Wednesday, April 18, 2018

At last an anthem for Brexit

We have been told. When Brexit goes horribly wrong it will be the fault of us Remainers for not getting behind the project.

"Every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead," as Peter Pan put it.

What we need is a song we can all sing to show our for support Brexit. And I have found it.

My God, have I found it.

I know England Swings from a sweet version by Roger Miller, but this is, er, different. You wonder if the Bonzos were familiar with Patty Duke's oeuvre when they came up with Cool Britannia.

She, incidentally, won an Oscar for her portrayal of Helen Keller in 1962 and is the mother of the well-known hobbit Sean Astin.

Later. I have just shown the video to Lord Bonkers. He remarked: "Guardsmen and male dancers? It reminds me of St James's after dark."

New canal becomes an election issue in Daventry

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For the first time in a couple of centuries, the building of a canal is a major election issue.

The Conservative-run Daventry District Council has come up with the madcap but magnificent idea of building a two-mile arm to link the town with the Grand Union.

According to a report in the Daventry Express:
The Labour Party will oppose any further expenditure on the proposal for a canal arm and will demand that more is done to make Daventry into an attractive market town again. 
It will press for better leisure facilities and entertainments for people of all ages, believing that "more shops are likely to be attracted to Daventry by a vibrant town centre rather than by a stagnant canal", as well as demand progress on a new cinema for the town.
"A stagnant canal" is silly and mean-spirited. Has Daventry Labour not seen any of the excellent urban canal regeneration projects around the country?

The Lib Dems say the canal project needs to have a robust business plan to justify it and it should not be at a cost to Daventry District taxpayers.
which sounds more sensible but probably means in practice that they don't support the new canal either.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The two bridges over the Nene at Irthlingborough in 1946

You may remember that I was taken with the two bridges over the Nene at Irthlingborough last summer.

The Britain From Above site (which allows bloggers to use its images for free) has a nice shot of both bridges taken in 1946.

In the foreground you can see the medieval bridge and further back the impressive concrete viaduct that had opened 10 years before.

The tannery which stands beside them has long vanished.

Lord Bonkers: "Not a well-behaved Orban"

I was having dinner with Lord Bonkers last night.

"This Viktor Orban fellow seems a bad egg," he remarked.

I agreed, offering a catalogue of the Hungarian prime minister's crimes.

Lord Bonkers thought for a moment. "Not a well-behaved Orban then?" he offered.

Whereupon he shook with laughter, slapped his thigh and exclaimed "Oh my! Oh my!" for what seemed an age.

I have to say I didn't find it that funny.

Why it matters that millennials won't handle raw meat

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Yesterday's story about millennials being too squeamish to touch raw meat gave plenty of opportunity to laugh at the folly of the young. These days that's one of my chief occupations.

But there is more to it than that.

The Telegraph report says:
Ruth Mason of the National Farmers’ Union said it was “disconcerting that shoppers are so removed from their food” at a time when the meat and farming industry faces pressure from the increased number of consumers adopting vegetarian or vegan diets.
Well, we like children to be in touch with nature - to pick blackberries and get their knees muddy - but it may be that people are turning vegetarian because they are closely in touch with the farming industry and so aware of the cruelty producing meat can involve.

But the squeamish millennials are still eating meat. The danger is that they will favour meat that looks as little like a dead animal as possible. And the danger of that is that such meat is more likely to have been produced in a way that involves cruelty.

They should have seen Market Harborough in the 1970s when Hobbs the Butcher had pheasants and rabbits hanging outside his shop as every lorry en route from the West Midlands to Felixstowe growled past.

Monday, April 16, 2018

"You know when you've been tango'd": Ray Wilkins, Hugh Dennis and Gil Scott-Heron

Readers of a certain age will remember this television commercial for Tango, which featured the late, great Ray Wilkins.

What I didn't know that the other two voices in it belonged to Hugh Dennis and Gil Scott Heron (whose father played for Celtic).

The commercial was very popular, but there was a snag. In school playgrounds across the country children copied it, but they slapped one another on the ears not the cheeks.

I know someone who worked approving television commercials for the Independent Broadcasting Authority in those days. He said the medical evidence, emphasising the risk of perforated eardrums in children, gave them no alternative but to ban this one.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Logan Street, Market Harborough, from above in 1932

The "Britain From Above" archive is now FREE in high resolution and it is *incredible*. 96,000 photos of landscapes and buildings - many long-lost, from the air.
So Tim Dunn tweeted earlier this evening, and he is right.

Better still, the conditions of use allow you to post Britain From Above images on your blog if, like this one, it has no log-in restrictions or charges.

So here is a shot of the Logan Street area of Market Harborough (aka New Harborough or Monkey Town) in 1932.

Logan Street, named after this blog's hero J.W. Logan, is the long street running from the middle of the picture towards the top. The photograph was taken looking north.

Opposite the southern end of Logan Street, on the other side of the Coventry Road, is a long-vanished tennis court or bowling green.

You can also see the River Welland winding across the middle of picture and the Market Harborough to Rugby railway line (closed 1966) cuts off the bottom left-hand corner.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Well thought of in Golspie

Our week at Bonkers Hall draws to a close as the old boy proves that he still has his finger on the pulse when it comes to the Liberal Democrats (as far as we have one these days).


There are those (it is hard to credit) to whom not every Liberal Democrat MP is a household name, so let me give you a few notes upon the slightly less famous ones.

Wera Hobhouse is heir to the family fortune, which is founded on sales of her uncle L.T.’s Liberalism.

Christine Jardine I have found to be a fierce competitor. She once took over the captaincy of my XI when Mike Brearley was called away to conduct an urgent session of psychoanalysis, whereupon she packed the legside field and ordered our fastest bowler to let the batsmen have a barrage of snoot-high deliveries.

Jamie Stone is believed to be well thought of in Golspie.

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

Earlier this week

Six of the Best 783

"As I watched the 20-year celebrations of the Good Friday agreement play out, my frustration and anger began to boil over. 'Where the fuck is she?' I wanted to shout at the television and radio." Henrietta Norton says her stepmother Mo Mowlam has been written out of the history of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Christine Thuring explains the forces behind the Sheffield street tree massacre.

"An epistemic bubble is when you don’t hear people from the other side. An echo chamber is what happens when you don’t trust people from the other side." C. Thi Nguyen examines the effect of social media on our reasoning.

" [Angela] Thirkell’s hatred of what she saw as the socialist destruction of old England struck a deep chord, and during these years her 'Barsetshire' sequence of novels sold prodigiously." David Kynaston looks at the genteel backlash that followed Labour's 1945 victory.

Gyles Brandreth remembers his friend. Kenneth Williams, who died 30 years ago today.

"Across the whole of children’s literature, there are relatively few portrayals of a father-son relationship where the father isn’t either forbidding, or simply absent for good or ill." acidandamnesty reads of Roald Dahl's Danny, the Champion of the World.

Michael Nyman: Knowing the Ropes

Michael Nyman's music makes me happy.

This piece from the soundtrack of Peter Greenaway's strangely English film Drowning by Numbers is played by the Motion Trio of accordionists, the Michael Nyman Band and Nyman himself on piano.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Meet Pop Corbyn

Hang on in there, readers, there is only one more entry to go after this.


When Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party I naturally stationed gamekeepers armed with orchard doughties at the lodge gates lest he try to claim my estate in the name of the people.

However, news reaches me from the Commons that, far from leading a Bolshevik uprising, he is hand in glove with the Conservatives. For Tory MPs have taken to calling him ‘Pop’.

“What do you think of foreigners, Pop?” they cluster round to ask, whereupon Corbyn grimaces, shakes his fist and goes “Foreigners? Grrr!” How the Tories clap and cheer!

The hilarity continues until a division is called upon some bill to do with Europe, whereupon Corbyn takes Jacob Rees-Mogg’s hand and allows himself to be led through the government lobby. I think I shall stand down my gamekeepers.

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

Earlier this week

Friday, April 13, 2018

Listen to Mr Asquith

Here is the Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith making the case for Lloyd George's 'People's Budget' in 1909.

The Film Programme features Talking Pictures TV

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This week Antonia Quirke from BBC Radio 4's Film Programme visited the headquarters of my favourite television channel Talking Pictures TV.

They turned out to be a pebble-dashed detached house in Hertfordshire, but this is no kitchen-table operation.

As Noel Cronin, who runs the channel with his daughter and son-in-law, told her in their interview, the channel attracts audiences of up to 1.3m, spends £1m a year on film rights and makes a profit.

The still above comes from the superior early Dirk Bogarde film Hunted, which Talking Pictures screened again last night. It shows Bogarde with the child actor Jon Whiteley.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Gay conversion camps

Look, I don't write this stuff. I just edit it for him. OK?


Plans for this summer’s gay conversion camps here at the Hall are in hand. I know these are a controversial idea, but it would take a heart of stone not to help the parents who come to me. “We’ve tried everything,” they sob, “bought him Doris Day records, but he is just not interested.” This summer I have decided the students will camp, and I use the word advisedly, by the lake.

Then there is the fixture list for my XI this summer. Among our regular matches against the MCC, Mebyon Kernow and the Elves of Rockingham Forest, I am pleased to see a number of new names. Notable among them, all the way from China, is Mr Xi’s XI.

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

Earlier this week

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Penistone in the 1960s

As well as town events, there are plenty of shots of the electrified Woodhead route and an unexpected appearance by the Flying Scotsman.

Conservatives plan to scrap Market Harborough town bus service

Sad news from the Harborough Mail:
Market Harborough’s number 33 town-and-around bus service is at risk of being axed - because it doesn’t come close to paying for itself. 
In fact the service costs Leicestershire County Council a huge £109,000 a year to keep it running, the Mail has been told. 
And with the cash-strapped county looking to save £400,000 on public transport the town’s 33 service is “red-listed” in the council’s own consultation document. 
That means it’s a service “likely to be discontinued” as a county-council contracted service.
As far as I recall, this service had been put in place just before I came back to live in Harborough. The first piece community campaigning I got involved with was a residents' survey in Great Bowden to see how people were finding it.

The new, small buses that operated it were known as 'Fox Cubs' as they were run by the Midland Fox company.

There is a desperate lack of joined-up thinking here. Our new Conservative MP has taken a laudable interest in the issue of loneliness, but it will only be made worse as his government and council group scrap the services that help older and poorer people stay in the swim.

Anyway, if you want to try to save the 33 bus, there is a consultation on transport policy open on the county council website.

Six of the Best 782

Fascism poses a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II, warns Madeleine Albright.

"Traditional left-wing parties have lost not only the grasp of their main political narrative, they have lost much of their traditional electorates. These electorates did not so much ‘switch’ away from the left, they have rather disappeared as a comprehensible social group." Jan Rovny analyses the causes of the decline of left-wing parties across Europe.

Tanya Gold observes the fall of Milo Yiannopoulos.

"Today, pellagra is mostly relegated to history lessons and medical reference books. But occasionally, such as during isolated outbreaks in a refugee crisis, the world receives a vivid reminder of how the disease still affects people." Kristin Baird Rattini on the disease that once devastated the American South.

David Mikics relives the making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Charles Darwin's family home, Down House near Biggin Hill, is now open to the public. Sarah Moulden blogs about the work involved in bringing it back to life.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Dance, Frog Man, dance"

How is Nigel Farage's American television career going? Lord Bonkers has been sent the latest news.


M. Farage, the funny little Frenchman who leads the Ukip Party from time to time, has long had his heart set on a career in American television. One of my agents across the pond has sent me a cine film of his latest attempt to break into this competitive world, so this afternoon I have the projector set up and the blinds drawn in the Library so I could watch it – Cook kindly contributes some popcorn to the occasion.

What I see is M. Farage wearing an green Lycra body suit and flippers standing beside a weather map of South Dakota. Whenever the young lady giving the forecast mentions rain, he has to break into a dance, and if the station bosses do not think him enthusiastic enough, they poke him with a cattle prod crying “Dance, Frog Man, dance.”

On the telephone later I ask my agent if M. Farage does not feel a little humiliated humiliated by this. “Oh no,” she replies, “he's delighted to have broken into television.”

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

Earlier this week

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The landing stage, Lundy Island

This was taken on my second visit to the island, which was in 2002 (or thereabouts).

Conservatives apologise to elderly man who was sent campaign letter addressed to 'Mr F***ingjoking'

The Independent, or at least indy100, wins our Headline of the Day award.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Jo Swinson gives Humphrys one up the snoot

The radio event of the year was enjoyed in Rutland too.


I am no great lover of the Today programme as it can be Terribly Unfair. Only the other day I was given a hard time over the travails of my Rutland Fried Chicken empire, and a few weeks before that is was my cryptocurrency Rutcoin that attracted their scorn.

I also found it disconcerting that, halfway through my interview with an irascible Welshman (who, if I might say, was Getting On A Bit), a member of the production team came in, pulled out the waistband and stuffed handful of used tenners down his trousers. (When I asked afterwards I was told the fellow is on so much they have to do this every 20 minutes or he will not get his full salary.)

All this is by way of explaining why I cheered so loudly when I heard our own Jo ‘Gloria’ Swinson give the same presenter both barrels over the question of equal pay. It seems, moreover, that I was not the only one. This lunchtime the thaw had set in, so I risked the overground route to the village.

Passing the school playground I found the children engaged in a game of “Humphrys and Swinson” – one child would ask the others a long question, interrupt them as soon as they began to answer and have a mound of snow dumped on his head. It looked great fun so I joined in.

So I won’t hear a word against Jo Swanson, not even after the Lib Dem Pint do at the Bonkers’ Arms when she tried to persuade the assembled company to eschew their normal Smithson & Greaves Northern Bitter and drink carrot juice instead because it was more inclusive.

Good on you, E.W.!

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Earlier this week

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The narrow-gauge railway at Abbey Pumping Station, Leicester

I went to the Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester on Saturday, hoping to photograph the World War II gas decontamination building on the site. But I was too late: it has already been demolished.

At least it was the museum's spring railway day, so the museum's narrow-gauge railway was operating. The locomotive was built by Bagnall in 1918 for service on the Western Front.

Lib Dems and Greens work together in Richmond upon Thames local elections

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Dave Hill's On London site brings news of an electoral pact in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.

In next month's elections six of the borough's 18 three-member wards will see one Green and two Liberal Democrat candidates on the ballot paper. The Greens are giving the Lib Dems a clear run in the other 12 wars.

As the website says:
Zac Goldsmith’s famous parliamentary by-election defeat by Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney in Richmond Park in December 2016 may have been helped by the Green Party choosing not to field a candidate. 
The Greens said at the time of that decision that they had "begun discussions with the Liberal Democrats about how to best secure a non Conservative-run council in 2018".
When I lived in Richmond in the days when we first took control of the council, the Liberal Party's support for local conservation was one of its trump cards.

These days, however, Lib Dems tend to be more centrist, so the Greens pose an electoral threat to us in places like Richmond.

Yes, I yearn for the days (1986 to be precise) when the Liberal/SDP Alliance could win 49 of the borough's then 52 seats, but that was a long time ago. Besides, I have always been more of an environmentalist than I am a social democrat.

So until we have proportional representation in local elections I am happy to endorse pacts like this where they give us a realistic chance of taking control of the council.

Jason Cowley meets Bryan Magee

I have mentioned Bryan Magee on this blog several times. How he wrote a brilliant short book on Karl Popper that led me to the philosopher. How he was evacuated to Market Harborough as a boy during World War II.

He also interviewed some of the world's leading philosophers in two television series. The first of them, Men of Ideas, was broadcast in the early months of 1978. Later that year I started my degree in Philosophy at York having learnt much from it.

Men of Ideas also proved that talking heads make the best television if those heads are interesting enough,

Magee will be 88 on Thursday and now lives in a nursing home in Oxford. Jason Cowley has been to see him and writes about their meeting in the New Statesman.

They spoke of philosophy:
Even now, alone in his one room, late in life, he remains wonder-struck. “What the hell is it all about?” he asked. “What are we doing here? What’s going on? I feel the weight of these huge questions. And I know I can’t get the answers to them, and I find that oppressive.” 
In Ultimate Questions, Magee writes of being “driven to the view that total reality consists of some aspects that we are capable of apprehending and others that we are not”.
And of politics (Magee was a Labour and then SDP MP):
Magee follows the news and politics closely and considers the vote for Brexit to have been a “historic mistake”. More than that, it has dislocated him, as it has many others. 
“What this has made me understand is that I’ve lost my understanding of what’s going on. We must live with the consequences. But we will have serious problems long into the future, and the most serious problem is what you call ‘the elite being out of touch’ and being wrong about one huge thing after another. Society has changed, or is changing in ways we haven’t properly grasped.”
Cowley concludes:
Bryan Magee may now live in one room in Oxford and be unable to walk, but this remarkable man’s intellect is unbounded and his mind roams restlessly free. And just as he did as a child in Hoxton all those years ago, he cannot stop grappling with the human predicament. He is pursuing answers to questions he knows can never be answered, and yet will go on pursuing them for as long as he can, until the flickering flame of life is extinguished. 

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Stilton Man

Today an archaeological discovery in Rutland leads to a re-evaluation of his lordship's family history.


You may have heard of Cheddar Man, but hereabouts we were very excited by the discovery of Stilton Man. The boffins from the University of Rutland at Belvoir soon demonstrated that he had prominent blue veins and an impressive moustache not unlike my own.

The family legend has always been that my De Bon Coeur ancestors came over with the Conqueror (some versions maintain that they were obliged to go back shortly afterwards), but could this be evidence that we Bonkers have been in Rutland since the year dot? I would like to think so.

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

Earlier this week

Monday, April 09, 2018

Curb cars to fight child obesity, say doctors and transport experts

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The UK governments need to ditch a 42-year trend and stop prioritising the car if they are serious about tackling childhood obesity.

That is the message of a call to action by clinicians and transport experts published online tonight in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The authors point out that the average length of a school journey has nearly doubled since the 1980s to just under 4 miles in 2013. But the age at which parents will allow their children to go to school by themselves has been steadily creeping up amid fears about road safety.

So they drive their children to school. But what is often not recognised is just how much air pollution children travelling by car are exposed to inside the vehicle under urban driving conditions, the authors point out.

Encouraging independent travel not only helps shed the pounds, but has knock-on social and mental health benefits, and it breaks the cycle of normalising car travel for future generations, the authors say.

They admit there is no single solution, but safe routes to school are needed. The UK could adopt the school travel initiatives pioneered by Germany, The Netherlands, and Denmark.

And it could plough more cash into the Sustainable Travel Towns programme, already implemented in some parts of the UK.

This programme of town-wide measures, which aims to curb car use, has helped boost economic growth, cut carbon emissions and promote quality of life in those areas where it has been adopted, the authors point out.

“For a fraction of the road building programme cost, we could see not just safe routes to schools, but, even more importantly, safe routes wholesale across urban areas," they argue.

I offered similar arguments myself in my essay in Graham Watson's edited collection Liberalism - Something to Shout About in 2006.

Corbynite firebrand Chris Williamson MP ran Derby in coalition with the Conservatives

Today the Lion & Unicorn site published its 44 quotes by about Chris Williamson, the ultra-Corbynite Labour MP for Derby North.

The most striking one amongst them reminded us that, when he was the Labour leader of Derby City Council, he ran an administration in coalition with the Conservatives.

The Red Roar gave more details of this episode earlier this year:
Firebrand MP Chris Williamson formed a Labour-Tory alliance when he was leader of Derby City Council after Labour lost its majority in local elections.
Williamson, who signed up to the Pidcock Doctrine this week by stating he could never befriend a Tory, led Derby in coalition with the Tories for nearly two years from 2006. 
The deal was struck after the local elections in May of that year, when a third of the city’s councillors stood for reelection. 
The Tories and Lib Dems both made gains. Under the deal struck by Williamson, three Tory councillors joined the cabinet and Williamson remained leader. 
Archived copies of the Derby City Council website show that Williamson was leader of a Conservative – Labour alliance from at least May 2006 to March 2008, with Williamson sitting alongside Tory councillors in cabinet throughout that period.
It went on to refer us to a Derby Liberal Democrats press release from the period:
Derby Liberal Democrats have slammed the decision of Labour and Conservative groups on the city council to form an Alliance. 
Liberal Democrat group leader Hilary Jones said "It is a slap in the face for the people of Derby. The public gave their verdict on Thursday. The Liberal Democrats were the only party to gain seats in Thursday's elections. Both the Labour and Conservative parties lost seats. Now the two losing parties have joined together in a desperate attempt to cling onto power.
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIf I did not find this so funny I would be outraged.

Richard Branson quotes me in his new autobiography

Unable to sleep in the small hours, I reached from my Kindle. As you do, I tried a bit of ego-surfing on Google Books - and this was one of the things I found.

I am quoted in Richard Branson's Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography, which was published in October of last year.

The joke he quotes is from one of the columns I used to write for the New Statesman's website.

You can still find this one on the magazine's website,

In fact all of them are still there, though the Statesman has announced that it is soon to put up a paywall.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Beast from the East

I have done all I can to put it off, but the new Liberator also includes Lord Bonkers' Diary. The first entry this time clearly dates from March.


The snow has drifted high against the hedges and no traffic can reach the village, let alone tackle the drive to the Hall. If it weren’t for the secret passage that comes out in the cellar of the Bonkers' Arms, I would feel quite isolated. My fellow drinkers tell me this spell of hard weather is being called 'The Beast from the East,' which reminds me of our own Liberal Democrats’ leadership contest in 2015.

When Farron failed to give me assurances that he would not rip the pews out of St Asquith’s and make everybody sing 'Shine, Jesus, Shine,' I threw my weight behind Norman Lamb. "What you need," I told him, "is a good nickname. Why, it was when I christened Sugar Ray Michie ‘the Brute from Bute’ that she began to get title fights at the Empire Pool, Wembley, and it was the fame those won her that got her elected to Parliament." So it as that I came up with ‘The Beast from the East.’

Sadly, he ignored my advice and chose to run under the slogan "Vote Lib Dem and we’ll let you top yourself." While this undoubtedly had some appeal to exhausted canvassers, it did not prove sufficient to swing the party behind him.

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

Sunday, April 08, 2018

A walk with Iain Sinclair: Shooters Hill to Woolwich

A walk with Iain Sinclair from Shooters Hill and the Shrewsbury burial mound to Charlton House and Maryon Park, where we see the locations used in Antonioni's Blow Up.

Labour really does have a problem with anti-Semitism

If you doubt the Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism, take a look at the motion debated by its Bristol West constituency party this week. (It was defeated by 108 votes to 84.)

It includes these words:
when people see inequality, ecological disaster and war alongside the accumulation of unprecedented wealth, in the private hands of a few, it is reasonable that they seek out explanations.
Given that this motion was condemning the constituency's Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire for joining a demonstration against anti-Semitism in the party, there is only one construction I  can put on them.

It is saying that it is understandable if people attribute the bad things in the world to a Jewish conspiracy.

True the motion also says racism is "completely unacceptable", so the proposers must be believe such theories are mistaken, but what is this idea doing in the motion in the first place?

I conclude that the Labour Party really does have a problem with anti-Semitism.

And to those who say the right has much more of a problem with it, I am not sure that is any longer true.

Everything I see from the far-right these days is obsessed with Islam. I do not see Jews and Jewish conspiracies mentioned at all.

Did Kemi Badenoch hack Harriet Harman's website?

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From the Mail on Sunday today:
A Tory MP tipped as a future Prime Minister has admitted breaking the law by hacking into a Labour opponent’s website. 
Kemi Badenoch, a newly appointed vice-chairman of the party, confessed that she launched the cyber-attack on the Labour MP’s site in order to write pro-Tory propaganda under their name. 
Hacking into websites is a criminal offence – and can be punished with a prison sentence of up to two years.
A youthful prank that can be forgiven after a good telling off?

No, Badenoch was 28 when she carried out the attack.

As to the victim, Aaron Bastani suggests it was Harriet Harman.

He links to a cached copy of a deleted page from the Guido Fawkes site that laughed at an attack on Harman's site.

Sure enough, the attack took place 10 years ago, when Badenoch was 28.

Like Ben Bradley, incidentally, Badenoch is a vice chairman of the Conservative Party.


Book review: Winning Here by Chris Rennard

This is my review of Chris Rennard's memoirs from the current issue of Liberator. Since you ask, you can subscribe to the magazine via its website.

Winning Here - My Campaigning Life: Memoirs Volume 1
Chris Rennard
Biteback Publishing, 2018, £25

When Phil Reilly left his job as the Liberal Democrats’ director of communications last November, he announced the decision in a post on Lib Dem Voice. Writing of the first leaders’ debate in the 2010 general election, he said:
That night changed the course of our party’s fortunes, but it also changed my life. I had joined the press office of a party that hadn’t been in national government for decades, with no expectation that would be changing any time soon. A few short years later I would be working in 10 Downing Street.
After it was published I saw tweets from national political journalists congratulating Phil on the article, which suggests that his may become the official version of Lib Dem history.

The truth, however, is rather different. Cleggmania lasted only a few days and the party lost five seats at the election. We did end up in government, not because of the peculiar brilliance of Clegg or Reilly, but because the election produced a hung parliament, an outcome that will always be a fluke result.

A more accurate account of Liberal Democrat history was given in an earlier Lib Dem Voice post by Nigel Lindsay:
Liberal Democrats were arguably more effective as a party of government before Nick Clegg became leader. [In] the decade from 2000 to 2010, Liberal Democrats were coalition partners in the governments of both Scotland and Wales.  The achievements of Liberal Democrat Ministers in those governments were far-reaching and radical …. Liberal Democrats also controlled major local authorities in most parts of Britain during those years.
Chris Rennard’s ‘Winning Here’, which is billed as volume 1 of his memoirs, tells the story of how he helped the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats reached this position of comparative strength, ending with the defenestration of Charles Kennedy and then Willie Rennie’s victory in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election in February 2006.

This has the effect of ending the story before the emergence of the allegations of sexual harassment against him that have sometimes threatened to split the party along a generational divide. Chris does mention them in his introduction, but a full discussion will presumably have to wait until the appearance of the slightly improbable volume 2.

Chris’s father, a veteran of the First World War who lost a leg on the Western Front, was 71 when Chris was born. He was to die three years later, leaving Chris’s mother with three children and a complicated financial situation. The help she received in gaining a widow’s pension had historic consequences for the Liberal Party and Liberal Democrats.

One day Cyril Carr, the leading figure in Liverpool Liberals, called at the Rennards’ house, listened to their problems and made the call that secured the pension from their own phone. So Chris joined the Liberals.

Carr was one of the pioneers of community politics in the party and Chis became his protégé. This was an era when the party twice ran the city council (1974-6 and 1978-0) and contained nationally important figures like David Alton and Trevor Jones, but Chris was to become the leading Liberal agent in the city. Alton was to win the Edge Hill constituency, which was wonderfully compact for campaigners but already identified as for the chop by the Boundary Commissioners, at a by-election in 1979.

After the 1984 Liverpool council elections, which Chris suggests were swung by personation for the Militant-led Labour Party, he left the city to become the Liberal Party’s regional agent for the East Midland, and this is what he found:
The East Midlands Regional Party was considered to be one of the most viable in England because it owned a (near-derelict) house in Loughborough. The house did not even had a functioning loo and visitors had to rely on the facilities at the nearby railway station. This was the regional office and home for the administrative secretary, a man called Maurice Bennett, who also hailed from Liverpool. 
Maurice made sure that the Regional Executive … Regional Finance and General Purposes Subcommittee and Regional Council all met regularly and he tried to raise funds to cover his modest salary and the costs of the house by selling a weird assortment of pens, key fobs and party memorabilia, as well as organising draws and sponsored walks. 
The operation required the limited number of constituency associations to pay into the regional party £200 per year, unless they could plead great poverty. For this fee, they appeared only to have the benefit of being able to buy the key fobs and to send representatives to regional party meetings.
It was at this house, which was in Burder Street, Loughborough, that I first met Chris. We talked upstairs among stacked boxes of leaflets that must have challenged the joists while Maurice Bennett watched the racing on television downstairs.

Chris had an enormous influence on the party in the region. He brought community campaigning techniques from Liverpool that enabled Rob Renold to win Crown Hills, an inner Leicester ward on the county council with a largely Muslim population in 1985. He also put together a team of activists, based at a Liberal safe house in Kimberley Road, Leicester, who helped across the region. They ran the committee room at an important Harborough by-election, leaving us local activists free to knock up all day.

For some readers, the book will be too much of a catalogue of long-forgotten by-elections, but for me, at least in these years, it is riveting because I remember them all. I drove down with Chris to the Brecon and Radnor by-election in 1985 and was on the front line there in Ystradgynlais.

‘Winning Here’ sweeps on through the Alliance years, giving an inside view of the seat negotiations between the Liberal Party and the SDP and showing how poorly the two Davids worked together. It was not just a lack of personal chemistry, but a lack of organisation: when they arrived for a joint appearance they had never discussed who would say that.

Then we come to the period after the two parties merged. This is chiefly remembered as an era in which we argued over the party’s name – at one time we were going to be “the Democrats” – but Chris reveals how precarious the financial position was, with the party reliant for its continued existence at one point upon a major donor who insisted upon keeping his identity a secret.

The drama that dominates the latter part of the book is the fall of Charles Kennedy. It had been rumoured for years that Charles had a serious drink problem, but whenever you asked an insider you were told that, yes, Charles used to have a problem, but he has sorted himself out. Sadly he never did.

Chris reveals more instances of cancelled meetings and campaign trips than I remember reading about before and pays tribute to the people like Tim Razzall who kept Charles going for as long as he did. He also gives Donnachadh McCarthy his due as the man who pushed the Lib Dems into opposing the war in Iraq.

I suppose it was the lifestyle of politics that did for poor Charles, and Chris himself did not find it healthy either. Living in what was in effect a permanent by-election campaign for 30 years left him with diabetes and depression when he stood down as the Lib Dems’ chief executive in 2009.

In recent years, in part perhaps because of the allegations against Chris, it has been fashionable to decry ‘Rennardism’. Yet this style of politics did not come just from him and Liverpool: it was originated independently across the country by forgotten figures like Wallace Lawler in Birmingham and Stanley Rundle in Kew. It was solidified into a technique for winning seats by the Association for Liberal Councillors in the late 1970s, and Chris was the strongest influence on its development in the years after that.

And, though it is true that the ruthless targeting and playing up of local grievances can grate, it has never been clear what people propose putting in place of Rennardism. Nick Clegg’s charisma, which was based on a single attractive television performance, did not last a week as the centrepiece of our campaign.

When the history of the Liberal Democrats comes to be written, Chris will have a central place in it and this book, which already feels like a monument to a forgotten era, will be a valuable source. It’s just that you fear the historians may decide they have more important things to do.

The Move: I Can Hear The Grass Grow

"I can almost hear my lawn growing." said someone at work the other day as we discussed the sudden advent of spring.Which put me in mind of this record.

It has a hippy-dippy, flower-power title, but there was nothing wet about The Move.

As Brumbeat says:
One of the most successful pop groups to come out of Birmingham during the 1960s in terms of British chart success, The Move were difficult to categorize musically as their style ranged from pop to psychedelic, blues, progressive, 1950s style rock 'n' roll and even country and western! Above all, it was Roy Wood's talent as a highly original songwriter that propelled the band on an extended chart run.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Six of the Best 781

Ruth Bright find the Liberal Democrats still have a long way to go to achieve gender balance: "I was shocked by the ... balance of male and female Lib Dem councillors on the counties."

"Ferenc Takács is a retired professor of English in Budapest, witty, urbane and past-caring enough to go on the record. 'The worst feature is the general fear in the country,' he told me. 'People won’t express views on Facebook. Teachers are afraid to say critical things about their head teacher or the government.' Matthew Engel has been to Viktor Orbán's Hungary.

"How far will the West go in deserting the Syrian Kurds in their struggle against the Turkish Islamic Ogre?" asks Renaud Girard.

Lorraine Boissoneault on Ted Kennedy, Chappaquiddick and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

A London Inheritance looks back to the Festival of Britain.

"The stories about the making of Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance are almost as infamous as the movie itself," says Dangerous Minds.

Two new publications for thinking Liberal Democrats

The new Liberator contains reviews of a couple of publications that seek to restore some philosophical backbone to the Liberal Democrats.

One is Towards a Liberal Future by Bernard Greaves and David Howarth. You can download it for free (as a pdf) from the Liberator website.

You can also subscribe to Liberator there too.

The other publication is Four Go in Search of Big Ideas by Helen Flynn, Iain Brodie Brown, Gordon Lishman and Ekta Prakash.

You can buy it from the Social Liberal Forum website for £9.50.

The gardens of Belgrave Hall

Belgrave Hall has been the chief victim of the cuts to Leicester's museums (which were originally going to be much worse).

The Hall itself is no longer open to the public, but is let as a wedding venue and for other special events. And its gardens are only open on Wednesdays and one weekend a month.

But this is one of those weekends, so I went along to take some pictures.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Hallaton bottle kicking 2018

Highlights from Easter Monday's contest, in which Hallaton beat Medbourne 2-0.

The new Liberator and the elusive review of the Lib Dems' 2017 general election campaign

The new Liberator has arrived - you can subscribe to this Liberal magazine via its website.

As well as Lord Bonkers' Diary and my review of Chris Rennard's memoirs, both of which I shall post here, it contains its usual Radical Bulletin section. This prints the news about the party that other people don't.

The lead story in RB this time is about the elusive review of the Liberal Democrats' 2017 general election campaign.

As it says:
After the 2015 general election, the Liberal Democrats took pride in publishing James Gurling's review of that campaign, which if not 'warts and all' had plenty of warts. 
So what's happened to the 2017 version? It was barely mentioned until Liberator posted extracts from a leaked copy on its website in February. 
Even the party's English executive was barred by the Federal Board from seeing the full version - it was told it would get a summary, but didn't
You can download those extracts from the Liberator website as a pdf.

Other stories in RB this time include the strategy debate at Southport, the Lib Dems' disciplinary process and the group that gets a £10,000 donation from the party, staff passes for our HQ but has no elected executive.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

On the South Devon coast, 1997

Judging by the other prints in the packet, this one was taken somewhere not too far east of Plymouth.

Does anyone recognise the exact location?

Later. Thanks to some kind people on Twitter, I now know I took this photo near East Prawle, looking towards Start Point.

Lib Dems field full slates in Tower Hamlets and Liverpool

There was good news today in the shape of two consecutive posts on Ryan Cullen's mighty LibDemBlogs aggregator.

First Richard Kemp reported:
With nominations about to close tomorrow the Lib Dems have already submitted nomination papers for all 31 seats available in Liverpool. For the first time in more than a decade Liverpool Lib Dems will have a candidate for every seat including the second seat in Knotty Ash caused by the last-minute resignation of a Labour Councillor.
Then, exactly an hour later, Jonathan Fryer said:
Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats are running a full slate of borough council candidates for the election on 3rd May, for the first time since 2010 (when I was the parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Poplar & Limehouse). Elaine Bagshaw is our Mayoral candidate.
This is really good news.

There's a long, long way to go - and parts of Tower Hamlets have been gentrified beyond recognition since - but I can remember when both these authorities were run by Liberals.

And I'm not that old.

London Conservatives to declare UDI?

Will Heaven says in the Spectator that London Conservatives are braced for disaster in next month's local elections. Which must be good news for Liberal Democrat candidates in Richmond and Kingston.

He also reports that:
The decay of basic Tory infrastructure, for example, means the party is running out of foot soldiers. Things are so bad that, for the first time ever, CCHQ has paid for a full-time employee in every London borough to chivvy local activists.
So what are the London Tories going to do about it?

Heaven reveals a fascinating possibility:
Over the past year, a series of meetings has been held at venues including Tory HQ. On the agenda was a radical idea: that London’s Tories should formally break away from the national party and become a separate entity with their own brand and leader, like the Scottish Tories under Ruth Davidson. 
It would create clear water between them and a national party that, in the words of one insider, is becoming ‘very provincial’ under Theresa May. 
Borough leaders, Greater London Authority members, association chairmen, London’s remaining Tory MPs — the vast majority were in favour of the idea. But word came down from the very top: nice try, but it’s not going to happen. 
Someone familiar with the meetings reveals: ‘We are a very centralised party now — and we were told to shut up, basically.’ 
In another moment of desperation, the Conservative party asked Ms Davidson if her team — after their outstanding performance at the general election — would consider heading south to mastermind the London campaign. The answer was a polite but firm ‘no’. 
The Scottish Tories had performed an astonishing recovery — but it was not (just) due to a well-run campaign. The renaissance came after painstaking work to identify why national Conservatism wasn’t working in Scotland. It was a long process, and the London Tories have yet to make the first step.
But as long as they continue do nothing, the threat of what, Heaven reports, one Tory councillor calls "hipsterisation" will grow across the South East of England.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Ray Wilkins (1956-2018): A Chelsea hero

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I was surprised at how much the death of Ray Wilkins affected me today. He was my second Chelsea hero: the first and greatest was Charlie Cooke.

There have been many fine tributes to him as a man and a footballer today, but I shall quote one from 2009.

Here is Richard Williams, the first presenter of The Old Grey Whistle Test and now a sportswriter on the Guardian:
Ray Wilkins was 18 years old when Eddie McCreadie gave him the captaincy of Chelsea back in 1975, with the team newly relegated to the old Second Division. The fresh-faced teenager was succeeding Ron "Chopper" Harris, the most gnarled of veterans. 
To outsiders it seemed as though McCreadie was taking an outrageous chance. But Wilkins's precocious calmness and football intelligence made him a superb captain of a side that mixed a few old stagers – Peter Bonetti, David Webb, Charlie Cooke, Ian Hutchinson – with a lot of much younger players, and two years later they were back in the top flight. 
I saw Wilkins in one of his early first‑team appearances, before McCreadie made him captain, and what I saw persuaded me that it was worth making a special effort to watch him regularly. With no allegiance – prior or subsequent – to Chelsea I bought a Stamford Bridge season ticket for those two seasons in the Second Division and got value for my money (£50, all told, for a good seat in the then‑new West Stand) from his performances alone.
In his Chelsea years Wilkins showed himself to be as good a manipulator of the ball as any English footballer I can remember, including Hoddle, Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney. 
At Stamford Bridge I saw him return a goal‑kick with a volley that found the net from the halfway line, and I saw him play the ball out of defence to a winger – probably Kenny Swain – and race upfield to score from the return with a diving header.
He really was that good as a teenager. It is hard to resist the feeling that he sacrificed his talents to serve lesser players in his later career for Manchester United with England.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

John O'Gaunt railway viaduct, Leicestershire

John O'Gaunt was a station on the The Great Northern and London and North Western Joint Railway, which ran from Market Harborough through Melton Mowbray to Nottingham and Newark. It took its name from a nearby covert that was known to fox hunters.

The line closed to passengers in 1953 and to good traffic in 1962, but the John O'Gaunt viaduct still stands.

Now watch The Last Days of Melton Mowbray North.

Labour wanted the Services involved in schools in 2012 and I wasn't worried then either

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When I heard that Gavin "Stupid Boy" Williamson had proposed giving the military a role in some schools, the idea seemed familiar.

Sure enough, a search of this blog reveals that the idea was proposed by two Labour shadow cabinet members, Stephen Twigg and Jim Murphy, back in 2012.

The same people who were outraged at the idea of teenagers having Saturday jobs a few days ago were also outraged by Williamson.

But as I wrote in 2012:
There are many children who will hate the idea (I would have been one) but there are others who would jump at the idea of "specialist Service Schools," so why shouldn’t they be able to attend them?
One of the problems with the left in education is their assumption that there is an objectively best system that must be imposed everywhere all at once. The truth is more complicated than that.

And it is hard to resist the thought that an early encounter with the military would have done Williamson good.

The Tories scrapped electrification of the Midland main line before last year's election but didn't tell the voters

David Hencke has blogged about the recent National Audit Office (NAO) report on Chris Grayling's decision to scrap three major railway electrification projects. One of them covered the Midland main line north of Kettering.

The decision was announced in July 2017, just as MPs were leaving for the summer recess.

Hencke writes:
But the real story is that two of the projects were actually  cancelled in Match 2017 but the public was never told. 
As the report  says: 
"In March 2017 ministers agreed to cancel the Midland Main Line north of Kettering and Oxenholme to Windermere electrification projects but did not announce their decision until July." 
” Electrification of the Midland Main Line to Sheffield was a 2015 Manifesto commitment. The Manifesto also stated that work was underway to electrify the railway in South Wales.” 
Hence the deceit.
The public went to the polls in June 2017  and the electors of Nottingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Chesterfield. Sheffield and in Windermere and Kendal were told a lie – the electrification of their service was not going to happen and ministers had trashed their 2015 manifesto commitment. 
The electrification of the line between Swansea and Cardiff was scrapped by Theresa May after the election.
More importantly. the voters of Market Harborough weren't told it either.

And that's not all.

When the Midland main line electrification was scrapped we were promised new "bi-mode" (electric and diesel) trains that would provide  just as good a service.

But as the NAO reports says:
At the time of the decision to cancel in March 2017, officials had advised the Secretary of State that the bi-mode rolling stock with the required speed and acceleration did not exist. They said that the maximum speed of bi-mode trains being built at the time was 100 miles per hour in diesel mode and that the acceleration was not sufficient to meet the timetable of the route. There was also a very high degree of uncertainty over the price of new bi-mode trains.
Or as Hencke puts it more trenchantly:
Such  fast versions of these trains do not yet exist and have never been built for express services. The government hasn’t a clue how much they will cost. They are fantasy trains in the imagination of Chris Grayling. He might as well have announced that the London to Sheffield service was going to be run by Hogwarts Express – it is still in the realm of fiction.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Thurmaston in its own words

Six of the Best 780

Nick Barlow is not the first person to observe that the Liberal Democrat policy process is broken.

"Without the clout of the European Union behind us we are isolated and having to swallow the unacceptable to do the deals that are needed if we are not to remain that way." Peter Black on the unravelling of the Leavers' promises on international trade.

Victoria Dilly celebrates the transformative power of the school library.

As a teenager, Saul Chandler was an elite violinist, a rare talent. Then, something happened. Fifty years later, reports Alex Vadukul, he has found a refuge in a New York boatyard.

"Conan Doyle’s ... belief in the Cottingley Fairies is sometimes glossed over or even ignored by biographers. It shouldn’t be; it’s a telling glimpse into the character of a man too often confused with his cold, rational hero." Mary Losure examines a strange episode in the author's career.

Adam Scovell visits The Wirral and the locations of the 1950 Ealing comedy The Magnet, which starred a very young James Fox.