Saturday, December 15, 2018

Six of the Best 837

"Margaret Wintringham was elected in a by election in September 1921, succeeding her deceased husband in the Louth constituency of Lincolnshire. She followed the Tory Nancy Astor as the second woman to take her seat in the House of Commons." Stephen Williams celebrates a near century of women Liberal and Liberal Democrat MPs.

"The Institute for Public Policy Research reports that public spending in the south has risen by £3.2bn since 2010, against a fall of £6.3bn in the north." Simon Jenkins says the extra billions announced for Crossrail emphasise Britain's north-south divide.

Owen Bennett-Jones looks at Auntie's many problems: "The BBC has papered over its failure to challenge authority by developing a house style of aggressive interviewing which gives the impression of holding power to account without actually doing so."

Richard Florida asks if the great Jane Jacobs predicted the rise of Donald Trump.

"The Box of Delights has something far more important than money or gloss. It has magic, a commodity that can’t be bought and which enables almost every flaw to be forgiven." James Oliver celebrates the BBC's adaptation from the 1980s- a modern Christmas classic.

Inesemjphotography takes us around the Ring of Kerry.

If Labour backs Brexit it will fall behind the Lib Dems

There's a remarkable story on The Times website this evening, reporting the findings of a new opinion poll on Brexit:
The YouGov survey of 5,000 voters, commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign, shows that support for Labour could fall from 36% to 22% if they helped the Tories to pass a compromise deal with Brussels like the one advocated by Theresa May. 
Under those circumstances, the Lib Dems would soar from 10% to 26% - their highest rating in any poll since they entered coalition government with the Tories in 2010. 
The poll shows that Labour’s supporters want a People’s Vote by a margin of almost three to one - and an even bigger proportion would stay in the European Union if they were given the chance.
It's just one poll, but it does confirm the view that the voters whom Labour won over at the election were not attracted by the socialism-in-one-nation beliefs Jeremy Corbyn has held since he was a teenager. They wanted an end to austerity and they wanted to remain in the European Union.

So far Corbyn and his inner circle have stayed on the fence over whether we should leave the EU, but that stance is calling for increasingly contorted gymnastics. If they jump the wrong way, they will pay the electoral price.

And there is some comfort for the Liberal Democrats here. We have fallen like Icarus, but the greater volatility of present-day politics means it is not too fanciful to believe we will take wing again.

The Zombies to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

After three unsuccessful nominations, The Zombies are one of the acts to be elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after polls of music fans and industry professionals.

In an email from the group, Colin Blunstone says:
I’m feeling quite emotional remembering all the many years we’ve been touring and recording which have brought us to this career defining moment! 
I would like to give my most sincere thanks to all our loyal and tenacious fans who have supported us so wonderfully through the weeks of the fan vote and to all the members of the Rockhall who have voted for us to join this most exalted institution!
We don't hear much about it here in Britain, but the Hall of Fame does appear to be a big deal in the US.

And, writing this, I have learnt that it is a physical building, to be found in Cleveland, Ohio.

The other inductees this year are The Cure, Def Leppard, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Radiohead and Roxy Music.

I find that five songs from the Zombies' Sixties heyday have featured here as Sunday music videos over the years:

Friday, December 14, 2018

Market Harborough station in the early 1980s

Work to straighten the track through Market Harborough station continues.

Here is a photograph of the station back in the early 1980s. It was taken into the sun and through the buffers at the end of a long-vanished siding. You could do things like that on stations in those days.

Curving away to the right is the platform that once accommodated trains to Northampton and Rugby. The bridge that took the line over Rockingham Road may still be in place.

When the current works at the station were imminent, I went to photograph what remained of this scene.

Michael Brooke: The later career of the first owner of The Magnet

This clip comes from the 1950 Ealing comedy The Magnet, which is of most interest today because its star grew up to be James Fox.

I last posted it when I blogged about the film in the summer.

But who is the other boy in the clip? The younger boy Fox cons into swapping his magnet?

He is Michael Brooke, and his IMDB biography describes his later career:
Bilingual, he was educated at the LycĂ©e Francais in London and read Law at Edinburgh University and was called to the bar in November 1968. He became a distinguished and well-regarded Barrister, and later Judge. 
His greatest achievement, in the late Eighties and early Nineties, was obtaining compensation from the National Health Service for over 1000 hemophiliacs who had been treated with blood contaminated with HIV, and later for those infected with Hepatitis C.
Michael Brooke died in 2014. You can read about his legal career in more detail in his Medico-Legal Journal obituary.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Marion Thorpe wins Television Dialogue of the Year

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Here she is, as acted by Monica Dolan and written by Russell T. Davies, in A Very English Scandal:
"Jeremy, I'm not a fool. I practically grew up with Benjamin Britten. I've seen something of the world. I fled from Hitler, for God's sake. My own son married a hippie in a yurt. And I've toured with orchestras—I couldn't begin to tell you the things I've seen. So there's no need to protect me."
The award is made by Alex Ross.

Six of the Best 836

"What is clear is that Theresa May’s deal is dead. What is not clear is whether any deal exists that can pass through parliament." Martin Veart on the latest Brexit developments.

Janette Martin says the collections held at the University of Manchester Library deepen our understanding of Peterloo and its cultural impact on the city of Manchester.

Stephen Kotkin revisits Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: "On this centenary of his birth, and tenth anniversary of his passing, we can see that Solzhenitsyn was dead-on about the soul-crushing Soviet system, from a moral and not just a political point of view, and to a degree right about the materialist mania and moral rot of the West."

"Author Richard Adams may have thought it was just 'a story about rabbits', but for more than 40 years, Watership Down has functioned as a litmus test for what is and is not considered to be suitable content in children’s entertainment." Catherine Lester fears the BBC's new family-friendly version risks losing the power of the original.

"But if there was a single theme around which K-Punk’s eclectic energies organized, it was the future. Specifically: What happened to it? Fisher feared that we were losing our ability to conceptualize a tomorrow that was radically different from our present." Hua Hsu on Mark Fisher, K-Punk and the futures that never arrived.

James Parker reviews Roger Daltrey's 'Thanks a Lot, Mr Kibblewhite'.

Daniel Hannan's group told to repay €535,000 of EU funds

Now here's a thing:
A European conservative group co-founded by the Tories and led by Brexit campaigner and MEP Daniel Hannan has been asked to repay more than half a million euros of EU funds following an investigation into their spending, the Guardian has learned. ... 
Hannan, who has championed Brexit for more than a quarter of a century and was ACRE’s secretary-general until December 2017, is told that there are grounds to suspect a conflict of interest on his part, in leaked documents seen by the Guardian. Hannan called that conclusion "absurd" and accused investigators of making false insinuations that were "outrageous".
That from a Guardian exclusive by Jennifer Rankin.

She goes on to report:
British conservative sources sought to distance themselves from ACRE, an organisation they helped to create, which has been described by some party insiders as "Daniel Hannan's travel agency".

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Why is there something rather than nothing at all?

Time for a bit of philosophy.

This lecture touches on the distinction between prescriptive laws (like the law of the land) and descriptive laws (like the laws of physics) that was the subject of my first Philosophy lecture at York 40 years ago.

Its subject reminds me of Prendergast in Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall. He had no trouble believing the whole of Christian doctrine, but had to give up being a clergyman because he could not see why God had created the universe in the first place.

The East Midlands Ambulance Service is spending millions on private ambulances

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My old friend Phil Knowles, leader of the Liberal Democrat on Harborough District Council, tells me that the East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust spent almost £8m on private ambulances since the start of 2017.

The information comes from senior managers at the Trust.

Phil says:
"There need to be questions about the planning that has been in place. What could have been done to avoid this situation? Will the promised investment ensure that the reliance on these private ambulances is a thing of the past? 
"With the winter pressures, the worry must be that there will a need to use private ambulances in even greater numbers. We appreciate the care that ambulance crews,  provide, but it is absolutely correct to ask these questions, seek answers and obtain the assurances and actions required.”

Cambridgeshire Santa 'swore in front of children and ripped off hat and beard'

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Well done to Cambridgeshire Live.

In case any children are reading this, there is of course only one Father Christmas, and he happened to be at St Ives Corn Exchange on Sunday.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Deadly Derek Underwood

The new greatest English spinners of my cricketing lifetime are Graeme Swann and Derek Underwood.

Here is Underwood in action - firstly against Australia at Headingley in 1972 and then against Pakistan at Lord's in 1974. As you can see, he bowled appreciably quicker than the average spinner.

Underwood's nickname was 'Deadly, because, as well as being an invaluable stock bowler, he was just that in helpful conditions.

The Headlingley pitch was controversial, as the grass had been attacked by Fusarium fungus, while the Lord's wicket was affected by rain.

My instinct is that Underwood was a better bowler than Swann, but there is a limit to how closely you can compare players from two different eras.

Little Bowden level crossing in the early 1980s

The Harborough Mail reports:
There’s been another hold-up with the long-awaited footbridge over the main railway line at Little Bowden. 
Though the bridge looks finished, it still can’t be crossed by the public - because Network Rail hasn’t got council permission for it to be used as a public right of way.
The paper goes on to quote my Liberal Democrat county councillor Dr Sarah Hill:
"Network Rail hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory with this. The whole saga has been going on too long. "
It’s annoying to see that the bridge looks like it’s finished, but you can’t use it. I’ve no idea why Network Rail didn’t ask for right-of-way permission weeks ago."
So, after the pedestrian crossing here was abruptly closed in August 2015, we are still waiting to be able to cross the line.

Let's go back 35 years or so to an era when Little Bowden Junction signal box controlled the level crossing.

In those days the crossing gates were controlled from the box, so if a train was signalled you were not able to open them.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Shrewsbury to Ludlow Railway part 2

As promised, here is the second and final part of this video - you can watch part 1 here.

Marshbrook is the Onnybrook of Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine stories, while its signal box may be the oldest one on the British railway network that is still operational.

Spare a thought for Stephen Lloyd

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Last week Stephen Lloyd resigned the Liberal Democrat whip so he could vote in favour of Theresa May's Brexit deal.

Today she pulled the vote on the deal.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Cohen's railway scrapyard near Kettering

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Cohen's scrapyard at Cransley was located on the former Midland Railway's ironstone branch from Kettering to Loddington.

It used to be possible to spot the track to it curving off the main line just south of Kettering station. Houses now occupy the trackbed.

This atmospheric photograph, taken in February 1967, shows a former LMS shunter waiting to be broken up.

Hefner: I Took Her Love for Granted

Championed by John Peel, Hefner were a British indie band who flourished at the end of the last century.

I Took Her Love for Granted reached 136 in the UK singles chart in 1999. It deserved to get several places higher.

Hefner's lead singer Darren Hayman sounds fun:
I read in an interview from three years ago that you don’t like touring much due to the organisation involved. Is this still the case? 
Yep, touring is shit, only idiots and drummers enjoy it. It has very little to do with why I chose music as my profession. I like to play live, but touring is just miserable and sucks the life out of you.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

When I was young all my favourite books had maps

I could say that the maps in my beloved Lone Pine Club stories by Malcolm Saville made me look down on books that did not have maps on their endpapers, but I suspect their importance was even greater than that. It was the maps that attracted me to Malcolm Saville in the first place.

But I was not alone in seeing maps as essential to adventure stories. When Richard Jefferies’ Bevis the Story of a Boy, originally published as a three-volume adult novel, was reinvented as a children’s classic in 1932, the publisher Jonathan Cape pulled out all the stops. It was given illustrations by E.H. Shepard and a map. That map was drawn by an 11-year-old David Garnett.

These reflections come from a reading an article by Jonathan Crowe where he reviews The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, which is edited by Huw Lewis-Jones.

Ever since Tolkien, fantasy writers have felt that their books need maps, but Crowe assures us that the “bog-standard fantasy maps from adult epic fantasy series” aren’t well represented in the book: “frankly, the maps here are much better”.

That is good to hear, though sometimes those maps can spring back to life. When the floods of 2014 struck, I remembered Richard Cowper’s The Road to Corlay:
The map on the endpapers … shows that much of the West Country has become the Somersea. And some present-day characters who are in touch with this future by some form of clairvoyance finally make sense of it: 
On the way they passed through the Outpatients' waiting room. One wall was decorated with a large scale relief map of the whole area surrounding Taunton. Ian walked over to it and contemplated it thoughtfully. "Look here," he said. "Just suppose this area was all flooded, the Quantocks would be an island and so would the Blackdown Hills."
But then Cowper’s map was always more interesting than bog-standard fantasy. And Saville's were studded with incident and human life,

Incidentally, I developed a passion for a rather ordinary children’s book by Ann Shead called The Jago Secret simply because it has a family tree on the endpapers. But that is a whole new subject.

Six of the Best 835

Stephen Bush says it was not Theresa May who killed Brexit but her adviser Nick Timothy:

Stephen Fry’s Brexit video repeats Remain’s 2016 mistakes, says Bobby Duffy.

"After painstakingly scrutinising the evidence, and crunching the numbers, Christophers arrives at this extraordinary estimate: since 1979, no less than 10% of the land area of Britain has been sold by the state - in all its various guises and incarnations - to the private sector." Will Self reviews The New Enclosure by Brett Christophers

"The system of institutions that functioned for two and a half centuries has rusted through, and we have to figure out how it’s all going to work in the twenty-first century." Mahsa Gessen interviews Garry Kasparov, the political activist and former world chess champion.

Sabrina Rau explains that those pop-up ‘I agree’ boxes aren’t just annoying: they’re potentially dangerous.

"Move It was going to be the B-side. This is where the luck comes in. Norrie found us a song called Schoolboy Crush and that was presented in adverts as the A-side for about a week. They played it to Jack Good who was just about to embark on [TV show] Oh Boy!, and he played both sides – the luck! He played both sides! Then he said, 'If your boy is going to be on my show it’s not going to be with Schoolboy Crush, it has to be with Move It.'" Cliff Richard talks to Record Collector.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Why we need to save the Gwent Levels

The Welsh Government wants to drive a 14-mile, six-lane motorway through the Gwent Levels. Here the Gwent Wildlife Trust makes the case against the new road.

Read more about the campaign to save the Gwent Levels.

Getty Images and anonymous comments: Two bits of Liberal England housekeeping

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As soon as Getty Images allowed private users to embed their images free of charge, I have made free use of that facility. Sometimes I even based a post on one of their images.
For the past couple of days, Getty's images have not been displaying on this blog. All you can see is a notice saying the image is no longer available for use.

Except, when you go to the Getty site you find the image is still there and is still available for use.

I shall not embed any more Getty images until this glitch has been fixed. When it has been, a pig will appear above every time you read this post.


Having a comments policy for your blog has always seemed a bit pretentious to me, particularly now that most responses to my posts are to be found on Twitter - you follow me here.

I have always deleted spam comments, and have become increasingly likely to delete posts that are rude about me or accuse me of bad faith.

Now I am becoming irritated by 'drive-by' anonymous posts that attack my views. They are 'drive-by' because the commenter is clearly not familiar with this blog. Have a look at the comments on my Stephen Lloyd post and my response to them to see what I mean.

You can stop people leaving anonymous comments, but that seems too restrictive. It's not that all anonymous comments are worthless: it's just that most worthless comments are anonymous.

So I will continue to allow anonymous comments but may be a little more trigger happy aboyt deleting them in future.

When Simon Titley ran a blog for Liberator he insisted that people gave their real names when commenting.

This caused outrage in some quarters, and it is true that there are people who have good reasons for remaining anonymous. It can also be a liberation: I enjoyed the years when no one knew that it was me who wrote Lord Bonkers' Diary.

But, more and more, I see why Simon did it.

The well-worn path from Liberty to being a Labour hack

When I was a teenager and had already decided I was a Liberal, two of the big names in civil liberties campaigning were Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman of Liberty - or the National Council for Civil Liberties as it then was.

Twenty years later they were both impeccably on-message New Labour ministers, sharing Tony Blair's exasperation with "libertarian nonsense".

Another 20 years on and I find Shami Chakrabarti is set on the same path. As one viewer put it last night:
The moral, I suppose, is that you should be wary of having heroes - or heroines.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

The National Forest: Creating a forest for learning

The National Forest covers 200 square miles of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire.

It contains both ancient woodland and new planting, much of it on former mining and industrial land.

Put at its most romantic, it is an attempt to join the ancient forests of Charnwood and Needwood.

This charming little film shows the use a local of school is making of the forest for education - campfires, climbing trees and all.

Councillor accidentally sends photo of topless woman to mothers' WhatsApp group during meeting

The Independent, with the help of Sheffield Labour's Mohammad Maroof, wins our Headline of the Day Award.

On not being impressed by Stephen Lloyd

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If Stephen Lloyd were determined to back Theresa May because he believed in Brexit, I would not be pleased, but I would understand him.

But he is determined to do so even though he believes Brexit is against the national interest.

That is because, at the last election, he promised voters in Eastbourne that he would support the result of the referendum and not campaign for a second one.

I presume he did this because he thought it was the only way he would get elected.

That is not an approach to politics I admire, but it is his third promise that really gets me.

It seems he promised to support the deal the prime minister reached with the European Union, whatever its content.

But if you are not willing to hold the executive to account then there is no point your being in parliament.

I also note the comment of Isabel Hardman that his resignation of the party whip has:
baffled Lib Dems, not so much because Lloyd is stepping back from the most avowedly anti-Brexit party in the Commons. It’s more that he’s doing so to support a vote that no one thinks the government has any chance of winning.

Vince Cable was in Market Harborough today

Photo from @vincecable on Twitter

Vince Cable was in Leicestershire today and did a lunchtime meeting in Market Harborough with representatives from various community groups.

I usually work from home on Thursdays, so I was able to drop in for some of it. You can see Vince in the photograph above with Cllr Phil Knowles (leader of the Lib Dem Group on Harborough district) and Zuffar Haq, who was our parliamentary candidate at the last three general elections.

Vince came over well in the session - there was something of the kindly professor about him. He said he thinks there is now a 50 per cent chance of a second referendum, but the next few days will be crucial.

One of his themes was they way that the debate over Brexit has divided the country. However it ends, politicians will have to make an effort to bring us together again.

He was more complimentary about Theresa May thank I would have been and emphasised that he does not question the legitimacy of the first referendum result. It's just that people now know a lot more about what Brexit would mean than they did two years ago.

Even so, I was struck by how short of information on Europe this educated audience felt. Would we be forced to join the Euro if we gave up the idea of Brexit? was one of the quesitons.

I can also reveal that Vince mourns the absence of the Daleks and Cybermen from the new season of Doctor Who. He sees it because it's on just before Strictly.