Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Raymond Briggs commercial for British Rail from 1988



A sweet television commercial drawn by Raymond Briggs for British Rail's Saver tickets in 1988.

And is that Johnny Morris doing the voice over?

Thanks to @BrownhillsBob on Twitter.

Ronnie Lane's sax player: "Goodbye cruel circus"

We Harborough bloggers often hang out together. Last Sunday I had coffee with Wartime Housewife and Unmitigated England, and the day before Backwatersman got on the bus when I was coming back from Long Buckby.

That pilgrimage to Long Buckby to see the grave of Stanley Unwin led me on to Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance and to The Passing Show.

But Backwatersman had already written about them back in May 2010, when he posted a video of the song "More Debris":
This is a solo rendition by Lane and his band Slim Chance, from the period when he had left the Faces and was touring the country in a caravan accompanied by a circus (and, on occasion, Viv Stanshall). Apparently (as I’ve learnt this very day from Uncut magazine) he used to limber up before going on stage by sinking a few cans of barley wine (that potent brew), and perhaps that it is a little visible here. 
The saxophone player (who I’m not sure really adds all that much) apparently left the tour, tiring of the whole circus concept, leaving a note saying “Goodbye cruel circus, I’m off to join the world”. Very droll.
I didn't know about Viv Stanshall, but you see how it all fits together.

St Nicholas Church, Leicester


This is the oldest building in Leicester. Parts of St Nicholas Church date from 900 and, in the words of Paul Courtney, it
has a claim, however uncertain, to be the site of the mid-Saxon cathedral on the basis of its siting in the civic hub of the Roman city. Its east-end must more or less front on the former Roman street running past the west side of the forum.
And if you look at the photograph above you can see a couple of courses of Roman tile laid in herringbone fashion in the tower.

Which is not surprising because there are are substantial Roman remains - the Jewry Wall - standing next to St Nicholas. I shall show you those remains shortly.

Courtney goes on to say:
Less convincing is the claim that the Jewry Wall was built into such a church. This would imply a church of monumental scale which was then demolished leaving nothing but Roman work. 
Perhaps the cathedral merely lay adjacent to the Jewry Wall and was of more modest proportions than Brixworth which was probably a royally founded monastery with an important relic. 
St. Nicholas is nevertheless the only Leicester church with structural evidence which made date back to the mid-Saxon period.
I have written about the later history of Leicester cathedrals and also been to Brixworth.

St Nicholas was always a small parish and thus short of money, which is one of the reasons that its Saxon origins have not been obliterated.

As the St Nicholas website explains, it narrowly escaped demolition and rebuilding in the 19th century and the guide book I bought there today says that slum clearance and road building in the 1950s removed what parishioners it had. Somehow it soldiered on, developing close relations with the city's universities.

And if you visit the church on a Saturday afternoon, a nice lady will make you a mug of tea.

We need a Leveson Inquiry for banking

Lord Leveson has not produced his recommendations yet, and when he does many of us of a Liberal persuasion may not like them. But we can already say that his inquiry has been a great success.

That is because it has laid bare the working of politicians and the media. We have heard editors, owners and politicians describing that they do under forensic questioning and on oath.

It seems it was the US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who first said "sunlight is the best disinfectant". He was right, but the Leveson Inquiry has done more than expose wrongdoing. It has been an education to those who have taken an interest in it, laying bare the culture of journalism and its relationship with the political world.

And that is why we need a Leveson Inquiry for banking too.

Many of Leveson's most reported witnesses are facing criminal charges, which has meant that he has had to stay well clear of some topics.

That might turn out to be the case with any inquiry into banking too, but what it could do is allow sunlight to shine on the industry's practices.

The law may be adequate in banking: certainly, with phone-hacking it appears that a large part of the problem has been the authorities' strange unwillingness to enforce the existing law.

But whether or not the law on banking needs changing, it is certain that the culture of banking needs changing. And sunlight and a Leveson-style inquiry are the first steps in tackling that.

Of course the bankers will oppose it. Their apologists will tell us that all British bankers are always on the point of departing for highly paid jobs on Wall Street and must not be upset for that reason.

But that is nonsense, isn't it?

Friday, June 29, 2012

On not getting Eddie Shoestring

John Crace wrote today's box-set review for the Guardian and chose the 1970s series Shoestring.

Shown in 1979 and 1980, it starred Trevor Eve as Radio West's 'private ear' Eddie Shoestring and launched his long and successful career as a television actor.


Crace writes:
I must be one of the few people who watch Trevor Eve in Waking the Dead and think: "What's Eddie doing here and how come he's got so large?"
I feel much that way myself.

And I also share much of Crace's reaction in seeing the show today:
So when I heard the first series had been released on box set – apparently there had been issues over music copyright – I grabbed at it. And, second time around, I was surprised by how dated it felt. Not in the details, such as the landline telephones, Eddie's orange Cortina, his half-tied tie and all those typewriters, because I expected that. But in the pace and character of the stories. 
What I had remembered as fast, grimy realism now felt languid, gentle and unmenacing: the baddies were like cartoon characters and the violence really wasn't very violent. In just about every episode, Eddie is jumped by dangerous thugs. Then, before anything much can happen, we cut to Eddie back home, nursing a small cut on his lip.
Except that I think Crace misses part of the show's original appeal here.

Because Eddie Shoestring was always a bit of a fantasist. He had suffered some sort of breakdown while working in computers and his new image as a Philip Marlowe figure - stalking the streets, not of Los Angeles, but Bristol - was his way of coping. He life as a private detective did not represent an exploration of the real world so much as an escape from it.

So Shoestring never was grittily realistic, In fact, like many fantasists, Eddie drew people into his world.

John Pardoe returns to Westminster

Cornwall Community News reports that John Pardoe, Liberal MP for North Cornwall between 1966 and 1979, visited Westminster today with his wife and grandson.

The online magazine says:
His varied career saw him standing against Margaret Thatcher in Finchley, leading the Treasury field during the Lib-Lab pact, and finally losing out to David Steel in a nasty little political scrap in which he was accused of donning a toupe. 
The former Cambridge footlights comedian also stood out in political life for his unflagging support for Jeremy Thorpe, a loyalty widely believed to have cost him his seat.
It goes on to quote the constituency's current MP Dan Rogerson:
"As a local MP, John set a very high standard for the rest of us to follow, and he is still well loved and remembered by people across North Cornwall."
Along with David Penhaligon, John Pardoe was my first Liberal hero. Had I been a party member in 1976 , I should have certainly voted for him in the party leadership election.

Pardoe was more charismatic than David Steel and gave the impression of being more interested in ideas, even if his Liberalism was perhaps less well rooted that Steel's.

The website's reference to a toupe, incidentally, is a reference to that party leadership contest. Paul Linford will tell you all about it.

And the website also wins our Bad Pun of the Week Award for its headline on this story: "PARDOE THE FURNITURE".

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Long Buckby and the battle for religious liberty


I have come across a history of Long Buckby United Reform Church, as the village's Congregational church now is.

One passage, discussing the ministry of David Griffiths between 1803 and 1842, reminds us just how hard won religious liberty was in England:
During the ministry of Mr. Griffiths, the village chapels at East Haddon and Whilton were erected. Mr. Griffiths used to "lecture" once a month in a private house in East Haddon and so many people desired to hear him that the accommodation was soon insufficient and a chapel was built. 
This did not please (the squire of that time and he gave notice to the farmers on his estate that if they continued to deal with or employ shopkeepers who attended dissenting services, they would he removed from their farms. 
Although legal help was sought, nothing effective could he done and the tradespeople concerned lost the custom of nearly all the farmers in the parish. In spite of these difficulties, the chapel was completed in 1811.

Private company pulls out of running Leicester GP surgery

From the Leicester Mercury:
A private company is pulling out of running a city GP surgery after protests from patients about poor service. 
The Practice plc made the announcement as patients threatened to demonstrate outside the Brandon Street surgery, in Belgrave, and take their protest to local health bosses. 
They said they were fed up that nothing was being done to sort out a catalogue of problems at the surgery, which moved from Cross Street, in Belgrave, to the newly-built Belgrave Health Centre, in Brandon Street, last year. Problems included concerns over the number of locum doctors being used, as well as difficulties getting through on the telephone and in getting an appointment after The Practice plc took over the running of the surgery in 2010. 
It was part of a £5 million deal to run this and three other city surgeries for five years.

Six of the Best 257

"The breadth and depth of friendship and affection for the late broadcaster and Liberal Democrat activist David Walter was on view this afternoon when St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, was packed by family, friends and former colleagues, remembering one of the kindest and most intelligent of men (a rare combination)." Jonathan Fryer attends David Walter's thanksgiving service.

The Potter Blogger calls on the Liberal Democrats to stop treating party members as an afterthought.

"It is hard to know which came first – the public’s spiralling distrust of the political class or the news media’s obsession with destroying as many of its members as possible. But clearly these two phenomena are feeding off each other. Studies show that media negativity about politics and politicians has been on the rise in developed democracies for some time. This tendency helps to provoke common misconceptions about politicians, such as the false notion that MPs have become increasingly subservient to their leaders and less likely to rebel against the party line. Meanwhile overall levels of trust in politics have been steadily declining, and the trend is showing no signs of abating." Writing on British Politics and Policy at LSE, William Brett (quite rightly) worries about the media's hostility to politicians.

Writing on Time, Adam Cohen says it is time to end solitary confinement in US Prisons.

Channel 4's Time Team has been digging at Oakham Castle. Martin Brookes has some photographs.

Life on the Cut Through my Eyes voyages from Froncsyllte to Chirk and is photographed by Google on the way.

Harborough dogs to escape rough justice

Back in April I reported on Harborough District Council's draconian plans to limit where dogs could be walked off the lead.

Yesterday a press release appeared on the council's website suggesting that it has listened to the outcry and come up with something more sensible:
Councillors said that, having listened to feedback from the public, they felt a holistic ban on dogs being off leads was not an appropriate option for the Harborough district. 
The cross-party regulatory committee decided that dogs must be kept on leads in: 
  • Children’s play areas 
  • Sports pitches maintained with public expenses 
  • Footpaths adjacent to roads with a speed limit of 40mph or less 
  • Church yards (sic.) and cemeteries
The details of which specific areas will be applicable are to be drawn up by the council over the coming weeks, with the final decision being ratified by Full Council in September.
This sounds much more sensible than the original proposals. There is more comment on the HOWL - Harborough Owners Walking Lobby - Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Long Buckby Castle


Take the road out of Long Buckby towards the village's railway station and you will soon come across a sign directing you down a close of modern houses to reach this castle.


A page about it says Long Buckby has been described as a certain timber castle and also as a probable masonry castle:
A trial excavation in 1955 revealed a shallow ditch or an enclosure of uncertain shape, possibly of pre-conquest or early post conquest date, which was superseded by a wall and subsequently by a bank with a deep ditch on the outside. The main motte was created in the mid C12 and may have been constructed by the de Quincy family who held the manor until 1264.
The interpretation board also suggests that what appears to be a moat around two sides in the mound is in reality the remains of a medieval track that was worn into a hollow way.

The problem is not Chloe Smith but Jeremy Paxman



The consensus on the web appears to be that Chloe Smith's Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman yesterday evening was a disaster. I take the minority view, shared by the Guardian's Michael White, that she did about as well as she could in the circumstances. Any blame due for her performance lies with Conservative command for not briefing her better or fielding a bigger beast in the first place.

It was Paxman's performance that concerned me more. I stand by what I wrote about him in Liberal Democrat News in November 2010:
Wealthy, arrogant, members of powerful dynasties... It is not the politicians we should worry about these days so much as the interviewers. 
Take the biggest cheese of them all: Jeremy Paxman. Politicians are not brought before him to have their views examined: they are there to suffer a form of ritual contempt. Forget any ideas of a sustained line of questioning designed to probe and elucidate his interviewees’ views. What he offers is sneering, snarling and attempts to catch his victims off guard. 
Paxo acts as a channel for our hatred of the political class. It is all great fun, but contempt for democratically elected politicians is not the mark of a mature democracy. It is the stock in trade of fascists or, to be less melodramatic, of fruitcakes like UKIP in Britain or the Tea Party in America. 
And there are alternatives. For better or worse, the days when Brian Walden on Weekend World could act like a kindly but irascible professor faced with a bright student are long gone. They are part of that lost era when a Marxist Play for Today could gain 14 million viewers – chiefly because there was little else to watch. But some people do it better even now. For all his silly guests and references to Blue Nun, Andrew Neil can be a devastating interviewer. I once heard him, with forensic politeness, draw from Michael Gove the fact that his adoptive parents had paid for him to attend one of the most expensive private schools in Scotland. 
This mattered because in those days Gove was widely assumed to be a state-educated moth among the Brideshead butterflies of the Cameron front bench. After this interview I saw him in a new light – even if, unfashionably for a Liberal Democrat, I am still an enthusiast for his ‘free schools’. 
Jeremy Paxman, by contrast is most famous for asking Michael Howard the same question 14 times. And he still didn’t get an answer.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

New blows to David Parsons

The demise of David Parsons, leader of the Conservative-run Leicestershire County Council, has been announced before, but the vultures really do seem to be circling this evening.

First, the Leicester Mercury has calculated that he would have saved the council £24,000 over the past six years if he had travelled to London by train rather than chauffeur-driven car.

Then, more significantly, the Local Government Chronicle - its reporter is one Mark Smulian, whose name seems strangely familiar - reported the following:
Leicestershire Police are investigating alleged financial irregularities involved county council leader David Pasrons (sic). 
It also emerged today that Cllr Parsons has resigned as chair of the Local Government Association environment and housing board, and yesterday that he would not seek another term as chair of East Midlands Councils.
Is that the fat lady clearing her throat I hear?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Passing Show: The Life and Music of Ronnie Lane



In the course of reading about Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance I came across this terrific BBC documentary about him. The first part is above and Youtube will kindly offer you the later parts when you have finished watching it.

The programme confirms all the stories about Lane in Shropshire and the earlier material on the Small Faces and the Faces is fascinating too.

I once blogged about Ronnie Lane in Shropshire:
Charlie Hart, a member of Lane's band Slim Chance, remembers hanging out with a "lethal combination of rock and roll A-list - Clapton, Townsend, Small Faces etc. - and Shropshire farmers".
And an article on GoJo Music suggests we can add the Three Tuns in Bishop's Castle to the list of Lane's Shropshire haunts.

But take a look even at the first part of The Passing Show and you will see the sights of the Stiperstones as the charabanc ("a victoriana sharowbold, and this is the fourwheelful of sst sst out the backgrove," as Stanley Unwin would have put it) drives along.

The pub at the very start is the Miners Arms at Priest Weston, at 00:50 you see the Devil's Chair and at 01:02 the tin tabernacle at White Grit, which has been pictured on this blog.

Back in the sixties everyone was getting it together in the country. But to do it in the harsher climate of the seventies, that was something else.

Six of the Best 256

Tom Brake MP is a co-sponsor of Labour MP Michael Meacher’s Private Member’s Bill that would outlaw any financial transaction in which the primary purpose is tax avoidance or evasion, reports Nick Hollinghurst.

"While it is not yet clear why the software upgrade failed - or whether it was the fault of an offshored computer facility in India - what is certain is that the episode has given us just a tiny taste of a nightmare scenario long feared by cybersecurity experts who advise western governments: What happens if there is an extended, simultaneous attack on all of the banks?" Paul Marks makes our flesh creep on the New Scientist's One Per Cent blog.

Human Rights Watch on the US Supreme Court's ruling barring the mandatory sentencing of juvenile offenders to life without parole.

Can a school reward good behaviour? Not if a parent gets hold of the Equality Act 2010 finds Mummy-Tips - another member of the increasingly influential Market Harborough school of blogging.

Andre Farrar on the RSPB Community site presents more evidence that Network Rail has too little concern for the natural environment.

This blog has been much concerned with graves recently, so here is John Saunders' Chess Blog on the rediscovery and restoration of that of Johannes Zukertort, one of the world's leading players in the 1870s and 1880s. I have borrowed the picture of the great man from John.

Isn't it time you had another Lolcat?

funny cat pictures - Lolcats: Pweez to stand by...
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

The diving board at Coate Water



Richard Jefferies, who his best remembered as a nature essayist but, almost in passing, invented post-apocalyptic science fiction (in After London) and the children's holiday adventure (in Bevis), was the subject (or victim) of my Masters dissertation.

His birthplace near Swindon now houses a museum devoted to his life and works. New readers should start with this guest post on Jefferies and Coate by Rebecca Welshman.

The museum stands next to Coate Water, a reservoir constructed in 1822 to provide water for the Wilts & Berks Canal. In Bevis it features as a boyhood paradise and in After London is transformed into a vast inland sea.

When the canal closed in 1914 Coate Water was turned into a park to serve the town of Swindon. Memory Lane at Coate Water describes its use in the 20th century:
Visitors to the park were charged an entrance fee and a variety of small wooden buildings around the lake provided boating and changing facilities. A wooden diving platform was built in 1921 and there was wooden staging separating the swimming and diving areas of the lake. Later a full size swimming pool and a children's paddling pool were added although today the swimming pool has been filled in and changed to a children's paddling pool and the original paddling pool has been filled with sand and turned into a play area for children. 
By 1935, the 'Art Deco' Diving board provided a nationally renowned platform for diving competitions and the lake was also regularly used for regattas and water polo. 
Although swimming in the lake was stopped due to public health and safety concerns in 1958, the diving board can still be seen today and has become a local landmark associated with the park and its history.
The diving board, occupied by the lake's more daring waterfowl, is indeed the landmark that most strikes visitors to Coate today. The video above describes Sophie Hart's ambitions to see it preserved.

News Corp lobbyist "threatened" Lib Dems over Sky deal

Digital Spy has a report on the evidence Norman Lamb gave to the Leveson Inquiry today. At the time of his encounter with Fred Michel, Lamb was Nick Clegg's parliamentary private secretary:
Describing Michel's approach as "brazen", Lamb said the lobbyist had wanted "things to run smoothly" with the Sky bid, but warned that "if it goes the wrong way" he was "worried about the implications". 
The note added: "It was brazen. VC [Vince Cable] refers bid to Ofcom, they turn nasty." 
Lamb claimed that the threat was offset with an enticement should Cable allow the Sky bid to proceed unhindered. 
He said that it was proposed that The Sun would help persuade voters to back the Lib Dem's alternative voting (AV) system of proportional representation, which had been key to the party's coalition deal with the Conservatives. 
Lamb told Lord Justice Leveson that got a "very clear understanding" from the meeting with Michel that News Corp's UK newspapers had been supportive of Lib Dems in the past, but that positive coverage could change quickly. 
The note's final sentence says: "Implication was clear, News Int turn against coalition and AV [if bid does not go through]". 
In another note, Lamb said that Clegg had been "horrified" to hear what Michel allegedly said in the meeting. Clegg is said to have fretted: "We will lose the only papers who have been positive."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Radical Long Buckby


St Lawrence, where Stanley Unwin is buried, was locked, but I had already found an impressive Congregational church in the village. Pevsner says it dates from 1771, though there was a poster elsewhere mentioning a celebration of its 305th anniversary, so the congregation must be older than this building.

The picture above shows the rear, but the front is both monumental and plain too. With its large manse and later Sunday school, the grouping was reminiscent of Rothwell.

There is a Holyoake Terrace in Long Buckby, which I suspected had been named for George Holyoake - and I was right.

Because LongBuckby.Net confirms the village's radical history:
The tradition of absorbing incomers, the periods of serious poverty and the presence of many people working in industry and not on the land, gave rise to a village very radical in its politics and favouring the non-conformist churches. The Chartist movement was strong here in the 1830s and 1840s. 
A few years later (1858) the first co-operative society in Northamptonshire was set up and was to become a major influence in the village. In the mid 19th century there were three chapels which, between them, attracted more than four times as many in their congregations as attended the Church of England.

Britain from Above

There has been lots of media coverage today for the release of 15,500 aerial photographs from the Aerofilms collection. They were taken between 1919 and 1953, and eventually some 95,000 photographs will be available at Britain from Above.

Allow me to recommend this shot of Market Harborough from 1926, taken before Welland Park Road was built.

The Conservative primary for 2015 has already begun

Yesterday's Independent on Sunday told us that:
Senior Tories are already discussing holding an "open, televised" contest for the next leader of the Conservative Party in an attempt to prevent a Gordon Brown-style coronation of George Osborne, it emerged yesterday.
The paper went on to say that this open contest is being planned for when David Cameron steps down rather than as a plot against him, but even this reflects poorly on his authority after only two years as prime minister.

As the paper also said, that contest has already begun. Michael Gove's plan to bring back O levels is best understood in the light of it - so the more interesting question is not whether Nick Clegg and Sarah Teather knew of his plans but whether David Cameron knew of them.

And Cameron's own speech on social security can also be seen as a move in that game. It is almost as though he feels obliged to campaign for the Conservative nomination in 2015.

The trouble for the Conservatives is that in campaigning for the support of their own activists, their leaders may put off the more liberal voters they need to win over if they are to win a majority next time.

Jeffrey M. Stonecash describes how this process operates across the Atlantic in his New Directions in American Political Parties:
The primary electorate is nearly always more ideologically extreme than the general electorate, with Democratic primary voters more liberal and Republican primary voters more conservative than the full electorate. Each member must therefore appeal to a more extreme constituency for nomination and then a more moderate one for election. 
This dual pull - to the center for reelection and away  from the center for nomination - is a common and repeated tension. Even in the general election, the candidate is often pulled one way to appeal to her party’s 'base' (which is often even more extreme than the primary electorate) and the other way to appeal to the swing voters more in the center.
The decline in membership of all political parties adds to the danger for the Conservatives. Often it is the odd and the driven who remain involved while the moderate and sensible who drift away. (This, of course, does not hold true of my fellow Liberal Democrats.) Thus the electorate to whom leading Tories have to appeal is becoming progressively more extreme.

Remember, too, Calder's Fourth Law of Politics: The more extreme a person's view, the more certain he or she will be that the majority of voters share them.

One way out of this problem for the Conservatives was suggested in the Coalition Agreement between them and the Liberal Democrats:
We will fund 200 all-postal primaries over this Parliament, targeted at seats which have not changed hands for many years. These funds will be allocated to all political parties with seats in Parliament that they take up, in proportion to their share of the total vote in the last general election.
The primary electorate may be more extreme than the general electorate, but it will certainly be more representative of the concerns of the electorate as a whole than the small group that selects Tory candidates at the moment.

Why have we heard no more of this idea?

Headline of the Day

From BBC Northampton (where it appears you have to make your own entertainment):

Woman cut free from bedroom handcuffs by firefighters

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ronnie Lane & Slim Chance: How Come



Yesterday's expedition to Long Buckby and the grave of Stanley Unwin has naturally put me in mind of the Small Faces. Unwin narrated the second side of the group's LP Ogden's Nut Gone Flake and was surely a better choice than their original thought Spike Milligan.

But the Small Faces and the solo career of Steve Marriott have featured in Sunday videos before, so it is time to catch up with the band's bass player and other songwriter Ronnie Lane.

After Marriott left to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, the remaining members of the Small Faces joined Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart to form the Faces, enjoying enormous success.

Ronnie Lane gave all that up, moved to the remotest part of Shropshire and former the wonderfully loose Slim Chance. How Come was there only hit - their second single The Poacher suffered from the cancellation of Top of the Pops at the vital time. This was the seventies.

There are many tales to tell of Ronnie Lane in Shropshire - I have already blogged about those days and shall return to the subject soon. A friend of a friend there assures me that Lane and his rock star companions were "very naughty boys", but it remains wonderful to me that there was a time when you could wander into a remote pub under the Stiperstones and hear them playing unannounced.

Ronnie Lane's most remarkable project was Passing Show, a sort of travelling musical circus. Writing in Uncut, David Cavanagh described it as:
A picaresque odyssey along the highways and byways, it framed Ronnie's love of good-time music within the wider context of a Romany way of life. Viewed through the eyes of conventional rock tour promotion, 'The Passing Show' was crazy. It required the country's least flexible officials – the town councillors, police constables and fire chiefs – to look at life not as a protocol but as an adventure.
Soon afterwards Lane fell ill with multiple sclerosis and in 1983 his friends put on a celebrated charity concert to raise funds for him - you can see a clip from it here. Ronnie Lane died in 1997.

Note, by the way, that the video above comes from The Basil Brush Show. You don't get children's television like that any more.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Stanley Unwin's grave at Long Buckby


Today I have been on a pilgrimage to Long Buckby to Northamptonshire to pay tribute to one of my comic heroes and to see if the story about the inscription on his gravestone is true. Happily, it is.

Unwin moved to Long Buckby when he started working for the BBC at the nearby Daventry transmitting station in 1940 and lived there for the rest of his life.

Although all his attempts to retire were thwarted because he was constantly being rediscovered by new generations of producers and directors, it is probably necessary now to tell my younger readers about him.

As his Guardian obituary said:
To say that Stanley Unwin, who has died aged 90, was a comedian gives no idea of his unique brand of plausible malapropisms, grammatical distortions and straightfaced nonsense. As a prewar BBC sound engineer, he befuddled private conversations and entertained his children, but, from the 1950s, he delighted a much larger audience on radio, television, stage and in films.
And it wasn't just that Unwin was admired, he was loved. The World of Stanley Unwin says:
For someone who was modesty itself and forever grateful for the opportunities he had been given, he would probably have been quite embarrassed at the length and breadth of the obituaries that appeared over the following few days: 'top billing' across seven columns in the Times; nearly a quarter page in the Guardian; two columns and a whacking great photo in the Independent, and online obits from the BBC right across to newswire agencies in Australia.
Deep joy.

I have been known to to perform an Unwinesque turn myself at the Liberal Revue, but it is harder than it sounds, because Stanley Unwin's art was to have his nonsense so nearly make sense. It is easy to overtroil and falollop as a result.

Robert Wann and David Parsons latest

They are beleaguered. They are embattled. And they are both from Leicestershire. Let's see how they are getting on.

Robert Wann, says the Leicester Mercury, has spoken out after the finding against him by the city council's standards committee:
"I believe it's a stitch-up and Peter Soulsby is behind it. This matter had been dealt with until he became elected mayor. 
"The whistleblower complained to the council. It was looked into and that was that. Nothing wrong. 
"Then the whistleblower took it to Sir Peter when he was an MP. 
"It was not until he became mayor he reported me to standards. I believe he's been running the whole thing. 
"If I'd been there to have my say it would have been very different but I repeatedly said I could not do that date but it went ahead anyway."
Leicester Labour does seem riven with all sorts of personal and political feuds, but note this comment on the posting I made about this affair yesterday.

Meanwhile, says the Mercury, David Parsons - leader of the ruling Conservative group on Leicestershire County Council - faces a motion of no confidence within his own group following the finding against him by the county's standards committee.

Leicestershire Conservatives have been unswerving in their support of Parsons, so it will be a surprise if he loses the vote.

However, the Mercury quotes a "senior Tory" as saying:
"There is a feeling David's position is as weak as it has ever been and now might be the chance to dislodge him. The vultures are circling. 
"The committee questioned his honesty, integrity, leadership and accountability and those are important issues to members."
Just another day in Leicestershire politics.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A television channel for Shropshire



The Shropshire Star reports:
The County Channel will be launched as Shropshire’s own version of the BBC iPlayer, offering ‘high-quality’ programmes with a local twist. 
Mr Ward and business partner Robert Harper hope to put out about 260 programmes a year, with documentaries and music shows on the schedule. 
They said that they want to make ‘broadcast quality’ shows that can be watched by people around the world once the channel goes live. 
It is intended that the programmes would all be of a short length, lasting between three and seven minutes each.
The pair hope the channel will help turn Shropshire into a ‘centre of excellence’ for the broadcasting industry, with training established to provide skills in presenting, editing and directing.
You can hear more about the plans in the channel above.

The Star is excited by the prospect of a soap opera set in the county, but I was drawn to the Pocket History series and its pilot episode on What the Romans Did for Us.

The film is nicely done. I had not heard of the Roman capture of the hill fort on the Wrekin and I like the observation that the establishment of a currency is a necessary precursor to the development of prostitution.

And as it was filmed on top of the Wrekin, the views are stunning.

Headline of the Day

Won by BBC News for:

Zimbabwe's MPs to be circumcised in bid to fight HIV

David Boyle to head Cabinet Office review of choice in public services

Now here's something that would not have happened without the Coalition. David Boyle - former Lib Dem candidate, former editor of Lib Dem News and my friend and sometime co-author - has been asked to lead an independent review of choice in public services by the Cabinet Office.

The Cabinet Office press release announcing the review says:
The Government today starts the next phase of its commitment to improve public services by increasing choice and giving people direct control over the services they use. Increased choice can greatly improve the quality of public services and equality of choice is an important part of this. 
To help us deliver equality, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and Minister for Government Policy Oliver Letwin today announce the appointment of David Boyle, author and Fellow of the New Economics Foundation, to lead an independent choice review. 
The review will look into what people currently do with the choices that they have, whether barriers exist that are currently preventing individuals from exercising choice and the factors necessary to ensure choice is available to everyone. 
Mr Boyle will be speaking to a broad range of people from commissioners and providers to the users of public services and invites anyone with experiences or views they wish to share to contact him.
The release gives an email address at which David can be contacted.

I can think of no one better to head such a review. You can read more from David on his blog and website.

"Ticket heaven": Robert Wann censured by Leicester standards committee

The former Lord Mayor of Leicester Robert Wann has censured by the city council's standards committee, reports the Leicester Mercury.

It found that the Labour councillor had brought his position as a councillor into disrepute by getting senior officers at the authority to cancel parking fines.

And Wann's reaction?
"It's a complete joke. It should never have gone ahead without me there. I have been denied the right to have my say. 
"If I had been there it would have been a very different outcome but I couldn't put my case. It's pathetic."
According to the BBC report he will be appealing against the finding.

The Mercury quotes the committee's independent investigator Jon Wigmore:
"I think he applied pressure on senior officers. There was a degree of familiarity that approached friendship. 
"He didn't think he needed to shout or thump the table. I think he just needed to turn up, put the ticket on the table and walk out of the room. 
"He had given the tickets to senior officers and, in his words, expected them to go to ticket heaven."
You may very well think that Wann has got what he deserves, but do not forget that his case was referred to the standards committee by the city's elected mayor Sir Peter Soulsby after the two fell out.

Whether this was a case of Soulsby fearlessly doing what was right, or of his settling old scores, I could not possibly comment. But he does have form.

Harry Potter, martial arts and lesbian and gay psychology

Dr Martin Milton is giving a free public lecture on the links between courage, creativity and our own mental well-being in Leicester on 14 July.

The lecture forms part of the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Counselling Psychology. It will see Dr Milton drawing upon the Harry Potter stories, boxing and mixed martial arts, as well as lesbian and gay psychology.

Dr Milton's talk will launch his book Diagnosis and Beyond: Counselling Psychology Contributions to Understanding Human Distress. Tea and cake will be available afterwards.

The lecture takes place at the Mercure Leicester City Hotel, Granby Street, Leicester (you know, the old Grand Hotel) on Saturday 14 July between 12 and 1 p.m.

Places are available on the day or you can book in advance.

Peter Cook had a clear-eyed view of satire

Yesterday I suggested that the extreme reaction to Jimmy Carr's tax evasion was due to our exaggerated respect for satirists.


But Peter Cook, the founder of the modern movement and still quite arguably its greatest talent, did not share this weakness.

He once described his club The Establishment as being modelled on "those wonderful Berlin cabarets ... which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War".

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Theresa May found guilty of contempt of court

This case has received little coverage, so here is Martin Beckford's report from the Daily Telegraph:
Theresa May has been accused of “unacceptable and regrettable behaviour” by a judge as she became only the second Home Secretary in history to be found guilty of contempt of court. 
Mrs May ignored a legal agreement to release an Algerian robber from immigration detention in a decision that lawyers say risked throwing the whole system into confusion. 
As a result, Judge Barry Cotter, QC, made the extremely rare ruling that the Home Secretary was in contempt of court. 
He said there has been the “most regrettable and unacceptable behaviour” of the Secretary of State leading to an “intentional breach” of her previous undertaking to free the foreign criminal, Aziz Lamari. 
The judge said he recognised the seriousness of her failure to obey the deal, and said that a clear message must be sent that it must not happen again. 
However because the Home Secretary eventually released the prisoner, she escaped sanctions which could have included a fine or even imprisonment.

Six of the Best 255

On The Libertine Andrew Emmerson addresses the elephant in Liberal Youth's room: "When our Chair wins with only 56 votes and some regional positions only had 3 votes, then it is clear that we have a problem. It is not an insurmountable problem, but one nonetheless that must be addressed. It is obvious that we have lost members since the formation of the coalition, and this will form a part of the low turnout, but, I think more pressingly, is the sheer lack of engagement from the members that we actually have, amongst other things."

"In the past there were up to 19 mills in Bedford Borough along the River Great Ouse. I'm pleased we are reintroducing the good sense of the past and are benefiting from the natural power of the river once again here in Bedford Borough." So says Lib Dem Dave Hodgson - Mayor of Bedford.

I enjoyed the first part of the BBC's "Secret History of Our Streets, which dealt with the redevelopment of Deptford. It was an effective piece of television, calculated to make its viewers angry, but Deptford Misc suggests it told something less than the whole truth.

Life has a telling selection of photographs taken in South Carolina in 1956, when colour segregation was still enforced.

"How can we build the movement to make neighbourhoods, towns and cities more child-friendly? " asks Tim Gill on Rethinking Childhood.

Development of brownfield sites is usually seen as an uncomplicatedly good thing, but BBC Nature reminds us that they are often vital habitats for wildlife. "The diversity arises because only hardy plants can grow in such poor soil. These "tough" wild flowers - such as rosebay willowherb, prickly lettuce and dandelions - thrive precisely because they are not pushed out by swathes of more common weeds that need a more nutrient-rich landscape."

Education: When did Kenneth Baker become a Liberal hero?

When an unpopular dictator leaves for an international conference he risks being deposed in his absence. Michael Gove has not called the tanks on to the streets, but he has launched a missile at David Cameron in the shape of his proposed reforms to education.

With their flavour of rigour and 'going back' they have delighted Conservative backbenchers and infuriated Liberal Democrats, which I suspect is precisely the reaction they were intended to evoke. It is hard to see Michael Gove being popular with the wider electorate, but he is able and ambitious. David Cameron needs to watch out.

But I cannot share the general Lib Dem horror at Gove's ideas. I don't like the idea of a single national examination board, but the system left by Labour had to be reformed. If you combine Blairite targets with the profit motive, you are bound to get falling standards.

Abolishing the national curriculum in secondary schools may not mean very much with that single examination board in place, but it is the sore of mood music educationalists should be pleased to hear. And surely no one would mourn the death of AS levels?

The general Lib Dem complaint against Gove's call for a return to GCSEs is that it would result in a 'two-tier system', but it is worth reading his retort when Labour's Kevin Brennan made the same point in the House today:
He invited us to consider that what the Government are reported to be putting forward would lead to a two-tier system. The sad truth is that we already have a two-tier system in education in this country. Some of our most impressive schools have already left the GCSE behind and opted for the IGCSE or other more rigorous examinations.
It is also the case, sadly, that 40% of children do not achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, in our system. He said that, under the proposals that are being reported, 25% of children would be left behind. The sad truth is that at least 40% of children have been left behind under the current system. There is no excuse not to act.
There is another reason that I find it too hard to be outraged at the prospect of changes to our current education system, and that is I remember when it was brought in.

It is chiefly the brainchild of Kenneth Baker, a Conservative whose was so slimily loyal to Margaret Thatcher that Spitting Image quite fairly depicted him as a slug.

Back in the 1980s Labour and Liberals did not support Baker, they opposed him. Labour educationalists produced a book called Take Care, Mr. Baker!: The Advice on Education Reform Which the Government Collected But Concealed. For the Liberal Democrats Paddy Ashdown and Alan Leaman wrote Choice Without Privilege: The Alternative Education Reform Bill.

I don't recall much praise for Kenneth Baker then. Indeed, I have a sneaking suspicion that we opposed him because we feared his ideas would produce a 'two-tier system'.

I have seen little reasoned argument against Michael Gove from Liberal Democrats today. Most seem locked in a mind-set where the world can be divided into sensible people who agree with us and ludicrous people who want to turn the clock back.

Just as with health (and let us pause for a moment to observe how much more deft Gove has been at bringing in his reforms than Andrew Lansley), we Liberal Democrats give the impression that we have arrived in power after 90 years in the wilderness with no higher ambition that maintaining the status quo. We need to do better than that.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

We are cross about Jimmy Carr because we value satire too highly

A comedian does all he can to avoid paying tax. That's just what you would expect, isn't it? We wouldn't be shocked if it were Jim Davidson, Jimmy Tarbuck or Lennie Bennett.

So why the outcry over over Jimmy Carr?

The reason, I suspect, is that as a society we have come to overvalue the importance of political satire.

I had a rant about this in Liberal Democrat News about just this point in Liberal Democrat News last year:
I grew up on tales of how Private Eye and That Was the Week That Was brought down Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas Home. And there were times during the last years of Tony Blair’s government when it seemed that Rory Bremner was the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. In retrospect, that may have had more to with the limited effectiveness of the real opposition parties than with the bite of his satire, but for a while his style of political comedy swept all before it. 
If 10 O’Clock Live (Channel 4) is anything to go by, that era has long past; certainly, the show will not have Ed Miliband looking nervously over his shoulder. In part this is the fault of its presenters. Lauren Laverne is pleasingly sparky, but is not clear her talents are suited to this sort of programme. Charlie Brooker is a welcome presence, but he has been doing far more interesting things elsewhere of late. In its best moments his recent series How TV Ruined Your Life suggested that he has it in him to become a new Adam Curtis. 
But Jimmy Carr and David Mitchell? They have been on every panel show screened for the last five years. I doubt if either has been home during that period: each must have a sleeping back rolled up somewhere behind a studio sofa so that they be on hand in case Phill Jupitus drops out of a show at the last minute. 
Carr just isn’t that funny, which is a problem when you are a comedian, while Mitchell is a good example of what logicians call the Stephen Fry Fallacy. This is best defined as the belief that if someone sounds like an Oxbridge don and dresses like an Oxbridge don then they must be a great intellectual.
Some on the right have been pleased to see Carr get his comeuppance, seeing the affair as confirmation of their belief that lefties are all hypocrites. But if anything, Carr was recruited to 10 O'Clock Life as a balancing right-wing voice.

Certainly, as I argued in a post last December, there is nothing particularly lefty about Carr's comedy:
Left-wing politics is based in a belief that things could be better. Carr's schtick, by contrast, is to imply that he is wiser than us. Life is shit, and he has seen through it. 
I don't see much hope there.
So be outraged at Carr if you like, but maybe the fault was ours in thinking too much of him in the first place.

And the best response to The Times' revelations about the scale of tax avoidance would be for the government to simplify the rules and enforce them more enthusiastically.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sixties radio and sixties trains

Would an independent Scotland panda to China and Murdoch?

One of the political stories of the day has been Alex Salmond's refusal to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to Scotland this week.

On Liberal Democrat Voice Caron Lindsay asks:
Could it be that Salmond’s discourtesy has something to do with a visit he received at Bute House two weeks ago from the Chinese Consul-General as reported in The Times? We know from reports in the Independent and the Courier that the Chinese authorities have been visiting local councils from Leeds to Inverness to discuss their involvement in the Dalai Lama’s visit. Only SNP-run Dundee City Council and the First Minister seem to have taken any notice of them.
And Caron also quotes the condemnation of Salmond's decision by Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Lib Dems:
This is a missed opportunity. By failing to meet with the globally respected spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate the First Minister may leave the impression that he is more concerned with pandering to the diktat of the Chinese government than promoting human rights. We ignore China’s human rights record at our peril. I appreciate that China would be sensitive about such a meeting but the First Minister should stand up for what’s important.
I am instinctively sympathetic to the idea of small nations, but today's events have done nothing to make the prospect of an independent Scotland more attractive.

They have reminded me of Alex Salmond's appearance before the Leveson Inquiry. You can read his evidence on the inquiry website, but this quote from a Daily Record report is telling:
“I have no responsibility for broadcasting policy, I have no responsibility for plurality in the press but I do have a responsibility for jobs and investment in Scotland.”
I don't find the idea that the provision of jobs in Scotland trumps concerns of media plurality or media ethics appealing. And if you heard Salmond you would have gained the impression that he would have little time for such considerations even if they were his legal responsibility.

It is easy to imagine an independent Scotland, at least one with Salmond and the SNP in charge, being a little too keen to placate the powerful and unattractive, whether it is Rupert Murdoch or the Chinese government, out of a fear of losing jobs.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Catalina Island Museum celebrates Spencer Davis



Read more about the British Invasion events at Catalina Island Museum.

Leicester Labour wars: Ross Willmott comes back fighting

Regular readers will recall that Ross Willmott was sacked as chair of the city council's scrutiny committee by Leicester's elected mayor Sir Peter Soulsby.

That's right: the mayor, because he wields the Labour whip, has the power to appoint and dismiss the person supposed to hold him to account. This is just one more reason why elected mayors are a bad idea. No wonder voters usually rejected that idea when they are asked.

But Willmott has not take it lying down and has written a bitterly satirical blog post about the man Soulsby out in his place, Ted Cassidy:
On his first day as scrutiny monitor T.C. (Top Cat to his friends) was clearly more worried about how long he would keep his place at this school rather than actually getting on with his work. Perhaps understandable for someone who relies entirely on the patronage of his ruthless guardian. 
He had not even prepared his work plan for the new year, but promised to have it by next month. 
It is the talk of the senior common room that T.C.’s guardian broke all the school rules to get him a place here. He held secret meetings with some of the school governors even at the house of senior prefect Clair, who provided pizza from the tuck shop. He also turned up to a meeting of the head teacher and bursar even though the school rules make it clear that he should not interfere in the appointment of scrutiny monitors. ... 
10 house points are awarded as T.C.’s vain attempt to end the webcasting of the class was unsuccessful. This failed attempt to stifle openness and transparency was no doubt at the request of his guardian, whose colonial approach seems to derive from his love of the past.
Childish? Perhaps, but don't knock it.

The animosities among its Labour grandees are the only thinks that keep Leicester halfway to being a democracy at the moment.

Blogging relieves loneliness in new mothers

New mothers who read and write blogs may feel less alone than mothers who do not participate in a blogging community, according to family studies researchers.

Brandon T. McDaniel, a graduate student in human development and family studies at Penn State University, together with colleagues from Brigham Young University, surveyed 157 new mothers about their media use and their well-being. The mothers were all first-time parents with only one child under the age of 18 months - most much younger than this.

The researchers report in the online version of Maternal and Child Health Journal that blogging had a positive impact on new mothers, but social networking - mainly Facebook and MySpace - did not seem to impact their well-being.

You can read the full story on the Penn State University website. And you may also be interested in a guest post on this blog by Ellen Arnison: Blogging for happiness.

David Parsons broke code of conduct over expenses

From the BBC News Leicester pages:
The leader of Leicestershire County Council, David Parsons, broke the councillors code of conduct over his expenses, a committee has decided. The authority's standards committee has backed a report into money claimed for official trips to Brussels. It found he did not promptly repay expenses initially covered by a publicly-funded body called East Midlands Councils (EMC).
The story goes on to quote Dr Sarah Hill, deputy leader of the Lib Dems on the county council (and my county councillor as saying: "Mr Parsons has to accept that his position as leader is now completely untenable."

The council's standards committee will now decide what action to take and has the power to censure the council leader. But any further punishment is up to the Conservative group.

Thus far that group has shown a mulish determination to defend Parsons, as was seen when there were earlier concerns over the free use he had made of the chauffeur-driven car provided by the county council. That determination has not done the Conservatives any favours.

One of their senior councillors, David Sprason, found himself obliged to apologise for misleading the council, apparently out of a desire to defend the conduct of his leader. And they have been reduced to politicising one of the council's civic posts.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of today's events was the defence offered by Parson's solicitor. The BBC reports that he said Parsons is "a busy man who took little attention as to the detail of his own financial matters".

That hardly fills you with confidence, given that Leicestershire spends more than £400m every year.
I am reminded of the words of the  words of Lord Hazlerigg, a Leicestershire Tory grandee of an earlier generation, when it was suggested that county councillors should be paid expenses:
“If a man hasn’t the brains to earn his own fare once or twice a month into his county town, I don’t think he’d be much help in administering the spending of a million of money.”
More and more, you suspect that the Conservatives' determination to cling to David Parsons has less to with loyalty than with the shallowness of their pool of talent in the county.

Later. Parsons has issued a laughable statement: "I now intend to draw a line under the matter."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Nick Clegg on the Rio+20 Summit

The Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister has written a guest blog on next week's Rio+20 Summit - held two decades after the original Earth Summit for the RSPB:
First, national governments must move beyond a narrow understanding of wealth. Right now we judge how well a country is doing by looking almost exclusively at the money it makes. But to fully judge success we need a kind of ‘GDP+’, which takes into account the state of assets like forests or coastal areas – vital natural capital. 
We’re reforming the UK’s national accounts so that, by 2020, they also reflect our natural wealth. In Brazil I’ll be pressing our international partners to follow suit.
The charity is also inviting questions for Nick. It will put the best 20 to him on his return from Brazil.

Peter Green: Man of the World



Every good band needs a lost genius. Pink Floyd had Syd Barrett and Fleetwood Mac had Peter Green.

Born in London's East End as Peter Greenbaum, he joined John Mayall's Bluesbreakers as Eric Clapton's replacement while still a teenager.

He formed Fleetwood Mac with Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Jeremy Spencer, but there was no doubt who was the most significant figure: the band was orginally billed as Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac.

The band's first album was released in February 1968 and, according to an article on The Penguin, saw its members acclaimed as "the new crusaders of the English blues movement" and Green as "the reigning hero of the booming British blues scene".

Green, however, found this fame difficult to handle and began taking drugs. He last played with the band in May 1970.

Wikipedia says:
Green was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time in psychiatric hospitals undergoing electroconvulsive therapy during the mid 1970s. Many sources attest to his lethargic, trancelike state during this period.
though that state could be the result as such treatment as easily as its cause.

Green did gradually re-emerge from these dark days and has played intermittently since the late seventies. I know someone who put on a concert with him in a village that was remote even for Shropshire.

"Man of the World", which was written by Green and looks forward to his later problems, reached number two in the British singles charts in 1969. This is an earlier recording of the song.

British politics and the narcissism of small differences

Writing in the Guardian of Sir John Major's appearance before the Leveson Inquiry, Simon Hoggart said:
Perhaps the most moving moment came when he launched an encomium to Neil Kinnock. "The Neil Kinnock I knew was very honest, straightforward, and if something was said in private, it stayed private. If he gave his word, he kept his word. He was a much more considerable person than the media portrayed." 
This too had the ring of a simpler, a more decent past, when we regarded our opponents as rivals rather than enemies. And it was apropos of absolutely nothing!
Nostalgia is always a trap (and for this blogger more than most people), but it is remarkable that British politics are conducted with such bitterness today when the two parties agree about so much.

The Major-Kinnock era marked the end of an era when there were serious agreements between Labour and the Conservatives over the economy. It was the end of the days when Labour believed in socialism and wished to nationalise the commanding heights of the British economy.

Today the ownership of industry is off the agenda and both parties believe that spending must be cut - all that they disagree over is a the rate at which it should be cut and there is some dispute at the margin over what the total of the cuts should be.

Indeed, we Liberal Democrats are depressed over Labour and the Conservatives monolithic agreement over the need for more surveillance and curbs on our liberty in order to fight terrorism and crime in general.

So, given that the parties now broadly agree, why do they hate each other so much?

Part of the answer, I suspect, is that large parts of the Conservative Party now model their approach on that adopted in America. Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell, for instance, two of the more thoughtful new members of the party's right, owes little to traditional British conservatism and take many of their ideas from American libertarian circles. Some of his less intellectual colleagues have merely adopted the paranoid toned of Tea Party campaigning.

But the answer must also lie in what Freud termed 'the narcissism of small differences'.

The term is explained in a California Literary Review interview by Freud's biographer Peter D. Kramer:
Freud coined the phrase to encapsulate an observation made by anthropologists, that often our hatred, fear, and contempt are directed at people who resemble us, while our pride is attached to the small markers that distinguish us from them. Freud referred to the idea during the First World War, but most famously in Civilization and Its Discontents (1929-1930), where he was describing an inborn aggressive stance in men and its application in ethnic conflicts, as between the Spaniards and the Portuguese or the English and the Scots.
I am not a great admirer of Freud - his fame owes more to Hollywood than anything else, but maybe he was on to something here?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Outtakes from The Clouded Yellow

On Wednesday I blogged about the 1950 British thriller The Clouded Yellow. Here, without sound, are some outtakes from that film showing Liverpool, its docks and their railways. In particular, there is footage of the Liverpool Overhead Railway.

Northamptonshire Lib Dems seeking police commissioner candidate

An email arrives...

The committee for the Liberal Democrat campaign for a Northamptonshire police and crime commissioner invites applications for selection as prospective candidate for the police and crime commissioner in the police authority area of Northamptonshire.

Potential applications should contact the returning officer Roger Shelley for an application pack. Applications must be sent to Roger by 5 p.m. on Friday 29 June 2012.

Applicants not on the party's list of approved candidates at the closing date for applications will not be considered by the committee.

It is the responsibility of applicants to check that their applications have been received by the Returning Officer by the closing date.

Six of the Best 254

"We don’t discuss the content of Prime Minister’s Questions any more, we discuss who ‘won’, and every new initiative is discussed in terms of how it well affect the polls, or what it might do for someone’s standing in the Cabinet. Let’s not discuss the nuance of whether it’s right that Greggs can claim hot food isn’t hot to stop paying VAT, let’s turn it into a contest as to which party leader can show the most enthusiasm in wolfing down a pasty." Nick Barlow at What You Can Get Away With has a thoughtful post examining why so many people are disenchanted with politics.

Living on Words Alone gets it right: "Good news - 300,000 fewer children are living in poverty than last year! The fact that this is down to the recession and a fall in average incomes shows the ludicrous nature of the concept of defining poverty as a percentage of average income."

Alexander Ann faces up to 11 years in an Indonesian prison for blasphemy and inciting religious hatred because he voiced his scepticism about Islam on Facebook, reports AlterNet.

"In the decade between 1932 and 1942 some eleven million people in the Soviet Union starved to death, first as a result of Soviet policy, then as a result of German policy." Timothy Snyder has a chilling article in the New York Review of Books.

Auden and Larkin each wrote powerful lines about love and then had grave doubts about them. Ron Rosenbaum examines the reasons why on Slate.

Peter Cook on Shadowlocked looks at the matte painter's art - one of the lost skills of film making.

Yes it's Sir Malcolm Bruce

Congratulations to Malcolm Bruce, Lib Dem MP for Gordon, who is knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The canal near Newton Harcourt


Kathy Kerswell in Leicester

Today's papers, including the Guardian, are full of the news that Kathy Kerswell has received a £420,000 payout from Tory-run Kent County Council after working there for just 16 months.

Kathy Kerswell - or Kathy Kerswell-Reid as she then was - should be a familiar name to observers of Leicester politics. If it is not, the Local Government Chronicle from 1995 will help jog your memory:
Leicester City Council's ruling Labour group is bitterly split over leader Stewart Foster's friendship with an officer reported the Mail on Sunday (p6). 
The paper said that the officer, kathy Kerswell-Reid, has risen from junior personnel officer to head of the policy unit in under two years. 
She has now been sent on a paid one-year university course, the paper claims.
And the story is continued in an Independent article from the same year.

Martha Payne wins Liberal Heroine of the Day

Liberal Heroine of the Day must go to Martha Payne, the nine-year-old blogger who has defeated Argyll & Bute Council. Though to be honest the council's collapse today was a bizarre act of self-immolation and had nothing to do with any action by the indefatigable school dinner reviewer,

Caron Lindsay will give you the background to today's events. Essentially, the council (not the school or headteacher, note) had banned Martha from taking photographs

This morning saw an outcry in the media and on Twitter, to which the council felt obliged to respond. That where its problems really began.

The full statement, remarkably, runs to some 600 words. Stephen's Liberal Journal has the whole thing, but the first two sentences will do:
Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs. The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils however this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing.
Already we have an ignorant misuse of 'refute', an appeal for our approval for not criticising a nine-year-old child and a laughable claims that she is causing "distress and harm".

A few hours later the council caved in. You can find its second statement in the same post by Stephen.

This new statement was made under the name of the councillor's leader Cllr Roddy McCuish. It began well enough:
There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader.
But soon collapsed into farce:
We need to find a united way forward so I am going to bring together our catering staff, the pupils, councillors and council officials - to ensure that the council continues to provide healthy, nutrious  (sic.) and attractive school meals. That "School Meals Summit" will take place later this summer.
If this is the reaction to a nine-year-old writing broadly favourable reviews of her school dinners, God knows what McCuish would do in the face of a real crisis.

The attention that Martha had received even before today ought to have been PR gold for the council. Instead its philosophy seems to be that no one must say anything bad it ever. That is not a PR strategy: it is close to a psychological disorder.

In view of that, it is not such a surprise to find this report from earlier this year on BBC News:
A council employee in Argyll and Bute has been suspended while an investigation is under way into so-called "social media spying". 
It comes after communications chief Jo Smith reportedly told a conference she set up fake social media accounts to monitor what was being said about the council.
Why the taxpayers of rural Scotland should continue to fund any of this nonsense, I cannot begin to see.

On a happier note, I liked this tweet:


You could say the same thing about the otherwise excellent Boxmoor County Primary, where you needed a letter from your parents if you didn't want custard with your pudding.

I am over 50, live in Market Harborough and own a tweed jacket, so I am allowed to think that children should be climbing trees or in bed rather than blogging if I want to. Nevertheless, I have no hesitation in giving Martha Payne this blog's prestigious Liberal Heroine of the Day award.

Finally, Caron's recent meme - see Eight years in eight posts - reminded me of the case of Chris Whitehead, who went to school in a skirt as a protest against not being allowed to wear shorts. A bit of Googling shows that he too has won, and was shortlisted for Liberty's young person of the year award in the process.

So maybe there is hope after all.