Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Six of the Best 918

James Baillie government threats to ban outdoor exercise are dangerous and show the Liberal Democrats their mission.

Hungary’s Viktor Orb├ín now rules by decree in a troubling example of how coronavirus fear enables authoritarians to tighten their grip, says Umut Korkut.

"Visitors had to collect a wooden ladder and climb up it and talk through the glass of a closed window. All gifts had to be handed to the nurses, who then went through them to decide whether they were suitable." Recalling his mother's childhood experiences in a fever hospital, Stephen Colegrave reminds us that social distancing used to be commonplace.

"Rising Damp captured the seedy feel of the 70s and the rise of the slum landlord, and mixed it with the cultural impact of women’s liberation, immigration and working class aspiration." Anna Cale celebrates the situation comedies of Eric Chappell.

"Just outside the village of Hallaton in southeast Leicestershire, over 5,000 gold and silver coins were unearthed, along with a silver-gilt 1st century Roman cavalry helmet, various items of jewellery and fragments of pottery." Ellen Huxley on the Hallaton Treasure, now to be found in the Harborough Museum.

Jonathan Wallace know the goats of Llandudno.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Professor of Hard Sums from the University of Rutland at Belvoir

Something tells me that the old boy was not the greatest supporter of the Liberal Party's alliance with the SDP.


So David Steel has left the party. Not before time, if you ask me. Did you know that in the early Eighties (the 1980s, that is) he persuaded the Liberal candidate to stand down in half the seats in the country in the belief that this would see us win a majority. I tried to convince him that this was mathematical nonsense and even got the Professor of Hard Sums from the University of Rutland at Belvoir to Have A Word with him, but all to no avail. Little Steel was not to be gainsayed.

Turning to my complete run of Liberator, I locate the volumes from that era and have a jolly good laugh at his expense.

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

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

  • Made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle
  • Wearing his wartime gas mask
  • A particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland
  • A foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper
  • Above all, Liberal MPs from the 1970s
  • Why the fury over sunbathing?

    Who is harder to avoid when you are out for a walk and more likely to pant out the deepest recesses of their lungs: a jogger or a sunbather.

    The answer is obvious, but no one gets upset that people are still going jogging.

    But we do read stories like this about sunbathing:
    People who sunbathe are breaking the coronavirus lockdown rules, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Thousands of people have already chosen to ignore the Government’s guidance this weekend, with many enjoying the sunny weather in parks and other public places. 
    And with temperatures expected to hit 20 degrees on Sunday, more people are expected to be outdoors. 
    But those who choose to bask in the sunshine outside their own home have been warned that they are breaking the lockdown orders. 
    'Sunbathing is against the rules that have been set out for important public health reasons,' Hancock told Sky News on Sunday morning.
    I suppose it's that jogging is seen as healthy exercise and sunbathing as a form of self-indulgence. But such feelings have little to do with the objective risk to others the activities pose.

    Note too the loose employment of terms like 'rules' and 'orders'. Whatever happened to obeying the law?

    And the press seems keen to stoke this prejudice against subathing - all those foreshortened photos to make parks look more crowded than they are. 

    Perhaps they want to take the heat off the government by finding alternative villains?

    Write a guest post for Liberal England

    Under lockdown and at a loose end? This is a reminder that I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

    As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent guests posts, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects beyond the Lib Dems

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

    Monday, April 06, 2020

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Above all, Liberal MPs from the 1970s

    What's this? Friction between Lord Bonkers and the Well-Behaved Orphans? It's all too reminiscent of the Mutiny of 1928.


    Despite the security precautions I take to prevent undesirable characters – estate agents, advertising executives and, above all, Liberal MPs from the 1970s – getting into the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans, its young inmates have always proved distressingly adept at getting out. I come across a group of them by the village pond feeding dry bread to the Bird of Liberty as it swims about squawking. They enquire after my health as they have heard that the elderly are particularly vulnerable to this damned virus.

    I fear they are in for a disappointment: I took the precaution of stocking up on the tonic sold by the Elves of Rockingham Forest when my agents in China first told me that things were amiss, and only this morning I had intercourse with the Wise Woman of Wing, who sold me some of her choicest herbs. There is life in this old dog yet.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary
  • Made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle
  • Wearing his wartime gas mask
  • A particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland
  • A foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper
  • Honor Blackman was a Liberal Party supporter

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    Honor Blackman - Cathy Gale in The Avengers, Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and much else besides - died today at the age of 94. There is an obituary on the Guardian site.

    Back in the 1960s, Honor Blackman was a prominent supporter of the Liberal Party. The photograph above shows her campaigning in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency in the 1966 general election.

    A better idea than closing Eton down

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    Looking at the sort of people it turns out - David Cameron, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Charles Moore - it is tempting to call for the place to be closed down.

    But I have a better idea.

    Eton was founded by Henry VI Eton College as a charity school to provide free education to 70 poor boys.

    So let's return it to its original purpose of educating the poor.

    Sunday, April 05, 2020

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: A foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper

    After this, the debate over whether the Liberal Democrats need a new logo will gain new life.


    It has become my custom, when the first stirrings of spring are felt here in Rutland, to offer the Bird of Liberty a short holiday. Despite my voluntary isolation, I have maintained the custom this year. More to the point, I have maintained the custom despite the Bird of Liberty.

    At the best of times it is a foul-smelling creature of uncertain temper, and these are from the best of times. It has taking to swanking about the village telling people that birds are immune to the coronavirus, and yesterday it attempted to buy all the pasta in the village shop.

    It is no wonder that increasing numbers of Liberal Democrat activists are asking themselves whether it is time for the bird to go.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    Michael Nyman: Drowning by Numbers (Finale)

    This makes me happy and, God knows, we need cheering up at the moment.

    The group playing is the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble (NBE) - or Netherlands Wind Ensemble. Thanks to automatic translation and their website, I can tell you:that it
    is a group of more than 20 top musicians who come together about 80 times a year to play special programmes at home and abroad. ...
    A thirst for adventure drives the NBE to create theatrical music programs that can seldom be captured under one musical heading; the NBE combines contemporary and early music of all shapes and sizes that stimulates the senses and imagination.
    The music is taken from Michael Nyman's score for Peter Greenaway's 1988 film Drowning by Numbers.

    Saturday, April 04, 2020

    The Montgomery Canal at Welshpool, 1973

    Photo: Harry Arnold

    'The last of the Inland Waterways Association Bulletins I bought at Foxton last summer is the issue for March 1973.

    Taken from it, this photograph shows the Montgomery Canal at Welshpool. Below is a photograph of the same scene I took in 2014.

    My plan had been to return my IWA Bulletins to Foxton Locks, where I bought them, and come away with a new batch. That plan will have to be postponed.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: A particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland

    Our week at Bonkers Hall continues, and we find the old monster ensconced in front of the Library fire again. You may imagine spaniels at his feet if that helps.


    Here is an Edwardian volume of Liberator – an era when Radical Bulletin was already long established as a favourite item with the magazine’s readership. Opening it I find a cutting anecdote about the Master of Elibank and a particularly amusing item about the Duke of Rutland being seen jumping from an upper window sans trousers as an irate husband bounded up the stairs of a cottage on his own estate. Who, I wonder, can have supplied those nuggets of gold?

    In those days, incidentally, I wrote a satirical diary in the character of a jolly old Whig who, while his heart was undoubtedly in the right place, was all at sea in the modern world.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    Why I'm concerned the Lib Dem leadership election has been postponed until next May

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    Last week the Liberal Democrats' Federal Board voted to postpone the party's leadership election until May 2021.

    It's not clear what constitutional basis they had for doing so, and there had been much criticism of the decision. Some see it as a way of excluding the party's members from the choice of leader, at least for a year, to ensure the establishment's favourite son retains the post for as long as possible

    I worry because the idea the public will be impressed that we have stepped back from the political fray and reward us at the ballot box in due course, which some use as an argument in support of the decision, reminds me of a strand in the party's thinking I have complained about before:
    You often hear the criticism that we are too tribalist, but that is a libel. 
    Chuka Umunna joined the party and was made our Treasury spokesperson the same weekend, and I have not read a whisper of criticism of him or that promotion. 
    Back in the 1980s the Liberal Party, which was supposed to be far more fractious than the modern-day Lib Dems, did David Steel's bidding and stood down in half the seats in the country to make room for the SDP. You can't  get much less tribal than that. 
    A fairer criticism of Liberals and Liberal Democrats over the years would be that we have been too prone to the belief that the route to success lies in giving in. 
    If only we give up enough of our beliefs and policies, runs the logic, if only we stand down in favour of someone else in enough seats, we will be swept to power. 
    You sometimes get the idea we believe we are an obstacle to Liberal government and not its greatest hope.
    These days a wholly online campaign would exclude few members, but it would be wrong to hold the election right away.

    But let's hold it as soon as is decent and practicable. Otherwise, by the time the we get a new leader the public may have forgotten all about us.

    Friday, April 03, 2020

    Secrets of the Tyne & Wear Metro

    Another video from the engaging Geoff Marshall.

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Wearing his wartime gas mask

    A second day in lockdown at Bonkers Hall. Personally, I think Meadowcroft has the right idea.


    Meadowcroft has taken this damned virus badly, locking himself in his potting shed and  morning, noon and night. You may very well feel he is Going A Bit Far, but he is determined not to pass the virus on to his beloved geraniums. As I gaze out of the window I see Cook pushing slices of cheese on toast under the door. What a fine woman she is!

    Meanwhile, all this insistence that one washes one’s hands gives me some insight into what it must be like to be a Well-Behaved Orphan. You see, Matron (another fine woman) has strong views on the subject – also necks, as I know to my cost.

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

    Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

    The Angel, Market Harborough, has closed

    Sad news in the Leicester Mercury. The Angel Hotel in Market Harborough has closed permanently.

    The Mercury report says the owners have decided to cease trading 'with a heavy heart' for a number of reasons, including the coronavirus lockdown.

    I have to admit I didn't go in there very often, unless it was to watch the rugby on television. It was the sort of place that hosted the annual dinners of local clubs and societies - and there's nothing wrong with that.

    No doubt the building will be bought by Brooke House College, the private school aimed at overseas students which already rents some of the upstairs rooms, as it continues its takeover of the town.

    The Angel is a Grade II Listed building. You can read about it on the British Listed Buildings site.

    Thursday, April 02, 2020

    Lord Bonkers' Diary: Leather made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle

    I suggested to Lord Bonkers that there was no need to reprint this week's diary here, seeing as everyone can download the whole issue of Liberator free of charge, but he did not see it that way. 

    So here we go again...


    The authorities emphasise that this beastly new virus is a danger to the elderly, so for the past two weeks I have isolated myself to avoid any risk of infecting them. If it were not for my domestic staff and the secret passage that comes out in the cellar of the Bonkers’ Arms, I should have gone stir crazy by now.

    The Library here at the Hall –  I now pass most of the day beside its fire – is justly celebrated. If these were normal times a stream of visiting scholars would be making their way up the drive to inspect my incunabula, but today I am alone with my books.

    Among my most prized possessions is a complete run of 400 years of Liberator bound in leather made from the scrotum of the Rutland gazelle. (The Rutland gazelle, understandably, is an elusive creature, which is why you rarely catch sight of it on one of D. Attenborough’s programmes for the moving television.)

    I open an early volume and find it simply full of debate between Diggers and Levellers. In those days, of course, a writer who riled the authorities risked having his ears cropped and his cheeks branded with the letters ‘S.L.’ for ‘seditious libeller’ (or possibly ‘social liberal – the sources differ). Funnily enough, I once had to step in to prevent David Steel exacting the same penalty upon this magazine editorial collective.

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

    Neal Ascherson on the nature of the British state

    Embed from Getty Images

    Neal Ascherson reviews Richard Norton-Taylor's 'pugnacious' The State of Secrecy: Spies and the Media in Britain for the London Review of Books.

    His second paragraph runs:
    The structure of the ‘British’ state is still essentially monarchical. Constitutionally, the rest of the democratic world has moved on, adopting variants of the Enlightenment notion of popular sovereignty. Power resides in theory with the people, whose communities lease upwards only those functions they cannot exercise themselves. But in Britain, its archaisms only lightly reformed, power still flows downwards. The absurd doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty – that weird English scrap of parchment – in effect means parliamentary absolutism, a hasty 1689 transfer from the divine right of kings. We don’t have ‘inalienable rights’, but are allowed to vote and speak freely only because the government, through Parliament, generously lends some of its power to its subjects.

    Andrew Cuomo’s nipples take our minds off coronavirus

    After meeting by Zoom for the third consecutive day, the judges agreed this blog's Headline of the Day Award should go to the New York Post.

    Wednesday, April 01, 2020

    Liberator celebrates its 50th birthday

    To celebrate Liberator's 50th birthday, the whole of its latest issue - the magazine's 400th - can be downloaded as a pdf for free.

    There are topical articles, including a look at the runners riders to be the next Liberal Democrat leader, as well as ones that look at the magazine's history. There are also reprinted pieces from such absent friends as Conrad Russell and Simon Titley.

    Look too for an important announcement about Liberator's future.

    To think, if I hadn't met John Tilley at a Kingston Liberals barbecue in the summer of 1983, I might never have got involved with it.

    Market Harborough in plague year

    One day, we hope, these images will be a quaint and forgotten part of our history.

    Astrophysicist gets magnets stuck up nose while inventing coronavirus device

    Thanks to a nomination from one of the party's joint acting leaders, the Guardian wins Headline of the Day.

    Tuesday, March 31, 2020

    The Changes (1975)

    What artistic parallels are there for the life we are living now?

    I feel I am in the opening chapters of a John Wyndham novel or one of those series made in the 1970s to terrify children.

    A good example of the latter is The Changes from 1975. You can see a snatch of it above and listen to a good discussion of it in an episode of the podcast Jaffa Cakes for Proust.

    Six of the Best 917

    The Liberal Democrat leadership election should not be delayed until May 2021, says Hermione Peace. And she's right.

    "Whole streets in the City were shuttered and even the Spring Gardens at Vauxhall were all but deserted." Gillian Darley takes us to London in the devastating plague year of 1665.

    Tom Hartley, a psychologist, explains how one terrifying, exciting night of delusions, hallucinations and paranoia has informed his view of mental illness.

    Charlie Pullen looks at the experimental schools of the 1920s: "Strange new schools sprang up, old schools broke with convention and adopted new procedures, the new methods of teaching or of school organization were bruited abroad, new educational societies were formed. It was a period of intense and feverish activity."

    "His son George Bingham is ‘quite certain’ there was no intruder, a view he shares, he says, with his close family. He has said he wants to believe his father is culpable; it is too painful otherwise to think he abandoned his children for no apparent reason." Rosemary Hill on the murder of Sandra Rivett and the disappearance of Lord Lucan.

    Andy Miller reviews a new book on the Kinks.

    Pigs start 75 square metre fire after swallowing and excreting battery powered pedometer

    Thanks to a nomination from a Liberal England reader, the Independent wins our Headline of the Day Award.

    Monday, March 30, 2020

    A psychologist explains how politicians evade questions

    The psychologist Professor Peter Bull talks about his research into the way politicians answer questions - or fail to answer them.

    In my day job, I wrote a media release that led to widespread coverage of Professor Bull's research last year.

    Here is an example from the Sun:
    Theresa May has answered barely a quarter of questions put to her - making her the most evasive Tory PM in 40 years. 
    Boffins at the University of York studied the way Mrs May dealt with broadcast interviews and compared it with the responses of David Cameron, John Major and Margaret Thatcher. 
    They found that in the course of two interviews after she became Prime Minister in 2016 and four during the course of the 2017 general election, Mrs May only answered 27 per cent of the questions put to her. 
    In contrast, Mr Cameron answered 34 per cent of questions in the 2015 general election, while both Mr Major in the 1992 election and Margaret Thatcher in 1987 answered 39 per cent of questions they were asked.
    Nice use of 'boffins' there.

    Charles Dickens in the blacking warehouse

    Recently discovered records from the Court of Chancery cast fresh light on the formative experience in Charles Dickens' life.

    As a boy. after his father had been imprisoned for debt, Dickens was forced to work ten-hour days as a drudge in Warren's Blacking Warehouse, on Hungerford Stairs, near the present Charing Cross railway station.

    In a podcast for The National Archives, Michael Allen examines the new records and comes to this conclusion:
    Based on the evidence in the pleadings, I would now suggest that young Charles began his life of drudgery at the age of 11, and not at the age of 12, in September 1823, and that he was at Hungerford Stairs from September 1823 to January 1824, about four months, and then the move to Chandos Street took place, and he was taken out by his father in September 1824. So that makes the year that he guessed that he was there for.

    Wendy Chamberlain on potholes and social justice

    Wendy Chamberlain, the new Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife, is profiled by The House Magazine:
    In keeping with her varied professional career, Chamberlain has a range of interests she wants to push from the backbenches. As well as a passion for veterans’ resettlement, she is a keen supporter of equal access to sports based on social background. ... 
    “How many of our Olympians went to private school?” she asks, “How many talented children have we missed because they don’t get the opportunities for sports?” 
    However, if she became prime minister, the first “really mundane” thing Chamberlain would do is invest in “a machine that deals with and eradicates potholes for good”.
    Wendy comes over well in this piece, but I'd like our MPs to leave potholes to councillors and concentrate on social justice,

    Sunday, March 29, 2020

    Spencer Davis Group: I Can't Get Enough of It

    Inevitably, it wasn't much of a birthday, but tradition allows me to choose a Spencer Davis Group track the following Sunday.

    I Can't Get Enough of It was the B-side of the Spencer Davis Group single I'm a Man. It was written by Steve Winwood and the American producer Jimmy Miller.