Monday, February 19, 2018

Ben Bradley MP and his expensive education

Embed from Getty Images

Ben Bradley, the accident-prone Conservative MP for Mansfield, has been in the news again today.

This time it was for tweeting a thumping libel of Jeremy Corbyn and then deleting it in the face of threatened legal action.

Those Conservatives who defend Bradley generally do so by accusing his critics of snobbery.

But is he really a local, working-class boy made good?

Go to Ben Bradley's website and you will find his biography begins:
Born in 1989 in Ripley, 28 year old Ben initially went to study Sports Science at Bath University, but after deciding the course wasn't for him, trained and worked as a Landscape Gardener. 
Why no mention of the schools he attended? If you are running as the local candidate there is nothing better than being able to say you attended local schools.

Go to the Ben Bradley entry on Wikipedia and the mystery is solved. Ben Bradley attended Derby Grammar School.

Despite its name, this school was founded in 1995 and has always been a private, fee-paying establishment.

And its current fees are £12,993 a year.

No wonder Ben Bradley doesn't mention it on his website.

I imagine Bradley's Conservative defenders have assumed that because he has a Nottinghamshire accent he cannot come from a wealthy family.

It's sad that people from the affluent South East of England often know so little about the country they live in.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Restoring the Thames and Severn Canal

The Thames and Severn Canal, which was finally abandoned in 1941, ran for 28 miles from the Stroudwater Navigation in Stroud to the Thames just above Lechlade.

Efforts have been underway to restore it since the 1970s and the Inland Waterways Association explains the progress that has been made:
Cotswold Canals Trust aims to restore the Thames & Severn Canal from its junction with the Stroudwater Navigation in Stroud through to the River Thames. 
With the Stroudwater Navigation, the restored canal would re-create an alternative through route between the rivers Thames and Severn from the Kennet & Avon Canal and one that would avoid the tidal Bristol Avon, which is unsuitable for inexperienced boat owners. 
Showpiece sections of the canal have been restored, including both ends of Sapperton Tunnel at the summit, to demonstrate the advantages of restoring the whole canal.
The film above shows the restoration of Wallbridge Lower Lock in Stroud, the first on the canal. Some of the photographs included demonstrate just how much had to be done to recover the canal there.

When making tea add the milk first

These days we all make tea in mugs with teabags, when you have to put the milk in last.

But for those civilised people who still use a teapot, the answer to the age-old debate is that you should put the milk in first.

An old press release from the Royal Society of Chemistry explains the science behind this conclusion:
Milk should be added before the tea, because denaturation (degradation) of milk proteins is liable to occur if milk encounters temperatures above 75°C. If milk is poured into hot tea, individual drops separate from the bulk of the milk and come into contact with the high temperatures of the tea for enough time for significant denaturation to occur. This is much less likely to happen if hot water is added to the milk.
Why did this question use to occupy us so much?

This is England, so it's no surprise that the answer involves class and snobbery.

Fortnum & Mason explain:
Putting the milk in last was considered to be the ‘correct’ thing to do in refined social circles, but the reason for this is often forgotten. In the early days of tea-drinking, poor-quality cups were inclined to crack when hot tea was poured into them, and putting the milk in first helped to prevent this. 
When finer and stronger materials came into use, this was no longer necessary – so putting the milk in last became a way of showing that one had the finest china on one’s table. 
Evelyn Waugh once recorded a friend using the phrase ‘rather milk-in-first’ to refer to a lower-class person, and the habit became a social divider that had little to do with the taste of the tea.

An important interview with Vince Cable

Embed from Getty Images

Ned Simons from Huffington Post interviewed Vince Cable on Valentine's Day - the Lib Dem leader was planning to meet his wife Rachel at a "nice romantic restaurant down by the river" later.

They had a wide ranging and enlightening conversation. Here are a few of the more important things Vince said.

On Brexit:
Cable says had Theresa May gone for a soft-Brexit, by which he means keeping the UK in the single market and customs union, a lot of pro-EU voters would have gone along with it. 
“I think a lot of Remainers would have said ‘ok fine, we would rather not leave, but this is something we can cope with and it’s not going to cause a lot of economic harm’,” he says. 
“The fact they are pursuing a much more extreme and also very uncertain outcome means that these divisions are not going to go away. They are becoming more extreme and acute. People will want to have a fresh look at this when they know what the outcome is. 
On the Lib Dems:
“There are some good things happening,” Cable says of his party’s position. “We have this record level of membership, lots of enthusiastic young people. We are the youngest of the three parties, I’ve discovered, in terms of average age. You go around the country and lots of kind of idealistic young people, full of energy who want to do things and that’s really good. 
“I think the other thing that pleasantly, I’m not going to say pleasantly surprised me, but which is good - we’ve got a very good cohesive team. It would be nice to have a lot more than 12 MPs, but they are pretty harmonious and work together. They are very good and it has made my life a lot easier.”
On the Coalition:
Cable says being a minister was “constantly battling against internal things”. 
“We worked pretty well together and we got agreement, but it was hard work. It was tough. Very tough,” he says. 
“But you know. I survived the obstacle course. Being in opposition is almost by definition easier. I came in politics to do things. I don’t regret having been in government.”
Going back to Brexit, Vince mentions having heard someone say that there is a kind of non-violent civil war going on.

There are certainly parallels with the English Civil War when you look at divides like Court vs Country, but the Brexiteers do not have a Cromwell.

Boy do they not have a Cromwell.

Sasch Funke: MZ

"All these old records. Why don't you choose something for the young people?" Lord Bonkers asked me the other day.

So here is Sascha Funke, who:
likes to play unreleased sounds in DJ sets, which lately go beyond the average definition of techno and house and also present disco, wave, electro, cosmic, Krautrock and early electronic dance music.
I do like the combination of electro and piano that you get later on here, though it takes a while to get there.

It reminds you of the old classical music joke:

Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Knock knock.
Who's there.
Philip Glass.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Saxon cross shaft in Rothley churchyard

Rothley has a station on a steam railway, a street once found to be the most expensive in the East Midlands and a hotel that used to belong to the Knights Templar where Mike Gatting lost the England captaincy by entertaining a barmaid in his room.

But today I wanted to see the Saxon cross in its churchyard.

Here is its billing on the Rothley Parish Council page:
The cross stands on a small, grassy mound close to the path. Geological experts believe the shaft stones are made from highly quartzose, millstone grit of a kind found in Derbyshire east of the River Derwent between Bamford and Cromford. 
Closer examination by visitors will reveal the intricate carving on all four faces of the shaft which are divided into four panels on each side. The entry in the Schedule of Ancient Monuments describes the carved decoration as "mainly of interlaced plaitwork and plant scrolls including whorls of foliage with elongated leaves. One panel on the south side is believed to include a carving of a winged beast or dragon with an interlacing tail". 
The south face is severely eroded which is a great pity as its lack of clarity involves not only a loss of artistic expression but also creates difficulty in giving a close date to the style of carving. 
There has been no recent evaluation of the monument and some academic doubt remains as to whether the carvings are 9th or 10th Century in origin. An "official" date given by English Heritage is mid 9th Century thereby placing them in the Saxon pre-Viking period of history.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Tom Baker reads Sredni Vashtar by Saki

As Chris Power once wrote in the Guardian:
What a strange bird Saki is. His stories, written between 1900 and his death at the Somme in 1916, bear the hallmarks of Oscar Wilde and Henry James, are as funny as Wilde, Wodehouse and Waugh, possess plotting exquisite enough to bear significant elaboration but rarely last longer than three pages, and are brought off with a wonderfully light touch, while presenting a disturbingly chilling portrait of humankind.

Adil Rashid gives up on red-ball cricket

Embed from Getty Images

This blog has followed Adil Rashid since he made his debut for Yorkshire  - overhyping young English spinners is part of what Liberal England is about.

So I was sorry to hear that he has decided to concentrate on white-ball cricket and give the County Championship and even tests a miss.

But Tim Wigmore has argued - persuasively - that he is not the first to do so and will not be the last:
If Rashid is exceptional, it is only because he was an international T20 player who had still been attempting to play Test cricket too. Of the 22 players in the last World Twenty20 final only six have played Tests since. And only three - Root, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali - have done so since 2016. 
The shift is being driven by money, of course: the huge financial rewards available in T20, especially for players from beyond the sport’s economic big three of Australia, England and India. 
With T20 leagues now ubiquitous, there is always a tournament, somewhere, to play in without players needing to be involved in the longer formats.

Tory Wandsworth to fine children for climbing trees, flying kites and playing cricket

A Bertram Prance illustration for The Neglected Mountain by Malcolm Saville (detail)

I have remarked before - when writing about Leicestershire's hated sprout police - that Conservative councils are very keen on petty regulations. Often it is Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors who argue for freedom.

Take Wandsworth, which always used to be seen as the Thatcherites' flagship borough in London.

According to the Evening Standard:
It has always been seen as one of the most innocent of childhood pursuits, a rite-of-passage physical challenge fondly recalled in adult life. 
But now killjoy councillors in London are threatening a clampdown on tree climbing in dozens of public parks - with the threat of a £500 fine to back it up. 
Children in Wandsworth clambering up an oak or a maple without “reasonable excuse” will face the wrath of park police under a new set of rules governing behaviour in its 39 open spaces. 
Along with tree climbing, such traditional outdoor pursuits as kite flying or a knockabout game of cricket - along with other pursuits considered “annoying” to others - could fall foul of the regulations.
How to explain this?

I am reminded of the insight of The Age of Insecurity by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson: Thatcher set money free but left people more constrained by regulation.

Oncw again, I am driven to the conclusion that the problem with British Conservatives is that they are not Conservative enough. Climbing trees, flying kites and playing cricket is precisely what a British Conservative should want children to be doing.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Parish Church of St Nicholas, Montgomery

This view of the town's Grade I listed church was taken from Montgomery Castle.

Councils, communities and a sense of place

A paper for the Local Government Information Unit by Janet Sillett looks at the elusive but important concept of 'a sense of place'.

She writes:
A place that works could be seen as one where the people who live there have a sense of affinity with it, and one where the past, the present and the future are connected: so that its history is part of what makes it special and the people who have lived there for a long time, but where it welcomes new people and communities, and embraces change. 
People can feel a sense of place about where they live physically, but also to a wider place such as a city or to their local community or even to organisations within it. People have attachments to their home, their neighbourhood and perhaps to their city, town, village and even to their region. 
As places globally become more like each other, preserving a sense of distinctiveness can be important. 
And she goes on to argue that by cultivating such a sense local authorities can facilitate a range of planning-related outcomes:

  • encouraging economic vitality
  • enhancing wellbeing
  • fostering engagement and a sense of belonging
  • enabling physical health

The paper is a long read, but I think this is an important subject and worth the time.

Of course, the question is how you reconcile the intangible concept of 'a sense of place' with the daily grind of planning decisions.

In Leicester I feel the council has shown too little concern for sense of place away from the city centre, allowing structures that help define their area - the Bowstring Bridge in Braunstone Gate; the Empire in Newfoundpool - to be razed without a contest.

If everything in the city beyond Richard III is student accommodation and supermarkets, there will be no sense of place at all.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Two lost Cheltenham stations

This short video from 1965 shows two lost stations.

Cheltenham Spa St James and Cheltenham Malvern Road were both closed to passengers and goods the following year.

Six of the Best 768

"I will be pushing as hard as I can for reform of our large aid agencies but I will defend what they do and the work of all decent aid workers with everything I’ve got." Peter Kyle talks sense on the Oxfam scandal.

Polly MacKenzie calls for an end to despair about British politics and for positive action instead.

"Once upon a time, I was a member of the Lib Dem's federal policy committee. I used to irritate Danny Alexander and other luminaries by claiming that Liberals had made no contribution to economic debate since John Maynard Keynes had breathed his last in 1946." David Boyle did - I heard him - but now he thinks things may be changing, if not in Britain.

Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein on the two years that shook Facebook: "the company ... realises now that it bears some of the responsibilities that a publisher does: for the care of its readers, and for the care of the truth."

"On the ground, the shockwaves of the mines were felt far more than heard, there was no bang, either on the Somme or in England as was claimed much later; but 8,000 feet above the battlefield the sound waves reached a pilot who had been warned to keep clear of La Boisselle but turned his machine to observe the detonations of Lochnagar and Y Sap." Simon Jones on the battle beneath no man's land in World War I.

Cinephilia & Beyond revisits David Lynch's dark masterpiece Blue Velvet.

Norman Baker has left the bus business

We have heard the latest about Norman Baker's music career, but what of the day job?

Brighton & Hove News tells us:
Just ten months after joining the Big Lemon, former Lewes MP Norman Baker is off to pursue a range of other interests including journalism, a music album and a top secret new book. 
Mr Baker joined the Brighton bus company in March last year, and says he has already achieved what he set out to do there. 
This includes winning new contracts, doubling the size of the team, helping launch the UK’s first solar-powered electric bus and winning Most Sustainable Business at the Sussex Business Awards.
It all sounds amicable as the website quotes the Big Lemon's founder and chief executive Tom Druitt:
“He has taken the organisation to the next level and we now have the opportunity to grow our impact far beyond what was previously possible. I wish Norman all the very best of luck in his future endeavours.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The pancake race at Olney

What with today being Shrove Tuesday, here is a photo of the finishing post from the pancake race held every year at Olney in Buckinghamshire.

A page on the history of the race says it dates back to 1445.

The film below shows the race in 1951 - no doubt still remembered as a classic. There is little evidence of pancake tossing: the women just pin back their ears and charge for the line.

But the history page says they must toss their pancake once at the start outside The Bull Inn and once at the finish by the church.

Stanley Baker, David McCallum and Violent Playground

Talking Pictures has just shown a film I have long wanted to see: Violent Playground from 1958.

Tipping My Fedora describes its genesis:
This story of juvenile delinquency in 1950s Liverpool was one of a series of topical dramas made by director Basil Dearden and producer Michael Relph from subjects ripped from the headlines. 
Since the 1940s they had alternated more commercial fare (including comedy vehicles for Peter Sellers and Benny Hill) with these properties that took on socially relevant themes with a (fairly) progressive outlook, shooting on location for a more realistic style. 
The best thing about Violent Playground is its star David McCallum, who went on to greater fame in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and other television series.

He is charismatic and dangerous. So dangerous that he ends up holding a school class at gunpoint. It was a surprise to see it on screen today and must have been shocking in 1958, even though the makers seem to have lost their nerve as two characters who might have died are both restored to health at the end.

The trouble is that the alternative presented to the delinquent lifestyle is so insipid. Athletics club with the headmaster after school just doesn't cut it.

Stanley Baker excelled as both criminals and tough cops in films of this era, but here is just made to look dull.

Besides McCallum the other great pleasure of the film are the Liverpool locations. It is a city that cannot take a bad photograph.

But not all is as it seems, as Getintothis explains:
All interior shots in the film were taken at Pinewood studios as were much of the exteriors but there are key Liverpool locations running throughout. As with many Liverpool movies, including Letter to Brezhnev (1985) and Waterfront (1950) the opening titles feature the iconic Mersey and the Liver buildings before the action moves further inland. 
Shots of typically working class kids playing around terraces and tenements dominate the sequence that culminates in a shot of the almost completed Anglican Cathedral towering over a bombsite.Truman’s investigations into small time theft by the local nippers puts him back on the trail of the firefly arsonist, the case we see him relieved of at the start of the film. His investigations take him to Gerard Gardens, home of Johnny Murphy played by David McCallum,
 It is disappointing that so many of the key locations are actually shot in London, including the school despite the name Scotland Road School above the entrance. 
There are still enough Liverpool locations to spot however; in a sequence where Johnny leaps from a hotel window, the action takes place on School Lane. The window is on the first floor at the back of what is now Primark, facing the Bluecoat and has not changed. You can clearly see down School Lane towards what is now Liverpool One.
Gerard Gardens was the not the hatching ground for delinquency the film makes it seem. When it was built in the 1930s it was distinctly superior council accommodation and its residents fought a long rearguard battle before it was demolished in 1987.

Other pleasures in the film include John Slater as a police sergeant, foreshadowing his role as Sgt Stone in Z-Cars a few years later. Stratford Johns is also supposed to have a minor role in the film, but I failed to spot him.

And among McCallum's gang you will find Melvyn Hayes and a boy called Fred Fowell. After a spell in a minor Merseybeat band he emerged in the 1970s as the comedian Freddie Starr.

If you want to see Violent Playground then keep an eye on the Talking Pictures schedules. And - who knows? - you may even find the whole thing on Youtube.

Wittgenstein warns against grappling with donkeys on Twitter

A new Wittgenstein aphorism has been found in the margins of a book he used to own, Julian Baggini reported in a tweet yesterday.

It runs: “If you grapple with every donkey you easily become one yourself.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was still the strongest influence on British philosophy when I did my degree at York, though his star has waned since then. His later work was rich in aphorisms of this sort.

Here he was foreseeing Twitter in this one and counselling us not to spend our time arguing with random strangers with foolish views.

I have stopped myself doing it. At most I will look at the replies to a tweet I strongly disagree with and like a few that have expressed my disagreement for me.

There are lots of sensible and interesting people on Twitter. Take the advice of Uncle Ludwig and spend your time engaging with them.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Safeguarding the Leaves of Southwell

Southwell Minister in Nottinghamshire is one of England's finest cathedrals and perhaps its least known.

The stone carvings in the Chapter House are its glory. In 1945 they were the subject of a short book by Nikolaus Pevsner with photographs by F.L. Attenborough, the principal of University College, Leicester and father of Sir Dickie and Sir David.

Now The Leaves of Southwell project is seeking to safeguard them for the future:
The fluid carvings of plants, animals and green men found within the Chapter House - known collectively as ‘The Leaves of Southwell’ - are of quite exceptional quality and regarded as the best example of 13th century naturalistic carving in the United Kingdom. An example of global importance currently at risk. Seventy years since Pevsner wrote his booklet, they deserve fresh appreciation. 
They need protection from leaking roofs and lack appropriate heating and environmental controls. In addition, with modern lighting (there is none at present) and an imaginative interpretation scheme, the Leaves of Southwell can be made much more accessible and widely known to future generations. It is our belief that they represent not only wonderful heritage but also an extraordinary resource today.  
We're delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded us an initial grant of £352,697 to develop the project in a way that will protect, interpret and better present the medieval carvings. 
A further grant of £2.2m to implement our plans is contingent on the success of the development phase. Thanks to generous pledges and gifts we are but £180,000 short of target.
The film above will tell you more about the project and the appeal of the carvings,

Norman Baker goes solo with Staying Blue

We all know Norman Baker as the lead singer of the Reform Club.

Now Angel Air announces that his first solo album will be released early in April:
"Staying Blue" is his first solo effort and is an eclectic mix of blues, country, jazz and folk songs. 
The album’s opening track is “Shipping Forecast” with a wonderful blend of folk/sea shanty. Norman can write a song and sing the heck out of it. This album showcases elite musicianship and really enjoyable songwriting.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Cromford sign

To be found at the village's canal basin.

The culling of cash machines in rural areas

A woman on her mobile partly obscures what used to be the only cashpoint in the Shropshire hills

When I started walking in the Shropshire hills there was only one cashpoint in the area.

It was at one of the banks in Church Stretton, so a short holiday had to be planned so it took in a visit to the town.

Yes, some pubs in more remote areas would cash cheques, but you could not rely on it.

The Shropshire Star has a story about plans to reduce the number of cashpoints across the country:
The closing of cashpoints could potentially hit the smaller and more rural areas of Shropshire, with a number of towns already left without banks and only one cash machine available for miles. 
Megan Prince, who owns Ironbridge Bookshop, said: "It is a bit of a shame, as I know cash is a bit of a thing of the past now, but it is important to have cash available in small tourist towns as there are a lot of small independent businesses and not all of them take card payments or only take them over a certain amount.
You can do more without cash than you could 30 years ago, but it sounds as though things are coming full circle.

TISM: (He'll never be an) Ol' Man River

TISM stands for This Is Serious Mum and is pronounced "tis-um". They were an alternative, anonymous Australian band who flourished in the Eighties and Nineties.

This song, which was recorded in 1995, satirises our obsession with celebrity deaths and manages to foretell the death of Michael Jackson years in advance.

River was River Phoenix. The older brother of Joaquin Phoenix, he killed himself with drugs in 1993.

He had been a successful child actor, notably in Stand By Me, and was making his way in adult roles. Despite his squeaky clean image, he had long been struggling with drink and drugs.

Several of the roles he had been due to play were given after his death to Leonardo DiCaprio, with results we see around us to this day.

Oh, and if you are worried that TISM are not playing any instruments in the video above, here they are playing the same song on traditional Greek instruments.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Open day at a drained Foxton Locks

At Foxton near Market Harborough the Leicester line of the Grand Union Canal descends a hillside by means of two flights of five staircase locks.

The locks are currently drained for maintenance and this weekend you can visit them and walk in areas that are usually under deep water. You can, for instance, see the paddles that are raised to let water into the locks from the side pounds used at Foxton.

I went today and took these photographs in the rain. I also learnt that rather being cut into the hillside, the locks were largely built on the surface and then had earth heaped up against them.

It is notable that the brick floor of the chambers probably dates from 1814 when they were opened and that the piece of metalwork at the bottom of one of them is the work of an early 19th-century blacksmith.

Six of the Best 767

A hard border would be a disaster for Northern Ireland, argues Naomi Long.

Chris Grey offers a new angle on the Brexit debacle: "The whole situation is beginning to resemble the plot of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, with Jack being the Brexit Ultras, the mythical Beast being the EU, Ralph being, perhaps, Theresa May, and the Conch being the Referendum result. Remainers play the role of Simon, whilst the British people have to be cast as poor old Piggy. Alas, there seems as yet to be no one to take the part of the adult who arrives to rescue the children and chide them for their un-British, brutal behaviour."

The BBC should repeat Shoulder to Shoulder, their 1974 drama series on the struggle for women's suffrage, say Janet McCabe and Vicky Ball.

Jonathan Coe on film-makers' obsession with the doomed British sailor Donald Crowhurst.

"'There’s a writer in England called … er, Peter Ackroyd,' David Bowie said in a short film he made in 2003, 'who wrote a book called … Hawksmoor I think it was. Wasn’t it? Yeah.'" Anna Aslanyan reads it 33 years on.

"This landscape has seen a lot, it has seen multiple religious settlements, a village grow up and gradually recede. A church consecrated and centuries later deconsecrated." William Tregaskes visits Lancaut beside the River Wye near Chepstow.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Christopher Hitchens and JFK

Oliver Stone's film JFK was released at the end of 1991 and gave rise to this overmanned Late Show panel.

Christopher Hitchens and Pierre Salinger (who appears to be in the process of turning into Bernard Ingham) are no longer with us, but Anthony Summers and D.M. Thomas still are.

But the 1990s (my favourite decade) are a long way away and it is a surprise to find that the latter published a novel as recently as 2014.

A couple of thoughts on this clip.

The first is that talking heads make great television as long as their owners are interesting enough.

The second is that I believe Lee Harvey Oswald was the only gunman in Dealey Plaza that day, but if he was put up to it by anyone it was surely the KGB. He had, after all, gone to live in the Soviet Unon and then come back to the USA.

Anyway, the best book I know on Kennedy's assassination (which is probably my first memory) is A Cruel and Shocking Act by Philip Shenon.

Summers' discovery that no one had talked to many of the witnesses in 1963 chimes with the theme of that book.

Meanwhile, Sarah Dunant is going strong as a historical novelist.

Sign Layla Moran's petition to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824

I have signed Layla's petition. I hope you will sign it too, whichever party you belong to.

Dog caught riding neighbour's one-eyed pony in the middle of the night

Thanks to a nomination from a reader, our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Independent.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Ponies on Lundy Island

I've twice been to Lundy Island.

I took a day trip from Ilfracombe when I was walking the coastal path in 1988 and spent New Year there in 2000, when I took this photograph.

An attempt to do the same thing a year or two later was defeated by the weather, but that possibility is almost part of the island's charm.

One of the great things about Lundy is the night skies. As you are 12 miles out in the Bristol Channel with no street lighting, they are overpowering.

Seeing the stars there (and on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry) led me to form my theory that there was a correlation between the spread of street lighting and the decline of religion.

Jo Swinson 1 John Humphrys 0

Liberal Democrats were not the only people to enjoy it this morning when Jo Swinson neatly turned the tables on John Humphrys.

His tone of wounder impatience in reply did him no favours.

As I blogged last year:
One of the many problems with Today is John Humphrys. Too often his interviewing his based on his prejudices, which became tedious years ago. 
It is tempting to attribute this to his age, but I suspect he has always been like that. So let's just say that the team of presenters needs to be refreshed and Humphrys is the first candidate to stand down.
Here his failure to grasp that undervaluing of women when it comes to pay might be part of a wider problem in how they are treated did him no favours either.

Part of the trouble is that Westminster is run as though it were occupied by hundreds of small businesses, with each MP employs a small handful of people.

Sarah Olney has spoken about how hard it was to put an office together when she won her by-election and then make them all its staff redundant when she lost at the general election.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoicePeople who work for MPs at Westminster should be employed by the House authorities. They could make sure they have in place the sort of policies against harassment and bullying that the rest of us have with for years.

Jonathan Meades' eulogy for Gavin Stamp

The death of the architectural historian and journalist Gavin Stamp at the start of last month was widely mourned.

Jonathan Meades wrote a eulogy for his funeral and the London Review of Books has printed it:
Doctrinaire modernists armed with ancient progressive pieties were still just about in the ascendant in those days: to concern oneself, as Gavin did, with what a building actually looked like and what effect its presence might have on its surroundings was reckoned to be the height of frivolity, a sort of apostasy. 
The doctrinaire see what they believe in, the latitudinarian believe in what they see. Gavin looked. He had no programme, no theory, no ideology, little interest in movements or taxonomies. 
According to Nabokov there is only one school of writing – the school of talent. That is what Gavin increasingly believed about architecture. He found merit in the neglected and the threadbare and the jokey as well as in monuments of high seriousness.
It is almost as if Meades were writing a eulogy for himself.

Man accused of bomb hoax on train at Hinckley claimed he actually said 'bum', court told

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Leicester Mercury.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Texas Schoolbook Suppository

From BBC News:
A councillor suspended by her party for saying US president Donald Trump should be beheaded has been reinstated. 
Laura Benson posted on Facebook she hoped Mr Trump would be assassinated for allowing remains of legally-hunted elephants into the US. 
Liberal Democrat party leaders said her remarks were "extremely tasteless".
God knows what those party leaders will make of Lord Bonkers' comments here.

They should remember, however, the old saw that it is better to have an eccentric peer inside the tent than outside the tent accompanied by trained militiamen, elven archers and Well-Behaved Orphans armed with catapults.

Anyway, today's entry completes are latest visit to Bonkers Hall.

The Texas Schoolbook Suppository

I should have known a main with that hairstyle would turn out to be untrustworthy. This morning I learn that Trump has cancelled his visit on a perfectly bogus pretext. My old friend Obama could not have sold the US embassy in Grosvenor Square if he had wanted to, for the very good reason that the Americans never owned it in the first place. It remains firmly in the hands of the Duke of Westminster.

As my regular readers will know, I am not a vengeful man, but I am forced to conclude that Trump has Gone Too Far and Something Must Be Done. So I am urging my American friends to arrange a Presidential visit to Dallas, the home of the fearsome Texas Schoolbook Suppository. It did for poor Jack Kennedy and I have no doubt that it would do for Trump too.

And the mooning? I suggest we save that until the Duke of Rutland is asked to open a village fete that I had rather had my eye on myself.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Six of the Best 766

"We seem to have a collective aversion to focusing on the realities of an ageing society. Successive governments (and, let’s be honest, millions of us too) have shied away from the changes - to our food culture, exercise levels, and more – that might ease a mounting sense of dread about the future." John Harris is right, you know.

Jonathan Fryer has been to see Darkest Hour.

A 1984 trip to the Berlin Wall is recalled by Otto English.

"In July 1923 at the Lewes assizes, Mr Justice Avory handed an anonymous letter containing some ‘improper words’ to a respectable-looking woman. He asked her if she had ever used such foul language. ‘Never during the whole of my life, either in writing or talking, never,’ she replied." Bee Wilson looks at The Littlehampton Libels - a revealing picture of British life between the wars.

Ian Bostridge reviews a history of English church music.

Catherine Nichols argues that today's popular culture is obsessed with the battle between good and evil in a way that traditional folktales never were.

Sir Peter Soulsby fights for Labour's Leicester mayoral candidacy

Embed from Getty Images

I suspect I have more sympathy for the Mayor of Leicester's flagship policies on heritage and reducing the motor car's stranglehold on the city than many Labour members do.

Anyway, Sir Peter Soulsby is now well into his second term and wants to be the Labour candidate at the mayoral election in May of  next year.

As the Leicester Mercury explains:
Each one of the city’s 22 Labour branches, reflecting the council wards, and around 25 affiliate organisations such as trade unions and the Co-op Society will each vote to decide whether there will be open selection or to put forward Sir Peter automatically.
My sources tell me that Soulsby's people turn up at these branch meetings and inform members that an open contest would be "divisive," "unhelpful" or "destabilising".

"We don't want the Mercury reporting that Soulsby has been deselected," they are told.

And it seems to be working. When that Mercury report I quote above was published on 26 January, four branches had met and all had voted for an open selection.

At the meetings held since then, however, most have opted to put Soulsby forward unopposed.

I am also told that, for all the stories about Labour attracting new young members, those attending these meeting tend to be at the other end of the age spectrum.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Advice for Tim Farron

Lord Bonkers weighs in on the former Liberal Democrat leader's obsession with That Sort of Thing.

Advice for Tim Farron

I have never been one for God-bothering: I rather take the view that the old boy does not need my advice. I have even been known to turn Radio Rutland off when the Revd Hughes comes on to do his ‘Thought for the Day’; I can, after all, hear him giving it both barrels in St Asquith’s every Sunday.

So it is that I have always advised Farron to stay clear of religion when he speaks. He, however, never takes a blind bit of notice. Not only that, he is obsessed with what chaps get up to together. As I once told him, “If you had been through public school and the Army like me, and campaigned in as many rural by-elections as I have, you would be unshockable.” He doesn’t take any notice of that either.

All this is by way of saying that I did not listen to Farron’s interview on Radio Jesus, or whatever it calls itself, and I would advise you not to listen to it either. Come to that, I would advise Farron not to listen to himself. Otherwise I fear he will go on a mission for the Society for the Suppression of Vice Amongst the Uzbeks, or some such body, and never be heard of again.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Keith Vaz's health appears to be recovering

In December the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards suspended his inquiry into Keith Vaz, the Labour MP for Leicester East, citing medical reasons.

But this week both Guido Fawkes and the Leicester Mercury have noticed that Mr Vaz has been rather active of late.

As the Mercury puts it:
Some six weeks later Mr Vaz has been making a series of public engagements including a planning committee, a public meeting for Belgrave traders and the re-opening of a Leicester leisure centre.
Let us hope this is a sign that Mr Vaz will soon be restored to rude health and the inquiry will be able to progress,

Monday, February 05, 2018

Leicester suffragette Alice Hawkins honoured with a city statue

A seven-foot bronze statue of the Leicester suffragette Alice Hawkins was unveiled in the city's new market square yesterday.

You can read all about Alice Hawkins on a website devoted to her:
Born in 1863 in Stafford of a working class background, Alice left school at thirteen to spend her working life as a shoe machinist, in the ‘boot and shoes’.
From her early teens Alice realised that the working conditions and pay for women in industry were inferior to that of their male colleagues and so began a lifetime work of participation in the boot and shoe trade union to try to improve this. 
Alice was lucky in her early twenties, for she joined the Equity Shoe factory which had been newly formed as a worker’s co-operative. The Equity actively encouraged workers to participate in political organisations and allowed time off when necessary. 
But by the early 1900s Alice became increasing disillusioned with what could be achieved through the trade union movement, as the main focus lay in improving the conditions for male workers who were seen as the ‘breadwinners’ of the family. 
Change came for Alice in February 1907 when she attended her first meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union in Hyde Park, followed by a march the same day to the House of Commons to demand the vote for women. 
That afternoon mounted police charged down the women and Alice was arrested and imprisoned for the first time in her life. In the following seven years she was to be arrested and jailed a total of five times, with terms of imprisonment in Leicester and Holloway jails.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Strasburgers for the young people

Today we find Lord Bonkers at home on important Estate business.

Strasburgers for the young people

The morning news informs me that the Manchester Guardian has shrunk and the mistress of the leader of the Ukip Party has resigned. Not only that, a Sinn Fein MP has been appointed Her Majesty's Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham.

I hope Her Majesty knows what she is doing. And then someone rushes in to tell me the carillon at Loughborough has collapsed, but when I make enquiries in London by telephone it turns out be a dubious company with a similar name.

After all that I need a lunchtime stiffener at the Bonkers’ Arms. Eschewing the gassy Dahrendorf lager I enjoy a pint or two of Smithson & Greaves’ Northern Bitter. The landlord tells me he is bringing in a new menu featuring strasburgers and the like.

“Not really My Sort of Thing,” I tell him, “but encourage the young people by all means. They, after all, did not vote for this ridiculous ‘Brexit’.”

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Northamptonshire's Conservative MPs turn on Northamptonshire's Conservative council

On Friday the Conservative-run Northamptonshire County Council brought in emergency controls on spending to avoid breaking the law by setting a budget where income does not cover expenditure.

Today the county's seven MPs - all of them Conservatives - issued a statement saying they had lost confidence in the council's leadership.

The MPs are Michael Ellis (Northampton North), Andrew Lewer (Northampton South), Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry), Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire), Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Peter Bone (Wellingborough) and Tom Pursglove (Corby).

The Northamptonshire Telegraph has the full text of the statement, part of which runs:
We also knew from backbench County Councillors that very little information of any use was being giving to them and they were undermined by the County Council’s Cabinet when trying to scrutinise decisions. 
We completely understand that position, as we were in a similar one. Indeed, we had concerns that if the leadership of the Council were giving central government the same information they were giving us as MPs and backbench County Councillors, then a completely incorrect picture of the County Council’s finances would be being passed on, which in turn would undermine any legitimate ask for fairer funding.
How fair this is may be revealed by the investigation of the authority announced by Sajid Javid.

But people have been saying today that Northamptonshire will not be the last authority to find itself in such trouble. And there have been rumours at Westminster of a rebellion by rural Tories over the settlements given to their local authorities.

It did not get the same publicity as tuition fees, but I fear the Coalition's decision to impose savage cuts on local authority spending marked the greatest break with what people thought they were supporting when they voted Liberal Democrat.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Bromlow Callow close up

One of the landmarks of the Shropshire hills is Bromlow Callow. The trees that crest this hill can be seen for miles, though this photograph shows them close up.

Bromlow Callow stands to the west of the Stiperstones - close to the pub where Eric Clapton and Ronnie Lane once played.

Lib Dems slip back in Cornish local by-election

Photo of Falmouth © Colin Babb
On Thursday the Liberal Democrats scored a magnificent victory in a local by-election in Sunderland. We went from fourth place and 4.4 per cent of the vote to first place with 53.9 per cent.

This was a reminder of what hard work targeted on a compact urban ward can achieve against a party that has been in power too long – in Sunderland that was the Labour Party.

It is good that the Lib Dems can still record such victories and may well be an omen of further gains in Sunderland in May.

This result also reminds us that it is not so long since we ran Newcastle upon Tyne and had serious ambitions of gaining Labour seats in the North East.

What it does not do is show that Sunderland has changed its mind on the European Union or show that we are poised to sweep to power with similar swings across the country,

On the same night there was another local by-election in Falmouth, where Labour held the seat made vacant by the death of the town’s former MP Candy Atherton.

Even though the Conservative candidate had to apologise during the campaign Nazi-themed Facebook posts he had made, the Liberal Democrat vote slipped back from 18.9 per cent to 17.2 per cent.

A former MP will probably have looked after the ward and her death might well have led to a significant sympathy vote for Labour, but this is still disappointing.

After all, the Liberal Democrats held the old Falmouth and Camborne constituency between 2005 and 2010.

Last year we came third in the new Falmouth and Redruth with six per cent of the vote. If there had been a Ukip candidate we would probably have come fourth.

Yet we have fallen back on our result in the election that took place in the same ward a month before the general election.

I love to see the Lib Dems gaining seats in local by-elections and tweet the results as eagerly as anyone.

But, as I have blogged before, we must beware of confirmation bias – our tendency to notice evidence that supports our view (say, that there is a Lib Dem revival taking place) and pass rapidly over evidence that does not.

I suspect this bias explains why we Lib Dems were disappointed by last year’s general election result and even more why we were shocked when we lost seats in the local elections the month before.

This week a national opinion poll showed the Lib Dems on 6 per cent. That sounds a little low, but if it had been 7 per cent it would have been more or less in line with other recent polls.

And that means the party is still deep in the doldrums. Yes, there are wards and constituencies where we are doing much better than 6 or 7 per cent, but those areas will have been polled like any others.

That means there must be plenty of areas where we are doing significantly worse than 6 or 7 per cent.

Local by-elections often tell us this, but those are not the results we retweet to each other.

I once tweeted to point out that we had scored less than 1 per cent in one contest. I immediately had someone giving me reasons why this was nothing to worry about.

I take no pleasure in this situation and can suggest no easy recipe for improving the party’s fortunes.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
But it is best to face the truth, otherwise we shall continue to be disappointed by every round of national elections.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Pelted with sharpened carrots

Knowing what a wise old bird Lord Bonkers is, I would not wager much against Boris Johnson's career ending just as he foretells.

Pelted with sharpened carrots

There is nothing the people of London enjoy more than a good Cabinet reshuffle. From early morning the crowds gather to see the fun: flower girls, costermongers (whatever they are) and scruffy urchins all assemble at the gates of Downing Street (in my young day you could walk into Number 10 and demand pot of tea, but times change and not for the better) to observe the comings and goings.

If a particularly juicy reshuffle is expected then temporary grandstands may be erected and, depending on the season, sellers of ice cream or hot roast chestnuts do a roaring trade.

I joined the throng this morning. How we laughed when we heard Grayling had been made Chairman of the Conservative Party! Then we laughed because it was announced when he had not been. The strange Gavin Williamson was pelted with sharpened carrots and Jeremy Hunt was roundly booed.

I did not spot Boris Johnson today, but I remain convinced that his career will end with his being running down Whitehall in polka-dot boxer shorts pursued by an angry mob.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

London O'Connor: Nobody Hangs Out Anymore

This turned up on Radio 3's Late Junction the other night and sounded good. It starts off like a lost Tim Booth song.

London O'Connor was profiled in the Guardian a couple of years ago:
O’Connor is a wanderer. Originally from San Marcos, California, he has spent the past two years hopping around, crashing with friends here and there, making a quick trip to Europe last year to play some shows, but mostly embracing a life of rootlessness. "Couch life is a little awkward sometimes," he tells me, thinking out loud about how he never gets to be alone. We talk and walk aimlessly in circles around the park, past the park’s usual characters who play chess, shoot the shit on benches, skateboard on the basketball court. 
"I wear the same thing every day because it simplifies life for me," he says. "It lets me just focus on how I feel on the inside. When I started doing it, part me was frustrated with this feeling that you’re supposed to change, or give up on your dreams. So I’m just not changing."
As to the burden of this song:
"Growing up on the internet gave so many of us a voice that we wouldn’t really have otherwise," he says. “But recently, it makes me more and more uncomfortable. Because it feels like on social, some of the values are the opposite of what I value and care about as an artist. 
"As an artist, all I care about is figuring out what’s true to me, and saying that. Regardless of how it’s going to be received. So much of Twitter is people saying things that they don’t feel, based on how often it’s going to get favorited or retweeted. It just gets in the way."

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Six of the Best 765

Replying to the Michael Meadowcroft article included in the last of these round ups, Paul Holmes says a good targeting strategy is essential for the Liberal Democrats.

"Mainstream society has laid down with dogs and we have now got up with fleas." Matthew Collins says we have become comfortable with hate.

Hadley Freeman asks why actors are suddenly lining up to condemn Woody Allen: "I get why people feel icky about Allen. Some of us were rolling our eyes at Manhattan, his film about a man’s relationship with a schoolgirl, before the leading lights of #MeToo were born. But this is not a case that should be tried by public opinion."

Torie Bosch is fascinated by the "List of people who disappeared mysteriously" page on Wikipedia.

"The love Crook has for these characters shines through, and part of the joy of the show is in how likeable they are. Perhaps that’s why it’s accumulated such a strikingly devoted audience over the last couple of years." Anna Leszkiewicz analyses the appeal of Detectorists.

Tim Holyoake has some great pictures of the Derwent dams taken during a drought in 1959.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Defying the Sprout Police

You may recall that, just before Christmas, Leicestershire County Council announced that a single portion of sprouts consisted of six - no more, no less. 

The old boy was having none of it.

Defying the Sprout Police

One of the great occasions of the year here on the Bonkers Hall Estate is Christmas Eve. Dressed in a red suit, I visit the cottages of my tenants and hand over hampers of fine things to eat and drink: a goose from the Home Farm; pies and puddings from the kitchens at the Hall; a bottle of Meadowcroft’s parsnip wine (which would make anyone merry).

I am always accompanied by a flock of Well-Behaved Orphans dressed as elves (adds to the festive effect, don’t you think?), but this year I took the precaution of adding a brace of gamekeepers armed with orchard doughties to the company.

Because one of the traditions of these hampers is that every tenant receives precisely seven Brussels sprouts. Yet a few days before Christmas there went out a decree from the Conservative-run Leicestershire County Council’s Sprout Compliance Unit saying no one should eat more than six of the things. I wasn’t having that – hence the extra muscle on hand on Christmas Eve.

Perhaps because we had also doubled the guard on the border, I am able to report that Leicestershire’s hated Sprout Police made no attempt to enter Rutland during the festive season, so a merry Christmas was enjoyed by all.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Liberator has the inside track on the Lib Dems

Each issue of Liberator carries a Radical Bulletin section, which gives the inside news on the Liberal Democrats.

Radical Bulletin in the new issue of Liberator includes stories on:
  • tensions between the PPC, the local party and the regional party in Lewes
  • the travails of Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrsts
  • the regional party official who is a member of another group on an authority run by the Lib Dems
The conclusion is clear. If you want to know what is going on in the party you should subscribe to Liberator.