Sunday, September 24, 2023

Sighcology: Davids Garnett, Lloyd George, Lawrence, Copperfield, Rook and Bronstein

Here's my column ('Sighcology') from the Summer issue of the Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy.

The theme of the issue was 'David', and these are the thoughts I came up with.

Davids Garnett, Lloyd George, Lawrence, Copperfield, Rook and Bronstein

There’s a law that whenever you submit a piece of academic writing you immediately come across something you wish you had known about and been able to include. I recently published a chapter on Dickens and antisemitism that drew parallels between Oliver Twist and the local cults of unofficial boy saints, supposedly the victims of ritual killings by Jews, that flourished in the Middle Ages. Just after sending it off, I learnt that – shockingly – a textbook used in British schools until the 1980s stated that the blood libel was true in the case of the most famous of these ‘saints’, Little St Hugh of Lincoln.

Many years before, I completed a Masters dissertation on the romances of the 19th-century writer Richard Jefferies. One of these, Bevis: The Story of a Boy, was published in 1882 as a three-volume novel for adults but was gradually supplied with the apparatus that allowed it to be sold as a children’s classic. In the 1930s it acquired illustrations by E.H. Shepard:  the map on the endpapers had been drawn back in 1904 by an 11-year-old David Garnett.

I was reading Bevis as the adult novel it had once been, noting how Jefferies was aware that the freedom to play and wander it celebrated existed only because his young heroes were the sons of farmers rather than agricultural labourers. So I wish I had happened upon Lucy Masterman’s biography of her husband Charles Masterman. He was the minister who piloted David Lloyd George’s Health Insurance Act through the Commons in the teeth of opposition from the Conservatives and the medical profession.

Lucy Masterman remembers a stay with Lloyd George and his family:

"If we kept the law about trespassing when we were children … we should have nowhere to play but a dusty strip of grass by the high road." I never remember during all our visit passing a 'trespassers will be prosecuted' notice without him remarking “I hate that sort of thing.”

Yes, children’s freedom is an intensely political subject. The best summation of the debate is in Victor Watson’s Reading Series Fiction, where he discusses the children’s ‘camping and tramping’ fiction Bevis helped to inspire:

The rural background to all those friendly and welcoming fictional farmers was, in reality, one of economic and social stagnation in which farmers had to supplement their incomes in any way they could. When farmers began to prosper and agriculture became intensive, an entire genre of children’s fiction was effectively wiped out by Common Market farming subsidies. And at about the same time the Beeching cuts closed down the branch lines that had taken so many fictional children by steam to their favourite holiday destinations.


Is D.H. Lawrence – that’s David Herbert Richards Lawrence – much read these days? Back in the Seventies, when we were taught by teachers who had been trained by people who had studied under F.R. Leavis, he was a fixture in the curriculum.

Not only did I study The Rainbow for A level, I kept a second-hand selection of his literary criticism by me as a charm or for inspiration. I don’t know if it included anything from Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature, but there you will find his most famous critical principle:

Never trust the artist. Trust the tale.

And Lawrence is right. The idea that the artist’s intention inhabits a work like a thin ghost is mistaken, as is the belief that it is this intention that gives the work its meaning. But then the idea that any work of art has just one meaning is wrong too. That’s a belief you see reflected in everyday criticism of popular music, where if a song can be seen to be about drugs or about sex then that becomes its real meaning and all other mere disguise

The truth is that works of art that remain of interest to us are the ones that reveal new meanings as the world changes around them. If you have just one thing to say, you don’t write a poem or produce a sculpture, you write a memo or put it on a coffee mug.


The adult David Copperfield can be a bit of a cold fish, so let’s quote George Orwell’s praise for Dickens’s depiction of him as a child:

No one, at any rate no English writer, has written better about childhood than Dickens. In spite of all the knowledge that has accumulated since, in spite of the fact that children are now comparatively sanely treated, no novelist has shown the same power of entering into the child's point of view. I must have been about nine years old when I first read David Copperfield. The mental atmosphere of the opening chapters was so immediately intelligible to me that I vaguely imagined they had been written by a child.


The novelist and illustrator David Rook has disappeared from view. There is no Wikipedia entry for him and the website of a dealer who sometimes has his artwork suggests that Rook is still alive. In fact, he died in a car crash 1970 at the age of 35.

Rook’s eclipse is surprising, because he specialised in the sort of nature stories that find a loyal following. Not only that: one of his Exmoor novels was filmed as Run Wild, Run Free in 1967 and a second as The Belstone Fox after his death. And the Disney film The Hound and the Fox sounds as though it owes more to that second novel (The Ballad of the Belstone Fox) than to the one it was officially adapting.

Rook gets a mention here because Run Wild, Run Free, which was based on his novel The White Colt, is about a boy whom we would now probably place somewhere on the autism spectrum. And the film is a firm believer in the ‘iceberg mother’ theory of the condition’s genesis.

That’s the thing about the Sixities: if there was a child with difficulties, it was always Sylvia Syms’s fault.


David Bronstein drew a match for the world chess championship in 1951, but under the rules the reigning champion, his fellow Soviet Mikhail Botvinnik, kept the title. Bronstein remained one of the greats of the game for another three decades.

The story is told that Bronstein once spent more than 30 minutes over his opening move in a tournament game. The audience thought: “This is wonderful. The maestro is working out a whole new opening scheme at the board.” But when one of his fellow grandmasters asked what he’d been thinking about all that time, he replied: “I was trying to remember where I’d left my hotel keys.”

The Ukranian-born Bronstein fell foul of the authorities when he declined to sign a round robin condemning the defection of the leading Soviet player Viktor Korchnoi. His own father had been sent to the Gulag because of an official belief, right or wrong, that he was related to Trotsky. There were also rumours that Bronstein had been put under pressure not to win his match against the model Soviet citizen Botvinnik.

But maybe he had already had his revenge. There is a story I have always believed, but am struggling to prove, that he named his son Lev. This made his full name Lev Davidovich Bronstein.

The Guy Hamper Trio featuring James Taylor: Cowboys are Square

Billy Childish (born Steven John Hamper) is a British  painter, author, poet, photographer, film maker, singer and guitarist. He co-founder the art movement Stuckism, a rebellion against the dominance of conceptual art and postmodernism, and was in a relationship with Tracey Emin for much of the Eighties. Presumably he made the bed.

The Guy Hamper Trio is one of a long line of groups to feature Childish. It's an instrumental trio that features guest musicians, and on Cowboys are Square it is the Hammond organ player James Taylor (not that James Taylor).

I love the Hammond sound here. You can imagine you're listening to a young Stevie Winwood at the Twisted Wheel.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "You didn't argue with Violent"

One of the many things that surprises me about Lord Bonkers is the friendship he once enjoyed with the notorious London gang boss Violent Bonham Carter. I suspect their relationship was rather like the wary respect he has today for the Elves of Rockingham Forest: "One doesn't want to be turned into a frog, what?"


A researcher arrives at the Hall to quiz me about Violent Bonham Carter and the days when criminal gangs ran London. We cover the familiar ground of the murder Jack 'The Hat' McVitie (heir to the biscuit fortune), the many jewel robberies 'up the Garden' and the kidnapping of Dame Anna Neagle. 

Taking a shine to the young fellow, I let slip something that is not, I believe, generally known: those explosions in the Fifties that the authorities blamed on Isle of Wight Separatists were really the work of Violent's gang, concerned that other firms were "getting lairy". 

The researcher concludes by asking me a thoroughly modern question: what gender was Violent? I picture Violent in twin-set and pearls with three days' stubble hiding the razor scars and say firmly: "You didn’t argue with Violent. Violent Bonham Carter was whatever gender Violent Bonham Carter said Violent Bonham Carter was."

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

Earlier this week....

Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Joy of Six 1164

"Neil Oliver and his pals see themselves as radical, romantic revolutionaries, but they are really nothing more than a dismal combination of David Icke and Liz Truss. They have nothing useful to say. Please don’t indulge them." Chris Deerin on the online stars of the conspirasphere.

Andrew Rawnsley says Theresa May's memoirs leave no stone unturned, except when it comes to her own failings.

"Our national record on infrastructure and amenities since 2010 has been consistently awful. After getting back onto a growth path from 2011 onwards we could’ve taken advantage of rock bottom interest rates to borrow and invest in public sector infrastructure but we chose not to. Treasury officials would’ve known there was a window of opportunity, but decided to sit on their hands." It's not just our schools that are crumbling, reveals Matthew Pennell.

Sam Freedman offers lessons from the slow-motion collapse of our criminal justice system.

James B. Meigs argues that government underestimates the sense and resilience of the general public when faced with a disaster: "Disaster literature bulges with examples - from Hurricane Katrina, to the 2011 Japan tsunami, to the current coronavirus pandemic - in which officials suppressed information, or passed along misinformation, out of concern over an unruly populace."

"For my money, the best thing about the movie is the women. They’re memorable, multifaceted, and utterly mesmerising." Shadows and Satin celebrates the Ealing Studios drama It Always Rains on Sunday.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: A Norman Lamb dhansak with naan bread

At least Freddie and Fiona don't have a new job this time, so they're a little less like Julian and Sandy.


Dinner with Freddie and Fiona. I arrive at their top-floor flat to find they have no cook, nor even a kitchen. Instead, I am handed a bundle of menus that encompasses every cuisine you can imagine (though I note there is no Rutland takeaway in this fashionable quarter of London – do I sniff a business opportunity?)

I make my choice – a Norman Lamb dhansak with naan bread – and then my hosts telephone the restaurant to arrange its delivery by fast bicycle. “A lot of older people are bringing orders these days,” says Freddie, and it does indeed take a little longer for my meal to arrive than I would wish. “There’s no way we can give you more than three stars,” Fiona tells the courier, who is grey haired and, it has to be said, rather grey in the face. 

Something about him seems familiar, and then I remember: he was a Liberal Democrat MP in Cornwall before the debacle of 2015. As he leaves, I slip him the number of the Home for Distressed Canvassers in Herne Bay, where a number of his former colleagues are seeing out their days in comfort.

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

Earlier this week....

Friday, September 22, 2023

Tunes of Glory (1960): What happens when a victorious regiment comes home?

This post was written for Terence Towles Canote's 10th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon, where you will find plenty more articles on British cinema.

What is the most successful piece of casting against type in a British film? 

There’s Richard Attenborough’s turn as a bull of a Sergeant Major in Guns at Batasi. There’s James Fox as Chas in Performance, whose hooded eyes and half-smile haunt British gangster films to this day.

And there’s another candidate. How about Alec Guinness playing a hard-drinking officer in a Scottish regiment - red hair and all - who has been promoted from the ranks?

It may sound ridiculous, but you need only watch the trailer above to see that it’s not. In fact, Guinness’s performance as Major Jock Sinclair in Tunes of Glory reminds us what a peerless actor he was.

This post contains spoilers, but there's good news. You can watch the film on YouTube first if you wish (just don’t tell them I sent you).

Directed by Ronald Neame, Tunes of Glory is set in the barracks of a Scottish regiment just after the end of the second world war.

Though Jock Sinclair, in his own words, has led the regiment "from Dover to Berlin", he is still just a Major. He holds a brevet rank as Lieutenant Colonel, but as Wikipedia explains, brevet ranks are given as a reward but do not necessarily confer the authority and privileges of that higher rank.

We first see Sinclair holding court at the end of a regimental dinner - there are pipers and oceans of whisky. He has news: the regiment is getting a new colonel and it’s not him. It is to be Lieutenant Colonel Basil Barrow, who is played by John Mills.

The Wikipedia entry on Tunes of Glory has an admirable plot summary, so I’ll let it take up the tale for a little:

Colonel Barrow arrives a day early and finds the officers dancing rowdily. He declines sharing a whisky with Sinclair, taking a soft drink instead. They exchange histories. Sinclair enlisted as bandsman in Glasgow and rose through the ranks, Barrow came from Oxford University. He served with the battalion in 1933. Assigned to "special duties", he has lectured at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Sinclair humorously notes that he was in Barlinnie Prison's cooler for being drunk and disorderly one night in 1933. 

When Sinclair presses Barrow about his war years, he replies that he, too, was "in jail". Sinclair recalls that Barrow was a prisoner of the Japanese and belittles the experience - "officers' privileges and amateur dramatics". Barrow simply replies that Barlinnie would have been preferable.

At 3 am Sinclair is drinking with Major Scott, played by Dennis Price, and we hear his outburst to him: "I've acted Colonel, I should be Colonel, and by God... I bloody well will be Colonel!"

Barrow proves to be a martinet and is not prepared to cut the battle-weary regiment any slack. He takes particular exception to the rowdy style of Highland dancing they favour, and orders all the officers to take lessons so they dance they way he wants them to when he holds a cocktail party for the local gentry.

This reminds me that, in a recent episode of The Rest of Politics, Alastair Campbell was surprised to learn that Rory Stewart had dancing lessons when he held a gap-year commission in the Black Watch at the start of the 1990s.

Anyway, the dancing after the party gets rowdy despite Barrow’s efforts and, red faced and furious, he breaks up proceedings before fleeing in shame at his own behaviour. He knows that the bulk of his officers feel a loyalty to Sinclair that they do not feel to him, and the evening can only have made things worse. To the modern viewer, it seems obvious from this and from the collection of tics and twitches Mills deploys, that he is suffering post-traumatic stress from his wartime experiences.

I sometimes struggle to understand the esteem in which John Mills was held as an actor in Britain - he had an unfortunate habit of being cast in roles for which he was visibly too old - but he is good in Tunes of Glory. Particularly so, as his character is less immediately appealing than Alec Guinness’s and does not allow for the same bravura acting.

The clash between these two flawed characters has an almost Shakespearian heft. As the retired US Marine Corps infantry officer and historian Reed Bonadonna observes, it’s tempting to say that each has the qualities the other lacks – “Sinclair is a warrior and leader of men, but he’s hopeless as an organiser and disciplinarian.”

He goes on:

Despite their obvious differences, the two leads are similar in the sense that both are essentially lonely and unfulfilled. Both have been married but are now on their own. Sinclair has a grown daughter with whom he has a loving but somewhat distant relationship. Both are burdened by their memories of the war.

Barrow spent years in harsh and unproductive captivity. Sinclair suspects that his best days are over, and even that his wartime success was a fluke. They also share a keen sense of the burden and isolation of command. There is the hint of Othello in Tunes of Glory, with Barrow as the Moor and Sinclair as his Iago.

And it is Sinclair’s relationship with his daughter that brings things to a head. Unknown to Sinclair, but known to many others in the barracks, she has been going out with one of the regiment’s pipers. When he finally comes across them together, he strikes the corporal.

This is a clear court-martial offence and Barrow is first minded to bring charges against him. But he is put under pressure by almost everyone to deal with the matter himself. He goes to see Sinclair, who promises that he will be supportive in future if Barrow shows him leniency.

Against his better judgement, he decides against a court martial, only to find that Sinclair does not change at all. He still gives him no support and continues to drink with his 'babies', as he calls the  officers loyal to him. Humiliated, Barrow leaves them, goes upstairs and shoots himself.

Ironically, it is in his reaction to Barrow’s suicide that we see the best of Sinclair. His command of the situation and concern for the young soldier who found the body make us see why he was a good leader in battle and inspired respect and even affection in the men under him.

To assuage his guilt - "it’s not his body I fear, it’s his ghost," he says to himself at one point - he plans a grandiose funeral for Barrow. As he describes it to the other officers we hear the pipe band playing the 'tunes of glory', but it becomes clear to them that he has lost his reason and the room empties.

"Oh my babies, take me home," Sinclair pleads to Scott and another officer, and as he is driven away, the film ends. With one protagonist dead and the other driven mad, Tunes of Glory, it occurs to me, has unexpected parallels with Performance.

The supporting cast here is uniformly excellent. Dennis Price’s Major Scott is a typically disengaged Price character. We wonder if he is just a sardonic observer of the tragedy, or if he is the real Iago, encouraging Sinclair and Barrow to destroy one another so he can become Colonel amid the wreckage?

Gordon Jackson plays Captain Jimmy Cairns, the other officer who is there with Sinclair at the end. Yet he has also been Barrow’s right-hand man as he struggles to reform the regiment. Jackson always did have the knack of playing good men who were not dull, which is a rare gift. Certainly, the villains in British films of the Fifties are often surprising dark and alluring, whereas the heroes are just wet - compare Dirk Bogarde and Jimmy Hanley in The Blue Lamp.

Many of the other officers are played - and well played - by familiar faces: Gerald Harper, Paul Whitsun-Jones, Allan Cuthbertson (who you will recognise him from gourmet night at Fawlty Towers, if nowhere else). The Pipe Major is Duncan Macrae, who appeared in every film about Scotland made after the war and was always a welcome presence.

Sinclair’s daughter Morag is played by Susannah York in her first film role. Liberal Democrat readers may be interested to know that York was at RADA with our own Flick Rea. Trivia fans will be interested that Flick told me that a young man from Liverpool shared their classes for two terms but did not make the grade. So he returned North to the family business, to re-emerge a few years later as the manager of the Beatles.

Tunes of Glory is an exceptionally good film. As another American military writer, Jim Shufelt, says:

This is not a 'war movie', but Tunes of Glory features an intense portrayal of leadership, discipline and reintegration issues common to soldiers and units of any conflict, army, or time period.

He goes on to suggest that watching it could form part of current-day officers’ professional development.

This is not a surprise: the screenplay is by James Kennaway, adapted from his own novel of the same name. Kennaway himself held a commission in a Scottish regiment while doing his National Service. He was invited by the Colonel to apply for a permanent commission, but declined, in part because of the tensions between his fellow officers.

Tunes of Glory was on a list of 10 British films that should be better known I posted recently. Maybe you’ll find another there to enjoy?

Shropshire Council: We've voted to borrow £95m by mistake

The saga of the Conservatives' proposed North West relief road for Shrewsbury has taken a farcical turn:

From BBC News:

Councillors voted to back £95m of extra borrowing, after the figure was accidentally included by mistake in a report over a planned bypass.

The figure featured in a report on the North West Relief Road linking northern and western Shrewsbury.

A finance director said he had been "confused" when the figure was mentioned in the council debate.

Shropshire Council said the £95m figure that made its way into the report was not a true estimate.

It had raised concern over whether the true cost of the scheme had more than doubled from £87m to £182m.

The report later says:

Liberal Democrat councillor and transport campaigner Rob Wilson said he had been asking in vain for an updated cost estimate since he was elected in 2021.

He said: "Today at council the Conservatives proposed taking out a £95m loan to make up an unspecified funding gap.

"I asked why they would need £95m for an £87m road and was not given an answer."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Have a Go with Thérèse Coffey

Have a Go was a radio quiz hosted by Wilfred Pickles that attracted 20 million listeners a week. I don't remember it, but I was surprised to find that I might have done, as it ran from 1946 to 1967. What I do remember is Round the Horne making fun of it - or at least I read that sketch in a book of scripts I was given for Christmas round about 1973. As I have said before, the problem with this column is not that Lord Bonkers is getting too old but that I am getting too old.

Gove Island, I understand, is a television programme enjoyed by the young people.


It's time someone did something about the Gibb brothers. First there was Robbie Gibb, a bigwig at the BBC who has been using his role there to further Conservative interests at every turn. It is he who is responsible for the replacement of Gary Lineker as host of Match of the Day by Jacob Rees-Mogg and for such programmes as Have a Go with Thérèse Coffey and Gove Island. 

Now another Gibb has surfaced: Nick Gibb, who it appears has been building schools out of an inferior sort of concrete. It won’t affect us here, as I had the village school built with best Hornsey featherstone, but it’s causing no end of a problem up and down the country, with taller pupils having to take it in turns to hold up the roof. 

The only thing I will say in defence of the Gibb brothers is that their music for Saturday Night Fever was very good. Perhaps you know it? ‘Night fever rumtpy-tum Night fever’ – that’s how it goes.

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

Earlier this week....

Thursday, September 21, 2023

GUEST POST Many liberal Conservatives are becoming conservative Liberals

Buddy Anderson
 traces his path from Conservative voter to Liberal Democrat councillor - and a Liberal Democrat councillor in Market Harborough at that.

       One flew east, one flew west,
       One flew over the Conservatives nest.

Like many who perhaps now find themselves more like conservative Liberals, I once was a liberal Conservative - a title that David Cameron had imposed upon himself even before his bromance with Nick Clegg. 

Something resonated with me back then at that idea. Labour had supposedly spent all our money, and everybody was jolly fed up. 

Along came the new 21st-century Tories who apparently didn’t hate poor people and were going to balance the books for us. What joy!

Fast forward 13 years and my friends on the left will cry "same old Tories!" at every opportunity they get. I don’t agree with that, because it wasn’t always this bad. There used to be Tories you could work with, as the Coalition proved for better or for worse. 

Boris Johnson and the Brexit civil war purged almost every Tory with a shred of decency out of the party. Liz Truss tortured the survivors. 

So where are the liberal Conservatives now? Well, many, like me, have found a new home in the Liberal Democrats.

When I joined the Lib Dems I was sheepish about my previous voting record. I was never a Conservative Party member, but I was worried about how my new friends would react. 

To my surprise they barely battered an eyelid. The Lib Dems are truly a broad church, a middle-ground for the politically homeless, and not just for disillusioned blue voters. 

Some of my colleagues used to be Red - too sensible to vote for Corbyn, too progressive to vote for Starmer. We don’t care where you came from, what matters is why you are here. I have never felt more at home.

To those of you who voted for a party you no longer recognise, you were not wrong to follow your heart at the time, but you are very much welcome in the Lib Dems. 

We do not agree on everything, but we are compassionate and pragmatic, with a shared disgust for selfish career politicians. 

Liberty, freedom and equality are at the forefront of our social policy. But we also understand responsible fiscal policy, as the only party to have a full-costed manifesto in 2019.

Take it from me, there is a home to be made in the house of yellow.

Buddy Anderson is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Market Harborough. Follow him on Twitter.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The outside risk of drowning

As I have been writing this column since before most of my readers were born, it seems allowable to repeat an old joke from time to time. Besides, the Rutland partridge is an important part of the county's upland fauna. Its numbers are believed to be kept in check by the descendants of escapees from the safari park that Lord Bonkers ran for many years until its sudden closure. ("I still maintain that those nuns were the authors of their own misfortune.")


The Glorious Twelfth? I don’t find it glorious at all. Shooting grouse is like shooting fish in a barrel, only without the outside risk of drowning. Give me instead the open moors of my native county and our own Rutland partridge. Fire on that doughty bird and it will take cover and fire back. Now that’s what I call good sport!

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

Earlier this week....

Poo of endangered species ‘could help fight against diabetic ulcers’

Let's face it: the Independent isn't what it was. But it's still managed to win our Headline of the Day Award.

The judges add that they have long been reading about the potential of phages in fighting infections, so they are pleased to see a practical application of them.

Me? I think we used to write 'pooh' rather than 'poo'.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Norman Bowler as Wooly the rabbit in Wizbit

Time for a dive down one of this blog's rabbit holes: Norman Bowler, man about Soho in the 1950s and later a star of Softly Softly: Task Force and Emmerdale.

Wizbit was children's programme, screened in 1985, that starred and was partly devised by Paul Daniels. I don't remember it, but Nostalgia Central does:

This BBC children’s television show featured an alien magician called Wizbit and a large rabbit called Wooly, and followed their adventures in Puzzleopolis – a town inhabited by walking, talking (and often singing) sponge-balls, dice, magic wands, playing cards and 8-foot-tall rabbits (all magician’s props).

Wizbit’s year-and-a-day mission was to find out all about Earth, and the show made an attempt to be semi-educational.

The puzzles which Wizbit had to solve were also presented to the viewing audience at home, with the solutions revealed towards the end of the episode.

And in the very first episode - and only in the very first episode - says IMDb, Wooly the rabbit was played by Norman Bowler.

You can see Wooly the rabbit in the clip above. I let it run on because it's so weird. It must have given some children nightmares.

Wooly doesn't sound much like Norman Bowler - he doesn't have a Wiltshire accent, for instance - but it's quite possible for one actor to be inside a giant costume and and another to provide its voice.

That what happened in Gophers!, which is a programme I remember, but no one else seems to.

Thanks to Laura Sparling on Twitter.

Policing minister is member of anti-ULEZ Facebook group that celebrates vandalism

Embed from Getty Images

An extraordinary story from Inside Croydon:

The Tory Government’s policing minister, Chris Philp, the MP for Croydon South, is a member of a social media group in which criminal acts, damage and vandalism to public property are celebrated on a near-daily basis.

Philp, a member of the King’s Privy Council for the past year, has confirmed that he has failed to post anything on the private Facebook page to condemn the criminality and, when 'he was contacted about his membership of 'Croydon say no to ULEZ expansion”, he could only offer as an excuse: "I cannot be held responsible for what other people post on Facebook groups which I do not administer."

Which is a bit awkward for Philp’s colleagues in Croydon Conservatives. The group admin for 'Croydon say no to ULEZ expansion; is Croydon’s Tory Mayor, Jason Perry.

Read the full report on Inside Croydon, which says the group publicises the criminal damage inflicted on cameras and other infrastructure installed for the Ultra Low Emission Zone.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Their eyes hollow from think-tank reports and self-abuse

No sooner does Lord Bonkers divine a social problem than be proposes a solution. Here, that solution is characteristically robust. So welcome to another week with the old boy.

'Scrobbled', it turns out, was coined by John Masefield in his The Midnight Folk. It's well known from his later book The Box of Delights, but I had wondered if it was older than that. The word has a Scandinavian flavour.


I find myself increasingly worried about right-wing comment journalists, who can only be described as unhappy, unskilled and unmoored. Flabby chested public-school types to a man, their eyes hollow from think-tank reports and self-abuse, what they need is fresh air, exercise and some good, old fashioned hard work. 

As we can supply all three of these here on my estate, I have determined to act. With the help of Freddie and Fiona, I have drawn up a list of recruits for my ‘Great Rutland National Service’. 

The next step is to have them scrobbled as they leave their favourite fashionable restaurants and brought here in an unmarked charabanc. I have no doubt that a regime of farm work, unarmed combat and cold showers will make them happy and skilled in no time. 

As to being moored, I shall ensure that they are securely tied up at night.

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

A new edition of Nikolaus Pevsner's The Leaves of Southwell

The excellent Five Leaves Books of Nottingham - you'll find their shop in an alley near the Council House - have brought out a new edition of Nikolaus Pevsner's The Leaves of Southwell.

Gillian Darley, who contributed an introduction, writes in the London Review of Books:

Pevsner, whose name is inescapably attached to the Buildings of England, seems to have begun work on this little volume very soon after he was released from internment and had begun to pick up the pieces of academic life in Britain. Although published in 1945, it was probably written in 1942.

The text is a celebration of the naturalistic carvings of Southwell Minster, the work of itinerant craftsmen, whose subtle stylistic differences Pevsner happily puzzles over: ‘The individual craftsman,’ he writes, ‘must have had a considerable amount of personal liberty.’

Read the whole piece to learn how David Attenborough was involved with the original 1945 edition.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

My article on For a Fair Deal in the Conference issue of Liberator

The new issue of Liberator has been posted on the magazine's website in time for the Liberal Democrat Conference. It's issue 419 (September 2023) and you can download it for free.

I'll start posting Lord Bonkers' Diary here tomorrow, but first here's my article from this Liberator on For a Fair Deal, the policy document being presented to conference.

No Place Like Home Counties

“We want to use the by-election playbook across the Blue Wall,’ says one Lib Dem insider, encouraged by the party’s victories in Chesham, North Shropshire, Tiverton and Somerton.”

I don’t know how many ‘Lib Dem insiders’ there are, but they seem to spend most of their time in conversation with journalists. This one was talking to James Heale, who wrote about our plans for the general election in the Spectator:

The Lib Dems’ focus has been on early selections of respected community figures, raising their profile and finding a local twist on national issues: the NHS, cost of living and sewage. They are targeting the 34 seats in the south-east where they finished second to the Conservatives in 2019. Seats with a Tory majority of 2,000 or less were asked to find a candidate at the earliest opportunity to enable ‘an 18-month by-election’. There have been savvy selections in places such as Wimbledon and Winchester, where the local vet was chosen. New seats offer new opportunities too. In the freshly created constituency of Harpenden and Berkhamsted, the Lib Dem candidate has been bombarded by invitations to events by constituents who mistakenly believe she is the sitting MP.

And when you are fighting a by-election what you want in the policy field is a few appealing bullet points for your leaflets and nothing that will upset the voters you are targeting if they happen to find out about it. It’s best to keep this background in mind when reading For a Fair Deal, the overall policy paper being presented to the autumn conference of the Liberal Democrats in Bournemouth. 

Turn to the early chapters on the economy and on business and jobs, and you will find commitments to invest in infrastructure, innovation and skills. It also promises a ‘proper, one-off windfall tax on the super-profits of oil and gas producers and traders’ and action on the various loopholes that allow the very wealthy to pay tax at a lower rate than the rest of us.

Perks of the rich

All this is good in that it recognises that it is not wicked for governments to tax and spend – and the need for more capital spending on school and hospitals has become more apparent even since For a Fair Deal was published. In taking aim at the perks of the rich, it chooses the right target and one that will chime with the widespread anger at the approach of the current government, but you will search in vain for mention of a wealth tax or an attempt to square the circle of advocating economic growth at a time of environmental.

You will find a mention of Europe in these chapters in a pledge to:

Unlock British businesses’ global potential by bringing down trade barriers and building stronger future relationships with our closest trading partners, including by starting to fix the Conservatives’ botched deal with Europe following the four-step roadmap as set out in chapter 21.

This is a little like Private Eye’s ‘continued on page 94’ as chapter 21 or ‘International’ is For a Fair Deal’s final chapter and the one where you feel a commitment to give children an hour’s teaching a week in Esperanto would be hidden if conference voted it through. Yet it’s where we find what should be at the heart of those early chapters:

We are determined to repair the damage that the Conservatives’ deal with Europe has done to the economy, especially farmers, fishers and small businesses. … Finally, once the ties of trust have been restored, we would aim to place the UK-EU relationship on a more formal and stable footing by seeking to join the Single Market.

Because there is no sensible policy on economic growth that does not involve lifting the sanctions we imposed on ourselves by leaving the Single Market, and that is true whatever position you took on Brexit. This is why Labour should be talking about rejoining it and why even intelligent Leavers – those who really do want to ‘make Brexit work’ – should support this policy too. (The unintelligent Leavers want Brexit to fail so they can announce that have been betrayed and wallow in self-pity.)

Interviewed on Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart’s second podcast Leading at the start of the month, Ed Davey declined to say that the Liberal Democrats wanted to see Britain back in the European Union. He was happy to talk about our instinctive internationalism, but that was as far as he would go. He dwelt on the need to develop a language that would take people with us, which is something, it is true, the official Leave campaign spectacularly failed to do in the EU referendum campaign. Above all, he did not want to return to the divisive politics of those days.

Yet it’s hard to see how an issue like Brexit can ever stop being divisive. The 1975 referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the European Economic Community was won by more than two votes to one, but it did not reconcile the losers to Britain’s increasing involvement with European institutions. No one would argue that the 2016 referendum campaign was good for British politics – Labour activists going to by-elections now have to be told not to insult any Conservative voters they came across – but the case for rejoining the Single Market has to be made and the debate has to be won. As sensible Conservatives has learnt to their cost, if you try to buy off the Brexit ultras they simply bank your concessions and come back for more.

This determination to avoid being ‘divisive’ may well have one eye on the general good of British politics, but the other is firmly on those 34 seats in the South East of England. Because I’ve heard that word ‘divisive’ somewhere else recently – when Munira Wilson, the party’s education spokesperson, talked to the education magazine Schools Week:

These days, Wilson … is sceptical that grammar schools help with social mobility, believing entry is “a case of who can afford to coach their children to go”.

While it would be “divisive” to close existing grammar schools, she “wouldn’t necessarily” create new ones.

Evading the Leopard

I will admit to nostalgia for the days when the products of council grammar schools outshone academically the products of expensive private schools, but that was in an era when those private school had not yet noticed there was no longer an Empire to man and so continued to prize an ability to evade the school leopard above book learning. Once they caught up with the modern world – and it took only two or three decades – money began to tell and we soon learnt that what was really divisive was selection at 11 and the private/public divide.

Munira Wilson did talk about making private schools work harder to justify their charitable status, but none of that has made its way into For a Fair Deal. So instead let me quote the former Conservative education minister George Walden on why that divide damages us all:

In no other European country do the moneyed and professional classes - lawyers, surgeons, businessmen, accountants, diplomats, newspaper and TV editors, judges, directors, archbishops, air chief marshals, senior academics, Tory ministers, artists, authors, top civil servants – in addition to the statistically insignificant but eye-catching cohort of aristocracy and royalty – reject the system of education used by the overwhelming majority pretty well out of hand, as an inferior product.

In no modern democracy except Britain is tribalism in education so entrenched that the two main political parties send their children to different schools.

There are some sensible reforms suggested in this chapter, though no sign of our previous view that schools were too dominated by testing and Ofsted inspections. You can see why Schools Week got the impression that we have rather lost interest in education.

Reflecting Ed Davey’s interests, the chapters on climate change and energy, and those on health and care, are among the most convincing. Climate change is ‘the biggest threat to human existence’ and we ‘urgently need to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C or we will face irreversible change’ – no worries about being divisive there. And these statements are accompanied by a series of strong policies, including:

  • Cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045.
  • Invest significantly in renewable power so that 80% of the UK’s electricity is generated from renewables by 2030.
  • Provide free retrofits for low-income homes and generous tax incentives for other households to reduce energy consumption, emissions, fuel bills and reliance on gas, and help to end fuel poverty
  • Plant at least 60 million trees a year to help reach net zero and restore woodland habitats, and increase the use of sustainable wood in construction.

The chapter on care emphasises the importance of social care and the crisis in which it currently finds itself. Strikingly, it calls for free personal care to be introduced, ‘based on the model introduced by the Liberal Democrats in government in Scotland in 2002’. In the health chapter, we call for patients to have the right to see their GP within seven days or within 24 hours if it is urgent and recognise that to make this a reality we will have to recruit and train more doctors. The seven-day wait would not so long ago have been seen as unacceptable, but this is where this Conservative government has left us.

It doesn’t do to be churlish. If the policies laid out in For A Fair Deal were enacted, Britain would be a better place, but reading it has left me with two unanswered questions. Are the Liberal Democrats in any sense a radical party? And if they are, is it possible to build such a party on the votes of comfortably off residents of the Home Counties?

Jonathan Calder is a member of the Liberator Collective.

Somehow this disqualifyingly moronic assumption did not deter Russell Brand's political acolytes

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Twitter yesterday was full of people arguing that, because Russell Brand - who denies all the allegations made against him on Saturday's Dispatches programme - was being defended by right-wing conspiracy loons, there were no lessons for the left to learn from his rise and fall.

If you pointed out, as I did a couple of times, that Brand had written a Guardian column for years and edited a special issue of the New Statesman, some were outraged.

So I was pleased by Marina Hyde's article in the Guardian this morning, which looks at the role of the press - the Guardian and herself included - in boosting Brand over the year.

Here are a few quotations from it:

Back in the day, though, a lot of people were thrilled to be on what they thought was Russell’s side of the line. For a certain type of mournfully uncool man on the left, Russell Brand was quite the excitement. You only had to watch their little faces in his presence – lit up at being fleetingly indulged by the kind of guy who would probably have bullied them at school. 


The apogee of this particular stage of Brand’s inevitable journey toward alt-right-frotting wingnut was surely the ludicrously feverish speculation over whether he’d endorse Labour in the 2015 general election. 
Keen to be awarded his royal warrant, the then Labour leader, Ed Miliband, traipsed to Brand’s London flat during the final stages of the campaign, for a filmed interview where committed non-voter Russell inquired rhetorically: “Since suffrage, since the right to vote, what has meaningfully occurred?” Nothing much, he reckoned. Somehow, this disqualifyingly moronic assumption did not deter his political acolytes.


What is completely bizarre, with the benefit of 2023 hindsight, is how the Sachsgate story was framed, both by those who were reflexive defenders of the BBC and “comedy” and free speech (then a somewhat lefty preoccupation, funnily enough), AND by those who wished their destruction. Fleet Street quickly settled into tribes and covered it as a story where each assumed the other was acting out of vested interests. This was back when our only culture wars were about things that happened on the BBC. (My how we’ve grown.) Mail vox pops were incandescent; some Guardian ones found it an “overreaction”.

Hyde also reminds us that the Liberal Democrat contribution to this climate was Nick Clegg telling GQ he had slept with 30 women.

I have sometimes resisted the cult of Marina Hyde in the past, but this is a brave and important column.

Later. Sadly, the column isn't or brave as I first thought. Here is a Lost in Showbiz column by Hyde from January 2009 - thanks to Gerry Lynch for tweeting it:

Today in Jesus Wept we must turn to Sachsgate breakout star Georgina Baillie, who has thus far managed to parlay Russell Brand's insult to her dignity into an excruciatingly candid red-top buy-up and a number of semi-mucky photoshoots.

But can we please draw the line at the trenchant newspaper comment pieces? It seems not. Breaking another ten second silence, Manuel's estranged granddaughter takes to the pages of today's Sun with an opinion column unlikely to give PJ O'Rourke any sleepless nights.

Entitled "My View", it sees the Satanic Slut attempt to gain some sort of purchase on this latest Jonathan Ross "outrage", the details of which I literally cannot be bothered to even look up, let alone confect horror over. The world can now be divided into people who genuinely think caring about this crap is important, and people you might wish to know socially.

If Russell Brand was the school bully who was briefly your friend, then in these columns Marina Hyde was the most popular girl in the school, and she was being mean to someone else.

It's a shame she didn't acknowledge that in today's article. What appeared to be an admission of guilt now looks more like an attempt to hide it with fake candour.

Rory Stewart and Le Cercle

Here's an interesting clip from Ash Sarkar's interview with Rory Stewart for Novara Media.

Stewart's membership of this shadowy foreign policy forum Le Cercle, or rather his failure to declare it as a minister, was briefly the subject of controversy in 2019.

PoliticsHome reported then:

Two senior Conservatives are facing questions over their links to a secretive foreign affairs group.

Rory Stewart and Nadhim Zahawi did not declare their chairmanship of transatlantic body 'Le Cercle' despite also sitting on several related Commons select committees, PoliticsHome can reveal.

The group organises gatherings of powerful figures from politics, business and the intelligence services to discuss foreign affairs.

But despite the nature of the meetings, neither Mr Stewart or Mr Zahawi declared their involvement with the group during their time as members of the powerful Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

Both senior Tory MPs confirmed to PoliticsHome they had held the chairmanship of Le Cercle, with Mr Stewart's tenure as chair lasting from 2013 until 2014, while Mr Zahawi held the top post from 2015 until his appointment as Children's Minister in early 2018.

And the report went on to say:

Sir Alistair Graham, the former Chair of the Commission for Standards in Public Life, said he was concerned by the apparent omission.

“It is disturbing that two experienced members of Parliament did not see fit to declare their active membership of Le Cercle at the time they were a member of a key select committee, the functions of which clearly overlapped with the discussions of Le Cercle, which is a shadowy body which concerns itself with foreign affairs.

“Transparency is a central issue in British politics and I would have expected these two MPs to have shown greater leadership in letting the public and their constituents know their important links with Le Cercle.”

The article also quoted the responses from Stewart and Zahawi. There is more about Le Cercle in a disapproving piece on the Declassified UK site.

Rory Stewart's interview with Ash Sarkar is a notably interesting one and you can watch the whole thing on YouTube.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Write a guest post for Liberal England

The new political season is here, so if there's something you want to say, remember that I enjoy publishing guest posts on Liberal England. So if you've got an idea for a post you could write for this blog, please drop me a line

As you can see from the list below, I accept guest posts on subjects far beyond the Liberal Democrats and British politics.

I'm happy to entertain a wide variety of views, but I'd hate you to spend your time writing something I really wouldn't want to publish. So do please get in touch first.

These are the last 10 guest posts on Liberal England:

The Joy of Six 1163

"Liz Truss almost wrecked the British economy in her 49 days as prime minister, and is now working on a book, Ten Years to Save the West, to be published in April next year. Margaret Thatcher was initially reluctant to join the international speaker circuit following her 10 revolutionary years in power. But the shortest-serving politician in British history recently pocketed some £90,000 for a five-day trip to Taiwan during which she delivered a speech about the importance of standing up to Chinese aggression." Adrian Wooldridge says we are living in an age of political shamelessness.

Ruth Bright argues that the NHS "must address misogyny and listen to women. In the obstetric context, at minimum women’s dignity, continence and future birth chances are at stake. At most their very lives and even the lives of their babies are on the line."

"Good Ofsted scores are not fairly spread but are far more likely for suburban, girls-only, selective schools with no long-term poor pupils, for example. Perhaps 70 per cent of the variation in Ofsted grades can be explained by these factors." Stephen Gorard is sceptical about the value of these grades.

Roy Eidelson is interviewed by Democracy Now! about the American Psychological Association’s complicity in post-9/11 torture programmes and the struggle to reform the psychology. 

"Videotaped drama is a form of television that (soaps apart) we don’t see anymore. Once, of course, it was the dominant way of programme-making and remained so for decades." Archive Television Musings on what technical change meant for actors and viewers.

Now! Then! A Yorkshire Almanac for 2023 looks at the invention of the legend of John Bartendale, the York man who survived hanging.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Russell Brand was a creation of television and the tabloids, not the comedy circuit

Until last night's Dispatches, I had never seen Russell Brand's comedy act. I now look back on those days with affection. 

But that doesn't mean I wasn't aware of him. As I complained in 2013:
Russell Brand turned up writing on football for the Guardian. He guest edits the New Statesman. He's interviewed on Newsnight. I can’t get away from him.

He wasn’t much of a sportswriter and his political views on Newsnight were ridiculous – a bunch of media-left slogans and a call for unelected officials to tax us all.

But then why should he be expected to be an expert on these things? He is a niche comedian.

Brand’s trouble is that he has become a symbol of youthful cool and everyone wants to be associated with him.

Jonathan Ross’s exit from the BBC arose from his inability to grow middle aged gracefully. He wanted to show how young and hip he still was. And the way to show that was to demonstrate to us that he knew all about Brand’s love life.
And two years later Owen Jones fell under Brand's spell too. And have a look at the Guardian's contributor page for Brand to see just how much the paper loved him.

The extent to which Brand was a media creation was brought home to me by something Simon Evans tweeted this afternoon:
Brand is not now and never was a comedian. He was never on the 'comedy circuit', which is now being traduced as an unreconstructed sewer of nodding, winking, pawing, leering predatory men, with a code of silence to match their coercive behaviour.

He's a TV/tabloid/PR construct and that is the sewer you need to navigate if you want to understand the culture that allowed him to thrive. Pretty much the exact same one that allowed his illustrious precursors in disgrace to thrive before him.

I was a stand up from 1996 and gigged hard on the circuit until 2010 or so. I didn’t see Brand on a bill once. I’ve been in multiple dressing rooms with everyone else from that era, however quickly they elevated to TV and tour shows. That’s how it works. I’ve never even met Brand. 

The only time I saw Brand at a show was  standing at the back of a one off gig being hosted by his friend Simon Amstell. I am not guilting Simon by association, I don’t know him. But that’s who he was there with. 

Brand is (or rather was in those years) 100 per cent the product of the very culture that C4 deliberately cultivated like a pseudo left wing Daily Mail sidebar of shame, with a dash of Eurotrash. I found it nauseating but they loved his bad boy shock factor.

My honest gut feeling was that he would have been despised in 90 per cent of 'dressing' rooms on the circuit. They were old fashioned enough on the whole and If nothing else he showed a good deal of self awareness in steering clear of the place and booking himself on the fast track to notoriety via Big Brother and Bizarre.

And for some sharp analysis of the way the media kowtowed to Brand, see Evans's sharp analysis of his appearance on Newsnight in the video above.

He says of it:

It’s not a masterpiece (and I cringe at some of the boosted “laughter track”) but then it was written and performed in a 48-hour period. And the hat was misjudged. I did not quite understand the format. 

But I will assert that my chosen take on Brand was driven through against the prevailing perception of his having spoken truth to power in that Newsnight interview. Prevailing in the SUFTW offices at any rate. And particularly among… but no. I’ll leave it there. 

Calexico: Black Heart

Calexico are a band from Tucson, Arizona, whose music is infused with the desert and the Mexican border. And Black Heart is a track from their 2003 breakthrough album Feast of Wire.

The music website Pitchfork was euphoric about that album:

Calexico have always been restless experimenters, juxtaposers and journeymen, crafting a unique fusion of bluesy Mariachi, desert-rock and jazz, and injecting healthy doses of experimentation into the otherwise straightforward records on which they've made guest appearances.  

Yet, for their innovation and distinctive sound, their albums have always had their weak spots - moments in which their ideas seemed to be running away with the band's ability to execute them. 

That time has passed. All of Calexico's previous strengths come home to roost on Feast of Wire, the band pushing their experiments further than ever before and pulling each of them off unfalteringly. In short, Calexico have created their first genuinely masterful full-length, crammed with immediate songcraft, shifting moods and open-ended exploration.

Or to put it another way:

It is the album we always knew they had in them but feared they would never make.

I fell in love with this track because of the sinister strings. Calexico's music has been described as 'desert noir', but this is gothic. Something terrible is about to happen.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

GUEST POST: 61 councillors have changed their allegiance since May's local elections

Augustus Carp
look at the latest figures on councillors who change their political allegiance.

It’s been just over four months since the last round of local elections in England, so it’s probably time to have a quick look at the list of defections, expulsions, ratting and re-ratting going on amongst our elected councillors.  

My thesis is a simple one: local government by elections tell us a lot about real votes cast by real voters, and are the subject of considerable (over?) analysis.  However, councillors changing their political allegiances might be able to tell us a lot more about morale and local realpolitik, which can have a significant effect on local campaigning.  

Councillors provide the bulk of canvassing, leafletting and polling day manpower at General Elections, as well as being the political antennae for parliamentary candidates.  If they leave - for reasons of political principle, ego, or perceived personal slights they might have suffered - then as a consequence their old political party will lose their campaigning abilities in their ward.  

Since May this year it’s been comparatively quiet – there has been a net loss of 28 Conservative councillors, including three from the group in Peterborough.  Fifteen have left the Labour Party, including at least two arising from the Jamie Driscoll affair in North Tyneside.  

The Lib Dems are down nine (thirteen left, four joined) with three having gone in Sunderland, citing the pressures put on them by the local party.  

The Scottish Nationalists have lost 10, almost all in North Lanarkshire.  So, 61 active politicians have, for one reason or another, left the political party they were members of when they were elected.  

Only six have moved directly from one political party to another – the rest have moved to some form of notional independence.  Let’s see if the Defection Rate increases the closer we get to a General Election.

Augustus Carp is the pen name of someone who has been a member of the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats since 1976.

Read Augustus Carp's earlier guest posts on councillors who change allegiance:

The Tories will finish third in the Mid Bedfordshire by-election

I wrote this about Mid Bedfordshire back in July:

Labour has won vanishingly few seats like this one in recent decades, and Lib Dems will grumble about a strong Labour campaign being the Tories' best chance of holding on or ask how Labour are different from the Tories now. But Labour are allowed to fight Southern by-elections if they are want to.

Besides, it's not unknown for by-elections in Tory held seats to turn into two-horse races between Labour and the Liberals.

This is what happened in Brecon and Radnor in 1985 and Littleborough and Saddleworth in 1995. And we won both.

So a Labour intervention in Mid Bedfordshire does not mean the Tories are safe.

I won't tempt the gods by claiming that the Liberal Democrats are going to win the by-election, but I am happy to say that the Tories will finish third.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Terence O'Neill (1934-2023), Agatha Christie and The Mousetrap

Today is the anniversary of Agatha Christie's birth on 15 September 1890. That has made me think about her play The Mousetrap and its roots in the notorious killing of a child, Dennis O'Neill, in Shropshire in 1945.

And that has led me to the news that Dennis's brother Terry died on Sunday at the age of 88. (I hope I have got his birth year and age right.) May he rest in peace.

If you are interested in The Mousetrap and its connection with the death of Dennis O'Neill, I recommend The Mousetrap and Me, an award-winning radio documentary that Terry O'Neill took part in - I had better add a content warning for child abuse here.

Terry served his brother Dennis wonderfully well. It wasn't just that this documentary and Terry's book Someone to Love Us help write Dennis's case back into the history of childcare in Britain. As a 10-year old Terry gave evidence in court against the couple who had abused the brothers and secured their conviction and imprisonment.

Further reading

Wikipedia: Dennis O'Neill case
Liberal England: Malcolm Saville and the death of Dennis O'Neill

If we really are seeing a Lib Dem revival, what would a good general election result look like?

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Writing for The House, Sean Kemp gives an amusing account of recent Liberal Democrat history:

At one point as a party spinner I found myself trudging round the lobby explaining our performance in the South Shields by-election (seventh place, behind the BNP and edging out the Monster Raving Loonies by 150 votes) and was reduced to gags like “we always said it was a seven horse race” to preserve some dignity.

before daring to hope that we are seeing a secure revival in the party's fortunes.

If we are really are, what would be a good result for the Lib Dems at next year's general election?

Sean writes:

Ed Davey isn’t about to be making up all the ground lost in the 2015 wipeout, but one of the many indignities of that result was the SNP becoming the third largest party in Westminster, taking over all the advantages that position gives you. 

It may be too much of a reach for the Lib Dems to turn it around at the next election, but if they come out of it having narrowed the gap and with a block of MPs that hold some legislative influence then the party can feel it is finally on an upward trajectory.

That is a realistic take, and it also emphasises that the Lib Dems' future will be strongly influenced by
something - the battle between the SNP and Labour in Scotland - that is wholly outside our control.