Monday, October 31, 2005

Roy Hattersley talks nonsense

Will there be a sillier column published in the Guardian this year than the one Roy Hattersley contributed today?

Here is his take on whether to ban smoking in private members' clubs:

But the notion that liberty demands that members of gentlemen's clubs be allowed to expose the waiters who serve them to the risk of lung and throat cancer is a sophistication of Mill's theories that can justly be described as original. The claim that the exceptions to the smoking rule have something to do with freedom is absurd.

Since passive smoking is a cause of cancer, allowing continued contamination in privileged circumstances is about as defensible as arguing that little boys should be sent up chimneys, so acquiring scrotal carcinomas - but only in big houses.

As everyone except Hattersley knows, the debate over whether to give some premises exemption from does not concern gentlemen's clubs but working men's clubs. John Reid, uniquely in this cabinet, recalls that the Labour Party was formed to defend the liberties and advance the interests of the working class. This puts him in conflict with the likes of Tessa Jowell for whom socialism has always been something done to the working class.

Hattersley way of resolving this dilemma is to pretend that it does not exist and to witter on about gentlemen's clubs in a way that would have sounded dated 50 years ago.

As the mention of Mill reminds us, Hattersley has pretentions to being a philosopher. But he does not convince in this article. Take the sentence that comes before the passage I quoted above:
It has often been argued - quite wrongly, in my view - that a truly free society would not prohibit self-styled guardians of the countryside killing small furry animals in the process of what they call sport.
I am not sure what "a truly free society" means, but it can hardly be denied that a ban on hunting is an infringement on liberty. You may well think that infringement a price worth paying to further animal welfare, but an infringement upon liberty it remains.

To some extent we are all in favour of curbing individual liberty for the common good - even a wacky libertarian like me. That is inevitable. It only becomes dangerous when we seek to fool ourselves about what we are doing - when we start saying that "true liberty" or "real liberty" consists in doing what the government tells us. Or that liberty consists in doing things of which Lord Hattersley approves.

Orange haze

The Apollo Project carries a photograph redolent of the 1960s.

Younger readers may have to ask their parents who these people are.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Tim Worstall has done it again

The latest BritBlog round up has been posted.

It reflects the Great Lib Dem Education Debate that Liberal England has been helping to foster.

Trick or Treat? Or Penny for the Guy?

When I was a small boy in the 1960s there was no doubt that the great festival at this time of year was Bonfire Night. We always had a family bonfire and fireworks in the back garden and, though it lacked the long exciting build up that Christmas enjoyed at school, the evening was a recognised topic for stories and pictures in the classroom. My only contact with Halloween was at Cubs, where we would bring pumpkin lanterns one evening.

Forty years on, everything has changed. Halloween is now a huge event in the supermarkets and in the media. It is easy to put this down to American influence supplanting a traditional English festival, but I am not sure that is the whole story.

In the North of England Halloween was always more of an event than in the South. The spiritual home of Bonfire Night is Sussex where it still a popular and sometimes controversial even (see my Spiked article on 5 November in Lewes - the daddy of all bonfire parties).

And C. V. Wedgwood, in The King's Peace, remarks of England on the verge of the Civil War:
In strongly Protestant districts traditional Hallowe'en jollities were being ingeniously transferred to Gunpowder Treason Day on November 5th.
So why has Halloween supplanted Bonfire Night?

One explanation is the decline of religion. If God is dead then the devil must be too, and there is no reason why we should worry about children dressing up as him or his helpers.

Another is concerns over firework safety. Political pressure has seen the organised public display oust the private party in your own back garden. Now safety concerns and the cost of insurance are putting public displays under pressure too.

People worry about animal welfare too. In my day a gentle lecture from Valerie Singleton about keeping pets indoor and making sure no tortoises had bedded down in your bonfire was enough. No longer, it seems.

And then there is the way that childhood has changed - fast emerging as one of the obsessions of this blog. The chief activity associated with Bonfire Night was Penny for the Guy where children displayed rough figures from old clothes stuffed with straw and begged for coppers from passers-by as a reward.

This good honest begging, involving some creative effort and hours of shivering on street corners, has gone. It has been replaced by a form of demanding money with menaces: Trick or Treat? We are supposed to stock up with sweets to give to children for the simple act of knocking on our doors.

Except that it never really works over here. Many householders, thank goodness, resist the practice, and schools and police are often hostile to it too. And few modern parents are happy to allow their children out alone at night, so the result is that the parents go round with the children. So we see another Liberal England obsession emerging - the infantilisation of adults.

It did used to be different. At the age of 11 I lived in village (though it had largely been absorbed by the neighbouring New Town) in Hertfordshire. Each year a large bonfire was constructed on the Moor - a local open space - by the residents. I expect the Scouts or someone like that got involved too, because it was an impressive stack with lots of wood in it.

I recall that my group of friends got together and decided what time we would light it on the evening. And we did light it. It seemed perfectly natural to us that boys our age should do it, and presumably no adult was concerned enough at the prospect.

Not only that. Because it was 1971 or so, there was a dustmen's strike and a large refuse heap was piled up near the bonfire. Inevitably, at some point in the evening it was set alight or caught a spark. A fire engine arrived to put it out, and as one of the firemen said: "Sorry lads, but it's too dangerous." OK so we were nicely brought up middle-class kids, but I do not think any of this would happen today.

So we can't blame the Americans alone. A wise man once said that every ancient British custom was invented in the final quarter of the 19th century. Bonfire Night is an exception to that, but it does remind us that our folk customs are human artefacts and often of recent invention.

The shift from Bonfire Night to Halloween in the last 40 years tells us something about our society. And I do not think it is something comforting.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Lord Bonkers: New diary posted

The latest diary of my old friend Lord Bonkers can now be found on his website:

I once ventured the thought that the words “Welcome to Blackpool” are the most frightening in the English tongue (defeating “See me in my study after Prayers” and “The next commentator will be Christopher Martin-Jenkins” by a short head).

Why not bring the Liberal Democrat Conference to Bonkers Hall? The Ballroom could comfortably house the debates – indeed I flatter myself that my organ is larger than Reginald Dixon’s – and there are any number of rooms for fringe meetings and training sessions (provided the livestock is moved where necessary). I could put up many of my old friends myself, the Bonkers Arms in the village does bed and breakfast, and the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans provides accommodation that can fairly be described as suitable for those on a limited budget.

The small hours of the morning find me at that famous Rutland monument Stiltonhenge. As every antiquarian knows, its mighty stones were erected in the lost era before the Ancient Britons discovered the Focus leaflet and made the rise of civilisation possible.

Lord Bonkers writes in each issue of Liberator magazine.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Liberator 306 published

Simon Titley has the full details on Liberal Dissenter.

The President of the MCC’s buttocks

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Sporting chance

I lived without a television for most of the 1990s. It is possible, and you really do write more and read more good books. I even kept up with the programmes I was missing by reading Nancy Banks-Smith's reviews in the Guardian.

There was only one snag: the TV Licensing Authority. On Monday at culture, media and sport questions John Pugh described it as "harassing a pensioner couple in my constituency - threatening them with court action, fines and enforcements visits in December, January, February, March, June and August, with each letter becoming even more threatening".

This attitude will be familiar to anyone who has tried doing without a TV. It's the dark side of the BBC. You get the impression Auntie believes the government has made it compulsory for everyone to own a set.

When I got one again in 2000 the programmes and advertisements had changed. There were lots of people from ethnic minorities on screen, the view of family life offered was uniformly negative and advertising logos had invaded the world of sport.

People think the cricket authorities are stuffy, but really they are the most shamelessly commercial administrators of all. There are now logos on the players' clothing and painted on the field of play. For the right price you could probably get your company's slogan tattooed on the President of the MCC's buttocks.

So it was no great surprise when exclusive rights to screen England test matches were sold to Sky TV. You can see why the authorities took the money, but it's unlikely to be in the long-term interests of the game if fewer youngsters get to watch it.

Should government intervene to save cricket from the consequences of its own folly? Tessa Jowell offered no more than a review of all sporting rights in a few years' time. Crispin Blunt and Derek Wyatt suggested ways of ensuring no sport is allowed to deal with just one broadcaster, which must be the way forward.

The rest of Monday's question time was dominated by the new licensing hours. The government's hope is that they will lead to more civilised drinking - certainly, we Liberals used to believe they would - but not many people are holding their breath.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Another Lib Dem MP on education

Welcome to the second in a series where I take issue with Liberal Democrat MPs over their views on education. Yesterday it was Ed Davey: today it is Mark Hunter.

Mark held Cheadle in the by-election a few months ago and was even a member of the Liberator Collective before my day. He has a letter in today's Guardian and its central paragraph runs:
One only has to consider the government's battle cry of allowing good schools to expand to see the folly of this argument. If the policy is taken to its logical conclusion, a local authority such as Stockport metropolitan borough council, for example, would eventually have only a handful of secondary schools serving its 50 square miles. All the rest would, presumably, succumb to market forces and disappear.
But would any schools want to grow to this enormous size? Would any parents want to send their children to them if they did? Mark's case seems to be that governing bodies and parents are both criminally stupid and need local education authorities to save them from themselves.

One of the hopes behind opening up education to other providers must be that it will lead to the existence of more school schools. For a weakness of the state comprehensive system as it was originally introduced was that schools needed a huge intake at 11 in order to have a viable sixth form in years to come. So it is not as if the local education authorities are always noted for their small schools.

In a comment on this blog Theo Butt Philip (Hello, Theo) suggests that after abolishing the national curriculum and league tables we should "we should let democratically elected and accountable councils get on with running schools as they see fit".

Where the councils are running the schools well I am sure this is what will happen. The question is what we do where schools are run badly. Is it enough to tell parents whose children are in bad schools - and who cannot afford to go private or move house - that they have a vote once every four years? I do not think it is.

And if you want really strong meat try Stephen Tall, who comes out in support of education vouchers. I am more interested in exploring what a Liberal education system should look like than committing myself to a particular mechanism, but see what you think.

Art and unicycling in hospitals

A Guardian leader defends the idea of putting art into hospitals against an attack from the Sun - and Keeley, 19, from Kent in particular.

Quite right too. Florence Nightingale herself wrote in 1859 that "variety of form and brilliancy of colour in the objects presented to patients are an actual means of recovery". See an article of mine from OpenMind for up to date research on the subject.

However, it is harder to defend practices at South Tyneside hospital in South Shields. There, reports the Guardian, a mother had to wait for her six-month-old baby to be treated while the doctor road a unicycle up and down corridors.

Admirers of The League of Gentlemen will be reminded of Dr Carlton, who makes his patients play games like Grandmother's Footsteps and Bizzy Bizzy Bumbles in an attempt to win treatment.

I apologise for my recent League of Gentlemen fixation, but if you had grown up in Market Harborough in the 1970s you would realise that it was not comedy or horror but documentary.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Biodiversity is good for your health

A Logical Voice points you to an important story on the Common Dreams site:

Better protection for the diversity of the planet's creatures and plants could help shield humans from diseases like AIDS, Ebola or bird flu and save billions of dollars in health care costs, researchers said on Tuesday.

They said human disruptions to biodiversity -- from roads through the Amazon jungle to deforestation in remote parts of Africa -- had made people more exposed to new diseases that originate in wildlife.

"Biodiversity not only stores the promise of new medical treatments and cures, it buffers humans from organisms and agents that cause disease," scientists from the Diversitas international group said in a statement.

The Lib Dem response to Ruth Kelly

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem shadow education secretary, has issued a press release on Ruth Kelly's education statement today. It begins:

The Government should focus on standards not structures.

It is what happens in the classroom, not the boardroom that makes the difference in a child's education. The Government's proposals today won't change anything, in any classroom, anywhere in the country.

Handing over admissions risks a free-for-all between schools, producing a shambles that will confuse parents, not help them.

If "standards not structures" sounds familiar, Estelle Morris will explain why. Last month, in her first outing as a columnist in the Guardian's Education section, she wrote:
Anyone remember that 1990s mantra, "standards not structures"? I do, mainly because those three words crept into almost every speech I made from about 1995 onwards. They were the headline for Labour's policy in the run-up to the 1997 general election and became the guiding light through much of the next five years.
It is sad that the Liberal Democrats can do no more than pick up a discarded Labour slogan. You could understand it if it were a particularly good one, but I am not sure that it makes much sense.

First, everyone cares about structure. If a Tory government proposed bringing back the 11 plus and grammar schools you would soon see Estelle Morris taking the greatest of interest in structure.

Second, structure does matter. If you get it wrong, standards may well suffer. An educationalist who says "standards not structures" is like a business manager who says "sales not administration". You need both, and it is silly to pretend otherwise.

Ed then goes on to say that Ruth Kelly's statement "won't change anything, in any classroom, anywhere in the country", before warning that it may produce a shambles.

Proposals that change nothing but produce a shambles? Hmm. Ed Davey is an engaging fellow, but this release strengthens the impression that the Liberal Democrats have some hard thinking to do on education.

Simon Jenkins: Parents are racists

Two of the more intelligent right-wing journalists - Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins - have recently started writing for the Guardian.

I suspect this represents a happy coincidence of interest. Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian's editor, is on record as saying:
"If I had to choose between occupying a niche on the left or being nearer the centre, whether you display that through your news reporting or your comment or both, I'm more comfortable saying this an upmarket, serious mainstream newspaper. There's more potential for growth there than taking comfort in political positioning."
Equally, I am sure that Hastings and Jenkins relish the chance to address their columns to the people who run the country.

Simon Jenkins' column today suggests that he has quickly learned what his wider new readership wants. Writing on Labour's new education plans he says:
The education white paper offers a vision of a "parent-led" state secondary-school system. Its key institution is the "self-governing school free to parents", a copy of the Tories' grant-maintained school that Labour once derided. Parents will be able to control a school's "ethos and individualism". As one parent briskly put it to me, "We can keep out the blacks."
Parents cannot be trusted with a role in their children's education because they are all racists. No Guardian reader could ask more than that from a columnist.

It gets better after that. Jenkins writes well about the central role the Treasury now has in education, suggesting that it will severely limit the autonomy that schools will enjoy. And he argues that the central role of league tables means that good schools are unlikely to want to imperil their standing in them by federating with other, weaker establishments.

The conclusion I draw from this is that the government is not being radical enough. They should abolish league tables too. No doubt the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph would compile and publish tables in their own, but then parents will already have a pretty shrewd idea of which are the best schools in their area. League tables tend to be exercises in telling people what they already know.

While we are it, let's abolish the national curriculum too. Private schools have thrived without it, and there is no reason why schools in the maintained sector should not do so too.

I would feel much more comfortable if the Liberal Democrats were attacking Labour for not being radical enough.

Only in Liverpool

Jezblog points us towards an amusing story on the BBC site:

Flowers and tributes were left in an alleyway where the body of a mystery dead baby was found - before police realised it was only a chicken foetus ...

Well-wishers had laid more than a dozen bunches of flowers at the scene, along with cards and teddy bears.

One of the cards read: "RIP Little Baby. Safe in the arms of Jesus. From someone who is a loving mother xxxx."

Merseyside Police told the community on Monday to "stop grieving, it's only a chicken".

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I love the smell of Cow Gum in the morning

I took the test and apparently...

Test found via Inveresk Street Ingrate.

Light pollution and the death of awe

If you want to understand religion, visit an area without any street lighting for miles around. I can recommend Lundy Island or the Dingle peninsula in the far West of Ireland.

The stars are extraordinary. You may have read about the Milky Way: here you can see it. The sky is more than beautiful: it is overpowering.

Auden asked:
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
With skies like this you feel that they do.

When I mentioned this to someone, he suggested that if you mapped the decline of religion in the West and the advance of street lighting, you would see a clear relationship. I am sure this is true.

The Campaign of the Week in today's Guardian is the Campaign for Dark Skies, which:
aims to preserve and restore the beauty of the night sky by campaigning against excessive, inefficient and irresponsible lighting that shines where it is not wanted nor needed.
Inevitably they go on to talk about global warming, but it is good to see an environmental campaign that is not afraid to talk about beauty.

And I am not alone in my awe of the night sky. The NASA site quotes Timothy Ferris:

"The loss of the night sky is most troubling for children. Whole generations of kids in cities and suburbs are growing up seldom if ever having seen the Milky Way and what a sky full of thousands of stars might look like."

"People often describe to me in glowing terms their experience in viewing the night time sky as if they'd seen something extraordinarily exotic ... something akin to observing Victoria Falls or the south pole. And I'm afraid that's the case for many people ... that they can count on the fingers of one hand the times they've seen a good night's sky."

The Tories: Getting it right and getting it wrong

David Cameron's response to Tony Blair's speech on education suggests he has more nous than many of his fellow Conservatives. Under Hague, Duncan Smith or Howard the response would almost certainly been to argue that it showed Blair was a dangerous socialist who must be stopped before he destroyed the country.

Instead Cameron has welcomed the speech because it shows Blair has realised the Tories were right all along. This makes him sound statesmanlike and will infuriate the Labour backbenches, causing trouble for the prime minister. It is an approach Simon Carr, the Independent sketchwriter, has been urging on the Tory leadership for as long as I can remember.

It also leaves the Liberal Democrats with a problem if we want to be something more than the defenders of the status quo in education. See the responses to my posting yesterday for some of the arguments within the party.

This evening it was announced that the Tories will support the second reading of the Terrorism Bill. This will allow us to stand alone as the defenders of our liberties. It will not be a popular stance with everyone, but it will be popular with many people - and many of them will not yet be Liberal Democrat voters.

It also looks like the continuance of a failed Conservative strategy. Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard seemed to believe that if they talked tough and got as close as they could to the Americans then they could make Blair seem weak and unpatriotic. This approach never looked like working. So it is not all bad news for the Liberal Democrats.

Monday, October 24, 2005

E S Turner: Roads to Ruin

In the early days of this blog I mentioned one of my favourite books: Roads to Ruin by E. S. Turner.

Crooked Timber has a recent posting about the book by John Holbo.

In defence of the pushy middle classes

It is no surprise to hear that the National Union of Teachers is against the government's new plans for schools. The NUT has opposed every education initiative - good, bad or lunatic - in living memory.

But there is something depressing about the argument it uses. The BBC quotes Steve Sinnott, the union's general secretary, describing the plans as "pandering to the pushy middle classes".

As long as the left believes there is something illegitimate in parents wanting the best for their children, the Conservatives will have every hope of an eventual return to power.

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat policy still says that we shall improve state schools so much that parents will be happy to give up any say in which school their children attend. Oh yes, and this will be achieved without any noticeable increase in taxation.

I cannot see this policy lasting much longer, and something Norman Lamb wrote in the Guardian after he lost the Lib Dem Conference vote on the future of the Royal Mail should be read and understood more widely:

As a constituency MP I am forever having to deal with situations where those without power or influence are struggling to be heard by an unresponsive state provider. One of the biggest failures of the state has been the scandal of education provision, which penalises children from the poorest backgrounds. The growing educational apartheid in this country ought to shame us all ...

This should give Liberal Democrats a real opportunity to demonstrate our distinctiveness, willingness to confront difficult issues, and capacity for fresh thinking. As liberals we should be seeking ways of securing social justice using mechanisms that are likely be more effective than what the centralised state has been able to achieve. We ought to look at these challenges with a fresh perspective, finding new approaches to the delivery of core public services, emphasising localism and being open-minded about ownership.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

An elegy for grazed knees

Andrew Martin had a splendidly unPC article in the Guardian's Family section yesterday. He wrote about the way modern society is conspiring to erode traditional boyhood and our views of what boys should be like.

It is a sort of elegy for grazed knees, and no doubt plenty of Guardian correspondents will remind him that not all boys want to be William Brown or Tom Sawyer, and that there plenty of girls used to enjoy playing out too.

But two of the observations he makes are important and exceptionally well expressed. First he writes about the way the dominance of the motor car has limited boys' freedom to roam:

Aside from having killed many boys, the motor car has also killed British boyhood. It and an exaggerated fear of crime make most boys housebound for most of their leisure time. They become prematurely like their fathers: stressed-out, trapped in front of an eye-burning screen, ruthlessly targeted as consumers ...

Many middle-class parents of boys try to make permanent this escape into physical freedom, but you have to hand it to the motor car: it doesn't discriminate between rich and poor. The barrister, his wife and their young son move to the country but the motor car has killed the village, so they have to drive everywhere and the boy becomes a querulous voice from the back seat: at once tyrant and victim.

And then he talks about the way the infantilisation of men is destroying our very concept of boyhood:

It's strange, given their fatal consequences for boyhood, that cars should often be referred to as "boys' toys". The word "boy" is being taken away from boys, to be used as an arch substitute for "man". Footballers have a "bad boy" reputation; and what did that Wonderbra advert say? "Hello boys."

... many of the products aimed at boys are trying to hustle them on to puberty as fast as possible. Once you've got sex in the equation you can sell a magazine, market a car and target any product. Whereas boyhood ... Well, what is that? It's beginning to seem an increasingly mysterious, abstract realm, something existing frozen in time on the covers of the William books, like a distant, slightly troublesome memory, or a reproof to the way we live now.

ID cards: A Liberal Democrat campaign

The Liberal Democrats have launched a new website dedicated to their campaign against ID cards.

One of our wards is missing

Steve Guy complains of a local council by-election that no one has heard about. I can beat that.

Back in the 1980s we the party in Market Harborough heard that the Liberal Alliance had gained the Peatling Parva seat on Harborough District Council. Because it was in the Blaby constituency rather than Harborough, we had to admit that we had no idea where it was.

Every ward has a house that no one can find, but to lose an entire ward looks like carelessness.

I remember a (long-wiped) episode of All Gas and Gaiters in which the bishop discovered a parish in his diocese that had never received an episocopal visit. When he went there he discovered that the locals were still living in the Middle Ages. I have always imagined Peatling Parva as being like that.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Put yourself in a child

I am at the BBC in Leicester to feed my League of Gentlemen DVD habit.

The Legz Akimbo theatre company, or something very like it, visited my school in 1973 or 1974. Even then I sensed they were crap. So thank you to the Gentlemen for wreaking revenge for me.

You're our future now, Dave

When the newspapers are on your side you can get away with almost anything. Take David "Dave" Cameron's visit to Life FM yesterday. As the BBC reports it:
Urged to "put a shout out" to listeners, the Old Etonian hesitated for a moment before replying: "This is a great project, this is a great community, keep backing it, keep it real".
With its echo of Ali G (he was meant to be a parody, David) this was surely more risible than William Hague's baseball cap at the Notting Hill Carnival. Yet I have seen no one making fun of Cameron in the papers.

I suspect that the press is collectively fed up with writing about Tory failure. A fresh young leader taking them back towards power is a better story. Of course, Cameron may not be up to the job or turn out to have too many spoons in his cupboard. But with the press on his side he will have to work hard at blowing his chance now. And if he does become leader he can count on a long honeymoon from the press.

All of which leaves us - the Liberal Democrats - with a problem. Simon Mollan at Inner West expresses it well:
As long as Tory leaders were useless, lacking in credibility, humanity or normality, Charles Kennedy's blokeish demeanor and "underpowered" leadership style was just fine. With the rise of "Dave" - assuming he is elected leader (and I think he will), the clear USP that Kennedy had (in comparison to the warmongering "Reverend Tony", and the "Something of the Right" about M.Howard), may be a stronger card for a man who manages to come over as nice and dynamic; two qualities, only one of which is usually leveled at Charles Kennedy.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A load of Milliband

Todays House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. The printed version now appears with a spiffy coloured background. See what you miss by not subscribing?

Hot coals

Suddenly everyone is talking about coal. On Wednesday last week two of New Labour's brightest young things - Ed Balls and Edward Milliband - took part in a Westminster Hall debate on the future of the industry. So did Paddy Tipping, but he sounds like a practice favoured by unscrupulous Victorian mine owners.

Why this sudden interest? In part it's down to the way Labour gets trusted new blood into Parliament.

Imagine a former mining seat. If veteran Labour MP Reg Snood announces he is to stand down, the constituency party will choose another socialist in his place: the very thing New Labour command tries to avoid.

But if Snood is persuaded to wait until a general election is called before he quits, the selection is taken out of the hands of the local party. Then one of those bright young things can be hustled through instead.

While Lord Snood of Royston Vasey enjoys life in the upper house, the new MP will be patiently taught what coal is. ("You mean people used to dig this out of holes in the ground?") Eventually he or she will feel confident enough to talk about it at Westminster.

But there is more to the revival of interest in coal than this. It's not just a load of Milliband.

As another Westminster Hall debate (called by Vince Cable) showed that day, the future of Britain's oil and gas supplies is not as secure as we would like. Of the alternatives, wind and wave power can be more controversial than their supporters admit.

And then there is nuclear power. The waste problem has never been solved, its safety record is a worry and, most damning of all, it has never looked remotely able to survive without enormous subsidies from the taxpayer. Which all shows why people are becoming interested in coal again - last Wednesday there was a Commons debate on clean coal technology too.

Incidentally, there is another argument against nuclear power that opponents used to deploy. They said that meeting more of our energy needs that way would require unprecedented levels of surveillance and security precautions, leading to what they called the "plutonium society".

Today we have that plutonium society, but no plutonium. It's like being a banana republic without the bananas.

Photo caption of the day

It's from theguardian:
Bee farmer Ahn Sang-kyu covers himself with bees yesterday in Daegu, south of Seoul, to mark a new underground railway in the town.
Later: Pearl Swine has a picture of Ahn Sang-kyu wearing his bees, though not the one that appeared in theguardian.

It's Apple Day today

Full details on the Common Ground site.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Blunkett's arse reborn

The weblog David Blunkett is an Arse has undergone a Dr Who style regeneration and emerged as Into the Machine.

Medieval jerry builders

Worrying news from here in Market Harborough, according to the Leicester Mercury:

Stonemasons renovating the tower of a parish church have discovered cowboy builders existed 800 years ago.

The shoddy workmanship was uncovered when the team started to repair 10ft cracks at St Dionysius, Market Harborough.

Instead of finding a solid wall inside to support the tower, there was rubble and clay.

Today, the architect supervising the repairs labelled the medieval stonemasons "jerry-builders".

Enjoy one of the finest spires in England while you can.

Drugging children

I have written here occasionally, and at greater length in OpenMind magazine, about the number of children being diagnosed with attention problems and prescribed medication.

PBS - the American Public Broadcasting Service - has an interview with Peter Breggin, the leading critic of this trend:
What medicine and psychiatry have done is to take essentially behavioural problems - problems of conflict between adults and children - and redefine them as medical problems.

Is there a conspiracy against David Davis?

I was originally sceptical of the idea that David Davis is being done down by a conspiracy of old Oxford friends of David Cameron. (Though see this posting and my latest Lib Dem News column - it's a good story.)

But this morning Nick Robinson and the BBC in general were giving extraordinary prominence to the idea that Cameron might do so well this afternoon that the second-placed candidate will not bother going to a ballot of all Tory members.

It makes you think.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Let's not be beastly to Dave Cameron

James Oates reports the remark of an anonymous wit to the effect that David Cameron "was born with a silver spoon up his nose".

You won't find that kind of unfair comment repeated here.

Mystery Spin Doctor

News reaches me of a new blog named Mysteryspindoctor:
I am a former spindoctor no longer working in British politics but still with an active interest. I’ll try in this blog to demystify what political professionals do in Britain, and to provide some insight to what’s going on behind the surface in British politics. In future posts I’ll try to combine some long term analysis of what is going on with an insider’s eye on day to day events.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Cameron complexion watch

Last week I said of David Cameron:
His complexion is so unblemished that, like Elijah Wood in the Lord of the Rings films, he appears to have had his face covered with a thin layer of plastic film.
I have now found a more felicitous description from Kirk Elder, Senior Citizen from Peebles. He describes him as:
a young man with the complexion of a well-skelped orphan.
Talking of Peebles, let me pay a belated tribute to the late Ronnie Barker.

I remember a Two Ronnies news item from the 1970s. "Following boundary changes, David Steel's constituency will now be known as Roxburgh and Selkirk. He is said to be very sad at losing his Peebles."

Clarke kicked out

The results from the first round of the MPs' ballot for the Tory leadership:

David Davis 62
David Cameron 56
Liam Fox 42
Kenneth Clarke 38

I am reminded of the exchange from Bremner, Bird & Fortune:
Interviewer: Kenneth Clarke is the most popular Conservative.
George Parr [Tory] MP: Yes, but only with the electorate.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Cows in the lap of luxury

Larry Elliott writes in today's Guardian about agricultural subsidies and free trade:

The story of Europe's pampered cows is a familiar one but always worth retelling. Each head of cattle in Europe gets a subsidy from the taxpayer worth $2.20 a day at a time when half the world's population - 3 billion people in all - scrapes by on an income of less that that. Rightly, the comparison has been a cause of outrage, and is one of the reasons why the European Union has been under pressure in the current round of global trade talks to make deep inroads into its absurd protectionist regime for agriculture.

Well, here's the stop press: the cows have had a pay rise. Calculations by Oxfam's Duncan Green for 2003 show that the average cow in the Dordogne or Lower Saxony can expect to have $2.62 a day lavished on it. The latest figures for 2003 show that the number of cows is down by 2 million but the total support for producers is up by $1bn to almost $19bn (£10.7bn).

I am reminded of Lord Bonkers' take on the subject (see Friday):
Did you know that each European cow is subsidised to the tune of $3 a day? As a Liberal I insist that this money is paid directly to the beasts themselves, and that has made a great difference to the rural economy in these parts with many cows now owning their owns sheds, running small businesses and enjoying holidays abroad.
And then there was Eddie Izzard's short-lived comedy series about a group of cows who lived in a barn conversion. It used to be a cottage but they converted it into a barn.

The art of looking concerned

The funniest posting of the day is over at Bloggerheads. They analyse some Tory campaign photographs from Guildford.

Doesn't sound promising? Trust me.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Tory leadership contest: Shock new developments

At least it's British

Tim Worstall's weekly round up is now online.

We can't see our little Donald

The Independent (so catch it quick) reports the sad news that Donald McGill, the great seaside postcard artist so admired by George Orwell, lies in an unmarked grave in Streatham Park cemetery.

Not that he was treated much better in life:
In July 1954, McGill, then nearly 80, was hauled before Lincoln Quarter Sessions to face charges under the Obscene Publications Act. The offending items included: flighty girl to bookmaker at racecourse: "I want to back the favourite, please. My sweetheart gave me a pound to do it both ways."

Saturday, October 15, 2005

What links Gromit with Pinter

Mark Lawson has a very good article in this morning's Guardian looking at the sudden respectability of Englishness in the arts.

He is very good on the midatlantic awfulness of many modern British films:
film-makers believed that movies from the UK had to genuflect to America in their look (the permanent Dickensian Christmas of Richard Curtis movies) and casting (Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings) to succeed.
The latest example, out this week, is Kinky Boots, in which Northampton railway station, in reality a buzzing commuter hub, is depicted as a sleepy rural halt where the platform contains a single passenger.
He also writes about the way that, while every other culture is celebrated, Englishness has often been the nationality that dare not speak its name:
Until very recently, being seen to carry an English ID card so visibly might have been a handicap for these artists. If a work had too much of a whiff of the Thames and tea bags, it risked classification as retrograde, conservative or, in the ultimate insult, "Little English". Being identified too heavily with traditional language or values made a writer seem resistant to multiculturalism or pan-Europeanism and therefore a de facto racist. Read the late-career reviews and obituaries of Anthony Powell, Philip Larkin or Kingsley Amis to experience this perception of Englishness as an illness for which doctors would hopefully soon find a cure.
But all that has changed, Lawson argues:
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, while it has the defence of being a Plasticine fantasy, is also guilty of sentimentalising and simplifying England; but unexpectedly this vision no longer feels like the concoction of a "heritage" country for export but as a heroic refusal to bend to American expectation.
A little fancifully, he continues:
This new fashionability - indeed even political correctness - of militant Englishness is a consequence of the Iraq war and is what links Gromit with Pinter. Twenty years ago, when the playwright first turned against the British and American governments over their foreign policy, such vociferous opposition to the special relationship was widely considered maverick or treacherous. Now Pinter's vilification of his own prime minister and the US president is broadly mainstream newspaper opinion, with only the Times consistently dissenting.
I am very fond of Stephen Tall's words, which you find beneath the title of this blog: "An amusingly eclectic mix of culture and politics." But if I ever replace them, the new ones will come from Lawson's article:
In a culture enraged by US arrogance and expansionism, parochialism becomes a form of radicalism and resistance.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Matthew Green: We can win back Ludlow

The South Shropshire Journal reports that Matthew Green wants to fight Ludlow for the Lib Dems at the next election and believes he can win it back. He gained the seat in 2001 but lost it in the general election earlier this year.

He says:

“One of the reasons I lost the election was that a lot of people voted to get rid of Tony Blair. They didn’t get rid of Tony Blair, because it doesn’t work like that – instead they got rid of their local MP.

“People have said to me they want a full-time MP again, someone that has a strong interest in local matters.”

Anorak stuff: Backlinks

Blogger has launched a new feature: Backlinks. This harnesses their blog search engine to provide a "Links to this post" section for every posting on your blog. It shows links to that post that have been made from blogs across the web, including your own.

I have now turned Backlinks on for Liberal England. For an example of how it looks, see my posting on the Davis camp's belief that there is an Oxford conspiracy in support of David Cameron.

There is a short article about Backlinks on the Blogger Buzz blog, and more detailed information on the Blogger help pages.

This little Tory hobbit

House Points returns to Liberal Democrat News for its 94th season. Here is today's column.

Conservative Conspiracies

There’s nothing so much fun as a Tory leadership contest. In recent years the Conservative Party has shown a reliable instinct for choosing the wrong candidate. And these elections are one of the few places where you still come across open class warfare.

In 1990 the victim was Douglas Hurd. His Eton and Trinity background was used against him by John Major’s campaign team. Hurd was mystified: “I was brought up on a farm. I don’t know how we got into all this. This is inverted snobbery. I thought I was running for leader of the Conservative Party, not some demented Marxist sect.”

Today David Davis is fighting back against David Cameron, another Old Etonian, with the same tactic. “I was born into Britain's largest class – those who rely on public services,” he told the Telegraph on Tuesday.

Some of Davis’s more fanciful supporters even detect a Brideshead conspiracy behind Cameron’s rapid ascent. You see, David Cameron was given a huge boost by a Newsnight focus group organised by an American called Frank Luntz. And Luntz was once a big noise at the Oxford Union alongside three of Cameron’s leading supporters: Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Ed Vaizey.

It gets worse. The BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson, who enthused about Cameron’s conference speech and rubbished Davis’s, was President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in those days.

But David Cameron comes over as more likely to be the victim of a dark conspiracy. His complexion is so unblemished that, like Elijah Wood in the Lord of the Rings films, he appears to have had his face covered with a thin layer of plastic film.

It’s a long way to the top of Mount Doom and you wonder if this little Tory hobbit will make it.

Still, the outline of the agenda that will replace New Labour is becoming clear. It supports public spending but knows micromanagement from the centre does not work. It is suspicious of Dubya’s foreign adventures. It values human rights and is wary of ceding more areas of private life to state control.

We Liberal Democrats still have the time to seize this agenda as our own. But we should not rely upon the Tories choosing the wrong leader for ever.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

UFOs: The Secret Evidence

As I write Channel 4 is showing this documentary on flying saucers written by Nick Cook.

His case is that the phenomenon has nothing to do with little green men but can be accounted for by occasional sightings of experimental American technology. This developed the work of German scientists during World War II and was later deployed in the Cold War.

More than that, the American authorities encouraged people's interest in extraterrestrial visitors as a way of covering defence activities.

His argument is convincing, but will come as no surprise to fans of my favourite writer when I was a child: Malcolm Saville. In his Saucers Over the Moor, published in 1955, flying saucers are taking off from a secret station on Dartmoor and attracting the attention of foreign spies.

As ever, the great man was there first.

A tangled Webb

Virtual Stoa marks the 58th anniversary of the death of Sidney Webb by referring us to the way he and his wife Beatrice explained Stalin's show trials:
It must have been foreseen that this whole series of trials, the numerous shootings to which they led, the publicity and popular abuse of the defendants which the Government apparently organised and encouraged, and especially the malignity with which Leon Trotsky, safe in far-off Mexico, was assailed, would produce a set-back in the international appreciation which the Soviet Union was increasingly receiving. The Soviet Government must have had strong grounds for the action, which has involved such unwelcome consequences. (There's much more.)
See also Beatrice on Stalin's way with awkward people.

Our Mother's House and The Colour Purple

There is an interesting postscript to my posting on the music for Our Mother's House. Here is James Southall reviewing the CD Music from the Films of Steven Spielberg:
Finally there's The Colour Purple, which featured one of Georges Delerue's most captivating themes, but unfortunately it was actually his theme from Our Mother's House being shamelessly ripped off by Quincy Jones, who got nominated for an Oscar for his plagiarism.
Neil Sinyard, in his book on Jack Clayton, tells the story more generously:
If one notices a distinct similarity between Delerue's main theme and that composed by Quincy Jones for Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple (1985), the reason is that Spielberg had loved both Clayton's film and Delerue's score, and had used Delerue's music as a guide to indicate to Jones the style he wanted. Delerue was rightly to be paid for the influence his score exerted on Jones.
And the booklet which comes with the Our Mother's House CD says:
A two page article in the March 31 , 1986 People magazine covered "Purplegate," asking, "Could a movie celebrating that most musical of peoples - American blacks - really have 'borrowed' music written by a Frenchman for a British Gothic drama?" Delerue - who was himself nominated for an Oscar that year, for Agnes of God - reportedly took the affair in his stride ("He was mostly flattered and bemused as only a Frenchman can be," was the anonymous quotation from a "close associate"), and the matter passed soon enough as John Barry's Out of Africa took home the statuette.
Incidentally, I said in the first post that Delerue's music is only the second instrumental soundtrack I had bought. This is nonsense. As well as the Morricone I also have Michael Nyman's music for The Piano and for Drowning by Numbers, and there may well be others if I bother to look.

Tories go mad on drugs

More on the remarkable "I never snorted coke, says Ken Clarke" story I mentioned last night.

Today's Shropshire Star reports that:

Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard admitted this afternoon that he had once tried cannabis but was now a hardliner on drugs policies.

He was speaking just hours after persuading Tory leadership heavyweight Ken Clarke to tell a packed meeting of Tory MPs that he had never taken cocaine.

It seems the whole exercise has turned into something of an own goal on the part of Pritchard. He is a supporter of David Davis and was presumably seeking to embarrass David Cameron. The way the Guardian tells it, Clarke's intervention was designed to warn Tory MPs not to go down this road:
"If you start asking personal questions it does not stop."
Will the Conservatives allow Clarke to save them from their own worst instincts? Not by the sound of it:

Mr Clarke delivered the same sort of witty and intelligent performance he displayed at last week's Tory conference - to little avail.

Adjectives like exhilarating and exciting were used. "He was brilliant, but he's just not a Tory," explained one rightwinger after Mr Clarke had stressed five policy points - the economy, democracy, health, education and pensions - on the road to making his party an effective opposition again.

I have never been a great admirer of Freud. But he spoke of Thanatos - the death instinct - and something of the sort seems to be at large in the modern Conservative Party.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Smurfs wiped out by aerial bombing

This is what I call good news. From the Telegraph:

The short film pulls no punches. It opens with the Smurfs dancing, hand-in-hand, around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter past and rabbits gambol around their familiar village of mushroom- shaped houses until, without warning, bombs begin to rain from the sky.

Tiny Smurfs scatter and run in vain from the whistling bombs, before being felled by blast waves and fiery explosions. The final scene shows a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs.

Found via After School Snack.

Tory leadership contest turns nasty

Clarke: "I've never touched cocaine"

Kenneth Clarke has brought the issue of hard drug use into the Conservative leadership race, by declaring he had never taken cocaine.

The denial came at a hustings in Westminster, where the former Chancellor was grilled by a group of right-wing Tory MPs and asked if he had ever taken class A drugs.

The same question was not put to current bookies' favourite David Cameron, the 39-year-old "young pretender" who shot into the lead in the polls following his well-received party conference speech last week.

Mr Cameron has previously come under the spotlight for his refusal to confirm or deny whether he smoked cannabis as a student.

More in the Scotsman.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The once and future blog

Welcome back - after a long hibernation - to Quaequam Blog! And welcome in particular to this posting on the row over the reform of the licensing laws:
Unfortunately, this is one of those issues that demonstrates quite how arse-over-tit British politics is at the moment. The arch-regulators are defending a liberalising initiative while the liberals (both Lib Dem and Tory varieties) are falling over themselves to oppose it.
A big Liberal England hello also goes to Hot Ginger and Dynamite.

A photograph of John Clare

John Clare, the great nature poet, was born in 1793. Perhaps it should not be so surprising that a photograph of him exists, but it still seems strange.

Anyway, that photograph was recently sold for £3600 - thanks to dumbfoundry for the lead.

While we are discussing John Clare...

I am!

I am! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil'd or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below--above the vaulted sky.

John Clare

Our Mother's House and the 1960s

I am writing this listening to my newest CD acquisition: Georges Delerue's soundtrack for the 1967 film Our Mother's House, which was directed by Jack Clayton and features Dirk Bogarde in a very un Dirk Bogarde role. It is only the second instrumental soundtrack I have bought - the first was Morricone's music from Once Upon a Time in the West.

Away from the film Delerue's music is pleasant, but in context I know of no score which so alters the mood of its film. Our Mother's House is a dark story of a family of children who conceal the death of their mother to avoid being taken into care. Just as the deception is about to be discovered there absentee father turns up and we discover things are not quite as they seemed.

This could have been a distasteful film, yet the music - innocent, lilting, compassionate - lifts it into a different sphere altogether. In doing so it gives Our Mother's House a claim to be one of the most important British films of the 1960s.

Like another domestic horror of the period, The Nanny from 1965 (both films feature the excellent Pamela Franklin), it shows children fighting against oppressive adult authority and the weight of the past.

It would be wrong to call the attitudes that are being opposed Victorian - the dreadful British obsession with respectability is far more characteristic of the earlier decades of the 20th century than of the 19th - and you can question whether we have succeeded in putting a more reasonable form of authority in their place. But there is no doubt that this struggle was central to the formation of the characteristic self-image of the 1960s.

Beyond the lasting masterpieces like Blow-Up and Performance, the most self-consciously modern 1960s films are often disappointing. In particular, they have a tendency to establish an intriguing situation or atmosphere and then display little sense of how to resolve the resultant tension. The way The Servant collapses in the last reel is a good example of this.

W. H. Auden once wrote to Benjamin Britten that all great art is the result of

a perfect balance between Order and Chaos, Bohemianism and Bourgeois Convention. Bohemian chaos ends in a mad jumble of beautiful scraps.

This "mad jumble of beautiful scraps" is a good description for many 1960s films - I am not sure even Performance escapes it.

Perhaps some of the films more closely associated with pop music should be discussed here too, but they do not turn up on television these days and when they do they are rarely as good as you hoped they were going to be. Paul Merton chose The Magic Christian as part of his evening of perfect viewing a couple of months ago, but it turned out to be a huge disappointment.

So if we want to understand the 1960s, maybe it is to these unassuming domestic horror films - Our Mother's House and The Nanny - that we should turn. Which brings us back to George Delerue's music.

For more on that music's influence read on.

One in the eye for the safety lobby

This is how the Health Service Journal covered the aftermath of the total eclipse of the sun that was visible from Cornwall in 1999:

Fears of mass retinal damage in the west of England came to nothing. The total eclipse that drew over a quarter of a million people to Cornish shores turned out to be one of the anti-climaxes of a lifetime.

"We only had one eye injury," said West Country ambulance service spokesman Darren Gibson, "and that was one of our own personnel who got dropped on by a seagull while he was looking up."

(Reprinted in the All Our Yesterdays feature in HSJ on 18 August this year.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Strange Death of Tory England

I have just been reading Geoffrey Wheatcroft's book The Strange Death of Tory England. It is a history of the party's triumph and collapse in the years since Alec Douglas-Home became leader. If you want a history of the Conservatives in the decades before that, incidentally, I recommend Simon Ball's The Guardsmen: Harold Macmillan, Three Friends and the World They Made.

You can find a summary of Wheatcroft's arguments in an article he wrote for The Wall Street Journal on the eve of the Tories' third successive election defeat. His conclusion is not a bad summary of what a successful alternative to Blairism might look like:
If the Tories now find further leisure in opposition, they might try consulting their experience in the hope of correcting their errors. They could go on in the present Poujadist direction, voicing the sournesses of the alienated and embittered. Or they could try one further reinvention, as an economically (small-state) and socially (open-minded and diverse) libertarian party, while adopting a critical attitude to the increasing centralism of the European Union and also the unconditional American alliance.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Cameron Conspiracy

The David Davis for Leader blog has a neat conspiracy theory to explain the eclipse of their man by David Cameron in the past few days:

No complaints, because we live in the world as it is. But further investigation into the background of Frank Luntz reveals some very interesting connections from the past.

In the 1980s Frank was at Oxford, where he obtained a Doctorate in politics. He was also a member of the Oxford Union Standing Committee.

By a curious coincidence, Michael Gove MP was Union President at the time. He succeeded to the post shortly after the immortal Boris MP. And very shortly after that, Ed Vaizey MP arrived, becoming an OU Librarian (it's one of those curious Oxford type posts that is more politico than literary).

So the guy that did such a splendid job for Dave C on Monday's Newsnight is an old Union chum of three key Cameron supporters.

And there's more. BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson- the one who enthused about DC's speech and then told Conference viewers that DD's speech just wasn't good enough- he was President of the Oxford University Conservative Association during the same period.

The full post is here.

Trivial fact of the day

The Telegraph reveals that a very young Laurence Dallaglio can be heard singing backing vocals on Tina Turner's "We don't need another hero".

Friday, October 07, 2005

When Quentin Horse was the dark hogg

I contributed another Armchair Conference column to Liberal Democrat News this week.

The right horse

Political conferences say something important about the parties that hold them. Twenty years ago I spent the summer working for the Liberal Party’s conference office. It being the old Liberal Party, naturally that office was housed in two semi-converted narrow boats moored deep in the Leicestershire countryside.

So what does Brighton tell us about the Labour Party?

Tony Benn was made to wait hours for his pass. Austin Mitchell’s digital camera was seized and wiped. And delegates even had sweets confiscated (though that may have been Ruth Kelly’s influence).

Then there was Waltergate – the manhandling and expulsion from the hall of Walter Wolfgang for his mild heckling of Jack Straw. The attempt to elect Wolfgang as the nation’s favourite pensioner in place of the Queen Mother would not survive a study of internal Labour politics. When I was working on those narrow boats Walter was happily voting against the idea of Labour CND opposing Soviet nuclear weapons too.

But his misadventures – in particular the way anti-terrorist laws were used against him – shone light on the way new legislation is being used to suppress legitimate political protest. In Tuesday’s Guardian George Monbiot listed a raft of similar cases.

Over it all presided the prime minister. The problems with Tony Blair go further than his graceless apology to Ludwig: “Look, I wasn't in the conference centre at the time.” For he has reached the stage every politician does in the end: he resembles his own caricature. It is now impossible to get past the ham acting, the mannered pauses and the curious orange complexion to listen to his arguments.

Under the lights the sweat leaked out despite the thick make up. He looked like a tangerine-hued version of Dirk Bogarde in the last reel of Death in Venice.


Meanwhile excitement runs high in Blackpool. Can David Davis be beaten? Is Clarke too old? Is Cameron too young? Will Liam Horse be a dark fox candidate?

It reminds you of the events in 1963 when Harold Macmillan resigned as prime minister halfway through the Tory Conference. Then Rab Butler was favourite to succeed and Quentin Horse was the dark hogg candidate, but it was Sir Alec Douglas-Home who “emerged” – as Tory leaders did in those days.

Now, of course, they are elected. Whether the people who brought you Iain Duncan Smith will do any better this time remains to be seen.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

How they found Liberal England

People have arrived at Liberal England today through searching for the following terms (amongst others, he added rapidly):
  • nudes from sudan
  • leicestershire panther
  • platinum windows and conservatives in bridgnorth

Is this Bonkers Hall?

One of the enduring mysteries of our time is the lack of a photographic record of Bonkers Hall - the country seat of my old friend Lord Bonkers.

Nevertheless, the Hall bears a striking resemblance to Nevill Holt, even though that house can be found just over the Leicestershire border. Nevill Holt was the home of the Cunard family in Victorian and Edwardian times and later became a boys' preparatory school.

A few years ago it closed rather suddenly, as boys' preparatory schools will. It has since been converted into flats.

There are a couple of fine views of Nevill Holt on the website of the company which supervised that conversion. Unfortunately they have set it up so that I am unable to steal the photographs and reproduce them here. There's no trust any more, is there?

Where have all the conker stories gone?

It wasn't just National Poetry Day I was writing about a year ago. Looking through the archive from October last year I find that I spent a lot of time discussing reports that schools were banning children from playing conkers because it was too dangerous.

This year there have been no such stories. Why is this?

Explanation 1: Autumn has come late this year, proving the global warming theorists wrong. This is unlikely to be true: a late autumn would have been taken as evidence for global warming just as readily as an early one.

Explanation 2: Every one has got more sensible since last year and realised that it is silly to make a fuss about conkers. This is self-evidently absurd.

Explanation 3: Today's children have been won over by the attractions of DVDs, play stations and masturbation and no longer want to do anything as old-fashioned and uncool as playing conkers.

My money is on 3.

A big, affectionate slap on the rump

Before the waters of oblivion close over its head, let's celebrate yesterday's Simon Hoggart sketch from the Tory Conference:

For the first time I can recall Ken Clarke seemed, in his own rough and ready way, to be wooing the Conservative party. It's not exactly fine wines and Belgian chocolates offered on bended knee, more "how does a Scotch egg and a pint sound?" while bellied up to the bar - but at least he showed he cared.

In the past he has given the impression that he knows he's the best, the only real choice; if the party doesn't agree, that's their problem, not his, and he's got a Charlie Parker album to listen to. Yesterday he got to work on them, hitting their hot buttons, stroking their hopes, fears and prejudices. The late Julian Critchley said Michael Heseltine knew exactly where to find the clitoris of the Conservative party. Clarke is less subtle; instead he gave them a big, affectionate slap on the rump.

Leighton Andrews: The mystery solved

New light is cast on the strange transformation of Leighton Andrews AM "from Liberal thinker to cheerleader for Blair's authoritarians".

CymruMark observes:

Leighton Andrews on the other hand is a complete mystery to me. His splenetic rants in the Assembly debating chamber are the stuff of legend and there was a fine example in the budget debate the other day. Yet the Leighton Andrews I observed in the Liberal Party in the 80's was a very different character. Always associated with the ALC/Liberator self-appointed keepers of the radical flame element he was a fluent persuasive speaker with impeccable anti-authoritarian views.

It was astonishing to see him in Welsh Labour and his contributions to the assembly seem utterly at odds with his previously expressed opinions.

This is true, though if CymruMark is who I think he is he shouldn't be too sniffy about Liberator. I seem to recall commissioning him to write an article for it.

Anyway, he goes on to offer an explanation for Leighton's transformation:
One of the handful of Lib Dems who still speak to me was in Llandudno recently. Over a beer or two he concluded that the only explanation for Leighton Andrews was alien abduction. He had know Leighton well as a member of the Liberal Party and was convinced the two people could not be the same. Confronted with photographic evidence he suggested the real Leighton had been kidnapped by aliens. Who can argue with this?
Who indeed?

Late in the evening the strange horses came

My contribution to National Poetry Day. Last year it was Geoffrey Hill: this time it is Edwin Muir.

The Horses

Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listn, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
"They'll molder away and be like other loam."
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers' land.
And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers' time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield.
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads,
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

Edwin Muir

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Passports to Liberty

The other day I plugged the newly published pamphlet in Liberator's Passports to Liberty series.

The magazine's website carries details of the whole series as well as information on how to order the pamphlets.

Also advertised is the latest Liberator songbook, complete with foreword by Lord Bonkers.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Obliging young lady

From today's Leicester Mercury:
A receptionist confessed to helping move the murdered body of her boss's wife "as a favour", a jury heard.

Labour's atomic tactics in Scotland

The Sunday Herald has a striking story:

A senior adviser to the Prime Minister told Labour officials at a secret meeting at the Scottish Executive headquarters that building a new nuclear power station at Dounreay would be the ideal way of undermining their Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues.

John McTernan – Tony Blair’s director of political operations – suggested the move as part of an orchestrated Labour attack on the LibDems in the run-up to the 2007 Holyrood elections.

He said the plan would boost the chances of First Minister Jack McConnell’s party winning Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, the seat that is home to Dounreay and which is held by the LibDems.

It is some years since I was a candidate or agent - and that only at district council level - but I suspect Labour will run into trouble on election expenses if they try this. My researches suggest the last nuclear power station built in Britain (Sizewell B) cost around £2 billion.

I can't help thinking they would be on surer ground if they just had some leaflets printed.

Lib Dem Top 10

The Apollo Project nominates its top 10 Lib Dem blog postings from September.

An excellent idea. I shan't be churlish and complain that they spelt my name wrong.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Why you should subscribe to Liberator

The other day I wrote that:
Liberal Democrats love to describe themselves as "radical", but for many there seems to be an unstated assumption that to be radical means to be like the pre-Blair Labour Party.
I have since found that there is an article by Iain Sharpe in the current issue of Liberator (the one that was on sale at Blackpool) which explores this idea more fully. He writes:

For many of those in the Lib Dems who consider themselves radicals, the core belief or "golden thread" is not about decentralisation, individual freedom, environmentalism or whatever; it's about not being right-wing.

That's why the party has never truly been able to set out what it means by a radical non-socialist alternative to conservatism (to use Jo Grimond's phrase of 40 or more years ago).

The moral is clear: subscribe to Liberator!

David Boyle's website

Leading Liberal thinker (and my recent co-author) David Boyle has just revamped his website.

Well worth a visit.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Beating the spammers

I have been kept busy deleting spam comments over the past few days, so I have decided to activate word verification for comments on this blog to outwit the spamming programs. You will see what this means next time you leave a comment.

Latest leads on Waltergate

The First Post usefully reprints the full transcript of Tony Blair's Today interview where he apologised for the expulsion of Walter Wolfgang:
Look, I wasn't in the conference centre at the time.
Meanwhile Oliver Kamm, loyal New Labourite that he is, does his best to blacken the character of the nation's favourite pensioner. To be fair, he finds plenty of ammunition:
Taking Wolfgang's conference article as their justification, the CND leadership tried to wrest control of Labour CND from the Trotskyites in late 1983 and 1984. They were largely unsuccessful - the IMG being good at packing meetings and organising slates for elections - though did at least gain a bare majority within Labour CND for campaigning, also and in nominal terms at least, against Soviet nuclear weapons. Needless to say, Walter Wolfgang opposed the notion that Labour CND should adopt such a stance - a minimal and pathetically transparent attempt to affect even-handedness - but was outvoted.
Walter Wolfgang is 135.

Britblog Round Up

Tim Worstall has posted his latest selection here.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Who's afraid of the big bad Wolfgang?

The, er, forthright British Nationalists in Wales Watch thinks it knows who was behind the manhandling and expulsion from the hall of 103-year-old Walter Wolfgang at the Labour Conference:

We've received reports, that David Taylor - Labour AM Leighton Andrews' researcher - was the Labour party official who instructed the stewards to remove 88 year old Walter Wolfgang from the British Nationalist Labour Party conference.

Apparently Taylor was watching the speech live on Sky News outside the conference hall, and shouted in to his radio:

"You can hear the f***ing heckling on Sky News. Shut them up, or take them out."

I don't know if this is true or not, but shouldn't Leighton Andrews come forward and clear up the confusion?

Walter Wolfgang is 127.