Monday, December 17, 2018

The railway from Farranfore to Valentia Harbour

For our latest fix of railway nostalgia we travel to County Kerry.

Wikipedia explains:
The Farranfore to Valencia Harbour Railway was 39.5 miles (63.5 km) long single-track broad gauge railway line that operated from 1892 to 1960 along Dingle Bay's southern shore in Ireland. It was the most westerly railway in Europe.

One of Santa's 'reindeer' loses leg in bad weather near Market Harborough

Our Headline of the Day Award is a home win for the Harborough Mail.

What is it with Market Harborough and Christmas?

A year ago the Leicester Mercury won with "Santa's sleigh run called off in Market Harborough due to too much snow".

And in 2009 Conservative Home got very upset after Harborough District Council cancelled an appearance by real reindeer because of snow and ice.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

John Pardoe on Desert Island Discs in 1976

As Verdi and Aslan proved popular, here is their owner's appearance on Desert Island Discs.

John Pardoe was the Liberal Party's economic spokesman when this was broadcast in April 1976. He had been MP for North Cornwall since 1966, but was to lose the seat at the 1979 general election. At the time his defeated was widely attributed to the Thorpe affair.

In those days Pardoe and David Penhaligon were my political heroes, and I remember listening to this programme when it went out.

There is a point of dermatological interest. Pardoe refers to walking the Cornish coast the previous summer on "the hottest days of the century" or something like that.

Because of the drought of 1976, it has been forgotten that the summer of 1975 was unusually hot too. It may have been even hotter when I walked that coast in 1990.

Blakey wrote the screenplay for Sparrows Can't Sing

Taking Pictures TV, my favourite television channel, is showing this British film tonight, starting at 7.10.

One point of interest is the author of its screenplay.

It was Stephen Lewis.

That's right: Blakey off of On the Buses.

As I wrote when Stephen Lewis died in 2015:
Sparrows Can't Sing was a 1963 film starring Barbara Windsor and James Booth that depicted social change in the East End. It is remembered for its premiere, which took place in that part of London and in which the Kray twins tried to play the local seigneurs. 
And who wrote the screenplay for the film? That's right. Stephen Lewis. 
It grew from a play called Sparrers Can't Sing that was put on at at Joan Littlewood's Stratford East . Given her ensemble method of working, I am sure others had a hand in it. 
But have a look at IMDB and you will see that Stephen Lewis got the writing credit. 
He also appeared in the film, playing a caretaker who relished enforcing the regulations that governed his shiny new tower block. You can see where Blakey came from.

The Hellions: Think It Over

Time for a bit of Traffic prehistory.

The Hellions were a Worcester group whose members included both Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi, as well as Gordon Jackson who has already featured here.

Mason and Capaldi took to hanging out with Steve Winwood, and together with Chris Wood they formed Traffic.

I like Think It Over, even if it does threaten to turn into Fly Me to the Moon at one point.

Read more about The Hellions on Brum Beat.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Six of the Best 837

"Margaret Wintringham was elected in a by election in September 1921, succeeding her deceased husband in the Louth constituency of Lincolnshire. She followed the Tory Nancy Astor as the second woman to take her seat in the House of Commons." Stephen Williams celebrates a near century of women Liberal and Liberal Democrat MPs.

"The Institute for Public Policy Research reports that public spending in the south has risen by £3.2bn since 2010, against a fall of £6.3bn in the north." Simon Jenkins says the extra billions announced for Crossrail emphasise Britain's north-south divide.

Owen Bennett-Jones looks at Auntie's many problems: "The BBC has papered over its failure to challenge authority by developing a house style of aggressive interviewing which gives the impression of holding power to account without actually doing so."

Richard Florida asks if the great Jane Jacobs predicted the rise of Donald Trump.

"The Box of Delights has something far more important than money or gloss. It has magic, a commodity that can’t be bought and which enables almost every flaw to be forgiven." James Oliver celebrates the BBC's adaptation from the 1980s- a modern Christmas classic.

Inesemjphotography takes us around the Ring of Kerry.

If Labour backs Brexit it will fall behind the Lib Dems

There's a remarkable story on The Times website this evening, reporting the findings of a new opinion poll on Brexit:
The YouGov survey of 5,000 voters, commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign, shows that support for Labour could fall from 36% to 22% if they helped the Tories to pass a compromise deal with Brussels like the one advocated by Theresa May. 
Under those circumstances, the Lib Dems would soar from 10% to 26% - their highest rating in any poll since they entered coalition government with the Tories in 2010. 
The poll shows that Labour’s supporters want a People’s Vote by a margin of almost three to one - and an even bigger proportion would stay in the European Union if they were given the chance.
It's just one poll, but it does confirm the view that the voters whom Labour won over at the election were not attracted by the socialism-in-one-nation beliefs Jeremy Corbyn has held since he was a teenager. They wanted an end to austerity and they wanted to remain in the European Union.

So far Corbyn and his inner circle have stayed on the fence over whether we should leave the EU, but that stance is calling for increasingly contorted gymnastics. If they jump the wrong way, they will pay the electoral price.

And there is some comfort for the Liberal Democrats here. We have fallen like Icarus, but the greater volatility of present-day politics means it is not too fanciful to believe we will take wing again.

The Zombies to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

After three unsuccessful nominations, The Zombies are one of the acts to be elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after polls of music fans and industry professionals.

In an email from the group, Colin Blunstone says:
I’m feeling quite emotional remembering all the many years we’ve been touring and recording which have brought us to this career defining moment! 
I would like to give my most sincere thanks to all our loyal and tenacious fans who have supported us so wonderfully through the weeks of the fan vote and to all the members of the Rockhall who have voted for us to join this most exalted institution!
We don't hear much about it here in Britain, but the Hall of Fame does appear to be a big deal in the US.

And, writing this, I have learnt that it is a physical building, to be found in Cleveland, Ohio.

The other inductees this year are The Cure, Def Leppard, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Radiohead and Roxy Music.

I find that five songs from the Zombies' Sixties heyday have featured here as Sunday music videos over the years:

Friday, December 14, 2018

Market Harborough station in the early 1980s

Work to straighten the track through Market Harborough station continues.

Here is a photograph of the station back in the early 1980s. It was taken into the sun and through the buffers at the end of a long-vanished siding. You could do things like that on stations in those days.

Curving away to the right is the platform that once accommodated trains to Northampton and Rugby. The bridge that took the line over Rockingham Road may still be in place.

When the current works at the station were imminent, I went to photograph what remained of this scene.

Michael Brooke: The later career of the first owner of The Magnet

This clip comes from the 1950 Ealing comedy The Magnet, which is of most interest today because its star grew up to be James Fox.

I last posted it when I blogged about the film in the summer.

But who is the other boy in the clip? The younger boy Fox cons into swapping his magnet?

He is Michael Brooke, and his IMDB biography describes his later career:
Bilingual, he was educated at the LycĂ©e Francais in London and read Law at Edinburgh University and was called to the bar in November 1968. He became a distinguished and well-regarded Barrister, and later Judge. 
His greatest achievement, in the late Eighties and early Nineties, was obtaining compensation from the National Health Service for over 1000 hemophiliacs who had been treated with blood contaminated with HIV, and later for those infected with Hepatitis C.
Michael Brooke died in 2014. You can read about his legal career in more detail in his Medico-Legal Journal obituary.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Marion Thorpe wins Television Dialogue of the Year

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Here she is, as acted by Monica Dolan and written by Russell T. Davies, in A Very English Scandal:
"Jeremy, I'm not a fool. I practically grew up with Benjamin Britten. I've seen something of the world. I fled from Hitler, for God's sake. My own son married a hippie in a yurt. And I've toured with orchestras—I couldn't begin to tell you the things I've seen. So there's no need to protect me."
The award is made by Alex Ross.

Six of the Best 836

"What is clear is that Theresa May’s deal is dead. What is not clear is whether any deal exists that can pass through parliament." Martin Veart on the latest Brexit developments.

Janette Martin says the collections held at the University of Manchester Library deepen our understanding of Peterloo and its cultural impact on the city of Manchester.

Stephen Kotkin revisits Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: "On this centenary of his birth, and tenth anniversary of his passing, we can see that Solzhenitsyn was dead-on about the soul-crushing Soviet system, from a moral and not just a political point of view, and to a degree right about the materialist mania and moral rot of the West."

"Author Richard Adams may have thought it was just 'a story about rabbits', but for more than 40 years, Watership Down has functioned as a litmus test for what is and is not considered to be suitable content in children’s entertainment." Catherine Lester fears the BBC's new family-friendly version risks losing the power of the original.

"But if there was a single theme around which K-Punk’s eclectic energies organized, it was the future. Specifically: What happened to it? Fisher feared that we were losing our ability to conceptualize a tomorrow that was radically different from our present." Hua Hsu on Mark Fisher, K-Punk and the futures that never arrived.

James Parker reviews Roger Daltrey's 'Thanks a Lot, Mr Kibblewhite'.

Daniel Hannan's group told to repay €535,000 of EU funds

Now here's a thing:
A European conservative group co-founded by the Tories and led by Brexit campaigner and MEP Daniel Hannan has been asked to repay more than half a million euros of EU funds following an investigation into their spending, the Guardian has learned. ... 
Hannan, who has championed Brexit for more than a quarter of a century and was ACRE’s secretary-general until December 2017, is told that there are grounds to suspect a conflict of interest on his part, in leaked documents seen by the Guardian. Hannan called that conclusion "absurd" and accused investigators of making false insinuations that were "outrageous".
That from a Guardian exclusive by Jennifer Rankin.

She goes on to report:
British conservative sources sought to distance themselves from ACRE, an organisation they helped to create, which has been described by some party insiders as "Daniel Hannan's travel agency".

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Why is there something rather than nothing at all?

Time for a bit of philosophy.

This lecture touches on the distinction between prescriptive laws (like the law of the land) and descriptive laws (like the laws of physics) that was the subject of my first Philosophy lecture at York 40 years ago.

Its subject reminds me of Prendergast in Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall. He had no trouble believing the whole of Christian doctrine, but had to give up being a clergyman because he could not see why God had created the universe in the first place.

The East Midlands Ambulance Service is spending millions on private ambulances

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My old friend Phil Knowles, leader of the Liberal Democrat on Harborough District Council, tells me that the East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust spent almost £8m on private ambulances since the start of 2017.

The information comes from senior managers at the Trust.

Phil says:
"There need to be questions about the planning that has been in place. What could have been done to avoid this situation? Will the promised investment ensure that the reliance on these private ambulances is a thing of the past? 
"With the winter pressures, the worry must be that there will a need to use private ambulances in even greater numbers. We appreciate the care that ambulance crews,  provide, but it is absolutely correct to ask these questions, seek answers and obtain the assurances and actions required.”

Cambridgeshire Santa 'swore in front of children and ripped off hat and beard'

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Well done to Cambridgeshire Live.

In case any children are reading this, there is of course only one Father Christmas, and he happened to be at St Ives Corn Exchange on Sunday.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Deadly Derek Underwood

The new greatest English spinners of my cricketing lifetime are Graeme Swann and Derek Underwood.

Here is Underwood in action - firstly against Australia at Headingley in 1972 and then against Pakistan at Lord's in 1974. As you can see, he bowled appreciably quicker than the average spinner.

Underwood's nickname was 'Deadly, because, as well as being an invaluable stock bowler, he was just that in helpful conditions.

The Headlingley pitch was controversial, as the grass had been attacked by Fusarium fungus, while the Lord's wicket was affected by rain.

My instinct is that Underwood was a better bowler than Swann, but there is a limit to how closely you can compare players from two different eras.

Little Bowden level crossing in the early 1980s

The Harborough Mail reports:
There’s been another hold-up with the long-awaited footbridge over the main railway line at Little Bowden. 
Though the bridge looks finished, it still can’t be crossed by the public - because Network Rail hasn’t got council permission for it to be used as a public right of way.
The paper goes on to quote my Liberal Democrat county councillor Dr Sarah Hill:
"Network Rail hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory with this. The whole saga has been going on too long. "
It’s annoying to see that the bridge looks like it’s finished, but you can’t use it. I’ve no idea why Network Rail didn’t ask for right-of-way permission weeks ago."
So, after the pedestrian crossing here was abruptly closed in August 2015, we are still waiting to be able to cross the line.

Let's go back 35 years or so to an era when Little Bowden Junction signal box controlled the level crossing.

In those days the crossing gates were controlled from the box, so if a train was signalled you were not able to open them.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Shrewsbury to Ludlow Railway part 2

As promised, here is the second and final part of this video - you can watch part 1 here.

Marshbrook is the Onnybrook of Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine stories, while its signal box may be the oldest one on the British railway network that is still operational.

Spare a thought for Stephen Lloyd

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Last week Stephen Lloyd resigned the Liberal Democrat whip so he could vote in favour of Theresa May's Brexit deal.
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Today she pulled the vote on the deal.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Cohen's railway scrapyard near Kettering

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Cohen's scrapyard at Cransley was located on the former Midland Railway's ironstone branch from Kettering to Loddington.

It used to be possible to spot the track to it curving off the main line just south of Kettering station. Houses now occupy the trackbed.

This atmospheric photograph, taken in February 1967, shows a former LMS shunter waiting to be broken up.

Hefner: I Took Her Love for Granted

Championed by John Peel, Hefner were a British indie band who flourished at the end of the last century.

I Took Her Love for Granted reached 136 in the UK singles chart in 1999. It deserved to get several places higher.

Hefner's lead singer Darren Hayman sounds fun:
I read in an interview from three years ago that you don’t like touring much due to the organisation involved. Is this still the case? 
Yep, touring is shit, only idiots and drummers enjoy it. It has very little to do with why I chose music as my profession. I like to play live, but touring is just miserable and sucks the life out of you.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

When I was young all my favourite books had maps

I could say that the maps in my beloved Lone Pine Club stories by Malcolm Saville made me look down on books that did not have maps on their endpapers, but I suspect their importance was even greater than that. It was the maps that attracted me to Malcolm Saville in the first place.

But I was not alone in seeing maps as essential to adventure stories. When Richard Jefferies’ Bevis the Story of a Boy, originally published as a three-volume adult novel, was reinvented as a children’s classic in 1932, the publisher Jonathan Cape pulled out all the stops. It was given illustrations by E.H. Shepard and a map. That map was drawn by an 11-year-old David Garnett.

These reflections come from a reading an article by Jonathan Crowe where he reviews The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, which is edited by Huw Lewis-Jones.

Ever since Tolkien, fantasy writers have felt that their books need maps, but Crowe assures us that the “bog-standard fantasy maps from adult epic fantasy series” aren’t well represented in the book: “frankly, the maps here are much better”.

That is good to hear, though sometimes those maps can spring back to life. When the floods of 2014 struck, I remembered Richard Cowper’s The Road to Corlay:
The map on the endpapers … shows that much of the West Country has become the Somersea. And some present-day characters who are in touch with this future by some form of clairvoyance finally make sense of it: 
On the way they passed through the Outpatients' waiting room. One wall was decorated with a large scale relief map of the whole area surrounding Taunton. Ian walked over to it and contemplated it thoughtfully. "Look here," he said. "Just suppose this area was all flooded, the Quantocks would be an island and so would the Blackdown Hills."
But then Cowper’s map was always more interesting than bog-standard fantasy. And Saville's were studded with incident and human life,

Incidentally, I developed a passion for a rather ordinary children’s book by Ann Shead called The Jago Secret simply because it has a family tree on the endpapers. But that is a whole new subject.

Six of the Best 835

Stephen Bush says it was not Theresa May who killed Brexit but her adviser Nick Timothy:

Stephen Fry’s Brexit video repeats Remain’s 2016 mistakes, says Bobby Duffy.

"After painstakingly scrutinising the evidence, and crunching the numbers, Christophers arrives at this extraordinary estimate: since 1979, no less than 10% of the land area of Britain has been sold by the state - in all its various guises and incarnations - to the private sector." Will Self reviews The New Enclosure by Brett Christophers

"The system of institutions that functioned for two and a half centuries has rusted through, and we have to figure out how it’s all going to work in the twenty-first century." Mahsa Gessen interviews Garry Kasparov, the political activist and former world chess champion.

Sabrina Rau explains that those pop-up ‘I agree’ boxes aren’t just annoying: they’re potentially dangerous.

"Move It was going to be the B-side. This is where the luck comes in. Norrie found us a song called Schoolboy Crush and that was presented in adverts as the A-side for about a week. They played it to Jack Good who was just about to embark on [TV show] Oh Boy!, and he played both sides – the luck! He played both sides! Then he said, 'If your boy is going to be on my show it’s not going to be with Schoolboy Crush, it has to be with Move It.'" Cliff Richard talks to Record Collector.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Why we need to save the Gwent Levels

The Welsh Government wants to drive a 14-mile, six-lane motorway through the Gwent Levels. Here the Gwent Wildlife Trust makes the case against the new road.

Read more about the campaign to save the Gwent Levels.

Getty Images and anonymous comments: Two bits of Liberal England housekeeping

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As soon as Getty Images allowed private users to embed their images free of charge, I have made free use of that facility. Sometimes I even based a post on one of their images.
For the past couple of days, Getty's images have not been displaying on this blog. All you can see is a notice saying the image is no longer available for use.

Except, when you go to the Getty site you find the image is still there and is still available for use.

I shall not embed any more Getty images until this glitch has been fixed. When it has been, a pig will appear above every time you read this post.


Having a comments policy for your blog has always seemed a bit pretentious to me, particularly now that most responses to my posts are to be found on Twitter - you follow me here.

I have always deleted spam comments, and have become increasingly likely to delete posts that are rude about me or accuse me of bad faith.

Now I am becoming irritated by 'drive-by' anonymous posts that attack my views. They are 'drive-by' because the commenter is clearly not familiar with this blog. Have a look at the comments on my Stephen Lloyd post and my response to them to see what I mean.

You can stop people leaving anonymous comments, but that seems too restrictive. It's not that all anonymous comments are worthless: it's just that most worthless comments are anonymous.

So I will continue to allow anonymous comments but may be a little more trigger happy aboyt deleting them in future.

When Simon Titley ran a blog for Liberator he insisted that people gave their real names when commenting.

This caused outrage in some quarters, and it is true that there are people who have good reasons for remaining anonymous. It can also be a liberation: I enjoyed the years when no one knew that it was me who wrote Lord Bonkers' Diary.

But, more and more, I see why Simon did it.

The well-worn path from Liberty to being a Labour hack

When I was a teenager and had already decided I was a Liberal, two of the big names in civil liberties campaigning were Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman of Liberty - or the National Council for Civil Liberties as it then was.

Twenty years later they were both impeccably on-message New Labour ministers, sharing Tony Blair's exasperation with "libertarian nonsense".

Another 20 years on and I find Shami Chakrabarti is set on the same path. As one viewer put it last night:
The moral, I suppose, is that you should be wary of having heroes - or heroines.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

The National Forest: Creating a forest for learning

The National Forest covers 200 square miles of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire.

It contains both ancient woodland and new planting, much of it on former mining and industrial land.

Put at its most romantic, it is an attempt to join the ancient forests of Charnwood and Needwood.

This charming little film shows the use a local of school is making of the forest for education - campfires, climbing trees and all.

Councillor accidentally sends photo of topless woman to mothers' WhatsApp group during meeting

The Independent, with the help of Sheffield Labour's Mohammad Maroof, wins our Headline of the Day Award.

On not being impressed by Stephen Lloyd

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If Stephen Lloyd were determined to back Theresa May because he believed in Brexit, I would not be pleased, but I would understand him.

But he is determined to do so even though he believes Brexit is against the national interest.

That is because, at the last election, he promised voters in Eastbourne that he would support the result of the referendum and not campaign for a second one.

I presume he did this because he thought it was the only way he would get elected.

That is not an approach to politics I admire, but it is his third promise that really gets me.

It seems he promised to support the deal the prime minister reached with the European Union, whatever its content.

But if you are not willing to hold the executive to account then there is no point your being in parliament.

I also note the comment of Isabel Hardman that his resignation of the party whip has:
baffled Lib Dems, not so much because Lloyd is stepping back from the most avowedly anti-Brexit party in the Commons. It’s more that he’s doing so to support a vote that no one thinks the government has any chance of winning.

Vince Cable was in Market Harborough today

Photo from @vincecable on Twitter

Vince Cable was in Leicestershire today and did a lunchtime meeting in Market Harborough with representatives from various community groups.

I usually work from home on Thursdays, so I was able to drop in for some of it. You can see Vince in the photograph above with Cllr Phil Knowles (leader of the Lib Dem Group on Harborough district) and Zuffar Haq, who was our parliamentary candidate at the last three general elections.

Vince came over well in the session - there was something of the kindly professor about him. He said he thinks there is now a 50 per cent chance of a second referendum, but the next few days will be crucial.

One of his themes was they way that the debate over Brexit has divided the country. However it ends, politicians will have to make an effort to bring us together again.

He was more complimentary about Theresa May thank I would have been and emphasised that he does not question the legitimacy of the first referendum result. It's just that people now know a lot more about what Brexit would mean than they did two years ago.

Even so, I was struck by how short of information on Europe this educated audience felt. Would we be forced to join the Euro if we gave up the idea of Brexit? was one of the quesitons.

I can also reveal that Vince mourns the absence of the Daleks and Cybermen from the new season of Doctor Who. He sees it because it's on just before Strictly.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Leicestershire vs South Africa, 1924

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Leicestershire take the field against the touring South Africans on 3 May 1924.

The ground is not Grace Road, where Leicestershire play their games today, but the old Aylestone Road ground.

As I wrote when I visited it three summers ago:
This is the ground where, between 1901 and 1939, Leicestershire played their county games. According to the club's website, the great names who played hear include Grace, Bradman, Hammond and Hutton. ... 
The county played a couple of further championship games at Aylestone Road after the war and the final first-class match here was between Leicestershire and Cambridge University in 1962. Mike Brearley was a member of the visiting team.
You can see it's the same ground if you compare the photograph below, which I took that day, with the one above.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent ones, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The Shrewsbury to Ludlow Railway part 1

Another video from the Shropshire Railways YouTube channel.

The blurb there says:
On this journey around Shropshire's current and disused railways, I travel from the county town of Shrewsbury down to historic Ludlow. In part one I travel southwards to Church Stretton and we discover how Shrewsbury and Church Stretton Stations have changed through the years. We also go and find the disused stations of Condover, Dorrington and Leebotwood.
Part 2 will be along soon.

Tom Brake chides Geoffrey Cox for his descent into Vaudeville

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Tom Brake, a former deputy leader of the House, began his speech in this afternoon's contempt debate as follows:
May I start by praising the Attorney General for spending more than two hours answering questions, but may I also gently chide him for the manner in which, occasionally, his style of delivery descended rather into Vaudeville? Finger-pointing, faux bonhomie and expansive arm gestures may work in court, but perhaps he might like to leave those at the Bar of the House.
If that sort of thing works in court, it does not increase your confidence in the legal system.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Six of the Best 834

Michael Taylor makes the case for trade unions: "As a lifelong member of first the National Union of Teachers and then the University and Colleges Union, I can assert with authority that without Trades Union support I would have been in great difficulty at a number of points in my career."

"We have a government of hypocrites that is happy to draw votes from people through fearmongering, but which, when shamed by single cases of cruelty, pretends there is no link. And we have been failed by an opposition that historically has either followed the same policies, or has preferred until recently to maintain a cynical silence." Nesrine Malik says hostile rhetoric at the top of politics leads to bullying in the playground.

Ted Jackson visits the Louisiana coast and a native community that is being lost to the sea.

"Charles Dickens was well aware of his status and, like today’s celebs, he was fiercely protective of the image he promoted." Gerald Dickens asks what his  great great grandfather looked like.

Michael Livesley is interviewed by John Fleming about his revival of Viv Stanshall's Sir Henry at Rawlinson's End.

Lucy Scholes on the writing career of Penelope Mortimer.

"Sat there like Queen Mary"

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The awful English mania for respectability that is blamed on the Victorians really dates from the early decades of the 20th century. But even then we could be more subversive than you might expect.

Rosemary Hill writes about Queen Mary - wife of George V, mother of George VI and grandmother of our present Queen - in the London Review of Books:
The present queen was not the only person to feel, when her grandmother Queen Mary died in 1953, that she ‘could not imagine a world without her’. The ‘old queen’, as she was generally known to the public, had become a totemic figure, rigidly upright in her toque and pearls, a grandmother to the nation. 
Her daughter-in-law, the queen mother, later fulfilled the same role, but in an entirely different way. Where the ‘queen mum’ was, or appeared to be as long as nobody let her speak in public, twinkly and friendly, fond of gin and jewellery, Queen Mary was cast as grandparent in the severe Victorian mould, a living reminder of an age gone by and not very fondly remembered. 
For the generation who were in their twenties during the Second World War, which included my parents and their friends, to say that someone ‘sat there like Queen Mary’ was to indicate that a terminal blight had been cast over the occasion.
This is in the course of a review of James Pope-Hennessy's The Quest for Queen Mary, which details his efforts to write a biography of the old monster. You can see the relevant passage in front of the LRB's paywall.

Rosemary Hill concludes that the story about your being obliged to hand it over if Mary stayed with you and took a liking to one of your possessions is untrue. But, she argues, it does show what people believed about her character.

I recall John Howard Davies - David Lean's Oliver Twist and later the producer of Fawlty Towers - talking about the experience of being presented to her as a child. He found it terrifying.

David Attenborough the naturist wins Huffington Post UK our Correction of the Day Award

Well done everybody.

GUEST POST For Liberalism to succeed we must embrace all of its creed

Patrick Maxwell fears identity politics and the fight against Brexit are undermining Liberalism in the Liberal Democrats.

Liberalism is the most popular political ideal in the world. The notions of freedom and justice have had the power through the centuries to inspire and drive social, political and economic freedom.

Despite this, the creed espoused by the greatest civil rights activists and the big beasts of international suffrage seems in danger of succumbing to the identity politics mob and losing its original purpose and soul.

The dawn of identity politics has led to liberal values being widely distorted. Centrist politics remains in danger of becoming ignored in favour of a clear left-right divide ignoring any compromise and sensible pragmatism.

The 'culture wars' in the United States have driven many into their respective moral trenches, never to be reconciled from their echo-chambers. The 'no-platforming' evident in many universities in a quest to conform to the 'respect' agenda has driven many on the right to cry wolf about their new found state of victimhood.

Many a commentator has lamented the loss of freedom of speech, which has led to 'freedom fighters' and keyboard warriors to launch a more visceral attack on their 'social justice warrior' opponents. This war of attrition could have desperate ramifications for centrist and liberal values. Honest, pragmatic politics must respond.

Liberalism can only work when economic freedom and social and personal emancipation go hand in hand together. The task for progressive parties across Europe and America is to make the case for a Liberalism that allows for personal freedom but also the right to offend. This challenge includes standing up for all liberal principles, in positive and compassionate capitalism, cultural and social freedom and the right of equal opportunity.

John Locke, one the greatest Enlightenment philosophers and a founding father of the modern Liberal creed, was instrumental in the rising popularity of British freedom of religion, separation of Church and state, arguing the case for every man to have the right to life, liberty and property, the phrase also used by the Founding Fathers of America in their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness expression in the opening lines of The Constitution.

It was this early promotion of civil rights, free trade and democratic suffrage that founded the basis of the Welfare State in the early 20th century under Campbell-Bannerman, Lloyd-George and Asquith. The Liberal Democrat party today seems to have forgotten its original roots in the vain hope of stopping the biggest issue of the day in Brexit and distancing themselves from the mark the party made during the Coalition years.

For a party that had long been seen as a fringe protest movement, having members around the Cabinet table showed what progress the party had made. With Vince Cable as leader, a man who cites capitalism as only practical, not morally positive, the party is in danger of becoming that fringe wing that does not visibly promote the widespread benefits of modern free-trade policy out of a fear of being called a right-wing neo-liberal.

This position is not sustainable for the long-term future of the party and the obsession with Brexit and a second referendum, though honourable causes, won't do them any good come the next election.

Henry Campbell-Bannerman's two-and-a-half year stint as Prime Minister led to the beginning of the Welfare State and the Liberal reforms in the run to the great People's Budget of 1910. CB's pragmatism in ensuring 'peace, retrenchment and reform' secured widespread popularity, friendly foreign relations and better conditions and rights for workers, the man himself affirmed that he was 'keenly in sympathy' with members of the newly-formed Labour movement.

Yet he was still labelled an old-style Gladstonian Liberal by many, despite his large reforming stance. His example as leader is one of pragmatism and compromise to achieve progress, and the modern party could take a lot from his example.

To make headway in the age of identity politics, the winner-takes-it-all type of politics that has enveloped many of the movements in Westminster, the Liberal Democrats must present a reforming, pragmatic, socially and economically progressive message to the electorate, which means including all the aspects of their core belief to ensure a positive and influential future for the party.

Patrick Maxwell blogs at Gerrymander.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Three children went missing in Paddington in 1965

Embed from Getty Images

A striking photograph, particularly when you read the caption:
24th May 1965: Two boys watching constable Jim Green skin diving in the Grand Union Canal during a search for three missing children.
A bit of googling reveals the story behind this image and that it had a happy ending.

An article on Independent R's - a Queen's Park Rangers fan site - reveals who the children were:
As a child at the time, I remember my parents and other adults talking about the children that had gone missing. A six-year-old boy, Michael Leigh, Juliana Adebona a seven-year-old and her three-year-old brother David from Errington Road, had simply disappeared while playing out in the street. 
In those days it wasn’t unusual for very young children to be outside the house alone. The local streets and bombsites were our playground and the older children kept an eye on the younger ones. 
As the days went by there were all sorts of rumours about the missing children, and few thought that they would be found alive.
But they were:
On the south side of Warlock Road, (W9), there was a row of 4/5 houses that were slums, but had recently been refurbished by the Council. The houses were ready for occupation, but had stood empty for a few weeks. 
A man walking past the houses thought he had heard a noise, so he opened the gate of one of the houses and went into the yard. He looked at a row of rubbish bunkers and heard a noise from inside one of them. He opened the door and discovered the three children inside, barely alive, but alive. ... 
The houses were empty. The bunker door could only be opened from the outside. I think the children had crawled into one of the bunkers and the door had shut behind them. The police assumed that the houses had been searched, when in fact they hadn't. 
In his book, ‘Nipper’ Read, who arrested the Krays, said that he was involved in the search for the children. As a result, he insisted that in any further police searches, buildings that had been searched should be clearly marked with chalk.

Vicargate made me remember when the BBC did pay actors to pose as members of the public

My first reaction to Vicargate - the appearance of a woman on Newsnight in a dog collar when she is not ordained in any recognised church - was that it was extremely funny.

When I could see its serious side, I reflected that it was an unfortunate event that the BBC would wish to avoid in future.

But I reckoned without Auntie's unwillingness ever to admit that she has made a mistake.

Here is what Newsnight tweeted in response to those who questioned this incident:
It's true that some people noticed that Lynn is also an actress and has also appeared on several other news programmes, but that was not my concern. From my point of view, it looked as though the BBC had invented a conspiracy theory only to knock it down.

But I was reminded of a BBC News story from 1999, the era when Vanessa Feltz was being promoted by the corporation as a British Oprah Winfrey:
Talk show host Vanessa Feltz is to work on new shows for the BBC after the scrapping of her daytime programme. 
The Vanessa Show was at the centre of a row over fake guests earlier this year, after allegations that actors were booked to appear as genuine guests. 
Four production staff are no longer with the BBC and another was given a formal warning after the show was accused of featuring bogus models, actresses and strippers, and two total strangers posing as sisters.
Makes you think, doesn't it? Though you could be kind and take it as an index of how seriously the BBC takes such deception.

"Pastor", to return to Vicargate, is a conveniently loose word. Lynn turns out to be ordained in an internet-based church dedicated to making its adherents rich and to have a history of tweeting against Islam.

That's her in full fig in the photograph above. If she appears on the BBC yet again, she should me made to dress like that.

Laibach: Geburt einer Nation

A shocking reworking of a beloved Queen song that turns it into a Nazi anthem?

I see Laibach's version of One Vision as bringing out the totalitarian tendencies inherent in the song and in stadium rock in general.

As Moe Bishop once said for Vice:
If you don’t have time to listen to their cover of the Beatles' entire Let It Be album, try their cover of Queen’s “One Vision” (retitled "Geburt einer Nation," or "Birth of a Nation"). It’s hilarious, but it’s not satire or even parody. 
[Milan] Fras transforms the lyrics ("One flash of light / One God, one vision / One flesh, one bone / One true religion / One voice, one hope / One real decision," etc.) not by mocking them, but by believing them with a militancy of which Freddie Mercury was not capable. 
By singing Laibach’s covers in this way, Fras doesn’t reduce them to absurdity. Instead, the performances reveal the songs as authentic visions of utopia that had been betrayed by their creators.
Talking of their cover of Let It Be, their beautiful Across the Universe has already been a Sunday music choice for this blog.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

John Pardoe, Verdi and Aslan

Embed from Getty Images

John Pardoe, Liberal MP for North Cornwall 1966-79, who was then unsuccessfully standing for the party's leadership, pictured with his golden Labradors, Verdi and Aslan, on Hampstead Heath in 1976.

Labour's timidity over Brexit dissected

The new issue of the London Review of Books carries a review of Neal Ascherson's book Tom Nairn: ‘Painting Nationalism Red’? by Rory Scothorne.

In the course of it (and behind the LRB paywall), Scothorne nicely dissects Labour's timidity over Brexit:
None of Labour's warring factions dares to suggest that this moment of constitutional breakdown demands a constitutional revolution; instead the party is constrained by the bad logic of adjectival manoeuvre - hard, soft, chaotic, no deal, Tory, people’s – around an all-consuming and unstoppable noun. 
When experience strips away these rhetorical qualifiers, Labour will be dangerously complicit in what remains.
Neal Ascherson, who stood for the Liberal Democrats in the 1999 Holyrood elections, is one of my favourite writers. And I remember reading The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy by Tom Nairn back in the 1980s, when it was widely reviewed.

Stephen Fry Syndrome: If Remain gets a second referendum will it have any idea how to win it?

We now go over live to Remain HQ. 
Will Straw CBE: The next item on the agenda is to choose the narrator for our new video. Remember the focus groups everybody: Leave voters see us as elitist and condescending. So who's the right person to dispel that view and win them over? 
Freddie and Fiona [together]: Stephen Fry!
I have real problems with this video. It seems more calculated to make Remainers feel good about themselves than win over people who voted Leave last time.

And if you are going to try to puncture Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg's absurd claim to be anti-elitists, don't choose as your narrator someone who sounds as though he has swallowed Brian Sewell.

Stephen Fry was surely chosen because he is popular with people who already support Remain. They will not be our problem if there is a second referendum.

It makes you wonder, as I worried back in May, if we Remainers have learnt anything from our defeat two years ago.

As to who should have narrated the video instead, the best suggestion I have heard is Ray Winstone: