Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Getting the bubbles into a Wispa

For once some news from the Welsh Liberal Democrats that doesn't involve Lembit Opik.
Writes David Cornock on the BBC website:
The party has appointed "deputy spokespeople" in the run-up to the Welsh assembly elections in May to ease the burden on assembly group leader Mike German's top team.

Among those promoted is Veronica Watkins, the new deputy spokesperson on science and the environment. She is well qualified for the (unpaid) post, having once played a key role in the introduction of bubbles into the now defunct Wispa chocolate bar. She also happens to be married to Mike German.

A slow news day in Shropshire?

From the Shropshire Star:
Former Spice Girl Mel B today denied she was planning to leave her Beverley Hills retreat for a new home in Shropshire.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Denial is just a river in Egypt

Frank Furedi has a new essay on the Spiked website. Billed as the first in a series on "Really Bad Ideas", it looks at the current popularity of the concept of "denial".

As he writes:
Disbelief in today’s received wisdom is described as ‘Denial’, which is branded by some as a crime that must be punished. It began with Holocaust denial, before moving on to the denial of other genocides. Then came the condemnation of ‘AIDS denial’, followed by accusations of ‘climate change denial’. This targeting of denial has little to do with the specifics of the highly-charged emotional issues involved in discussions of the Holocaust or AIDS or pollution. Rather, it is driven by a wider mood of intolerance towards free thinking
Good stuff.

Discovering Malcolm Saville

At last, I am not the only blogger interested in this children's author, best described as "a thinking child's Enid Blyton".

Now there's Harry on Crooked Timber too.

Good news from North Wiltshire

Good news for the Liberal Democrats, at any rate.

James Gray MP has been reselected to fight North Wiltshire for the Conservatives after a particularly unpleasant row within his local party.

There have been boundary changes in this part of the world, where the most promising Lib Dem target is now the Chippenham seat. Nevertheless, the amount of bile spilt and the prospect of an independent Conservative standing against Gray must make it a great deal more interesting for us now. See the comments on this Liberal Review posting for more details.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Lembit: Latest love shock

Thanks to the Guardian.

Paul Channon and The Winslow Boy

Iain Dale reports that the former Conservative cabinet minister Paul Channon has died.

Time, I think, to uncork one of my favourite trivial facts. Channon was the dedicatee of Terence Rattigan's play The Winslow Boy, as this article confirms:
Rattigan began writing the play in July 1945 while Great Britain was in the midst of a General Election which would oust Winston Churchill, the hero of the war, from office. We know Rattigan was enthusiastic about the theme because he read portions of the work in progress to his close friend, the well-known man about town, diarist and Conservative MP, "Chips" Channon. His reaction was encouraging. Rattigan finished the play in just six and half weeks and dedicated it to Channon s young son, Paul who would later be a member of Mrs Thatcher's government.
As I recall, the dedication said something like "In hope that he will live to see a world where this play's moral will not have to be pointed." Whether Mrs Thatcher quite brought this about, I shall leave you to decide.

Later. Channon's Telegraph obituary gives the dedication as "in the hope that he may live to see a world in which this tale will point no moral".

North Wiltshire Tory selection latest

The row over James Gray's attempt to keep his Commons seat is becoming almost unbearably sordid.

The Daily Telegraph reports:
The wife of a Conservative MP who left her for another woman has attacked her husband for belittling her fight against cancer.

Sarah Gray, the wife of the North Wiltshire MP James Gray, has written to the Conservative leader David Cameron to say she was "deeply hurt" by her husband's behaviour after he left her for Philippa Mayo, 44, a mother of three and fellow countryside campaigner.

Mrs Gray, 51, said she had been forced to respond after her husband had claimed she had merely had treatment for "pre-cancerous cells."
Gray's future will be dicided by the result of a ballot of local party members, which will be announced tomorrow.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

How Chris Huhne won the leadership election

Last year's Lib Dem leadership election was noticeably light on policy discussion, but two issues did achieve some prominence. On each of them the party now supports the line taken by Chris Huhne and opposed by Ming Campbell during that election.

The first issue is environmental taxation, which forms the centrepiece of the new economic policy adopted at last year's Conference in Brighton. Chris Huhne supported this strongly during the leadership election, but Ming was far less convinced - as I pointed out at the time.

The second issue was the setting of a deadline for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. This was the subject of a clash between Huhne and Campbell during the special Question Time programme that the BBC organised during the campaign. As its website reported:
The Lib Dem leadership challengers have clashed over when British troops should be pulled out of Iraq.
In a BBC Question Time debate, Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne pushed for troops to leave by the end of 2006.
Mr Huhne said he knew from his time in business that deadlines were the best way of ensuring things happened.
But Sir Menzies Campbell, who does not want to set a firm deadline, countered, saying: "There are 8,500 lives at stake. This ain't business."
Perhaps this is not such a surprise. Ming Campbell's appeal to the party and to the voters has never relied strongly upon his command of policy detail. It has always relied more upon his personal qualities - particularly gravitas (or "bottom", as they used to say in the 18th century). Such ideas as there were during the leadership campaign came largely from the Huhne camp.

But issue 309 of Liberator magazine (.pdf file downloadable from here) gives another clue to what was going on. The magazine's Radical Bulletin section wrote:
But how was Huhne to carve out a platform distinct from his rivals? Those present at the leadership hustings in East Grinstead found out when Lord Oakeshott, appearing on Huhne's behalf, for some reason chose to announce his campaign secrets from the platform.
He said a group of backers had looked for "wedge issues" that would get the relatively unknown Huhne noticed. They lighted on withdrawing troops from Iraq, not renewing Trident and a greater environmental emphasis as areas on which they could challenge Campbell and, presumably, win some supporters over from Hughes.
Oakeshott did not say that these issues were particularly dear to Huhne, merely that they were chosen from their ability to attract attention.
Yes, there was an element of calculation to the Huhne campaign. But I suggest the issues that would help the third candidate in a Lib Dem leadership election have a lot in common with those that would help the third party in a general election.

Which is why the Huhne line has become the Lib Dem line on two of the three issues he identified.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Snailbeach District Railway

A group has been set up to restore this narrow gauge railway in the wilds of Shropshire. It has, of course, its own blog.

The line never carried passengers while it was operating, but the group intends to do so if it is reopened.

For the history of the SDR, see the Colonel Stephens Railway Museum, from which I borrowed this rather fine image.

Later. But now read this.

No New Trident

The Lib Dem Peace and Security Group has set up a site to boost its campaign to commit the party to opposing a replacement for Trident. The vote will take place at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Harrogate.

I have always been something of an agnostic on this issue, and don't have the time to comment in depth today, but there is some thought-provoking material on the new site.

John Prescott and Sir Anthony Eden

I have referred a couple of times to the story that, when Eden took a cruise after his resignation over Suez, his cabin steward was a young John Prescott. Even so, I feared that it was a little too good to be true.

The pleasing truth is that it really did happen. To learn more, read this page on the BBC website or listen to Prescott at Your Service on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday 31 January at 11 a.m. or Sunday 4 February at 1.30 p.m.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Eaten by Missionaries

Iain Sharpe tells me that his blog has woken up. It is well worth a visit.

He writes:
it’s harder to start blogging again once you have stopped than to keep going when you’ve started.
Oh dear.

Working my way back to you

Blogging remains light - and is likely to do so for a while - because of continued family problems. The same is true for my other writing efforts. But we'll get there.

On the bright side, a letter has flooded into Cowley Street asking what has happened to my House Points Column in Liberal Democrat News.

So someone has noticed.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Correction of the Week

This effort from Monday's Guardian deserves to be remembered:
A rigid application of the Guardian style guide caused us to say of Carlo Ponti in his obituary, page 34, January 11, that in his early career he was "already a man with a good eye for pretty actors ..." This was one of those occasions when the word "actresses" might have been used.

That was the week that was

Apologies for the lack of updates since Monday. I did warn you. Here are some meaty stories that came up during my absence from the blogosphere...

Former home secretary David Blunkett has admitted that anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) are not working and are seen as a "badge of honour" by some youngsters.

The Sheffield Brightside MP was asked if he still had faith in the measures that, although introduced two years before his time at the Home Office, he championed. He replied: "Not wholly."
From Hot Ginger and Dynamite:
the priority and ordering of the stories on Newsnight last night was bizarre in the extreme. The lead story was a hack job by Michael Crick, along the lines of “On the day that the Tories launch a campaign for more success in the North ... a Conservative activist was found to have sent an email to a Conservative Councillor in Bradford, in which he called the local Labour Party Chair a cripple”. 
This may have merited a story in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, but to lead Newsnight with it was very curious. To place that story ahead of the dawn arrest of the Prime Minister’s Director of Government Relations in connection with sale of honours, which seems likely to be the greatest scandal of the Labour Government, is shocking.
From Guido Fawkes:
Guido is given to understand that the police have recently discovered an evidential "smoking gun" and that they are now more confident that this will all see the light of day at the Old Bailey. There is increasing confidence that the CPS will be compelled, by the evidence, to bring prosecutions.

The denizens of Downing Street can huff and puff all they like, but their house is coming down...
The photograph at the top was borrowed from the Shropshire Star.

Monday, January 15, 2007

NHS up the creek

NHS Blog Doctor has a nice parable about a rowing race between the NHS and Marks & Spencer:
Patricia Hewitt was discouraged and depressed about the crushing defeat. She appointed a team of senior managers to investigate and to recommend appropriate action.

Their conclusion was that the Marks & Spencer team had eight people rowing and one person steering, whilst the NHS team had eight people steering and one person rowing. Patricia did not like the report, so she hired a private management consultancy company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion.

The consultants opined that too many people were indeed steering the boat, whilst not enough people were rowing and that, in order to prevent another defeat, the NHS rowing team's management structure should be reorganized to four steering supervisors, three area steering superintendents and one assistant superintendent steering manager.

They also recommended a new performance system, involving pre-determined targets that would give the one person rowing the boat greater incentive to work hard. The performance system was called the "Rowing Team Quality First Program" and the rower was required to attend twice weekly meetings throughout the year at which he ate bourbon biscuits, was given free pens and listened to presentations from consultant rowing specialists who, thought they had never rowed themselves, were very knowledgeable.
Read it all here.

Should we burn Guido Fawkes?

Bloggerheads is back with a long and powerful post attacking Britain's best known political blog Guido Fawkes. He writes:
Because this is long, it is 'boring', so here's the executive summary:

1. Guido, through a number of deceits, renders any meaningful interaction with his weblog inert... above all, he's a comment cheat and a disgrace to blogging.
2. Guido is practically inviting politicians to avoid blogging or work to restrict the activity. It is honest bloggers who will pay the price.
3. Most of Guido's 'scoops' are nothing of the sort
4. Guido is a shameless opportunist and he's using your own frustration(s) against you.
5. Guido is lower than tabloid scum... and that's saying something.
6. Watch out for the switch, when Guido secretly starts (or continues) batting for those in power that he favours.
7. Guido is a stat-whore.. and a figure-fiddling one at that.
8. Guido insists on knowing where the funds come from for politicians/interest-groups, but he's awfully secretive about what funds his activities.
9. Guido is nothing but a smart-arse arsonist... and that's only if we take his word for it.
10. Guido may not realise it, but he's a bit of a homophobe... and (surprise, surprise) like attracts like.
11. Guido betrays his readers and his informants.
My own view is that anyone who believes everything they read on a site like Guido's should not be allowed out on their own. Political gossip is not edifying, but - hell! - it's fun.

So I shall not be taking my link to Guido down, even if I am not terribly proud of it. I shall be restoring a link to Bloggerheads though.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Tim Worstall: Well played, sir!

Tim Worstall has posted his hundredth Britblog Roundup this afternoon.

Perhaps he has brought up his ton with a scampered single rather than a glorious six, but it is still a mighty blogging achievement.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Who will be the next Lib Dem leader?

Of course, we all believe that Ming is the greatest Liberal leader since Gladstone and should stay in the position for ever and all that.

Even so, you may enjoy this thread on

It's murder for Labour in Rochdale

It seems the Rochdale Labour Party makes North Wiltshire Tories look like a band of brothers.

Back in November we reported Labour disarray in Rochdale. Things have moved on since then.

According to Kevin Maguire on the Daily Mirror blog:
Danczuk, a frontrunner to be selected as Labour's candidate in marginal Rochdale, says a caller with an Asian accent demanded he pull out of the race. "He said 'If you don't withdraw from the Parliamentary selection process meeting on the 6th January you'll find your body parts spread across the M6 motorway'," said Mr Danczuk.

Raiders of the Lost Archive

An article in today Times makes this ITV series sound rather fun:
The young Michael Parkinson looked a bit like Alastair Campbell and once pretended to have his back tattooed by an old codger called Sailor Jack in a dingy Liverpool parlour. When he is shown this alarming clip on Raiders of the Lost Archive, the old stager is suitably aghast, but embarrassment turns to joy when they show him his only interview with Laurence Olivier on an early cinema show.

Even more alarming is Rolf Harris showing Joan Bakewell his didgeridoo on the po-faced arts programme Late Night Line-Up. Or Rolf playing a Stylophone duet with Liberace, an event he says he has forgotten, even after the amiable, blokeish presenter Paddy McGuinness has played it back to him.

In four half-hour shows, two ageing celebrities per programme are confronted with clips from their misspent TV youth. Others feature Bruce Forsyth, Bill Oddie, Chris Tarrant and Johnny Briggs from Coronation Street. All tap into the semi-submerged world of TV archive retrieval.
The programme also has its own website. The first episode will be broadcast on Tuesday 16 January at 10 p.m. on ITV1.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Would you like to be Chancellor, Darling?

The Scotsman thinks it knows something important about Gordon Brown's plans for his first Cabinet:
Alistair Darling will next week lead Britain's biggest ever trade mission to India where he will link up with Gordon Brown.

The three-day trip to Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore will boost speculation at Westminster that he is set to become Chancellor when Mr Brown takes over from Tony Blair as Prime Minister.
"When Mr Brown takes over from Tony Blair as Prime Minister"? Does anyone know the Scots for "hubris"?

Philippa Pearce: Minnow on the Say

It seems I am not alone in preferring Minnow on the Say to Tom's Midnight Garden amongst the works of the late Philippa Pearce.

Daria Donnelly writes:

Philippa Pearce's 1958 Tom's Midnight Garden ... is considered one of the finest novels written for children, "as near as any book I know to being perfect in its construction and writing" according to critic John Rowe Townsend. But I think Pearce's recently republished first novel, Minnow on the Say ... is even better.

Yes, Tom's Midnight Garden is terrific. It tells the story of a boy whose loneliness is both expressed and relieved by nightly play in a sprawling and inhabited late-Victorian garden which, by day, is mere pavement and garbage cans. The nature of time, desire, and memory - Pearce delicately conveys and considers each. And yet...communication technology and style have changed, enough that Tom's means of expression (effusive letters to his beloved brother) slightly estranges today's reader.

Not so Minnow on the Say, with its timeless, if more conventional plot. The story begins in 1930s England when David Moss, the child of a bus driver, finds a lovely, neglected canoe tossed onto his family's dock after a storm swells the river Say. He desperately wants to keep it, but his father urges him to find the owner.

That turns out to be young Adam Codling. He is last in the line of a now-impoverished family that has occupied the banks of the Say for centuries. The only way that the Codling estate might be saved, and Adam not sent to relatives in Manchester, is if he and his new friend David can find the treasure that an ancestor hid during the time of the Spanish Armada. Equipped with a single clue (a four-line poem) and their canoe, the Minnow, the boys spend a summer questing for treasure.

They cover a lot of territory and so does the book: poverty, greed, mourning, class relations, the nature of marriage and of friendship, village ways, and more. Don't read this expecting misty nostalgia. Pearce's love of village and river life shines through (she grew up on the river Cam in the village of Great Shelford), but so does her experience of the London Blitz and the trauma of World War II.

You might never read a more painful account of the ravages of mourning as those scenes in which Adam's grandfather, demented by denial of his only son's death during the Great War, fails to understand that the boy he lives with is his grandson.

Broadband at The Stiperstones Inn

One of my favourite pubs in Shropshire is The Stiperstones Inn.

Now it has something else to recommend it: a wireless network installed as part of the Switch on Shropshire project. There is more on this innovative project to bring broadband to remote rural areas in, of course, the Shropshire Star.

Charming water colour borrowed from the pub's website.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

North Wiltshire Tories go to war

Extraordinary goings on in a part of the world where Liberals have traditionally come second but never won. As the Daily Telegraph reports it this afternoon:
A Conservative MP, who is fighting for his political life after his affair with a married mother of three was exposed, has written to supporters urging them to look past his “human failings” and judge him on his role as an MP.

The news comes as 1,000 members of the North Wiltshire Conservative Association start to vote today to decide whether to adopt James Gray as their MP at the next general election.

Mr Gray called for the postal ballot after the constituency’s executive council decided to deselect him in November in the wake of Mr Gray’s widely publicised affair with Philippa Mayo, a married Countryside Alliance campaigner, while his own wife Sarah was being treated for breast cancer.
Indeed there are letters flying about in all directions as the different factions take shape. Conservative Home has the text of them all here and here. The comments on those postings make entertaining reading too.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Home Office ministers on thin ice

The Times reports:
Two Home Office Ministers were fighting for their careers tonight after it emerged that senior police had alerted them to problems over Britons convicted abroad.

Chief constables wrote to Tony McNulty, the Police Minister, three months ago and the letter was then passed to Joan Ryan, a junior minister.

The letter advised Mr McNulty that given earlier problems over foreign national prisoners it might be wise for the Home Secretary to be briefed on the issue.

Ms Ryan’s office acknowledged the letter in December, according to a report on ITV news.

Fear and loathing in Cowley Street?

Iain Dale prints an anonymous e-mail from a Lib Dem party expressing concern at the way the party is being run.

LibDem Voice and Norfolk Blogger do not approve of the writer's decision to send it to a Tory blog.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

LibDem Voice goes phoot!

Worrying news from Rob Fenwick.

No doubt this valuable site will be up again soon.

Later. It's back! Unphooted.

You'll thank me for this one day, Tompkins

The excellent ARCH blog points us (sort of) to a worrying story from York. Schools there are taking children's fingerprints and using them to issue books from their libraries.

Depressing but not new, you say.

But what is new is one of the arguments used to defend the procedure:

Chris Bridge, head teacher at Huntington Secondary, said the system was preparing pupils for a world in which terrorism was rife, and their privacy would be further invaded.

He said: "These children, frankly, are growing up in a world where identity and being certain about your own identity is increasingly important.

"All the measures to do with ID cards will possibly invade their privacy even further, but the world has no answer to terrorism without using these things and I would see us as getting them ready for the world in which they will have to live."

Magnus Magnusson and Waking the Dead

I was sorry to hear of the death of Magnus Magnusson. He was one of the dwindling band of public figures who have been there throughout my life. Among sports commentators, for instance, Bill McLaren, John Arlott and David Coleman are all dead or retired. There is only Peter Alliss left, though John Motson runs him close.

Magnusson was most famous, of course, for presenting Mastermind and it is hard for people today to appreciate just what a phenomenon that programme was in its early years. But I can remember his presenting the BBC2 archaeology series Chronicle even before that.

I also have something of a personal connection with Magnusson. He was given an honorary degree and made a speech at the ceremony when I got my BA from York. (When I got my MA from Leicester we had Tom Butler. He was the Bishop of Leicester. It was what he did.)

Best of all when I was a child, he sounded like a minor character from Noggin the Nog.

I suspect that I watch Waking the Dead for similar reasons. The acting - from Trevor Eve and Sue Johnston in particular is good, even if the series as a while is often overexcited and rather nasty.

But what I really like is that I can remember Trevor Eve in Shoestring, which was screened some 28 (gulp) years ago. Watching him convinces me that I am still young.

Morrissey to sing Eurovision

This has to be the story of the day:

Former Smiths singer Morrissey could represent the UK at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest, the BBC has confirmed.
As a Liberal England exclusive, we are able to bring you the first draft of his song. Early indications are that he is adapting his style well to the demands of the contest:
The rain falls hard on a humdrum town,
this town has dragged you down.
I'm gonna bounce up and down on my spring!
Do you really think
She'll pull through?
Do you really think
She'll pull through?
Boom, bang-a-bang, I love you!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lembit in love latest

A couple of stories from Digital Spy.

The Cheeky Girls and their mother/manager are in debt worth around £130,000, according to a report.

A list of music industry figures are owed cash by the stars and Margit Semal, who controls their career, says the Mail on Sunday.

Graham Stone, of Devon music agency Vegas Entertainments, said: "I've been in the business for 35 years and I've never encountered anything like the trouble I've had with Margit Semal. We've been to court five times and got nowhere."
Cheeky Girl Gabriela Irimia has been banned from moving in with her new boyfriend.

The singer's mother Margit has told her that she must marry Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik before they can share a home.

"Gabriela would never move in with him until she got married," Margit confirmed to The People.

Adil Rashid interviewed

A comment on our most recent posting on Rashid points to an interview with him on the cricket blog The Corridor of Uncertainty.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

TV Film of the Week: The Kidnappers

Two little orphan boys are not allowed a dog by their stern grandfather, so instead they steal a baby to have something to love and play with.

Insufferably sugary? Not a bit of it. The Kidnappers, to be shown by Channel at 10.00 a.m. on Tuesday 9 January, is actually rather a bleak film, dealing with poverty and racial tension. It was made in Scotland in 1953, but set in Canada at the time of the Boer War. So much for the idea that British films of the period were always insular.

The best account of the film I can find is in the obituary of one of the young stars, Vincent Winter, who died in 1998. Tom Vallance writes:

The film's success was largely due to the performances of the two young lads in the leading roles, John Whiteley and, playing his younger brother, the chubby-cheeked Vincent Winter, who managed to be totally endearing without ever becoming self-consciously cute. It is the little dog-lover Davy (Winter) who suggests, when the boys are deciding on a name for the infant, "We could call it Rover."

Whiteley and Winter were both given special miniature Academy Awards for their "outstanding juvenile performances", and Winter went on to have a lifelong career in show business, though not eventually as an actor ...

Winter was born in 1947 in Aberdeen, Scotland, and was only five years old when discovered by a children's coach, Margaret Thompson. Whiteley had already played a major role in Charles Crichton's Hunted (1952), but Winter was without experience.

Philip Leacock recalled: "We brought the children in to test for the parts; we did play situations, as we did with the film itself. Vincent couldn't read so he had to be firmly taught lines - he had a memory like a computer. He would do his own lines aloud and then silently mouth everyone else's words!"

The naturalism that Winter conveyed gave no hint of the primitive methods of training. "If we had a little white ratting dog," he suggests to his grandmother, still hopeful, "it wouldn't eat but rats and it could have a wee end off of my ration on a Sunday."

Whiteley, nearly three years older, was also Scottish, and part of the two boys' charm lay in their melodious Aberdeenshire accents. "Is it our babby now?" asks Winter after they discover the child. "It's mine," replies Whiteley soberly, "but you can have a loan of it while I've other business."

Jon Whiteley is now a distinguished art historian at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Why the Lib Dems should be careful how they choose their candidates

Back in July 2005 the Guardian reported that Simon Hughes had suggested that:

advertise for would-be MPs in newspapers, women's magazines and on the radio, their president urged yesterday.

Even non-members could apply to stand as a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate under plans introduced by Simon Hughes.

I was less than complimentary about the idea at the time:

If he means a party needs philosophers, economists and novelists as well as activists, he is right. But our opponents would hang a crass idea like advertising for candidates round our necks for years afterwards.

Simon should take his shrimping net off to Herne Bay for a week or two and return refreshed for the fight.
A few days ago Iain Dale discovered an old article from Liberator that said:
Even more startlingly, the PCA believes “in the longer term … there is a case for ‘headhunting’ of suitable candidates within and outside the party, e.g. among students at universities and colleges.” Yes, you read that right. The body that represents the party’s parliamentary candidates believes that people who do not belong to the party should be approached to stand as candidates for it in general elections.
There are always those who are attracted to such gimmicks. Let this story serve as an awful warning to them.

Labour in the red

A cheering story from today's Independent:
Labour is in no fit financial state to fight the next election because it has been "bankrupted" by the cash for honours affair, senior Labour MPs have warned.

MPs, including those on Labour's ruling body, say the party does not have the cash to pay back almost £10m in loans due to be repaid this year.

Labour figures are also bracing themselves for a massive legal bill for advice to party figures caught up in the police investigation into cash for honours.

The scale of Labour's debt is so large that all money coming into the party, which could have been channelled to vulnerable seats, will have to be diverted to pay off a huge number loans.
I think we see why state funding of political parties is suddenly on the agenda.

Michael Vaughan back as England captain

The BBC reports:

Michael Vaughan has replaced Andrew Flintoff as England captain for the one-day series in Australia.
One's natural reaction to this move is pleasure or even relief. But is it such a good idea?

First, there is the worry that Vaughan's knee will not stand up to a one-day series against Australia and the subsequent World Cup. And if it goes again, then that will probably be the end of his career. Are we risking this long-term disaster in an attempt to avoid embarrassment over the next couple of months.

Second, there is the fact that Vaughan has never been a terribly good limited overs player. As the BBC says:
In 74 matches, the Yorkshire man has yet to score a century, averaging 28 with a top score of 90, which was against Zimbabwe in December 2004.
So, whatever Vaughan's virtues as a captain, it is unlikely that his batting will make that much difference.

Third, is his hurried recall really an attempt by the selectors to put off having to make a long-term decision about the test match captaincy? That appears to be a straight fight between Flintoff and Strauss, with recent events in Australia suggesting that it is Strauss who should win.

But taking the captaincy away from Flintoff and giving it to Strauss would be a public humiliation for Freddie. So is giving it to Vaughan just a risky way of letting Flintoff down gently?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Next stop is Iran

Suddenly the smell of Britons being prepared for an attack on Iran is all pervasive,
says Robert Fox on The First Post. Read him.

Blimey, it's Blakey

On Post Political Times Richard Allan invites you to Have Your Say on Varney.

My opinion? I thought he was quite good in On The Buses.

Cricket quote of the day

Richard Williams in the Guardian passes on a gem from Steve Harmison's newspaper column:
We're hearing about a lack of team spirit and being undercooked and having too many distractions, and they're all wide of the mark. It's simply because we're 4-0 down. If we were 4-0 up nobody would be saying anything.

Petula Clark is a goddess

And not just because she sang "Downtown" and starred in Trouble at Townsend.

On An Overgrown Path has further evidence:
In 1968 Harry Belafonte, whose album Calypso was the first LP to sell more than 1 million, appeared on a primetime CBS television special hosted by British singer Petula Clark. In the show, the two singers performed a duet, and Petula Clark held on to Belafonte's arm, as my still from the programme shows here. After the first take the director asked them to repeat the song, standing apart. It transpired that an executive from the show's sponsor, an automobile manufacturer, saw the first take and ordered it to be re-shot. His reason was that showing a white woman touching an African-American might adversely affect car sales in southern states.

An outraged Petula Clark and her husband Claude Wolff, the show's executive producer, destroyed all the takes except the first one. The transmission went ahead with the original duet, and the programme achieved very high viewing figures following press exposure of the sponsor's attempted inteference.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The case against farm subsidies

Graham Harvey has a good article on the Guardian website:
While consumers may clamour for healthy, local foods, the British countryside is singularly ill-prepared to provide them. Mainstream agriculture is principally engaged in growing bulk commodity cereal crops on a large scale, an enterprise entirely dependent on nitrate fertiliser whose manufacture wastes profligate amounts of fossil energy.

Half of these industrial grains are then fed to animals kept in sheds. Animals managed this way are often unhealthy. So is the commodity milk and meat they produce. Things will have to be organised differently if we're serious about healthy, local food.
For more detailed arguments see his book The Killing of the Countryside.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Harborough Books & Collectors Centre

It has to be a good day when you discover another secondhand bookshop has opened in your home town.

You can find it at 115 St Mary's Road, Market Harborough - near the railway station - or ring 01858 469409.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Come, ye cold winds, at January's call

It is a while since I have linked to Common Ground's pages for each new month. The January one is now in place.

Adil Rashid picked for England A

This blog's hero, the Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid, has been included in the England A party to tour Bangladesh.

Note too the presence of Nick "Grandson of Denis" Compton and Stuart "Should have been picked for the Ashes" Broad.

Philippa Pearce

This morning's Guardian carries an obituary of the children's writer Philippa Pearce, who died just before Christmas. It turns out that the Independent carried a rather better obituary at the time.

Pearce was one of the most important figures of what has been called the second Golden Age of English children's literature. This occupied, I suppose, the second half of the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s.

Her most celebrated book is Tom's Midnight Garden, though I was always fond of the earlier Minnow on the Say, even if I was never quite able to understand the ending. Did they find the treasure or not?

Certainly, Pearce contributed more to the good of mankind than Lord Lambton, whose Guardian obituary appears alongside hers.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Execution as pornography

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Sam Leith says:

What we've been seeing over the past couple of days is the pornographisation of a judicial process. There's no question that Saddam's crimes were terrible. There's no question that, however jury-rigged the legal process by which he was held to account for them, it is proper that he was held to account. But our fever of excitement over that hempen rope is no more than the baying of a mob.
And he is right.

There was something shocking about the casual way in which broadcasters and newspapers have deployed the footage of Saddam's last moments. It turned us all - willing or unwilling - into voyeurs. For those who are really keen, I gather that footage of the hanging itself can easily be found on the net.

The conduct of the execution, which allowed Saddam to emerge as the only dignified figure involved, was of a piece with the shambles into which the occupation of Iraq has fallen. As the New York Times reports:

Iraqi and American officials who have discussed the intrigue and confusion that preceded the decision late on Friday to rush Mr. Hussein to the gallows have said that it was the Americans who questioned the political wisdom — and justice — of expediting the execution, in ways that required Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to override constitutional and religious precepts that might have assured Mr. Hussein a more dignified passage to his end.

The Americans’ concerns seem certain to have been heightened by what happened at the hanging, as evidenced in video recordings made just before Mr. Hussein fell through the gallows trapdoor at 6:10 a.m. on Saturday. A new video that appeared on the Internet late Saturday, apparently made by a witness with a camera cellphone, underscored the unruly, mocking atmosphere in the execution chamber.

This continued, on the video, through the actual hanging itself, with a shout of “The tyrant has fallen! May God curse him!” as Mr. Hussein hung lifeless, his neck snapped back and his glassy eyes open.

The cacophony from those gathered before the gallows included a shout of “Go to hell!” as the former ruler stood with the noose around his neck in the final moments, and his riposte, barely audible above the bedlam, which included the words “gallows of shame.” It continued despite appeals from an official-sounding voice, possibly Munir Haddad, the judge who presided at the hanging, saying, “Please no! The man is about to die.”

The Shiites who predominated at the hanging began a refrain at one point of “Moktada! Moktada! Moktada!”— the name of a volatile cleric whose private militia has spawned death squads that have made an indiscriminate industry of killing Sunnis — appending it to a Muslim imprecation for blessings on the Prophet Muhammad. “Moktada,” Mr. Hussein replied, smiling contemptuously. “Is this how real men behave?”
We are accustomed to being told that we are far more civilised than previous generations, but I wonder. There may have been demands to "Hang the Kaiser" after the First World War, but they were resisted by the authorities. Willhelm II died from natural causes in the Netherlands in 1941.

Nor was Napoleon executed, even after his escape from Elba and the subsequent Battle of Waterloo. He was merely exiled again.

To finish on a lighter note, I recall a cartoon which showed Napoleon aboard ship looking very depressed. One British sailor is saying to the other: "The poor sod thinks he is being exiled to St Helens."