Monday, December 31, 2012

More road building? Listen to Hedgehog

The current issue of Private Eye has a column by 'Hedgehog' dissecting the deficiencies of Coalition transport policy that is worth studying.

Hedgehog points out that this policy is now effectively decided by George Osborne, who is on record as saying that new roads will equip Britain "to compete in the modern global economy".

Not so, says our spiky columnist:
Actually the modern economy in developed countries, including Britain and the US, is characterised by stagnating or falling volumes of road traffic as people find more efficient ways of working, shopping and socialising than devoting huge slices of their income and time to car travel. Some have rediscovered the logic of living close to work and services rather than on sprawling estates where everything is a car journey away. The internet and mobile telephony increasingly influence how and whether people travel.
Hedgehog goes on to consider the influence of various business leaders on Osborne's transport policies, before pointing out:
Britain's massive road-building spree from the 1950s to the early 1990s has allowed retail chains - including Next - to turn British high streets into carbon copies of each other at the expense of locally owned shops and pubs. 
What happens in retail is mirrored in less visible sectors where supplies are transported vast distances, allowing economies of scale to crush local producers. Being able to send juggernauts from distribution hubs to every corner of Britain certainly creates wealth for Wolfson and other captains of industry - but not necessarily for the UK as a whole. Many of Britain's poorest areas have abundant roads.
I have a lot of sympathy for this analysis, and the Coalition agreement has a lot to say about increasing the influence of local people over planning. Nothing of that approach now survives in the pronouncements of ministers. And in housing at least, Nick Clegg seems as keen on development without local consultation as any Tory.

Headline of the Day

Our final award of the year goes to the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph for:

Man’s shoes stolen during Corby robbery

Sir John Major on the music hall

The former prime minister gives an opening address, and is then interviewed by Dominic West, about My Old Man - the history of the music hall he wrote as a tribute to his father.

Thanks to billi with an i.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Liberal England in 2012: Part 4

Part 1part 2 and part 3 have already been posted.


I suggested it was time to freshen up the Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards and asked what BBC managers' ignorance of Jimmy Savile's activities told us about the limitations of management ideology.

Also in October, I remembered meeting the poet W.T. Nettlefold and discovered fowl perversion on the streets of Leicester.


I attended a meeting on rewilding the River Welland through Market Harborough and Lord Bonkers brought us Nick Clegg's thoughts on "Beardies, weirdies, beardy-weirdies and weirdy-beardies".

November also saw me bringing news of floods by Market Harborough station and recalling a visit to Studeley Royal Water Gardens.


I heard Sam Carter play at the Harborough Theatre, discussed hobbit socialism and discovered the Scotsman who may one day lead Germany.

And, though I did not visit it in December, let us end with my photo of the year: the grave of Richard III. The little yellow disc in the centre of the picture shows where his head lay.

Prunella Scales and David Hemmings in The Lord of the Rings

Many of us have given over several years of our lives to watching Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. And older readers may remember the 1978 cartoon (was it any good? - I never saw it) or BBC Radio 4's distinguished dramatisation of 1981.

What I didn't know until the other evening is that the trilogy was first dramatised by BBC Radio as early as 1955 - apparently Tolkien himself was not keen on the production.

The Tolkien Gateway has a page about this adaptation and gives much of the cast list. It includes some reliable BBC names of the period - Valentine Dyall, Norman Shelley - but also a couple of surprises.

Ioreth ("a woman of Gondor") was played by the future Sybil Fawlty - Prunella Scales. By then Scales was 23 and had already appeared in several films.

Bergil (the young son of Bergond of Gondor) was played by David Hemmings. Hemmings had already become well known as the original Miles in Benjamin Britten's opera The Turn of the Screw, but had appeared in only one film by 1955, when he would have been aged 14. He was later to become one of the iconic figures of 1960s cinema.

Wikipedia suggests that no tapes of the 1955 production survive.

The Coalition Agreement now sounds excitingly radical

If you are looking for policy ideas that will help the Liberal Democrats break out of the sterility of presenting themselves as the centre party, may I suggest the Coalition Agreement as a source of ideas?

Take this paragraph from the Social Action section:
We will give public sector workers a new right to form employee-owned co-operatives and bid to take over the services they deliver. This will empower millions of public sector workers to become their own boss and help them to deliver better services.
While I was stuffing envelopes at the Corby by-election, a young Lib Dem activist said to me that we should be campaigning on this commitment under a slogan like "Sack your boss and run your service yourself".

I think he was right. It would certainly be far more attractive to workers than George Osborne's idea (which Lib Dem parliamentarians appear to be going along with, if only grudgingly) of encouraging them to give up their employment rights in return for shares.

More and more, the Coalition Agreement reads like the prospectus for the government Britain needed in 2010 but somehow did not get.

Elvis Costello: The Other Side of Summer

I find that I featured Elvis Costello here back in 2009, so it is high time to hear from him again.

The Other Side of Summer comes from Costello's 1990 album Mighty Like a Rose. It has always sounded to me like a Beach Boys track but one that evokes a very different landscape from Californian beaches of the early 1960s.

Read the sleeve notes for the album and you will see I more or less had it right:
This album opens with “The Other Side Of Summer”. The arrangement is a pastiche of The Beach Boys after the fashion of The Beatles’ “Back IN The U.S.S.R.” In our case, the music and vocal parts take their cue from some of their early ‘70s album tracks like “The Trader” and “Funky Pretty”. 
The words are a catalogue of pop conceits, deceits, hypocrisies, and delusions. I include myself in this parade of liars and dupes. The track was cut in the vast Studio One at Ocean Way, Hollywood, where most of this record was recorded. It features our own version of the “Wall of Sound”: drums, two basses, two guitars, and four keyboard players (including my own efforts on electric and toy pianos). When this proved insufficiently powerful, we simply double-tracked the entire rhythm section before adding the glockenspiel, castanets, sleigh bells, and the vocal parts. 
It is not easy to isolate one instrumentalist in such a large ensemble, but I must salute Larry Knetchel’s towering piano part. Larry’s piano, organ, and bass credits include “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Good Vibrations”, and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, although you could barely get a word out of him about having played on these legendary cuts. His modest demeanour and utterly musical sense lent a lot to these sessions.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Liberal England in 2012: Part 3

Part 1 and part 2 have already been posted.


Sir David Steel, I like to think I established without fear of contradiction, went arse about face on Lords reform.

I explored the suffragette movement in Leicester and Market Harborough in a series of posts, discovering they had even tried to burn down Bonkers Hall.

This was my holiday month and saw me hunting for the York Community Bookshop, entering the old mines at Snailbeach and taking afternoon tea at Witchend - Malcolm Saville fans will know what I mean.


I watched a heron on the River Welland at Market Harborough.

Another trip away saw me visit Tynemouth and its superb Watch House, but I missed a scoop by seconds at Market Harborough station.


I attended the first open day at the Richard III dig in Leicester and was moved by the Into the Mouth of Hell exhibition at Wallsend - even if I seem to have upset the granddaughter of one of the artists/

Then came the stunning news that the skeleton of Richard III may well have been found under a Leicester car park - that belonging to the city's child protection team, as it happens.

And I hosted a guest post on the case against the badger cull.

A tribute to Tony Greig

Another of my boyhood heroes died today - and no I don't mean William Rees-Mogg.

There is a superb tribute to him by Vic Marks in tomorrow's Observer, and I can do no better than quote large chunks of it:
In the end the figures don't lie. In 58 Tests for England – and there obviously could have been many more – Greig scored 3,599 runs at 40 and took 141 wickets at 32, which does not compare too badly with Ian Botham (5,200 runs at 33 and 383 wickets at 28) or Andrew Flintoff (3,845 at 31, 226 at 32) ... 
When he scored a brilliant hundred at the Gabba on the 1974-75 tour of Australia he signalled his own boundaries off Dennis Lillee. This was a provocative act, not always appreciated by his colleagues ("Please don't make him mad," pleaded Derek Underwood at the other end). My guess is that Greig's histrionics did indeed rile Lillee somewhat (actually there is not much guesswork involved here); they made Lillee bowl shorter; they made him lose control. This was brilliant theatre from Greig; it was also shrewd tactics.

In Calcutta, in 1976, Greig was capable of scoring a seven-hour hundred at a strike rate way below the norm for Jonathan Trott while keeping 80,000 spectators entertained in the process. Greig wooed the Indians; they loved it when he fell to the ground poleaxed after a firecracker had been let off. Such adulation eased the path of his team around the subcontinent. Under his leadership that series was won 3-1 ...
He could swing the ball and, even though he did not make full use of his height, the odd delivery would bounce more than expected. But it was when he improvised with his off-breaks that he had the most remarkable success. In Port of Spain in March 1974 he took 13 wickets and therefore contrived to square a series against West Indies that England seemed bound to lose. Geoffrey Boycott scored 211 runs in that match and wryly observed that he and Greig had kept Mike Denness in his job as England captain ... 
Usually Greig manipulated the press brilliantly. He never shied away from a microphone and he could dictate the news agenda with easy charm. He understood how the media operated and how they could be used to his advantage far better than the current England setup.

And, of course, there was Packer. It took balls to forsake the England captaincy and to take on the establishment, but it was already apparent from his exploits on a cricket field that he had big ones. Greig often protested that he enlisted with World Series Cricket for the greater good. He was also candid enough to admit that he was able to secure his family's future by taking the plunge and aligning with Packer ... 
I made my debut in first-class cricket against his Sussex side in the Parks in April 1975 (I dropped him and he made a century, as it happens). More importantly I recall this Adonis of the cricketing world, who had just returned from Australia, a battered hero but one who would soon accede to the England captaincy. And I remember how he made time to chat away freely to us young, inconsequential students as if we were proper cricketers. That impressed us as much as the runs, the wickets and the golden locks.
Just two things to add...

The first is that when Greig led England to victory in India in 1976-7 his attack, though he also had the irreplaceable Derek Underwood, was based around three seamers: Bob Willis, Chris Old and John Lever. They must have been very good, because this winter only James Anderson and (in one test) Steve Finn even took a wicket for us in India.

The second is that after he lost the England captaincy Greig became a loyal, important member of Mike Brearley's team that won back the Ashes in 1977. His batting, his bowling - by then he was England's fourth seamer - and maybe above all his slip fielding, were central to that success. Standing between Brearley and the seam bowler Mike Hendrick, he formed part of what may the the finest England slip cordon I have ever seen.

Six of the Best 309

Writing on Liberator's blog, Simon Titley wonders how the moral of that Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life would fare in the modern world.

From One of the Jilted Generation notes that 450 out of 1000 children in UK will see parents separate and wonders if we can't do better by them than that.

"Police cells are not generally high on lists of the best places to deal with coughs, colds, or broken limbs.  It seems to me to follow that they are not the right place to treat mental illness either." Simon Cole, Chief Constable of Leicestershire and ACPO lead on mental health, contributes a guest post to the Mental Health Cop blog.

Nicholas Whyte enjoys the history of the music hall that John Major wrote as a tribute to his father.

"With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world." Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker asks why American kids are so spoilt.

The Armchair Selector chooses his Earth test team to play Mars - and includes four England players.

How I spent Christmas

My mother, who is 81, lives on the other side of town. She has generally enjoyed good health, but fell over one night at the start of the month, breaking a finger, and had a chest infection shortly afterwards, so I had to spend a lot of time in December looking after her.

Then about a week before Christmas she suddenly became confused, often finding it impossible to initiate conversations or make telephone calls. We both assumed that it was a form of dementia.

I really do not recommend going around shops playing Christmas songs when you are feeling that unhappy. And I have spent a lot of time reading websites about Alzheimer’s in recent days.

Yesterday I arranged a home visit from my mother's GP, and he sent her off to Leicester Royal Infirmary for tests. It was a long day and I had to persuade my mother to persevere with it, but we got through somehow.

The last test was a brain scan, and a short while after my mother came back from it a young doctor called me over. The scan showed a bleed on the brain: she would have to go straight to Nottingham for an operation.

Then we saw a specialist who decided that as it was an old injury (probably from that fall at the start of the month) there was no need for an operation or even to keep her in overnight. So we went home.

The hospital experience, perhaps typically for the NHS, was mixed. The GP faxed my mother’s details through, so we were expected. Yet there was still a long wait in a shabby area, complete with a drunk and a prisoner handcuffed to his escort.

But when we were seen everyone was efficient and I thought that two of the three doctors we saw were simply outstanding in the way they communicated with us.

The really good news is that my mother's confusion results from this injury should be only a temporary symptom.

Me? I need a holiday to get over this holiday.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bishop's Castle: Liberalism's new stronghold

Peter Phillips, the doyen of Shropshire Liberalism, writes on his blog:
Party President Tim Farron ... issued a stiff challenge to party members in March. He challenged everyone to sign up 50 members by the end of the year. 
It proved such a stiff Challenge that only one member has met it! 
I have (to date) recruited 104 ‘subscribers’ – 65 members and 39 donors – virtually all of them are within the branch are of Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, which now has 92 members !!
He goes on to praise the efforts of fellow Shropshire Lib Dems, including his successor as county councillor for Bishop's Castle, Charlotte Barnes, whom I met on holiday this summer.

The Bishop's Castle ward falls in the Ludlow constituency, which Matthew Green held for the Liberal Democrats between 2001 and 2005. Some of Peter's comments on recruiting in the area lend support to the idea that we are doing well in traditional Lib Dem/Tory marginals:
There is support,too , for our Coalition. Policies like the pension triple lock, the pupil premium and support for apprenticeships are applauded, and the raising of the tax threshold is really important in a low income area like Shropshire. 
My key message? The main impediment is Yourself! Just resolve to DO IT ! Once you have knocked on the first few doors,you will be full of confidence—and success!’
Anyway, Peter has been presented with an award by Nick Clegg for being the Lib Dems' top recruiter in the country.

Liberal England in 2012: Part 2

Part 1 was posted yesterday.


I remembered the days when Alistair Darling was so left wing that the Scottish Labour establishment sent George Galloway to reason with him.

Privacy International criticised a Lib Dem briefing on government surveillance that, I suggested, read as thought it had been produced by a child who had been allowed too much Sunny D. Fortunately, that briefing no longer represents the leader's position on the subject.

I reviewed Lost Victorian Britain by Gavin Stamp and made a radical case for children standing up when a teacher enters the room.


I suggested that one of the Coalition parties is not up to government - and I didn't mean the Lib Dems.

I discovered the story that Clarendon Park in Leicester might have been the site of a new cathedral in the 1930s and there was talk of Chelsea moving to a new stadium at Battersea Power Station and


I traced the decline of Western civilisation through its railway advertising and repeated a ridiculous legend that Richard III lies buried under the streets of Leicester.

Martha Payne became a Liberal heroine and I enjoyed an old television documentary on Ronnie Lane.

And I went on a pilgrimage to Long Buckby.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gerry Anderson has died

BBC News reports:
Gerry Anderson, creator of the Thunderbirds and Joe 90 puppet superhero TV shows, has died at the age of 83, his son has announced. 
Anderson had been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease since early 2010, and his condition had worsened in the past six months, Jamie Anderson said. 
Gerry Anderson also created Stingray and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. 
Thunderbirds was filmed on Slough Trading Estate in Berkshire and was first broadcast in 1965.
Thunderbirds was one of my very favourite programmes when I was a small boy, and its excitement is well captured in these opening titles.

Liberal England in 2012: Part 1


I remembered the day that the IRA bombed Leicester railway station in 1939. And the Black Beast of Harborough was sighted near Foxton.

I attended Nottingham Liberal Democrats' winter mini-conference and discovered the former headquarters of the Women's Social & Political Union in Leicester.


I had an article published by the Guardian website on why chess deserves a place in schools, a letter published by the same newspaper about my participation in the 1977 British Monopoly Championships  and was rather proud of this photograph of my road in the frost:

I posted a video of Alastair Cook as a chorister at St Paul's and mused on Beveridge, Keynes and eugenics.


I caught Merton College, Oxford, trying to deprive Tur Langton of its village hall and suggested that something has gone wrong with the Pupil Premium.

Maverick footballers of the 1970s were well represented in the 1973 Goal of the Season contest.

One of my hardy perennial stories of 2012 was the fall of the leader of Leicestershire County Council, David Parsons. This post showed the Lib Dems had been on his case since 2009.

We were told that  the security precautions around the 2011 Lib Dem Conference were used to send a "strong message" and I reviewed a booklet on the art collection of the National Liberal Club for Liberal Democrat News.

Does anyone remember Liberal Democrat News?

Six of the Best 308

"Nick needs to listen to the experts in the party who may be able to help him find a way through this. The risks of being so dismissive of the overwhelming view of the party are clear." Caron Lindsay, writing on Lib Dem Voice, calls on Nick Clegg to talk to the opponents of secret courts in his own party.

More in sorrow than anger, Lib Dem Minister Lynne Featherstone takes on the critics of gay marriage.

Paul Linford offers his review of the political year.

Phil's Purple Bus Blog comes across an inconveniently honest customer.

"There’s a second-hand bookshop around the corner from where I live called Ripping Yarns – just a hole in the wall, near a relatively busy intersection, but close to Highgate Woods. It’s been there since before the war but I’m not sure how much longer it will last." Benjamin Markovits, in the London Review of Books, fears for the future of a favourite bookshop and proposes a novel way of securing it.

Go Litel Blog, Go... introduces us to Arthur "Ticker" Mitchell, the hard man of Yorkshire cricket (and lends me this photograph).

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Yes: Wonderous Stories

I was not a big prog rock fan, but I did like this when it was in the charts in 1977.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Headline of the Day

From the Leicester Mercury:

Leicester launderette owner Basharat Sajawal in money-laundering con

Six of the Best 307

Photo: Golden Ball website
"To me, there is neither virtue nor sin attached to being in the centre; and the centre has never been where I though I was." Siba the Hat takes issue with Nick Clegg's recent speech to the Royal Commonwealth Society.

Harvard Gazette interviews David Hemenway, author of Private Guns, Public Health: "People think we have a violence problem in the United States, but we really don’t. We’re an average country in terms of all the violence measures you can think of, in terms of crime. But where we’re very different is guns. We have lots more guns than anybody else, particularly handguns. A lot of countries have hunting rifles, but we have these handguns, and then we have these assault weapons."

Mike Booth, writing on Southport's Kew Focus, says his career has mirrored that of Ken Barlow.

York Mix takes us to The Golden Ball - a pub in the city's Bishophill district that is now owned by its regulars.

"It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, … in the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little field mice stood in a semi-circle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth … As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, ‘Now then one, two, three!’ and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed… and handed down to be sung in miry streets to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time." Life Must be Filled Up revisits a favourite chapter of The Wind in the Willows.

Mark Cole analyses Christmas number one singles.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Simon Titley on the class politics behind Plebgate

Simon writes on Liberator's blog:
The government put down a marker several months before Plebgate by making Winsor HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, the first person from outside the police ever to be appointed to the job. Early next year, the Home Secretary will decide whether to implement the Winsor report’s proposals. 
It helps to know that the upper classes have never liked the police because there is no officer class like there is in the military. Every police officer has to work his way up from the bottom, so ex-public school boys rarely join the police. One of Winsor’s key recommendations is that there should be direct entry into more senior ranks, which would create a de facto officer class. The Tories will not be satisfied until ‘people like us’ are running the show.

Noddy Holder on the Spencer Davis Group

From the Brum Beat site:
A regular visitor to the Golden Eagle R&B nights was future Slade star Noddy Holder whose reaction to the group is worth quoting; 
"Of all the bands I saw in those days, they were the ones who impressed me the most. They had this small public address system, one of the smallest I had seen and were very unassuming on stage, and then this spotty kid on the organ suddenly opened his mouth and screamed "I LOVE THE WAY SHE WALKS..." and launched into an old John Lee Hooker number. Gosh - my mouth fell open and I felt a chill down my spine! That was the night I discovered Rhythm and Blues for the first time".

The Hotel, Church Stretton

A lot of people will tell you that A.E. Housman, author of A Shropshire Lad, never visited the county. But Church Stretton Through the Ages by Tony Crowe and Barry Rayner tells a different story::
The Hotel was the centre of the town's social life, the place for business meetings and the venue for formal dinners. The poet A.E. Housman stayed at the hotel for nearly a month in 1899 among his "blue remembered hills".
The photograph here shows just part of The Hotel, and it was only one of several large hotels that flourished in the town's late Victorian and Edwardian heyday as a resort.

Today all but one - the Longmynd Hotel, which hangs on a little grimly - have gone, demolished or converted to other uses.

There is a tragic story behind the closure of The Hotel in 1968, which I shall tell in another post.

My father Malcolm Saville

In this interview from Radio Winchcombe, Rosemary Dowler talks to Gordon Ottewell and Barbara Herod about her father Malcolm Saville and his books for children.

GUEST POST Why the British say no to new builds

Amy Fowler, who manages and regularly writes about home, lifestyle and legal issues for the Stormclad blog, explains our preference for older houses. 

Britain is being plagued by a housing shortage, yet when it comes to the most obvious solution – building new homes – just one in four home buyers are in the market for a property built within the last decade.

But why are we saying “no thanks” to new builds?

Research at the Future Homes Commission concluded that new build homes feature rooms that are too small, have insufficient storage, and limited natural light. Not to mention the fact that in many new homes, build quality is questionable, with such stand-out features as paper-thin walls, problematic fixtures and fittings, and a risk of condensation and the resulting mould and damp.

What’s more, just like when you buy a new car, a brand new home comes with a premium attached. Want to buy new? You pay more for the privilege.

Yet at first glance these things might not seem to matter. Britain is short on housing stock, so a new home is a new home, right? Who cares if it’s not ‘ideal’, so long as a family gets a roof over their head?

In theory: yes. But are we not storing up problems for the future? Will these homes, built with cheap materials and thin walls, hold up the way that homes of the Victorian era have done? If these homes start to fall apart, what happens to the families in them?

If they own the property, they won’t be able to sell. If it’s council owned, the government has to find another property to move the family into.

Not to mention the impact that unsuitable living conditions can cause in the meantime. Emotional problems caused by cramped living spaces. Stress caused by constantly being able to hear everything your neighbours do, or similarly, worrying that they can hear everything you do. And physical problems caused by damp and condensation.

It’s no wonder that given the choice, most British home buyers are looking for a home with a history. A home that, while it may come with its own problems, has problems that you (in most cases) know about before you move in.

Buying a new home is risky to say the least. Not only will most problems only come to light once the home’s lived in, but in many cases, the future of your ‘local area’ is uncertain too. With new build homes comes new communities, and no one knows what will happen as the community expands and the landscape around your home changes.

What’s the solution? The only one I can see is to build better homes. This current trend of pocket-sized and pocket-priced homes is only a temporary answer. We need to be looking at the bigger picture. We need to build homes for the future of our country and the generations to come.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Three Tuns Brewery, Bishop's Castle, goes through the floor

One of the welcome developments in Shropshire in recent years has been that the beers brewed at the Three Tuns Brewery in Bishop's Castle have become more widely available.

Now, reports the Shropshire Star, the brewery has come up with a novel way of expanding:
Bosses at the Three Tuns Brewery, in Bishop’s Castle, have been in talks with specialist engineers to make better use of its 370-year-old cellars. 
The idea came about after restrictions on the Grade II listed brewery building prevented any expansion upwards or outwards. 
The various beers produced at the Three Tuns, off Market Square, are brewed in a vertical Victorian tower where ale topples down a number of chambers into a fermenting tank. 
Director of the brewery Bill Bainbridge said the plan would allow a larger tank to be installed underground, meaning ale could be produced in greater quantities ... 
A brewing licence was first granted at the site in 1642 and some of the existing brewery dates back to the 17th century. Staff believe it is part of the original brewhouse, which they claim would make the Three Tuns the oldest working brewery in Britain.

Bob and Ann Cryer in The Railway Children

Back in February I blogged that, as a little boy, John Cryer (now Labour MP for Leyton & Wanstead) appeared as an extra in The Railway Children.

It turns out that both his parents - who were both Labour MPs - were extras in the film too.

Bob Cryer was Labour MP for  for Keighley (1974–1983) and Bradford South (1987–1994) and also represented Sheffield in the European Parliament from 1984 to 1989.

He was killed in a car accident in 1994, and Ann was later to sit for Keighley between 1997 and 2010.

As I blogged the other day, Bob Cryer was the force behind the reopening of the Keighley & Worth Valley line as a private steam railway and it was there that the film was shot.

Ann and John just appeared as extras in period costume, but Bob's involvement went deeper than that. Not only did he organise the running of trains to suit the needs of the filmmakers, he appeared in one of the most famous scenes.

As The Golden Age of Railways showed us the other night (start at about 32:15) Bob Cryer is the guard in charge of the train that pulls out of the station just before Jenny Agutter's father emerges out of the clouds of steam - "Daddy! Oh my Daddy" and all that.

In fact you can clearly hear Bernard Cribbins say "Right away, Mr Cryer" before the the train pulls out.

The helicopter escape from HMP Gartree in 1987

The Harborough Mail comes over all nostalgic at the news that plans for a helicopter escape from HMP Gartree have recently been foiled:
News of the audacious helicopter escape plot emerged - bizarrely - almost 25 years to the day after HMP Gartree was the location for one of the most dramatic – and daring – prison escapes of all time. 
At 3.16pm on Thursday, December 10, 1987, a helicopter landed on the prison’s sportsfield and picked up John Kendall and Sydney Draper. 
Kendall, an East London gangland boss, was serving eight years for burglary while Draper had been jailed for life for murder and theft. 
The escape began when Andrew Russell booked a Bell Long Ranger helicopter for a trip from Stansted to Leicester Airport. 
As it approached Leicester he pulled a gun on the pilot and forced him to land in the prison exercise yard.
The Mail does not repeat a story that was widely circulated locally at the time. It held that the prison authorities, conscious of the number of high-profile criminals they were holding, had arranged a code word with a local RAF station. The idea was that if an airborne escape took place the air force could be tipped off and give chase among the clouds.

But, says the story, on 10 December 1987 the conversation went something like this:

GARTREE: Black Eagle.

RAF: I beg your pardon?

GARTREE: Black Eagle.

RAF: Could you say that again, please?

GARTREE: Black Eagle! Black Eagle!

RAF: Sorry, old man, we don't understand your banter.

When did the Liberal revival begin?

When Jo Grimond became leader in 1956? When Mark Bonham-Carter won the Torrington by-election in 1958?

Neither, says Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell, an honorary research fellow at the University of Leicester, on his blog. He dates the start of the Liberal revival to a deeply obscure by-election held in 1954:
The step change was the Inverness by-election of 21 December 1954 – neither famous nor a victory. The Liberals’ share of the vote at 36% gave them a very close second place to the winning Conservative candidate in this previously-Conservative held seat. The result was therefore not a dramatic upset. It took place in Scotland in the middle of winter and the results came out on Christmas Eve. Hardly surprisingly, not many people noticed. However, it was the Liberals’ highest share of the vote in a three-way by-election since 1932 and the improvement was sustained. In the 19 by-elections fought by all three major parties since the war leading up to Inverness the Liberals had averaged only 9.3% share of the vote, but in the 19 by-elections from Inverness onwards the Liberals averaged 25.2%. 
Clement Davies, ageing and alcoholic party leader, had had a torrid time leading the Liberals through their darkest years, but in the last two years of his leadership the party averaged 26.5% in by-elections, but when Jo Grimond succeeded, the comparable figure for his first two years was slightly lower at 24.7%.
Dr Wyburn-Powell specialises in Liberal history, so his blog is well worth following if you have an interest in that area.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Introducing Ealing Studios

Misprint of the Day

"Ye have acquired merit. Merit greater
than your knowing."

Who else can be our winner but the Guardian?

Here is Charlie Fletcher choosing his favourite adventure books:

It's an exciting story of espionage and skullduggery, but more than that it's a story about identity and choice. Kim's liking for intrigue and adventure is tempered by his love for the Llama he serves.

The Ritz, London, threatens to sue The Ritz, Desborough

From BBC News:
A venue called The Ritz in Northamptonshire has been told to change its name or face legal action by the owners of the famous London hotel. 
The wedding and conference venue in Desborough has used the name since the 1930s, but it has now been given until the new year to alter it. 
The Ritz hotel has asked for a name-change agreement to be signed. 
Desborough Ritz owner Kris Malde said he thought their email was "a joke". The Ritz in London declined to comment.
The Desborough Ritz may have traded from the 1930s, but the London Ritz was opened in 1906  by Cesar Ritz ("the cracker magnate", as Lord Bonkers describes him).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The White Horse Inn, Pulverbatch

The Shropshire Hills Shuttle buses were diminished last summer. There was a new service, for Olympic year, from Church Stretton via Acton Scott to Much Wenlock, but the buses no longer served Clun, Craven Arms or Bishop's Castle.

Still, we are promised a service to Ludlow next summer.

I did, of course, make use of the buses while I was in Shropshire. On one Sunday I was able to go into the mines at Snailbeach, have tea at The Bog and still find time for a pint at the White Horse Inn, Pulverbatch.

There were a lot of pub closures in this part of Shropshire a few years ago, but this is one of several to have bucked the national trend and reopened recently. And I can certainly recommend it.

The politics of railway preservation

BBC4 is currently repeating its series The Golden Age of Railways. You can find two episodes – Small is Beautiful and Branching Out – on iPlayer at the moment.

I don’t know how long they will stay there, but there are plenty of other railway programmes archived on the BBC website. And some of the footage of the Talyllyn Railway I posted yesterday was used in Small is Beautiful.

One thing that has struck me about the programmes is the interesting politics behind the railway preservation movement.

Take this extract from Small is Beautiful, which begins at 10:40:
NARRATOR: Tom Rolt’s view of the Talyllyn was shaped by what was happening in post-war Britain. In 1948 the Labour government had nationalised the railways and Rolt saw the Talyllyn as an alternative to what he believed to be increasing state control. 
JOSEPH BOUGHEY: There was this idea in a way that this was a small enclave from which to perhaps build and defend and take on the grey, uniform, state-driven world outside. 
Most of the people involved came from very ... middle class professional backgrounds. I think one could call them highly Conservative people in many ways. They were very much people who disapproved of the nationalisation of railways. They saw this as producing a sort of grey uniformity.
And this one, beginning at 33:15, from Branching Out:
ANN CRYER: What he wanted more than anything was that those people who did the work made the decisions. In essence it was a sort of Socialist, democratic experiment and it works to this day.
So a Conservative view and a Socialist view. Yet these views have an important thing in common: a rejection of managerialism. In the first extract the enemy is bureaucratic state management: in the second it is a rejection of profit-driven management. But managerialism is their common enemy.

This is brought out by what Joseph Boughey goes on to say:
Although later on the Talyllyn was described as a 'workers co-operative', these were extremely conservative workers, to put it mildly.
But workers' co-operatives can be conservative and even Conservative - which leads us on to Hobbit socialism.

Recreating Leicester's Blue Boar Inn

From the blurb to this video on Youtube:
The Blue Boar Inn was medieval Leicester's 'Grand Hotel' and is believed to be where King Richard III stayed the night before the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. With the aid of detailed drawings, produced shortly before the Blue Boar was demolished, Richard Buckley has overseen a project to produce a detailed scale model of the building. 
The Blue Boar Inn is believed to have been built in the mid-15th century on Medieval Leicester's High Street -- now Highcross Street. It was a large and elaborately decorated building, which would have housed wealthy aristocrats and merchants as they travelled through the country. 
In the 1830s, the Inn was demolished - and until now, the only evidence for what it looked like consisted of a pair of engravings made by Leicestershire artist John Flower in 1826.
Richard Buckley came across new evidence when looking through the notebooks of 19th century architect Henry Goddard -- a member of important Leicestershire architectural dynasty the Goddard family.

Nick Clegg needs to get crunchy again

Nick Clegg won the Liberal Democrat leadership by fighting a favourite’s campaign and saying as little about policy as possible. But before that he gained himself the reputation of being something of a thinker and a libertarian. I can recall him, while still an MEP, speaking at a Liberator fringe meeting and calling for “crunchy Liberalism”.

Five years on from that leadership campaign, Nick gave a speech to the Royal Commonwealth Society. And, to be honest, there was not much that was crunchy about it.

The passage that received most publicity was this:
It is at times like these that Britain needs a party rooted in the centre ground, which anchors the country there. 
The Liberal Democrats are that party. We’re not centre ground tourists. The centre ground is our home. 
While the tribalists in other parties desert the centre ground under pressure, the Liberal Democrats have done the reverse. Under pressure, we’ve moved towards the centre.
This is very much where I came in. Back in 1977, when the Liberal Party was finishing behind the National Front, our only remaining purchase on the public’s attention was the idea that we were a moderate party, a party of the centre.

It is far better to be seen as centrist than extreme, but if your only appeal is that you are in the centre the danger is that you allow your opponents to define your policy, because the centre can shift about.

When our major rivals were led by Margaret Thatcher and Michael Foot, it was practically impossible for the Alliance to avoid being the centre party. But it is possible that the next election will see Labour fighting a populist campaign that scapegoats social security claimants, asylum seekers and the like.

Will we then try to find some centre ground on the cigarette-paper thin difference between Labour and the Tories? I hope not: I hope we will fight on values like liberty, justice and equality – all of which have are richer and more motivating than an appeal to centrism.

The spirit of 1977 was also recalled in the passage where Nick channeled David Steel and gently told us off:
The greatest strength of our party is our idealism. But in our strength lies our weakness – because sometimes idealism can turn into dogma, or at least an unwillingness to engage fully with the day-to-day experiences and perspectives of the British people we seek to serve. 
A party of government knows that workable solutions need to be grounded in values – but also that they must respond to the hopes and fears of reasonable people. 
This is the lesson we’ve learnt in government. The challenges of governing at a difficult time have given us a harder edge and a more practical outlook.
I am a great fan of pragmatism, but it seems to me Nick is misunderstanding his own party here.

As far as there is dogma in the Liberal Democrats it comes from our libertarian or economic wing – at least that is my impression from Twitter and the blogs. Meanwhile, the more social liberal critics – and they seem to be who Nick has in mind – are disgruntled because, under his leadership, we have lost so much of our local government base in the North of England. They are every bit as keen on being in power as Nick is.

It is true there were no easy alternatives open to Nick and the party after the last election, but it as well for him to understand the reason for his members' current discontent.

Finally, there is nothing at all crunchy about talking of benefit claimants as though there were children:
For us, that relationship is clear: it is the government's responsibility to ensure every person has the opportunity to get on, but every person must take personal responsibility for using those opportunities by working hard. 
We cannot absolve people of their responsibility for improving their own lives, because to do so would be to turn them into dependants – and so deny their agency and compromise their dignity. You can’t build a stronger economy with people lost to dependency … 
Parents know what I mean. You look at your children and yearn with hope for their future. You do whatever you can to give them every advantage. You worry about the obstacles they will face, and you plan to help them overcome them all. 
But equally, parents know that kids need to learn to look after themselves. Slowly but surely, we guide them into independence and adulthood. Because we know that to be happy, they will need the means and capacity to run their own lives – and pass their love and skills on to the grandchildren they might give you one day.
Nick may well see welfare dependency as a problem, but he needs to find better language than this in which to talk about it.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Six of the Best 306

Cicero's Songs asks if the Tories can last another decade.

"In a policy debate that follows this narrative, the figures at the political pinnacle are being asked to admit defeat in a war, failure of their policies and to announce tolerance of the existence of what is widely regarded as a social evil. Even on a good day it is hard to imagine political leaders doing one of these things, never mind all three." Ewan's Liberal Musings on the difficulty - and necessity - of ending the 20th-century's war on drugs.

MentalHealthCop has a terrific post on the reaction to the Sandy Hook shootings. This is a blog you should follow if you have any interest in mental health - or policing.

Kevin Marsh, in the British Journalism Review, explains why George Entwistle had to go.

The BBC's "Christmas Night with the Stars" and its ITV rival, "The All Star Comedy Carnival" are remembered by Boggenstrovia's Bits.

Greenbenchramblings takes us on a frosty walk around his garden.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Silvester Horne's grave, Church Stretton

So I went to Shropshire.

This is the grave of Silvester Horne, Liberal MP and father of the comedian Kenneth Horne.

I wrote about Silvester Horne back in 2006:
A contemporary observer wrote: 
In Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Leicester he conquered vast audiences by the magic of his oratory. He understands better than any speaker of his years, with the possible exception of Mr Lloyd George, how to quicken slow blood, kindle light in dull eyes, and bring the flood-tide of enthusiasm sweeping into all creeks and inlets of the spirit. His youthful appearance, grace and winsomeness of gesture, attractive delivery, and clear, well-modulated voice delight every company that hears him. 
When in adult life, reports Barry Johnston, Kenneth Horne described Winston Churchill to a friend as a great orator, that friend replied: "Yes, but then you never heard your father speak, did you?"
And here is his grave. It is to be found, not in the churchyard, but in the town cemetery, close to the Institute named after him.

Silvester Horne lived at the White House on Sandford Avenue in Church Stretton. When I first wrote about him it looked from the net as though it was still standing and in use as a care home. But as the comments on that post made clear, it had recently been demolished.

This summer I climbed the hill to look for it and found this housing development.

The myth of Brown Windsor soup

I watched Hercule Poirot's Christmas earlier this afternoon. On the train journey to the inevitable country house (soon to the scene of an equally inevitable murder), Poirot was offered Brown Windsor soup as the first course of his lunch.

Brown Windsor soup? We know all about that.

As The Foods of England says:
Pick up pretty much any recent book on English food and you'll be told that Brown Windsor was The Victorian favourite, possibly the dominant English soup until WW2. You'll be told that it was always served at Windsor Castle, that it was the Queen-Empress's preferred starter, that it was a staple of boarding-houses and always turned up in railway dining cars. It is described as "the very soup reputed to have built the British Empire." and we're told that it "regularly appeared on state banquet menus". You'll learn, too, that it was thick and stodgy and that everybody hated it.
That's the story we all know. But The Foods of England carries on:
All of which is very odd as we can't find any reference to it anywhere, scour though we have the cookery books, newspapers and literature of Victorian and Edwardian times. It isn't on menus, even railway ones, nor in magazines. It isn't in any novels, it isn't in encyclopedias and the National Archive have nothing on it. It isn't mentioned in any cookbooks, it isn't in Mrs Beeton, or Eliza Acton, and 'Punch ' doesn't even make fun of it. In fact this 'Victorian and Edwardian staple' doesn't turn up anywhere before the 1950's.
Tellingly, Poirot's encounter with Brown Windsor soup was put in by the television scriptwriters. It is not mentioned in the original Agatha Christie story from the 1930s on which the programme was based.

The Foods of England also offers an explanation of this remarkably persistent myth:
Brown Windsor Soap, however, is well attested since the 1830's. Could it possibly be that the name was applied to ubiquitous hotel brown gravy soups as a joke, perhaps parodying the well-known rice-based White Windsor Soup?

Syreeta: Spinnin' and Spinnin'

Wikipedia tells me that this single got no higher than no. 49 in the British charts in 1974, but I remember it fondly and recall that Michael Aspel on Capital Radio loved it too.

Spinnin' and Spinnin' comes from the album Stevie Wonder Presents: Syreeta. Syreeta - full name Syreeta Wright - was briefly married to Stevie Wonder and they wrote and recorded together for rather longer. She had originally joined Motown as a receptionist.

Syreeta Wright died in 2004 at the age of 57.

Don't bank on televised leaders' debates at the next general election

Andrew Rawnsley has an article in today's Observer asking whether the 2015 general election campaign will see the televised leader debates we had in 2010:
Will there be TV debates next time around? When I put the question to one of Mr Cameron's circle, he responded: "Ask me in two years." The honest answer is that each of the leaders will make a calculation whether it is in their best interests much closer to the time. As the incumbent, Mr Cameron will have to weigh up the perils of taking part against the risk of being seen to run away. If they do happen again, it will not be because the politicians think TV debates are good for democracy but because they think they will be good for them.
This should not be such a surprise.

We all know the stories about how the youthful, dynamic JFK defeated the unshaven Richard Nixon in the 1960 television debates. What is less well known is that there were no further debates until the 1976 Presidential contest between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

In that election both candidates feared they were not well known to the public - Ford had become President after both Nixon and his deputy had resigned; Carter was a little-known figure from the South - and so gambled that the extra exposure from televised debates would help them.

Only after that fluke did the debates become an integral part of US Presidential elections.

So don't bank on there being televised leader debates at the next general election. And if I were David Cameron I would take some convincing that having those debates would be to my advantage.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Steve Winwood: English Soul

The excellent BBC documentary on this blog's musical hero has appeared on Youtube in its entirity.

Copyright? Schmopyright.

Nick Clegg to distance the Lib Dems from "fantasy world" Tories

Tomorrow's Observer claims privileged knowledge of Liberal Democrat tactics in the run up to the next election. Toby Helm writes:
Nick Clegg will launch the pre-election process of distancing his party from the Conservatives on Monday, depicting one of the Liberal Democrats' key roles in the coalition as preventing the Tory right from pursuing a "fantasy world" outside the European Union ...
Clegg will say: "The Tory right dreams of a fantasy world where we can walk away from the EU but magically keep our economy strong; where we can pretend that the world hasn't moved on and stand opposed to gay marriage; where we can refuse to accept the verdict of the British people and pretend the Conservatives won a majority of their own."

Six of the Best 305

Photo: Jongleur100
"I was particularly glad to read from you your comment that: 'it is no use standing up for civil liberties in opposition if you then forget all about them in power'. However I was disappointed in the omission from your email of any mention of the Justice and Security Bill which introduces secret courts into almost all civil proceedings." Jo Shaw, on behalf of Liberal Democrats Against Secret Courts, replies to Nick Clegg's latest weekly email.

Charities should embrace the social enterprise model as part of their work and not become too dependent on public funds, Lord Wallace of Saltaire told the Lords the other day. Read more at Third Sector.

Paul Bernal's Blog is pleased that Lord McAlpine is suing Sally Bercow, if only because it will clarify how far libel law can be applied to the net: "One of the difficulties at the moment is that we really don’t know exactly where we stand. A high profile High Court battle could help us find out."

The Widow's World has been to see The Hobbit.

Manchester's historic libraries are celebrated by Bricks.

Cecil Court, off the Charing Cross Road in London, is best known today as a centre of the antiquarian book trade. But it was once the home of the nascent British film industry, reports London Filmland.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Farewell to Ripon

I had originally planned to spend the second week of my summer holiday in North Yorkshire too, staying in Richmond and then heading for somewhere remote like Keld.

But I left it late to book accommodation and could not get in where I wanted. And the weather was dreadful, which made me look for comfort rather than adventure.

I know, I thought. I'll go to Shropshire.

New allegations of MPs involved in paedophile ring

In the aftermath of the Newsnight fiasco over child abuse in North Wales, David Hencke (since crowned Political Journalist of the Year in the British Journalism Awards) said he was working on another story about a paedophile ring. He added that he would not publish it until he was satisfied that it was secure.

He must be happy, because on his blog today he writes:
Exaro News ... today reveals that for the last two months the police have secretly been scoping a new investigation into senior politicians and their involvement in a paedophile ring, involving under age boys, that took place in the 1980s ...
They are looking again at a raid that took place in 1982 on a guest house in Barnes, south London, which appeared to be being used as a gay brothel and was frequented by prominent figures including, I am told, ministers, Tory MPs, a Liberal MP and two Labour MPs. Under age boys in the care of Richmond council and other local authorities were visiting or staying at the guest house. 
The inquiry-under the title Operation Fairbank – will also examine whether there was a cover up which meant that the Met Police at the time and when complaints about it resurfaced twenty years later never followed up the investigation. Nobody was ever charged with any offence, even though the place had been raided and people bundled into police cars.
And there is more on Exaro News (for which Hencke works), though you will have to register to read it.

This story was first broken by the Mirror at the start of the month, when it claimed:
A politician, top cop, judge and bishop are among those said to have been part of the ring between 1978 and 1982.
This one will run and run, though probably not on Newsnight.

The West Midlands roots of The Hobbit

New Zealand has turned Middle Earth into a tourist destination, but the Visit England blog suggests that Tolkien found his inspiration nearer to home in the West Midlands. Perrot's Folly and Sarehole in suburban Birmingham are both mentioned.

Meanwhile, Harvard Gazette has an interview with Stephen Mitchell, the university's professor of Scandinavian folklore and a Tolkien enthusiast:
Where does the word “hobbit” come from? 
I think you could probably start bar fights over this. There is, I believe, a heated debate about where the word comes from. The obvious answer is that it’s a combination of “human” and “rabbit,” a people-who-live-in-holes kind of thing. But as was pointed out years ago … there is a list of supernatural creatures from Yorkshire, and it does include the word “hobbit.” Scandinavians, for example, refer to the elves as the hidden or underworld people.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Cabling of George Osborne

Could it be that the Liberal Democrats, through the influence of Vince Cable, are winning the economic arguments in Cabinet?

Discussing George Osborne's appearance before the Treasury select committee today on the Spectator's Coffee House blog, Isabel Hardman suggests this may be so.

After observing that "by this stage in the Coalition, everyone would have expected at least one major bust-up between George Osborne and Vince Cable," she goes on to say that Osborne's evidence to the committee
suggested that the Chancellor isn’t so much involved in a stand-off with the Business Secretary as he is taking on his point of view. It was significant how many times Osborne had to explain a softening in what were previously hard-and-fast economic rules, and hard-and-fast policies. 
His refusal to rule out replacing the Bank of England’s inflation target with a growth target is the most significant sign of a coalescing between the two men. Osborne told the committee that the current target ‘has served this country well and provided stability’, but he added that he was ‘glad’ the next Bank of England governor Mark Carney was involved in the ‘debate about the future of monetary policy’. Moving to a growth target would be an endorsement of Vince Cable’s focus on growth rather than deficit reduction.
It would not do to get too excited here. Whichever government we have in power for years to come will have to act to reduce the deficit.

Keynesian policies are hard to implement now precisely because the previous government failed to implement them when the economy was doing well by cutting spending or increasing taxes - "taking away the punch bowl", as Chris Huhne used to be fond of quoting.

But if Osborne's remarks today show he has moved on the from the simplicities of his early days as Chancellor, that is to be welcomed.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

David McAllister: The Scotsman who may lead Germany

David McAllister has been the Christian Democratic Union prime minister of Lower Saxony since July 2010.

Not only that, a Gulf News article from earlier this week says:
With the nation watching, McAllister, 41, played host to Merkel and the Christian Democratic Union as the party gathered at his northern Germany power base in Lower Saxony. It was a triumph for both politicians. Merkel was re-elected party leader, while McAllister was effectively anointed as her political son and likely successor.
A Scotsman the likely next premier of Germany? Very nearly.

An earlier Guardian profile explains:
half Scot ... was born in West Berlin to James McAllister, a British army father from a working-class part of Glasgow who was serving with the Signal Corps, and a German music teacher mother, Mechthild.
And it goes on:
Childhood consisted of growing up in what he refers to as "Little England", the British military sector in the heart of West Berlin's Charlottenburg district, where streets were named Hardy, Dickens or Brontë Weg (way). 
"I had a British upbringing in the middle of West Berlin. We had British buses, wore school uniform and spoke English at home. My dad would always bring the Telegraph home from the office, and we listened to BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) all day, including the football results read out by James Alexander Gordon." 
He describes "turning German" at the age of eight, when his parents decided to stay in Germany, and he was put into an all-German school. He'd later do his military service in the German army, but has retained both German and British passports. 
But he admits that his Britishness has remained an important part of his identity, particularly his sense of humour, "a dose of which would be good for German politics".
And it seems his medicine is working. Back to the Gulf Times:
McAllister is not keen on Scottish stereotypes, but he has cannily turned this difficulty with his name to his advantage ... Indeed, far from downplaying his Scottish roots, McAllister reminded the Hanover audience that Sir Gordon Macready, who administered Lower Saxony after the war, was the last leader of the state to run a surplus, which McAllister has committed to do. “Was he Welsh? No!,” he asked, rhetorically. “Was he English? No! Was he Irish? No! He was from Scotland!” 
The crowd loved it. Marcus Kerber, head of the Federation of German Industries, who was at the event, says: “I would have thought that boasting about his heritage would backfire, but it didn’t. I think the Scottish notions of hard work and of fiscal prudence fit well with the mentality in northern Germany and there is a latent anglophilia in Lower Saxony that works for him. If you took away the Channel it would join up easily with East Anglia. There is a great deal of cultural affinity.”
It seems that, in Lower Saxony at least, you can mention the war. (Confession: I had never heard of David McAllister until I happened across the Gulf Times article while looking for something else last night.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Six of the Best 304

"Under legislation passed by the Labour Government in 2000, councils had been required to use what is known as the Leader and Cabinet system of governance. Today - using new powers given to it by the coalition - Cornwall Council chose a system which will give more power to ordinary councillors." A Lanson Boy has good news for Cornish democracy.

The View from Creeting St Peter is excited by the Beccles loop - not the latest dance craze, but a new stretch of track that will mean better rail services for Suffolk.

"Democratic citizens are embodied, take up space, and perform democracy on physical stages at least as much as they engage with ideas in virtual space." Marco Scalvini reviews John Parkinson's Democracy & Public Space for the LSE Review of Books.

My Space - My Opinions makes the journey from psychiatric patient to human being.

The Charles Dickens Museum in London has reopened just in time for Christmas, reports the Los Angeles Times.

William Ahearn chooses some favourite British films.

BBC Inside Out South West on Jersey child abuse

The Jersey blogger Voice for Children has posted a video of this week's BBC South West documentary about the investigation into child abuse on Jersey. He describes it as a fair account of the affair, given the limited time the makers had available.

He also has a comment on the programme from Lenny Harper, Jersey's former Deputy Chief Officer of Police, who is interviewed in it. Another interviewee, the less than impressive Home Affairs Minister, Senator Ian Le Marquand, did not take up the opportunity to comment.

The sound quality of this recording suggests it was made in someone's front room. But you can watch the original programme on the BBC iPlayer for a few more days - even if the person who wrote the blurb for it was more interested in guillemots.

West Mercia's police and crime commissioner wants to make his election agent his deputy

Last week I wrote about the newly elected police and crime commissioner for Northamptonshire and his decision to appoint the Conservatives’ political assistant at Northamptonshire County Council as his 'strategic adviser'.

From the Shropshire Star comes news that Bill Longmore, the independent PCC for West Mercia, wants to appoint his election agent as his deputy on a £50,000 salary.

The Star, which reminds us that the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act allows PCCs to appoint a deputy, says the West Mercia Police and Crime Panel has delayed its decision because of concern at the selection process.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Ripon Hornblower

This is George Pickles, the Ripon Hornblower, Setting the Watch around the obelisk in the city's market square. It is, says his website:
which has been carried out every evening on the market square without a miss, not for one single day, for 1125 years. It is the longest ongoing unbroken daily ceremony in the world.
"And no, madam," I heard him say, "it's not been me all that time. There were two more before me."

Mr Pickles carries out the ceremony with due seriousness, and then chats to the tourists who have gathered to watch him at 9 p.m.each evening.

Is Theresa May a KGB agent?

When I was an undergraduate the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall were still in existence. And in those days how people responded to repression in the Soviet bloc seemed to me a good pointer to a their moral worth.

Though outright admiration for the Soviet Union - "All them cornfields, and ballet in the evenings" as Peter Sellers' Fred Kite put it in I'm All Right Jack - was rare by then, there were plenty on the left who argued that we should engage with the Warsaw Pact powers and played down questions of human rights.

So, while Jim Callaghan was prime minister, Romanian-built locomotives began to appear on Britain's railways.

In those days, admittedly, Nicolae Ceausescu was supposed to be the great liberal hope of Eastern Europe. The leader of the British Liberal Party David Steel even gave him a labrador. The dictator named it Corbu.

But it remains an uncomfortable fact that you were far more likely to find articles about human rights abuse in the Soviet Union in the Spectator than you were in the New Statesman. I seem to recall that you could even subscribe to a scheme that distributed the Spectator behind the Iron Curtain.

The Conservatives had their blind spots - there were plenty of them who were happy to support Apartheid South Africa - but this history gave me some hope that the Coalition would be more respectful of our liberties than Blair and Brown had been.

Especially when the Coalition agreement said:
We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness.
But when you read Theresa May's absurd comments in support of her Communications Data Bill you can see that these hopes of the Conservatives have come to nothing.

Here she is taking to the Sun:
“The people who say they’re against this bill need to look victims of serious crime, terrorism and child sex offences in the eye and tell them why they’re not prepared to give the police the powers they need to protect the public. 
“Anybody who is against this bill is putting politics before people’s lives. 
“We would certainly see criminals going free as a result of this. 
“There will be paedophiles who will not be identified and it will reduce our ability to deal with this serious organised crime.”
You can say that May is too keen to appeal to her party's right wing or lacks the strength to stand up to the security establishment.

But her thuggish attitude to her liberties do remind me strongly of the mind-set that ruled the Soviet Union - and not a little of the briefing we Lib Dem bloggers were given when this bill first appeared. I am very glad to see Nick Clegg has now had second, better thoughts on it.

Could it be that Theresa May is a Soviet sleeper - an agent put in place when she was but a schoolgirl?

Can any among you remember Theresa May's schooldays? Were there perhaps pictures of Leonid Brezhnev on the dormitory wall? When the other girls were playing hockey was she poring over Soviet coal production figures?

Did she - and this would be the clincher - have a signed photograph of Corbu?