Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A steam train arrives at King's Cross/St Pancras Underground station

Filmed, I believe, on 13 January 2013.

Former dinner lady jailed for running £150k skunk cannabis factory at her Leicester home

Headline of the Day sees a home win by the Leicester Mercury.

Celebrating Britishness - but is it too late?

My keyboard is misbehaving today - when I try to type i I get ik7, - but I can cut and paste. So hear is some great comment on the referendum debate.

First, Ian Jack (one of my favourite journalists) mourns the possible end of Britishness:
In the SNP’s big-change but no-change version of independence, nobody’s identity is at risk. If people want to think of themselves as British as well as Scottish, then they can keep calm and carry on. 
As Salmond wrote, soothingly, in the same document: “Much of what Scotland will be like the day after independence will be similar to the day before: people will go to work, pensions and benefits will be collected, children will go out to play and life will be as normal.” 
And of course it will. But gradually British identity will wither. If it survives at all, it will become narrow, eccentric, strident and romantic, like so many other national identities that have been deprived of their states and institutions. I value it too much to want that. 
Gordon Brown erred when, as prime minister, he attempted to enunciate his list of “British values” – which turned out to be the values of most civilised nations. He would have been wiser to have written, as Orwell did, about its characteristics rather than what he imagined to be its longstanding moral beliefs. 
The markers of Britishness for me include empiricism, irony, the ad hoc approach, pluralism, and a critical awareness of its own rich and sometimes appalling history. It’s sceptical, too: it has seen a thing or two and knows nothing lasts. 
But perhaps what recommends it most is the frail senescence that makes it an undemanding kind of belonging, and unexpectedly fits it for the modern world. 
The untangling of the institutions – military, administrative, academic, ambassadorial, commercial, cultural – that have sustained this identity can’t but be painfully destructive. The past 300 years have not been about nothing.
Next, Paul Mason attends #LetsStayTogether in Trafalgar Square:
I’ve been thinking about what was different to the vibe last night and, say, the Olympic opening ceremony designed by Danny Boyle. Boyle’s spectacle was brash, drew on a Brits-via-Hollywood meme, and placed heavy stress on working class culture (Abide With Me) and the folk traditions of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 
The Dan Snow/Bob Geldof version drew much more on poetry, the non-national and even laid claim to internationalism (The Night Mail, by gay, communist conscientious objector WH Auden was read out.) 
So maybe, if you want a Britishness that exists at a higher level than medleys of regional folk songs, this is what you have to accept. 
There was no mention of royalty, or Dunkirk. Nobody shouted “British jobs for British workers”, as Gordon Brown did to the Labour party conference once. You can have strident English nationalism of the EDL and generations of far right football hooligans. 
You can have the progressive English nationalism we saw around Euro 96. You can have the sturm und drang available to both sides in Northern Ireland, or the soaring, class-based patriotism that transports rugby crowds at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
But maybe you can’t have a strident *British* nationalism. Maybe that’s the subtextual mistake all those lectern-banging politicians have been making. Maybe it has to be something quiet.
Then Isabel Hardman dissects "The Vow" made by the three party leaders:
It doesn’t matter how many front pages you sign next to your new promise to Scottish voters, you’ve still only unveiled this offer in the last two weeks. If you had it planned for ages, then why wait until the point that it’s so late you appear desperate? Or if you’ve only cobbled together this promise in the last few weeks, then is it really a good idea.
Finally, Nick Cohen shows that Scottish nationalism is as pernicious as any other variety:
Nationalists build walls to keep their people in and the rest out. They create ‘us’ and ‘them’. Friends and enemies. If you disagree, if you say they have no right to speak for you because not all Scots/Serbs/Germans/Russians/Israelis think the same or recognise their lines of the map, you become a traitor to the collective. The fashionable phrase ‘the other’ is one of the few pieces of sociological jargon that enriches thought. All enforcers of political, religious and nationalist taboos need an ‘other’ to define themselves against, and keep the tribe in line. 
The process of separation and vilification is depressing to watch but familiar enough. Scottish nationalists are preparing a rarer trick, last seen in the dying days of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. They are trying to break up an existing multi-national state and turn neighbours into foreigners. They want people, who have lived together, worked together, loved each other, had children together, moved into each other countries and out again, to be packaged and bound up in hermetically sealed boxes labelled ‘Scots’ and ‘English’.
The notion that Scottish nationalism is always cosy and ‘civic’ has flourished without challenge. Alex Salmond’s greatest propaganda success has been to limit debate. If you are outside Scotland, and disagree with him, you have no right to comment on its internal affairs. If you are inside, you are ‘talking down Scotland’; showing yourself to be a self-hating Scot unfit to serve on its ‘Team’. 
The nationalists have bullied too many into silence. People who know better have not spelt out the costs of separatism, or said clearly that progressive forces will suffer most. 
How can they not? Nationalism will allow capital to remain global, while forcing arbitrary local divisions on labour. Brian Souter and Rupert Murdoch have flirted with Salmond because they can sniff a small state coming that must, whatever its currency turns out to be, run surpluses and build reserves to please the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and, above all, a market that will punish the tiniest step away from neo-liberal orthodoxy. 
The currency question has no answer except deeper and wider austerity. That people who think of themselves as left wing can brush it aside and pretend that working and middle-class Scots won’t suffer is a self-deception so extreme it borders on religious fantasy.
Keyboard latest: the backspace is working again.

Monday, September 15, 2014

David Wynne, Boy with a Dolphin and Ozric Tentacles

Photo: Keith Pitchforth

The sculptor David Wynne died earlier this month.

I remember seeing a marquette of his Boy with a Dolphin on the Antiques Roadshow one Sunday. The next day, after calling in at the Liberal Democrat News office at Cowley Street, I walked along the bank of the Thames to Chelsea, where I came across the real thing.

The model for the boy was Wynne's son Roly, who grew up to be the bass player with Ozric Tentacles. He died in 1999.

Yes Scotland has lost the referendum campaign

Terrific stuff from Cicero's Songs:
Yes Scotland have comprehensively lost the intellectual argument. They have been totally destroyed. From currency, to healthcare, to pensions every argument that they have put forward has been eviscerated. 
It is not that Yes Scotland has more emotion that bothers me- it is that they only have emotion. All rational considerations have been ditched and those who raise the perfectly valid questions of how - practically - Scotland can avoid serious problems, are dismissed without any attempt to answer the questions.
And he later says:
This referendum has been divisive and dangerous, and no matter who wins, it will be difficult to heal the wounds that have been created. 
Now, the process of healing must begin, but the Yes campaign should understand there has been emotion - and increasingly that emotion is abiding anger at the way that they have dismissed so lightly all the serious concerns that any rational observer would have at making such a big step.
Just to cheer you up, let me add a passage from Shuggy's Blog that I quoted yesterday:
This is not a national independence movement that requires any struggle or sacrifice but rather one that promises that nothing and everything will change. Keep the Queen, the open border, the currency - you'll hardly notice a thing, except your wallet becoming a bit fatter. 
It is the lie of painlessness and that it is so widely-believed is storing up trouble for the future for this country, regardless of the outcome. For who do you imagine the nationalists will blame if they're denied this decaffeinated national rebirth, or if they get it and then realise it isn't how they were told to imagine it? Certainly not themselves.

Trivial Fact of the Day with Norman Lamb

Norman Lamb began his political career as a researcher for the Labour MP Greville Janner.

It's amazing what you learn on Wikipedia.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Paddy Ashdown on the global power shift

From the TED website:
Paddy Ashdown claims that we are living in a moment in history where power is changing in ways it never has before. In a spellbinding talk he outlines the three major global shifts that he sees coming.
This talk was filmed atTEDxBrussels in December 2011.

Six of the Best 464

"This is not a national independence movement that requires any struggle or sacrifice but rather one that promises that nothing and everything will change. Keep the Queen, the open border, the currency - you'll hardly notice a thing, except your wallet becoming a bit fatter. It is the lie of painlessness and that it is so widely-believed is storing up trouble for the future for this country, regardless of the outcome. For who do you imagine the nationalists will blame if they're denied this decaffeinated national rebirth, or if they get it and then realise it isn't how they were told to imagine it? Certainly not themselves." Shuggy pus his finger on the dishonesty of the Yes campaign.

Towards the Sound of Gunfire reveals how thin on the ground Liberal Democrats now are in many parts of the country.

David Hencke on a crunch week for the child sex abuse inquiry.

On the Spiked Review of Books, Bruno Waterfield stands up for George Orwell against Will Self.

"The man who had created the world’s greatest detective never knew how badly astray his own investigation had gone. In part to avoid embarrassing him, Elsie and Frances did not reveal the secret of the paper cutouts until long after his death." Mary Losure, on The Public Domain Review, looks at Arthur Conan Doyle and the fairies.

Retronaut presents maps from the Festival of Britain.

One the for the writer's notebook

This afternoon I was passing a house where two small boys were climbing on the fence in the front garden.

Their mother came out and the following dialogue took place.

MOTHER: Don't climb on the fence.

FIRST BOY: Why not?

MOTHER: Because your father put it up and it's very likely to fall down.

This sort of thing happens to people like Alan Bennett all the time.

Market Harborough Arts Fresco 2014

My mother is home but needs a lot of looking after, so I was able to pay only a flying visit to Arts Fresco today.

But it was good to see it back in the town.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Watch Your Step

When East Midlands Trains warned its passengers to "Watch Your Step" I used it as an excuse to post the Spencer Davis Group cover of the song of that name by Bobby Parker.

But in the comments on that post Asquith sent to me to this terrific song from Costello's fifth album (and fourth with the Attractions), Trust. Like the best of his early work, it is perfectly poised between beauty and menace.

The video shows a live performance on American television. Elvis Costello was interviewed, and it is amusing to see him encountering a chat show host from another era. Note also that in those days he had far more of a London accent than we are now used to hearing from him.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Back to Purple on the Stiperstones

When the mining industry petered out on the Stiperstones in the 20th century, many of the remains were disguised by the planting of conifers.

In recent years the Back to Purple project has seem those conifers cleared and the original vegetation of heather and bilberry (whinberry in Shropshire) restored.

Alex Salmond and Rupert Murdoch

This tweet reminds me of something I blogged in 2012 after Alex Salmond refused to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to Scotland:
I am instinctively sympathetic to the idea of small nations, but today's events have done nothing to make the prospect of an independent Scotland more attractive. 
They have reminded me of Alex Salmond's appearance before the Leveson Inquiry. You can read his evidence on the inquiry website, but this quote from a Daily Record report is telling: 
“I have no responsibility for broadcasting policy, I have no responsibility for plurality in the press but I do have a responsibility for jobs and investment in Scotland.” 
I don't find the idea that the provision of jobs in Scotland trumps concerns of media plurality or media ethics appealing. And if you heard Salmond you would have gained the impression that he would have little time for such considerations even if they were his legal responsibility. 
It is easy to imagine an independent Scotland, at least one with Salmond and the SNP in charge, being a little too keen to placate the powerful and unattractive, whether it is Rupert Murdoch or the Chinese government, out of a fear of losing jobs.
It also reminds me of this Herald report from the following year:
The police investigation into alleged misconduct by journalists in Scotland has effectively come to an end. 
Spending on Operation Rubicon has fallen to a trickle, and, by this summer, only three officers were working on the probe. 
Moreover, John McSporran, who was the senior investigating officer on the case, has retired from the force. In reference to Rubicon, 
McSporran said on his social media profile: "Retired at the end of this enquiry." ... 
During the Leveson inquiry, set up to examine the ethics of the press, the then chief constable of Strathclyde, Stephen House, said he had "no doubt" there were individuals in his force "who are in receipt of money from various people". 
As a result of the investigation, Bob Bird, the former editor of the Scottish edition of the News of the World, was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. 
Douglas Wight, news editor on the Sunday tabloid, was charged with perjury, conspiring to hack phones, and of multiple counts of conspiracy to obtain personal data. 
However, despite an initial flurry of activity, the work of Operation Rubicon now looks to be at an end.

William Hague knew of Sir Peter Morrison's possible involvement in child abuse in North Wales

In July I wrote about Sir Peter Morrison and the rumours that circulated about him in the late 1980s.

Today's Daily Mail prints an extract from the new, expanded edition of Gyles Brandreth's Breaking the Code (which I mentioned a couple of days ago). Brandreth succeeded Morrison as Conservative MP for the City of Chester constituency.

Brandreth, as well as discussing his own experiences at prep school, writes:
The first, and only, official acknowledgement of my predecessor’s possible involvement in child abuse came my way in 1996, when William Hague, then Secretary of State for Wales, came up to me in the Commons to let me know that he had ordered an inquiry into allegations of child abuse in care homes in North Wales between 1974 and 1990 - and that Morrison’s name might feature in connection with the Bryn Estyn home in Wrexham, 12 miles from Chester.
As Brandreth says, nothing has been proved against Morrison. But Hague's warning does suggest  these allegations were taken seriously in Conservative government circles.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Donald Sinden and Diana Dors

Photographed on the set of An Alligator Named Daisy with the eponymous crocodilian and Richard Wattis.

"For very good reasons, Britain's political parties do not campaign on election day"

Iain Martin, billed by the Telegraph as a "political commentator", wins our Bizarre Opening Sentence of the Day Award.

He reminds me of polling day at Richmond upon Thames in the 1983 general election. Having been up to do the good mornings and working ever since, I arrived on a doorstep 10 minutes before the polls closed.

A Conservative Party worker arrived on the same doorstep at the same moment. We compared notes and found we were there to knock up the same person.

Escaped LOBSTER found in Northampton town centre by shocked member of the public

In an extraordinary development, our Headline of the Day Award goes for the second consecutive day to a story involving lobsters.

Yesterday it was the Cambridge News: today the Northants Herald & Post.

Mind you, the best lobster story of all remains the one from Market Harborough.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stewart Lee on Mel Gibson and Braveheart

Some of the wilder voices on the Yes side of the referendum campaign are convinced that Scotland was once conquered by England.

In reality, the union of crowns was entirely voluntary. You could not see James VI's backside for dust when he was offered the throne of England, and there were soon complaints about the preference shown to Scots at the court in Whitehall.

Perhaps the belief that Scotland was conquered comes from Braveheart. If that is so, allow Stewart Lee to put you right.

An expanded edition of Breaking the Code by Gyles Brandreth

Exaro News promises us fresh revelations about Peter Morrison and the operations of the Conservative whips in a new, expanded edition of Gyles Brandreth's Breaking the Code.

Which gives me a chance to praise the first edition of that book. I once described it in Liberal Democrat News as:
a readable account of the last Conservative administration. Elected in 1992, Brandreth began as a government backbencher. He makes it clear what an awful job that is. It's not, as young idealists fear, that you may be forced to vote against your principles. It's more that you vote in the small hours when you have no idea what is at stake and would much rather be in bed.

Silent lobster vigil marred with arrest ‘over blowing a whistle’ outside Cambridge restaurant

Headline of the Day goes to the Cambridge News.

Market Harborough is the drinking capital of the Midlands

Cool as Leicester writes:
There has long been many a campaign to persuade consumers, where possible, to buy British. To protect British industry and producers. And long may that continue. But local communities are now beginning to focus their loyalty further by looking to support a “Buy Local” movement. 
There are few places where this is more evident than in Market Harborough, where local businesses proudly display “Buy Local” slogans, in support of local producers and businesses. In some areas, this might mean to sacrifice quality for community support, but with the quality of producers and businesses for food and drink in Harborough, buying local is to discover some remarkable quality produced on your doorstep. In particular, there is a whole world of outstanding alcoholic drinks to be discovered.

Warner Edwards gin on Countryfile

I have been known to sing the praises of Harringon gin distillers Warner Edwards.

Here they are on Countryfile.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

David Parsons stands down as Ukip candidate for North West Leicestershire

David Parsons, who discovered deep issues of principle after he was deposed as leader of the Conservative group on Leicestershire County Council and joined Ukip, has stood down as his new party's candidate for North West Leicestershire.

The Leicester Mercury has the news.

I wonder if Mr Parsons' record proved too colourful even for Ukip?

The dark side of Doctor Barnardo

Open Democracy tells us that Barnardo’s, the children’s charity, is working with G4S to hold asylum seekers and their children at a secure facility in West Sussex.

Which reminds me of a piece I once wrote as Professor Strange (as sort of academic cousin of Lord Bonkers) for Clinical Psychology Forum.

After explaining:
They don’t let me out of College much these days, so I spend my time feeding the ravens and exploring the less-frequented shelves of the library.
the professor went on to look at Barnardo's role in sending children out to Australia and other distant parts of the British Empire.

Far from being, as is often claimed, a secret, "It was done on a massive scale ... and was widely discussed."

And Professor Strange concluded:
Nor was Dr Barnardo himself free from controversy. More than one parent went to court in an attempt to secure the return of children who had been sent overseas. Strangely these children always seemed to have been adopted by wealthy but eccentric figures who made it a condition of the arrangement that their identities would never been revealed. 
One mother, a Mrs Gossage, fought the good doctor all the way to the House of Lords and won her case, but she never saw her son Henry again. 
We know this, the ravens and I, but if I am invited to conferences I get excited and wave my arms about too much. That is why they don’t let me out of College much these days.

Quote of the Day with George Robertson

"Devolution will kill Nationalism stone dead."

Six of the Best 463

Never mind Scotland, what about the English Question? asks Thinking Liberal.

George Dobell writes for Cricinfo on the booing of Moeen Ali by some India supporters at the summer's final one-day international: "What, it might be asked, would be the reaction if an all-white crowd booed a player of Asian origin? What would be the implications if a black player was booed each time he touched the ball? If such behaviours are deemed unacceptable - and, thankfully, in this day and age, they are - why should the booing of a man on the basis of his religion or origin be any different?"

Richly Evocative looks at London as a national park.

"If you’re a film or a politics buff, then it’s a period piece with enough charm and interest to be worth watching as a fictional constituency goes through repeated elections triggered by shifting romantic arrangements." Mark Pack reviews The Chiltern Hundreds.

Raksha Dave offers four thoughts on the final Episode of Time Team for Dig Ventures.

The launch of Warner Edwards' rhubarb gin is celebrated by The Northampton Gent.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Elvis Costello

Photographed in his psychotic bank clerk period.

Putin may threaten Estonia next

UN Dispatch reports:
Last week Russian security forces abducted an Estonian security officer along the country’s border with Russia. The incident is a serious development, but is also merely one of several that have analysts looking at Estonia as the possible next theatre for Russian ambitions.
And concludes:
Now analysts are having to contend with a real possibility that the Baltic states will be the next of Putin’s foreign adventures. If so, despite their small size, it will have far wider consequences than the current conflict in Ukraine. 
With their NATO membership, any attack on Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania will inevitably lead to a much wider conflict between the West and Russia, the type that can reshape Eastern Europe as we know it today.
So far Putin has met with little opposition from the West as he seeks to reassemble, if not the Soviet Union, then Russia's 19th-century empire.

We were silent over Georgia, near silent over the Crimea and tonight there are rumours that many European nations are resisting the sanctions over Ukraine that were agreed last week.

What I fear is a return to the situation when I was young where, not only was Estonia not an independent nation, but any thought that it might be was near ridiculous.

This is what I wrote about John Le Carré's Smiley's People and its television adaptation three years ago:
One thing that interests me about Smiley’s People is that it reminds us how much the world has changed since it was written in 1979. The plot begins with the murder by the KGB in London of an elderly former Soviet general who has defected to become the head of an Estonian nationalist organisation. 
To the realists who have taken over the Circus since Smiley’s retirement – and to an extent to Le Carré himself – the Estonians are relics of the past and somewhat ridiculous. The future lies in détente with the Soviets. I take this as a true picture of the official view under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan’s governments of the 1970s.
If we are to avoid a return to a world like that - and it is not hard to find left-wingers who will bend over backwards to find excuses for Putin's imperialism - then the West is going to have to stand up to Russia and its ambitions.

No campaign plays its last card and unveils new leader

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The remarkable ancestry of John Smith

If the late Labour leader had lived into the era of Who Do You Think You Are? his episode would have revealed a story to beat them all.

Neal Ascherson tells it in his book Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland:
John Smith’s rather was the head teacher at Ardrishaig, a little town on Loch Fyne where the Glasgow mailboats used to end their run. But the family’s roots lay a few miles further south, in a forgotten settlement called Allt Beithe in the hills beyond Tarbert. His cousin John Smith of Glendarroch has told the story of Allt Beithe’s terrible end, and of the providence which allowed them both to be born. 
In 1845, a year before the potato blight, the cholera plague reached Argyll. Perhaps a dozen people lived in the settlement then: it could be reached only over a long, rough track, and it was some days before friends in Tarbert noticed that nobody from Allt Beithe had been seen in the town for a while. 
A rescue party set out and went first to the hamlet of Baldarroch, where they found only the dead lying in their houses. Climbing on, they reached Allt Beithe. They “found everyone dead or dying except for a baby, Archibald Leitch, a little boy of two". 
He was carried back to Tarbert and brought up by relatives, and in time grew up to become a boat-builder and the great-grandfather of both John Smiths.

A ghost in the noonday sun

I sometimes post pictures of ghost signs here, but the best one I have seen is right here in Market Harborough. In fact it is in such good condition that you suspect it has been lovingly tended over the years.

This is the same Monk's furniture shop that has the wonderful tiled front.

'Bizarre' case of Leicester man who turned to drug dealing to fund trip to get away from ex-girlfriend

A local victory in Headline of the Day. Well done to the Leicester Mercury.

Guards on the Scottish border

The Mail on Sunday says that Ed Miliband says that he would look at introducing border controls if he became prime minister of the rest of the UK after Scottish independence.

The Labour Press Team denied this story on Twitter, but Reuters reported Miliband as saying something similar back in June.

Back at the start of the year I wrote that purely negative arguments would not be enough for the No side to win the referendum:
were I Scottish, if anything could convince me to vote for independence it would be being told that I could not afford it. I would be strongly tempted to vote Yes just to spite such a foolish argument.
And this looks likes a more negative argument than most.

But what if Ed Miliband is not threatening anyone? What if he is giving a sober prediction of the way things might well turn out after Scottish independence?

It easy to imagine that an independent Scotland would have more liberal immigration policies than the rest of the UK.

This is not because the Scots are inherently more left wing than the rest of us - I am sceptical of such arguments - but because its population profile would give it a greater need for young workers.

In those circumstances, it is quite possible that the rest of the UK would look at ways of stopping people coming to Scotland and then moving south.

When I suggested this on Twitter last night, some people pointed out that there are few border formalities between Northern Ireland and the Republic or even on the ferry from the Republic to Wales.

The border between Scotland and the rest of the UK might turn out to be like that. I hope it would.

But I suspect these informal arrangements are already under pressure, and Scottish independence would inevitable lead to a reconsideration of the relationships between the nations in these islands that would put them under more.

Today's reaction to the prospect of border formalities, along with my debate on Twitter last night, has confirmed to me that there are two odd things about the Scottish nationalist case.

First, those who argue for an independent Scotland are trying their best to prove that it will make no difference. We are told that Scotland will keep the Queen, keep the pound and have open borders with the rest of the UK. That seems a strange basis for demanding such an upheaval.

Second, while the political culture of the United Kingdom is so debased that Scotland must break free of it, once it does the rest of the United Kingdom will act with perfect fairness, even charity, towards it.

The truth is that, once Scotland is independent, the rest of the UK, though it will want to be a good neighbour, will seek to arrange relations between the two nations so they are as advantageous to the rest of the UK as possible.

And if the Scots thinks this sounds as though they will be pushed about a bit, they had better get used to it. That is what tends to happen to small nations.

Richard Thompson: Meet on the Ledge

For Simon Titley.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

St Saviour's Church, Leicester

Most days I get a bus or a taxi from the station and visit my mother in Leicester General Hospital.

The quarter of the city I pass through is dominated by the redundant Sir George Gilbert Scott church of St Saviour's.

No one has any more idea what to do with it than they had when I first photographed it in 2010.

Newcastle Falcons win Tweet of the Day

This tweet from the club's official account proves that it is not only football managers who whinge about the referee when their teams loses.

The final score? Leicester Tigers 36 Newcastle Falcons 17.