Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

This song was written by Dave Goulder. I know it from the Martin Carthy album Landfall.

The January Man

The January man he walks the road
In woollen coat and boots of leather
The February man still shakes the snow
From off his hair and blows his hands
The man of March he sees the Spring and
Wonders what the year will bring
And hopes for better weather

Through April rains the man comes down
To watch the birds come in to share the summer
The man of May stands very still
Watching the children dance away the day
In June the man inside the man is young
And wants to lend a hand
And grins at each new colour

And in July the man in cotton shirt
He sits and thinks on being idle
The August man in thousands take the road
To watch the sea and find the sun
September man is standing near
To saddle up another the year
And Autumn is his bridle

The man of new October takes the reins
And early frost is on his shoulder
The poor November man sees fire and rain
And snow and mist and wintery gale
December man looks through the snow
To let eleven brothers know
They’re all a little older

And the January man comes round again
In woollen coat and boots of leather
To take another turn and walk along the icy road he knows so well
For the January man is here for
Starting each and every year
Along the road for ever

Lord Bonkers' last diary of the year

This is Lord Bonkers' contribution to Liberator 315. He also has his own website.

After writing the item on football in Rutland I discovered that the Pukka Pies people are one of the major shareholders in Leicester City. That explains a lot.

You will often find me in New York, perhaps enjoying a Nick Harvey Wallbanger in one of Manhattan’s more exclusive bars. A few days ago I visited a club where the famed comedian Woody Allen has been known to appear and, sure enough, he turned up that evening. Some of you will be familiar with Allen’s work because our own Dr Evan Harris regularly recites one of his monologues word for word at the Glee Club. Funnily enough, Allen’s party piece consisted in a word for word recitation of one of Dr Harris’s Conference speeches. The audience joined in and a good time was had by all. Yet, was it just me, or did I gain the impression that my fellow revellers had heard this particular turn a little too often?

Catching up with business after my sojourn in America, I call in at Cowley Street to give Lord Rennard the benefit of my advice. Whilst there I pass the kitchen and find Miss Fearn busy rubbing in. She tells me that she is baking a cake for our erstwhile benefactor Mr Michael Brown. I reply that I find this a fitting gesture: if a chap stumps up a couple of million for your party, the least you can do when he finds himself in the jug is send him the occasional Genoa cake or Victoria sponge. Amongst the dried fruit and candied peel I notice a sturdy metal file: Miss Fearn has always been blessed with sound common sense and a warm heart.

A highlight of our party’s Conference are the early morning prayer meetings organised by the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum. I seldom attend them myself, being occupied with the eggs and b at that hour, but those who do assure me that their outstanding feature is the virtuoso performance put in upon the organ by none other than our own Professor Webb. Hearing of this, I have long tried to persuade him to come to the Hall to play upon my own steam instrument, which was installed by my grandfather to mark the arrival of Gladstone’s first ministry. Webb finally accepted my invitation last week, and I have had men stoking the boilers ever since to ensure a fine head of steam. Whilst I tucked into the kedgeree this morning Webb serenaded me with a selection of favourites: "Kumbaya", "We Shall Overcome", "D’ye Ken John Peel?" and so forth. I had just requested "The Land" when a low rumbling noise was heard. I urged Webb to ignore it, and was waving my napkin in lieu of a ballot in my hand, when the organ exploded. Fortunately. no one was hurt, although Webb sported a blackened face when we finally dug him out of the wreckage. The result is that I have given up the day to telephoning for estimates to have the blessed contraption repaired.

The talk nowadays is all of "road pricing"; here in Rutland we have been doing it for years. It happens that in order to drive between our little nation’s two principal cities - Oakham and Uppingham - it is necessary to cross a narrow neck of the Bonkers Estate, and in order to dissuade people from undertaking unnecessary journeys, I levy a toll on each vehicle passing that way. I am not one to blow my own trumpet (as my regular readers will know), but I can claim to have been concerned about this global warming business for longer than most: after all, I have been charging a toll for years.

Perhaps because of my efforts to combat global warming, the day dawns cold and blustery; I therefore resolve to spend it in my Library amongst my papers. I soon turn up an old issue of the Radio Times carrying an article on the programme "I am Rather Well Known. May I Leave Now Please?" Though long forgotten, this was quite the thing in its day and frequently challenged "What’s My Line" and "Muffin the Mule" for pride of place in the ratings. IARWKMILNP (as it was popularly known) featured a number of celebrities of the day staying in a country house and suffering various indignities - an unsuitable choice of wine with the fish course, being obliged to go for a country walk when they would have been quite happy with the newspaper - to the amusement of the viewing millions. It was quite a coup when I was able to arrange for Clement Davies, then Liberal leader, to take part in the programme. That year the other contestants included such luminaries as Sherpa Tensing, Pat Smythe the show jumper, Gilbert Harding, Dame Anna Neagle and Wally Hammond. Unfortunately, poor Clement was voted out in the first round when the viewers‘ postcards were counted; I have always suspected low dealing from Muffin the Mule’s agent, as he had hoped that his client would take part. Nevertheless, our victory in the Torrington by-election came shortly after IARWKMILNP was shown, and I flatter myself that the show played no small part in it.

Association football is not what it was, what with all these foreign millionaires taking over. Chelsea is in the hands of a fellow called Abramovich who made his fortune buying and selling polonium; West Ham has just been purchased by an Icelandic biscuit magnate; Aston Villa has been sold to an American called "Randy Lerner" (what can the board have been thinking of?) In Rutland these matters are on a more stable footing, with the teams having remained in the control of the moguls of the pork pie and Stilton industries. This has done much for their financial stability over the years, though perhaps less for the players’ waistlines. So it is that today I travel to watch the Oakham Dynamos, only to see them soundly defeated.

I read that one of Blair’s confidants is feeling rather sore at being hauled in for questioning by the boys in blue and hopes to live to see the Prime Minister himself enjoying hospitality under similar circumstances. One of the best things about being the possessor of a well-established peerage is that one does not live in fear of Scotland Yard’s finest knocking on one’s door and demanding to know how one came by it. I am proud to say that my ancestor William de Bon Coeur came over with the Conqueror (even if some historians maintain that he was obliged to return to Normandy shortly afterwards).

Lord Bonkers, who was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10, opened his diary to Jonathan Calder.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Liberal England year: Part 2

Part 1 ended with June. In 2006, the next month was...

I rhapsodised about A Canterbury Tale, complained about the sums the BBC was paying to Jonathan Ross and Chris Moyles and disclosed my 10 most overrated films.

A possible saviour of English cricket was glimpsed. We did not know then how much he would soon be needed. Meanwhile I questioned the validity of Charles Kennedy's attempt to present himself as a man of strong opinions who had been neutered by the system and exposed the connections between John Reid's authoritarianism and his youthful Communism.

A couple of Guardian articles got it wrong on race and the government's contortions over choice in education found it supporting sectarianism in Northern Ireland. I had an article on Charles Kennedy printed by the Guardian's Comment is Free.

PC Basha was in the news for no good reason, while I discovered the story of the first school shooting (a bombing in fact) and more of the history of Bonkers Hall.

This month saw the death of my stepfather, since when blogging has been lighter. Nevertheless, Lord Bonkers helped me out and there was the story of David James MP and the Loch Ness Monster.

A parent complained about a swearing teddy bear from Shropshire and I pointed out one of the reasons why England are losing in Australia. And there was always Lembit to cheer us up.

The Liberal England year: Part 1

Last year I had the idea of looking back on the past 12 months of this blog, but did not get round to doing it. Now Mark Valladares at Liberal Bureaucracy has inspired me by doing something similar. So here goes...

This blog is not without influence: on 6 January I wrote Charles Kennedy must resign and on 7 January Charles Kennedy resigns. I was also inspired by the travails of Oaten to write a survey of past Liberal scandals. By the time it appeared Simon Hughes was in the Mulligatawny too.

I explained why I voted for Chris Huhne as leader. Much good it did him, though nothing that has happened since has persuaded me that this was the wrong way to vote. Mostly, though, I was concerned with Miss Marple.

A new Lib Dem star was born. Not Ming, you booby, but Elspeth. Me? I questioned government support for elite athletes and visited the New Art Gallery, Walsall.

Badgers threatened democracy in Southend, I wrote about the first car bomb and the BBC showed The Lost World of Friese-Greene.

A full month: I contributed to The Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze and wrote several postings on education - the best of them largely a quotation from John Stuart Mill. I also had a go at both Polly Toynbee and David Aaronovitch and recalled the lost hobby of MP spotting.

I discovered the unexpected educational history of David Lammy, helped in the Bromley by-election and might have been killed by the Shropshire Star.

Part 2 this way.

Repatriating powers from Europe

Liberal Review has rediscovered my review of The Orange Book and reprinted a couple of paragraphs.

Rather to my surprise, they read quite well.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock,
"Now they are all on their knees",
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know",
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Thomas Hardy

Lembit in the clear

On Thursday we reported that the Shropshire Star had reported that Lembit Opik is "to be quizzed by Liberal Democrat officials following nationwide publicity surrounding the new love in his life".

Today the fount of all useful knowledge says:
Liberal Democrat leaders in Mid Wales have called off a meeting with Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik over national publicity surrounding his personal life.

In a statement, they said they were “fully satisfied” that the end of his relationship with TV weather presenter Sian Lloyd, and his new affair with Cheeky Girl Gabriela Irimia, was “entirely private”, and had “no political implications”.
Mind you:
But in Newtown, members of the public shouted “cheeky cheeky” at Mr Opik as he walked up Broad Street in the town centre yesterday.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol

There is a good seasonal entry by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst on the OUP blog looking at the extraordinary career of this Dickens story.

He ends on a thoughtful note:
one wonders what Dickens would have made of the regular sight in London or New York of happy audiences leaving the movie theater after a seasonal showing of Scrooged or The Muppet Christmas Carol and carefully stepping over the beggars on the sidewalk.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Putting on the veil

Brendan O'Neill writes about the hijab on Comment is Free and gets it right:
When a woman donned the burka in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan she became just another blue sheet drifting through the streets, indistinguishable from all the other women; a nobody, a non-person, just as the Taliban desired it. But when a woman in Britain puts on the hijab or niqab or burka, she immediately stands out from the crowd and turns heads.

It is the Islamist equivalent of becoming a goth and going out in public with jet black hair and garish black make-up: you know people will gawp at you and wonder about you. That is partly why you do it. Those who claim that young British Muslims' penchant for putting on the veil shows the rising influence of radical Islamism, of outdated, archaic beliefs, are missing the point. The fashion for the veil is very contemporary indeed.

How the child protection industry stole Christmas

Over-cautious child protection policies are blighting Christmas events – from the vetting of Santas and bell ringers, to bans on parents taking photos of Nativity plays...
...says the Manifesto Club.

Touch my bum this is life

The Shropshire Star reports:

Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik is to be quizzed by Liberal Democrat officials following nationwide publicity surrounding the new love in his life.
And adds a little ominously:
Increasingly people in Montgomeryshire have been voicing concern in recent months that their MP was making headlines in national newspapers for reasons other than his political work.
My title, of course, is taken from the Cheeky Girls' classic "The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)".

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

One of the finest films ever made

I have been known to write enthusiastically about Jack Clayton's 1967 film Our Mother's House - its music in particular.

But I am nothing next to Scott Murray in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Gloriously photographed by Larry Pizer and with an unforgettably haunting score from Georges Delerue, this film is near perfect. Bogarde has never been so compelling or sinister, a group of child actors never so uniformly stellar. Tender, bittersweet and unlikely to ever be forgotten, this is one of the finest films ever made.

Lib Dems and a basic income

Stumbling and Mumbling asks:
Are the Lib Dems moving towards advocating a citizens' basic income? Though this speech by Ming Campbell doesn't explicitly say so, the move is implicit, in two senses.

Apologies for the break in service

I am sorry not to have posted anything here for a while. I have been busy with work and family responsibilities since the death of my stepfather last month.

I don't intend to stop writing this blog, but may not be able to post as often as I used to.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Market Harborough Rail Users

The week's good cause: Harborough Rail Users.

Harborough woman gives birth to cat: Latest

In February of last year I reported that a Market Harborough woman had given birth to a cat in 1569. Well, news was almost slow to reach us.

Now the Scotsman has more on the tale.

Kew was like that

My House Points column from Friday's Liberal Democrat News.

Carrying the banner

I was never a member of CND, even in its second heyday in the 1980s. But I did end up carrying the Richmond banner on a march.

That was because I had been out recruiting Liberal members. One charming family asked me in, offered me a sherry and, though they declined to join the party, made a donation. We fell to discussing the forthcoming march. I said that I had some sympathy for CND but did not support all its views. They convinced me that you didn’t have to like everything about an organisation to march with it. Kew was like that.

What worried me about CND then was its conviction that if Britain gave up its nuclear weapons we would set a moral example to the rest of the world. That attitude always seemed a leftover from the Empire. Britain getting rid of its weapons would not have made a blind bit of difference to anyone.

Which brings us to Monday’s statement on Trident by Tony Blair. I don’t buy the argument that Britain giving up its nuclear weapons will influence other nations. If I were the dictator of a rogue state – and I have had offers – determined to have nuclear weapons, I would not be influenced by what Britain did either way.

For Liberal Democrats there are two questions to be answered and our apparent new policy of cutting back the warheads and waiting to see what happens does not really engage with either of them.

The first is whether we think Trident too expensive because we see a greater need for troops and conventional weapons in the future. The answer to that depends on how we see Britain’s role in the world. Under Paddy Ashdown we were all in favour of intervention overseas to safeguard human rights. Now we are more sceptical.

The second question is whether we could sell that idea of unilateral nuclear disarmament to the British people. Blair certainly decided that it could not be done – he threw away his CND badge and invented New Labour. And it has been suggested to me that the working party that drew up our new policy on Trident was more afraid of the Daily Telegraph than Britain’s enemies.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why England are losing in Australia

Well, one reason anyway.

Two-nil down, England must think about changing their team. Yet their next match is little better than a beer match - a two-day game in which an England Invitation XI will play another invitation team. And the England side will include three retired players: Alec Stewart, Robin Smith and Adam Hollioake. This is hardly a fixture calculated to give England's fringe players serious practice. And the picture was hardly better before the first test.

It didn't used to be like this. I have in front of me Mike Brearley's book on his 1978-9 tour of Australia when his side beat a weakened Australia 5-1. Before the first test that year England played four four-day matches and there were more later in the tour, including one against Western Australia in which England were bowled out for 144 and 126 but still won by 140 runs.

A few years later this was still the norm. Someone told the young Phil DeFreitas not to go on the tour simply for the experience but to try to force his way into the test team. He did try and succeeded, forming part of England's opening attack last time we won in Australia.

Quite how someone like Liam Plunkett could set himself to make the test team is hard to see. There are simply no serious matches for him to play in.

This is not a sinister Australian plot. It is just one more way in which commercialisation threatens to ruin sport. Which TV station wants to show England vs New South Wales when they could be televising another one-day international?

The cry of the wheway

It was good to see Rob Wheway quoted extensively in the Guardian yesterday on the decline of children's outdoor play and of community more generally:
As we turn a corner into the road where he grew up with his parents, two brothers, two sisters and plenty of playmates, he recalls his childhood. "We knew all the neighbours and everybody looked out for one another," he says

Most neighbourhoods are no longer like that, he admits, "which helps to explain why fear is spreading among adults about those children who are out on the streets, particularly the older ones. When I go on to estates, people complain about youngsters [but they are] doing nothing more than they themselves did at that age. Kids have always been noisy, just as teenagers have always 'hung around'. It only becomes frightening when you don't know them or their parents."
The whole article is in accord with the grazed knees and jumpers for goalposts ethos of this blog.

Rob was a stalwart of the old Liberal Party and, though I met him at the Lib Dem Conference a couple of years ago, I believe he is now a Liberal councillor in Kidderminster.

His name gave rise to one of Lord Bonkers' favourite birds - an honour it shares with the hamwee.

Merry fuggin Christmas

A seasonal story:
Harrods has sacked a Father Christmas who made "inappropriate" remarks to customers at its flagship store in Knightsbridge.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Carnival of the Liberals

Those nice people at Carnival of the Liberals have included my posting on the Orkney satanic abuse case in their selection of the 10 best Liberal postings from the last year.

As you would expect, there's lots of good stuff to enjoy. The Carnival also has a home page.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

English cricket: It gets worse

Last summer this blog got very excited about the Yorkshire leg-spinner and batsman Adil Rashid. We rejoiced at his magnificent county debut and all-round performance for the England under 19 team.

Now news reaches us that he has been resting since then with a stress fracture of his back. It doesn't sound too serious, but we hope the saviour of English cricket will be fully fit again soon.

We shall have to win back the Ashes in 2009.

The Telford Panther

Only in the Shropshire Star.

Monday, December 04, 2006

It was 30 years ago today

Benjamin Britten died on 4 December 1976.

To mark this anniversary, Tony Palmer's Prix Italia-winning documentary about Britten, "A Time There Was", has been released on DVD.

Digitally restored, it features a wealth of performance extracts and interviews with a host of Britten's friends and colleagues, including Leonard Bernstein, Imogen Holst, Janet Baker and Peter Pears, as well as his siblings, staff and Aldeburgh associates.

Greer: Take your Golden Bull and stuff it

I won't hear a word against Germaine Greer. She may be batty, but she is magnificent.

In today's Guardian she tells the Plain English Campaign what it can do with its Golden Bull award. She rightly argues that the campaign is guilty of ignorance and crude anti-intellectualism.

A couple of thoughts on Trident

First, where did this new Liberal Democrat policy come from? As Linda Jack points out, it has been approved neither by the party's Federal Policy Committee nor by Conference.

The last I heard a working party was drawing up a new policy to bring to FPC. Someone suggested to me that it was not clear from its proceedings whether the party was more worried about the threat from international terrorism or the threat from the Daily Telegraph.

Second, the performance of the Conservative benches in the Commons today showed that the party has learnt nothing from its error over the Iraq war. They seemed outraged that the Liberal Democrats were disagreeing with a Labour government - a strange position for a Conservative to hold.

Deep down the Conservatives still believe that this government is insufficiently pro-American and that one day the people will turn to them as a result. Yet I suspect that the voters who are going to desert Labour next time because Tony Blair has not been close enough to George W. Bush form a very select group.

A depressing and harrowing book

The Daily (Maybe) has been reading an encyclopedia of executions. He writes:
I don't believe I've ever read such a depressing and harrowing book.
Want to be depressed and harrowed too? Read his posting.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Tim Worstall's Britblog Roundup

No. 94 is now in place.

Naked to the ballot box

The BBC website reveals (a couple of days after it was on the Today programme):

A relative of Labour icon Aneurin Bevan will fight his old seat as a Tory in next year's Welsh assembly election.

Great-great-nephew Thomas Goodhead, 24, an Oxford law student, will be Blaenau Gwent Conservative candidate in May.

Thinking woman's crumpet beaten in Canada reports:
Stephane Dion, a former environment minister who entered politics a decade ago to fight separatism in his native province of Quebec, won the Liberal Party of Canada's leadership race today.

Dion beat former Harvard University academic Michael Ignatieff, the race's front-runner throughout the nine-month campaign, on the fourth ballot.

Cameron: Back me and lose

The BBC reports:
Conservative leader David Cameron has told his party it must back his drive to modernise or face a fourth consecutive general election defeat.
Obviously, Cameron feels obliged to play down the difficulty of the task he faces in bringing the Conservatives back to power. If he is to become prime minister, it is overwhelmingly likely that it will take him two elections to get there.

The really hard thing for him will be to avoid being knifed by his party after he loses the first of those elections.

Friday, December 01, 2006

From pig to man, and from man to pig

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News.

Explosive questions

Adam Ingram, the defence minister, had to defend British forces’ use of cluster bombs last week. Martin Caton, the Labour MP for Gower, used an adjournment debate to call on the government to support international moves to ban the weapons.

You can see why. A cluster bomb contains anything up to 2000 bomblets, many of which fail to explode at the time and can maim and kill civilians years afterwards. People are still dying in Vietnam from bombs dropped by the Americans. In Kosovo unexploded bomblets have caused more deaths than landmines. As many as 70 per cent of the bomblets dropped by Israel on Lebanon may have failed to explode, and Hezbullah used them against civilian targets in Israel too.

Ingram began by complaining about something Willie Rennie had said at prime minister’s questions. Willie had claimed that Ingram “strongly advocated” the use of cluster bombs.

Given the enthusiasm with which Ingram went on to defend their use, it is hard to see what he was complaining about. Besides, I doubt that Lib Dem MPs had forgotten his performance at the first defence questions of this new parliament.

Then Tim Farron had asked why the government was refusing to support a ban. In reply Ingram has asked where it would end. Did Farron want British troops to have no weapons at all?

If that doesn’t win this year’s Most Stupid Reply by a Minister Award there will be a stewards’ inquiry.

Ingram is not the most attractive figure on the government front bench. Thinking of him, it is hard not to remember the end of Animal Farm. You will recall there was a terrible row when Napoleon and Mr Pilkington simultaneously played the ace of spades: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Both must have looked like Adam Ingram.

And beyond his porcine qualities, Ingram’s performance in Caton’s adjournment debate tells us something important about the way this government has lost the plot. Once Labour ministers were photographed on the beach at party conference, taking part in the campaign against land mines.

Today they are opposing the same pressure groups by defending the use of cluster bombs.

You're sure of a big surprise

There is no doubt about the story of the day in the Shropshire Star:

Storm over ’swearing’ toy

Bosses at a Shropshire toy-making factory have defended a talking teddy bear which a customer accused of swearing.

Supermarket giant Tesco pulled the bears from the shelves at one of its Midland megastores after a customer complained.

Tesco chiefs have been investigating the claim to ensure it was a one-off. But bosses at Telford-based Golden Bears are adamant the toy does not swear.

Not that everything to do with teddy bears in Shropshire this is week is so amusing. On Monday the Merrythought factory in Ironbridge - Britain's answer to Steiff - closed down.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sarah Teather goes one better

I have been known to poke gentle fun at the tendency of Liberal Democrat education spokesmen to complain about "a two-tier service". (Try Wednesday, Monday, Sunday or Tuesday.)

Tonight I can reveal a worrying development: Sarah Teather has sighted the first three-tier service.

Church conversion

We all know that Britain is becoming a more secular society. Churches are being converted into nightclubs.

But not in Shropshire:

Nightclub converted into church

For some reason this reminds me of Cows - a situation comedy written by Eddie Izzard. The cows in question lived in a barn conversion. It used to be a cottage and they converted it into a barn.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bad Sex in Fiction Award 2006

The BBC reports:
Iain Hollingshead has won the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award 2006 with his first novel Twenty Something.
Fisking Central has an extract.

White House aide "ashamed" at treatment of Blair

Powerful stuff on the front page of tomorrow's Times:
In a devastating verdict on Tony Blair’s decision to back war in Iraq and his “totally one-sided” relationship with President Bush, a senior US State Department official has said that Britain’s role as a bridge between America and Europe is now “disappearing before our eyes”.

Kendall Myers, a State Department analyst, disclosed that for all Britain’s attempts to influence US policy in recent years, “we typically ignore them and take no notice — it’s a sad business”.

He added that he felt “a little ashamed” at Mr Bush’s treatment of the Prime Minister, who had invested so much of his political capital in standing shoulder to shoulder with America after 9/11.
The story quotes Ming Campbell:
“These remarks reflect a real sense of distaste among thinking Americans for Mr Blair’s apparent slavish support for President Bush . . . The special relationship needs to be rebalanced, rethought and renewed.”
Look too for Denis MacShane making a fool of himself.

Arthur Marshall and Monty Python

There is nothing new under the sun, not least in comedy. I once had a letter published in the London Review of Books pointing out that Christopher Isherwood had exploited the comic potential of the name "Darling" long before the writers of Blackadder.

I thought I had discovered a similar example the other day. In his Whimpering in the Rhododendrons - a lighthearted social history of the English prep school - Arthur Marshall recalled that:
Another headmaster had a rich voice with a trace of a Yorkshire accent and was unable to pronounce the letter "r", the boys naturally looking keenly forward to the Passiontide lesson in Chapel, "... and Bawabbas was a wobber".
I wondered if the Monty Python people had read Marshall's book before writing The Life of Brian. Probably not, given that the film came out in 1979 and the book was published in 1982. So it is just a coincidence.

Another headmaster Marshall mentions was in the habit of beginning prayers with: "Dear Lord, doubtless Thou knowest that in the Daily Telegraph this morning..."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Who's the tosser now?

The Sun puts it nicely:
In the same month the Tories launched a website to try and teach us about debt problems, figures revealed today show the party owed £35million in unpaid loans.

The Conservatives have the biggest debt burden of a major political party, according to statastics released by the Electoral Commission, which is monitoring how many loans are paid.
It just goes to show that inside all of us lives a conniving, dirty little parasite, the tosser within. He wants you to spend, spend and keep spending until you’re in terrible debt.

Graham Roope

Graham Roope, the former England batsman and notable slip fielder, has died at the age of 60.

When I was young, he was one those batsman (Peter Parfitt, John Hampshire, Frank Hayes) who would regularly be picked for a couple of tests and then be dropped, only to reappear again a couple of series later.

A few years after that, Matthew Engel suggested that there were three rules for new selectors:
  • Never interrupt the Chairman of Selectors;
  • Don't have more than two glasses of port after dinner;
  • If in doubt, drop Randall.
Roope suffered from a similar attitude on the part of the selectors.

Cricinfo, as ever, has the best obituary. It records that he was batting at the other end when Geoff Boycott completed his 100th century during the Headlingley test in 1977. What it doesn't say (and the story in confirmed by the Craven Herald) is that he was also batting with John Edrich when the Surrey opener reached the same landmark that season.

Uncanny, wasn't it?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Save Our Waterways

As well as the Liberal Democrats' Canal Cuts Are Nuts campaign, there is a Save Our Waterways site. Both exist to protest against the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs's cuts in funding for the inland waterways.

The real political issue behind this, as I have argued before, is the way that money for "rural affairs" goes overwhelmingly to subsidise the farming interest, even though the rural economy takes in much more than just agriculture.

Narrow boat wars

Britain's canal users took to the water yesterday to protest about cuts in the funding of British Waterways. The navigation was blocked by boats in many places, including Foxton in Leicestershire and Market Drayton in Shropshire.

Chris Huhne and the Liberal Democrats have launched their own campaign on the subject: Canal Cuts Are Nuts.

Photograph borrowed from the Malcolm Saville Society site. (Well, I was on that walk.)

Nick Clegg: Why we need a Freedom Bill

The Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary has an article on the eGov monitor site:
The current Labour government is addicted to legislating; this has led to the curtailment of freedoms, confusion in business and crisis in our public services. In less than a decade in power the Blair government has clocked up over 50 Home Office Bills and created more than three thousand new criminal offences. They have added over a hundred thousand new pages of legislation to the statue book; the equivalent of more than two hundred copies of ‘War and Peace.’

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Who is helping Alan Johnson's campaign?

The Daily thinks it knows.

Labour disarray in Rochdale

Interesting news from a seat the Lib Dems won from Labour at the last election.

LabourHome reports:

Labour's parliamentary selection process in Rochdale is in disarray. The constituency party's general committee was due to draw up shortlist last Saturday (November 18). However, things came to a halt when the local party passed a motion of no confidence in the selection process.

Local members were unhappy about the number of people allowed on the shortlist. It had been understood this would consist of six names. However, regional Labour Party officials ruled that, as only two women had applied, there should be a shortlist of five: two women and three men.

Local members were concerned that the shortlist was deliberately being manipulated in order to exclude Afzal Khan, a Manchester councillor, who had received the highest number of nominations.

Friday, November 24, 2006

English footballers' nicknames

My theory is that the historic underachievement of the England football team is inextricably linked to the poor quality of our footballers’ nicknames.

So writes Duleep Allirajah on Spiked. Hear him out:

It’s just as well Ferenc Puskás defected to Spain rather than England, otherwise he’d have ended up being called Fezza.

David Cameron's great-great-great-great-great-granddad

As tells it:
William succeeded his brother, George IV, and was welcomed with open arms by the British public, who had grown weary of the excesses of the fourth George. William possessed an unassuming character, exemplary private life and disdain for pomp and ceremony. Court life became somewhat lackluster, adding to the generally low opinion that had formed concerning the monarchy. William did little to counteract such feelings, but never generated the embarrassment and scandal of his Hanoverian predecessors.

Information on Cameron's descent from the Sailor King here.

Tories are tossers says Vince Cable

Go, Vince, go:
"This new Conservatives web site is an insult to hard working people who through rising house prices, and pressure on family budgets have no alternative but to borrow.

"It is also an attack on almost all British students who are being forced into debt by top-up and tuition fees, as well as living costs.

"This is the kind of insensitive crass nonsense one might expect from a party led by rich young men, who have never had to balance a budget in their lives.

"To describe people in debt as tossers shows just how out of touch the Tory party still is.

"Given that the Conservatives themselves are in £26m of debt, and that the last Conservative Government were responsible for the highest level of repossessions on record, as well as plunging thousands of families into negative equity, maybe they should get their own house in order before criticising others.
Editor's note: David Cameron is the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of William IV (from the Scotsman via Recess Monkey).

Assembled with spare parts from other politicians

It's Friday, so it must be time for my House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Centrist compulsion

Somehow the different parts of Ruth Kelly do not fit together. The deep voice and the urchin haircut. Her humble background and the expensive private schools she attended - Millfield’s prep school and Westminster. Her rapid rise to cabinet rank while having four children. She is a minister assembled with spare parts from other politicians.

An Australian heckler once called out to the England spinner: “Lend us your brain, Tufnell, I’m building an idiot.” On Monday, opening that day’s debate on the Queen’s speech. Kelly had been given the brain of the most uncritical Labour loyalist. She unfolded a tale of how, in 1997, the government had inherited a country mired in misery. Today, we are all basking on the sunlit uplands of prosperity and peerless public services.

Kelly’s portfolio - ‘Communities and local government’ - is also made up of parings from other ministers’ responsibilities. Which is why the ensuing discussion ranged so widely. Joan Ruddock talked about Palestine: Charles Hendry talked about young offenders. Andrew Smith was concerned about unitary local government and climate change: Elliot Morley was concerned about reusable nappies.

For the Liberal Democrats, Andrew Stunell called for a revival of local democracy: “Public participation in elections is at its lowest level ever. The scope for independence for local councils to meet the needs of their communities has been more restricted by this government than by any previous government.” Andrew’s remedies for this were to return the national business rate to the control of local councils and also the “huge sums of money being spent by quangos in each local authority area”.

Ruth Kelly’s approach was very different. Talking about the need to isolate Mulsim extremists, she said: “It is … important that we build up the government office network and work with local authorities.” This look forward to a growth in quangos - a shadow local government run from Whitehall. At best, elected local councillors would be offered the change to work with this government apparatus.

This urge to centralise should not be a surprise coming from New Labour. Last week, Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, suggested parents would be taught nursery rhymes by the new ‘national parenting academy’.

Unlike Ruth Kelly, Labour policy fits together only too well.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Friends of Statewatch

The excellent Statewatch site wants you to be its friend:

Your support is crucial. By becoming a Friend of Statewatch and donating just £10 a month or more you can support future monitoring of the state and civil liberties. As a Friend of Statewatch you will receive all Statewatch publications (the quarterly bulletin, planned yearbook and research findings) as well as access to Statewatch's subscriber websites (SEMDOC and the Statewatch database).
"But what is Statewatch?" I hear you ask:
Statewatch is not a “lobby group”, it is an independent research and education trust operated by a registered charity. Statewatch is not aligned to any political party or political agenda, it is dedicated to the preservation of civil liberties and democratic standards in Europe.

Polly puts the Tories off

Not everyone in the Conservative Party wants to see its philosophy bought in from La Toynbee. British Politics has the quotes.

The sty's the limit

The BBC reports:
Norfolk MP Richard Bacon has called for pig farmers to get a bigger role in providing school meals.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Michael Moore biography

I have been sent a copy of Emily Schultz's biography of Michael Moore (the American film director not the Lib Dem MP).

If anyone is interested in reviewing it for Liberator, please drop me an e-mail.

Independent comment is free

In an unannounced move, the Independent seems to have made its comment articles freely available. In recent years you have had to pay to access most of them.

Thanks to Chicken Yoghurt.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How Conrad Black ate the Conservative Party

A good article by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in today's Guardian. He looks at the malign influence that Conrad Black, Barbara Amiel and their followers had on the British Conservative Party through their control of the Telegraph titles and the Spectator.

They used this control to push American-style neoconservative policies, yet as Wheatcroft says:
What always struck me was how dissonant such views must have seemed to ordinary English Tories. They aren't like that at all; not ideological, not fanatical, not even very pro-American or keen on the Iraq war. So David Cameron has noticed, even if the new owners and editors of the Telegraphs haven't.
He suggests that the fact that Black and many of his group were Canadian led them to try to be more American than the Americans. And he has particular fun with Mark Steyn.

Steyn is a good film critic, able to write intelligently about unintelligent films. But the fact that for several years his was the predominant voice on foreign affairs in the British Conservative press was simply bizarre. Wheatcroft says:
For some reason, Steyn no longer writes for the Telegraphs and Spectator as he used to, pronouncing from New Hampshire with enviable self-confidence on the affairs of Iraq or anywhere else.

Apart from predicting that George Bush would win the 2000 presidential election in a landslide, Steyn said at regular intervals that Osama bin Laden "will remain dead". Weeks after the invasion of Iraq he assured his readers that there would be "no widespread resentment at or resistance of the western military presence"; in December 2003 he wrote that "another six weeks of insurgency sounds about right, after which it will peter out"; and the following March he insisted that: "I don't think it's possible for anyone who looks at Iraq honestly to see it as anything other than a success story."
I also recommend Wheatcroft's book The Strange Death of Tory England.

Sandy Walkington to fight St Albans again

The Hertfordshire Advertiser reports:
More than two decades after he twice fought the St Albans Parliamentary seat for the Liberal Democrats, Sandy Walkington ... is hoping to make it third-time lucky.

Sandy was overwhelmingly selected as his party's prospective parliamentary candidate for the next General Election at a standing-room-only hustings meeting at Sandringham School Hall on Saturday.

He was the Liberal/SDP Alliance candidate for St Albans in 1983 and 1987, standing against Tory Peter Lilley on both occasions and polling more than 20,000 votes each time.
Sandy said this week: "I have always regarded winning St Albans for the Liberal Democrats as unfinished business. We know that we won the St Albans part of the constituency in 1983 when it was twinned with Harpenden.

"St Albans is now a three-way marginal at Parliamentary level but has a clear Liberal Democrat local government majority in terms of councillors elected and votes cast. My task is to convert that local government majority into a LibDem victory at the next general election."

Polly Toynbee in a nutshell

It's not surprising the government is outraged by some local campaigns.

For a critique of today's column see Factchecking Pollyanna.

Respect to Tim Worstall too.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The tallest MP ever

Last year I reported that, at 6' 7", Sir Louis Gluckstein was the tallest MP ever. He represented Nottingham East between 1931 and 1945.

It seems that the current Tory MP for Shrewsbury, Daniel Kawczynski, beats him by a short head.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Live blogging The Return of the King

I'm off to listen to The Westminster Hour, but it's not looking good. The orcs are winning a lot of line-out ball and the elves are making too many simple handling errors.

Now Frodo has been caught by a spider.

Next day. Damn! I wish I'd stayed up now.

Another guilty pleasure

Remember Q magazine's list of guilty pleasures? I posted my own list back in August and have just thought of another one:
  • Bright elusive butterfly of love - Val Doonican.

A village called Milton Keynes

Distinguished blogger Paul Linford believes that "until the 1970s Milton Keynes did not actually exist as a place".

Not so.

I refer the Hon. Gentleman to a posting on my anthology blog Serendib. In his Buckinghamshire Footpaths, published in 1949, J.H.B. Peel wrote:
In Broughton you turn rightward along a lane into Milton Keynes, as fine a small English village as you are likely to encounter in these parts, or, for that matter, in any other parts.

Milton Keynes is a homely place. Fields encroach upon the dusty by-lane, and brim over the scattered cottages. There is nothing here of the conventional beauty spot, for indeed no one seems to have heard of the place, save the handful of its inhabitants; and these think so well of it that they rarely leave it, and then only upon compulsion like Falstaff.

I have known and loved Milton Keynes since I was a boy, but at no time in my legion pilgrimages thither have I met a stranger.

Iain Dale is a brave man

You have to admire someone who dares meet Ron "Chopper" Harris and Anne Widdecombe in the same afternoon.

Brian Glanville adds: The presence of rugged defenders like Eddie McCreadie and Anne Widdecombe gave Chelsea players like Charlie Cooke and Alan Hudson the time and space to express themselves.

Liberator 314 published

Liberator 314 has been published and the magazine's website now carries some of the articles from it. These include Commentary and Radical Bulletin, as well as Lord Bonkers' Diary (which I posted here the other day).

This issue also includes an article by David Boyle, who reviews the three books of Liberal Democrat essays that appeared for the Brighton Conference: Community Politics Today, Liberalism - Something to Shout About and Britain After Blair.

I shall not quote all of it here, so let me quote one paragraph at random. Writing of Liberalism - Something to Shout About David says:
That said, it includes a chapter that, for me, beats all the others in any of the books: Jonathan Calder’s brilliant essay about policy towards children, in which he asks why it is that, the more children’s rights are asserted, the less rights children seem to have.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

"Read this or the corgi gets it"

My House Points column from yesterday's Liberal Democrat News. It's remarkable how far a corny pun can get you.

No kidding

It’s the goat I feel sorry for. One minute it is leaping from rock to rock (or whatever it is that goats do); the next is has been slaughtered, skinned and had some appallingly right-wing policies inscribed on its hide.

For the Queen’s own copy of the Queen’s speech is traditionally written on goatskin. Some historians believe that this practice is where the phrase "nanny state" comes from.

Certainly, last year’s goat died largely in vain. The Tories have published research showing that half of the 30 bills she was made to announce last year ("Read this or the corgi gets it") have failed to make it into law. They have been scrapped, delayed, watered down or amended because they have turned out to be unworkable.

Should we hope that this year’s beast will turn out to have made a more worthwhile sacrifice? There were useful measures on pension reform and climate change in the speech, but it is hard to feel enthusiastic about many of the other measures it contained.

The overwhelming feeling is that we have been here before. As this was a New Labour speech, it promised more criminal justice legislation. Yet the government has reached the point where it is bringing in new laws to overturn its own ‘reforms’ of a few years ago.

As Ming Campbell said: "After nearly ten years in office the government and the Prime Minister are still chasing the same elusive goals and the same elusive headlines."

If there was a theme to the speech it was not the ‘security’ – lumping together international terrorists and unruly teenagers as though they are part of the same problem – we were promised beforehand. Instead its theme was ‘mistrust’ – mistrust of the British people.

We were promised a rush towards identity cards, an end to jury trials in some fraud cases and powers to detain mentally ill people who have committed no crime. Elsewhere there were hints that, if he becomes prime minister, Gordon Brown will again seek to bring in powers to detain terrorism suspects for up to 90 days.

Ming talked of "a rush from judgement towards legislation. The government suffers from a statutory addiction."

He was right. Hey Tony, leave them goats alone.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Paul Keetch to leave the Commons

Liberal Democrat Voice tells us that Paul Keetch is to stand down as MP for Hereford at the next election. As the site adds:
Keetch’s seat will be a prime target for ambitious PPCs - with a majority of just 962, Hereford is winnable next time, but needs a lot of attention. Paul Keetch has pledged to work closely with his successor.
As a service to those ambitious PPCs, here is a link to the Hereford tourism site and a picture of the catherdral.

Why did Charles Kennedy miss the Queen's speech?

The Scotsman has the (wholly creditable) answer.

A short history of John Reid

Blood & Treasure reminds us of some of the less glorious incidents in Reid's political career.

There's nothing that has not appeared on this blog before, but we can't be reminded too often.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Blair's policy is not new and is similar to President Bush's policy"

The Guardian sends out a weekly e-mail on politics called The Backbencher. You can subscribe via the paper's website.

The latest issue has a good story on the White House's comment on Tony Blair's recent comments on Iraq and the Middle East:

You thought Tony had suggested that engaging with Iran, Syria and the Middle East peace process might be the key to sorting out Iraq? How wrong you were.

The Backbencher always enjoys the White House's Setting the Record Straight feature, and this week it tackles the misreporting of the PM's speech on Monday. DC-based reporters claimed Tony had shifted his position. London-based ones said he wasn't proposing anything new and, if he was, certainly tried not to give that impression.

If you think those reports don't necessarily contradict each other, then you are wrong. Got that? Wrong. The line to take is this, and it's underlined for emphasis: "Prime Minister Blair's Policy Is Not New And Is Similar To President Bush's Policy."

More on the White House site.

The man who fought Edwina Currie and lived

Anders Hanson has more on his scoop from yesterday.

Disgruntled Radical

Welcome to another Liberally minded new blog: David Grace's Disgruntled Radical.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Beverley Hughes: Worse than the cure

On Sunday the Observer reported:

Many parents have lost confidence in how to bring up their children properly and feel inadequate, isolated and unsupported in coping with the pressures of modern family life, the government has warned.

Mothers and fathers often feel 'disempowered' as parents, and find it particularly difficult to enforce rules so their child does not misbehave, according to Beverley Hughes, the Minister for Children and Families.

In an interview with The Observer, Hughes voiced alarm that parents have much less faith than previous generations in their abilities to raise and guide their children, and wanted help to deal with their conduct.

I think there is a lot in what she says. The trouble is that the cure she proposes is quite likely to make things worse.

For the Observer report continues:

Hughes will announce plans tomorrow for a new National Academy for Parenting Practitioners to provide useful, reliable advice to parents and children's experts on what has been proven to work, which will start work in autumn 2007.
If you are told that an an activity needs a "national academy" is that likely to make you more or less confident of your own powers as someone without formal qualifications?

And there is something odd about the idea that the new academy will advise children's experts. Shouldn't it be the experts who are advising the state?

You don't have to be mad to write for The Times...

...but it certainly helps.

Matthew Turner points us to an article by Tim Hames from last month:
if the Americans opted to liberate Pluto tomorrow I would think to myself (i) that is a little odd, (ii) is it worth the effort when the place is not formally a planet anymore? and (iii) how can we ensure that there are seats in their spaceships for the Parachute Regiment?

Granny-bashing Labour councillor "fought with Edwina Currie"

As Anders Hanson demonstrates, Liberal Democrat blogs have all the best stories.

Monday, November 13, 2006

See you later, aggregator

Political Opinions brings together postings from British political blogs of all persuasions.

A bride too far

Yesterday's Sunday Times had an article on Elspeth (wife of Ming) Campbell's memories of her father Major-General Roy Urquhart.

As everyone knows by now, Urquhart was the character played by Sean Connery in the film A Bridge Too Far:
During the course of filming Urquhart got to know Connery and “because they both loved whisky and golf, they got on quite well”.
With apologies for the headline.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

For Remembrance Day

At a Calvary Near The Ancre

One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.

Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ's denied.

The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.

Wilfred Owen

Thanks to Stephen Tall and Benjamin Britten for inspiration.

BritBlog Roundup

Tim Worstall's latest selection is in place.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Small minds in some grey zone of human experience"

My House Points column from yesterday's Liberal Democrat News.

Risky business
In 1774 Edmund Burke (who was an Irish Whig and not the English Tory that most English Tories imagine) told his Bristol constituents that “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” In other words, MPs and councillors should do what they think is right, not what they think will be popular.

I was reminded of Burke’s words by the artwork Another Place -- the sculptor Antony Gormley's collection of 100 cast iron statues on Crosby beach. There a local Conservative councillor and prospective parliamentary candidate was quoted as saying she thought the work “brilliant”, and then persuaded the council to have it uprooted.

If you think something is brilliant, shouldn’t you be campaigning for it rather than against it?
A more complicated example was to be found on Monday when Henry Bellingham opened a debate on firework nuisance. The Tory MP for North West Norfolk (he lost the seat to Labour in 1997 and won it back in 2001) began with extravagant praise for a constituent who had collected a petition calling for an outright ban on the sale of fireworks. She was “indefatigable, resolute, determined and passionate”.

Yet it turned out that, despite helping deliver the petition to Number 10, Bellingham did not agree with her. He spoke engagingly of the pleasure he had derived from a recent family firework display. His tenuous argument was that unless the House agreed to further restrictions on fireworks a total ban was inevitable.

That counts as trying to slip your judgment through unobserved in a conspicuous display of industry.

Still, it was not the silliest argument we have heard on fireworks lately. Barry Sheerman described bonfire night as a “cataclysmic disaster” for the environment. Not just a disaster, you note, but a cataclysmic one - the very worst sort.

Never mind that the press could find no expert opinion to support him: Sheerman’s views are perfectly in tune with our times. As Anthony Gormley said of the removal of his sculptures: “There is no logic to this other than small minds in some grey zone of human experience wanting to deny the unusual … This is another example of risk-resistant Britain.”

Take me to your leader

The Shropshire Star tells us:
Britain is “wide open” to alien visitors and a department meant to look into UFO sightings has virtually “closed down”, a former Government expert warned today.
On the positive side, the report does mention Lembit Öpik once.

Friday, November 10, 2006

On the Brighton buses

During the last Liberal Democrat Conference I commented on Brighton and Hove's delightful practice of naming its buses after prominent local residents.

I have now found a page that lists all the people who have been honoured in this way and provides links to short biographies of them.

Hours of fun.

Simon Hoggart was once known as "Helene Middleweek"

At least that is what he said yesterday:
They made a wonderful row. Lord McNally, leader of the Lib Dems, then the lord speaker with whom, under the name of Helene Middleweek, I was at university, which makes me feel very old.

Apologies for lack of posting

I am sorry for the lack of posting this week. My stepfather died on Wednesday afternoon aged 89 and I have been busy supporting my mother and doing grown-up things like informing relatives and registering his death.

I have a little time between appointments now, so let's see if I can post some of the flippant material for which this blog is noted.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hunting on election day

Paul Walter is aghast that Dick Cheney has spent polling day hunting. "You couldn't make it up," he writes.

That is nothing.

Julian Critchley wrote in his memoirs A Bag of Boiled Sweets:

David James, who retired from Parliament as Member for Dorset North in 1979, was dotty. His reputation for eccentricity dated from 1964 when as Tory MP for Brighton, Kemptown, he lost his seat to Labour by seven votes. When, a few days after Alec Douglas-Home's defeat (and my own at Rochester), I went to Conservative Central Office to interview the then chairman of the party John Hare, I murmured some words of sympathy. We had, after all, just lost a general election after thirteen years in office.

"It's all that silly bugger David James's fault," cried Hare. "The fool spent most of the three-week campaign in Scotland looking for the Loch Ness Monster." Indeed, he had, and the tabloid press had been full of it. The papers claimed that every so often a cable would arrive from some godforsaken Scottish village addressed to the Kemptown Tory agent "Have almost found the Monster. Hope all goes well with the campaign."

Graham Poll and Chelsea

The people at Stamford Bridge are convinced that Graham Poll is biased against them.

Of course he is. He only booked John Terry twice on Sunday yet he sent him off.

A Shropshire Star classic

Joy over compost accolade

Civic leaders in Newport are wriggling with delight after their cemetery worm farm won an international accolade.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Lord Liverpool: Goodness gracious me

Moonlight Over Essex has discovered that Lord Liverpool, the long-serving but little remembered 19th century Tory prime minister, had a grandmother who was part Indian.

The belief that Winston Churchill had American Indian ancestry, by contrast, does not appear well founded.

Britain's largest cave rediscovered

The BBC records another triumph for the East Midlands:

A cave believed to be the biggest in Britain has been unearthed in the Peak District in Derbyshire.

Titan is thought to be almost 460ft (140m) deep, as high as the London Eye, sculpted out of limestone by rain water over millions of years.

Local potholer and underground explorer Dave Nixon led the team that discovered it, near Castleton.

He began searching for it after reading an account by an obscure 18th century academic in a university library.

Startling new research on reading

From the BBC:
Struggling young readers make dramatic improvements when they are given tailored one-to-one coaching by expert teachers, research suggests.
Who would have thought it?

Lord Bonkers' latest diary

Liberator 314 is out, so it is time to reproduce the latest Lord Bonkers Diary.

The morning’s newspapers are full of reports that the authorities once feared that militant Suffragettes were plotting to assassinate Asquith. The first Lady Bonkers, I am proud to say, was a great supporter of ‘Votes for Women’ and never slow to take action to further her cause – an observer once remarked that had she thrown herself under the King’s horse, the beast would have been stopped in its tracks, if not shunted back several yards. She was also, it has to be admitted, a crack shot, able to bring down a passing widgeon with a single barrel, who would often borrow my gentleman’s collapsible travelling rifle range if she was staying in Town. Yet I have no hesitation in maintaining that she was never involved in any scheme to bump off the Prime Minister: the unfortunate injuries suffered by the Master of Elibank here at the Hall one winter’s morning were agreed by all impartial observers to be entirely his own fault.

To York to conduct some delicate negotiations with the Joseph Rowntree Trust. You may recall that during the recent Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton Sir Menzies Campbell (as his friends call him) announced the establishment of a fund to help women and other minority candidates, the first £200,000 of which was to be provided by the aforementioned charity. Ever anxious to do my bit on behalf of the fairer sex, I asked some of our lady candidates what the greatest problem they face is; the general view was that having to look after children is a fearful bind when there is a constituency newspaper to distribute to one's deliverers or an interview to be given to one‘s local radio station. I have therefore reserved a number of places at the Bonkers' Home for Well-Behaved Orphans for the sole use of the children of female Liberal Democrat candidates in target seats. I wish to emphasise what an attractive offer this is: Here at the Home we offer what may fairly be called "wrap-around" care - particularly since the new wall was erected. We have also taken on board today's concern about child obesity, as anyone who studies the diet we offer will see. The purpose of today's negotiations in York was to ensure that the £200,000 was paid directly to me: the last thing we wish to see is this fund wasted in paying for red tape and pen-pushers.

Should one worry at reports that North Korea has tested its first atomic bomb? I think not. It happens that I visited Pyongyang recently and am therefore able to reveal that the people in that unfortunate land are poor as church mice. From my observations it is simply unthinkable that they could afford all the uranium – or whatever the boffins at the Ministry put in the wretched things – needed to make an A bomb. Nevertheless, one should not underestimate the ingenuity that smaller nations can display when planning their own defence: here in Rutland we were making good progress with a weapon employing extra mature Stilton (though it was eventually ruled illegal under Article IV of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention). Some will ask what explains the seismograph activity detected in Korea at the time of the supposed explosion: has it not occurred to them that one million peasants dressed in identical boiler suits and all shouting “Bang!” at the same time will have a tolerably large effect?

My own breakfast television station has enjoyed a chequered history – and one time it had to be rescued by a glove puppet named Rutland Rat – but these days it is on a firm footing. Watching the news I am shocked by the scenes it portrays: people without shelter, without food or drink, without hope. Yes, the people queuing to get into the Conservative Conference - simple-minded folk who ask no more than a chance to call for the return of the birch or applaud Ian Smith's regime in Rhodesia - are in terrible straits. My duty is clear: I have the Bentley loaded with luncheon baskets and set off for Bournemouth. I arrive to find a shadow minister pleading with the doorman: “But don’t you know who I am?” The doorman ponders a moment and replies “No.”

I have given strict instructions that should that swarthy little Maradonna fellow turn up at the Home he should be shown the door - and quite possibly the rough end of an orchard doughty too. He has a record of using illicit substances and some of us have not yet forgiven a certain handball yet either. All in all, he is not a suitable person to be a parent, as these “children’s rights campaigners” one hears quoted everywhere would no doubt agree. Incidentally, it is pleasing that these campaigners are devoting their efforts to keeping children in orphanages: at one time they used to try to spring them.

Passing through Winchester I feel suddenly peckish and – “any port in a storm” and all that – enter a McDonald’s restaurant. The table service proves disappointingly slow, but I am able to attract the manager’s attention eventually. The minion he dispatches to take my order is strangely familiar and when he asks “Um large or um regular?” I am able to put a name to a face. “Rising Star!! I exclaim, “What the devil are you doing here?” “Examining career opportunities after I leave Parliament” he says in his best Westminster voice, before lapsing into broad Cherokee: “Rising Star find new job. Um squaw make heap big trouble.”

To St Asquith’s where, I am happy to report, after poor Kennedy’s recent “difficulties with the script,” the Reverend Hughes is word perfect. His reading is taken from one of the gospels and I think there is a lot in what it has to say.

I am informed that my negotiations with the Rowntree Trust have borne fruit to such an extent that that august institution has donated two million pounds to the Liberal Democrats - no doubt there is something about my share to be found in the small print. After our experience with Mr Michael Brown, I hope that the party will exercise due diligence and ensure that Rowntree’s is a bona fide company. No doubt there will be volunteers to test its products.

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

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Gunpowder, treason and plot

Walking across Market Harborough last night, I was intrigued that the best firework display was that taking place at the town's Roman Catholic primary school.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Commons needs a cat

Tim Worstall argues that "our civilisation is disappearing down the plughole, sucked into a vortex of our own gross stupidity".

His evidence?

The Commons is infested with mice. Fair enough, old, Victorian, building, a thousand or two people wandering around, lots of cafeterias and dining rooms, lots of people using take away trays to eat at their desks and so on: sure, there will be mice around. It's even rumoured that the mice have become immune to poison and the pest control people doubt that they'll be able to eradicate them.

Now, given the accumulated human wisdom that is our inheritance as a civilization, what would be a rational thing to do? Why, for example, does damn near every farm in the country have a few cats sunning themselves on the hay bales (and those that don't usually have a couple of terriers scurrying around the yards)? Yes, well done, we'll control the mice by bringing in a predator or two.

Can we do this in the Commons?

The work appears to have forced the mice out into the open. Requests for a House of Commons cat to do its traditional job of catching vermin have been rejected by the "authorities" on health and safety grounds.
You have to admit he has a point. Tim does not give a link to the news story he is quoting, but there is a short item on the subject here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Islam and Liberalism

Theo "As I look out over this magnificent vista..." Butt-Philip has details of a John Stuart Mill Institute event being held at the National Liberal Club on 13 November.

Polly Toynbee is a snob

Here she is in today's Guardian, commenting on the IPPR report on British teens:
The number of badly behaved teens in Asbo-type trouble, drinking, taking drugs and having too-early sex mirrors the proportion born poor in their generation. As Nick Pearce, the IPPR director, says, this is all about class - again. There is no great mystery, no strange British pathology or innate savagery in our genes. These aimless, uncared-for young people are the price paid (mostly by them) for gross inequality of opportunity and reward.
Radical politics used to revolve around the belief that the poor are as good as the rich. In Toynbee's hands it has degenerated into the belief that the children of the poor - all of them - are a delinquent underclass. This is the crudest prejudice.

And Toynbee's answer? Inevitably, it is:
All schools should become "extended" 8am-to-6pm havens by 2010, offering breakfast, tea and after-school activities and activities that only the middle classes take for granted.
Why not take the children of the poor into care and have done with it? Clearly, the less time they spend with their parents the better.

House Points: The Iraq inquiry debate

My column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

2003 and all that

When Tobruk fell to Rommel on 29 June 1942, two Conservative MPs tabled a motion of no confidence in the direction of the war. Churchill mounted a robust defence of his premiership and received the support of 475 members. Even so, there were 25 votes against him and 27 abstentions.

That is how the Commons behaved when Britain was fighting for survival. On Tuesday, by contrast, ministers repeatedly told the House that even holding an inquiry into the Iraq war would be a mistake. In the clunking words of Margaret Beckett, there was a danger of "sending the wrong signals at the wrong time".

To be fair, as football managers say, it was William Hague who made the point that Commons debates were held about military events at the height of the first and second world wars. “People didn't say we mustn't ever debate these things because it might encourage the Germans."

But let’s see what Hague was saying last time the Iraq war was debated in the Commons. This was on March 18 2003 and it took the country to war. In those days life was simpler: “there are powerful moral arguments on the side of military action”; “in some of the opposition to the government's stance there is a hint of appeasement”; “The prime minister has put before the house the right decision. He deserves the support of honourable members in all parts of the house.”

And Hague was not alone. There were saner voices from the Tory benches - Kenneth Clarke, John Gummer and Douglas Hogg all voted against the government - but his party was largely enthusiastic for the Iraq war.

Iain Duncan Smith (remember him? me neither) said: “I hope and believe that … the suffering of the Iraqi people will be short-lived.” John Maples said: “If we withdrew our support for the alliance at this late stage, we would destroy the credibility of our foreign policy for a generation.“ Boris Johnson appeared to be calling for Zimbabwe to be invaded too.

Above all, Charles Kennedy was barracked unmercifully because the Tory benches were outraged that he was opposing the government.

The moral, as I am sure William Hague would agree, is that people should remember their country’s history. But we Liberal Democrats remember 2003 as well as 1942.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Walberswick to Dunwich

Last summer I walked along the sea wall from Walberswick to Dunwich. I am glad that I did, because it may no longer be possible.

The Guardian reports:

The washing away of sea defences on the Suffolk coast could have caused irreparable damage to a nature reserve that is home to one of Britain's rarest bird species, it was revealed today.

A combination of a surge tide and strong north-westerly winds destroyed a mile-long section of shingle and dune bank between Walberswick and Dunwich, north of Ipswich, yesterday.

It goes on to say that it is unlikely that the sea wall will be repaired because of the costs involved and the government's policy of "managed retreat" for vulnerable coastal stretches.

Dunwich is famous as the town that was lost to the sea, although ultimatley the changing course of the River Blyth had more to do with its decline than its eroding cliffs did.

Anyway, here is a plug for Bridge Nurseries and its tearoom and a picture of one of Dunwich's lost churches.

CCTV and the decline of public life

In my essay in Liberalism: Something to Shout About I wrote:

Then there is the depopulation of public space over the past 30 years. Semi-official figures like park-keepers and bus conductors have disappeared, largely out of a desire to save public money, and been replaced by technological alternatives. The result is a landscape less friendly to children - you try asking a CCTV camera for help if you have lost the bus fare home.

Inner Hippy has a post on the same theme, which takes the analysis further:
So what is the cost of saving all this money? An environment where people no longer feel protected by authority and where kids/hoodies/drunks/idiots are empowered to assume ownership of these public places - all because the boundaries have been removed. Cameras do not provide boundaries, they provide an intrusive and antagonistic presence that people do not respect or trust.
I am also reminded of a passage from Alexei Sayle's novel The Weeping Woman Hotel which I posted on Serendib:

those into whose charge fell the open spaces during the 1960s were having none of that old malarky - they couldn't quite explain to you how a bandstand could be oppressive of racial minorities while simultaneously putting down women, they just knew it somehow did.

Who is Guido Fawkes?

Not the chap with the pointy beard and the barrels of gunpowder, but the distinguished political blogger.

Tim Worstall points us to a Wikipedia article that gives the answer.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Another curiosity

The Nottinghamshire oilfield that helped win the Second World War:

Right at the very time the U-boats were having their best successes in the North Atlantic, the Oil fields surrounding Dukes Wood were having their most successful year, thanks to a large part by the efforts of the Americans who came over to drill the extra 106 wells needed at this vital time.

Because these oil wells were situated largely within wooded areas they managed to keep the knowledge of this strategic target from the attentions of enemy aircraft.

Not only were Americans recruited for this war effort but Italian prisoners of war were also used. By 1945 almost 240 wells were being operated and production had totaled 400000 tons (about 3 million barrels).

Respect to Charles Kennedy

Charles's contribution to the Iraq inquiry debate yesterday deserves to be celebrated.

First, a personal note:

Let me put on the parliamentary record the genuine gratitude of myself and my family to colleagues on both sides of the House, in all parties, for the expressions of goodwill and support that we have enjoyed and much appreciated over the course of the past few months. I am particularly grateful to be contributing to this debate, on this of all issues, which probably consumed more of my time as leader of the Liberal Democrats than just about any other, short of fighting general election campaigns.
Then some acute political points:
I recall the role played by the Conservatives. I do not want in any way to shatter the convoluted consensus that the former leader of the Conservative party, who is now its foreign affairs spokesman, sought to fashion earlier, but we should remember the time when Conservative Members were shouting out things like “Charlie Chamberlain”—showing, I always felt, a paucity of knowledge of the history of their own parliamentary party—and failing to ask the pertinent questions about what became known as the dodgy dossier.

I can tell the House—as I had my briefing in No. 10 a few minutes later—that the Prime Minister was as taken aback as anyone when the then Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), emerged from No. 10 Downing street and announced on its steps that war was now both inevitable and desirable, which was not even the official position of the Government at that point.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Non à Halloween

The BBC reports encouraging news from France:

Halloween is said to be dying in France after a short-lived bonanza, according to media reports.

It seems the festival, which came to prominence in the late 1990s, is in decline because it is perceived as "too American".

An association called No to Halloween - which was set up to combat the trend - has now wound down as a result of the festival's waning appeal.

It said Halloween was artificially inflated to serve commercial interests.

Norfolk Blogger does not like the new festival either. And I had my say last year:
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?

Curiosity of the Day

The result is in and (rustle, rustle) the winner is The Kinema in the Woods at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire.

Monday, October 30, 2006

When Mark Oaten nudged Edward Heath

There is a review of Greg Hurst's biography of Charles Kennedy on the Social Affairs Unit website. It includes a quotation from the book which reveals a hitherto unremarked service rendered to Kennedy by the member for Winchester:

Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten emerges as a Kennedy loyalist. This extended to an important role at Prime Minister's Question Time. Kennedy's performances were hesitant but his team:

became aware that the somnolent posture of Edward Heath beside him made the visual impression still worse. Each week thereafter Mark Oaten made a point of squeezing onto the bench next to Edward Heath and giving the former Prime Minister a vigorous nudge just before Charles Kennedy rose to speak.

Duncan Hannah

More on the painter of "Mystery at Nevill Holt" (or "Mystery at Bonkers Hall", as I think of it):
These days Duncan Hannah is known for his nostalgia-ridden figurative paintings that take their inspiration from 1930s England. But 25 years ago he had a brief career as an underground film actor, appearing in a series of black-and-white movies by Amos Poe that sought to transplant the Parisian cool of the early Nouvelle Vague to the heroin-infused punk-rock milieu of New York's Lower East Side.