Thursday, August 28, 2014

How public schools dominate British life and why it matters

Alexei Sayle explains...

Is Douglas Carswell trying to save his seat?

Nigel Farage has hailed Douglas Carswell's decision to resign his seat in the Commons and fight the resultant by-election as a Ukip candidate as "the noblest thing I've seen in British politics in my lifetime".

But is he right?

Could it even be that Carswell's decision results from a cool consideration of his own interests?

Because I have seen two pieces of evidence today that suggest Clacton is just about Ukip's best prospect at the next general election.

The first piece of evidence comes from Huffington Post:
According to research by professor Matthew Goodwin, from Nottingham University, and Manchester University's Rob Ford, Carswell's Clacton voters are the most Ukip-friendly in the entire country. 
Goodwin, co-author of the book Revolt On The Right, explained on his blog: "This is because the seat contains high concentrations of voters who are likely to be very receptive toward Nigel Farage: it has lots of pensioners, lots of voters without a degree, lots of voters with no educational qualifications and higher than average levels of economic disadvantage and unemployment. 
"UKIP tend to thrive in such communities --older, less well educated and insecure voters provide the ideal breeding ground for Farage's army. 
"Clacton is also very 'white', with high numbers of voters born in the country and few minorities, which again favours UKIP, who poll strongest in ethnically homogeneous areas."
The second from Cicero Elections:
In the 2010 General Election, UKIP didn’t enter a candidate to oppose Carswell, who won 22,867 votes. However, in the European elections, UKIP did turn up and absolutely stormed the polls, gaining 19,398 votes against the Tories’ 9,981. Winning almost 50% of the vote, UKIP performed better in Clacton than almost anywhere else in the country. It’s also worth noting that a further 1,500 people voted for other eurosceptic parties at the time. 
In the three months since the European elections, UKIP’s standing in the polls has not dropped and they have continued to do well in local elections in the South East of England.
So resigning as Conservative MP for Clacton to fight a by-election for Ukip may not be so noble after all.

No, the noblest resignation in Farage's lifetimes is probably that of Bruce Douglas Mann, who appalled his fellow defectors by resigning as Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden to fight a by-election as an SDP Alliance candidate when he knew he would almost certainly lose.

It didn't take BBC1 long to ruin The Great British Bake Off



Do you blame Diana or Iain, asks a poll on the Shropshire Star website. For once my favourite paper has got it wrong. As Ruby Tandoh says, the people to blame are The Great British Bake Off's editors.

The move to BBC1 was always likely to prove a challenge to a programme based on niceness. That is one quality that bright young things on there way up in the world of television have no time for. There has to be edginess. Jeopardy. People have to go on a journey.

So it was that last night's episode was edited in such a way as to produce a wholly spurious controversy. The result is that Diana has withdrawn from the programme.

Nothing is real on television - Diana's withdrawal puzzles me because I thought the episodes were recorded well in advance - but the beauty of The Great British Bake Off was that it lulled us into forgetting that for an hour.

The editors have ruined exactly what it was that people liked about the programme. On what planet was making Iain bring that bin up to the judges' table an acceptable idea?

There is only one way to save the programme. The technical challenge in next week's programme should involve baking its stupid editors in a pie.

Douglas Carswell was never a Conservative

Paul Goodman (with whom I was at university some centuries ago) writes on Conservative Home:
Douglas Carswell has never, as far as I know, been a Tory – that’s to say, a believer that authority in Britain originates from its institutions: the Monarchy, Crown in Parliament, the Church of England. For as long as I’ve known him, he has always been not exactly a Whig but certainly a radical.
But then I said much the same on Liberal England two years ago:
Large parts of the Conservative Party now model their approach on that adopted in America. Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell, for instance, two of the more thoughtful new members of the party's right, owe little to traditional British conservatism and take many of their ideas from American libertarian circles. Some of their less intellectual colleagues have merely adopted the paranoid tone of Tea Party campaigning.
To be honest, that isn't exactly what I said. Before cutting and pasting I had to correct a typo and two grammatical errors. But my argument was sound.

Plastic ducks cause A4042 hold-ups near Abergavenny

Thanks to a reader for nominating BBC News for my Headline of the Day Award.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Steam and diesel at Shrewsbury in 1967



You can also watch a video of the former Great Western mainline from Birmingham Snow Hill to Shrewsbury in this era.

The homophobic monk of Market Harborough


Northampton has its clown: Market Harborough, it seems, has a homophobic monk.

The Leicester Mercury reports:
A man dressed in a monk’s habit has posted “vile” homophobic leaflets through doors in Leicestershire. 
Police have launched a hate crime investigation into the incident, which happened on Tuesday afternoon in part of Market Harborough. 
Several people have complained about the leaflets which claimed homosexuality was a sin, immoral, a pathological condition and the work of “the Devil”. 
It also claimed homosexuality was “directly linked to pagan idolatry and its attendant depravity” and that events such as Leicester Pride were “lewd occasions”.
The paper goes on to tell us:
The leaflets were delivered to homes in Granville Street, Bath Street, Nithsdale Avenue, Claxton Street and Northampton Road. 
One resident, who asked not to be named, said: “I saw the monk in Bath Street, followed by two angry people.”

A guide to the underside of Rotherham politics



Offering "robust scrutiny of all things political in and around Rotherham," the website Rotherham Politics is indispensable reading this week.

Its archives go back to 2008.

Happy eighth birthday to Liberal Democrat Voice

Stephen Tall tells us that today is Liberal Democrat Voice's eighth birthday. Many happy returns.

Looking through my own archives, I find that I was saying nice things about it as early as 14 September 2006:
Welcome and congratulations to Liberal Democrat Voice, which already seems to be establishing itself as the place for Lib Dem discussion on the net. Natural selection operates pretty ruthlessly there, so it is obviously doing a lot right.
And that remains true today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beat School (1961)



We should all be grateful to Sam Holler for tweeting this video. As he says: "Everything about this 1960s alternative school is delightful and hilarious. Best clip ever."

One mystery is where the school was. The commentary on the video says Burgess Hill in Hertfordshire, but I can find no such settlement.

There is a Burgess Hill in West Sussex, of course, and also an area of Hampstead with that name. Maybe it was in one of those? - someone may recognise the building.

As Dangerous Minds says:
Like the best of the British Pathe clips, this short clip on Burgess Hill Beat School leaves you wanting to know more. What happened to the school? Did the experiment of a Beat School work? What did these children grow up to do? Where are they now? It would make for an interesting documentary on BBC 4, and one hopes a dozen researchers are penning such a proposal right now.
We may be surprised at the outcome. The painter Augustus John's children were raised among bohemian squalor, but one of his sons insisted on being sent to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and ended up as Admiral of the Fleet Sir Caspar John.

Six of the Best 460

Viktor Orban
"Descriptions matter, I’m not saying they don’t – but when the politics of language pushes the rest aside, it seems to me that what it does most of all is remind us of our own powerlessness." David Boyle discusses the absence of big issues from today's politics.

Ian Ridley on why he still wants to see a change of Liberal Democrat leader.

"To be black and interact with the police is a scary thing. The fear doesn't have to come from any kind of historical antagonism, which, trust me, would be enough; it can also come from many data points of personal experience, collected over time. Almost all black men have these close-call-style stories, and we collect and mostly keep them to ourselves until one of us is killed." Lanre Akinsiku writes on the experience of being a young Black man in America for Gawker.

Amy Brouillette on Foreign Policy explains why Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has transformed himself from a dissident compatriot of Vaclav Havel to a would-be Vladimir Putin.

Atlas Obscura takes us on a tour of the secret libraries of London.

"On that day, almost 35,000 Allied soldiers landed at Kiska ready to overpower the Japanese. As they stormed the beaches, braced for heavy casualties, they noticed something unexpected: No one was fighting back." Ella Morton on Slate reveals the strange wartime history of an Aleutians island.

The guardian of the Jordan would have got his paws wet


A couple of days ago I posted a photograph of a cat sitting on the stones at the mouth of the River Jordan.

This is a photo of the same spot after two days of rain. (It also shows the larger River Welland and the railway bridge over it.) The guardian of the Jordan would have got his paws wet if he had tried it today.

Still, I am pleased to have met the Jordan's genius loci.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Girl guides ‘accidentally plant deadly flowers’ in Royal Wootton Bassett park



Metro wins Headline of the Day.

How England can win the cricket world cup

As the rain fell at Bristol this morning, Vic Marks, Michael Vaughan and Graeme Swann explained what is wrong with England's approach to one-day internationals and what can do to put it right.

It is riveting listening for any cricket fan, so catch the podcast of it on the Test Match Special website before it disappears. You have a week.

If you reading this after it has gone, let me recommend Down at Third Man. I suspect the Squire will agree with the pundits' prescription.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Farewell to Sir Richard Attenborough



Sir Richard Attenborough, a great son of Leicester, has died at the age of 90.

One of his best performances was as Pinkie in the Boulting Brothers' 1947 film of Brighton Rock.

Scrap Thought for the Day and bring back Compline

I have been listening to Radio Four's Thought for the Day for decades, and in all that time (leaving aside a few jokes from Rabbi Blue) there has been only one of these homilies that was worth listening to.

It was by, I think, Rosemary Hartill, who was then the BBC's religious affairs correspondent. She spoke of the tedium of assemblies in secondary schools and of keeping your eyes open to show you did not believe a word of it. Most of us have been there.

If religion in secondary school was a New Testament affair, then at primary school it was very much an Old Testament affair. God was a god of vengeance who might just conceivably take your side against the headmistress. Most of us have been there too.

But apart from that, Thought for the Day is remarkably unmemorable. I can't imagine it has anything to say to most believers. It certainly has nothing to say to this wistful unbeliever.

Radio Four used to have a programme that did speak to me. Every Sunday evening it broadcast the order of Compline, sung by the BBC singers.

The plainchant was moving in itself, and the words...!
Brethren, be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour : whom resist, stedfast in the faith.
You don't get stuff like that on Thought for the Day.

So my proposal is that Radio Four should scrap thought for the day and bring back Compline on Sunday evenings. As each takes 15 minutes, it is rather an elegant proposal.

The central problem with Thought for the Day is that the contributors have nothing much to say. And somewhere there too is the mistaken idea that, if only Christians took away all the poetry and bells and smells and mumbo jumbo and poetry, then what would be left would be reason and everyone would belief.

But, of course, the central problems for Christians is that their creed is not true and it is only the poetry that makes it appeal.

As Gregory Bateson pointed out in the 1960s, Roman Catholics gave up conducting its services in Latin just at the point that young people took up chanting in Sanskrit.

The SNP's ludicrous position on a currency for Scotland

I can think of two good positions Scottish nationalists could adopt on the currency their country should have after independence.

They could say that Scotland would be a prosperous country in its own right and have its own successful currency.

Or they could say that Scotland would be a modern European nation and naturally adopt the Euro as its currency.

Though I distrust nationalism as a political philosophy, I can see the appeal in both these arguments.

I can see no appeal in the Scottish government's position that it would adopt the UK pound as its currency after independence.

Yes, it could do that: a number of Central American banana republics use the US dollar without any official sanction from Washington. But I do not see them as a promising model for a newly independent Scotland.

The idea that Scotland will use the pound smacks of the sort of inferiority complex that independence should be intended to overcome. It reminds me of a young child insisting on trailing along with an older brother and his friends: "You can't stop me and if you try I will tell Mum on you."

As long as the SNP holds to this position, I shall conclude that, deep down, they do not really want independence but would rather taunt the English.

A cat guards the mouth of the River Jordan


Regular readers will know that Little Bowden's River Jordan can sometimes be a mighty torrent - just look at the damage it can do.

This evening, however, it had dwindled to a trickle and this black cat took advantage of the fact to sit on the stones in its course just before it enters the Welland by Market Harborough station.

Kate Bush: Moving



As I wrote yesterday of my love for Kate Bush's first LP The Kick Inside, here is the first track from it - whale song and all.

Two other tracks from the album - The Man with the Child in his Eyes and The Kick Inside - have featured here before.

This performance of Moving at the Hammersmith Odeon is taken from 1979 and her (until Tuesday) only concert tour.

Waiting 35 years makes the build up to the new Doctor Who look a bit tame, doesn't it?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Kate Bush and the acceleration of time as you grow older



Having watched the BBC documentary on Kate Bush last night, I naturally called in at HMV in Leicester on the way back from visiting my mother in hospital to buy a copy of her 50 Words for Snow.

I got talking with the young man on the till.

He asked if I had seen the documentary. I said I had, but that for me her first LP would always be the most important.

"Was that 1979?"

"No," I said, "1978."

In fact, as I could have told him, it was February 1978.

For a few years in your teens, every month feels different and you are acutely aware of changing trends and fashions.

My misfortune was that, for me, the years when this was true for me coincided with the reign of glam rock in the singles chart and then that odd period when we listened to novelty hits like Kung Fu Fighting and waited impatiently for punk.

I know most hits from the 1980s, but because this was my decade of political activism, I know them from the pub after canvassing or council meetings. So I can struggle to tell you what they are called.

After that it is all a blur and it is hard to know which decade a song come from.

But for a few years in the Seventies I was cool, even if the singles chart was not.

Demolition of the New Walk Centre, Leicester


In December 2011 Sir Peter Soulsby told BBC Radio Leicester that the New Walk Centre, which housed the City Council's offices, was to be demolished.

In that post I quoted a demolition expert as saying that the roads surrounding the offices could be partially shut for up to five months while the two blocks are demolished.

I passed the New Walk Centre today. Council staff have long since been decanted to different buildings across the city and demolition work has begun, but so far, though the site is boarded off, you can still use all the streets that surround it.

Sparks in the 1970s



Now listen to This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Six of the Best 459

David Higgerson rightly criticises the Local Government Association for its press campaign rubbishing freedom of information legislation.

Moscow dreamt of transforming southeastern Ukraine into a client state, but the Kremlin's plans are fraying as Kiev pushes back, says Anna Nemtsova on Foreign Policy.

"I really fear that higher education is moving down a slippery slope where the fetish for the best ratings and indicators ensures that we merely hold student’s hands, rather than ignite interest in their own studies," says Alister Scott on The Conversation.

Dave Cooper writes on Echoes of the Past about falling in love with Kate Bush at the age of 5: "Usually my pocket money was spent entirely on sweets or an occasional ice lolly, but I didn't mind in the least that the last month's worth of accrued funds were all spent on a record instead - after all, it was the Angel Lady. This probably set an important precedent for me, as the vast majority of my 'pocket money' has been spent on music ever since."

The Beatles want to sexually hypnotise you into Communism, warns Amber Frost on Dangerous Minds.

"What gives this book staying power is the fact that it inspired better books by later authors, and that it is the first to set out the post-apocalyptic coming-of-age formula that still defines much of the genre more than a century later." The Finch & Pea on After London by Richard Jefferies - "the first modern post-apocalypse novel".

Baby penguin at Scarborough's Sea Life Centre is back on its feet thanks to special trousers

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to York's The Press.

Broad Street station, London



Looking at this photo, it is remarkable that this forgotten London terminus survived for another 14 years after it was taken in 1972.

I can remember, on a summer Saturday in 1983 or 1984, being the only passenger on a train when it arrived here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Channel 4 to screen Nick Clegg drama in run up to general election

From the Guardian website:
Channel 4 is to air a political drama about Nick Clegg in the run up to next year’s general election. 
Coalition will explore what Channel 4 describes as the “emotionally wrought, politically-charged and often frenzied moments” leading up to Clegg’s decision to go into government with David Cameron. 
The one-off, 90-minute drama is to air early next year and looks into the backroom politics, compromises and wrangling that took place after the 2010 election failed to produce a majority.
But who will play Nick Clegg? I hear you ask.

According to the report, no decision has yet been made as to who will play Clegg, but "suggestions include Chris Addison and David Morrissey". It does not say who has made the suggestions.

Coalition will be directed by Bafta-winning Alex Holmes and produced by Cuba Pictures.

The run up to the election will also see the release of The Riot Club, a film inspired by David Cameron and Boris Johnson's membership of the Bullingdon Club.

Later. The Independent says:
A rival Coalition television drama, 5 Days In May, based on former Labour minister Andrew Adonis’ account of the 2010 negotiations, is also planned. The rights were snapped up by World Productions, the company behind the BBC police drama Line of Duty.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Minister for Elf

Another week at Bonkers Hall draws to a close. Judging by today's entry, that is probably just as well.

Sunday

You find me on the terrace again, looking out upon my coverts. If it is the Elves of Rockingham Forest in there, it is high time they met Norman Lamb.

Do I hear you ask why? Because he is the Minister for Elf, of course.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • The elves in my covert
  • An inflatable Julian Huppert
  • Spotting a wrong 'un
  • The Liberal Detective Agency
  • The Bedroom Tax and the Hall
  • When sheep went through the lobbies
  • Wednesday, August 20, 2014

    A woman lathe operator at Imperial Typewriters



    Last summer I blogged about the former Imperial Typewriters factory in Leicester. That tale, with its racial politics, union militancy and outmoded products, tells us something important about Britain in the 1970s.

    This striking photograph must have been taken inside that factory.

    Off-duty black Leicestershire officer stopped and searched 30 times

    A depressing story from the Leicester Mercury:
    A black Leicestershire Police inspector has revealed he has been stopped and searched by fellow officers around 30 times while he was off duty. Inspector Nick Glynn told BBC Leicester he has often been subjected to the controversial policing practice by colleagues from other forces.
    The good news is that Inspector Glynn, who already advises Leicestershire Police on the use of stop and search powers, has been seconded to the College of Policing - a national body which oversees police training - to help reform the way they are used across the country.

    Are modern bowlers really faster?


    On Test Match Special a few days ago talk turned to the subject of fast bowling. The consensus was that there were many more fast bowlers around in the county game 20 or 30 years ago - most of them, of course, from overseas.

    But Jon Agnew said that the modern bowlers are convinced they are faster than anyone who has gone before them. Aren't today sprinters and throwers better than their predecessors?

    Let me offer a couple of pieces of evidence in favour of the idea that bowlers were faster 20 or 30 years ago.

    First, George Ferris. He was an Antiguan fast bowler who played for Leicestershire in the 1980s. He was quick - often too quick for the comfort of county batsmen.

    I remember watching him play for the Leicestershire against Warwickshire in 1987 - one of the last county championship games staged at Hinckley. Warwickshire batted first on an unseasonably cold day and, with the exception of Geoff Humpage, seemed relieved to get back into the warm after Ferris had blasted them out.

    Yet, such was the strength of West Indian fast bowling in that era, Ferris did not win a single test cap. I am convinced that he would walk into their test team today.

    Jon Agnew, incidentally, was playing in that game and foretold his future career by leaning back over the boundary boards at long leg and chatting with the crowd. And the Warwickshire team, with Dennis Amiss and Norman Gifford, looks like something from another age.

    Second, take a look at the video above, which I am alarmed to find is almost 40 years old. John Snow and Peter Lever were both well into their thirties in 1975, but they look to be tearing in. Are Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson really faster than this?

    A word of caution: some bowlers do look faster live than on television. I always think of Chris Old and Steve Watkin (who had a brief England career) in this category. So maybe it is possible to look faster on television than you really are.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: When sheep went through the lobbies

    Saturday

    How charming it must have been to see our own Duncan Hames carry his infant son Andrew through one of the Commons voting lobbies! Let me add at once that reliable observers agree that it was young Andrew who was cooing and not Duncan.

    Hearing of this incident put me in mind of some of the characters I encountered during my own time in the House. There was one old Tory who always carried a spaniel under his arm when he passed through to vote, while one of our chaps maintained that he had been granted the Freedom of Westminster and was thus entitled to drive a flock of sheep wherever he chose while in the borough.

    The feeling in the Usual Channels was that, while allowing the spaniel to vote could be winked at, insisting that all the sheep were counted was Going A Bit Far. Nevertheless, had this practice not been allowed on one occasion at least, Mr Gladstone’s Second Home Rule Bill would not have got as far as it did.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • The elves in my covert
  • An inflatable Julian Huppert
  • Spotting a wrong 'un
  • The Liberal Detective Agency
  • The Bedroom Tax and the Hall
  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014

    Our Mother's House, ghost signs and Liberal News



    I have blogged before in praise of the 1967 film Our Mother's House and its score:
    Away from the film Delerue's music is pleasant, but in context I know of no score which so alters the mood of its film. Our Mother's House is a dark story of a family of children who conceal the death of their mother to avoid being taken into care. Just as the deception is about to be discovered there absentee father turns up and we discover things are not quite as they seemed. 
    This could have been a distasteful film, yet the music - innocent, lilting, compassionate - lifts it into a different sphere altogether. In doing so it gives Our Mother's House a claim to be one of the most important British films of the 1960s. 
    Like another domestic horror of the period, The Nanny from 1965 (both films feature the excellent Pamela Franklin), it shows children fighting against oppressive adult authority and the weight of the past.
    The short extract above features one of the film's young stars, Louis Sheldon Williams, who is of further interest to this blog for two reasons.

    First, because he grew up to have an interest in the ghost signs that this blog sometimes writes about - see this Guardian article about him from 2003.

    Second, because the Sheldon Williams family were good Liberals. In particular, his mother Ann used to write a weekly column for Liberal News in the sixties, just as I did for its successor Liberal Democrat News in the noughties.

    I know that from studying the wonderful bound volumes they used to keep in the Liberal Democrat News office. I hope they are now in good hands.

    Chris Rennard will face no further disciplinary action

    Sky News reports this evening:
    Lord Rennard will face no further disciplinary action over claims of harassment by four women, the Liberal Democrats have said. 
    The party said its Regional Parties Committee had decided not to proceed with the disciplinary process against the peer and lifted his suspension after meeting this week. 
    The committee met to consider whether the party had been brought into disrepute by statements made by Lord Rennard, or on his behalf, following publication of a report by Alistair Webster QC into the allegations against him.
    That report is a little confused because, as the third paragraph makes clear, the remaining charges against Chris Rennard did not concern allegations of harassment but his criticism of party procedures.

    Radical Bulletin in the latest issue of Liberator sums up the situation well:
    Is there no limit to the Lib Dems ability to cock-up everything related to the accusations made against Lord Rennard ... ? 
    The mishandling has pulled off the remarkable achievement of seeing both Rennard's accusers and supporters lose confidence in the processes used.
    That though is now dangerous, since the Regional Parties Committee ... has said Rennard should remain suspended from membership for criticising party procedures. 
    Since even Nick Clegg has done that on several occasions, rigid enforcement of this would leave the party with few members.
    Whatever one thinks of Rennard, the idea that anyone can be suspended from Lib Dem membership for criticising party procedures is as absurd as it is repellent.
    Later. ITV News has the text of Chris Rennard's statement.
    Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

    Chris Morris shows how to deal with people who do not get satire



    Facebook, BBC News tells us, is testing a new feature that warns users of satirical content posted from sites like the Onion.

    But there is another and better way of solving this problem, as Chris Morris once demonstrated.

    Thanks to Neil Bomb'd on Twitter.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Bedroom Tax and the Hall

    Friday

    I never liked the sound of this ‘Bedroom Tax’, not least because I have so many of the things myself. So I was glad to hear Clegg say the other day that no one will be forced to pay it unless they have turned down a move to another house.

    For myself, though a place with only a hundred bedrooms would be more manageable at my time in life, I cannot see me leaving the Hall – I would miss the lake, the haha and the triumphal monuments to Liberal by-election victories.

    Besides, I am in advanced negotiations about holding a time trial along the main corridor here when ‘Le Grand D├ępart’ comes to Rutland next year.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • The elves in my covert
  • An inflatable Julian Huppert
  • Spotting a wrong 'un
  • The Liberal Detective Agency