Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Monday, May 10, 2021

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England and am happy to publish obes on subjects far beyond the Liberal Democrats and British politics.

In fact I could do with some guest posts on what the Lib Dems should do in the light of Thursday's elections. I am now a full-time carer, which limits the time I have to write longer posts of that sort.

If you would like to write for this blog, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Renaissance: Northern Lights

The band Renaissance has a complicated history. It was formed in 1969 by Keith Relf and Jim McCarty, two members of the Yardbirds who fell by the wayside as that band transformed itself into Led Zeppelin, and its original line up also include Relf's sister Jane.

In the Seventies a new line up emerged, with Annie Haslam as the lead vocatist. It was this incarnation that recorded Northern Lights, which reached number 10 in the UK Singles charts in the summer of 1978.

Roy Wood was involved with Renaissance a couple of decades after that, and the band is still going today. Only it has crossed the Atlantic and is now firmly American.

I liked Northern Lights back in 1978 and like it today. This is chiefly because of Haslam's voice, but it's also good to see a pretentious, late Seventies double-necked guitar again.

Two reasons Labour deserved to lose Hartlepool

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Twitter is not Britain, they say. And that's just as well.

Much of the reaction I've seen on the platform from those disappointed at the result in the Hartlepool by-election has involved attacks on the town's voters. They are stupid, they are racist and so on.

But what if Labour got pretty much the result they deserved? What if they had a disaterous recent history on the local council and imposed the wrong candidate?

Here's a paragraph from the magisterial preview of the by-election that Andrew Teale wrote for Britain Elects:

Then the wheels really started to come off the clown car that is Hartlepool council. This is complicated, please bear with me. In 2018 the five UKIP councillors walked out of the party and, eventually, rebranded as a new party called the Independent Union. 

Just before the May 2019 elections the ruling Labour group suffered a huge split, with most of the leadership group walking off to join the Scargillite Socialist Labour Party. The electorate were not impressed, and in May 2019 ... Labour lost six of the nine wards they were defending and overall control of the council.

And here is Ailbhe Rea reporting her visit to the town in the New Statesman:

"Have you heard about our fantastic candidate, Dr Paul Williams?" a keen Labour activist asks an elderly gentleman who has answered his door in Seaton Carew, a seaside village a few minutes’ drive down the coast from Hartlepool’s centre. 

He is not voting Labour, he tells the canvasser, saying he has read that Williams was involved in the decision to close critical care at Hartlepool hospital (Williams, an NHS doctor, was indeed on the board that consulted on that decision).

Sometimes in politics you get the result you deserve.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

The Joy of Six 1007

I have long regretted choosing 'Six of the Best' as a name for a feature on this blog. I mentioned this in a recent post and, thanks to a suggestion there by Epictetus, I have my new title.

At least I can be confident that I will never come to regret using one based on a naff Seventies sex manual.

So on we go...

Shev Fogarty blames the Jersey government's new licensing system for the current fishing dispute.

"Having spent time in 2005 asking people around Scotland how they planned to vote, and why, the most common answer to the second question was ‘that’s how we’ve always voted’, often with an invocation of a father. ... These days, the most common answer is 'I’ll see what they have to say'. The SNP didn’t become a part of people’s identities in the way their old parties used to be. It just convinced them to be open-minded." Adam Ramsey explains how the Scottish political landscape has changed.

James Kirkup says education, not class, is Britain's real political divide.

Amanda Perkins talks about her experiences working with farmers, ornithologists and volunteers in the Shropshire hills on curlew conservation.

"By the time he wrote The Owl Service, [Alan] Garner was subverting both the style and the narrative structure of fantasy, creating a distinct voice and a numinous experience. Garner’s fantasy novel focuses on the angst, loves and rivalries of its teenage protagonists: what is at stake is the home and the family. And what disrupts them (but also offers the possibility of redeeming them) is a coherent mythological tradition: in this case, Welsh legend." Dimitra Fimi celebrates a novel that broke the rules of fantasy.

Ben Clifford takes us on six walks that encompass Croydon’s boundaries and history.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Richard Thompson on Fairport Convention, Hugh Cornwell and Sandy Denny

From the blurb on YouTube:

In which the beloved entertainer talks about his memoir 'Beeswing: Fairport, Folk and Finding My Voice 1967-1975', a rich and circuitous ramble that features Jimmy Shand, Louis Armstrong, a school band with Hugh Cornwell, sitar lessons with Andy Summers, the word game that invented 'Unhalfbricking', the genius of Sandy Denny, the 'backstabbing' folk community, the perils of the British stiff upper lip, a cardboard cut-out of Nick Drake, the Henry the Human Fly photoshoot, disinfecting sheep, the writing of Meet on the Ledge and the enduring mystery of the best song lyrics.

A Word in Your Ear appears weekly as a conventional podcast and is agreeable listening for music fans of a certain age.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Snoring Somerset dormouse stuns National Trust rangers

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ITV News wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Click on the link to be stunned yourself.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

James Graham looks back at the AV referendum 10 years on

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James Graham has written a cracking post looking back at the referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote for British general elections.

This took place on 5 May 2011 and its staging formed part of the Coalition agreement. Unfortunately, it turned out that no one had any idea how to argue for AV because, as James confirms, no one much believed in the system.

I can't remember a single poster or slogan from the pro-AV campaign. I can't even remember voting in the referendum, though I suppose I must have done.

Anyway, here are a few highlights from James's post, but do hurry over to Quaequam Blog! and read the whole thing:

It was genuinely surprising to me that in the run up to the EU referendum, no-one from the Remain campaign ever approached me about my thoughts on what they should and should not do. Perhaps this is ego talking, but I’m not aware of anyone in the campaign being approached.

It seemed remarkable to me that no-one seemed to think they had anything to learn from us. But then, if I was a Cameron-supporting Tory who had been on the No to AV side and was aware of what a brutally effective campaign that had been, I would have moved the earth to avoid holding a second national referendum in the first place. It isn’t just the Lib Dems who were guilty of hubris.


I’m not writing this to especially condemn the man – there has been far too much water under the bridge since – but it seems very weird to me the degree to which Lord Sharkey‘s role in the campaign has been downplayed and even airbrushed out of history. ... And yet it was my recollection that every single significant appointment or campaign decision had been made by him. No one has ever challenged this as far as I know. He’s just been essentially erased.


My career weirdly mirrors Nick Tyrone’s. While the AV referendum was the finishing of my political career, it was the making of his. He went from an obscure film producer who just happened to be the husband of Nick Clegg’s Director of Policy, to the head of the Radix think tank. He fell out with the Lib Dems pretty quickly post-2015 as the party sought to distance itself from the “coalicious” period and these days has very much positioned himself in the same right wing circles as Matthew Elliot.


Tuesday, May 04, 2021

There's nothing wrong with calling our national flag the Union Jack

It's featured in Doctor Who, and the last person I heard making the claim was Jim Davidson.

I don't know where the idea that it's wrong to call the UK's national flag the Union Jack comes from - on no evidemce. I suspect QI - but it's bollocks.

If you don't believe me, talk to Cdr Bruce Nicolls OBE RN (Retd) of the Flag Institute:

It is sometimes claimed that the Union Flag should be described as the Union Jack only when flown in the bows of a warship, but this is a relatively recent idea. From its earliest days, the Admiralty often referred to the flag – however it was used – as the Union Jack. 

In 1902 an Admiralty Circular announced that either name could be used officially. And in 1908 the UK Parliament approved this verdict, stating that ‘the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag’.

Cdr Nicholls's article featured in a Six of the Best here long ago. I still enjoy collecting links for this feature, but I find its name increasingly embarrassing.

Does anyone have a better idea for something to call it?

Monday, May 03, 2021

Alex Andreou on the need to give Leavers the space to change their minds

There's a really good contribution to the latest Oh God, What Now? podcast by Alex Andreou,

I liked it so much that I transcribed it, but if you click on player above you can listen to him making it:

We are never going to get the Damascene conversion en masse that we crave – “we” as in Remainers. There’s never going to be that moment where Nigel Farage is marched naked down the street with Naomi [Smith] following him ringing a big bell going “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

It’s just not going to happen. We’re not going to get that satisfaction outside our fantasy world.

And when actually it does happen, the vast majority of Remainers’ reaction is to go: “Why did you vote for it then you wanker?” You know, to punish the people who publicly change their mind.

So here’s what need to happen. What we need to do is to create create the space – the intellectual space – for people to change their mind in the privacy of the polling booth.

They don’t have to publicly admit it. They don’t have to make some grand apology: “You were right. We were wrong. Badly done on us.” We just have to give them enough reasons and enough space to U-turn n the privacy of the polling booth, just between them a piece of paper and a pencil.

Oh God, What Now? is the new name for the old Remainiacs podcast,

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Sandy Denny: Whispering Grass

My main present for Christmas 1973 was a cassette recorder and I was soon busy taping music off the radio. I remember recording the year's top 60 singles, stopping the tape every time Peters and Lee put in an appearance.

And I remember taping a snatch of this record from a trailer for a Radio One programme. Looking at BBC Genome, it must have been for the edition of Sounds on Sunday broadcast on 6 January 1974.

I had no idea what the song was or who the singer was, but I thought it was wonderful.

Whispering Grass was made famous by The Ink Spots in the 1940s and was to reach the top of the charts in 1975 thanks to  Windsor Davies and Don Estelle.

These two were playing their characters from the comedy It Ain't Half Hot Mum. One day I will write a post offering a limited defence of that show.

Later, like all sensible people, I came to worship Sandy Denny's singing. Despite the appearance of biographies, though, her life and character remain opaque.

Six of the Best 1006

Rafael Behr says there is only one thing certain in the court of King Boris: it will all end badly: "Johnson is driven by a restless sense of his own entitlement to be at the apex of power and a conviction, supported by evidence gathered on his journey to the top, that rules are a trap to catch weaker men and honour is a plastic trophy that losers award themselves in consolation for unfulfilled ambition."

"The unreadable in pursuit of the unelectable" Mic Wright deconstructs my old classmate Allison Pearson's interview with Laurence Fox.

Ian Sanjay Patel is interviewed about his book We’re Here Because You Were There: Immigration and the End of Empire.

Children read more challenging books in lockdowns, reports Alison Flood.

"Aunt Lucy gets to see firsthand that Paddington is okay and know he is loved and being cared for with the utmost sincerity. It’s all one can ever hope for when they have to give a child up for adoption." Mike X. Nichols says the two Paddington films get a lot right about adoption.

"One of the key British films of the 1950s, Pool of London was far out ahead of the crowd in tackling racial issues on screen. This classic dockside noir was directed by Basil Dearden." Adam Scovell goes in search of the locations used in the film to see what remains.