Thursday, August 31, 2006

Who built Drax?

There is an irony in today's demonstrations at Drax power station. As the late Paul Foot recalled in what must have been one of his last columns for the Guardian:
The decision to build Drax B was taken by a Labour government in 1977 after what Tony Benn - the energy secretary at the time - tells me was a "tremendous battle" with the nuclear industry and big business, which was ideologically suspicious of publicly owned industry and/or the National Union of Mineworkers.
This is something to remember when Benn complains that George W. Bush has "torn up the Kyoto treaty on global warming".

Twenty years ago the fashionable cause was to demand that the coal industry be kept open. Today it is, by implication, to demand that it be closed down. I wonder how many of the people protesting against Drax today campaigned in support of the miners' strike in the 1980s?

Hurst stays off the booze

Today's Times extracts from Greg Hurst's book do not dwell on Charles Kennedy's problems with drink and are all the more interesting for it.

The first looks at Lib-Lab co-operation in the Kennedy years, and the second looks at the relations between Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown.

Stephen Tall points out that it is possible to buy Hurst's book via Amazon and help party funds in the process, thus salving your conscience.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Knationalised knickers

Peter Black quotes Dr Molly Scott Cato, a senior lecturer in social policy at the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, who uses her difficulties in buying a decent pair of knickers as an argument against globalisation:
"Nonclassical economics would suggest that there is a market opportunity here for somebody who produced a decent pair of underwear. I would certainly pay a premium price. But instead, all suppliers of these items are competing on price, outsourcing production to Vietnam or the Philippines, using only the cheapest materials, so that knickers are see-through and fall apart within months. This is the way the best profits are made, and the best knickers are no longer of any concern."
Lord Bonkers writes exclusively for Liberal England:
Dr Molly Scott Cato (what a splendid name!) complains about the free market in knickers, but our experience with state planning was not a happy one. Knickers were nationalised by Attlee's Government in 1947 as part of the formation of the British Underwear Corporation (or BUC, as it was universally known).

Unfortunately, this organisation was notorious for its inefficiency and poor labour relations - who can forget the String Vest Strike of 1958? - and later the young Anthony Wedgwood Benn was to waste millions in an attempt to produce Anglo-French underwear.

To be frank, when Mrs Thatcher privatised BUC it was a blessed relief. As a matter of fact I bought some of the shares myself and did rather well with them.
Susanne Lamido has some observations of her own.

Liberals and child obesity

What should the Liberal Democrats say and do about increasing levels of obesity? In recent days Iain Sharpe has posted a couple of times (here and here, to be precise) looking at the dilemma the issue poses for Liberals.

Child obesity, at least, is an issue that we should take up. The trouble is that most of the policies that get debated miss the point.

For a start, we are not eating more than we used to. The picture is not altogether clear, but the most authoritative research seems to be that by Prentice and Jebb who say:
However, in sharp contrast with the suggestion that a secular drift towards high fat diets has induced people to overeat, there is evidence, based on the National Food Survey's annual measures of household food consumption, that the British are becoming fatter in spite of consuming less energy than in the 1970s. Even after adjustments for meals eaten outside the home, and for consumption of alcohol, soft drinks, and confectionery, average per capita energy intake seems to have declined by 20% since 1970.
So the answer must be more sport in schools. That is what Don Foster said for the Liberal Democrats two years ago:
We see sport as crucial to the nation's health and well being. With child obesity trebling in the past decade, it is time the Department of Health took a far greater role in promoting sport and active living.
Children were not thinner 20 or 40 years ago because of school sport. Organised games dominated the lives of boys in public schools and, to a lesser extent, grammar schools - even if many of them spent their time shivering on the wing and hoping the ball did not come near them. But for most children school sport was not that important.

Children were thinner because they burnt energy in free play out of doors. What politicians should do is look at the forces which militate against their doing so today. Among them I would list the dominance of the motor car, the removal of authority figures from public space, the panic over child abduction and a culture that has left adults afraid to exert any sort of authority over children.

The car can be tamed by home zones, with their planting and very low speed limits. We might begin to repopulate the public world by campaigning for a new generation of Routemasters with conductors in the next London Mayoral election. The panic over stranger danger is harder to tackle, but as a first step politicians could avoid stoking public anxiety.

And adult authority? Perhaps children's freedom to play in the street was always balanced by an adult's right to tell them to play somewhere else if they became to irritating. The collapse of this sort of authority has not resulted in an age of freedom for children: instead they see their lives ever more closely policed by the state and its agents.

I have developed these ideas further in an essay that forms part of a collection edited by Graham Watson and Simon Titley. It is about to be published and will be available from the Liberator stall at Brighton. Further details soon.

Banning violent pornography

I was all ready to write something about New Labour having found another thing to ban. But read further down this BBC report and what do you find?
Others, such as Liberal Democrat MP and campaign supporter Sandra Gidley, say the government should have acted sooner.

"It's absolutely the right decision. The scandal is it's taken so long to come to this decision.

"You cannot look at this sort of material and not be affected."
Other Liberal Democrats take a more sensible view. The Whiskey Priest, for instance.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hurst on Kennedy: Is that all there is?

I was planning to write something about the extracts (here and here) from Greg Hurst's biography of Charles Kennedy in this morning's Times. But they hardly justified the excitement the paper tried to generate. There is little in them that we did not already know.

It is interesting to know that the men in sandals went to see Kennedy after the 2004 Spring Conference. And equally interesting to know that Kennedy almost went public about his drink problem the previous summer. But that is about it.

Time to move on, I think.

Later. Iain Sharpe says much the same thing.

Discipline TV

As I write this, British television viewers can choose to watch:
  • Bad Lads Army: Extreme (ITV1);
  • Supernanny (Channel 4).
I am certain this tells us something significant about our society, but I am not quite sure what.

You can take things too far. Today's Shropshire Star (note the redesigned website) reports:

A Shropshire man appearing in a reality television show today told of his horror as his parachute failed to open after he jumped out of a plane at 3,500ft.

Self-confessed “layabout” Gavin Woodhouse experienced the terrifying ordeal during filming of the final episode of the ITV show Bad Lads Army: Extreme - which is due to be broadcast next month.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Kennedy biography in tomorrow's Times

Iain Dale reports that tomorrow's Times will carry extracts from Greg Hurst' new biography of Charles Kennedy.

The story has just been on the BBC news too.

Later. The Times website now has the story here and here.

Happy birthday John Betjeman

Sir John Betjeman was born 100 years ago today.

A Shropshire Lad

The gas was on in the Institute,
The flare was up in the gym,
A man was running a mineral line,
A lass was singing a hymn,
When Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Came swimming along the old canal
That carried the bricks to Lawley,
Swimming along, swimming along,
Swimming along from Severn,
And paying a call at Dawley Bank
While swimming along to Heaven.

The sun shone low on the railway line
And over the bricks and stacks,
And in at the upstairs windows
Of the Dawley houses’ backs,
When we saw the ghost of Captain Webb,
Webb in a water sheeting,
Come dripping along in a bathing dress
To the Saturday evening meeting.
Dripping along, dripping along,
To the Congregational Hall;
Dripping and still he rose over the sill
And faded away in a wall.

There wasn’t a man in Oakengates
That hadn’t got hold of the tale,
And over the valley in Ironbridge,
And round by Coalbrookdale,
How Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Rose rigid and dead from the old canal
That carried the bricks to Lawley,
Rigid and dead, rigid and dead,
To the Saturday congregation,
And paying a call at Dawley Bank
On his way to his destination.

John Betjeman

Back to Gumley

I have found another page on Gumley, where Offa lived and Thomas Tapling died,

In defence of the Bright Young Things

Rob Fenwick has a posting looking at the weekend's press speculation ahead of the publication of Greg Hurst's biography of Charles Kennedy.

The most substantial of the stories he mentions is that in the Sunday Times. There, Isabel Oakeshott writes:
There has been widespread speculation that Campbell, the current Liberal Democrat leader, will be portrayed as a traitor who helped to engineer Kennedy’s downfall in an attempt to secure the top job himself.

Some critics of Campbell claim that he had a secret health check, just weeks before Kennedy’s alcohol problem was exposed, to confirm that he was fit to run as leader.

However, insiders say that it is not Campbell but the party’s bright young MPs who will be most negatively portrayed in the book.
I am puzzled at the logic behind this. According to the reports, Hurst will claim that Charles Kennedy was frequently unable to function as leader because of drink. If this was the case then it is hard to see what choice these "bright young MPs" or anyone else had: it was clear that he could not continue as leader.

As I said in Liberal Democrat News back in January:
Far from being disloyal, I think that when Lib Dem MPs look back on this episode they will feel that the root of the trouble was that they were too loyal for too long.
Looking ahead to Brighton, there is a lot to be said for Rob's view:
I think it was a mistake for Charles to give this speech at conference - already being dubbed the “shadow leader’s speech”. It invites a direct comparison between him and Campbell, dramatically upping the odds for Ming, and re-opening old wounds for MPs and activists alike.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Trouble at Townsend

I was in Harpenden yesterday evening watching a forgotten film by the name of Trouble at Townsend. It was based on a story by Malcom Saville (which is why the viewing was organised by the Malcolm Saville Society) and starred a very young Petula Clark.

The film is best regarded as an historical curiosity, but Harpenden is a pleasant little town and well worth a visit.

The best of British

Tim Worstall's latest BritBlog Roundup was posted earlier today.

Derby details

Anders Hanson has a post giving the background on the defections from Labour to Lib Dem in Derby South:
The boundary changes at the next general election will be quite substantial in Derby and the majority of the Lib Dems’ best areas move from Derby South to Derby North constituency. But despite this I will not be surprised to see a Liberal Democrat MP in Derby at the next general election.
See too his comment on my posting on the subject.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Derby defections

A press release from Cowley Street celebrates the mass defection of Labour members to the Liberal Democrats in Margaret Beckett's Derby South constituency.

Their decision could be particularly significant in view of the result there last time:

Margaret Beckett (Labour) 19,683 45.4%

Lucy Care (Liberal Democrat) 14,026 32.3%

David Brackenbury (Conservative) 8,211 18.9%

Majority 5,657 13.0%

However, from a distance it is hard to know what to make of the affair and to judge how Liberal our new recruits are. Iain Sharpe and Colin Ross have both suggested a need for caution, and I think they are right.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Ming: I should have been Ming

The latest in the Let Ming be Ming debate comes from the great man himself.

The Guardian reports Sir Menzies Campbell's appearance at the Scottish parliament's "Festival of Politics":
When asked why he had spent so much of the first six months of his leadership on the back foot, he explained: "I took too much advice from sympathetic people, people who thought they understood."

By contrast, he claimed he was now listening to himself, saying: "When you are with lots of people with the best possible intentions who offer you advice, the skill is to realise the extent to which you must rely on your own judgment and have the confidence to do so.

From the heavy-handed to the frankly bizarre

Police are on high alert across the country. Councillors and police forces have wracked their brains for new ways of dealing with the annual threat to national security. No, not terrorists in this instance, but kids hanging around on street corners.

The summer holidays are cue for a raft of measures to tackle youths’ bad behaviour. Police prepare for groups of young people out on the streets as if for a national emergency. This year, Home Office minister Tony McNulty announced £500,000 in grants for 10 local areas to crack down on teenage criminal damage. Discipline measures range from the heavy-handed – including curfews and dispersal orders – to the frankly bizarre.

On Spiked, Josie Appleton looks at the ways the authorities are trying to keep young people off the streets this summer.

More on the Lib Dem blog awards

Mark and Niles kindly answered the questions I raised last night in the comments on that post. There is also a page about the awards on the Lib Dem website now.

If you think I sounded cynical about them, see what Liberal Legend has to say.

Anyway, good luck everyone. My money is on The Darbyshires.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The devil on South Ronaldsay

Last night BBC2 showed Accused - a remarkable documentary on the Orkney "Satanic Ritual Abuse" case of 1991. I cannot find a page on the BBC site devoted to it, but this news report includes some of the material from the programme.

Although it included dramatic reconstructions of some of the interviews social workers conducted with the children, what was most impressive about Accused was the way it allowed all the participants in the affair - including the children, who are now grown up - to speak for themselves. In the case of the social workers this ultimately involved giving them enough rope to hang themselves, but they cannot claim that they were unfairly treated.

The obvious question to ask is how it could happen. The answer lies in the nature of social work, which has the appearance of a profession but lacks the body of theoretical knowledge that a profession needs. Clinical psychologists, for example, apply the knowledge gained through psychological research, but social workers have no equivalent body of knowledge to apply. Sociology certainly does not supply them with technical knowledge that the rest of us lack.

So there is a vacuum at the heart of social work. When you add to this the fact that the people attracted into it are, for the most part, well meaning but of no particular intellectual accomplishment, then it is not surprising that they come to hold strange beliefs.

At one time Marxism filled the vacuum, at least to some extent, but its influence had been on the wane for a decade before the Orkney affair. Accused emphasised the feminist roots of the belief in Satanic Ritual Abuse amongst social workers, and it certainly had roots there, but the concept was also strongly influenced by American Evangelical Christianity.

Again, the fact that those who think themselves politically radical can be so easily influenced by the most reactionary movement in the Western world shows there is something odd about social work. It sounds fanciful to say that the raids on homes in Orkney were a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the decline of Marxism, but there is probably something in it.

Social workers are easy targets for public scorn, but some of the practices revealed in Accused would raise serious questions about the competence and morality of those involved even if you believed that the devil had been walking on South Ronaldsay. In particular, there was the endless browbeating of children in the guise of skilled questioning and the inexplicable decision to send one of the boys lifted from Orkney to a unit for young offenders. As his mother was only too well aware, he really was at risk of sexual abuse there.

With her bovine complacency Janette Chisholm, one of the social workers shown, made an easy hate figure. She refused to entertain the thought that she might have been wrong, and treated the parents' protestations of innocence as proof of their guilt. But then in America people used to argue that the lack of evidence that Satanists were murdering children in huge numbers was proof of how powerful their conspiracy was.

The other social worker interviewed came over as a more sympathetic figure. Yet at the end, when describing the way the children had been flown back to Orkney, he claimed that he had heard them use language that proved they had been abused.

So there are words whose use, by themselves, constitutes proof that Satanic abuse has taken place, and social workers can recognise them and no one else can? You only have to type that out to see what nonsense it is.

There were heroes in this case. One was the Sheriff David Kelbie, who recognised the evidence for the mumbo jumbo it was and threw the case out at the first opportunity. Never underestimate the importance of an independent legal system to the maintenance of our freedom.

But the real heroes were the people of South Ronaldsay, who stood by the families involved even though they were not from Orkney and one of them was difficult to deal with. As one of the parents said, if it had not been for the support of the community, they would not have got their children back.

The press played a part too. Journalists arrived in Orkney thinking they were there to report a particularly juicy kinky vicar story, but had the sense to realise what was really going on.

Socialists and liberals tend to see progress as consisting in professionals (and pseudo-professionals) supervising more and more areas of our lives. The Orkney case should remind us that these people can sometimes be wicked or stupid or just disastrously wrong and that the people often show far better judgement.

That is a lesson we should never forget.

Later. I wrote another short posting on the Orkney affair.

Mooving around the country

The story of the day has to be the claim that English cows have regional accents.

Now the Guardian allows you to judge for yourself.

Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards

Niles's Blog has spotted the following in the Liberal Democrat Conference agenda for (I think) the Sunday:

Bloggers' Reception

Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards

Come and see the inaugural Liberal Democrat bloggers awards being presented and hear from some of the top Lib Dem bloggers, including Lynne Featherstone MP.

21.00-23.00, Gloucester Room, Hilton Brighton Metropole

Does anyone know who has decided they are qualified to make these awards? Is it an official party thing?

If so, it is a little too reminiscent of the Labour Party's idea of offering "an up and coming blogger" access to their Party Conference in Manchester this year:
You'll be given access to all the key speeches and events at Conference and you'll be blogging from the floor about your experiences.
If blogging is to be something more than a substitute for shouting at the radio, we bloggers must be free spirits who blog from wherever we like. We must not be the sort to have our hair ruffled by the powers that be.

That said, anyone minded to offer me an award can find my e-mail address in the right-hand column.

Stupid Security Awards

Privacy International are running an open competition to discover the world’s most pointless, intrusive, annoying and self-serving security measures.

The awards aim to highlight the absurdities of the security industry. They were first staged in 2003 and attracted over 5000 nominations from around the world.

Awards are made in the following categories:
  • Most Egregiously Stupid Award
  • Most Inexplicably Stupid Award
  • Most Annoyingly Stupid Award
  • Most Flagrantly Intrusive Award
  • Most Stupidly Counter Productive Award

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The UK is not a PLC

There is a good article by James Whyte in The Times today.

It takes apart two ideas. The first is the idea that a nation should be viewed as a commercial company. The second is that it is economically imperative that the government acts to ensure that the British education system produces more scientists.

Of course, there may be other, non-economic reasons for wanting to see more scientists. I can imagine a prosperous economy with no poets, artists or musicians, but it is not one I would like to live in.

But these quotations are spot on:

The idea that trade involves competition between nations stems from the tenacity of an early socialist misconception. Many continue to think of a country as a single, very large, company. The expression “UK plc”, typically used by those who like to think of themselves as economically astute, perfectly encapsulates the error.

Once you think of a nation as a company, other mistakes follow quite naturally. You think of international trade as a competition. You think that we should aim to export more than we import, as if exports were the country’s revenues and imports its costs. And you make the biggest mistake of all. You try to plan the economy. You think that the Government, like managers of a company, should decide how to allocate the nation’s resources.
Those who lobby for state support — be they French farmers, US steel-makers or British scientists — claim to be the backbone of the nation, the foundation of the future or something similarly fabulous. But it is a perverse argument. If what you produce is so valuable, why can you not find willing buyers at the unsubsidised market price?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Sporting quote of the week

From Matt Hughes' Times appreciation of Michael Essien's perfromance on Sunday:
Even Stuart Pearce was impressed, refusing to blame Essien for his part in Bernardo Corradi’s sending-off despite a clear tug on the Italian striker’s long, lank hair. “He’s got lovely hair, I pull it all week,” Pearce said.

Insurance companies are the devil (pt 94)

The Guardian tells us:

Insurance firms have warned policy holders it would be "foolish" to think that they would be covered for burglaries if left their doors and windows open, in the wake of comments from the Metropolitan police chief that crime was now low enough that people felt safe to do so.

Sir Ian Blair caused surprise when, in an interview published today, he claimed people were "...opening their doors, leaving their doors open now, or leaving them unlocked, certainly, in a way they haven't done for 25 years".

Paul Redington, property claims manager at Norwich Union, said people would be offering "a perfect invite" to burglars if they did so.

And he added that claimants "almost certainly" would not be covered if they did so.

You can see his point. If people start trusting one another, there is no knowing where it may end.

The meme of three

Iain Dale has tagged me with this meme...

1. Things that scare me:

  • Daddy longlegs
  • Dark water
  • Fierce dogs

2. People who make me laugh:

  • Alexei Sayle
  • Leonard Rossiter
  • The League of Gentlemen

3. Things I hate the most:

  • Tyranny
  • Snobbery
  • Anti-intellectualism

4. Things I don't understand:

  • What is so great about Mozart
  • What is so great about Jane Austen
  • Why some Liberals have an inferiority complex towards socialism

5. Things I'm doing right now:

  • Writing my blog
  • Watching Dispatches on Channel 4
  • Thinking I should go for a walk

6. Things I want to do before I die:

  • See a Liberal MP elected for Harborough
  • See Chelsea win the Champions' League
  • Write that novel

7. Things I can do:

  • Write
  • Play chess well
  • Make trivial connections

8. Ways to describe my personality:

  • Humorous
  • Serious
  • Complex

9. Things I can't do:

  • Click my fingers
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Believe that a great country like the USA elected George W. Bush

10. Things I think you should listen to:

  • Your mother
  • Your conscience
  • Radio 3

11. Things you should never listen to:

  • Victoria Derbyshire
  • Nicky Campbell
  • Any Questions?

12. Things I'd like to learn:

  • Latin (again)
  • More about statistics
  • Scots Gaelic

13. Favorite foods:

  • Trout
  • Risotto
  • Ice cream

14. Beverages I drink regularly:

  • Wood's Shropshire Lad
  • Royal Lochnagar
  • Australian wines

15. Shows I watched as a kid:

  • Jackanory
  • Blue Peter
  • Crackerjack

16. People I'm tagging to do this meme:

No snakes on Lembit's plane

The Sunday Herald quotes some good sense from the boss of Air Welshpool:

In the next edition of Flight Training News, Lembit Opik, the popular Lib-Dem MP and a pilot himself, will let rip against the security hysteria. He says: “The unavoidable logic of the ever-tightening noose of security leads directly and quickly into a police state … What has happened is a very real compromising of our civil liberties … Risk management, not risk elimination, is the sensible approach.” Airline security needs “informed decision-making”, he goes on, adding: “Ministers are only concerned with checking everyone who gets on a plane, rather than figuring out why some people board for the wrong reasons.”

Opik called on the government to “make realistic plans with airports and airlines now, not during the next alleged plot, when the temptation for knee-jerk over-reaction is obviously greater. Long term, the solution isn’t found in turning Heathrow into an overcrowded shanty town of frustrated travellers … the challenge is having proportionate responses.”

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Round Silvester Horne

Years ago I read somewhere that the Liberal MP for Ipswich Silvester Horne was the father of the radio comedian Kenneth Horne and that the Silvester Horne Institute in Church Stretton, Shropshire, was named after him.

I long ago forgot where I came across this, and had rather come to doubt it on the grounds that it is just the sort of thing I would imagine. (Regular readers of this blog will know how I love trivial connections.) Having just read Barry Johnston's biography of Kenneth Horne, I now know that it is all true.

Silvester Horne was a Congregationalist minister - which was always the most respectable variety of Nonconformity. Indeed, his father-in-law Herbert Cozens-Hardy, the Liberal MP for North Norfolk, later became the Master of the Rolls.

Silvester was a celebrated preacher and orator. A contemporary observer wrote:
In Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Leicester he conquered vast audiences by the magic of his oratory. He understands better than any speaker of his years, with the possible exception of Mr Lloyd George, how to quicken slow blood, kindle light in dull eyes, and bring the flood-tide of enthusiasm sweeping into all creeks and inlets of the spirit. His youthful appearance, grace and winsomeness of gesture, attractive delivery, and clear, well-modulated voice delight every company that hears him.
When in adult life, reports Barry Johnston, Kenneth Horne described Winston Churchill to a friend as a great orator, that friend replied: "Yes, but then you never heard your father speak, did you?"

That was a slight exaggeration: Silvester Horne died in 1914 when Kenneth, his youngest child was seven. Silvester was on a lecture tour of North America when he died, but his body was brought back to Church Stretton, where he had built The White House for his family. You can find the house in Sandford Avenue, the other side of the valley from the town centre. Silvester's grave is in the new burial ground rather than the old churchyard.

The subsequent by-election in Ipswich was fought and lost for the Liberals by one of my political heroes: Charles Masterman. (You see why I thought I had imagined all this? Kenneth Horne even lived for years in the block of flats in Kensington where we used to put Liberator together.)

Johnston's biography is a workmanlike march through Kenneth Horne's radio career, from Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh, via Beyond Our Ken to Round the Horne.

For much of that career Horne also had a full-time job in industry, which gave him the reputation of being a gifted amateur. In reality that was nonsense: he was a hugely gifted comedian, part of whose art was to make his performances sound natural and easy. He also specialised in chairing radio quizzes and panel games, and made repeated attempts to break into television.

Kenneth Horne obviously got that wonderful voice from his father, and both died young because of weak hearts and an unwillingness to take medical advice. But surely the son who revelled in the smut of Round the Horne can have had little in common with his clergyman father?

Not really: Kenneth Horne was not without a puritan streak too. He once said: "I am all for censorship. If ever I see a double entendre, I whip it out!"

More guilty pleasures

Peter Pigeon has answered my posting on Q magazine's guilty pleasures with a list of his own.

He says that my 10 includes a couple of songs that he quite likes. And the reverse is true. In fact, his 10 contain two songs that I think are great:

  • All or Nothing is one of the very best songs by one of the very best British groups of the 1960s.
  • Downtown is wonderful - and I told Petula Clark as much when she phoned me a few years ago (hem, hem). It was obviously the wrong thing to say, but I am glad I said it.
I was also interested in the comment by Liberal Neil that "Many people have broad tastes," with its implied condemnation. For I think it misses the point.

Having good taste doesn't mean liking all music in a fluffy kind of way. It means being able to discriminate between the good and the bad in all the kinds of music that you listen to. (This is something I can't do in jazz, for instance, because it has never interested me enough.)

Being able to nominate a list of guilty pleasure requires a sophisticated level of appreciation. It is a sign of broad tastes, not narrow ones.

Finally, I have been thinking about my original argument that a degree of pretentiousness is necessary for a record to qualify as a guilty pleasure. Maybe the attraction of some artists is that they constantly threaten to topple over into pretention but never quite do.

Scott Walker is a good example of this and - though Neil Hannon's touch is a little less sure - the Divine Comedy are another.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Leslie Hore-Belisha

Another piece of Liberal history (after David and Winston), though he soon went to the Dark Side. Today's Liberal Democrat News carries my review of Ian Grimwood's biography of Leslie Hore-Belisha.

You can find it at the bottom of this page.

Charles Kennedy: A tragic flaw

The Pandora column in yesterday's Independent reports that Greg Hurst's biography of the former Liberal Democrat leader will be published to coincide with the party's conference next month.

The excitable newspaper says:
The book, which was supposed to be released last month, now threatens to cast a shadow over Kennedy's proposed comeback, as it will reveal a number of details about his battle with alcohol addiction. It is also expected to make several claims about events leading up to his demise that could prove hugely embarrassing to his party colleagues.
Last one to the conference bookstall is a sissy.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lloyd George and Churchill

As well as Lord Bonkers' Diary, Liberator 312 contains my review of David and Winston: How a friendship changed history by Robert Lloyd George.

Lord Bonkers' latest diary

The new Liberator arrived in the post today. So it is time to post Lord Bonkers' latest offering. (You can find an archive of the old boy's diaries on his own website.)

To Wimbledon to watch an afternoon’s lawn tennis. When I arrive I get the most terrible shock: the linesmen and umpires are all dressed like little Steel; every man jack of them sports a blue shirt with a white collar. I down a stiff Pimms to steady my nerve, but even so am obliged to make my excuses and leave before the final set.

Besides I have always had mixed feelings about these championships: year after year I bid for the ball boy contract, only to find that Barnardo’s had undercut me again. The Well-Behaved Orphans were only asked to officiate once, and funnily enough that year both the gentlemen’s and the ladies’ singles were won by unseeded players and I rather cleaned up at Ladbroke’s.

Walking along an obscure corridor at Westminster I spy the Conservative member for Suffolk South coming towards me. Ever one for a jape, I wait until we have almost drawn level before greeting him with the words “Yo, Yeo!” Would you believe he does not laugh? Some people have no sense of humour.

The afternoon finds me in Notting Hill, reconnoitring the route of the carnival procession on behalf of the Rutland Morris Men. Passing a rather grand house I spy a familiar figure with a shining pink face climbing a ladder; he is followed by two speechwriters, a man carrying a clean shirt and another with an inflatable Boris Johnson. Yes, it is the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party, David Cameron, and he is busily erecting windmills on his roof.

To his credit, Cameron has been an enthusiast for wind power since his days at Eton, where he employed two fags to fan him. However, being something of an expert on these matters through my discussions with Malachy Dromgoogle, I cannot help but notice that he is rather overdoing it. I point this out, but the fellow is not to be told and continues to put up more sales. The inevitable happens: the wind gets up, there is a horrible sheering noise and the whole roof takes off with Cameron and his entourage still aboard. I gather they were last seen passing over High Wycombe.

These days one cannot have one’s footman open the Manchester Guardian for one without coming across an article by Lord Hattersley. It happens that I knew the young Roy Hattersley; he was 14 when I first met him and, as a scion of one of the area’s leading Labour families, already an Alderman of Sheffield. He would insist upon being borne into the council chamber shoulder high by cloth-capped workmen, while the various ward parties would vie for the honour of presenting him with meat-and-potato pies.

With gravy running down his chin, he would spray pastry crumbs over the assembled company while demanding that the council pull down all the terraced houses and replace them with tower blocks. “And I want a multi-storey car park and pedestrian underpasses and a gyratory system and I want them now!” he would demand in a barely broken voice, while stamping his foot. In short, he represented all that was best in the municipal socialism of the 1960s.

I was sorry to see that fellow Michael Brown sent to gaol. If anyone had it in mind to send him a cake with a file in it, I think that would be a nice gesture.

There can be fewer sadder tales than that of Mark Oaten – or Rising Star as I still think of him. This innocent Red Indian brave, through a strange concatenation of circumstances, found himself elected Member for the historic city of Winchester. It must have been a shock to someone more used to hunting buffalo or putting arrows through the hats of passing stagecoach drivers, but at first he made a good fist of things and was re-elected a couple of times with a juicy majority.

However, as is so often the case, fame turned his head and he began to get ideas above his station (which is Waterloo for Winchester, incidentally). In rapid succession he had himself made Kennedy’s Parliamentary Private Secretary (“Rising Star carry heap big firewater,” as he once remarked to me), Chairman of the Parliamentary Party and Shadow Home Secretary, jettisoning his moccasins and acquiring a suit along the way. In this last post he hit upon the idea of making prisoners study. (Locked up and made to learn Latin verbs? It sounds just like public school and I am sure the European Court would step in.)

Then hubris took hold of him and he stood for the leadership of our party. I need not recount here the distasteful details of his fall here (they may be purchased separately from the Bonkers Head Press under a plain brown wrapper), but that was the end of poor Rising Star. Now he is attempting to make a living in show business. I cannot see it working for him, but when he calls today I use my good offices to find him a part in a keep-fit video being made in Jamaica by a friend. It’s name? Pilates of the Caribbean.

It gives me no pleasure to see Lord Levy in trouble with the Old Bill. In the 1970s he was the manager of my old friend Alvin Stardust – in those days a regular denizen of the “hit parade” and frequently to be heard inviting listeners to be his coo ca choo – and I learned nothing but good of him. In particular, he would use his influence in the music world to secure work for aspiring Labour politicians who were temporarily embarrassed for funds.

In those days there was a popular group called The Wombles whose members dressed in the most amusing furry costumes. The advantage of that garb was that simply anyone could appear on stage as a Womble and the audience would be none the wiser. Over the years Jack Straw, Margaret Beckett and Dr John Read were all pleased to dress up and earn a few bob in this way. I also recall that a struggling young lawyer named Anthony Blair would occasionally appear if briefs were slow coming in.

Just as a Roman Emperor would keep a slave on hand to whisper “remember thou art moral” in his ear from time to time, so our current Prime Minister would be well advised to have an aide say “remember you’re a womble” now and then. “Re-member-member-member what a womble womble womble you are,” he might add.

Dr David Kelly

Last month I reported that Norman Baker (Lib Dem MP for Lewes) has published a dossier on the discrepancies in the official account of the death of Dr David Kelly.

There is now a blog devoted to the case. It is written by Rowena Thursby on behalf of the Kelly Investigation Group.

Thanks to The UK Daily Pundit.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The boy on the plane

A couple of reflections on last night's story about the boy who got on to a plane at Gatwick with no ticket or passport.

First, the Sun tells us that:
The lad has been in care for nearly two years because of behavioural problems, including repeatedly running away from home.
Which suggests that his care home isn't doing a very good job in, er, caring for him.

Second, his escapade is strangely reminiscent of one of Tony Blair's more outrageous lies about his own boyhood. As John Kampfner recalls:
Blair produced his first tall tale as early as December 1996 when he told Des O'Connor that as a 14-year-old he had run away to Newcastle airport and boarded a plane for the Bahamas: "I snuck onto the plane, and we were literally about to take off when the stewardess came up to me," he recounted. Quite how he managed this without a boarding card or passport was not explained.
Perhaps that is not such an obstacle to the truth of this story after all. But there is more:
It certainly came as a surprise to his father, Leo, who is said to have exclaimed: "The Bahamas? Who said that? Tony? Never". It came equally as a surprise to authorities at the airport who pointed out that there has never been a flight from Newcastle to the Bahamas.

John Reid and the dictators

It seems that our home secretary's enthusiasm for foreign tyrants showed itself well after his days as a student communist in the 1970s. On 22 March 2002 Keven Toolis wrote in the Guardian:
In the international arena, Reid, during his drinking days, fell into bad company in the Balkans with the Bosnian Serb mass-murderer Radovan Karadzic, who tops The Hague's International War Crimes Tribunal list of wanted men. Reid has admitted spending three days in 1993 at a luxury Geneva lakeside hotel as a guest of Karadzic. "He used to talk to Karadzic, he admired Karadzic. He mistook the Bosnian Serb project as the inheritor of the united Communist ideal," says Brendan Simms, a Cambridge academic and author of Unfinest Hour: Britain And The Destruction of Bosnia.
Found via Craig Murray and Media Lens.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

12-year-old defeats airport security

You have to laugh, I suppose:
A 12-year-old boy managed to evade "critical" level airport security by bunking on a flight without any passport or documentation.

The youngster, who had run away from a care home in Birkenhead, Merseyside, boarded a plane at Gatwick Airport bound for Lisbon at 6am on Monday.

Despite airport security being on red-alert following the alleged terrorist plot to bomb planes, he managed to somehow get through airport security, get on the plane and was settling down with a drink and a snack when a member of the Monarch Airlines crew realised something was amiss.

The youngster didn't have a passport, boarding pass or any other travel documents.

Market Harborough: No. 8 with a bullet

The Daily Telegraph has published its top 10 small towns in Britain, and my home town is at number 8:

Market Harborough thrives on its position in the centre of England. Once there were coaches, if they could struggle through the sticky clay; now the train service takes only an hour to London. (In first class, Midland Mainline serves weary commuters with a restorative glass of wine to ease the transition between work and home.) As its name suggests, Harborough (as they call it) has always lived on trade. It is the sort of place where you can still find a good set of fire irons.

You can buy fire irons here, but this is not clay country. Another one of those foolish writers who is convinced that the Midlands are flat?

It's a reasonable list, though I would have put Bishop's Castle at number 1.

TV Film of the Week: Hell Drivers

On Thursday, starting at 12.35 p.m., BBC2 is showing the 1957 British thriller Hell Drivers.

It deals with dangerous practices in the road haulage industry, and is rather more involving than that makes it sound, even if the footage of lorries careering around corners is rather too obviously speeded-up.

But this film's glory is its cast, and lovers of cult TV and of old British films should certainly watch it or tape it.

Two moments stand out. One is the climax: the hero is Stanley Baker, and he is involved in a lorry chase at the end of the film. (I cannot recall if he is the hunter or the quarry.) The other lorry is driven by Patrick McGoohan and his passenger is William Hartnell.

That's right: The Prisoner and Doctor Who in the same cab.

For Man from Uncle fans, there is also an appearance by David McCallum early on.

The other great moment is a table football game near the beginning of the film in which the four participants are:
  • Gordon Jackson
  • Alfie Bass
  • Herbert Lom
  • A young Sean Connery
Yes, James Bond is in it too.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Craig Murray on the UK terror plot

The former ambassador to Uzbekistan (and former Liberator contributor) gives his analysis:
Be sceptical. Be very, very sceptical.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Flotman for England

The BBC tells us:

A Norfolk couple were woken in the night after a car driven by Newcastle United defender Titus Bramble crashed into the wall outside their house.

It happened on the A140 in the village of Newton Flotman on Saturday night.

It must have been a shock for them. But an interesting point is that the story could equally have run:

A Norfolk couple were woken in the night after a car driven by Newcastle United defender Newton Flotman crashed into the wall outside their house.

It happened on the A140 in the village of Titus Bramble on Saturday night.

Tim Worstall's BritBlog Roundup

Inhale deeply.

How imminent was the threat?

How This Old Brit Sees It points us to an interesting report on the NBC site:

NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.

A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.

In contrast to previous reports, the official suggested an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some did not even have passports.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Liberal Democrat tax plans

Could we have asked for a better set of headlines than these?

Tories outflanked on tax cuts for poor

Lib Dems' green tax plan unveiled

Lib Dems unveil plans for £15bn tax on the rich

Happy birthday to The First Post

The First Post, which bills itself as an "online daily magazine", is one year old today.

Browsing through it, I can recommend Jonathan Keates's review of Consuming Passions: Leisure and pleasure in Victorian Britain by Judith Flanders. Like Matthew Sweet's Inventing the Victorians it presents evidence that the Victorians were less, er, Victorian than we think.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Guilty pleasures

Last Week Q magazine got a lot of publicity for its feature on guilty pleasures - the records you like but feel that you shouldn't. Being a sucker for this sort of thing I bought that issue.

What is a guilty pleasure? Q never quite gets round to defining it, but for me it has to be a pretentious record that does not quite justify its pretentions, yet leaves you thinking that if you listen to it once more it just might.

Q gives its top 50 albums and singles in the genre, and here are the top 10 singles:
  1. ELO - Livin' Thing
  2. Boston - More Than A Feeling
  3. S Club 7 - Don't Stop Movin'
  4. 10cc - I'm Not In Love
  5. Gary Glitter - Rock'n'Roll Part 2
  6. Foreigner - Cold As Ice
  7. Billy Idol - Rebel Yell
  8. Status Quo - Whatever You Want
  9. Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street
  10. Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive
Livin' Thing is a perfect example, but some will not do. Baker Street is a good record (or at least it meant a lot to me at the time, which probably means I am not able to judge it objectively), while the Gary Glitter, like most glamrock, is just plain bad. I'm Not in Love is a dirge and was played to death at the time.

So here are my 10 guilty pleasures in no particular order:
  • Eloise - Barry Ryan
  • Africa - Toto
  • We're gonna change the world - Matt Monro
  • Forever young - Alphaville
  • I'm Mandy fly me - 10CC
  • Drowning in Berlin - Mobiles
  • The show must go on - Leo Sayer
  • Carrie doesn't live here anymore - Cliff Richard
  • Careless whisper - George Michael
  • The logical song - Supertramp

John Reid: The cloven hoof pops out

Before it gets lost in the excitement surrounding today's events it is worth taking a look at John Reid's speech from yesterday.

The Guardian reported his comments on the struggle against terrorism:

The majority of the public understood its seriousness but there were those who "just don't get it", whose opposition was undermining the struggle. They included:

  • Politicians who opposed the anti-terror measures the police and security services said were necessary to combat the threat.
  • European judges who passed the "Chahal judgment" that prohibited the home secretary from weighing the security of millions of British people if a suspected terrorist remained in the UK against the risk he faced if deported back to his own country.
  • The media commentators who "apparently give more prominence to the views of Islamist terrorists rather than democratically elected Muslim politicians like premier Maliki of Iraq or President Karzai of Afghanstan".
So the problems we face are the existence of politicians who disagree with the government, an independent judiciary and a free press. In short, the central institutions of a liberal democracy.

Faced with this it is hard to forget that John Reid received his political education in the Communist Party of Great Britain in the early 1970s. That is after Hungary, after Czechoslovakia, after all but the most deluded had seen through the nature of the Soviet system.

It is usual, while observing that many central figures in New Labour came from the hard left, to remark that they left all their ideological baggage behind, retaining only their talent for organisation and belief in party discipline.

Yet reading the report of Reid's speech, the marxist echoes sound clearly:
The home secretary yesterday gave the thinktank Demos his strongest hint yet that a new round of anti-terror legislation is on the way this autumn by warning that traditional civil liberty arguments were not so much wrong as just made for another age.
This sounds so like a marxist patronising a liberal: Yes, elections and a free press and all that were imporant in their day, but time has moved on. It used to be poverty and the crisis of world capitalism that demanded we give up our freedoms. Today it is global terrorism.

Whatever the supposed enemy, the conclusion is the same: Socialists hate freedom.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mrs Thatcher's funeral

The Guardian reports:

'No plans' for Thatcher state funeral

Lord Bonkers comments exclusively for Liberal England:

Quite right too. Why, the old girl isn't even dead yet!

Bling Campbell, down with ver kids

Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

The BBC reports:

Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell has urged people to make greater use of energy efficient light bulbs - even though he does not have any himself.

He made the admission as he told BBC Radio One's Newsbeat that individuals had a responsibility to do their bit to save the environment.

What did Ming and his advisers think he was going to achieve by going on Radio One? Bling Campbell, down with ver kids? It doesn't sound very likely. You are allowed to turn invitations down.

Why didn't he have a better answer prepared for what was a pretty obvious question, particularly after his Jag became an issue during the leadership campaign?

I am not one to blow my own trumpet, as you know, but let me repeat a few lines from my recent Guardian article in the hope that someone at Cowley Street will read them:

"That Campbell should be ambushed so easily suggests that none of his supporters, who included many of the party's most eminent names, had given much thought to what it was about their man that might appeal to the public.

A little reflection would have told them that no one was ever going to vote for Campbell because they saw him as a hair-shirted environmentalist."

"the moral his advisers should draw from that is to be more careful about the invitations they accept. Instead they seem determined to reshape Campbell to meet the media's demands."

"The Liberal Democrats should play to Campbell's strengths and not try to sell him as something he is not."

Classical ringtones

Here's a touch of class: classical ringtones from Boosey & Hawkes.

Me, I have the theme from Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Once and future blogs

Two of my favourite Lib Dem blogs have woken up in recent days after having been dormant for a while.

So it's welcome back to Forceful and Moderate and Eaten by Missionaries.

Test Match Special blog

A new initiative from the BBC, though there is not much on it yet.

Coate Water update

Back in January I wrote about the threatened development at Coate Water in Swindon. Coate is a country park and is particularly associated with the great Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies.

The latest news appears to be that there is no news. The Save Coate blog writes:
The planning application for the so-called Swindon Gateway development at Coate has now been sitting on the planners desk for nearly 18 months. Planning permission has neither been granted nor refused.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Charles Kennedy: "Politics and Power"

I have not seen much comment on Charles Kennedy's Channel 4 programme last week, though there is an exception here. There does not seem to be much about it on the Channel 4 site either, but Charles had an article on the Guardian's Comment is Free blog giving the gist of his argument:
It seems to me that this is a reflection of the increasing tendency in British politics to play down the big, divisive issues - particularly at election time. Several issues will cast a long shadow across the lifetime of the current parliament and beyond: Trident, for example, the future role of civil nuclear power and the recurrent reality of Britain's place within Europe. These are all real issues of strategic substance that cut across conventional party political lines, but as they're not considered "vote winners" they were barely raised during the last election.

At election time politicians from all parties knew that these were key issues and yet they were not actively debated. Why? Because they weren't important? No. It was because the debate wouldn't have helped win votes.

While there was little to disagree with in the programme, I was surprised to hear those views coming from Charles. I served on the Federal Policy Committee for several years whilst he chaired it as leader, and never gained the impression that he had strong views on policy questions.

Veterans of the Ashdown years remember pre-meetings of loyalists to ensure that the leadership's line prevailed. There was nothing like this in Charles Kennedy's day: he just chaired the meetings impartially. In a way this was welcome, but it did suggest that Charles great appeal as leader was that he did not threaten any wing of the party.

It allowed all sorts of policy to develop, but how well it all fitted together is another matter. There was a feeling that the party lacked direction, and it was this that did for Charles in the end - quite apart from any "health" problems.

The idea that a party's leader must originate all of its policy is a modern heresy, but he should have some interest in the area. Charles seemed to lack that interest, which is why I do not take talk of his returning to the leadership one day too seriously.


The Liberal Democrats' answer to Sir Freddie Laker is doing well: he was in the Shropshire Star today after crowning the Clun Carnival Queen.

The report contained a classic piece of Shropshire journalism:
The village, one of the prettiest in the region, was immortalised in the verse of A Shropshire Lad poet AE Houseman, who described it as being one of the quietest places under the sun.

But it was far from quiet on Saturday as revellers brought a carnival atmosphere throughout the afternoon and evening.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Name of the Week

Thanks to Free Radical I now know that the chair of the youth wing of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland is called Ian Parsley.

When Jack met Condi

Remember the Jack Straw/Condoleezza Rice love-in when she visited Blackburn? It may have done for the foreign secretary's career.

According to the Mail on Sunday (so it must be true):
A US source told The Mail on Sunday: "Mr Straw's views did not find favour in the White House and its concerns were passed on to the British Government."

It was revealed last week by a senior aide to media mogul Rupert Murdoch that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was shocked to learn of the influence of Muslims in Mr Straw's constituency when she visited Blackburn with him during a tour of Britain in April.

Four weeks after her visit, Mr Straw was mysteriously fired...

"The Bush team worried about the problems a British Foreign Minister faced when he depended for office on an electorate with a heavy Muslim component - something Rice noticed on her visit," said Mr Stelzer.

Sunday reading

I refer the hon. Gentleman to:

Woah, I'm going to Machynlleth

Peter Black reports exciting news: Lembit Öpik has set up his own airline.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Dai laughing

Earlier this week the Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Dai Havard, accused Tony Blair of having a "misdirected obsession" with publicly agreeing with American foreign policy.

He wrote:
We need you to change the "realpolitik" not by retaining the delusion that you "have the ear of Bush", but by stating what is morally, politically and strategically right.
When it comes to Blair's relationship with Bush, the President's ear is not the orifice that first comes to mind.

Fetching Free Radical

I was pleased to be sent a copy of the latest issue of the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students magazine Free Radical. Presumably I am intended to pass it on to Lord Bonkers, who contributed a problem page.

My pleasure was only slightly diminished by the fact that it was sent without enough stamps on it and I had to go the local sorting office and pay £1.05 before I could collect it.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Vicky Pollard in the nursery

This story was in all the papers a couple of days ago. Here is the Guardian's telling of it:

Nursery nurses with few qualifications and poor social skills risk creating a generation of Vicky Pollards, teachers' leaders warned yesterday.

Too many illiterate students were starting childcare courses as an easy way to get government grants paid to encourage students to stay in education, the Professional Association of Teachers warned.

Many young nursery staff dressed inappropriately and often discussed their drinking exploits in front of toddlers.

A couple of points...

The first (with my work hat on) is that if you can introduce the name of a well-known TV comedy character into your press release then journalists will lap it up. Basil Fawlty, Victor Meldrew, Kevin the teenager... they don't even need to be terribly recent as long as they were very popular in their day.

The second is that, whether it is fair or not, this story reminds us of one of the contradictions of New Labour's ideology. Working-class girls are seen as incapable of bringing up their own children, but give them a little training and they become skilled professionals who know better than any parent.

Simon Carr has moved

The Independent parliamentary sketchwriter's website can now be found here.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lib Dem dog bites man

A press release from Cowley Street today:

Parenting lessons a positive proposal - Mulholland

Commenting on the motion passed today by the Professional Association of Teachers conference to provide better parenting advice in schools to young people, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, Greg Mulholland MP said:

"The Liberal Democrats support this proposal to widen the scope of PSHE to include lessons on how to be good parents."

I am not sure that a Lib Dem spokesman agreeing with a teaching union counts as news. But "Lib Dem spokesman disagrees with teaching union": now that would be news.

The Adil Rashid story continues

Last week I got excited about the new Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid.

It looks as though he really is something special. From Cricinfo today:
Adil Rashid followed his first-innings hundred with a devastating 8 for 157 to put England in the driving seat at the end of the third day of the second Under-19 Test against India at Taunton.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lie in August's welcome corn

Common Ground now have their August page in place.

It covers seasonal fruit and vegetables, seasonal dishes, local customs and observations of the natural world.

Craig Murray

As you may have noticed, I have changed Craig Murray's excellent blog from an Other Interesting Blog to a Lib Dem Blog.

Reader's voice. No I hadn't noticed. But seeing as you mention it, why have you done that?

Craig tells me that he has been a party member since 1973 and used to contribute to Liberator in the 1970s. I have consulted the librarians at Liberator House, and they confirm that he did indeed write for us in those days.

There is the little matter of Craig's having stood against a Lib Dem candidate in Blackburn last time to account for, but I am sure that can be explained.

Radio Liberal England

This blog gets a mention in Iain Dale's weekly podcast for More4.

(In fact the words he quotes come from Monday's Guardian Unlimited article rather than Liberal England, but who's counting?)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A straw man?

In my essay "Defending Families", published in Passports to Liberty 5, I wrote:
no one will take exception to the statement that we do not own our children. Indeed, given that no one alive in Britain has ever heard anyone claim that we do own our children, you wonder quite why it is being made. Is this argument addressed to a 21st-century audience or to some long-dead Puritan ancestor?
On the Guardian's Comment is Free blog there is an article by David Archard. He writes:
Parents do not own their children, although this view has a surprisingly long and respectable intellectual history. Aristotle, for instance, thought that children belonged to their parents as a product belongs to a producer or even - like a tooth or hair - as a part of them. But although such views cast a long shadow over current thinking about parenthood, we no longer do or should think of children as chattels to be disposed of as parents think fit.
Again the view that we do not own are children is being challenged, but it is not clear who is putting that view forward. It is quite a jump from Aristotle to the present day.

So can someone come with an example of the view that parents do own their children from, say, the last 100 years? Or is Archard attacking a straw man, just as I claimed a certain Liberal Democrat peer was when discussing her views in "Defending Families"?

Tony and Cliff and copyright

From this week's Sunday Times:

Tony Blair is under pressure to account for his conduct after it emerged that he singled out Sir Cliff Richard’s campaign to change copyright laws as a priority for reform.

Richard, who has given Blair and his family free use of his £3m Barbados villa for the past three years, has been lobbying the government to extend the period for which he can earn royalties on his work from the current 50 years.

The Sunday Times has obtained a written record of an internal Labour meeting at which the prime minister sets out his priorities.

At the meeting of the national executive committee on July 19 last year Blair said that despite the “dominating global headlines” and recent terror attacks, Labour must not lose sight of the domestic agenda.

In the midst of such high-profile issues as the liberalisation of the Post Office and public apathy to elections, Blair “addressed concerns” about copyright laws “whereby Cliff Richard and the Rolling Stones only receive 50 years’ protection compared with 70 years in the rest of Europe”, according to one member’s detailed written record.

What a remarkable coincidence!

Tim Worstall has a good article on the Adam Smith Institute blog looking at the principles behind this debate. He writes:
Which brings us to the whole point of copyrights (and patents and so on). They are indeed a monopoly enforced by the government: the question is, do such grants of monopolies increase creative output? If they do, what is the optimal length for them to exist? When a pharmaceutical patent, which might cost $800 million to produce, is protected for 17 years, might not a sound recording be perhaps over-protected at 50 years?
The sad thing is that it is not possible to allow Cliff Richard to keep receiving royalties for "Move It" from 1958, which has some claim to be the great British rock and roll record, and confiscate the proceeds from most of those he has made since.