26 and a year later found myself part of a sizeable Liberal Alliance group with two member who were younger than I was.

Not surprisingly, we found many of the council’s ways of doing things stuffy and old fashioned. Some we tried to change (successfully or not), some we put up with, some we ignored and some we came to see the wisdom of.

In all of this, the existence of prayers at the start of full council meetings was the least of our concerns. But if they had worried us we would have sought to change things in Harborough, not looked for outside help to fight a court case in London.

And that is at the heart of my distaste for modern atheism. My Liberalism is sceptical and thus is happy to tolerate local difference: philosophical atheism could live with that, but I am not sure this new scientific atheism can.