Monday, July 31, 2006

Chris Read replaces Geraint Jones

A victory for the Campaign for Real Wicketkeepers - the mythical body that used to campaign for Jack Russell to keep for England rather than Alec Stewart.

The Guardian reports:
"Geraint has kept very well this summer, but he has been short of runs and the selectors feel this is the right time to make a change," explained chairman of selectors David Graveney.

"We have taken this decision regardless of the injury to Geraint's finger. The key factor for the selectors was his form with the bat and we believe he will benefit from having a break from international cricket and spending more time in the middle with his county."

Reaction to my Guardian piece

Take your pick (a link to the article can be found here):
  • "an incisive analysis of Ming Campbell's media problems" - Iain Dale;
  • "so manifestly ludicrous that it needs to be countered" - Paul Linford.

Menzies Campbell and the spin doctors

I have an article on Guardian Unlimited looking at the selling of Sir Menzies Campbell. I take the line that we should beware of trying to sell him as something he is not.

A couple of acknowledgements...

I was going to say an ironic "thanks a bunch" to Peter Black for having his comments on Ming's leadership reproduced on the Guardian's Comment is Free blog over the weekend. I had planned to write about those internal changes too. On reflection my article is better for being more tightly focused on the PR angle, so the thanks are genuine now.

I was convinced that I coined "Let Ming be Ming" back in June, but I find that Alex Wilcock used it as early as February during the leadership campaign. So respect to him.

Restoration Village: Tollesbury Granary

My mother's mother's family all came from village of Tollesbury in Essex. I had a couple of dimly remembered holidays there as a young child and my mother stayed with relations during the War.

The first programme of the third series of the BBC's Restoration series (retitled Restoration Village, presumably to disbar publicly owned swimming baths in Manchester that take lots of viewers' money and then do nothing with it) was shown on Friday night.

One of the buildings featured was the Granary at Tollesbury. Talking to my mother yesterday I found out that she went to Sunday school with one of the ladies interviewed and we are distantly related to the other. (Tollesbury is rather cut off - it's the marshes, you know).

Naturally I voted for the Tollesbury Granary. You can find details of how to vote on the Restoration Village site and more about the Granary on the Mid Essex Historic Buildings Trust site. You have until midnight on Tuesday to vote.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Fallen Idol

Having written about one of my favourite films yesterday, I have turned up this fascinating article which the Guardian printed in December 2001.

David Hare shows he is on the side of the angels after all with these two quotations about The Fallen Idol:
"It's a great, overlooked masterpiece of the British cinema. The more you read about Reed, the more you realise that he is our William Wyler - the director who seems able effortlessly to go to the heart of his subject, without ever drawing attention to himself. He just knows where the story should go, and that's the rarest gift of all in cinema."
"the scene between the lovers in the tea shop is the most painful image of repressed love in the British cinema - the way they fiddle with the cakes and stare into each other's eyes is infinitely more moving than anything in Brief Encounter. Richardson's desperate vulnerability and his desire not to let himself down in the child's eyes is very profound."
The author Claire Armitstead also interviewed Bobby Henrey, the child star of the film:

He went on to make one other "attrocious" (sic.) film, Karl Hartl's The Wonder Kid, before being sent off to boarding school.

His only subsequent brush with showbusiness was when, as a student at Oxford, he was invited to appear on [Dora] Bryan's This Is Your Life. He spent his career as an accountant in America, before retiring to work as a hospital chaplain in Greenwich Village,

BritBlog Roundup

Tim Worstall has posted this week's selection of all (well, some) that's good in British blogging.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Name of the Day

Thanks to Iain Dale for Vicky Ruff-Cock.

Stuck in a lift with Dora Bryan

Kira Cochrane (who she?) in the Guardian thinks this is her worst nightmare. If I were stuck in a lift with Dora Bryan I would tell her how much I liked her performance in The Fallen Idol.

If you don't know this Carol Reed film you should read David Thomson's splendid article in yesterday's Independent (while you still can for free). He writes:
The picture uses the Belgravia house as a world; the black-and-white is so beautiful it looks like something we might be on the point of inventing - at last, the drab days of colour are surpassed! The kid, Bobby Henrey, was just perfect, and Ralph Richardson seemed as dull and level and ordinary as a butler, but as you watched the film you felt the man's whole sad life.

But all of those things are just items in the larger being. The Fallen Idol tells a story in which everything fits, like the waxed pieces of wood in complicated carpentry - without a squeak or a sign of friction. Films told stories then, and they made pictures that might be modest - The Fallen Idol is a very small story, just a child's view of an adult melodrama - but which were fit for the huge crowds that went to the movie palaces of the 1940s.

Apparently, there are young people who have not heard of Carol Reed and do not know know that in just three years after the war he made three masterpieces in a row, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. Extraordinary as that moment was for Reed, and those who worked with him, it was a fraction of the story. In the late 1940s, in Britain, we made not just a run of terrific movies - maybe they were the best ones being made anywhere in the world.
Dora Bryan has a wonderful cameo role as a tart with the heart of gold. Yet if you read the review in the Daily Telegraph you would think that Dandy Nicholls played that part. Where do they find these people?

As any fan of the film will tell you, Dandy Nicholls is the comedy charwoman who thinks that "foreigners like a bit of dirt". How dare anyone rob Dora Bryan of her glory? The Telegraph reviewer deserves to be stuck in a lift with Kira Cochrane.

Friday, July 28, 2006

George V was a bastard

A fascinating piece of forgotten history from today's Times:

A former policeman provoked panic in Buckingham Palace in 1931 when he insisted that he had a superior claim to the throne than George V.

Anthony Hall argued that he was the 23rd descendent of Henry VIII and tried to convince mass crowds at a series of public meetings in the Birmingham Bull Ring that he was rightful heir to the throne. He started raising eyebrows in Whitehall and Buckingham Palace after making “scurrilous” attacks on the King, including a threat to shoot him.

Hall wasn't claiming that George was illegitimate. The King was a bastard because of the way that he behaved:
George V, the Queen’s grandfather, was forced to intervene to make sure that Hall’s campaign came to an abrupt end, preferably in an asylum, while making it clear that the Palace’s involvement should never come to light.
"Forced to"? What a bizarre judgement by Jill Sherman. George was not forced to do anything. He chose to try to have Hall certified and locked up. As Sherman later writes:
On July 13 Sir Clive Wigram, George V’s private secretary, became involved, suggesting that a stop should be put to Hall’s “effusions”. He suggested to the Home Office: “Would it not be possible to keep him under observation with a view to his final detention in an Institution, without actually putting him in prison?”

Further letters showed that a summons was issued on Hall, calling upon him to find sureties or face imprisonment. Sir Clive sent a letter approving the proceedings but adding “so long as it is quite understood that His Majesty is in no way responsible for the initiation of them”.

It sounds rather like the way political dissidents used to be declared insane in the Soviet Union. The good news is that two doctors refused to certify Hall as insane.

Hall died young in 1947, but his claim was beside the point. Didn't Tony Robinson prove that Edward IV was illegitimate and find the rightful King of England somewhere in the Australian bush? It's all in Shakespeare, you know.

Richard III (Act 3, Scene 5)

Tell them, when that my mother went with child
Of that unsatiate Edward, noble York
My princely father then had wars in France
And, by just computation of the time,
Found that the issue was not his begot.

Quote of the Day

From Snowmail, Jon Snow's Channel 4 News e-mail bulletin:
End of the week, I'm up the Khyber, well not literally but metaphorically.
Thank you, Jon.

Fragile as a whole and stable nowhere

This the last House Points - my Liberal Democrat News column - until October. Already dancing in the streets has been reported as far away as Cropwell Bishop.

Fragile Times

Two subjects dominated the Commons on Monday: bringing peace to the world's trouble spots and, harder, sorting out the Child Support Agency. "The security situation across Afghanistan as a whole is stable, but fragile in places, according to Des Browne, who should have been a curate. But the CSA is fragile as a whole and stable nowhere.

The figures are shocking. Fewer than half the children whose interests the CSA looked after got any payments. Some £3bn is owed but will never be recovered. There is a backlog of 300,000 cases. Half a billion pounds has been wasted on attempts to reform the agency.

Why did it go so wrong? A clue came in the contribution of Alistair Burt, the minister in charge of the CSA back in the 1990s: "One of the reasons we are in the mess we are in is that the House was far too consensual during the passage of the legislation.

Exactly right. One of the few certainties in politics is that if people of goodwill in all parties unite to support a piece of legislation... it will turn out to be a disaster. And what John Hutton, the present minister, proposed sounded dangerously like son of CSA.

Is there a better way? We live in a society where it takes two full-time incomes to run a comfortable household. In such circumstances it is hard to see how divorce can be anything other than financially ruinous for all concerned.

Back to defence. Because it takes time to get a question accepted and answered, Monday was one of those days when the order paper does not reflect what is on everyone's mind. MPs asked about Iraq and Afghanistan, but their thoughts were with the Lebanon.

The past fortnight has been a humiliation for Britain, making it clear that under Labour we no longer have a foreign policy of our own. As John Hemming has said, essentially there is not a Rizla paper between the policy of the US government, the UK government and the Israeli government.

All the polls show that the Liberal Democrats speak for the majority of the British people in opposing this shameful state of affairs. We must go on doing so.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Jim Laker, Suez and W H Auden

Fifty years ago yesterday, Colonel Nasser announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. This set in train a set of events which led to the resignation of Sir Anthony Eden as prime minister and the general realisation that Britain was no longer an imperial power.

Fifty years ago today, Jim Laker took all ten wickets in the Australian second innings at Old Trafford, making it 19 in the match.

It's strange to think of these two events happening on successive days. The odd scraps of history we all remember must exist in different compartments in our minds, rarely being brought together like this.

This feels a good time to quote the whole of Auden's Musée des Beaux Arts:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

A Lancashire Lad

Back in January Allan Massie reviewed Simon Gray's The Year of the Jouncer for The Scotsman.

In the course of his review he quoted a pleasing observation from Gray:
Here comes Flintoff, who always reminds me of the cheerful part of a Housman poem, hale and hearty, a peerless youth, before Housman snuffs him out at the end of a rope.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Suez: Fifty years on

Good stuff from Alex Wilcock on Love and Liberty:
Fifty years ago today, Egypt’s President Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal. The British Prime Minister compared him to Hitler, and mounted an invasion with a remarkably small number of allies; it all ended in tears. The BBC website’s ‘Eden: A man under strain’ calls him a man who “entered Downing Street as… dashing and glamorous” but left “with his reputation in tatters”. Anthony Blair must be wishing comparisons with Anthony Eden weren’t so glaring on this anniversary. I wish they weren’t, too. Mr Eden’s tragedy was that he didn’t have America on his side. Mr Blair’s is that he does.
He goes on to quote a prescient passage from Conrad Russell which is well worth reading.

There is another link between Blair and Eden which Alex does not mention. Ian Jack wrote in the Guardian on 29 May 2004:
An exhausted Eden resigned on January 9 1957 and he and his wife set sail from Tilbury to New Zealand (which had been a staunch ally) on January 18. The ship was the RMS Rangitata and the Edens' cabin steward was John Prescott, who sometimes fought on-deck boxing matches for the entertainment of the passengers, sometimes won them, and sometimes was presented with his prize (beer or wine) by the ex-prime minister or his wife.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Mark Oaten calls it a day

Mark Oaten has announced that he will not stand in Winchester at the next election.

This is not a time for mean-spirited comment - but if by any chance you do want some mean-spirited comment, I recommend Paul Walter or James Graham.

Lord Bonkers, as ever, was prophetic. Here he is writing in March of last year:
At Westminster I encounter a naggingly familiar figure in a grey suit. “Hello,” it says, “my name is Mark Oaten.” I look him up and down. No moccasins, no tomahawk, no feathers, but eventually I recognise him. “Rising Star!” I exclaim, “What have you done to yourself?” “I’ve decided to bin the Red Indian shtick,” he replies. “It was all based on a misunderstanding anyway.” It transpires that someone had told him that he would have to be brave to take on Winchester, and he had heard them as saying he would have to be “a brave”. “Besides,” he adds pensively, “people were starting to call me ‘Tumbling Stick’.”

Red mercury and Shatner's Bassoon

The BBC reports:

Three men have been cleared of trying to procure a substance which police claimed could have made a "dirty bomb".

They were arrested in September 2004 after trying to buy "red mercury" from an undercover reporter.

Why the inverted commas around "red mercury"? The BBC explains further:

The most bizarre aspect of the trial of Abdurahman Kanyare and his two co-defendants was the fact that no-one in the court could be certain whether the terrifying substance on which the entire prosecution case was based actually existed.

The prosecutor, Mark Ellison, admitted the police had no idea if there even was such a thing as red mercury - supposedly the main ingredient for a "dirty bomb" which could have devastated London.

But he told the jury at the outset: "The Crown's position is that whether red mercury does or does not exist is irrelevant."

He warned the jury not to get "hung up" on whether red mercury actually existed at all.

Being accused of trying to buy red mercury sounds a little like being accused of trafficking Chris Morris's cake:
David Amess, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Basildon, was fooled into filming an elaborate video warning against the dangers of a fictional Eastern European drug called Cake, and went as far as to ask a question about it in Parliament. The drug purportedly affected an area of the brain called "Shatner's Bassoon" and was frequently referred to as "a made-up drug". Other celebrities such as Sir Bernard Ingham, Noel Edmonds and Rolf Harris were shown holding the bright-yellow cake-sized pill as they talked.
You can find Amess's question in Hansard.

Crawling to Jerusalem

From the Leominster Journal:
A Shobdon teenager highlighted the stance of London peace campaigner Brian Haw at a Sports Relief event in North Herefordshire at the weekend.

While scores of people jogged around a designated track at Luctonians’ Rugby Club in Kingsland, 13-year-old Simon Davey crawled round on a skateboard to draw attention to the enduring one-man protest mounted by Brian in June 2001 outside the House of Commons.

The Wigmore High School pupil completed his challenge in support of the protest, which directs messages of peace against the ‘war on terror’. All Simon’s sponsorship money will go to the Sports Relief fund.

Said Simon’s mum, Sarah Davey: “He pulled himself along on his stomach using just his arms and elbows, it was a rather bizarre sight, but he said he was just going to do this.”

Er, well done. I think.

Your mother, whinny

The BBC reports:

Jockey Paul O'Neill has apologised for the headbutt on a horse which could see him punished by the Horseracing Regulatory Authority.

He will be asked to explain his actions by the HRA next week after the incident at Stratford was caught by TV cameras.

That's all very well, but shouldn't the HRA also investigate what the horse said to provoke him into doing it?

Monday, July 24, 2006

The TV event of the year

I have just seen Donnachadh McCarthy's lavatory on Newsnight.

It's amazing what they put on television these days.

Alan Johnson commits polytoynbeeism

Last summer I identified the concept of polytoynbeeism:
You divide the world into two groups: there are sensible people like you and your readers, and there are people who hold ludicrous views. There can be no middle position.
There was a good example of it today in Alan Johnson's comments to the UK Youth Parliament:
He told the UK Youth Parliament that exams were not getting easier and critics were sentimentalists harking back to a "mythical golden age".
So there are sensible people who agree with Alan Johnson, foolish people harking back to a golden age and no position in between?

You only have to type that sentence to see what nonsense it is.

A duck walks into the hairdresser's...

No, it's not the start of a joke.

It's the sort of story people buy the Shropshire Star for.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sunday reading

The usual recommendations:

Norman Baker on David Kelly's death

When Norman Baker left the Lib Dem front bench he announced that he would be investigating the death of Dr David Kelly.

Today's Mail on Sunday reports the progress he has made:
The dossier compiled by the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes shows that the method of suicide said to have been chosen by Dr Kelly, far from being common as was claimed at the time, was in fact unique.

Dr Kelly was the only person in the United Kingdom that year deemed to have died from severing the ulnar artery in his wrist, a particularly difficult and painful process as the artery is deep and Dr Kelly had only a blunt garden knife.

The MP reveals that the Oxfordshire coroner held an 'unusual' meeting with Home Office officials before he determined the cause of Dr Kelly's death.

And he claims that a 'cosy cabal' of Mr Blair's friends, including Peter Mandelson and Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, hand-picked Lord Hutton, a retired Law Lord from Northern Ireland, to lead the official investigation in 2003.

The ten most overrated films

These are by no means the worst films ever made. They are the films that disappointed me because they failed to live up to their publicity or where I find myself not agreeing with the consensus view.

This list probably says more about me than it does about the films. When you feel you have been taken in by the hype about a film, it is hard to take a fair view of it.

Gone with the Wind
When I was young there were two Hollywood films that I felt guilty I had never seen: Casablanca and Gone with the Wind. When I finally saw Casablanca I was bowled over: when I saw Gone with the Wind I was hugely disappointed.

It goes on for ever, the politics are suspect and it is just so dated. The only reason for watching it is waiting for Clark Gable to say: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

The Blair Witch Project
A classic case of being taken in by the hype. The central idea was neat, and I liked the interviews with the locals at the start.

But all the main characters were so unlikeable that you did not care what happened to them, the film failed to build tension properly and there were too many handprints at the end. A few would have been chilling: but that many were just silly.

A lovely film for a Sunday afternoon? No. Kay Kendall is wonderful and the glimpse of mews living (the upper classes moving into the quarters where their parents' servants had lived) are an interesting bit of post-War sociology, but Kenneth More is insufferable and the whole film is soooo formulaic.

At least it could appear in a list of films that end on Westminster Bridge: Genevieve, London Belongs to Me, Seven Days to Noon. Much later. And Trial and Error.

The Titfield Thunderbolt
I love Ealing Films but this is dire. When films become self-consciously English and quirky, they cease to be English and quirky at all.

Billy Elliot
Scenes were stolen from other films, it showed the miners' strike without saying anything useful about it, the locations in London and the North East were all over the place, half the songs came from the wrong era.

Worst of all it patronised the working class. When newspapers set out to find "real Billy Elliots", they found several and each had received tremendous support from his family.

The Piano
Again I was a victim of hype. I still love the music, but was there ever a more absurd Oscar than the one awarded to Anna Paquin?

The Italian Job
OK, so Noel Coward is fun and it is a nice period touch to see Simon Dee in a movie, but this is not a classic sixties film. It is a foretaste of Mrs Thatcher and the eighties - that really was the self-preservation society. In many films from this period (Alfie, Get Carter) Michael Caine is a god, but he never establishes a believable character here.

And how can "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off" be the greatest line ever?

Chariots of Fire
"The British are coming," said Colin Welland. Not with overinflated tosh like this they weren't.

And I am sure Olympic athletes did not run that slowly, even in 1924.

Anything by Richard Curtis

I saw Four Weddings and a Funeral on video some time after it came out and quite enjoyed it. But I hate the way Curtis panders to both New Labour and the American view of Britain and have not seen any of his films since. (In part I am afraid that I may like them.)

Taxi driver rushing hero to Heathrow: "I know a short cut".

Mary Poppins
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has Dick Van Dyke talking normally, Stanley Unwin, James Robertson Justice and Max Wall. It's no contest.

Mind you, Dr Dolittle was even worse.

Adil Rashid

The Guardian yesterday had more on our potential new national hero:
His first two overs had been nervous, a mixture of long-hops and full tosses. His third and fourth were better, and the batsmen became watchful. Four balls into his fifth over, the last before lunch, a beautifully flighted delivery saw Jonathan Trott play too soon and drive a firm return catch which Rashid took two-handed low to his right. Thereafter he bowled perhaps three deliveries which could be called loose. 
Ian Westwood was trapped in front by a top-spinner that hurried on to him, Luke Parker was beaten by bounce and turn, Dougie Brown by a sharply breaking fizzer, Nick Knight caught behind and Tim Groenewald padded up to a googly.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A new English leg-spinner

Won't it be nice if yesterday turns out to have been an historic day in English cricket?

The BBC reports:
Yorkshire's teenage leg-spinner Adil Rashid produced a phenomenal performance on debut as Warwickshire were heavily beaten at Scarborough.

Bradford-born Rashid, 18, also billed as a fine batsman, took 6-67 as Warwickshire were all out for 239, losing by an innings and 96 runs.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Lord Bonkers: Agony uncle

In the 1960s and 1970s the Young Liberals wanted to overthrow the capitalist system and replace it with a loose affiliation of workers' co-operatives. Today their modern equivalents ask me to write a problem page in the guise of Lord Bonkers. I am not sure this is progress.

The new issue of Free Radical is out, says Ginger and Dynamite, so I am now reproducing the old monster's advice here. (Lord Bonkers regrets he cannot enter into individual correspondence unless a Postal Order is enclosed.)

Those problems in full...

I went on a blind date the other night, and I was a having an excellent time with lovely young thing, until he asked what I do in my spare time. When he learned I was a Liberal Democrat he began laughing uncontrollably. How should I deal with this?
CM, Yorks

You should tell this young fellow how keen you are on country walks and employ your feminine wiles to persuade him to accompany you upon one. Choose a remote part of the world – the bleaker the better. Dartmoor would answer you purposes excellently, whereas Carshalton would not be anything like so good. Plan a challenging route and insist that you do not start too early in the day. You want to arrange things so that you find yourselves stranded as dusk falls – I believe the word is “benighted”.

Now, here is the clever bit. Before you set off you should inform Lembit Öpik of your plans and arrange to have him fly above Dartmoor (or wherever) that evening – you should have some flares in your pocket to enable him to pinpoint your position at the vital moment. This should ensure that, just as your companion is bemoaning his fate and wishing that someone would rescue him, the Member for Montgomery will appear in his Sopwith Camel like Galahad upon his charger. (It will probably work best if Lembit is wearing a Lib Dem rosette as he sits at the controls.)

I promise you that after this experience your young man will see the Liberal Democrats in an entirely new light.

Whilst I'm delighted to be a Lib Dem, the sight of orange diamonds makes me feel vaguely nauscious (sic.), and refusing to display on at election time results in cold stares from fellow activists. I'm at a loss.
Noel Fuller, Coventry

Yes, our party’s striking colour scheme has long been a point of debate. At the time of the merger between the Liberals and the SDP, as I recall, Miss Fearn argued for the adoption of “something nice in chintz” as an alternative, but failed to secure the necessary support.

I advise you to paint your walls at home in the most lurid yellow you can find – the effect you want to achieve is something like a banana dipped in Colman’s mustard. This will, I appreciate, be hard to live with, but when election time comes around next you will be struck by how restrained and tasteful orange diamonds now seem. You will be happy to display them in every window, and your fellow activists will greet you like a long-lost brother.

I think I'm in love with the leader of the Conservative Party. Help me.
VS, Bearsted, Kent

I recommend a cold bath and a cross-country run.

Johnny Theakston and the Tremeloes

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News. My current Alvin Stardust fixation and Tuesday's extreme heat produced something distinctly odd.

But it was meant to be. Delayed for ages at Leicester station on Tuesday evening, I sat in the buffet and made some notes for this piece. They were playing hits from the sixties and seventies and, sure enough, "My Coo Ca Choo" came on.

Identity crisis

Identity can be a complicated business. Take the case of young Bernard Jewry, who developed a love of rock music and hung out with a band called Johnny Theakston and the Tremeloes. In 1959 the band sent a tape to the BBC under the name Shane Fenton and the Beat Boys. Then tragedy struck: Johnny died.

When the BBC wrote back asking Shane Fenton and his band to play on a live radio programme Bernard Jewry became the new Shane Fenton - he even changed his name by deed poll - and a pop career was launched.

But musical fashions change, and after four hits Shane Fenton faded from view. Until in 1973 he was reborn as Alvin Stardust with the single "My Coo Ca Choo".

There are two reasons why the career of Bernard Jewry/Shane Fenton/Alvin Stardust is topical.

The first is that makes you wonder how the government's identity card scheme would cope with him. According to Joan Ryan at home office questions on Monday, everything is in on course. Cards will be phased in from 2008. "I repeat: 2008," she added, on the basis that if you say something often enough it must be true.

If you prefer to believe the officials working on the scheme, then the current plans are not remotely feasible. According to leaked e-mails, they fear a botched introduction that could delay ID cards for a generation.

Of course, for Liberal Democrats that would be very good news. But we must be wary of relying solely upon government incompetence to see ID cards off. We must continue to argue about the principle, showing people how these cards threaten a fundamental alteration in the relations between citizens and the state.

The second reason for being interested in Alvin Stardust is that his manager was a streetwise young accountant called Michael Levy. Today he is better known as Lord Levy.

What would people in 1973 have made of the idea that one day Alvin Stardust's manager would be arrested and there would be excited talk of the prime minister resigning?

Lord Levy once said that he and the prime minister were "like brothers". I doubt he would say that now. Tony Blair will have to find someone else to be his coo ca choo.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

We'll send a gunboat (if it's all right with you)

Martin Rowson's cartoon in this morning's Guardian is brilliant.

It also raises the question of what the British government would do if a British family were killed in Lebanon by Israeli action.

If John Hemming is right in saying "essentially there is not a 'Rizla paper' between the Policy of the US government, UK government and Israeli government" - and I think he is, at least as far as that policy is expressed by the prime minister - then it would follow that our government would say the Israelis were entirely justified.

Simon Carr

The Independent's parliamentary sketchwriter now has his own website.

Thanks to Chicken Yoghurt.

Newsnight: A dreadful performance

I don't mean Ming: I think he did quite well in the circumstances last night. See Alex Wilcock for a fair-minded account.

No, the person I am thinking of is Martha Kearney. Hectoring, refusing to let Ming answer questions after she asked them... she was the Davina McCall of political broadcasting.

Nor was the bearpit format much better, with members of the public brought in to make their one point come what may.

The whole thing was redolent of contempt for politicians and public alike. I think Ming would do well to steer clear of such spectacles in future.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Lamb goes hunting

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, has written to the Cabinet Office asking why the former secretary of Lord Levy was given the MBE, the BBC tells us.

If this account of Levy's days in the music business is true, an MBE seems scant recompense:
To disaffected former members of staff at Magnet Records, home of hits for Alvin Stardust and Chris Rea, their boss Michael Levy was a tyrant who revelled in his power. His tricks included chasing people around the office and throwing ashtrays.

The shorter Iain Dale

Tony, I love you!

Simon Jenkins on the railway

Simon Jenkins has an article in today's Guardian on he privatisation of British Rail. He takes much the same line as I did the other day.
Within seven years the railway was costing the taxpayer three times what it had cost before de-nationalisation (up from £1.3bn to £3.7bn). The historians Terry Gourvish and Christian Wolmar have charted the subsequent shambles as probably the worst case of Whitehall mismanagement of a British industry since 1945 (a competitive contest). In the 1980s fares covered 76% of rail costs, last year 42%. The government has restructured the industry three times, so it is renationalised in all but name, operating a myriad complex Whitehall sub-contracts. Virgin's east coast route, profitable under British Rail, runs on a subsidy of £400m a year, half what the whole of BR cost in 1989.
Jenkins also comes to the right conclusion:
The Tories are now rightly reluctant to reverse public ownership of Network Rail's assets of track, signals and stations. These were not privatised under the 1993 Act but subsequently with the setting up of Railtrack. They were crudely renationalised by Byers under Network Rail, in a procedure that led him through the high court. They should stay that way. The proposal now is to split Network Rail's assets under lease between the five big regional franchises so they can manage "wheel and rail" as a coherent whole. For this to work, the operators must have franchises of at least 20 years, possibly 50. The Treasury's preference for five to seven years is commercially illiterate.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

E S Turner: A good innings

In the early days of Liberal England I wrote about E S Turner and his book Roads to Ruin. Sadly, Turner has died (at the age of 96) and his obituary was in this morning's Guardian.

I have a large format paperback from the 1960s which reprints many pages from the early issues of Private Eye. One of them makes fun of Punch for being staid and mentions Turner by name. It is no mean feat to be writing 40 years after you have been dismissed as a boring old fart.

As a tribute, here is a recent article of his from the London Review of Books.

The Guardian's over-by-over pages

Yesterday's test match may have petered out into a draw, but it did have one highlight for me. An e-mail of mine was quoted by the Guardian's over-by-over pages - the blogosphere's answer to Test Match Special.

Go to the morning session and then the 9th over of Pakistan's second innings and you will find the following:
Jonathan Calder remembers that John Arlott once described Masood's run up as looking like "'Groucho Marx chasing a pretty waitress'".
Asif Masood was a Pakistani opening bowler in the 1970s. And the great John Arlott fought Epping for the Liberals in 1955 and 1959.

Exciting news from Shropshire

The Shropshire Star now has its own blog.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Where did "train station" come from?

Why about 10 years ago did everyone in Britain stop saying "railway station" and start saying "train station"?

The following answers will not be accepted:
  • It is American. No it isn't: they say "railroad station" over there.
  • A bus station is where you catch a bus, so a train station is where you catch a train. This may be logical (though when did idiom have anything to do with logic?), but it was equally logical 20 or 40 years ago when we certainly did not say "train station". So this does not explain the change.
  • We have always said "train station". No we haven't: find me an example by a good writer from 20 years ago.
Any ideas?

Later. Google Ngram tends to support my belief that the dominance of "train station" is a recent phenomenon.

    How the Tories ruined our railways

    Travelling home from work with an old friend who knows about such things, I learnt that the Department for Transport is planning to halve Market Harborough's off-peak rail services. As a result is that I spent some time handing out leaflets at Harborough station when we got there.

    Note that the decision has not been made by Midland Mainline, who run the trains, but the DfT. It has been said that the railways our now more closely managed by government than they were during the Second World War.

    This is the ironic result of the Tories' privatisation of British Rail and - in particular - their insistence on separating the operators of the trains from the people who own the rails. We Lib Dems are used to demanding more public spending, but the problem with the privatised system is that it swallows money (far more than British Rail ever needed) at an alarming rate. It is no wonder that the Treasury has tried to get some control over this, but in the process it has stripped any prospect of entrepreneurial flair from the train operators out of the system.

    So this is why a booming town like Market Harborough - now firmly in the London commuter belt - is threatened with having its rail services cut. This decision is a nonsense, but even if our campaign to have the current level of service included in the new franchise documents succeeds, many people elsewhere will suffer.

    Today the Tory transport spokesman Chris Grayling said:

    "We think, with hindsight, that the complete separation of track and train into separate businesses at the time of privatisation was not right for our railways.

    "We think that the separation has helped push up the cost of running the railways - and hence fares - and is now slowing decisions about capacity improvements.

    "Too many people and organisations are now involved in getting things done - so nothing happens. As a result, the industry lacks clarity about who is in charge and accountable for decisions."

    "Hindsight" my arse. Though few realised quite how bad things would be, there were plenty of people telling John Major's government that its privatisation would be a disaster at the time.

    Loud is the summer's busy song

    Having previously drawn your attention to Common Ground's pages for May and June, let me rather belatedly recommend their page for July.

    Sunday, July 16, 2006

    Gumley's place in history

    The other day I said that Leonard Cheshire's opened his first home at Gumley Hall near Market Harborough. Now someone has left a comment on that post claiming that this was wrong and that it was at Le Court (which was the Cheshire family home). I shall investigate.

    Meanwhile, let me draw attention to the writings of Andrew Burridge who believes that Gumley was the site of King Arthur's Camelot - or at least that Arthur and Offa have become confused in the historical record and that it was the site of Offa's palace.

    Even if you do not buy this theory you can enjoy his photographs of Gumley. It is a beautiful spot.

    Thomas Tapling's only first class match

    On Test Match Special this morning a website called Cricket Archive was mentioned.

    Using it I have been able to find the scorecard for Thomas Tapling's only first-class match: Cambridge University vs MCC at Fenners, 31 May, 1-2 June 1886.

    As he scored only 5 and 0 in his two innings and did not bowl, you can see why he is better remembered as a stamp collector.

    Thus Tapling's life disproves the common belief that philately gets you nowhere.

    BritBlog Roundup

    Tim Worstall has posted this week's selection of the best in British blogging.

    The Sunday papers

    The First Post has its usual review in place.

    If you are particularly interested in current poltical scandals, you may also be interested in Iain Dale's comments here and here.

    Saturday, July 15, 2006

    The Bonkers Code

    The July issue of Liberator is now with subscribers, so it is time to post Lord Bonkers' latest diary. You can find an archive of them on his own website.

    To London for the launch of my new book The Bonkers Code. I had the idea for it when I was told that an American chap was making a fortune out of the tale of a sinister conspiracy. I took a particular interest in this as I understood my interlocutor to be saying that the conspiracy was conducted by the SDP – I posted sentries and called out the militia without delay. A little fine-tuning of my ear trumpet revealed, to my understandable relief, that the sinister organisation at the heart of the book was not the SDP but Opus Dei, but even so it set me thinking. What if, after Joseph of Arimathea had brought Liberalism to England, he had conducted a marriage with, say, an ancestor of Nancy Seear? And what if that marriage had produced offspring whose heirs are amongst us even today? I retired to the Library at once to dictate the whole thing to my Literary Secretary.

    In recent days there has been a great deal of ill-informed comment about our Deputy Prime Minister’s penchant for the game of croquet; he has suffered obloquy and had contumely poured over him – and dried contumely is a devil to brush off one’s jacket. The charge seems to be that by indulging in this pastime Prescott is betraying his proletarian roots. What rot! Have these people never been to Kingston upon Hull? If they did so they would see games of croquet taking place on every street corner, allotment and piece of waste ground. After a hard day’s trawling, there is nothing the doughty citizen of that historic city enjoys more than tying his whippet to a hoop and wielding the mallet in his shirtsleeves. Granted the game is a little rougher than that one encounters in the Home Counties – and features a more prominent role for dried fish – but to dismiss it as the preserve of the aristocracy betrays the most dreadful ignorance.

    I have been reading more about these Opus Dei people. Did you know that Ruth Kelly, the woman with the deep voice and strange hairstyle who was briefly in charge of the nation’s schools (presumably on the grounds that she attended both Millfield and Westminster herself), is one of them? Apparently they wear spiked bracelets around their thighs – it can’t have made question time in the House any easier for her. Just imagine it: You are trying to find the figures for the number of children taking Hard Sums in the Soke of Peterborough in your folder when you suddenly feel the most ghastly pain. No wonder she struggled sometimes. Still, Mr Gladstone would scourge himself at the drop of a hat, and no one thought any the less of him for it.

    At the village shop I encounter my old friend Mark Oaten – his days as Rising Star the Indian brave now far behind him, I fear. “Another gross of Kit-Kat, Mr Patel,” he demands, and I am not surprised to see that he has a bit of a tummy on him. It transpires that he is trying to obtain a Golden Ticket that will win him ingress to something called “The Big Brother House” and numerous appearances on the electric television as a result. He assures me that this is the key to his rehabilitation, but I have my doubts. Mind you, I did see our own Julia Goldsworthy take part in some form of sports day, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    The morning brings news that the first printing of The Bonkers Code has already sold out: I allow myself a second helping of kedgeree. When I stroll down to the village, however, I find the place in turmoil. So vast are the crowds come to view the ceiling painting of the Circumcision of the National Liberals (to which I allude in the book) that PC Heath has had to be called for to steward them. When I return home I receive an angry telephone call from the clubhouse at Rosslyn Park where equally large numbers are demanding a site of their painting of “The First Lady Bonkers Going Over From A Five-Yard Scrum”. Then I hear cries from the garden and hurry out to find Meadowcroft, a broom in one hand and an orchard doughty in the other, driving away some people who are trying to dig up my lawn to look for the first edition of Mill’s On Liberty, the discovery of which marks the denouement of my bestseller. “They liter’ry types be nothing but trouble,” my gardener opines. I join in with a rolled-up copy of the High Leicestershire Radical and we soon command the field.

    Donning the velvet smoking jacket and wielding the cigarette holder – you know what we writers are – I go through the morning’s post: an invitation to judge the next Booker prize; another to open the annual Hull vs Grimsby croquet match; a letter asking me how to spell ‘Mississippi’; a parcel of books to review for The Times Literary Supplement. I think the literary life will suit me down to the ground.

    You may recall that poor Menzies Campbell was bullied into promising to sell his Jag during the leadership contest – he tells me that Clegg and Teather were the ringleaders. I suggested that he keep it in one of my outbuildings here at the Hall until the fuss has blown over, and he gratefully accepted the offer. This evening I decide to take her for a spin, as we don’t want her getting out of condition. As I bowl along the lanes of Rutland I ponder how to spend my windfall from the success of The Bonkers Code (I have been fielding calls from Hollywood moguls all day). The Reverend Hughes is always launching appeals to repair the roof of St Asquith’s; the Home for Retired Canvassers at Herne Bay would appreciate a cheque, no doubt; I might treat myself to another race horse – it is simply years since I won the Derby; perhaps some jube-jubes for the Well-Behaved Orphans?

    At this point in my revelry there is a frightful bang and I find that I have driven the Jag into someone’s garden fence. I beat a hasty retreat, only to wake in the small hours alarmed lest the registration number has been snapped by one of these new cameras the police have everywhere. (Rather unsporting, don’t you think?) Remembering, however, that the Jag is still registered in Ming’s name, I turn over and soon go back to sleep.

    The Nat West Three's Labour links

    tOne of the ironies of the Nat West Three affair is that one of the accused springs from the heart of the Scottish Labour establishment.

    Gary Mulgrew is the stepson* of Dr Norman Godman who was MP for Greenock and Inverclyde (and its earlier incarnations) between 1983 and 2001. His mother is Trish Godman, MSP for West Renfrewhire since 1999 and a deputy presiding officer at Holyrood.

    She is quoted by the BBC as saying:

    "The treaty under which my son was extradited is one-sided, unjust, ignores the principles of due process and is a licence to breach the rights of British citizens"...

    "I also have grave concerns over the way ministers and most Labour MPs dealt with their case before they went to America."

    * Not the son, as I originally suggested.

    Friday, July 14, 2006

    "A breath can make them"

    Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. The Oliver Goldsmith lines are from The Deserted Village.

    Auntie's elite

    Sunday’s World Cup Final was watched by 17 million people on BBC1 and only 3.5 million on ITV. When you take John Motson into account, there can be no clearer sign of the central place Auntie occupies in the life of the nation.

    Yet the following day the Commons debate on the BBC’s new Charter was tinged with sadness, because it may not be so central in the future. Will the licence fee survive when it becomes impossible to say where television ends and the Internet begins? As Paul Holmes said, we will be in a different world.

    Back in this one, there are two words that sum up the BBC’s current difficulties: Jonathan Ross.

    Their problem is not his crass question to David Cameron, which still exercised several Tory MPs, but the dilemma he symbolises.

    For the BBC is funded by the nearest thing we have to a poll tax. This clearly needs to be justified, but does it justify it through quality or through winning a mass audience? It is tempting to say that it cannot do both, except that the BBC has managed precisely that many times over the years.

    Yet the huge payments that Ross and lesser figures like Chris Moyles receive suggest BBC managers are in thrall to people they think will deliver a large youth audience. Ross is not without talent, though the best thing he does – his Saturday morning radio show – owes much to the musical tastes of his producer.

    But it is hard even to begin making the case for paying him £6 million a year when most BBC staff are suffering a pay squeeze. Their managers defend huge salaries for performers (and themselves) by appealing to the market. If we don’t pay them this sort of money, someone else will.

    The answer to that is simple. Let them go. The backwaters of British broadcasting are teeming with people who thought that life would be better away from the BBC. Just ask Des Lynam. “I’ll have another consonant please, Carol.”

    Or as Oliver Goldsmith put it:
    Princes and Lords may flourish, or may fade:
    A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
    But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
    When once destroyed can never be supplied.

    Thursday, July 13, 2006

    Lord Levy: We are a grandmother

    All governments lose touch with reality eventually. Remember Mrs Thatcher's "We are a grandmother"?

    The words of Lord Levy's lawyer - speaking on behalf of one of Blair's inner circle - suggest that this one is now in orbit around a very distant planet.

    "Lord Levy remains deeply, deeply disappointed that the police decided that they should use their powers of arrest for the meeting.

    "Lord Levy has always been ready and willing to co-operate and to meet the police at any time of their choosing.

    "He has always been only too willing, also, to provide the police with any documents that they might have needed, and he continues to do so."

    Lord Levy may find there is an unfortunate obstacle to this willingness to co-operate with the police. Back in April Guido Fawkes repeated a Peter Oborne story from the Spectator (the original story now seems to have disappeared):
    it emerges that the Marylebone offices of the New Labour treasurer, Lord Levy, have been devastated by a mysterious fire. This took place last November, well before the police investigation began and around the time the House of Lords Appointments Commission raised the first queries concerning Tony Blair’s list. When I rang Downing Street for a reassurance that no papers relevant to the police investigation had been destroyed, I was informed that ‘that is a matter for Lord Levy’.
    I expect he was deeply, deeply disappointed by the fire too.

    Yesterday's extradition debate

    All Liberal Democrats should read David Heath's speech summing up yesterday's Commons debate on the UK-US extradition treaty. He lays bare the Tories' complacency in earlier debates and the government's... well, let's be charitable and call it stupidity rather than deceit.

    Other highlights came from Dominic Grieve:

    I have seen the political briefing provided to the Solicitor-General, which starts with the heading:

    “Not allowing crime to escape over borders versus supporting the PR campaign of multi-millionaires charged in relation to the biggest fraud in US corporate history.”

    At the end, it says:

    “The Lib Dems have been spun by opportunistic PR merchants. We are fighting to get the benefits of the treaty for Britain to tackle crime. The opposition are supporting the campaign of multimillionaire bankers accused of serious crimes.”

    That is the level of discourse that we are getting.

    And, taking valuable time off from his stage shows, George Galloway:
    All we want is a special relationship that does not resemble that between Miss Lewinsky and a former United States President: unequal, disreputable and with the junior partner always on their knees.

    Alvin Stardust and the fall of New Labour

    In 1973 I rather liked Alvin Stardust. Those were the days when Luxemburg was the station you listened to under the bedclothes when you were meant to be going to sleep. And Stardust's first single - "My Coo-Ca-Choo" - was played on Luxemburg for weeks before the BBC picked it up and it became a hit.

    But what would anyone in 1973 have made of a prediction that one day the arrest of Alvin Stardust's manager would lead to excited talk of the government falling?

    I had the same thought a couple of years ago when, walking through London, I saw newspaper placards saying "GARY GLITTER MAY FACE FIRING SQUAD".

    It's a trite thought, but isn't it strange how things turn out?

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    More on Lord Levy

    This article from 1997 gives some background on Levy's career in the record industy.

    Alvin Stardust, Pete Waterman, Chris Rea... they are all there.

    Extradition to the USA

    Nick Clegg is playing a blinder on the Nat West Three. Here is his appeal for help:

    Today we won an unprecedented victory against the Government in a debate on the lop-sided Extradition Treaty with the United States.

    Three former employees of Nat West bank, together with south Londoner Babar Ahmed and up to 20 more British residents, face extradition to the United States under a treaty signed in 2003 that grants fewer rights to British citizens than to Americans.

    Just four Labour MPs voted in favour of the treaty in the symbolic vote called by the Liberal Democrats this afternoon.

    UK citizens can be extradited to the US without the United States having to make a clear "prima facie" case that they committed a crime. Yet we need to meet a much higher level of proof if we wish to extradite US citizens to the UK.

    Adding insult to injury, the Government hasn't even convinced the US Senate to ratify the treaty.

    The Liberal Democrats have been campaigning against this treaty for three years - ever since it was signed. We were the only party that voted against the extradition rules when they were brought into force.

    But the battle isn't over: the Nat West Three, to be extradited tomorrow, are only the tip of the iceberg. Many other extradition cases are in the pipeline, and will be decided under this unfair treaty unless the Government acts now.

    Thanks to today's debate and vote, the House of Commons has signalled its clear condemnation of the Extradition Treaty. Now we need you to do the same.

    Please write to the Solicitor General and ask him to support my Extradition (United States of America) Bill that would repeal parts of the Extradition Act 2003 and bring an end to these unfair extradition procedures:

    Mike O'Brien
    House of Commons
    London SW1A 0AA

    (Personal letters are the most effective way of lobbying him).

    With your help, we can put even more pressure on the Government to take action.

    Rogue elephant

    The Guardian says:
    The former home secretary Charles Clarke yesterday sharply criticised his successor, John Reid, for postponing the programme of police force mergers, describing it as a "weak and damaging" decision that will seriously hamper the fight against terrorism.
    Yes, Charles Clarke is basing his campaign for political rehabilitation on an appeal to people who believe John Reid is a wet liberal.

    He may find that they are a rather select group.

    Lord Levy: The story so far

    The BBC reports:

    Tony Blair's chief fundraiser Lord Levy has been arrested and bailed in connection with the "cash-for-honours" inquiry by the Metropolitan Police.
    Guido Fawkes has been on Levy's case since March. Today he has published an invaluable summary of links to all his postings on the man.

    This is the place to go for the inside story.

    Thomas Tapling's stamp collection

    I had a work meeting near Euston today. On the way back I stopped at the British Library to look at their bookshop and have a cup of tea.

    Next to the cafe there is a philatelic display. And guess what is at the heart of it? Thomas Tapling's collection.

    It is particularly strong on stamps from Wurtemburg, incidentally.

    Tuesday, July 11, 2006

    What next for humanity?

    Now there's a question.

    Mick Hume introduces Spiked's "survey of writers, thinkers, academics and artists": Enlightening the Future 2024: Key Challenges for the Next Generation.

    There are some interesting contributions, and maybe this will help to rectify the lack of vision that now haunts British politics. The days when we had to fear people who wanted to impose ideological blueprints on us have long passed.

    The exercise is sponsored by Orange. I have always thought their "The future's bright. The future's Orange" commercials would make perfect Liberal Democrat party political broadcasts.

    The way we live now

    Here is a depressing statistic from an article on the BBC website: 48 per cent of telephone subscribers are now ex-directory.

    No doubt this has a lot to do with a wish to avoid sales calls. But it may also tell us something about the atomised state of life in Britain today. In America the figure is a lot lower.

    There is a telling quotation from someone in the article:
    "The people I want to contact me, I would give them my number. Why would I want anyone else to contact me?"

    Monday, July 10, 2006

    Thomas Keay Tapling

    A little local history from my files:

    Leicestershire MP and cricketer's £10 million stamp collection celebrates one hundred years on display.

    One of the world's greatest stamp collections - The Tapling Collection, donated by nineteenth-century cricketer and MP Thomas Keay Tapling - celebrates one hundred years on exhibition on October 5th.

    Thomas Tapling was a wealthy Victorian businessman, running the family carpet making business along with his duties as MP for the Harborough Division in Leicestershire from 1886-1891. He was also a first-class cricketer, turning out for Trinity College, Cambridge, Trinity College Long Vacation Club and Cambridge University Long Vacation Club. In 1886 he also played for M.C.C against Cambridge University. His cricketing prowess also took him on tour to India and Ceylon with G.F. Vernon's side in 1889, a tour that did much to to advance interest in cricket in the region.

    Tapling was Tory MP for Harborough. He died at the age of 35 at Gumley Hall. The subsequent by-election was won for the Liberals by my hero J. W. "Paddy" Logan, and they held the seat until 1918.

    Back to Walsall

    In March I wrote about Walsall's New Art Gallery. Now I have come across a book which tells the family story behind the Garman Ryan collection it houses.

    The Rare and the Beautiful: The Lives of the Garmans tells the story of the Garman family, including an amazing cast of partners and lovers: Roy Campbell, Jacob Epstein, Laurie Lee, Peggy Guggenheim, Lucian Freud.

    In many ways they were an unattractive crew, living exquisite lives while their children were neglected, but the book lays bare a fascinating slice of twentieth century cultural and political life.

    Sunday, July 09, 2006

    Sean Woodward and spanking

    Only it's Shaun Woodward. Sorry.

    What do you make of this?

    edna burtin [20/7/2005]
    i am a mother of 2 boys, and it is very important that they get smacked when they are naughty, which is very often. once when i was in a supermarket with jason, my oldest son (11) he was baing very cheeky and rude so i pulled down his trowsers and his pants, bent him over and smacked his bare bottom very hard.

    And once when i had friends round jason and alex were fighting so i grabbed alex's arm, apologised to my friends pulled down his trowsers and pants and put him over my knee and spanked him hard across his bare backside, i did the same to jason.

    Or this?

    lola charles [27/11/2005]
    I have 3 children, aged 6 months, 2 years, and 5 years. My 5 year old boy has been smacked on a clothed bottom with my hand from an early age for backtalking and other serious things. Recently he has got extremely rude and I am wondering weather I should start using an implement to smack him with, and smacking him bare bottomed. I would smack him bare in public if he was playing up. I am interested to see what other parents think I should do. I have heard a successful dicipline techniqe is putting a bar of natural soap in a naughty childs mouth for 10 minutes works well. Natural soap contains no harmful chemicals and tastes worse than un-natural soap. Have other parents tried this and does it work? Should I hit my 5 year olds bare bottom with an implement?
    Loving Mother xxx

    Or this?
    Emma [22/5/2006]
    I am 14 and my mum hasn't smacked me since I was 11. Last week I was cheeky to her whilst my friends were round. After they had gone she told me if I ever do that again she will take me straight upstairs and smack my bottom like she used to. I knew she meant it too, and I will never do that again as I remember it was the most humiliating thing to have friends hear my bare bottom being smacked.
    All these must come from a fetish site, you will say. And if the spelling is bad, it can't be easy to type with only one hand.

    Not a bit of it. You can find all these postings in a discussion on the website of the Labour MP for St Helens South, Sean Woodward. You can find them in his forum on the subject "Should parents be allowed to smack their children?"

    I suppose that as this is all fantasy it is ultimately harmless. But it ought to be an embarrassment to Woodward to have it on his website: he tells us in his introduction to the forum:
    As a Trustee of ChildLine I am all too well aware of the problems of child abuse in Britain.
    The moral is that while it is good for an MP to have a website and to use it to encourage debate, he really ought to read it occasionally.

    And if Woodward is too busy to read it himself, he could always ask his butler.

    Later. I am in danger of allowing just as many as sexual fantasies to be posted as Shaun Woodward did. I have deleted the most egregious of them and closed the comments on this posting.

    A Canterbury Tale

    There is more than one way of getting close to your ancestors.

    Follow the Old Road and as you do, think of them; they climbed Chillingbourne Hill just as you did. They sweated and paused for breath just as you did today.

    And when you see the bluebells in the spring and the wild thyme, and the broom and the heather, you're seeing what their eyes saw. You ford the same rivers, the same birds singing. And when you lie flat on your back and rest, and watch the clouds sailing as I often do, you're so close to those other people, that you can hear the thrumming of the hoofs of their horses, and the sound of the wheels on the road, and their laughter, and talk, and the music of the instruments they carried.

    And they turned the bend in the road, where they too saw the towers of Canterbury. I feel I have only to turn my head to see them on the road behind me.

    The film of the week on television has to be Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale. It is on BBC2 on Tuesday, starting at 1 p.m.

    As Mark Duguid writes on screenonline:

    The film is structured as a mystery story, but its real purpose is to add a spiritual dimension to the propaganda message of earlier films like 49th Parallel (1941) and "...One of Our Aircraft is Missing" (1942). There are no Nazis in A Canterbury Tale and, although the war provides its backdrop, the focus is on identifying a distinctively moral and spiritual English identity, in direct opposition to the harsh material objectives of fascism.

    The film offers a vision of an England with its spiritual roots in the countryside exemplified by the beauty of Kent - the county of Powell's birth - an England which its increasingly urban population have neglected for too long. Evoking Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the film charts the progress of a select band of modern pilgrims. As the trio of land girl Alison (Sheila Sim), American officer Bob (John Sweet) and British officer Peter (Dennis Price) converge on Canterbury Cathedral, each receives a 'blessing', bringing his or her most fervent wish to life. The film's peculiar power owes much to Eric Portman who, as the enigmatic Thomas Colpeper - local Justice of the Peace, prophet and one of Powell's many screen alter-egos - delivers an intense and complex performance, just as he had in 49th Parallel three years earlier.

    There are links to all sorts of review and articles on The Powell & Pressburger Pages, but really I suggest you just tape it or watch it. It is an extraordinary film.

    Sunday reading

    The usual recommendations can be found here and here.

    Topical Trivial Fact of the Day

    Ainsley Harriott was a ballboy at Wimbledon in 1972, says The First Post.

    "Game to Nastase."

    "Huh, huh, huh. What are you like?"

    Sir Menzies over Kabul

    The BBC reports:

    Liberal Democrats leader Sir Menzies Campbell said he would support plans to send more UK troops to Afghanistan.

    He said there was "no option" but to send more because current troop numbers were not enough to complete the job.

    Fine, but wouldn't it be a good idea to decide what "the job" is first?

    Saturday, July 08, 2006

    Just a little prick with a needle

    There is a report in yesterday's Liberal Democrat News about Liz Lynne MEP meeting a delegation of leaders of European nursing associations in Brussels. It says:
    They went to the European Parliament to thank her for her work in trying to achieve EU-wide legislation to cut down on the amount of injuries suffered by healthcare workers while handling needles and other medical sharps.
    It is natural to try to do good when you have the power, but I am left wondering why this is a matter for the European Parliament. If there are problems in the NHS why hasn't the British government acted already? Come to that, why does it need legislation at all? What are NHS managers doing about it?

    The danger is that the negotiations and compromises needed to produce a law that is acceptable across the EU will take too long, so if there are problems in a particular country they will not be solved.

    Years ago, when Neil Kinnock was a commissioner, he was trying to have bull-bars banned from the front of cars across Europe. Look out of the window and you will still see cars still driving round with them on today. If it had been left to Westminster, they could have gone long ago.

    Friday, July 07, 2006

    Don't take the London bombers too seriously

    There is a good article by Munira Mirza on Spiked. It takes a line I have not seen argued elsewhere:

    What we see in these videos are not soldiers in a war, but self-righteous young men who believe that their own moral certainty absolves them of the need to explain themselves properly.

    Nobody elected Khan or Tanweer. As far as we know, they did not have relations with anyone in Palestine, Bosnia or Chechnya. Indeed, these two men did not even bother to ask their family, friends or neighbours what they thought.

    At the local mosque near where three of the bombers grew up, one of the committee members, Muhboob Hussein, reacted with anger to 7/7: ‘This is not Islam, this is not jihad, these people are not Muslim. This man [Khan] never came to our mosque....’

    Obviously, Khan or Tanweer did not show much interest in trying to win people over to their worldview - they thought that ‘democratically elected governments’ had less claim to act on behalf of people than they did.

    "Now bugger off"

    Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News.

    Parks posers
    An exchange from Monday’s culture questions. Nicholas Soames complained that an excess of commercial events is damaging London’s royal parks. The minister, David Lammy, replied that Soames’s tastes “may well not be the same as those of Londoners” and that the Prince’s Trust concert and Live8 show that the Royal Parks Agency has been very successful.

    We know what to make of this, don’t we? The forces of reaction took on modern London and were vanquished.

    Soames fits that script admirably: the grandson of Winston Churchill, he has the look of a man who has eaten a whole gamekeeper for breakfast. But Lammy, the MP for funky, multiracial Tottenham, is not the straightforward Londoner (or ‘Nylondoner’ as Ken Livingstone would put it) many think him.

    True, he was born in a working-class area of North London, but he won an Inner London Educational Authority choral scholarship to The King's School, Peterborough, and sang in the cathedral choir there. Add to this a postgraduate degree from Harvard, and he becomes a more complicated character than he made himself sound.

    Besides, Soames has a point. Lammy later claimed there is the potential “to raise even more revenue from our parks”. But isn’t the point of a park that it is somewhere that stands apart from the business of getting and spending? If it is just a stretch of ground to make the maximum profit from, it ceases to be a park at all.

    Nor are cathedrals exempt from this view. Culture questions were followed by the incongruous questions to the Church Commissioners. Even more incongruously, they were answered by Stuart Bell. He happily told the house that cathedrals generate £91m a year and support 2600 jobs.

    Granted one of the best things about cathedrals is that they are not too holy: there is always someone rehearsing music or a bit of building work going on. But Bell does not understand the point of them any more than Lammy understands parks.

    Finally, back to Nicholas Soames. As a very small boy he escaped from Nanny and wandered the corridors until he found Churchill. “Is it true, Grandpapa, that you are the greatest man in the world?” he lisped. “Yes,” came the reply. “Now bugger off.”

    Thursday, July 06, 2006

    Prescott after a resignation

    Back in May 1994 I posted this anecdote on my anthology blog Serendib. It describes what Sir Anthony Eden did after he resigned as prime minister over Suez. What was then a pleasing trivial connection may be about to become a grand irony or a satisfying closure.
    An exhausted Eden resigned on January 9 1957 and he and his wife set sail from Tilbury to New Zealand (which had been a staunch ally) on January 18. The ship was the RMS Rangitata and the Edens' cabin steward was John Prescott, who sometimes fought on-deck boxing matches for the entertainment of the passengers, sometimes won them, and sometimes was presented with his prize (beer or wine) by the ex-prime minister or his wife.
    As someone has said, there is a play to be written about an elderly Eden expounding his wisdom to the young Prescott.

    Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    Headline of the Day

    From the Shropshire Star:
    Drinker jailed after he shot himself

    Don Foster on John Prescott

    It is ludicrous to say that John Prescott was not involved in the planning process for casinos.

    There were numerous links between Mr Prescott's department and the casino legislation. John Prescott chaired the Domestic Affairs Cabinet Committee, with links to the independent advisory panel recommending the location of new casinos to the Government. The ODPM was also responsible for establishing a new planning category for casinos and in its report makes detailed comments on the regeneration benefits of casinos.

    It is clear that there are still serious questions that require full and frank answers from Mr Prescott.


    Iain Dale will be on Newsnight later tonight to discuss this affair - see his blog for the latest developments. Part of its interest is that the running is being made by bloggers, with the BBC taking a more cautious approach.

    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    Prescott on the way out?

    Tomorrow's Daily Mail reports that John Prescott is coming under pressure on the following grounds (some more damning than others):
      • Gambling insiders revealed he was the "driving force" behind the Government's plans for new super casinos;
      • He met Mr Anschutz on seven occasions to discuss regeneration of the Dome
      • Cabinet ministers are worried Mr Prescott is "losing it";
      • Blairite PR guru Matthew Freud played a pivotal role in getting Mr Anschutz access to Government ministers;
      • Mr Prescott visited a giant casino in Australia at the height of the row over the Gambling Bill in 2004 - although the visit was blandly described at the time as a 'regeneration site visit'.
    Meanwhile, bloggers - notably Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale - are reopening the questions about his private life.

    Leonard Cheshire and Market Harborough

    The Daily Telegraph is reporting that the Leonard Cheshire charity is thinking of changing its name because no one has heard of the former war hero these days. Among the proposed new names are A-BL UK and eQual UK.

    Another strategy might be to try educating people. As a first effort in that direction, let me mention that Cheshire ran his first home at Gumley Hall near Market Harborough. (Don't look for it; it's not there any more.)

    Monday, July 03, 2006

    The wide verges of the Great North Road

    Last Friday's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News was written before I went on holiday.

    Demob happy? You could say that.

    Fishy stuff

    Poor Ben Bradshaw. He has put so much effort into pleasing the prime minister, but still finds himself with a boss who is younger, brighter and prettier than he is.

    Worse, David Milliband got to be secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs through talent. Bradshaw has made it only to parliamentary under-secretary of state for environment, food and rural Affairs and won himself an unfortunate reputation along the way. “The ludicrously biddable Member for Exeter” is one of the kinder descriptions applied to him.

    Hansard says parliamentary under-secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, but Bradshaw is really the minister for fish. Put a question about tench, hake or guppy in the Commons, and it is Bradshaw who will answer you.

    Last Thursday John Greenway asked about “the movement restrictions imposed on fish farms in North Yorkshire”. Moving fish? Perhaps we have come across a forgotten chapter of agricultural history here.

    For centuries the North Riding was famed for its fish. They were fattened in the Dales, then driven to London along the wide verges of the Great North Road to be sold at Billingsgate. Most fishdrovers’ inns have long since been renamed, but memories of the trade are still to be found in place names along the route. There is a Coddington just outside Newark, and it is no coincidence that you find Finsbury Park near the southern end of what is now the A1.

    Bradshaw mentioned none of this, talking instead about viral haemorrhagic septicaemia. When your days are filled with viral haemorrhagic septicaemia, you must wonder if a career in politics is all you thought it would be.

    This session was remarkable for the number of Lib Dem MPs taking part. There were nine, with questions on meaty subjects like climate change and water resources. It was a sign of how central the environment now is to British politics and of how it is we who are making the running on it.

    But caring for the environment is not all about hairshirts. I wish someone would convert the Emperor Ming’s Jag to run on green fuel. Then he could drive it again, which would make him happier and be good publicity – as long as he looked out for the fishdrovers.

    Sunday, July 02, 2006

    Visiting The Bog

    If you visit Shropshire be sure to call in at The Bog Visitor Centre - more pictures here.

    It is open every weekend until the end of October.