Monday, July 25, 2016

Write a guest post for Liberal England

This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

And as you can see from the list of the 10 most recent guest posts below, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

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

Lord Bonkers' Diary: I'll be damned if I'll pull out of Europe

We have had a snippet from Radical Bulletin. We have had my article on Charles Kennedy, Iraq and the Chilcot Report.

Which means there is nothing else for it: we have to spend some time with the old brute.

Close textual analysis suggests these pages from Lord Bonkers' Diary were written round about the 12th of July.

As they say in Rutland, a fortnight is a long time in politics. 

I'll be damned if I am going to pull out of Europe 

I write these words on the terrace of the Hotel Splendide, Antibes. The British people, egged on by liars, charlatans and a buffoon in an ill-fitting Donald Trump fright wig, may have voted to pull out of Europe, but I ‘ll be damned if I am going to. Judging by last Tuesday’s Manchester Guardian, which a fellow guest kindly passed on to me yesterday evening, the old country has not yet returned to its senses. In particular, a woman whom I swear I remember as a clerk at one of the Bank of Rutland’s less important branches looks set to be elected leader of the Conservative Party and thus our prime minister.

Meanwhile, the entire shadow cabinet (with the exception of ‘Semtex’ McDonnell and a fellow from Leicester called Ashworth) has resigned, only to find it cannot agree about who should be its unity candidate. The corridors of Westminster ring with their scuffles, curses and brawling, but no winner emerges. I have been known to say harsh things about the Scottish Nationalists, but I am forced to admit that they now appear a beacon of good sense in a naughty world. They are talking of holding a second referendum north of the border, and who can blame them? We are thinking of having one in Rutland ourselves.

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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Six of the Best 613

"Just look at them. Professional bloggers, Lords, media historians, 'social tech entrepreneurs'. People who have their own columns in the Guardian. These aren’t ordinary voters. They’re people who have never even *met* an ordinary voter, except the one behind the counter serving them their overpriced lattes." I think it's fair to conclude that Andrew Hickey is not impressed by MoreUnited.

Garry Kasparov finds that Donald Trump reminds him of Vladimir Putin - "and that is terrifying".

A shocking miscarriage of justice reveals the fallacy that we can always spot a liar, says Matthew Scott.

"As Hilaire Belloc wrote, 'When you have lost your Inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.'" Gavin Stamp mourns the loss of Britain's pubs.

Cinephilia & Beyond celebrates Wim Wenders' wonderful  film 'Paris, Texas'.

"Behind the cladding is an art deco cinema frontage that has not seen the light of day since the late 1960s. The former Dominion remains one of London’s hidden gems — one that is crying out to be restored," Londonist takes us to Harrow and an unexpected gem.

Charles Kennedy, Iraq and the Chilcot Report

The new issue of Liberator contains this article by me on Iraq and the Chilcot Report. It was written in haste  and owes an indecent amount to Peter Oborne and James Graham, but I wanted to have my say n an event that continues to haunt British politics.

Disgraced in the Desert

“We want you to get up the arse of the White House and stay there.” Tony Blair put it more elegantly when assuring George W. Bush that “I will be with you, whatever,” but this order, given to Christopher Meyer when he became Britain’s ambassador in Washington by Blair’s chief of staff Jonathan Powell, conveyed the essence of the relationship that led to disaster in Iraq.

It was entirely reasonable of Tony Blair to associate himself closely with President Clinton when he first became prime minister. Here was a popular and successful politician with views notably similar to Blair’s own.

But the Blair inner circle’s insistence that Meyer became so unhealthily close to the US had its roots in Labour’s long years in opposition to Margaret Thatcher and John Major. With the Thatcher years dominated by the Cold War and arguments over the British deterrent and the deployment of American weapon systems on British soil, Labour struggled not to be painted as unpatriotic.

Blair overturned all that, and it drove the Conservative Party mad. You can see this in their reaction to Charles Kennedy’s brave speech in the Commons before action in Iraq began. Their outrage was surely a mask for their anger that Labour had usurped their role as America’s staunchest ally. Somewhere there too was the jealously of a younger boy who fears he has lost the friendship of an older, cooler boy because the latter has allowed someone else into their gang.

Ill-suppressed excitement

Blair, the new boy in the gang, certainly saw it that way. In his book DC Confidential, Christopher Meyer records that the new prime minister “pulsed with ill-suppressed excitement” during his first official visit to the US. That excitement continued when George W. Bush was elected, no matter how crass his views and actions.

As Peter Oborne reminds us in his book Not the Chilcot Report, in January 2002 Bush startled his allies by naming Iraq, Iran and North Korea as "an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world":
Iraq, he claimed, had been plotting for more than a decade to develop anthrax, nerve gas and nuclear weapons. As a supporter of "terror", it might well provide these to terrorists. 
In fact, there was no evidence to support this last claim: not only was Saddam Hussein ideologically opposed to al-Qaeda, but he wouldn’t allow it to operate in his territory. 
Regardless, the United States now set about seeking allies for an attack on Iraq. Thus, Bush invited Blair and his family to visit him at his family ranch in Crawford, Texas that April – nearly a full year before the invasion. 
Most unusually, there were no advisers present and no notes were taken. 
Oborne goes on to piece together what he thinks was said at Crawford.

Bush, he argues, told Blair he was committed to regime change in Iraq. Blair expressed strong support for this, but said he would need to find cover under international law by seeking support from the United Nations. Well-placed observers, claims Oborne, also believe that he also made a private pledge to commit Britain to war.

The real Chilcot Report sets out the background to this meeting. On 12 March 2002, just weeks before the Crawford summit, Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser David Manning had a conversation with Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser. The prime minister, Manning told her, “would not budge in [his] support for regime change”.

Five days later, Meyer met the US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Meyer told him that Britain "backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option". And on 25 March, just before Blair’s meeting with Bush, the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw sent him a memo.

To provide legal cover and a plausible pretext for war, said Straw, Blair needed to present his objective as the elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, rather than regime change. On this analysis, Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors were dispatched to Iraq in the hope that Saddam would deny them entry and provide a pretext for war.

Oborne concludes that Blair committed himself to regime change – and agreed to support US military action – during that secret meeting at Crompton.

Blair’s response to this widely made charge is strange. On the one hand he maintains that war in Iraq really was caused by fear of Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons, yet whenever he makes the moral case for that war, he does so entirely in terms of regime change. So the end he denies seeking before the war was fought is not the one he uses to justify it.

To listen to Blair now you would imagine that, in those febrile weeks before war began, he argued that we must take action in Iraq to overthrow Saddam’s dictatorship. I love to see tyrants overthrown, their statues torn down and their prisons broken open to public gaze. If you are not a pacifist, such action must sometimes be an option if the tyranny is extreme enough and the prospects of success are strong enough.

But that was not the case Blair made. The first bombs fell on Iraq on 20 March 2003, buy as late as 25 February he told the Commons:
"I detest his regime but even now he can save it by complying with the UN's demand. Even now we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully." 
Blair frequently implies that there was no middle position between doing nothing about Saddam and invasion. The truth is there were many things we could and did do against Saddam before we went to war in 2003. There had been two separate no-fly zones in Iraq since the first war in 1992.

Tony Blair today cuts a tortured, Christ-like figure, albeit one with a peculiar orange hue and multi-million pound annual earnings . It is hard to resist the conclusion of the Guardian journalist Mike Carter:
A colleague just said to me: “if Blair hadn't toppled Saddam, he'd be doing his PR for him now.” Scary thing is, that's probably true 
The war was a disaster for the people of Iraq, not least because the victors had no plans for running the country after it was over beyond disbanding the Iraqi army and civil service.

Imperialist nostalgia

Though British participation was buoyed by imperialist nostalgia – we flattered ourselves that we understood the Arab world in a way the Americans never could – we were not prepared even to count the number of Iraqis who died under our rule. As a result the independent website Iraq Body Count was set up. It now estimates there have been more than 250,000 deaths from the war and the violence that engulfed the country afterwards.

Besides the Iraqi people and Blair’s reputation, progressive politics in Britain have suffered because of the dishonest way the country was led into war in Iraq. Look at the disputes between the Corbynistas and the rest of the Labour Party today. The former use the cry of “Iraq”” as a means of silencing their opponents in the way that previous generations of far-leftists used “Fascist!” So it is that, because of her support for war in Iraq, a mainstream Labour figure like Angela Eagle is branded a “Tory”.

Nor have the Liberal Democrats escaped the baleful legacy of Iraq. Because the party lacks strong intellectual foundations, often seeming to be shored up by a combination of support for Guardian editorials, leaflet distribution and general benevolence, we find it hard to explain how it is that we differ from moderate Labourites. We have a tendency so seize upon policy questions where we are in the right, such as Iraq or identity cards, and elevate these into insurmountable peaks of principle.

You would never guess from all the praise for Charles Kennedy and his courage in the face of that heckling from the Conservative benches that he had originally been wary of opposing the war in Iraq and was rather bounced into opposition by the wider party.

Writing five years after the event, the Liberal Democrat blogger James Graham recalled the opposition from the party’s big-wigs after a motion he and Susan Kramer took to the Federal Executive, calling on the party to oppose the war and on members to join the Stop the War demonstration, was passed:
Senior figures in the party did everything they could to stop any aspect of this motion from being implemented. They point blank refused to put anything up on the party website … They wouldn’t link to my site. 
Then: with less than a week to go before the demo itself, Kennedy was asked a direct question by David Frost on live television and, bottling it, turned volte face and said he would be “very happy” to go on [the demonstration]. 
Suddenly we got our link on the front page of the party website, publicity in Lib Dem News (which until that point had been relegated to the letters pages) and the full weight of the party’s campaigns and press departments behind us. 
Yet even then Kennedy remained obsessed with having it both ways. Notoriously, his Hyde Park speech argued meekly that he was “not persuaded” of the case for war and demanding that Parliament be allowed a vote (it was; the troops went in). 
In my experience those party big-wigs were never much interested in Liberal Democrat News, but that was how James saw it.

Our finest hour

Charles Kennedy’s opposition to war in Iraq is now established in the popular mind and the party’s own mind, as our finest hour. But we do need to be sure what lessons we draw from that.

We are not a pacifist party, so in what circumstances would we support military actions abroad? Must there be United Nations support for it. Must we be part of a wide international coalition? Must we be sure of success? We need to decide.

And those who oppose such action need to be clear why they do so. I did detect a conscious rerunning of the debate on Iraq by those Lib Dems who opposed what turned out to be near token action against ISIL forces in Syria.

 It is too late for the people of Iraq or for Tony Blair’s reputation, but the rest of us need to learn from the wretched affair and be clear about which lessons we need to learn.

Pew! Andrew Bridgen and the potato factory

Residents of the Leicestershire village of Measham are complaining about a foul smell that has plagued the village for years.

One of them, Peter Yates, is quoted by the Leicester Mercury:
"Here we are again, another warm spell when one likes to enjoy the outdoors and have the house windows open. 
"But here in Measham, for yet another year, we can't." 
He added: "Despite all the rhetoric and assurances from the offenders, A B Produce, with their annual fobbing off to both the local council and Environment Agency, the stench is actually worse than ever, to the point of being nauseating."
The A B Produce plant, which residents blame for the smell, is run by a company founded by Measham's MP Andrew Bridgen.

At one time, judging by this BBC report, Mr Bridgen derived a substantial income from the company that runs the factory. Today he just declares a shareholding in the House of Commons Register of Members' Financial Interests.

You can read about past litigation over the Measham Stink, and the company's insistence that it is about to resolve the problem, in the Mercury report.

Traffic: Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired

A 10-minute version of this song from the band's live 1973 album On the Road.

Too much noodling? Maybe, but I like sad songs that let you enjoy a wallow in your misery and then lift you.

And you get two Steve Winwood guitar solos for your money,

Saturday, July 23, 2016

IPCC takes action against 11 over Greville Janner case

This was posted on the Independent Police Complaints Commission website on Thursday:
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has served criminal and gross misconduct notices on 11 individuals as it continues to investigate Leicestershire Police’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations made against the late Greville Janner. 
The IPCC has decided not to name any subjects to ensure that the ongoing criminal investigation is not compromised.

St Mary in Arden, Market Harborough

Want to visit a ruined church? There is one next to Market Harborough station.

St Mary in Arden, says the Victoria County History, was first mentioned in 1220, when it was a chapel of the nearby village of Great Bowden.

That gave it the same status at St Dionysius in the centre of Harborough, and St Mary in Arden was built on the same scale and seems to have been rather more important.

In the book of his television series The Story of England, Michael Wood depicts St Mary in Arden as a place of pilgrimage:
Below the church the graveyard stretched down the hillside to the Welland, where there was an ancient sacred well known as Lady Well. The pilgrimage probably required prayers at the shrine before its image of Mary, and then bathing and drinking at the sacred well. especially for the sick and infirm, who were born along by the villagers.
The church was a ruin by the end of  the 17th century, when it was rebuilt on a more modest scale using some of the existing stones.

St Mary's churchyard remained the town's burial ground until the cemetery opened in Northampton Road in 1878.

After that the church fell into disuse. The board outside says it lost its roof in the 1950s and was almost pulled down in 1971, but is now a scheduled ancient monument and maintained by the council.

Though it prevented further deterioration, I have always found the preservation measures taken in the early 1970s unsympathetic: all that toughened glass puts me in mind of a bathroom.

Many of the gravestones were removed then too, but the best examples now surround the remains of the church. You can read about them in an article by J.C. Davies.

The church's very existence still puzzles me: why a large church just outside the town? Could it have served a lost settlement called Arden?

Those Shakespearean echoes are tempting, but maybe it was built to serve the shrine by the Welland.

And its churchyard does contain the best seat in Market Harborough.

Penis photo posters seized by police in Lewes

Ladies and gentlemen: Thanks to BBC News, we have our Headline of the Day.

Liberator on Liberal Democrat candidate selections

The new Liberator arrived this morning, so I am able to give you a snippet from the well-informed Radical Bulletin section.

Looking at the fast-track selections the Liberal Democrats have used in some seats in case there is an early general election, it says:
In addition to most seats held until 2015, or in some cases 2010, there were some deeply puzzling choices. 
These included: Leyton & Wanstead (5th place with 5.7% of the vote), Poplar & Limehouse (5th 4.2%), Esher & Walton (4th, 9.4%), Birmingham Edgbaston (5th, 9.2%) and Canterbury (4th, 11.6%). 
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceThe list did not include Maidstone, at which ludicrous levels of resources were hurled to no great effect last year, or some surviving second places such as Newton Abbot and Romsey.
The moral is clear: you should subscribe to Liberator.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A journey round Leicester's central ring road

This video follows the ring road in both directions and features stories about its history and the places it passes through.

Eat your heart out, Iain Sinclair.

Six of the Best 612

In an open memo to David Cameron, former Canadian high commissioner to the UK, Jeremy Kinsman, sets out the scale of Remain's failure.

James Ball and Marie Le Conte take us inside the complex snarl of companies that control Momentum.

Pension raids and contribution holidays, together with some bad planning and short-sighted tax policy, have left pension funds with a massive gap. Companies are now trying to cover this using money that might otherwise go towards pay rises. Those they employ are working to cover the cost of benefits they are unlikely to see themselves while seeing their own pay stagnate." Flip Chart Rick lays bare the great pensions cock up.

Greener cities are healthier cites, says Pascal Mittermaier.

Glen Wright offers a short history of cats in academia: "When cats aren’t contributing to academic life, they are themselves the subject of much interesting research, including a much-publicised study suggesting that your cat may wish to kill you."

Flickering Lamps on the church tower that was moved from the City to Twickenham between 1938 and 1940.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Richard Jefferies Halt to open on 31 July

From the Total Swindon site:
Swindon 175 cordially invite you to the grand opening of Richard Jefferies Halt and The New Coate Water Railway Loop Extension - Swindon's brand new railway station! 
Please arrive early as the first train will be stopping at Richard Jefferies Halt at 12:05pm. 
This family fun packed day will see the first official train stop at the new station with a ribbon cutting and an unveiling of the new sign to mark the official opening of Richard Jefferies Halt. Children's activities at the museum, a brass band and a steam traction engine to keep you entertained. 
The museum is situated on the edge of the beautiful Coate Water County Park which houses the miniature railway and its just 2 minutes from the Arkells Brewery Sun Inn family pub. A corner of Swindon perfect for families - Come along to the museum and bring a picnic! 
There is parking available at Coate Water. 
For more information and to see other Swindon175 events, visit the website here.
You can read more about Richard Jefferies and Coate in a guest post by Rebecca Welshman.

I took the photo above when I visited Coate some years ago. In an earlier life, I wrote a Masters dissertation on Jefferies.

The lions of Tur Langton

I was taken with these two lions on Saturday. They guard the entrance to the churchyard at St Andrew's, Tur Langton, and appear to be gravestones too.

St Andrew's is a Victorian brick church designed by Goddards of Leicester and funded by the Hanbury Charity.

It is uncompromising and incongruous in a picturesque village, but I rather admire it.

Tur Langton Manor now has a cafe and some retail units, which makes it easier to view the fragment that remains of the village's Medieval church.

I found it being guarded by conscientious alpacas.

In praise of Pokemon Go

A shocking report from BBC News:
A group of teenage boys who entered an underground cave network to search for Pokemon got stuck 100ft below ground. 
The "glum and embarrassed" foursome had to be rescued after entering the complex, known as the Box mines, in Hawthorn, Wiltshire. 
They had entered while playing smash hit smartphone game Pokemon Go, where users search real-life locations for digital creatures.
Except, isn't that what we rather want teenagers to be like? Getting out of doors and exploring their surroundings?

I'm sure Baden-Powell would approve and I suspect Malcolm Saville would too.

The NSPCC certainly does not approve. The Independent reports its views:
Because the app encourages people to explore the world, by allowing them to find new Pokemon by heading to different places, the app could be exploited by criminals, the NSPCC said. 
The same geolocation feature that is central to the app could be used by offenders to find children, the charity warned.
If you are minded to find children, I suspect there are easier ways of doing so.

It is good to see children out on a summer evening exploring the streets and seeing things the adults around them cannot.

It is not so different to what I do on Saturdays with my camera and a few scraps of local history.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A lost line: Tooting, Merton and Wimbledon

Another exploration of a closed London railway by the people at Londonist. This time there are not a lot of remains to be discovered.

Why Remain lost the European referendum

I came across an article today by Warren Hatter that looks at the reasons the Remain campaign lost the referendum.

I'm not sure quite which body of theory or knowledge it draws on, but it certainly sounds convincing:
It’s not hard to make a case that the main flaw of the Remain campaign was in allowing the debate to be framed by the Leave camp. Framing isn’t a behavioural effect as such, but how something is framed provides the context for decision-making – and biases – to play. 
Taking just one example, the Leave side managed to get ‘freedom of movement’ spoken about as though it’s a one-way street. And this is still true; listen to news pieces even today about the issue, and it’s all about EU citizens’ right to move to the UK, not about UK citizens being able to live in any of 28 countries, as a result of being EU citizens. 
How could the campaign have been run to reframe this? I’ll offer just one example: loss aversion is good to tap into. For UK citizens like me and my family, the Leave campaign was about removing our right to live in 27 of those 28 countries. Expressing it more vividly, they want to take 95% of my/your passport away.

Private Eye's lead story was on this blog in 2008

The lead story in the new Private Eye concerns hacks' attempts to turn up some dirt on our new prime minister.

They hoped to find it in a privately published history of the Oxford University Conservative Association that appeared in 1994 and left no episode of backstabbing or vote-rigging undocumented.

Trouble is, that history has suddenly become very scarce. Even college libraries known to have held copies now claim they do not.

But the Eye has seen one and can reveal that no wrongdoing by either the young Theresa Brasier or the young Philip May appears in it.

It does however have a story about Damian Green being thrown into the Cherwell.

I would be more impressed by this if it had not already appeared on this blog in 2008. This is what I quoted then:
One person who will perhaps be a little anxious at the news that David Davis has been replaced as shadow Home Secretary by Dominic Grieve is Conservative MP Damian Green, who has the immigration brief in Grieve's new department. 
The two men were at Oxford together in the 1970s, when Green (educated at Reading grammar school) was an undergraduate at Balliol College and his new boss (educated at Westminster public school) was at Magdalen. Green, who a contemporary remembers as an earnest sort of chap, was invited to a black-tie dinner at Magdalen and polished his shoes accordingly, but after dinner - and, sadly, history does not record the reason for this - Green found himself picked up in a display of high spirits and deposited in the Cherwell by a group of Magdalen hearties, including Dominic Grieve.
Quoted, because was not a scoop by me either. The story had appeared in the Observer's diary column Pendennis.

Still, I make that Lord Bonkers 1 Lord Gnome 0.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Disused railway stations in Oxfordshire

Three minutes of deep joy.

Six of the Best 613

Caron Lindsay can't recommend the Social Liberal Forum conference highly enough.

"To say that voters should not be allowed to change their minds when they see what the withdrawal terms actually are would be deeply undemocratic." Alan Renwick considers the possibility of a second referendum on Brexit.

Vaughan Bell examines why are paranoia and schizophrenia more common in cities.

"I cannot help but feel that I would not have heard such comments from the strangers I spoke with had I been a young twenty-something male travelling alone on this adventure. I truly believe the comments stem from the fact that I am a woman." Leilani on female solitude as a challenging act.

"I Could Go On Singing isn’t a movie: it’s a 99 minute heartbreak." Nathaniel Hood watches Judy Garland's last film, which paired her with Dirk Bogarde.

Tim Wigmore meets the Joyces - the first family of Irish cricket.

Nick Clegg rejoins the Liberal Democrat front bench

On 10 July I blogged about the Conservative leadership:
For her sake and the sake of the country, Leadsom should now stand down from the contest.
The following day she did just that.

Sometimes it takes a little longer. On 7 July I wrote:
What would be welcome ... would be Nick Clegg taking on the Europe and foreign affairs for the Liberal Democrats, 
His party needs him and his country does too.
This afternoon came news (so far only via Twitter) that Nick Clegg is going to take on the European portfolio for the Lib Dems.

To be honest, I have been calling for him to do that ever since the last election. But if people have finally started to take notice of me I shall call for more things in future.

Man who soaks his feet in urine coming barefoot to Retford

Thanks to the reader who nominated it, the Retford Times wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Merton College, Tur Langton and Kibworth Harcourt

In 2012 I blogged about the plan of Merton College, Oxford, to deprive the Leicestershire village of Turn Langton of its village hall.

Judging by the banner I found when I went back to Tur Langton on Saturday, that dispute is yet to be settled.

But Merton College has more ambitious plans for this part of the county. It is one of several landowners (including the Diocese of Leicester) behind plans for a massive development a couple of miles to the west at Kibworth Harcourt.

Take it as a reminder that however much institutions portray themselves as above getting and spending, someone somewhere is paying for all that effortless superiority.

According to the Harborough Mail, the plans would increase the population of Kibworth by about 50 per cent, taking it to more than 10,000 people.

I read many Liberal Democrats moaning about 'Nimbys,' but my impression, at least locally, is that developers get pretty much what they want. Councils are wary of challenging them, and if they generally lose. Wave after wave of new development in Kibworth and Market Harborough testifies to this.

Anyway, if you live in Kibworth you can see the details of Merton et al.'s plans at Kibworth Grammar School Hall on Wednesday 29 July between 4 and 8pm.

The photograph below shows Kibworth Harcourt windmill, which must lie in the centre of the proposed development.

Call for the Spencer Davis Group to reunite for a gig in Birmingham

Researching my post on The Uglys' Wake Up My Mind yesterday, I came across this cry from the heart on the Brumbeat site:
The Spencer Davis Group was one of the most admired bands to come out of Birmingham in the 1960s. They were also one of the most successful with internationally known hit records like 'Keep On Running', 'Gimme Some Loving', and 'I'm A Man'. 
The aim of this petition is to show support for the original line-up of The Spencer Davis Group to re-unite and perform at Birmingham's Town Hall. Their drummer Pete York has requested support from fans of the BrumBeat web site to help this cause. In his own words "before time robs us of our facility to do so." 
The original line-up of the group was Spencer Davis, Steve Winwood, Muff Winwood, and Pete York. They have not performed on stage together as a group since 1967. 
We are losing more of our heroes from the 1960s with depressing regularity. It's not about money, It's About Time!
Perhaps not tactful, but then Muff Winwood himself has suggested that the Spencer Davis Group are the only group to top the singles chart in the 1960s whose members are all still alive.

There is more about the petition (which I shall be happy to sign) on the Birmingham Mail site:
It’s more than just a pipedream – John Woodhouse’s campaign has already received the backing of drummer Peter York, and the internet petition is gathering pace daily. 
John ... explains the appeal, and importance, of The Spencer Davis Group. 
“In those early days, half the groups in Birmingham were trying to be like The Shadows, the other half like The Beatles,” he explains. 
“But the Spencer Davis Group were different in that they had their own sound. A lot of bands went on to copy that sound.”
The photograph above, which was sent to me by the Catalina Island Museum, shows the band in the 1960s. I believe it comes from Spencer Davis's own collection. (Spencer Davis now lives on the island and in 2012 the museum held an exhibition devoted to the band.)

The video below shows what all the fuss is about.

Nottingham musician 'overwhelmed' by teeth appeal

BBC News wins our Headline of the Day Award - despite the characteristic unnecessary quotation marks.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Woodford Halse in 1966

Another film by Edward "Chib" Thorp, the railway-loving undertaker of Leigh on Sea. Click on the image above to view it on the BFI site.

Here accompanied by his wife and dog, he visits the branch line from Banbury to Woodford Halse, which had recently lost its passenger service but still saw a few long-distance passenger workings.

Then he shows us Woodford Halse itself, which had been a major railway junction and home to a locomotive deport and extensive marshalling yards. Thorp here films it in its last days as a station at all.

Now watch Last Train to Woodford Halse.

Six of the Best 612

Stephen Williams suggests that a progressive alliance could transform British politics.

"The lesson I take from what’s happened in both our main political parties is that you never win an argument by pandering to it, or ignoring it and simply hoping it goes away. You win by taking the argument head on." Read the keynote speech to Reform's 2016 annual dinner by Liz Kendall.

Jonathan Fryer explains why he has written Eccles Cakes - a childhood memoir.

"Bands now look at ticket sales, or engagement on social media as indicators of their reach and impact. And those are the things, rather than hit singles, which traditionally sustain careers." Mark Savage says the singles chart is now almost irrelevant.

Join A London Inheritance on a photographic exploration of the building of the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank after the Second World War.

Paul Talling discovers the source of the River Lea and traces its early course through Luton.

The Uglys: Wake Up My Mind

Steve Gibbons played this song when I heard him open for Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings here in Market Harborough in 2013.

He recorded it with his then band The Uglys in 1965. It was not a hit in the UK, but did very well in the charts in Australia and New Zealand.

The Brumbeat site quotes Gibbons as saying: "I played this huge harmonica on Wake Up My Mind that I'd bought from the market. It sounded just like an accordion."

And that sound makes it not only an early essay in social comment and psychedelia, but also one with a vaguely Continental tinge.

More about Steve Gibbons, a legend of the Birmingham music scene, on:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Labour: Now the two unity candidates are fighting each other

From tomorrow's Observer:
The Labour party has been engulfed by fresh infighting as the camps of the two potential “unity candidates” set to fight Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership embarked on their own war of words. 
On the eve of a pivotal week for the party, one MP supporting Angela Eagle accused rival Owen Smith of using “sneaky tactics” to manoeuvre himself into being the sole challenger. 
Meanwhile a senior MP supporting Smith claimed there was an overwhelming consensus that only one candidate should emerge, and warned that currently supportive MPs would not give Eagle their nomination if she did not swiftly recognise the situation. 
"Angela needs to be very careful," said the source. "I can understand her position having come out first, but it is not a question of who deserves to be leader; it is about the best possible candidate to beat Jeremy."
On the surface it is funny: deep down it is tragic.

But I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that it will take at least one defeat under a hard left leader to bring the Labour membership to its senses.

And I remember the crap that good Liberal Democrats took from Labour for five years.

So I shall take Lord Bonkers' advice on and point at Labour and roar with laughter.

Boris Johnson begins to realise that he has gone too far

A couple of days after the referendum Boris Johnson wrote a column for the Sunday Telegraph saying we could all still have nice things despite the result:
I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe, and always will be. There will still be intense and intensifying European cooperation and partnership in a huge number of fields: the arts, the sciences, the universities, and on improving the environment. EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected, and the same goes for British citizens living in the EU. 
British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down.
The result was that Johnson's new-found supporters were outraged and his lieutenant and strategist Michael Gove deserted him. As a result, he dropped out of the Conservative leadership contest.

On Friday he made a speech at the French Embassy in London and called for "a political, cultural, psychological, and economic union" with France. He was booed by some members of his audience.

Tonight comes news that a dinner for European Union foreign ministers has been cancelled. This, suggests The Sun, is in part because Johnson's European counterparts have no particular wish to break bread with him.

All this must hurt Johnson. He is no Little Englander: he was born in New York to a father who made his living by working in international organisations. Some sources claim he is still a US citizen.

But, by gambling he could court the Leavers, whose views he must surely despise, lose the referendum and gain in the long run, he has spoilt all this for himself and for the nation.

I am reminded of a passage in Auberon Waugh's* first novel The Foxglove Saga. I did read it years ago, but this extract comes from William Cook's anthology of the younger Waugh's writings Kiss Me Chudleigh. Cook suggests it may be a picture of Auberon himself as a boy:
Stoat began to realise that he had gone too far. It had happened several times in his career before, when, without warning, his entire world had seemed to collapse about his ears, leaving him just a shade more lonely, and spiteful, and not a jot wiser than before. 
When his first Nanny, called Freda, to whom he was passionately attached, had suddenly been teased too much about her boyfriends, and had turned and thrashed him savagely, and had given her notice the same evening; when his spaniel puppy, Rollo, had been pushed once too often into the goldfish pond, and had caught a cold and died, and his father had sworn that he would never have another dog; when, at his first prep school, a game of Cops and Robbers had got out of hand, and a boy had nearly lost a finger, and Stoat had been asked to leave.
Like Stoat, Boris Johnson has begun to realise that he had gone too far.

* A word on Auberon Waugh. When I am seeking inspiration for my own comic writing, it is to him and his courage and absurdity that I turn.

Kiss Me Chudleigh is a good representation of his work, except that there is too much of Waugh's fulminations against the working class. Granted his politics are not my politics, but when he wrote like this (and he did frequently) he was not so much hammering at the same theme as hammering away at the same note. And it was not that funny to begin with.

In praise of eyesores: The Bull's Head, Tur Langton:

I seem to have reached the stage where I am revisiting local villages that I have already photographed for this blog. Today it was the turn of Tur Langton.

When I was there in 2010 the Bull's Head, though empty, still stood. You can see it in the photograph above.

It had closed around the turn of the century - a reminded that it is not so long since a village of any size could support two pubs.

Now it has gone, replaced by a chaste terrace with, I believe, some larger houses behind. The terrace is in the photo below.

But at least someone from the Markta site got inside the derelict pub before it was demolished,

The Bull's Head turns out to have an interesting history.

If you know your Michael Wood's Story of England, you will recall the Gartree, an oak tree situated to the north of the Roman Gartree Road and west of the ancient ridgeway running north to south, between Shangton and Illston-on-the-Hill.

Gartree is also one of the hundreds of Leicestershire. And, records This Was Leicestershire, it was at the tree that the hundred court met between at least 1458 and 1750.

After that, it relocated to the Bull's Head, the nearest convenient inn to the ancient meeting place.

Anyway, what I have learnt in my travels is that ever you see a building described as an 'eyesore' you should go and photograph it. It will have an interesting story and one day some well-meaning person will pull it down.

Cleobury Mortimer, Highley and the Isle of Man in the late 1930s

More Shropshire goodness from the BFI's Britain on Film collection.

Click on the image above to view this film by Freddy Morrison of Cleobury Mortimer.

It combines shots of village life and people, including Cleobury's wonky spire, with footage of trips to Highley and the Isle of Man.

Look for coal miners and what was then a new road bridge in the former, and the TT races and horse-drawn trams in the latter.

Enjoy to the telephone number Cleobury Mortimer 6.