Thursday, April 09, 2020

Francis Wheen on David Steel and Cyril Smith


Private Eye produces a regular podcast called Page 94.

The latest issue looks at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and allegations aginst politicians.

In particular, and with the help of Francs Wheen, it looks at David Steel's odd defence of his lack of action over Cyril Smith.

But it would be unfair to blame Steel alone for this. Liberals of my generation all read the report of Smith's activities in Rochdale in Private Eye, believed it and did little.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The oak and the beech and the ash and the elm

We leave Lord Bonkers where we found him: self-isolating at Bonkers Hall. Unless the Wise Woman of Wing comes up with a cure for coronavirus, he will still be in that condition when we next meet him

Sunday

St Asquith’s is closed for the first time since the death of Mr Gladstone, so I decide to worship Nature instead. I walk in the woods above Rutland Water, gazing out at my oil wells and a familiar wake that betokens the presence of my old friend the Rutland Water Monster. Here, beneath the oak and the beech and the ash and the elm, spring flowers soak up the strengthening sun; in the branches overhead, the painted birds sing.

The mood is rather spoilt when the Bird of Liberty runs past making what can only be described as obscene signs – in my book the case for a new party logo is overwhelming. Couldn’t we have a panda? They seem much less trouble, passing their days eating bamboo shoots and not having sex.

Then, in a heart-stopping moment, I make out a Rutland gazelle standing poised for flight in the deepest recess of the woods. It carries a worried expression but springs off with the most remarkable grace when it catches sight of me.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary


  • Made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle
  • Wearing his wartime gas mask
  • A particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland
  • A foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper
  • Above all, Liberal MPs from the 1970s
  • The Professor of Hard Sums from the University of Rutland at Belvoir
  • Tuesday, April 07, 2020

    Six of the Best 918

    James Baillie government threats to ban outdoor exercise are dangerous and show the Liberal Democrats their mission.

    Hungary’s Viktor Orbán now rules by decree in a troubling example of how coronavirus fear enables authoritarians to tighten their grip, says Umut Korkut.

    "Visitors had to collect a wooden ladder and climb up it and talk through the glass of a closed window. All gifts had to be handed to the nurses, who then went through them to decide whether they were suitable." Recalling his mother's childhood experiences in a fever hospital, Stephen Colegrave reminds us that social distancing used to be commonplace.

    "Rising Damp captured the seedy feel of the 70s and the rise of the slum landlord, and mixed it with the cultural impact of women’s liberation, immigration and working class aspiration." Anna Cale celebrates the situation comedies of Eric Chappell.

    "Just outside the village of Hallaton in southeast Leicestershire, over 5,000 gold and silver coins were unearthed, along with a silver-gilt 1st century Roman cavalry helmet, various items of jewellery and fragments of pottery." Ellen Huxley on the Hallaton Treasure, now to be found in the Harborough Museum.

    Jonathan Wallace know the goats of Llandudno.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Professor of Hard Sums from the University of Rutland at Belvoir

    Something tells me that the old boy was not the greatest supporter of the Liberal Party's alliance with the SDP.

    Saturday

    So David Steel has left the party. Not before time, if you ask me. Did you know that in the early Eighties (the 1980s, that is) he persuaded the Liberal candidate to stand down in half the seats in the country in the belief that this would see us win a majority. I tried to convince him that this was mathematical nonsense and even got the Professor of Hard Sums from the University of Rutland at Belvoir to Have A Word with him, but all to no avail. Little Steel was not to be gainsayed.

    Turning to my complete run of Liberator, I locate the volumes from that era and have a jolly good laugh at his expense.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • Made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle
  • Wearing his wartime gas mask
  • A particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland
  • A foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper
  • Above all, Liberal MPs from the 1970s
  • Why the fury over sunbathing?

    Embed from Getty Images

    Who is harder to avoid when you are out for a walk and more likely to pant out the deepest recesses of their lungs: a jogger or a sunbather.

    The answer is obvious, but no one gets upset that people are still going jogging.

    But we do read stories like this about sunbathing:
    People who sunbathe are breaking the coronavirus lockdown rules, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Thousands of people have already chosen to ignore the Government’s guidance this weekend, with many enjoying the sunny weather in parks and other public places. 
    And with temperatures expected to hit 20 degrees on Sunday, more people are expected to be outdoors. 
    But those who choose to bask in the sunshine outside their own home have been warned that they are breaking the lockdown orders. 
    'Sunbathing is against the rules that have been set out for important public health reasons,' Hancock told Sky News on Sunday morning.
    I suppose it's that jogging is seen as healthy exercise and sunbathing as a form of self-indulgence. But such feelings have little to do with the objective risk to others the activities pose.

    Note too the loose employment of terms like 'rules' and 'orders'. Whatever happened to obeying the law?

    And the press seems keen to stoke this prejudice against subathing - all those foreshortened photos to make parks look more crowded than they are. 

    Perhaps they want to take the heat off the government by finding alternative villains?

    Write a guest post for Liberal England


    Under lockdown and at a loose end? This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

    As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent guests posts, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects beyond the Lib Dems

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

    Monday, April 06, 2020

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Above all, Liberal MPs from the 1970s

    What's this? Friction between Lord Bonkers and the Well-Behaved Orphans? It's all too reminiscent of the Mutiny of 1928.

    Friday

    Despite the security precautions I take to prevent undesirable characters – estate agents, advertising executives and, above all, Liberal MPs from the 1970s – getting into the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans, its young inmates have always proved distressingly adept at getting out. I come across a group of them by the village pond feeding dry bread to the Bird of Liberty as it swims about squawking. They enquire after my health as they have heard that the elderly are particularly vulnerable to this damned virus.

    I fear they are in for a disappointment: I took the precaution of stocking up on the tonic sold by the Elves of Rockingham Forest when my agents in China first told me that things were amiss, and only this morning I had intercourse with the Wise Woman of Wing, who sold me some of her choicest herbs. There is life in this old dog yet.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary
  • Made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle
  • Wearing his wartime gas mask
  • A particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland
  • A foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper
  • Honor Blackman was a Liberal Party supporter

    Embed from Getty Images

    Honor Blackman - Cathy Gale in The Avengers, Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and much else besides - died today at the age of 94. There is an obituary on the Guardian site.

    Back in the 1960s, Honor Blackman was a prominent supporter of the Liberal Party. The photograph above shows her campaigning in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency in the 1966 general election.

    A better idea than closing Eton down

    Embed from Getty Images

    Looking at the sort of people it turns out - David Cameron, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Charles Moore - it is tempting to call for the place to be closed down.

    But I have a better idea.

    Eton was founded by Henry VI Eton College as a charity school to provide free education to 70 poor boys.

    So let's return it to its original purpose of educating the poor.

    Sunday, April 05, 2020

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: A foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper

    After this, the debate over whether the Liberal Democrats need a new logo will gain new life.

    Thursday

    It has become my custom, when the first stirrings of spring are felt here in Rutland, to offer the Bird of Liberty a short holiday. Despite my voluntary isolation, I have maintained the custom this year. More to the point, I have maintained the custom despite the Bird of Liberty.

    At the best of times it is a foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper, and these are from the best of times. It has taking to swanking about the village telling people that birds are immune to the coronavirus, and yesterday it attempted to buy all the pasta in the village shop.

    It is no wonder that increasing numbers of Liberal Democrat activists are asking themselves whether it is time for the bird to go.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    Michael Nyman: Drowning by Numbers (Finale)


    This makes me happy and, God knows, we need cheering up at the moment.

    The group playing is the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble (NBE) - or Netherlands Wind Ensemble. Thanks to automatic translation and their website, I can tell you:that it
    is a group of more than 20 top musicians who come together about 80 times a year to play special programmes at home and abroad. ...
    A thirst for adventure drives the NBE to create theatrical music programs that can seldom be captured under one musical heading; the NBE combines contemporary and early music of all shapes and sizes that stimulates the senses and imagination.
    The music is taken from Michael Nyman's score for Peter Greenaway's 1988 film Drowning by Numbers.

    Saturday, April 04, 2020

    The Montgomery Canal at Welshpool, 1973

    Photo: Harry Arnold

    'The last of the Inland Waterways Association Bulletins I bought at Foxton last summer is the issue for March 1973.

    Taken from it, this photograph shows the Montgomery Canal at Welshpool. Below is a photograph of the same scene I took in 2014.

    My plan had been to return my IWA Bulletins to Foxton Locks, where I bought them, and come away with a new batch. That plan will have to be postponed.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: A particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland

    Our week at Bonkers Hall continues, and we find the old monster ensconced in front of the Library fire again. You may imagine spaniels at his feet if that helps.

    Wednesday

    Here is an Edwardian volume of Liberator – an era when Radical Bulletin was already long established as a favourite item with the magazine’s readership. Opening it I find a cutting anecdote about the Master of Elibank and a particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland being seen jumping from an upper window sans trousers as an irate husband bounded up the stairs of a cottage on his own estate. Who, I wonder, can have supplied those nuggets of gold?

    In those days, incidentally, I wrote a satirical diary in the character of a jolly old Whig who, while his heart was undoubtedly in the right place, was all at sea in the modern world.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    Why I'm concerned the Lib Dem leadership election has been postponed until next May

    Embed from Getty Images

    Last week the Liberal Democrats' Federal Board voted to postpone the party's leadership election until May 2021.

    It's not clear what constitutional basis they had for doing so, and there had been much criticism of the decision. Some see it as a way of excluding the party's members from the choice of leader, at least for a year, to ensure the establishment's favourite son retains the post for as long as possible

    I worry because the idea the public will be impressed that we have stepped back from the political fray and reward us at the ballot box in due course, which some use as an argument in support of the decision, reminds me of a strand in the party's thinking I have complained about before:
    You often hear the criticism that we are too tribalist, but that is a libel. 
    Chuka Umunna joined the party and was made our Treasury spokesperson the same weekend, and I have not read a whisper of criticism of him or that promotion. 
    Back in the 1980s the Liberal Party, which was supposed to be far more fractious than the modern-day Lib Dems, did David Steel's bidding and stood down in half the seats in the country to make room for the SDP. You can't  get much less tribal than that. 
    A fairer criticism of Liberals and Liberal Democrats over the years would be that we have been too prone to the belief that the route to success lies in giving in. 
    If only we give up enough of our beliefs and policies, runs the logic, if only we stand down in favour of someone else in enough seats, we will be swept to power. 
    You sometimes get the idea we believe we are an obstacle to Liberal government and not its greatest hope.
    These days a wholly online campaign would exclude few members, but it would be wrong to hold the election right away.

    But let's hold it as soon as is decent and practicable. Otherwise, by the time the we get a new leader the public may have forgotten all about us.

    Friday, April 03, 2020

    Secrets of the Tyne & Wear Metro



    Another video from the engaging Geoff Marshall.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Wearing his wartime gas mask

    A second day in lockdown at Bonkers Hall. Personally, I think Meadowcroft has the right idea.

    Tuesday

    Meadowcroft has taken this damned virus badly, locking himself in his potting shed and  morning, noon and night. You may very well feel he is Going A Bit Far, but he is determined not to pass the virus on to his beloved geraniums. As I gaze out of the window I see Cook pushing slices of cheese on toast under the door. What a fine woman she is!

    Meanwhile, all this insistence that one washes one’s hands gives me some insight into what it must be like to be a Well-Behaved Orphan. You see, Matron (another fine woman) has strong views on the subject – also necks, as I know to my cost.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    The Angel, Market Harborough, has closed


    Sad news in the Leicester Mercury. The Angel Hotel in Market Harborough has closed permanently.

    The Mercury report says the owners have decided to cease trading 'with a heavy heart' for a number of reasons, including the coronavirus lockdown.

    I have to admit I didn't go in there very often, unless it was to watch the rugby on television. It was the sort of place that hosted the annual dinners of local clubs and societies - and there's nothing wrong with that.

    No doubt the building will be bought by Brooke House College, the private school aimed at overseas students which already rents some of the upstairs rooms, as it continues its takeover of the town.

    The Angel is a Grade II Listed building. You can read about it on the British Listed Buildings site.

    Thursday, April 02, 2020

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Leather made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle

    I suggested to Lord Bonkers that there was no need to reprint this week's diary here, seeing as everyone can download the whole issue of Liberator free of charge, but he did not see it that way. 

    So here we go again...

    Monday

    The authorities emphasise that this beastly new virus is a danger to the elderly, so for the past two weeks I have isolated myself to avoid any risk of infecting them. If it were not for my domestic staff and the secret passage that comes out in the cellar of the Bonkers’ Arms, I should have gone stir crazy by now.

    The Library here at the Hall –  I now pass most of the day beside its fire – is justly celebrated. If these were normal times a stream of visiting scholars would be making their way up the drive to inspect my incunabula, but today I am alone with my books.

    Among my most prized possessions is a complete run of 400 years of Liberator bound in leather made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle. (The Rutland gazelle, understandably, is an elusive creature, which is why you rarely catch sight of it on one of D. Attenborough’s programmes for the moving television.)

    I open an early volume and find it simply full of debate between Diggers and Levellers. In those days, of course, a writer who riled the authorities risked having his ears cropped and his cheeks branded with the letters ‘S.L.’ for ‘seditious libeller’ (or possibly ‘social liberal – the sources differ). Funnily enough, I once had to step in to prevent David Steel exacting the same penalty upon this magazine editorial collective.

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

    Neal Ascherson on the nature of the British state

    Embed from Getty Images

    Neal Ascherson reviews Richard Norton-Taylor's 'pugnacious' The State of Secrecy: Spies and the Media in Britain for the London Review of Books.

    His second paragraph runs:
    The structure of the ‘British’ state is still essentially monarchical. Constitutionally, the rest of the democratic world has moved on, adopting variants of the Enlightenment notion of popular sovereignty. Power resides in theory with the people, whose communities lease upwards only those functions they cannot exercise themselves. But in Britain, its archaisms only lightly reformed, power still flows downwards. The absurd doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty – that weird English scrap of parchment – in effect means parliamentary absolutism, a hasty 1689 transfer from the divine right of kings. We don’t have ‘inalienable rights’, but are allowed to vote and speak freely only because the government, through Parliament, generously lends some of its power to its subjects.

    Andrew Cuomo’s nipples take our minds off coronavirus






    After meeting by Zoom for the third consecutive day, the judges agreed this blog's Headline of the Day Award should go to the New York Post.

    Wednesday, April 01, 2020

    Liberator celebrates its 50th birthday

    To celebrate Liberator's 50th birthday, the whole of its latest issue - the magazine's 400th - can be downloaded as a pdf for free.

    There are topical articles, including a look at the runners riders to be the next Liberal Democrat leader, as well as ones that look at the magazine's history. There are also reprinted pieces from such absent friends as Conrad Russell and Simon Titley.

    Look too for an important announcement about Liberator's future.

    To think, if I hadn't met John Tilley at a Kingston Liberals barbecue in the summer of 1983, I might never have got involved with it.

    Market Harborough in plague year


    One day, we hope, these images will be a quaint and forgotten part of our history.



    Astrophysicist gets magnets stuck up nose while inventing coronavirus device










    Thanks to a nomination from one of the party's joint acting leaders, the Guardian wins Headline of the Day.

    Tuesday, March 31, 2020

    The Changes (1975)


    What artistic parallels are there for the life we are living now?

    I feel I am in the opening chapters of a John Wyndham novel or one of those series made in the 1970s to terrify children.

    A good example of the latter is The Changes from 1975. You can see a snatch of it above and listen to a good discussion of it in an episode of the podcast Jaffa Cakes for Proust.

    Six of the Best 917

    The Liberal Democrat leadership election should not be delayed until May 2021, says Hermione Peace. And she's right.

    "Whole streets in the City were shuttered and even the Spring Gardens at Vauxhall were all but deserted." Gillian Darley takes us to London in the devastating plague year of 1665.

    Tom Hartley, a psychologist, explains how one terrifying, exciting night of delusions, hallucinations and paranoia has informed his view of mental illness.

    Charlie Pullen looks at the experimental schools of the 1920s: "Strange new schools sprang up, old schools broke with convention and adopted new procedures, the new methods of teaching or of school organization were bruited abroad, new educational societies were formed. It was a period of intense and feverish activity."

    "His son George Bingham is ‘quite certain’ there was no intruder, a view he shares, he says, with his close family. He has said he wants to believe his father is culpable; it is too painful otherwise to think he abandoned his children for no apparent reason." Rosemary Hill on the murder of Sandra Rivett and the disappearance of Lord Lucan.

    Andy Miller reviews a new book on the Kinks.

    Pigs start 75 square metre fire after swallowing and excreting battery powered pedometer






    Thanks to a nomination from a Liberal England reader, the Independent wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    Monday, March 30, 2020

    A psychologist explains how politicians evade questions



    The psychologist Professor Peter Bull talks about his research into the way politicians answer questions - or fail to answer them.

    In my day job, I wrote a media release that led to widespread coverage of Professor Bull's research last year.

    Here is an example from the Sun:
    Theresa May has answered barely a quarter of questions put to her - making her the most evasive Tory PM in 40 years. 
    Boffins at the University of York studied the way Mrs May dealt with broadcast interviews and compared it with the responses of David Cameron, John Major and Margaret Thatcher. 
    They found that in the course of two interviews after she became Prime Minister in 2016 and four during the course of the 2017 general election, Mrs May only answered 27 per cent of the questions put to her. 
    In contrast, Mr Cameron answered 34 per cent of questions in the 2015 general election, while both Mr Major in the 1992 election and Margaret Thatcher in 1987 answered 39 per cent of questions they were asked.
    Nice use of 'boffins' there.

    Charles Dickens in the blacking warehouse

    Recently discovered records from the Court of Chancery cast fresh light on the formative experience in Charles Dickens' life.

    As a boy. after his father had been imprisoned for debt, Dickens was forced to work ten-hour days as a drudge in Warren's Blacking Warehouse, on Hungerford Stairs, near the present Charing Cross railway station.

    In a podcast for The National Archives, Michael Allen examines the new records and comes to this conclusion:
    Based on the evidence in the pleadings, I would now suggest that young Charles began his life of drudgery at the age of 11, and not at the age of 12, in September 1823, and that he was at Hungerford Stairs from September 1823 to January 1824, about four months, and then the move to Chandos Street took place, and he was taken out by his father in September 1824. So that makes the year that he guessed that he was there for.

    Wendy Chamberlain on potholes and social justice


    Wendy Chamberlain, the new Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife, is profiled by The House Magazine:
    In keeping with her varied professional career, Chamberlain has a range of interests she wants to push from the backbenches. As well as a passion for veterans’ resettlement, she is a keen supporter of equal access to sports based on social background. ... 
    “How many of our Olympians went to private school?” she asks, “How many talented children have we missed because they don’t get the opportunities for sports?” 
    However, if she became prime minister, the first “really mundane” thing Chamberlain would do is invest in “a machine that deals with and eradicates potholes for good”.
    Wendy comes over well in this piece, but I'd like our MPs to leave potholes to councillors and concentrate on social justice,

    Sunday, March 29, 2020

    Spencer Davis Group: I Can't Get Enough of It



    Inevitably, it wasn't much of a birthday, but tradition allows me to choose a Spencer Davis Group track the following Sunday.

    I Can't Get Enough of It was the B-side of the Spencer Davis Group single I'm a Man. It was written by Steve Winwood and the American producer Jimmy Miller.

    Saturday, March 28, 2020

    The redevelopment of Leicester Central


    Leicester Central was the city's other mainline station. It opened with the Great Central's London extension in 1899 and closed in 1969.

    Five years ago I went there to see what remained and found more than I had expected.

    That quarter of the city is now undergoing major redevelopment, so I went back a couple of weekends ago to see how the remains were faring.

    The station buildings are being restored, but it turns out that when work is complete they will be home to a bowling alley, which I find a little underwhelming.

    Hotels have gone up across the road and work has begun to clear the site above the station buildings. The remains of the platforms have gone and soon the industrial units will be razed to make room for tall new buildings.






    By the time the Lib Dems get a new leader the public may have forgotten about us

    The Liberal Democrats have announced, though the constitutional basis for it is not clear, that they will not hold a leadership election until May 2021.

    The reason given on the party website is:
    Our Federal Board has decided that we will not have a leadership election until May 2021, so that we can focus on dealing with the coronavirus crisis. 
    We know that coronavirus will have many implications for our society, public services, economy and day-to-day lives. 
    It will also have important implications for how we operate as a political party. In particular, even when current lockdown restrictions are relaxed, we still be living in a world where for months, if not years, to come it is possible lockdowns will have to be reintroduced at short notice.
    We certainly have to look at the implications of the coronavirus for Lib Dem structures and campaigning, but the website makes it sound as though we are in government.

    Meanwhile, the latest opinion poll has the Lib Dems on seven per cent.

    It may be that politics-as-usual will not resume before May of next year. But the worry is that it will do so before that and, by the time we are back in the game with a new leader, the public will have forgotten all about us.

    Friday, March 27, 2020

    Dramarama: Snap (1987)



    Dramarama was an ITV series of one-off plays for children. Each had a science fiction or supernatural theme. After a one-off programme was shown in 1982, it ran to seven seasons between 1983 and 1989.

    The genuinely unsettling Snap, with its echoes of M.R. James and Romney Marsh locations, was shown in 1987.

    The sudden recovery of disturbing memories

    Embed from Getty Images

    I used to be sceptical of the idea that traumatic memories could suddenly resurface.
    But in recent years I have had some experience of this myself as two memories – not traumatic but a little disturbing – reappeared without warning.

    The first dates from my days as a student at York. There was not much to do on campus on Sunday afternoons, so I got into the habit of walking to the next village and buying a meal from the one shop that was open there.

    I remember these Sunday afternoons as being always foggy with an almost violet light. “Fog in the Vale of York” was a recurrent theme on the radio weather forecast in winter.

    One afternoon I was taking this walk, and as I passed a house I saw a body bag being carried out.

    The second takes me back to Boxmoor primary school. When you moved on to secondary school there were two choices. You either went to Hemel Hempstead School, which had just gone comprehensive after being a very traditional grammar school, which is what I did. Yes, reader, I once wore a school cap.

    If you didn’t get a place there, you went to the former secondary modern Bourne Valley, which was seen as being second best by a distance.

    The top class at Boxmoor was not large, even though some children had been moved up to it early to balance numbers, so only three boys were given a place at Bourne Valley.

    Two were good friends of mine and the parents of both appealed, trying to get them a place at the former grammar.

    One was the son of a doctor and, as my parents forecast, he duly won his appeal. The other boy didn’t and the memory that resurfaced was of him sitting in the boys’ cloakroom at Boxmoor crying at the unfairness of it all and of the rest of us standing around awkwardly not knowing what to do.

    An interesting thing about the reappearance of these memories is that in neither case could I find any reason why it should have happened when it did. There was no connection with what I had been doing or thinking at the time.

    It makes me worry a little about what might bubble up next.

    Thursday, March 26, 2020

    Lib Dem leadership election postponed until May 2021





    The decision is announced this evening in an article by party president and joint acting leader Mark Pack on the party website.

    Television commercials for Midland Counties ice cream

    One of the highlights of the canal holidays we had when I was a little boy was Midland Counties Ice Cream. In Hertfordshire it was all Walls or Lyons Maid, but further north they had a different company with different lollies.
    So I blogged back in 2010. Sadly, the Midland Counties television commercial in that post, with its canalside scenes, is gone from YouTube.

    But do not despair. If you click on the image above you will be taken to a selection of Midland Counties commercials on the British Film Institute site.

    The BFI says:
    Like a Neapolitan ice cream block, these early TV ads for the frozen delights of Midland Counties are stacked together in a medley of flavours. Back to back the individual distinctions of any single advert melt away, revealing the clichés in phrases and framing behind them. 
    The pause at the end of each advert, known as the “TV hold”, would have been edited out for broadcast. Left intact it marks an awkward pause in which the often flimsy set-up of the ad threatens to collapse around it.
    You can read more about Midland Counties ice cream on the J. Lyons & Co. site.

    A tour of Southwell Minster: Mythical creatures, green men, animals of the forest



    While we are all isolating ourselves, videos like this are close to unbearable.

    Next year at the Saracen's Head.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2020

    Six of the Best 916

    David Boyle looks to life after the coronavirus: "I'm not sure anyone will miss the airlines and airports (except the British, of course, who fly more than any nation on earth). The future of food looks set to be local with short supply lines after all. But if the economy was in such a dire situation before, then it may be that some government support for salaries will have to be semi-permanent."

    From miraculous cures to paranoid conspiracies, misinformation about coronavirus is going viral at a disturbing rate say Ella Hollowood and Alexi Mostrous.

    "Even nowadays, with parents the stunned and submissive onlookers at their children’s lives, a middle-aged man would think twice about meeting the family of the 17-year-old son he’s knocking off." Alan Bennett on W.H. Auden in love.

    Film School Rejects chooses the 50 best coming of age movies ever.

    "Astérix doesn’t beat brute force by superior cunning and intelligence – he does it thanks to his unexpected access to even bruter force than the enemy can deliver." Mary Beard considers the most celebrated Gaul.

    Patrick Mulkern looks at the career of Patrick Troughton, who was a hundred years ago today.

    Tuesday, March 24, 2020

    Former Lib Dem MP stranded in New Zealand

    Embed from Getty Images

    The Eastbourne Herald reports:
    Ex-Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd, who is stranded in New Zealand due to the coronavirus outbreak, is leading the call for all holidaymakers there to be repatriated. 
    Mr Lloyd and his partner Cherine arrived in Auckland at the beginning of March on the first stop of a holiday in New Zealand and Australia. 
    They toured the North Island and headed to the South Island staying with friends and family but were then told their route home via Sydney in Australia on April 2 would have to be brought forward. 
    But then Australia closed its borders and when Singapore closed as a transfer airport, the couple said they realised they were stranded in New Zealand.
    Lloyd tells the paper that he has discovered that hundreds of other UK residents are also stuck in New Zealand.

    Ruddington Fields station, Great Central - Nottingham


    Great Central - Nottingham's base is at the former army depot at Ruddington. To reach it trains have to reverse down a branch after they have reached the line's northern limit.

    The site also houses a transport museum and stands in Rushcliffe Country Park.





    Monday, March 23, 2020

    Six of the Best 915

    "This week, we’ve seen far more of Boris Johnson than we ever thought was possible. With No 10 now home to a live, daily broadcast, Johnson’s Achilles heel (one of many), has truly been exposed - his need to be adored. The result is pandemonium for the rest of us." Charlotte Moore on Boris Johnson's approach to coronavirus - at least before this evening.

    Johnny McDermott finds lessons for the Liberal Democrats in T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone.

    "The simple truth is that the torrent of online rumour-mongering is simply filled by a vacuum left where official communications should be." James Ball says we should not blame social media companies for the government's failure.

    Peter Black asks if the BBC's Question Time has run its course.

    "In the confines of an idyllic English meadow a grisly hell breaks loose. A group of deserting Civil War soldiers team up in order to seek out a pub but are soon ensnared by O'Neil, a terrifying necromancer and alchemist, who orders them to hunt for buried gold." Jason Barlow recommends viewing A Field in England while practising coronavirus distancing.

    "Glenn McGrath was launched down the ground in his first over, Shane Warne yawningly swept into the grandstand. Hollioake looked like a man born to do exactly this, not just once but many times." Barney Ronay celebrates the brief career of Ben Hollioake.

    Film based on Malcolm Saville story released on DVD.


    The British Film Institute has just released its Children's Film Foundation Bumper Box Vol. 2.

    This consists of three DVDS, each containing three British Film Foundation films. And one of the films is Treasure at the Mill from 1957, which is based on a book by this blog's hero Malcolm Saville.

    IMDB has a summary of the plot:
    Fourteen-year-old John Adams lives alone with his mother, who works as a cleaning lady for a living. It's holiday time now. John shares his free time between two activities, helping Mr. Wilson, an old antique dealer who is also his mother's employer, to put his books in order and strolling along the pond on the banks of which stands a charming old mill. 
    Now, Mrs Adams has shown John a casket containing a parchment indicating that a treasure has been buried at the mill. The boy has a dream : finding the treasure and buying his deserving mother a cottage. To this end he will be helped by Merrilyn (16), Hilary (14) and Harry( 10), the children of the new owners of an estate by the pond.
    On the other hand his plans will be thwarted by Mr Wilson, who will show his true colours : greed and spitefulness... 
    The Bumper Box will set you back £29.99, but you could try offering four sheets of toilet paper or a paracetamol tablet.

    I have my own copy of this book, but the illustration above is borrowed from the Malcolm Saville centenary website because I am too lazy to scan the wrapper. Thanks John!

    Sunday, March 22, 2020

    Lib Dems to table social care amendments to the Coronavirus Bill

    Embed from Getty Images

    PoliticsHome reports that the Liberal Democrats are to table two amendments to the Coronavirus Bill when it comes before the Commons tomorrow.

    They are designed to ensure that moves to temporarily relax councils' social care duties do not lead to standards slipping.

    The government bill waives some of local authorities' responsibilities towards vulnerable people as set out in the 2014 Care Act.

    The website says:
    The Lib Dem amendment would order the Health Secretary to produce a "comprehensive" report every three months if the Coronavirus Bill passes, spelling out "how the Government will guarantee provisions for social care while this Act is in force". 
    The first one would have to come within just ten days of the emergency law being passed, and would require MPs to be updated on funding available to support social care providers - as well as Government plans to keep standards at "as high a level as possible". 
    A second amendment demands that the Government guarantees social care providers will have the cash required to meet local needs - with the Lib Dems warning that the system is "already overstretched".
    It quotes are new health spokesperson Munira Wilson:
    "Ministers need to prepare for the worst if staffing levels in the social care sector are badly hit, but also commit to doing everything possible to maintain current standards. Lower standards should not become the new norm in an already overstretched social care system."

    Columnist says people feel they can trust the Lib Dems again

    We Liberal Democrats have become more used to being kicked than praised. So it was good to read this from Barbara Ellen in the Observer:
    I can’t be the only one who remains grateful to the Lib Dems for offering a safe political harbour from Corbynism and Brexit. I also applaud how they stuck to their Remain principles, without trying to work both sides. If nothing else, this helped dislodge the mud that’s stuck to them since the 2010 Tory coalition. While there’s much to be done, people feel they can trust the Lib Dems again.

    Brenda Lee: What'd I Say



    Brenda Lee was in London for the 1964 Royal Variety Performance. As the blurb on YouTube explains, in search of an updated sound she met Mickie Most, the hot producer at the time.

    They chose Is It True? as the A-side of a single and Brenda picked What'd I Say as the B-side. She wanted to be the first female to cover Ray Charles controversial 1959 hit.

    The sound proved too raw for her US record company and a different track was used as the B-side over there.

    The guitarist here is Jimmy Page and there is a good article about Brenda Lee in Rolling Stone.

    Saturday, March 21, 2020

    The Caldon Canal in 1972

    Photo: Harry Arnold

    My March 1972 issue of the IWA Bulletin carries this photograph of the Caldon Canal near Hazlehurst Junction, where its branch to Leek and main line to Froghall Basin diverge.

    The Bulletin says that the line to Froghall was about to be restored.

    I walked the whole of the Caldon over two days in the spring of 1988. The walk began in the centre of Stoke-on-Trent and took me to the Churnet Valley.

    Part of this were so remote they carried the river, canal and a railway, but no road.

    Matthew Taylor, Percy Harris and Charles Masterman

    Embed from Getty Images

    Matthew Taylor, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Truro, was adopted as a baby by the film and television writer Ken Taylor and his wife.

    In later life he decided to trace his birth mother, with the result that I blogged in 2008:
    This morning's Times revealed that Matthew Taylor, the Lib Dem MP for Truro, who was adopted as a baby, has traced his birth mother. It turns out that she is the granddaughter of Sir Percy Harris, who was a prominent Liberal MP. 
    Sir Percy was first elected to the Commons for Harborough at a 1916 by-election. There was an official truce between the parties, but he had to overcome strong opposition from Thomas Gibson Bowles, an Independent candidate backed by Lord Northcliffe and the Daily Mail. 
    Like Charles Masterman, Harris was identified with the social reform wing of the Liberal Party but remained loyal to Asquith because he did not trust Lloyd George and his machinations with the Tories. The result was the he failed to receive the Coupon in Harborough in 1918 and the seat was lost to the Tories for the first time since 1891. 
    Sir Percy returned to the House as MP for Bethnal Green South West in 1922 and was to hold the seat until 1945, by which time he was the last Liberal MP left in London. When the Liberals ran Tower Hamlets in the 1980s canvassers reported meeting old people who still voted Liberal "because of Sir Percy".
    Later in that post I wrote that
    Families do have an amazing way of rolling back the years. In a second Times article on the story, Matthew writes of his birth mother:
    She has visited us twice and when I was Liberal shadow chancellor she sat in the Commons for the first time since she watched her grandfather speak as a little girl, to see my response to the budget.
    When this story broke, Matthews's grandfather Sir Jack Harris was still alive at the age of 101. The reports said he had recently published his memoirs, so I ordered a copy in the hope it would contain some recollections of Harborough politics almost a century before.

    From that point of view the book proved a disappointment - it read like the work of a man approaching his hundredth year.

    He did write about the Harborough by-election of 1916, which his father Percy Harris won, but his memory proved disappointing:
    My father was given the seat of Market Harborough by the party, where he was ... totally unknown. He managed to win this seat because there was a big Liberal swing when the Asquith government was elected in 1908 (sic). However, in a swing back in the next election he lost his seat.
    As regular readers of this blog will know, the truth is that Harborough had been Liberal since 1891, largely because of the efforts of the mighty Paddy Logan.

    And as I say in the post quoted above, Percy Harris lost Harborough in 1918 because he refused the Coupon from the Lloyd George coalition.

    Yes Jack Harris did have something interesting to say about his father's political career:
    My father wished to pursue his political career by standing for parliament for Bethnal Green, which he already represented on the London County Council, but party HQ thought otherwise. They sent down a man called Masterman, who was unknown to the electorate, to stand for the seat. He promptly lost it to the Conservatives.
    In fact Masterman won the by-election, but had to fight another in the seat when he was promoted to the cabinet and lost that one.

    So I turned instead to Percy Harris's memoirs Forty Years In and Out of Parliament and found confirmation that, as well as being comrades, he and Charles Masterman were rivals.

    Percy Harris had been adopted as prospective candidate for Bethnal Green South West, where the sitting Liberal MP was expected to resign soon. Then Charles Masterman was disqualified as an MP elsewhere in London because of irregularities with his return of election expenses, and the national party saw a Bethnal Green by-election as an opportunity to get him back into the Commons.

    Masterman won the nomination to fight the by-election, but Harris writes:
    A number of angry Radicals walked out of the meeting, formed a Labour association, and proceeded to adopt a candidate.
    For more about Charles Masterman's career, see an article of mine in Liberator.

    Archy Kirkwood and the Average White Band

    Embed from Getty Images

    Alwyn Turner's masterly survey of the UK singles charts of my early teenage years for Lion & Unicorn has reached March 1975.

    One of the top ten in the week he chooses was Pick Up the Pieces by the Average White Band. Alwsyn rightly describes them as "Britain’s best-ever funk band".

    When I chose Pick Up the Pieces as one of my Sunday music videos I repeated some lines from Norman Baker's Against the Grain where he remembered an unsuccessful gig by his band The Reform Club:
    As well as members of the band, we had roped in Archy Kirkwood, the Lib Dem MP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, on guitar, and Chris Berry, our Eastbourne candidate, on keyboards. 
    Archy was a competent rhythm guitarist and had been in a Scottish band in the 1960s, half of which went on to be the Average White Band, though not Archy's half.
    This morning I sent the link to this post to Alwyn, and of course he knows more than I do.

    It turns out Arch was a member of a band called The Kingpins and only one of its members, Onnie McIntyre, later joined the Average White Band.

    Googling The Kingpins does not get you far, but it does lead you to the site of another band member, Lex Gibson, and reveals that this history got scrambled so there was once a rumour that Archy had been in the Average White Band himself.

    My own first involvement with Archy Kirkwood was at my first Liberal Assembly at Bournemouth in 1984.

    This was the era of big debates on nuclear weapons and we radicals wanted people with clout on the platform so they would be seen voting against David Steel's support for cruise missiles.

    So I got there early and took a seat on the platform, only to give it up to Archy just before the debate began.

    Thursday, March 19, 2020

    The Rushcliffe by-election of 1934


    Click on the image above to watch Reel Rushcliffe Newsreel on the BFI site.

    There the blurb says:
    This very basic campaign film, shot in the amateur 9.5mm format, was made to promote Ralph Assheton, the Conservative MP for Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire from 1934 to 1945. Predominantly using still photographs and captions, the film follows Assheton's victory in a by-election in July 1934, through to his maiden speech to the House the following year. An ominous mention of German re-armament and warnings given to Mussolini in Italy underline an uncertain future. 
    Ralph Assheton (1901-1984) later held the seats of the City of London and Blackburn West before his elevation to the Lords as Baron Clitheroe in 1955.
    The result in the by-election (held on 26 July 1934) was:

    Ralph Assheton (Conservative)    19,374
    H.J. Cadogan (Labour)                 15,081
    Arthur Marwood (Liberal)                5,251

    Lord Dholakia's campaign to raise the age of criminal responsibility

    The BBC play Responsible Child, shown just before Christmas, questioned the low age of criminal responsibility in Britain and in particular our practice of trying children as young as 10 in front of a jury as though they were adults.

    This is a cause the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Dholakia has long been fighting. Before the general election was called he had succeeded in taking a bill through the Lords to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 and he has promised to continue this campaign.

    Here he is moving the second reading of his bill in September 2017 and talking about the trial of the killers of James Bulger:
    Most foreign commentators were amazed that children of that age should be tried in an adult Crown Court. They questioned whether such young children could really understand the complexities of a lengthy criminal prosecution and trial; whether they should have appeared in the full glare of media coverage; whether they understood all the issues and the language of the trial; whether they could give sensible instructions to their lawyers; and whether their decision not to give evidence was simply because they were frightened of speaking in such a setting. 
    Even though some changes have been made to court processes involving children since then, it remains true that exposing such young children to a criminal trial is no way to achieve justice. 
    The scene from Responsible Child above - click on the image to go to a video on Twitter - conveys well the absurdity of pretending that a traumatised child can participate meaningfully in his own trial.

    It is also reminds us how good the performance by the young lead, Billy Barratt, was. Judging by Twitter, his emotional scenes towards the end of the play made the nation cry, but here he is beautifully understated.

    If you read Lord Dholakia's speech in full - the whole debate is worth reading - you will find that he says:
    A 30 year-old with the mental age of a 10 year-old child would probably be regarded as unfit to plead, so why do we see a child of 10 as capable of participating in the criminal justice process?
    I suspect he and the writer of Responsible Child had spoken to the same experts.