Sunday, March 31, 2013

Searching for Paddy Logan: Discovering Harborough's Liberal history

I had an article under this title published in the Autumn 2010 issue of the Journal of Liberal History. It seems you can now freely download a PDF of it from the journal's website:
Logan returned as MP for Harborough at the second election of 1910, only to stand down again in 1916, thus landing the Liberals with a difficult by-election. Although there was a wartime truce with the Conservatives, the young Liberal candidate Percy Harris faced a strong challenge from an Independent with considerable press backing. He won, but lost the seat to the Conservatives in 1918 when, although a radical, he sided with Asquith and was thus refused the ‘coupon’ from the Lloyd George coalition. 
Harris went on to be an MP in the East End of London and a stalwart of the declining Parliamentary Liberal Party until 1945. He was recently revealed to be the greatgrandfather of the recently retired Liberal Democrat MP Matthew Taylor – a fact that surprised everyone except, I suspect, Lord Bonkers.

Peter Svidler, the Russian grandmaster who loves cricket

After he had drawn his game at the Candidates tournament on Good Friday, Peter Svidler came into the commentary room to be interviewed.

He was introduced as the Russian grandmaster who loves cricket. Sure enough, when talk turned to how a disappointing loss might affect a player in the next round, Svidler used a cricket analogy - playing one ball at a time. He also admitted that he is not very good at this himself.

You can read more about Svidler's passion for cricket in a Standpoint interview he gave to Dominic Lawson in 2011:
Having been introduced to the game in 1999 by his friend Nigel Short, Svidler immediately became consumed by a passion for this most un-Russian pursuit. In fact, when I called him, he was in St Petersburg glued to a Eurosport satellite transmission of a one-day cricket match, and hugely frustrated that the Russian commentator was ignorant of the law governing stumping. During the recent Ashes series, he said, he had got little sleep because he was up all night watching the broadcasts live from Australia.
And:
Two years ago Peter mystified the rest of the chess world by playing in a modest event in Gibraltar, most popular with English chess amateurs keen for a bit of sun and games on the southernmost tip of Europe. He explained to me that he agreed only because the Australian organiser of the tournament had promised to bowl to him in a cricket net on the Rock if he played: there exists on YouTube a video of Svidler batting in said net, demonstrating some very passable square cuts and straight drives. 
In fact he is unusually well co-ordinated, physically, for a chess player. Among his other passions is snooker, and he played the game semi-professionally for a number of years (or as he put it to me, "I played a lot, and for money").
Svidler is likeable, with superb English and a self-deprecating sense of humour. And I don't suppose any of the old Soviet grandmasters wore an earring.

He has won the Russian championship a remarkable six times, but admits to having no great appetite for studying the game.

The Stakhanovite tradition of the Soviet school of chess is upheld these days by Vladimir Kramnik, who may go into tomorrow's final round as the tournament leader (though his challenger Magnus Carlsen has winning chances in a game that is still going on after six and a half hours). Perhaps there is a moral there.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Erbarme Dich, mein Gott



Here for Easter is Kathleen Ferrier singing (in English translation) an aria from Bach's St Matthew Passion.

As Wikipedia says, it is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of classical sacred music. Heartbreakingly, Wikipedia also says: "Although Bach wrote four (or five) settings of the Passions only two have survived; the other is the St John Passion."

For more on Bach and his music watch last night's BBC2 documentary Bach: A Passionate Life (available for another six days).

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Six of the Best 337

Nick Clegg tells us he is busy hiding painted eggs in Switzerland. In reply, Caron's Musings lists just a fraction of the work Liberal Democrat candidates and activists are doing this weekend. I don't begrudge Nick having a break, but I would like to see him give a clearer sign that he recognises the efforts others make on behalf of the party.

Nottingham Liberal Youth interviews Tony Sutton, the Lib Dem candidate in the city's Wollaton East and Lenton Abbey ward by-election next week.

This enthusiasm when fundamental liberal principles are abandoned suggests that being in coalition has created something akin to the Stockholm syndrome among Liberal Democrat parliamentarians who are either on the government payroll or aspire to it," says Simon Titley  in discussing the secret courts vote on Liberator's blog.

"I hope to have breaks in the future, and do recommend it as a 'palate cleanser'. But it is hard work." From one of the Jilted Generation... gave up Twitter for Lent.

Swindon in the Past Lane writes of the town's tram disaster of 1906.

"So well-known is this image of Delius as tetchy and imprisoned by illness that we forget the younger man." The cricket career of Frederick Delius is explored by Go litel blog, go ….

My fifth Whipped column for Ad Lib

Whipped: From the desk of the Junior Whip

“Look, it’s quite clear,” I said waving the party constitution. “Conference decides policy and then the MPs should vote for it. So on secret courts…”

“Where does it say that?” said the Chief Whip, snatching the document from me.

He read intently and then looked up with a puzzled expression I have not seen before: “How did this get through?”

I was delighted some of our MPs voted against secret courts: the Chief Whip was not. Yet it gave him some grim satisfaction. He spent the next day planning the itineraries of fact-finding missions to Uzbekistan, chuckling horribly.

One MP who will not be off to Central Asia is Mike Thornton, newly elected for Eastleigh. I heard the Chief Whip say that he has “settled in nicely”, which counts as high praise in this office.

By the time you read this you will know how the Leveson business turned out. This week has been all conference calls, talks being broken off and talks being resumed. It has been so much of a farce that I half expected to find David Miliband hiding in the stationery cupboard or see David Cameron rushing through the office in polka-dot boxer shorts.

We are also waiting for the Budget. The hope is that George Osborne won’t put a tax on cupcakes or cute puppies this time.

At least I understand the Chief Whip better these days. Did you see Shetland? One reviewer described it as “fashionably bleak, with its raw weather, large, unglamorous jumpers and soundtrack alternating between seagulls and the wail of Celtic instruments”.

Add to that the dead bodies lying about and it is no wonder the Chief Whip is the way he is. Still, I think it might be safer to appoint someone who represents a Surrey constituency when the time comes for him to be replaced.

How George Carey became Archbishop of Canterbury

George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, is in the news today for his foolish attack on David Cameron in the Daily Mail.

But how did a man of such limited abilities come to occupy the see of Canterbury in the first place?

Bishop John Shelby Spong repeats a story that was widely circulated when Carey's appointment was announced in the summer of 1990:
The Crown Appointments Committee, made up of a significant group of church dignitaries plus members of Parliament, traditionally puts forward two names from which the prime minister makes a choice. While the prime minister is free to reject both of the nominees that is very rare. 
On that occasion the Appointments Committee put forward the names of the Archbishop of York, the favorite of the church leaders but one who had ruffled Mrs. Thatcher's feathers on other issues. 
To try to encourage his selection, the second candidate was generally regarded as unqualified. An old line evangelical, who thought the Bible contained the answer to every question and who was known to speak in tongues. 
The Church leaders thought this candidate, George Carey, was too bizarre a choice even for Margaret Thatcher. However, the Prime Minister's anger was such that she decided to teach the Church of England a lesson. George Carey became the designated Archbishop of Canterbury.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Round 12 at the London Candidates tournament

I went down to London today to spectate at the London Candidates tournament. The winner will challenge the current world chess champion Viswanathan Anand and, given his poor form recently, have a good change to take the title.

The tournament is being held at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Savoy Place - just off The Strand in London. The picture shows the statue of Michael Faraday that stands outside.

Because of regular scandals involving players apparently receiving outside help from a computer, spectators had to leave our phones and tables in the cloakroom, pass through an airport-style metal detector and submit to being passed over front and back by wand-style detectors too.

With players tiring and the tension rising, today's round (the 12th) turned out to be the most dramatic so far.

Before the tournament started, Norway's Magnus Carlsen was a firm favourite, with Lev Aronian seen today as as his only realistic challenger. Today both of them lost. Aronian is out of contention and Carlsen has lost the lead of Vladimir Kramnik of Russia.

Kramnik was a protege of Garry Kasparov and took his world title in 2000, holding it until 2007 (though like the world heavyweight boxing title the picture has got complicated in recent years). In many ways he is the last great representative of the Soviet school of chess that dominated the game for most of the 20th century.

Perhaps I am getting old, but I cannot help feeling that the young and motivated Kasparov would have had little trouble winning this tournament. Certainly, Magnus Carlsen's approach of nursing small advantages for hours until his opponent crumbles, effective though it is, lacks the crowd appeal of Kasparov, Fischer, Spassky and Tal.

The English grandmaster Nigel Short, who lost a world tile match to Kasparov himself in 1993, was holding court in the commentary room and was hugely impressive. Every now and then he said something that made it clear how infinitely greater his grasp of the game is than that of a former club and county player like me. Other past English greats in attendance included Bill Harston and Jon Speelman.

And who did I spy in the corner of the refreshment room but Evan Harris and Simon Hughes?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Bluebell Railway returns to East Grinstead



After nearly four decades of work by many hundreds of volunteers and staff, the Bluebell Railway reinstated public services to its original northern terminus; the West Sussex market town of East Grinstead on 23 March 2013.

This is the culmination of the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society's long-term ambition. Establishing a mainline connection and the prospect of more visitors coming in by rail, the extension included the extraction of over 90,000 tons of domestic waste from Imberhorne Cutting; a substantial part of the project which took over two years and cost over £2.7m.

  Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

The International Rescue Committee - David Miliband's new employer

This synopsis of Covert Network: Progressives, the International Rescue Committee, and the CIA by Eric Thomas Chester casts an interesting light on David Miliband's new employer:
This book tells the story of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the largest nonsectarian refugee relief agency in the world. Founded in the 1930s by socialist militants, the IRC attracted the support of renowned progressives such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Norman Thomas, and Reinhold Niebuhr. 
But by the 1950s it had been absorbed into the American foreign policy establishment. Throughout the Cold War, the IRC was deeply involved in the volatile confrontations between the two superpowers and participated in an array of sensitive clandestine operations. The IRC thus evolved from a small organization of committed activists to a global operation functioning as one link in the CIA's covert network.
Read more at questia.

Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes? by David Boyle

I realise this blog is becoming, in some ways, a kind of conversation with Jonathan Calder
writes David Boyle on The Real Blog.

Let me continue that conversation by reporting that David has another book coming out.

The other day I blogged about his The Age to Come. But there is also Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes?

Discussing its themes back on his blog, David says:
In the 1930s, the heyday of middle-class house buying, a new semi-detached cost just over £500, available with a down payment of £50 (that is why I've got that poster at the top). This was when mortgages cost about 10 per cent of a middle-class incomes and were paid off within sixteen years.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Headline of the day meets On the Buses


Our Headline of the Day comes from the Daily Mirror:

Ticket to ride: Bus driver suspended after CCTV catches him romping with passenger on top deck

Good news: There are plans to reprint the Uncle books




An Economist article from December 2005 said:
The “Uncle” stories of J.P. Martin, which focus on the doings of the eponymous hero, an elephant and benevolent dictator, were first published in the 1960s, and still enjoy a cult following. But they are now out of print. Indeed much of the “Uncle” canon is virtually unobtainable. Second-hand copies are snapped up by fanatical devotees and first editions go for hundreds of pounds. 
The slide of Uncle books into obscurity would have surprised some of the original reviewers. The Times Literary Supplement called the books “spellbinding”, the Observer predicted that they could become “a classic in the great English nonsense tradition”, while the Times Educational Supplement likened the books to Alice in Wonderland, a comparison that has been made many times since.
And as I explained when marking 20 years of Lord Bonkers:
I loved the Uncle books by the Revd J.P. Martin when I was a boy and only recently did I notice that their hero, who lived in a castle, had lots of friends and adventures and was given to very public acts of philanthropy, bears a remarkable resemblance to a certain Rutland peer.
The good news is that there are now serious plans to republish the Uncle books. Marcus Gipps writes about them on the project's KickStarter page:
I'm proposing to produce an omnibus edition of all six novels, with very high production standards, for £30 plus postage. I think you'll agree that's a major saving on the current cost of putting together a collection of all six books in tatty ex-library editions.
The book will include all of Quentin Blake's illustrations - the Uncle books were one of his first commissions and his style is an integral part of their overall appeal. It is also possible two buy a two-CD set of the Revd J.P. Martin reading from the books when ordering Marcus's omnibus volume.

You can read more about the project on Marcus's KickStarter page and also use it to make pledges towards funding the project. Me? I shall be buying the book and the CDs.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Market Harborough Post Office


The town's post office is now squeezed into a newsagent's shop, but thanks to Aqeela's House for making me appreciate the building it used to occupy. This is currently empty, having housed a couple of unsuccessful bars and clubs since it closed as a post office.

I particularly like the "The".

Six of the Best 336

Andrew George is trying to establish a badger vaccine project in West Cornwall to help cattle farmers with the continuing and growing problem of Bovine TB.

"The party leadership were very unhappy about the antics of their youth wing, and party leader Jeremy Thorpe set up a three-man commission which produced the Terrell Report. The report accused some of the Young Liberals of being communists." Birkdale Focus on a forgotten episode in Liberal Party history.

We need a new consultation on the Communications Data Bill – more commonly (and fairly accurately) known as the 'Snoopers’ Charter' - which is due to re-emerge at any moment, says Paul Bernal.

"The full brutality of the collapse of revenues at local newspapers was exposed in the announcement of preliminary results for 2012 by Johnston Press earlier this week," reports former Leicester Mercury editor Keith Perch.

Spitalfields Life celebrates the cats of the East End.

Matt Prior is the best wicketkeeper-batsman-diplomat in the world, according to Pavilion Opinions.

David Miliband to leave parliament immediately

From the Daily Mirror site this evening:
David Miliband is to stun Parliament by stepping down as an MP tomorrow to take up a “dream job” in New York. 
The former Foreign Secretary - and brother of Labour leader Ed - intends to make the shock announcement tomorrow morning. 
The Mirror understands he intends to step down with immediate effect, triggering a by-election in May.
The report goes on to say that Miliband is to join the charity International Rescue. This was the organisation made famous by Thunderbirds.

Assuming this is not an early April fool story, the Mirror must mean the International Rescue Committee.

GUEST POST How Liberal Democrats can help fight for privacy rights in Europe

Peter Bradwell, policy director for the Open Rights Group, asks whether the Internet will continue to be a kind of 'surveillance state' or if people will instead be given the tools to seize control over their personal information and how it is used. 

In the past year Liberal Democrats have had a good stab of standing up for citizens' privacy rights. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg demanded that the Home Office's 'snoopers' charter' be subjected to the scrutiny of a Joint Committee. Julian Huppert MP was a key figure on the Committee and was integral in highlighting the faults with the proposals.

All of this was underpinned by an active membership who worked hard to emphasise the illiberal nature of the Home Office's plans. That fight continues.

But another equally important front has opened in the fight for our privacy. This time the debate is unfolding in the European Parliament. The same principles are at stake. And just like with the Communications Data Bill, Liberal Democrats could play a key role determining what sort of law we end up with.

The Data Protection Regulation was proposed by the European Commission last January. It is now being considered by MEPs in the Parliament, with a number of committees voting on what amendments they would like to see. To simplify the seemingly complicated European policy making process, these opinions will be important in the negotiations. A more final Regulation will come out the other end of those negotiations. I'll come back to the committees, and why the Liberal Democrats have an important role, later.

Privacy law is not a fertile pasture for humour, so excuse this rather weak joke. My new favourite answer to the question: "What do you think about privacy online?" is: "I think it would be a good idea."

I did say it was weak. But the point is that we have surrendered control over when we give personal information away and over how it is used. Bruce Schneier is a well known security expert. This week he said "The Internet is a surveillance state. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not, we're being tracked all the time."

Information about us spills from our devices and the services and apps we use, sharing the sites we visit, the things we like or comment on, the prices we pay, the people we contact and the places we go. Too often we do not control how and by whom our personal information will be used. Too often the data is not secure enough, with abuses and mistakes going effectively unpunished.

The mass of personal data we leave behind is increasingly used by institutions and organisations to make many important decisions about us. These profiles affect everything from the marketing offers we receive through to the credit ratings and insurance decisions we are subject to. The information feeds those who wish to learn about our movements, personalities, histories, relationships.

We do not have to acquiesce to this state of affairs. We should have no truck with arguments that about genies being out of bottles. Weak laws and weak enforcement helped to create this environment. A new and powerful Data Protection Regulation will help fix it.

It could give people more control over their data and hold those that collect and use it to account.  It would give us, for example, a stronger definition of consent, stronger rights to have our data erased, and enable us to find out about and challenge profiling. For more on the key issues, you can read the short briefing on our website.

The European Commission's proposed Regulation looks very promising. But it is coming under intense lobbying pressure from US data monopolies, the US government and the ad industry. They are seeking amendments that would, for example, weaken the definition of consent, undermine the rights to erasure and 'portability' and create broad 'legitimate interest' carve outs.

Some of these businesses are built on the absence of meaningful privacy online. They are telling law makers that we should not have stronger privacy laws because it would harm their business. The tail is having a good go at wagging the dog.

If these lobbyists get their way, we believe privacy rights for EU citizens would be severely undermined. We would forego a unique opportunity to build a data economy based on a respect for people's privacy. The Regulation could set the rules for the next 20 or so years.

Putting people in control of their data gives them a meaningful stake in decisions that affect them. It is a principle should be an integral part of a liberal democratic digital economy. The Data Protection Regulation is Europeans' shot at getting this principle into law.

Some Liberal Democrat MEPs have very important positions in this policy making process. And we are concerned that they may support the more worrying positions taken by those lobbyists opposed to stronger privacy rights.

For example, on 10 March Baroness Ludford wrote to the Financial Times saying:
concerns have been put to me about aspects that are inflexible, bureaucratic or not user-friendly by European academic and medical researchers, business-to-business marketing companies, telecoms suppliers, insurance groups and banks, the CBI and Federation of Small Businesses well as – yes – American IT companies.
Baroness Ludford's position is extremely important. She sits on the LIBE Committee, which is the lead Committee in the European Parliament for the Regulation. They will vote on an opinion next month. Members are currently considering their position. (For more information on the process and the Committees involved, see the guide from European Digital Rights.)

We were concerned at her failure to mention the interests and rights of citizens. Last week Open Rights Group and Privacy International wrote to Baroness Ludford, urging her to support a strong Regulation that gives people more control over their personal information. You can read our letter on the ORG blog. We will be meeting Baroness Ludford to discuss our concerns soon.

Data protection law can seem like an arcane, complex beast. And it sort of is. But there are simple principles at stake. The outcome of this process will settle whether the Internet continues to be a kind of 'surveillance state'. Or if instead people are given the tools to seize back control over their personal information and how it is used.

This is how Liberal Democrats in the UK can help us get a better law. If you want to see a strong Regulation that gives people more control over their data, contacting Baroness Ludford as soon as possible to explain why would be extremely useful. You can contact her at her European Parliament email address.

Peter Bradwell tweets @peterbradwell.

Hallaton Bottle Kicking will go ahead on Easter Monday



It takes more than a bit of snow to make the people of Leicestershire surrender their ancient customs, so the Hallaton Bottle Kicking will definitely be going ahead on Easter Monday.

And the Hare Pie Scrambling too, of course.

No, I am not making this up (even though Easter Monday is 1 April).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Rail (1967) - another Geoffrey Jones film



Snow, Geoffrey Jones' film about the railways in the winter of 1963, still seems painfully relevant.

But here is another short by the same director, again matching music and railway footage in a masterly way.

There is more about Geoffrey Jones in his Guardian obituary from 2005.

Market Harborough ambulance station saved

Welcome news from the Harborough Mail:
A crunch decision today (Monday) has confirmed the future of Harborough’s ambulance station. 
East Midlands Ambulance Service rubber-stamped proposals put before its board to restructure the way it operates. 
It means Harborough’s station, at the St Luke’s Hospital site in Leicester Road, will remain.
The station had been due for the chop under the East Midlands Ambulance Service’s ‘Being the Best’ programme. However, a strong campaign led by Phil Knowles and the other Liberal Democrat councillors - see this post on the Market Harborough Liberal Democrats site - persuaded the service to draw up the revised proposals that were approved today.

Phil told the Leicester Mercury:
“I am delighted that Emas has looked at this and seen there was no case for closure."
Congratulations to Phil and everyone involved in this successful campaign.

The contradictions in the teaching unions' thinking

Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, will tell the ATL conference in Liverpool that the Conservative reforms are "undermining and harming our pupils' education,"
the Guardian tells us.

But that isn't news. It is what the teachers' unions have always said, whoever is in power. It be news if she had said anything different.

Which suggests there are two thumping contradictions in the unions' thinking.

The first is that they hold these two beliefs:
  • All schools should be run by the democratically elected government.
  • It is an outrage if that democratically elected government seeks to make changes in the way school are run.
The second is that they hold these two beliefs:
  • Every change made in education for as long as anyone can remember has been disastrous (that is why we campaigned against them).
  • Standards in our schools are higher than they have ever been.
Discuss. Do not attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once.

Headline of the Day features pyrotechnic squirrel

The Romford Recorder wins with:

House fire started by a squirrel disrupts funeral procession through Romford

It was 31 years ago today: Roy Jenkins and the Glasgow Hillhead by-election

Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell reminds us that today, as well as being my birthday, is the 31st anniversary of Roy Jenkins victory for the SDP in the Glasgow Hillhead by-election.

Which gives me an excuse for redeploying a favourite anecdote, first borrowed from Mr Eugenides (whose blog is now invitation only).

He wrote:
One of my all-time favourite political anecdotes concerns the 1982 Hillhead by election, for which the newly formed SDP selected their leader, Roy Jenkins, who had not hitherto been renowned for his connections with the city. 
Strolling around the west end of Glasgow, the urbane Jenkins entered a newsagent's and, sighting the Asian shopkeeper, went to proffer a handshake. "So, how long have you been here, then?", asked Jenkins, to which the owner replied evenly, "Longer than you".

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Six of the Best 335

"Huge pressure is being put on backbench Lib Dem peers to give up the position they held when the Bill was first debated in the Lords and back the Government line. Your support to them could make the difference." Liberal Democrats against Secret Courts wants us to write to Lib Dem and crossbench peers urging them to support the recommendations on secret courts of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Lester Holloway says Nick Clegg should ditch his illiberal immigration bond.

Scrapping the beer duty escalator is good news for Shropshire's economy, argues Andy Boddington. Now do you see why I love that county?

"The power centers of British politics and media may reside in London, but their tentacles extend to a tiny working-class market town with rows of glistening stone buildings, 17th-century pubs and a medieval church." Amy Chozik visits Chipping Norton for the New York Times.

English Buildings enjoys a grotesque carving in nearby Winchcombe.

Wartime Housewife has the recipe of an insanely cheap and nourishing soup. And I've nicked her photograph.

Marianne Faithfull: Green Are Your Eyes



In his recent The Joy of Essex, says Adam Sweeting, Jonathan Meades:
rattled off a list of cult-like startups which had flourished briefly - New Harmony, the Village Society, the Redemption Society - and detoured to the sinister-sounding Q Camp at Hawkspur Green, where the homeless and the drug-addicted experienced "tough love". They may even have been subjected to the libido-liberating Frigidity Machine, created by Theodore Faithfull, grandfather of dowager-chantoosie Marianne.
And there is more to Marianne Faithfull's background than that. In an article for PsyArt Dianne Hunter says:
Marianne’s mother, Eva Hermine von Sacher-Masoch, Baroness Erisso, had been a dancer in Max Reinhardt's company, an actress, and then a World War II refugee who, thanks to Major Robert Glynn Faithfull, escaped from occupied Vienna to England thinking she would live in a secure British conventional marriage. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Marianne Faithfull’s great-great uncle and the author of Venus in Furs (1870), gave us the term "masochism.” 
Her paternal grandfather, Theodore Faithfull, a sexologist who invented a “Frigidity Machine,” sought to liberate British libido. Marianne Faithfull’s father, a member of the British external Secret Intelligence Service MI6, devoted himself after World War II to Oxfordshire hippie-style communal living, much to the disappointment of his deracinated and declassed wife, who longed during Marianne’s childhood for a more stable and traditional home.
But what is the importance of Marianne herself? Sing365.com explains:
When "Swinging London" was the center of the European music universe in the mid-to-late '60s, Marianne Faithfull was the unofficial queen of the scene. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were the biggest bands in the world, but the Beatles' wives and girlfriends didn't caught in a drug bust naked (except for a rug) in a roomful of naughty men from the music scene. Marianne Faithfull did. That incident, the infamous 1967 Redlands bust at Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards' house, caused a scandalous sensation that will forever be mentioned in association with Marianne Faithfull. 
Marianne was one of the goddesses of the music scene's full-fledged plunge in the sexual revolution. Her beauty and talent were admired and envied by many. Marianne left her first husband, John Dunbar, for Mick Jagger, and Marianne and Mick's relationship was considered the epitome of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. 
Her lifestyle was a far cry from the angelic image she portrayed when she recorded her first big pop hit, "When Tears Go By," written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. After all, Marianne went to school in a convent; she came from a well-to-do, educated background. If ever there was a case of a "good girl gone bad," this was it.
Green are Your Eyes is taken from her 1966 LP North Country Maid. AllMusic says it is:
very close to a pure folk album, with a bit of influence from pop, rock, blues, and jazz. Largely overlooked even by Faithfull fans, it's actually a quite respectable effort, and probably her best LP ... from the time when her voice was still on the high side.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The child of an American Civil War soldier is still living

The American Civil War ended in 1865, but the US Department of Veteran Affairs is still paying a pension to the child of a soldier who fought in it, says the Daily Mail. She was born as late as 1930 and is living in a nursing home in North Carolina.

It had been widely reported, not least by the Mail itself, that there were two children of Civil War veterans still alive, but the second, a 93-year-old man living in Tennessee, died last August.

Even more remarkably, the last widow of a Civil War veteran died as recently as 2003.

But then, as I blogged a year ago, two grandsons of John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States of American are still alive.

Lib Dem blogger wins Trivial Fact of the Day

Well done David Boyle, who wins by revealing that he is the great great grandson of Sir John Lubbock.

Sir John Lubbock?

Yes, Sir John Lubbock. Do try to keep up.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Unwitting Humorist of the Day

The winner is Julie Sherry of the SWP for this effort in today's Guardian:
It is true that a leading party member was accused of rape. However, far from "convening its own court, comprised chiefly of the alleged attacker's friends, to decide whether rape had occurred", the party engaged a committee, elected by its annual conference, to deal with the issue.
So funny is she, that you wish you could hear more from her.

Well, the good news is that Julie, as an SWP member, will almost certainly be given her own series on Radio 4 before the year is out.

More on Molly Drake

A few weeks ago I chose a song by Molly Drake, mother of the once neglected and now ubiquitous Nick Drake, as my Sunday music video.

In today's Guardian there is an article about her by Peter Paphides:
If the idea of someone writing and performing songs without seeking a public outlet for them seems strange to us, perhaps that says something about the times in which we live. "It was a more private era," concurs Gabrielle. "You look at people broadcasting what they had for breakfast on Twitter and the desire for friendship seems to have been supplanted by a need for saying what you are. That simply wasn't around in my mother's day." Perhaps that's why, to borrow her son's words, Molly Drake's songbook feels like a fascinating "remnant of something that's passed".
Gabrielle is the actress Gabrielle Drake, Nick's sister and Molly's daughter. She is best known for her appearances in Crossroads.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Michael Ignatieff on Isaiah Berlin

Lord Bonkers on the early history of Twitter

Caron's Musings claims that today is Twitter's seventh birthday.

However, Lord Bonkers wrote as follows in June 2011:
For some inexplicable reason, the belief that Twitter is a recent invention is now widely entertained. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though of late it has made use of the latest technology, the service was in widespread use as early as the 1920s. 
Several times a day, the Twitter boy would bicycle up the drive here at the hall in his buttoned suit and peaked cap, bringing a short message from one of my friends: "OMG Winston Churchill has rejoined the Tories", "WTF is the Commonwealth Party??? LOL", that sort of thing. Then there was the role of the notorious “Zinoviev Tweet” in Labour’s defeat in the 1924 general election. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. 
There is, however, one important difference between Twitter now and then. Back in the twenties, someone like your diarist, who had many followers and a great deal to say for himself, kept simply dozens of Twitter Boys in useful employment, crisscrossing the country on their bicycles. Today those self-same messages go by electric interweb while the youths sit in bus shelters drinking white cider.

I shall draw this to my fellow ministers’ attention at the next Cabinet meeting.

Ward of the Week visits Telford & Wrekin

A Shropshire Star report on plans to reopen Jiggers Bank in Ironbridge (which wins our Road of the Day, incidentally) reveals that Telford & Wrekin Council has a Cuckoo Oak ward.

It wins our coveted Ward of the Week award.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Six of the Best 334

Today George Osborne crossed fingers and hoped ‘steady as she goes’ will come good by 2015, says Stephen Tall on Liberal Democrat Voice. With graphs.

Paul Nettleton is impressed by Cumbria Day, in which the county’s six MPs put party difference to one side to support a showcase for local businesses.

"I really believe Guantanamo has created more true terrorists around the world then we've gotten rid of." Brandon Neeley - a former guard at Guantanamo Bay - is interviewed by RT.

"The attorney general of the United States has now admitted that the biggest American financial corporations have created such a labyrinth of their structures and practices that the Justice Department has given up trying to police them in matters of corruption or criminal malfeasance, saying that bringing down any of these mega-banks or businesses could cause crash the economy." Too big to fail? American corporations are too big to jail, says Dan Dewalt on Counterpunch.

Smashing Tops has photographs of the 10 most amazing abandoned railways in the world.

"For much of their lifetimes, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger never got the due they deserved. Powell was as English as you could get, had worked his way up through the film industry before coming to the attention of British film magnate Alexander Korda. Pressburger, meanwhile, was Hungarian Jewish by birth, who'd come to Germany in the 1920s to work as a screenwriter, moving to Paris, and then England when the Nazis came to power, and again was working for Korda. When the two met in 1939, there was an instant kinship. They shared a similarly uncompromising and original take on filmmaking, and were soon working hand in hand, sharing credit as writers, directors and producers under the banner of their The Archers production company." The Playlist takes us through the work of these remarkable filmmakers.

Stop the Insanity petition on DSM-5

An article in the Canadian magazine Maclean's looks at the controversy over the publication of the American Psychiatric Association's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5):
Every parent of a preteen has been there: on the receiving end of sullen responses, bursts of frustration or anger, even public tantrums that summon the fear that Children’s Aid is on its way. Come late May, with the publication of ... DSM-5, however, such sustained cranky behaviour could put your child at risk of a diagnosis of “disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.” This newly minted condition will afflict children between 6 and 12 who exhibit persistent irritability and “frequent” outbursts, defined as three or more times a week for more than a year. Its original name, “temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria,” was nixed after it garnered criticism it pathologized “temper tantrums,” a normal childhood occurrence. Others argue that even with the name change the new definition and diagnosis could do just that. 
“Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder” isn’t the only new condition under scrutiny in the reference manual owned and produced by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) - and lauded as psychiatry’s bible. Even though the final version of DSM-5 remains under embargo, its message is being decried in some quarters as blasphemous. Its various public drafts, the third published last year, have stoked international outrage - and a flurry of op-ed columns, studies, blogs and petitions.
Today came news that a group of British mental health professionals has joined this throng by issued a statement of concern about the reliability, validity, and safety of DSM-5.

The concerns they list are that DSM-5:
  • includes many diagnostic categories with questionable reliability, which may lead to misleading assumptions about their scientific validity;
  • did not receive a much-needed and widely requested external scientific review; 
  • may compromise patient safety through the implementation of lowered diagnostic thresholds and the introduction of new diagnostic categories that do not have sufficient empirical backing; 
  • may result in the mislabelling of mental illness in people who would fare better without a psychiatric diagnosis; may result in unnecessary and potentially harmful treatment, particularly with psychiatric medication; 
  • may divert precious mental health resources away from those who most need them.
The Stop the Insanity website also has a petition calling on clinicians, researchers, journal editors, healthcare planners, managers and commissioners, the pharmaceutical industry and the media to avoid use of DSM-5 wherever possible until these concerns have been resolved.

This new campaign was reported in The Times (paywall) this morning under the headline "Psychiatrists to fight new list of mental illnesses", even though most of the signatories appear to be psychologists.

Later. They have now changed the headline on the website to reflect this.

New research into the benefits of chess in schools


A year ago I wrote and article for the Guardian website making the case for encouraging chess in schools. In it I interviewed Malcolm Pein from the charity Chess in School and Communities.

Today comes news that the Education Endowment Foundation (whose development director is a certain Stephen Tall) has made a grant of £689,150 to the charity to test the impact of teaching chess to primary aged children:
The programme will see chess being taught within normal class time for one hour a week by accredited chess coaches. A 30-week curriculum is used to teach chess, this starts by teaching children how to play chess, before developing thinking skills through the use of chess problems. Each class teacher will also be trained in how to teach chess and will be encouraged to start a chess club in their school. 
The majority of studies that link chess to academic attainment have been carried out abroad and included self-selecting intervention groups.  However a randomised controlled trial was carried out in Italy and this showed that chess had an impact on maths attainment. The EEF will be testing the programme as a randomised controlled trial, with 50 schools receiving the intervention in one year and 50 acting as a control group. Those in the control group will receive the intervention in the following academic year. Pupils’ mathematical abilities will be tested before and after the intervention. 
The independent evaluation will be conducted by the Institute of Education.
You can read more about this project in the Daily Telegraph.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is this blog covered by the new press regulator?

I asked this question on Twitter yesterday and received answers varying from obviously yes to obviously no.

My suspicion is that nobody knows. The Leveson Report barely considered the internet and the new law arose from a deal done in the small hours by party leaders and pressure group representatives after a process resembling the change of prime minister in The Thick of It.

I suspect we shall have to wait for some case law to find out what the new legislation means. And recent experience suggests that the judges may not take the side of bloggers.

"An area the size of Rutland"

A book review by Ysenda Maxtone Graham in the current Spectator introduces a welcome new measurement. Writing of A Green and Pleasant Land: How England's Gardeners Fought the Second World War by Ursula Buchan, she says:
In 1942-3, there were 1,750,000 allotments, amounting to 100,000 acres, or an area the size of Rutland.
She also suggests that the slogan "Dig for Victory" was invented by Michael Foot in an unsigned Evening Standard leader in September 1939.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Worker-owned co-operatives: The Next American Revolution



From the founder of the World Economic Forum to the protesters of the Occupy movement, everyone seems to agree that something’s wrong with capitalism as we know it. But what is it, exactly and what can people do about it?

Political economist and historian Gar Alperovitz discusses a potential solution in his new film The Next American Revolution, in which he advocates for community-based and co-operative businesses.

UKIP to fight every Leicestershire County Council seat

Not content with their two recent, er, colourful recruits by defection, UKIP says it is to fight every county seat here in Leicestershire in May.

The party's 'East Midlands constituency manager' Paul Oakden told the Leicester Mercury:
"In 2009, UKIP did not stand a single candidate in Leicestershire. 
"We don't want a situation this time where people come to us after May 2 and say "I would have voted for you but you didn't have a candidate. 
"Every day, we are gaining fresh people so it is an achievable goal to have a candidate in every seat. 
"Will we take control at County Hall? Probably not, but we will take votes from the other three parties and that will play a major part in the results."
Anything that will put the wind up the Tories has to be welcomed, but I share the puzzlement of my old friend, Simon Galton, the leader of the Lib Dem group at County Hall:
"I don't understand what their appeal is for councils. 
"They want to take us out of Europe but they can't do that by winning seats at Leicestershire County Council."
And I am not convinced by the response to this:
Mr Oakden said UKIP had policies relevant to local politics, such as opposition to raising council tax and holding county-wide referenda (sic) on issues such as the hunting ban.
But what is the point of a Leicestershire referendum on hunting? It couldn't repeal the law.

I suppose you might vote to allow or ban hunting on council-owned land, but I doubt if that is what Mr Oakden has in mind.

The impression that UKIP's policy platform was drawn up by listening to a lot of angry men in pubs grows ever stronger.

Norman Baker rocks - the video



Forget the Stones - here is "Piccadilly Circus" by the Reform Club. Think of it as The Kinks go to Penny Lane.

More about Norman Baker's band in yesterday's post. Thanks to @abjtal for sending me the link to the video.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rolling Stones: She's a Rainbow



The Stones released this in the summor of love and released it as a single in December 1967. Incredibly, it did not chart.

The song was written by Jagger and Richard, the strings were arranged by John Paul Jones and it features a mellotron played by Brian Jones.

The piano was played by Nicky Hopkins, who began his career with Screaming Lord Sutch (whom I remember applauding around the hall when he came to the count at Littleborough and Saddleworth in 1995). He later became one of the great session musicians of his era.

When Hopkins died in 1994 Ray Davies of the Kinks wrote of him:
The Kinks had always used a piano to help build the wall of sound associated with our early hits "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night." Now we were making our third album and our producer, Shel Talmy, thought we should hire someone who could contribute more than just background chords. 
Nicky, unlike lesser musicians, didn't try to show off; he would only play when necessary. But he had the ability to turn an ordinary track into a gem - slotting in the right chord at the right time or dropping a set of triplets around the back beat, just enough to make you want to dance. On a ballad, he could sense which notes to wrap around the song without being obtrusive. He managed to give "Days," for instance, a mysterious religious quality without being sentimental or pious.

Norman Baker rocks

From the Daily Telegraph:
Norman Baker, MP for Lewes, will next week be releasing an album called Always Tomorrow with his band the Reform Club, it was revealed in the Sunday Times. 
The 55-year-old junior minister for transport is the band's lead singer and chief lyricist, with most of the music being written by the guitarist, Mike Phipps.
As the report goes on to say, Norman was once a regional director of the music chain Our Price.

Six of the Best 333

"What badly needs debate is precisely how to regulate cross-media ownership better, and how to prevent semi-monopolies of influence from building up that subverts proper media balance - and prevents prime ministers paying court to one press baron and his acolytes in particular." David Boyle says the debate over Leveson is ignoring the most important question.

Simon Titley on Liberator's blog gives an account of the rise and fall of economic liberalism in the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservatives' A list did bring them more women candidates but made little difference in the areas of race and class, finds Michael Hill on British Politics and Policy at LSE.

"Viva Belarus!", a groundbreaking feature film from Polish director Krzysztof Lukaszewicz portraying the harsh life of nonconformist youth living under the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus, premiered at Prague’s Febiofest on March 19. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty interviews one of the screenwriters, Franak Viačorka.

Homes & Property examines the history of Camden's Mornington Crescent.

Parts of Paris are built on a dense network of underground tunnels, canals, reservoirs and vaults, reports Infra Net Lab.

Headline of the Day goes royal

The ITV website wins with:

Duchess of Cambridge gets heel stuck in a drain

David Boyle on post-postmodernism

David Boyle, the nearest thing the Liberal Democrats have to an intellectual guru, has a new book out: The Age to Come: Authenticity, Post-Modernism and How To Survive What Comes Next.

David writes on his blog:
The next age, the coming age, will try to challenge our contemporary conviction that nothing is true and everything is relative. 
It will not reach back hopelessly to previous ages of certainty, though people may accuse it of that: we have lost our innocence about social reality. It will not pretend it is somehow possible to work out unambiguously what is true in this world. It will not turn its back on the understanding and tolerance we have generated with the social construction of knowledge. But it will not be limited by that any more. 
We are moving into an age that will try to satisfy our need for what we have lost, looking around for something we can be sure of – something we can use to measure everything else against – and it is beginning to find it in ourselves and our humanity, and will use that to seek a way out of the paralysis of post-modernism.
I always enjoy David's book, but I suspect I have more time for postmodernism than he does (nor do I believe the concept needs a hyphen).

Certainly, I recommend that anyone with an interest in Liberal philosophy reads Richard Rorty's Contingency, Irony and Solidarity before postmodernism goes too far out of fashion.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Nick Clegg doesn't mention the war

Yesterday I called on the Liberal Democrat high command to come clean and tell us the real reason they are in favour of secret courts.

Today Nick Clegg's weekly email arrived. Eagerly I opened it. But nothing. Not a mention of secret courts.

It was worse than that.

The email was mostly about the Leveson proposals and the battle over whether and how we should legislate to implement them. It was quite long but, even so, we were referred to an article by Nick in The Times for a more detailed exposition of his views.

That was a big problem for me.

I am not concerned about referring people to a Murdoch paper. Increasingly these days, I find myself buying The Times rather than the Guardian.

The problem is that in order to read articles on the Times site you have to have paid a subscription first. So Nick's email is telling most of its recipients that there is more information available on this, but they cannot read it. That is only going to put people's back up.

You would hope that the team around the party leader would have grasped this simple point, but apparently not.

Liberal Burblings did not like Nick's email either, but made his point more succinctly than me.

Friday, March 15, 2013

City Bound (1941)



Taken from the British Council Film Collection, 'City Bound' is an exploration of the daily commute into London from the suburbs in 1941.

Others in that decade took a less celebratory view of the process:
London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in it own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels. 
The men and women imagine they are going into London and coming out again more or less of their own free will, but the crouching monster sees all and knows better. 
Patrick Hamilton The Slaves of Solitude (1947)

New insight into the Cyril Smith affair

The last scandal but three to engulf the Liberal Democrats involved allegations of sexual and physical abuse of boys by Cyril Smith. In recent days more information about them has appeared on the web.

Yesterday the Manchester Evening News published the transcript of a police interview of Smith from 1970. It does tend to suggest that he was using his local power and celebrity to interfere with the investigation of the allegations:
OFFICER: If my information is right, you spoke to one of the boys, who has been interviewed. 
CYRIL: Yes. 
OFFICER: What was that about? 
CYRIL: He told me what you had been asking him. He told me he had made a statement to you. I’ve seen two of them and the third came to see me. I’ve asked them if they have made statements. 
OFFICER: I must warn you about interfering with witnesses. The only reason I am here this morning is because you wanted to see me. I did not want to see you. You must have some suspicion about you and them, about what’s in the statements or you would not be here, would you?
A few days before that The Needle published what it claims is an eyewitness account of Smith's behaviour during the Manchester Central by-election of 1979. The account is anonymous, but it has the ring of truth and someone who was around in the party in those days might well be able to work out who it comes from if it is genuine.

Part of the account runs:
Cyril Smith sat next to a 14 year old boy (I deliberately kept him away from the young girls after his lewd comments). He bantered with anyone – old, middle aged or young… and then his left hand moved onto the groin area of the 14 year old boy. The boy jumped sky-high! My late hubby saw it and moved in very quickly (he sent me a signal to get the 14 year old boy into a safe space next to me). Hubby placed a firm hand on Cyril Smith’s shoulder whilst he ‘whispered’ in Smith’s ear. I believe that my late hubby told Cyril Smith to either remove himself immediately (without bother) or my hubby would remove him without ceremony. 
How my 12 stone hubby would have removed a 30 stone MP I don’t know! Maybe we are sometimes empowered by the sense of indignity, right and safeguarding of those in our care. Cyril Smith did leave my flat without a fuss. My hubby reported this incident to the local police, Liberal Headquarters and the Region.
It may be that his is an invention, but if it is not one would have to wonder if the Liberal Party knew more about Cyril Smith's behaviour than it ever admitted.

Time for the Lib Dem leadership to come clean on secret courts

At the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference Nick Clegg's advisers decided the best way to win party members over on the question of secret courts was to send Tom McNally out to insult them.

It did not give you a great deal of confidence in Nick Clegg's advisers.

Fortunately, they soon changed their approach and first Ming Campbell and then Tom McNally wrote reasoned articles for Lib Dem Voice putting the leadership's case.

Today David Howarth, MP for Cambridge before the last election, replied to Tom McNally. If it were a boxing contest the referee would have stopped it long before David got to the end.

I do urge you to read David Howarth's article yourself as it makes the case against secret courts so forcefully. Academia's gain is certainly Westminster's loss.

The arguments the leadership has deployed in favour of secret courts are so weak - not just Tom McNally's speech in Brighton but also Nick Clegg's treatment of the subject at his question-and-answer session there - that one suspects we are not being told the real reason.

Is it that Nick does not feel confident enough to turn down the advice of the intelligence establishment? Is it that the American government is threatening not to share intelligence with us unless we change our legal procedures?

Whatever the reason, I think it would be much better for the atmosphere within the Liberal Democrats if our leaders came clean and told us their real reason for supporting secret courts.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"The camping coaches" from Railway Roundabout (1958)



Beyond the end of the platform the line curved round sharply to the right between the steep banks of a cutting. On the top of the embankment on their left was a wood, and between that and the main line a single track of rails, rusty with disuse. The track ran into a siding under the embankment, and on it were standing two old railway coaches, brightly painted, with curtains in the windows. 
Malcolm Saville, Susan, Bill and the Vanishing Boy (1955)

Paul Burstow: It's time to end the NHS bias against mental health

Paul Burstow, who has been notably and valuably outspoken since being sacked as a health minister last year, had an article in the Daily Telegraph this morning calling for mental health to be as much a spending priority as physical health is.

He wrote:
Mental health has traditionally been vulnerable in the NHS – the last to benefit in times of plenty and the first to suffer when things get tough. 
And depressingly, in 2011/12 spending fell by 1%. Crisis resolution and assertive outreach both saw reduction, and while half the country protected spending, the other half made deep cuts. This is short sighted penny pinching that is condemning people to a lifetime of mental ill health.
However, Paul did welcome the anti-stigma Time to Change campaign, the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme and the new recovery colleges that are being piloted.

In the article Paul announced that he will be chairing a commission set up by Centre Forum to examine the state of mental health care provision in England.

Modest memorial planned for Richard III in Leicester Cathedral

Back in October I asked how Richard III should be remembered. My answer:
As a graduate of both York and Leicester Universities I have some claim to objectivity here, and I agree that Richard (if it is Richard) should be reburied in Leicester Cathedral. 
But a state funeral? So far the dig has been handled with good taste - there have been no pictures of the skeleton issued, for instance - but this idea is danger of taking things over the top. 
Richard would have had a funeral when he was buried at Greyfriars. A dignified short service and interment at the Cathedral is all that is required. Let's not turn the thing into a circus.
In that spirit, I am pleased by today's news that Richard will not have a chest tomb but a flat stone tablet - rather like the memorial to him that has been in Leicester Cathedral since 1982.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Headline of the Day

Today's winner is the Huffington Post:

MP Slams 'Incompetent' Police Over Abusive 'Racist Arsehead' Man

Six of the Best 332

Mark Thompson exposes Nick Clegg's faulty logic in supporting secret courts.

One recent episode of Moscow’s see-through machinations involved a London-based lobby group Conservative Friends of Russia (CFoR). Launched in August 2012 - in the garden of the Russian ambassador to Britain, no less - and shut down in December." World Affairs dissects Vladimir Putin's strategy of influencing and infiltrating European political establishments.

Despite the urging of Laurie Penny, Normblog refuses to care that the SWP is on the verge of collapse.

Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA - in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where "the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys". Watch his video on TED.

Movement for Liveable London has a guest post by Mark Stanley making the case for a traffic-free Soho.

"The film is more subversive perhaps than it initially seems. Though I’m a sucker for a romantic ending I also think that, in the real world, most of us can buy that not everyone gets a silver lining. It does seem though, that in the face of emotional distress, we can all get a psychiatric diagnosis." John McGowan on Discursive of Tunbridge Wells goes to see Silver Linings Playbook.

East Midland MEPs at Work: 1. Roger Helmer


The first in an occasional series.

Thanks to a reader and La Treizième Étoile.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Braunstone Gate, Leicester, in 1975



Footage of some of the lost houses and shops from this part of the city.

Right at the end you see a poster from the European referendum campaign to prove it really is 1975 and then a glimpse of the recently demolished Bowstring Bridge.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary behaves better than the BBC over Savile

Sir Peter Fahy's report for Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary on how much police knew about Savile before he was exposed as a sex offender in 2012 was published at midnight.

But embargoes copies were sent out to journalists before that, allowing them to write stories for this morning's papers. Some even tweeted the findings in the small hours of this morning.

That, you might think, is pretty remarkable. It is what you do with any report likely to be of wide interest.

But it is certainly not what the BBC did when it published the Pollard Review into its own decision to drop a Newsnight investigation of Savile's crimes.

As Niall Paterson complained on the Sky News site at the time:
The Savile scandal has been a low point, perhaps its lowest ever, but it is not, despite what some BBC critics will say, representative of the whole. 
Which is why the Beeb's handling of the release of the Pollard Review evidence has been so utterly, utterly infuriating. 
First, they chose to dump it on their website this morning, rather than giving it to everyone under what's known as an embargo. 
An embargo means that journalists get sight of a document but promise not to use the information, either in print or on TV, before a certain date or time. 
It allows reporters to spend time digesting and analysing the data, before putting pen to paper - or head in front of the camera. 
Frankly, the BBC would be the first to complain if a public inquiry released its findings without using an embargo, or at the very least a "lock-in" - where journalists are "locked" in a room with the report for a few hours. 
Second, rather than releasing the evidence in plain text or searchable PDF as is usual, they scanned thousands of A4 sheets of paper and uploaded it to their website. 
This perhaps sounds like a petty complaint, but it makes a reporter's life so much more difficult to search for key phrases, to cross reference quotes or details. 
You essentially have to read the entire document - which, when it's more than 3,000 pages, is easier said than done. 
The more cynical person would say this a tactic most commonly used when an organisation wants to make a journalist's life as difficult as possible, or where they hope a few damaging facts get lost in an overwhelming wave of information. 
Third, they released the information on a Friday. 
If you were to ask any member of the BBC's political unit on which weekday a government department would most likely release a critical report in an attempt to bury the bad news, I'm sure you can guess what they'd say. 
MPs have usually left London, as have many other commentators. Newsrooms tend to be moving on to their weekend cover, more than likely utilising fewer staff. And news output on a Saturday, particularly on terrestrial TV, is much less substantial than during the week. 
And fourth, not a single member of BBC staff, including Tim Davie the acting director-general, has been made available for interview.
You can still read all the documents from the Pollard Review on the BBC site. But it is hard not to recall the corporation's original reaction when the Savile story broke:
Whilst the BBC condemns any behaviour of the type alleged in the strongest terms, in the absence of evidence of any kind found at the BBC that corroborates the allegations that have been made, it is simply not possible for the corporation to take any further action.

Name of the Day

Well done to Polycarp Pengo, one of the Cardinals currently picking the new Pope.

Lord Bonkers adds: Pengo could be a good outside bet if the favourite falls at the Canal Turn.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Six of the Best 331

A Scottish Liberal reminds us that the leadership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats will be defending secret courts at the party's conference next week: "Will they, like Nick Clegg, avoid the real issues and reinforce the members' anger? Will it become increasingly obvious that a chasm is opening between grassroots activists and parliamentarians that is both destructive and unnecessary? Or will they succeed in convincing the members that they are listening, respectful and receptive - even if they take a different view on the policy detail?"

Eastleigh signals the beginning of the end for Nick Clegg not the end of the beginning, says Living on Words Alone.

There is not much left of Liam Fox by the time Alex Massie has finished with him.

"It is hard to see how journalists will ever again earn an enviable wage," says Tom Streithorst on Prospect Blog.

Helen O'Neil writes of John Stuart Mill's involvement with the London Library its blog.

"Liverpool St Station was opened in 1874 and survived largely unchanged into the nineteen seventies. So, in 1977, when proposals to redevelop the station were suggested, I decided to spend some time there, documenting the life of the station with its astonishing brick and iron architecture. I loved the cleaners, taking a break, and the young lad taking it upon himself to reschedule the next train." Tony Bock introduces his photographs on Spitalfields Life.

Now Philippe Sands leaves the Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg's strategy of cultivating and then abandoning civil libertarians continues to have unwelcome consequences for the party.

Philippe Sands has an article on the Guardian website this evening:
Secrecy begets secrecy. I have listened to all the arguments, and concluded this is a compromise too far, neither necessary nor fair at this time. The point has been made eloquently in recent days by Dinah Rose QC and Jo Shaw. Their principled arguments have long had my full support and so I have joined them in resigning from the Liberal Democrats.

1945 and all that

Ken Loach's new film The Spirit of '45, said the Guardian on Saturday, "revisits the year that Britons turned to socialism".

Today I came across two blog posts that questioned this interpretation of the 1945 general election.

Steve Fielding on Ballots & Bullets argues:
The vast majority certainly supported the implementation of the 1942 Beveridge report and its promise of cradle-to-the-grave social security. Yet those that liked his suggestion of a National Health Service did so largely because they hoped to personally benefit, far fewer looked on it as an act of redistribution. In any case, the Liberal William Beveridge's scheme was a continuation of progressive Edwardian reforms and it entailed welfare payments only just above subsistence. His was not a socialist measure, but one designed to make capitalism work more effectively.
And he goes on to say:
The society most people wanted from the 1945 election was a 1930s with jobs, that is, not socialism but reformed capitalism. This would be a private world. As a Labour candidate told his party’s conference in 1945, “two years ago, when I was in Africa, we fell to talking one day about what we hoped to see in the post-war world, and the fellow who put the point best was the one who said that he wanted to settle down with his wife in a cottage, with the kiddies, and to enjoy chocolates and looking after the chickens”.
While David Boyle, who was on Start the Week with Loach this morning, arrives at a characteristically penetrating critique:
The idea that somehow the Labour creation was betrayed or destroyed by Mrs Thatcher, and we must look back to 1945 and do it all over again, is really nonsense. The truth is that these huge institutions carried the seeds of their own destruction. They carried the Thatcherite revolution within them, because they did not work - they disempowered, undermined communities, poured scorn on self-help, worshipped professionals, and never asked for anything back - which meant they failed to build community around them.
As he says, whatever public services now need, it does not involve going back to 1945.

Angela Lansbury says men's sex obsession can make women gay

Headline of the Day was a walkover for the Daily Mail.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The ironstone lines of the East Midlands



Almost an hour of footage from these lost industrial railways.

Too much of a good thing?

Not to me.

Secret courts: Tom McNally in Wonderland

The Liberal Democrat leadership does not seem to have made much of an attempt to defend secret courts. Alex's Archives covers Nick Clegg's performance at his question and answer session in Brighton:
we saw pretty much every tool deployed from the box marked “evasion tactics for politicians who don’t wish to engage”.
In the secret courts vote itself, Tom McNally seems to have acted as the voice of the party establishment.

According to the Guardian:
McNally, a justice minister, indicated he was unlikely to lead a rebellion but would instead seek further concessions. He said it was to the credit of the party that it was so troubled by the issue of secret courts, but said the bill's critics lived in an Alice in Wonderland world.
This argument that party leaders and ministers have a unique connection with reality, while activists are by nature unworldly, has always seemed strange to me. Surely it is activists, with their jobs, mortgages and journeys to work who understand how most voters live?

And I don't recall any Lib Dem grandees insulting party members when they were asking them to go to Eastleigh or donate money a fortnight ago.

But the parallel with Alice in Wonderland is useful here:
"Let the jury consider their verdict," the King said, for about the twentieth time that day. 
"No, no!" said the Queen. "Sentence first - verdict afterwards." 
"Stuff and nonsense!" said Alice loudly. "The idea of having the sentence first!" 
"Hold your tongue!" said the Queen, turning purple. 
"I won't!" said Alice. 
"Off with her head!" the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.
"Sentence first - verdict afterwards" may well be what we get from secret courts. Take this BBC News report from 2006 (thanks to Love and Garbage on Twitter for the link):
A judge has criticised the Home Office over contradictory MI5 intelligence in secret hearings involving two terrorism suspects, it has emerged. 
The error came to light only because one barrister acted in both Special Immigration Appeals Commission cases. 
Mr Justice Newman said the "administration of justice" had been put at risk in the cases of Algerian Abu Doha and a suspect known as MK.
If anyone has been taking tea with the Mad Hatter, it is Tom McNally himself.

Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen: Midnight in Moscow



Kenny Ball, one of the big names in the trad jazz revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s, died this week.

As his Daily Telegraph obituary explained:
The Trad Boom ended suddenly, with the triumph of the Beatles and Merseybeat, in 1963, but Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen were scarcely affected. The band had by then become firmly established in the world of popular entertainment. 
They appeared in every episode of the first six series of the Morecambe and Wise Show, beginning in 1968, and were the resident band on Saturday Night at the Mill (BBC One) from 1975 to 1983. They toured in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In Russia they gave 28 shows in 31 days, finishing by playing Midnight in Moscow in Red Square. They played at the wedding celebration of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, at the Prince’s request. 
The jazz world, never entirely comfortable with this kind of popular success, tended either to ignore or to patronise Ball; but no one could deny that he was a highly accomplished musician, an engaging singer and a meticulous bandleader.
Here they are on Morecambe and Wise in 1970. It's as though the sixties never happened but still enjoyable.

When I was four I used to play with a little girl down the road who had an impressive collection of Kenny Ball EPs. (We were more of an Acker Bilk family.) His music reminds me of those days and our innocent and not so innocent games.