Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cat of the Day

Today's winner is Teddy from Leicester, who makes good use of a bird table.

Nick Clegg on Cyril Smith: "It was like that when I got here"

Asked at his press conference yesterday about the allegations of serial child abuse against Cyril Smith, Nick Clegg said he had known nothing of them when he paid tribute to Smith on his 80th birthday as a "beacon" and an "inspiration" on his 80th birthday in 2008:
"Cyril Smith stood down as an MP 13 years before I became an MP. Many of the actions, the repugnant actions, which we now learn about took place well before the party I now lead even existed – in fact, took place before I even existed.
"Given those facts and that chronology, it is – as my party has made quite clear – not surprising that the Liberal Democrats, who were founded in 1989, two or three years before Cyril Smith stood down, were not aware."
Personally, I have known about the allegations against Smith since a considerably milder version of them appeared in Private Eye in 1979. As I once wrote, I have always assumed they were true.

Nick says he never heard them, and we must believe them. But the fact that there was no one in his inner circle to mention it to him does support the view (held by old farts like me) that he has surrounded himself with a group of bright young things with no great knowledge of the party.

I don't think Nick's response on Cyril Smith is successful, and the reason it doesn't tells us a lot about the problems he now faces.

During the television debates in the last general election campaign he could present himself as a young outsider without political baggage. He tries to do it here, but it does not work.

Nick Clegg is seen as a politician like any other who makes compromises and does not always tell the truth. The mishandling of tuition fees - I could never quite work out whether he was apologising for making that promise or for breaking it - hastened the process, but it was inevitable that it would take place.

And those of us who still like Nick now expect a bit more from him. He is a longstanding party leader and deputy prime minister. Answering with a touch of the petulance he is prone too and modelling your reply on Homer Simpson - "It was like that when I got here" - won't do any more.

Nick's failure to come to terms with this change in the way he is seen by the public was one of the reasons he did not do better in his debates with Nigel Farage. And unless he does come to terms with it, he will struggle if there are televised debates at the next election too.

As to Cyril Smith, it is not Nick Clegg who has hard questions to answer but David Steel, who was both chief whip and leader of the Liberal Party.

Over to you, Dave.

Police appeal after naked man browses in charity shop

Headline of the Day goes to This is Wiltshire.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Humberstone Park tram shelter, Leicester

You can find several of these large shelters scattered across the city. They were built at the far ends of Leicester's various tram routes.

There is even one, says Leicester Trams, that was put up to serve a line that was never built.

Six of the Best 432

The next Liberal Democrat leader must come from the party's left, says Leicestershire's own Mathew Hulbert on The Staggers, the New Statesman's rolling politics blog.

"Given that one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated reasons for invading Crimea was to prevent 'Nazis' from coming to power in Ukraine, it is perhaps surprising that his regime is growing closer by the month to extreme right-wing parties across Europe." Mitchell A. Orenstein writes for Foreign Affairs on the close links between Putin and the far-right in Europe.

The Needle has a guest post by Richard Scorer on his book on the English Catholic Church and child abuse.

Meanwhile in Shropshire, reports Andy Boddington, the funding for Ludlow's proposed Buttercross Museum is under threat.

Declaration Game visits the Cotswold Cricket Museum in Stow-on-the-Wold.

28DaysLater has some extraordinary photos from its exploration of the tunnel that takes the Willowbrook under the Midland Mainline north of Leicester station.

Konrad Adenauer invented the vegetarian sausage

My Trivial Fact of the Day comes from a BBC News feature on "10 inventions that owe their success to World War One".

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sensational Alex Harvey Band: Next

Alex Harvey was voted Scotland's answer to Tommy Steel and his band once opened for an early version of the Beatles, but he found fame as the front man of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band in the 1970s before his early death. The band is still going today without him.

Next is a Jacques Brel song - see him perform it here. It is best known to British audiences through the version by Scott Walker, but as Walker sounds like a god rather than a skinny recruit, you suspect he had nothing to worry about in the showers.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Michael Ignatieff: Academic philosophy and practical politics

Michael Ignatieff, a kinsman of Nick Clegg, is in the unusual position of having seen both philosophy and politics from the inside. He had a career as an academic and as a writer and presenter (in British arts broadcasting) before entering politics and going on to become leader of Canada's opposition. He lost heavily in the 2011 Prime Ministerial election.

In a Philosophy Bites podcast interview with Nigel Warburton he discusses the relationship between theory and practice in politics, the moral ambiguities, and the necessity of having dirty hands to be effective.

The giant redwoods of Humberstone

Pine Tree Avenue in Humberstone, a village that has become a suburb of Leicester, is not lined with pines. It is lined with sequoia gigantea - giant redwoods.

Some are currently under threat of replacement with a smaller species by the city council because of the damage they are said to be causing to houses and drives. Some residents welcome the plan and some do not. You can read about the controversy in the Leicester Mercury.

This remarkable avenue exists because Pine Tree Avenue used to be the drives to Humberstone Hall. The estate was sold as housing land by the Paget family after World War I, when they moved to Lubenham near Market Harborough.

Back in the 1970s, Humberstone chess club used to meet at the clubhouse of a tennis club around here and I remember playing some of my early league games for Harborough here. But when I looked for it today I found it had been replaced by a gated housing development.

But I cheered up when I found two cottages that look as though they are surviving outbuildings from the Hall.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Secrets of the Victoria Line

If you like This Sort of Thing then you may also enjoy the District, the Central, the Jubilee, the Northern, the Bakerloo and the Piccadilly.

Term-time holiday for head and fines for parents

The Leicester Mercury story about the head of a primary school who has been granted nearly one month off during term time to get married has hit the national press.

I don't feel outraged myself, but I do think, given the length of the school holidays, that she could have arranged her marriage to avoid the need for this.

But it seems some parents are outraged, and you can see why.

Take this Mercury story from November 2011:
More than 600 parents have been fined since September for failing to make sure their children go to school. 
All but seven of the 612 penalty notices handed out this school year relate to parents taking their children on holiday during term-time.
Add to this the feeling that schools now close at the first sign of bad weather, leaving parent to make childcare arrangements at short notice, and you can see why people are angry.

Labour brought in these fines because they felt there was little they could do about the economy and therefore preferred to concentrate on education. They also have an instinctive feeling that those who work in the public sector are morally superior and so entitled to mete out justice to the rest of us.

The Coalition has extended these powers - from the same lack of radical ideas on the economy and from the Conservative party's authoritarianism, which generally trumps their rhetoric about freedom.

I share the views of Karen Wilson, who wrote articles arguing against these fines for Liberal Democrat Voice in July 2013 and January 2014.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"I. Harrison": A Leicester acrostic

The land behind what became The Empire in Leicester was developed by Issac Harrison.

And don't we know it!

Have a look at the initial letters of the names of the terraced streets in the map above. Their initial letters spell out "I. Harrison".

In which I am mentioned in Hansard three times

This morning Charlotte Henry tweeted that she would "officially give up" if Gareth Epps gets into Hansard. We can only hope that, however Gareth fares, she does not do so.

But her tweet did remind me that I was mentioned in the House of Commons three times in June 2003.

The first mention was by Angela Browning on 5 June. She asked John Reid, as Leader of the House:
Can we have a debate next week on the middle classes? I am sure that the Leader of the House will have noted that in Liberal Democrat News of 30 May, Jonathan Calder, who is a member of the party's federal policy committee, wrote an article about the Conservative policy of scrapping tuition fees. He says that it "has a lot to be said for it", but goes on to say:
"If the Conservatives do not speak for the stupid middle classes, who do they speak for?"
We should like to debate that rather old-fashioned concept with them.
And then on 23 June it was Tim Boswell in a debate on student finance said:
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, Liberal Democrat News provided a ringing endorsement of our policies in the shape of Jonathan Calder's article, which explained that my hon. Friend's idea of 
"getting rid of tuition fees, and financing the move by scrapping plans to extend the number of students even further, has a lot to be said for it." 
I agree. It is useful to have allies on occasion.
The member for Ashford was Damian Green, who had already intervened on Phil Willis, then our shadow education secretary, to say:
I feel that I should draw his attention to Liberal Democrat News of 30 May 2003. It is a publication that I read sporadically. This edition is particularly interesting because it makes the following thoughtful point: 
"Damian Green's idea of getting rid of tuition fees, and financing the move by scrapping plans to extend the number of students even further, has a lot to be said for it." 
I always welcome support from Liberal Democrat News, and I hope to get it from the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen, as well.
Phil, characteristically, was unfazed by this.

How long ago it all seems! In those days the Labour government's policy was to have 50 per cent of young people going to university. That always seemed unrealistic to me, and I even heard someone at the last Lib Dem Conference applauded with reasonable enthusiasm for saying so.

Today, of course, we have less than half of young people going to university and tuition fees, but that is austerity for you.

I imagine that my column appeared in a briefing for Conservative MPs and that Angela Browning seized on the wrong phrase. I doubt the bright young things at Tory head office included it because of my joke about the stupid middle classes, but it obviously enraged her.

June 2003, towards the end of Iain Duncan Smith's leadership, was about the nadir of Conservative fortunes. The fact that three of their MPs thought they could help their party by quoting me, confirms that judgement.

Police hunt man who ate bus seat in Paignton

Thanks to a sharp-eyed follower on Twitter, the Torquay Herald Express wins Headline of the Day.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

London River (1940)

Thanks to Landscapism for tweeting the link to this short film the other day.

Six of the Best 431

Liberal Democrat MPs have tabled an early day motion in parliament lodging their protest against the ban on sending books to prisoners, reports Ian Dunt on politics.co.uk.

On the LSE's British Politics and Policy blog, Peter Sloman asks whether the Lib Dems' recent history should be seen as a revival of classical liberalism, a reflection of neoliberal influences or simply a recalibration of the party’s existing thought.

"The British government is making it easier for those in power to break the law – and it’s using a fantasy about left-wing pressure groups to justify it." Alex Stevenson dissects the coalition's move to curb people's access to judicial review for Index of Censorship.

Peter Golds, leader of the Conservative group on Tower Hamlets Council, writes on the media empire operated by the borough's mayor, Lutfur Rahman, for Conservative Home.

Self-Styled Siren pays tribute to Mickey Rooney.

The new Wisden is a stunningly inclusive affair that takes a strong line on cricket politics and reflects both the game's global diversity and England's woes, says Michael Billington in the Guardian.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

St Augustine's, Fosse Road North, Leicester

When I went to Fosse Road North to find The Empire, I was surprised to see a ruined church next door to it.

St Augustine's was closed in 2000 and badly damaged in an arson attack in 2004. Not that Pevsner is particularly polite, describing it as a "Typical late C19 church of brick." It was built between 1900 and 1912.

Today the ruins are overgrown and, like The Empire, threatened with demolition.

One former resident of the area remembers it like this:
Although we lived in the parish of St. Leonards, my father prefered St Augustines and it was the 'family'church. We all went to Sunday school there and I eventually sang in the choir. At 16 I rejected religion totally. Most family wedding,christenings,funerals etc took place at this church. It was never a beautiful place being built of red brick and with wild overgrown gardens could be a bit spooky.
Sadly, it is the garage next door that is open on Easter Sunday.

"The Global Race": Bad politics, bad economics

Jeremy Browne, reports Liberal Democrat Voice, has published his book. Race Plan: An authentic liberal plan to get Britain fit for 'The Global Race'. It has been issued by the free-market think thank Reform.

I am pleased to see a prominent Lib Dem producing a book - there should be more of them - and the party's ideology is so nebulous that it is hard to accuse any of us of heresy.

But there are two things that make we worry.

The first is the publisher. I did subscribe to Reform's e-bulletin for a while, but did not get on with it. Its answer to every question was the same: cut taxes, cut spending, privatise.

It was not so much that the bulletin was wrong: it was that it was not interesting.

Still, Jeremy's book may be an exception to Reform's usual output.

But I am not hopeful. "The Global Race"?

I wrote a post back in September of last year quoting a couple of commentators who thought the concept was pretty worthless.

In particular, I quoted Philip Booth from the equally free-market Institute of Economic Affairs and the more left-leaning American economist Robert Reich, via a Guardian article by Andy Beckett:
"Economists don't think of trade as a race in any way," says Booth. "The world economy is not a zero-sum game. Countries get richer together. If China carries on reforming and growing, there will be more opportunities there for Britain." Reich agrees: "The race needn't [mean that] every country's citizens lose ground, but some lose more than others … or [that] some can gain only at the expense of others … We can all grow, and at the same time spread prosperity to more people."
Nor is "The Global Race" a novel concept. Back in February 2013 Isabel Hardman told us:
The Cabinet met this morning to discuss the content of the next Queen’s Speech. The ministers present were told that legislation for the next session would focus on supporting the government’s priorities of ‘economic competitiveness’ and Britain’s position in the ‘global race’ (there we go), and ‘aspirations and fairness’. 
CCHQ staffers have already told me they’re sick of the phrase, which probably means it’s only just percolated as far as Portcullis House, so expect to hear it coming out too far and too fast from ministers’ mouths over the next few months.
The problem is not even that "The Global Race" is a Conservative concept. It is redolent of the sort of reborn public-school values that have dominated British public life since Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party 20 years ago.

I shall buy Race Plan - I may even read it - but I do not expect to be inspired by it. Still, I may have a pleasant surprise.

Carnivorous piranhas found blocking sewers in Shropshire

The Independent walks away with our Headline of the Day Award.

Having visited Ditton Priors ("a strange place") myself, I am not wholly surprised by the final paragraph of the story.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Co-operative Society stables, Leicester

Down a side street just across the road from The Union you will find this terrific ghost sign.

A letter to a family genealogy website tells the story of these stables:
If I remember correctly the horses from the Glenfield Road Co op Dairy were stabled in Battenberg Road or a neighbouring road. The milkmen walked the unharnessed horses from the Glenfield Road Dairy along Henley Road across Fosse Road North and into Battenberg Road. They could be seen walking the horses back to the stables shortly after lunch when their shift ended. Perhaps some of your other contributors may recall these men and their horses taking this route. The Co op Dairy kept horses for milk deliveries long after Kirby and West had changed to electric milk floats.
And, as you can see below, the stables are still there, though rather altered and now housing small business units.

The name Battenberg Road is interesting too. More than one street off the London Road had its name changed in 1914 because it was thought too Germanic. Perhaps anti-German feeling ran less high in the West End of the city?

The problems with Cinderella's Law

In recent days I have seen Liberal Democrat MPs tweeting in favour of Cinderella's Law - a proposed new law that would make the 'emotional abuse' of children a criminal offence.

Frank Furedi spelt out some of the problems with such a law in the Independent:
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children offers a definition of emotional abuse that includes some very real and unambiguous acts of harm, such as "conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate", but it also includes forms of behaviour that, depending on the context, may or may not be harmful to a child. 
For example, the NSPCC includes in its definition of emotional abuse the "making of fun" of what a child says or how they communicate. I am not sure what universe the NSPCC inhabits, but in the real world, the making fun of one another is the stuff of family life. When parents and children interact, they are likely to make jokes at each others' expense. 
Where does good-natured banter end and destructive verbal joking begin? Whatever the answer is to this question, it will not be found in the law courts.
I would like to add two questions of my own.

The supporters of Cinderella's Law envision parents who break it being sent to prison. What arrangements will be made for the children in such circumstances and how confident are the law's supporters that they will be any better for the child?

Because there are plenty of accounts of children in the care system suffering just this sort of abuse. So my second question is to ask whether local authorities will be subject to Cinderella's Law too?

The EU and the UK: Where is the vision?

Asked, in his second debate with Nigel Farage, what the European Union would look like in 10 years' time, Nick Clegg's instinctive response was to say it would look "quite similar to what it is now".

The next morning, bowled a juicy half volley on his LBC phone-in by Caron Lindsay, he named the three things he most wanted to change about the European Union as:
  • More trade;
  • Scrap the expensive monthly trek to Strasbourg;
  • Less red tape for small businesses.
Those are all sensible reforms, but isn't there a bit of vision lacking in the answer to these two questions? They were asking different things, but in at least one of the answers there should have been room for a bit of vision.

Could not Nick have talked about further expanding the EU or further entrenching European values? About greater co-operation or understanding between nations. About anything a little less technocratic?

This is not just a criticism of Nick. It is typical of the debate on British membership of the EU that those in favour of our continued membership should unable to offer moving arguments in favour of it. The same is true of those who defend the United Kingdom in the debate over Scottish independence.

In both the debates the chief tactic of the status quo has been to co-opt the heads of big companies to say they are opposed to change.

Prosperity matters, but this comes dangerously close to the argument: "A lot of very important people believe we should not change, who are you to disagree?" And that is not an argument any Liberal should entertain, nor one likely to prove persuasive in an age when so many are disaffected with their leaders.

Besides, it is obvious that an independent Scotland would be able to survive quite comfortably outside the United Kingdom, as would the UK outside the EU.

Arguing in favour of the status quo may inevitably make it harder to arouse the passions, but we badly need more positive arguments than we are hearing at the moment.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The spire of St Mary de Castro, Leicester, has been taken down

In September 2012 I visited and photographed St Mary de Castro in Leicester. What I didn't know then was that I was taking my life in my hands.

A year later the church was closed because it was in a dangerous condition. The spire has now been dismantled and repairs are being carried out on the tower beneath. Access to the whole of the Leicester Castle site has been closed off.

You can follow the progress of the project on the church's Save Our Spire Facebook page.

How will the Liberal Democrats bridge the health funding gap?

The King's Fund interim report A new settlement for health and social care has key findings typical of all those that have looked at the funding of health and social care:
  • The problems of the current settlement for health and social care are systemic, in the commission's view. They stem from a lack of alignment in entitlements to care, between funding streams, and in organisation/commissioning of care. 
  • There is a problem of adequacy, with too little public money spent on social care and too much demanded of at a time of rising needs. 
  • The public has a poor understanding of the present system of social care. The current system is heavily dependent on unpaid carers and is inequitable, with shifting boundaries on entitlements. 
  • Greater life expectancy, an altered disease burden, and medical advances have all resulted in more people requiring health and social care. 
  • Economic growth means that better health and social care are not unaffordable. But intense short-term pressures and long-term changes mean hard choices will need to be made on funding.
When Lord Warner proposed a £10 monthly membership fee for the NHS, Liberal Democrats were quick to condemn him.

That was my instinct too, but if we rule such measures out, how are we going to meet these demands for better funding for health and social care?

The most important tenet of the government of which we form part is the need for austerity, and these days the call for more tax cuts seems to be the most important Lib Dem policy.

Quite how these two fit together is an interesting question for debate, but however you reconcile them it is clear the Lib Dems will have trouble finding extra money for health and social care. Economic growth would ease the pressure, but relying solely upon it sounds a rather Labour way of dodging the question.

So how will we do it? Or have we given up trying.

David Laws breaks his elbow in a bizarre canvassing accident

Yesterday Zoe O'Connell tweeted a newspaper cutting about an accident to David Laws. I have now found the story in the Western Gazette:
Yeovil MP David Laws has broken his elbow after falling while on the election trail in Somerset. 
On Friday he was leafleting in Horton and Broadway, near Ilminster, in the pouring rain when he slipped over in a driveway and subsequently spent the day in Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton. 
He said: “Unfortunately I had only called on five houses when I managed to slip over and fell down backwards on my left elbow. 
“The owner of the house was kind enough to come out to help me.”
I wish him a swift recovery - the report goes on to reveal that David's favourite food is red liquorice.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Sandy Denny and the Strawbs: Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

Yesterday morning I gently admonished Paul Walter for calling The Strawbs "one hit wonders".

It wasn't so much because they had a couple of other hits besides Part of the Union: it was because the band has a long and interesting history. At various times both Sandy Denny and Rick Wakeman have been members.

So here is an early Sandy Denny recording of her great song Who Knows Where the Time Goes? made in 1967 when she was briefly a member of The Strawbs. It was intended for an LP by the band, but this did not emerge until 1973, when it was titled All Our Own Work.

 In 1969 Denny recorded the best known version of her song as part of Fairport Convention.

Anyway, thanks to Paul for helping me choose this week's music video.