Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dirty Dozen 4

The latest of my monthly selections of the worst and best in Labour and Tory blogging has just gone up at Lib Dem Voice.

A great way to promote your blog

The Britblog Roundup - a selection of the best in British blogging from the past week - was founded by Tim Worstall in February 2005 and appeared on his blog each week for two years. For the past year or so it has been on its travels, appearing on a different blog each week.

On Sunday (4 May) I shall be hosting the Roundup here on Liberal England.

If you see a posting on a British blog this week that you think should appear, please send the link to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com before Sunday lunchtime.

And the reason for my headline? You are free to nominate something from our own blog!

A referendum on the Lisbon treaty - in Ireland

Don't worry, I am not going to revisit the Liberal Democrats' recent traumas over the subject.

But there is going to be referendum on Lisbon in the Irish Republic. And according to the Sunday Business Post the Yes side of the question may be in trouble:

Public opinion has moved sharply against the Lisbon Treaty, with the Yes side now enjoying only a slender lead, according to the latest Sunday Business Post/Red C monthly tracking poll.

Support for the treaty has fallen from 43 per cent in February to 35 per cent today among those entitled to vote in the referendum. Those opposed to the treaty have increased from 24 per cent to 31 per cent. The number of undecided voters remains almost unchanged, at 34 per cent.

With seven weeks remaining until the expected polling date, incoming taoiseach Brian Cowen, the government and the broader Yes campaign face a difficult struggle to regain the initiative.

A posting by Mick Fealty on the Daily Telegraph Brassneck blog suggests some of the reasons for this. The only mainstream party on the No side is Sinn Fein but, says Fealty, most of the intellectual capital for that camp is being made by the Galway-based think tank Libertas.

It points out that the new constitutional settlement will see Ireland's influence reduced and there are fears that the country will be forced to change its economic policies in the cause of tax harmonisation.

Interestingly, there is an article in the current Liberator by Tim Pascall which describes similar fears in the Netherlands.

And that is why I have always been less keen on the European project than most Liberals. For that project is all about harmonisation and rationalisation, whereas I believe the Liberal Democrats should be the party of the local and the particular.

Nor does it help the European cause in Britain that we have been left as spectators of someone else's referendum, waiting to see our fate decided.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Simon Bellwood - The Whistleblower

Another blog related to the Jersey child abuse investigation.

Simon Bellwood writes:

Those of you who have been following the alleged child abuse scandals in Jersey may be aware that I was employed as manager at the Greenfields secure centre and that I was sacked after whistleblowing.

I have decided to write this blog to tell my side of the story. My employment tribunal was settled after the States of Jersey had heard just a day and a half of my evidence.

Leicestershire small pipes

There was an article in the Guardian last Saturday saying that Scottish bagpipes as we know them are a 19th century invention.

I did not find that so surprising. All that shortbread tin version of the Highlands is a 19th century invention, isn't it?

But I was fascinated by a passing reference to the "Leicestershire small pipes". A variety of bagpipes native to this county?

It seems so, but I cannot find any history of the instrument on the net. There is a modern maker, but he lives in Edinburgh.

Humphrey Lyttelton and philosophy

A nice observation from Kieran Healy on Crooked Timber:

I first came across Lyttelton not on Radio 4, but in Peter Winch’s The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy, of all places.

He pops up there in an anecdote showing why some kinds of social practice are in principle not amenable to precise predictions derived from some (putative) social physics. Lyttelton was once asked if he knew where jazz was going, and replied “If I knew where jazz was going, I’d be there already.”

BBC website rewrites political history

The BBC has a story about Harriet Harman's blog being hacked, with the result that it briefly announced her defection to the Tories. At the time of writing it is still down, but Guido Fawkes has a picture of how it looked.

Further down the BBC story we are told:
Last year, Conservative housing spokesman Grant Shapps was targeted by hackers who broke into his YouTube account to post a message under his name saying the party could not win the Ealing Southall by-election.

The message posted under Shapps' name purported to come from a Lib Dem activist and said that the Liberal Democrats had no chance of winning.

Thanks to Bloggerheads for the graphic.

He also gives his explanation of how that message came to appear. You may think it more believable than the claim that someone hacked into Shapps' YouTube account, but I couldn't possibly comment.

The Small Faces: Little Tin Soldier

A live recording from Belgian TV made on 2 March 1968, or so the person who has posted this on Youtube says.

I have always liked "Itchycoo Park" best among Small Faces songs, but my taste is broadening and the presence of the iconic 1960s figure P. P. Arnold on stage with the boys makes this special.

Two more treats for Small Faces fans...

  • A 16-year-old Steve Marriott playing drums in the film Live It Up. Note too the presence of Joe Meek protege Heinz Burt on vocals and a young David Hemmings on guitar.
  • Stanley Unwin performing part of his narration from the Small Faces LP Ogden's Nut Gone Flake. Deep joy.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tristram Cary and Joyce Cary

Alex Wilcock reports the death of Tristram Cary, the pioneer of electronic music who also wrote the score for the Ealing classic The Ladykillers.

And Cary does have a Liberal connection.

Tristram Cary was the son of the novelist Joyce Cary. Joyce Cary contributed a volume (Power in Men) to the short-lived Liberal Book Club in 1939, though the excellent Wikipedia entry on him suggests that he was unhappy with the way the book was edited.

Joyce Cary also wrote a trilogy of novels about Chester Nimmo, a Liberal politician. They were Prisoner Of Grace (1952), Except The Lord (1954), and Not Honour More (1955) - the three books described in the Wikipedia entry as "the second trilogy".

I have read several of Joyce Cary's novels and they are certainly worth seeking out. He had quite a critical reputation in his day and is unjustly neglected today.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Of course children are poor, Polly Toynbee

In this morning's Guardian Polly Toynbee observed:
in the tightest budget this March poor children were the one cause Darling paid out to generously.
But when Martin Amis wrote in his memoirs Experience:
I was very short of money when I was a baby. I slept in a drawer and had my baths in an outdoor sink. My nappies bore triangular singe marks where they had been dried on the fireguard. It was tough.
it was a joke. Of course he was poor. All babies are poor. And if his early years were more straitened than most - which is unlikely, given that Kingsley Amis was a university lecturer - it was because his parents were poor.

To a large extent Labour's concern for child poverty is a way of attempting to preserve the welfare state by sentimentalising it. As if one could help children from poor families without helping their parents. Deborah Orr has said so. Chris Dillow has said so. For what it's worth, I have said so myself.

But there is a sinister side to it too. Again and again in her work Toynbee praises schemes like Sure Start and sees the fact that children are spending less time with their parents as a triumph. Most of us, if we were describing our utopia, would include happy family life. Not Toynbee.

At the back of her thinking is the idea that children have interests which are quite separate from those of their parents. And that those are interests are to be secured by the state acting through... well, people rather like Polly Toynbee, actually.

Humphrey Lyttelton has died

Samantha will be inconsolable and the obituaries will follow.

In the mean time, there is a news report on the Telegraph site and a profile here.

Later. There is an obituary on the BBC site.

House Points: Vince Cable and Jeremy Browne

My column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Fairy tales

Vince Cable was right, of course, and the Labour backbenchers were wrong. Little Red Riding Hood was eaten by the wolf. True, a hunter comes along to cut her from the beast’s stomach afterwards, but there is no doubt she was wolfed down.

And that misunderstanding is typical of Labour’s travails these days: they have no narrative.

Jeremy Browne put it well in his speech on the second reading of the Finance Bill on Monday:
Many people, including those on the Labour Benches, when they heard this year’s Budget, will have been entitled to ask, "Is that it? Is that what it was all for? Is this what our great party has become?" It was the thinnest, most unambitious, managerial Budget that I can remember.
Part of that thin, unambitious managerialism was the abolition of the 10p tax band. Another of Labour’s problems is that their luck has run out. This tax rise for the poor was debated on the same day that Alistair Darling announced a £50bn package to help out the banks.

Over this time to Vince Cable:
British banks have, over the past few years, lent too much, too quickly and too carelessly. The correct course of action, which the markets now anticipate, is that the banks should make a rights issue to their shareholders to raise money to offset the losses that they have to own up to.
The problem is that chief executives do not want to go to the markets because they face the sack, so they rattle the begging bowl to the Government and hope that the Government will help them out, which they are doing.

But Labour’s real trouble - more serious even than bad luck or not knowing their fairy tales - is that the economy has turned against them.

Some will try to pin the this on Gordon Brown, but the truth may be more chastening. When the economy is going well politicians - and bank directors, come to that - praise themselves for their foresight and wisdom. When it turn bad, the politicians blame world conditions and the bankers appeal for government aid.

If you think they are much more in control of things than that, you really do believe in fairy tales.

Lord Bonkers on Matthew Taylor, Nick Clegg and GQ

From Liberator 325.

Well, well, well. So the story has finally come out. I suppose it was inevitable.

The name "Percy Harris" will mean little to my younger readers, but he was quite the fellow in his day. Percy was elected in the Liberal interest at a by-election at Market Harborough during the Great War and was a frequent guest at the Hall in those dark days. The soundest of fellows, he stood by Asquith in 1918 and was thus denied the "coupon" by Lloyd George and his Tory allies, ensuring his defeat. He soon re-emerged as a Liberal MP in the East End and his strong following amongst the Pearly Kings and Queen (many of whom could drink more wine than he'd ever seen) ensured that he held that seat until 1945. The point of my story is that Percy’s granddaughter (a charming girl) fell pregnant during the louche days of the 1960s and a baby boy war born. Despite my strongest urgings, the family saw to it that he was adopted by a kindly scriptwriter and his wife and I assumed that was the last I would hear of the business.

A few years later, however, news reached me that a small boy had won the All Cornwall Primary Schools L. T. Hobhouse Recitation Contest at a preternaturally early age, and I soon guessed who the child he was. It was thus no surprise when, upon the sad and untimely death of David Penhaligon, Master Taylor (for it was he) emerged as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Truro. He soon proved a useful addition to our front bench (bedtime permitting). Now the tale is all over this morning’s newspapers; I spend the day at the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans refreshing my memory on the pedigrees of our young residents.

To Windsor for a banquet in honour of the French President M. Sarkozy. In the past I have found our Gallic cousins Rather Hard Work - one got the impression that General De Gaulle could never quite forgive Britain for liberating France - but the present incumbent proves a jolly little fellow. I am particularly taken by his wife, whom I rescue from the Duke of Edinburgh as is telling her (in more detail than is strictly necessary) the best way to disembowel a stag. We get on famously until the Prime Minister - a dour Scotsman by the name of Brown - muscles in on our conversation and tries to interest her in "post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory". I soon get my revenge: Brown asks me the way to the dining room and I send him off through the billiard room down the back stairs and out into the kitchen garden, before taking the delightful Mme Sarkozy into dinner on my arm. The Queen is amused.

I come across a magazine called GQ and, when I am told that the initials stand for Gentlemen’s Quarterly, I purchase a copy as it sounds My Sort Of Thing. Imagine my delight when, upon perusing the contents page, I find that there is an interview with out new leader. I order a pot of Earl Grey and sit down to read it, but I am soon disconcerted. I find that Clegg makes light of the notorious incident in which he set fire to a priceless collection of rare cacti -- I don’t know if they sell GQ in Rutland, but if they do it is lucky for Clegg that Meadowcroft’s choice of reading matter runs more to The Horticulturalist’s Journal. Then - dear God! - Clegg goes on to boast of the number of women he has slept with, which is something no gentleman should ever do. I certainly should not have done it myself when there was talk of my leading the Liberal Party - particularly if I thought there were any chance of the magazine falling into the hands of the first Lady Bonkers.

To Brick Lane for the launch of the Liberal Youth, and not without a little trepidation as the name conjours up visions of footer bags, hearty folk singing and long hikes through the forests of the East End. I am thus reassured, when I arrive, to find a party in full swing and not a pair of lederhosen in sight.

I settle beside my hearth for a long awaited treat; a tumbler of Auld Johnston - that most prized of Highland malts - is at my elbow and a hardback copy of my old friend Ming Campbell’s memoirs is open on my lap. I begin reading and am fascinated to learn of Ming’s schooldays in Glasgow and his exploits as an Olympic sprinter, and chuckle at his anecdotes of life at the Edinburgh Bar. Yet when he turns to are former leader, poor Charles Kennedy, and his struggle with the demon drink, I find my attention wandering. When he turns to Kennedy again I almost nod off. When he turns to him a third time… I awake to find that the fire has burned low and my setters have put themselves to bed. In short, it is a fascinating read, but why Ming’s publishers insisted that he bore us all with constant talk of Kennedy I cannot imagine.

To Rutland International Airport for the opening of its new terminal. Vast airships nuzzle the terminal tower having arrived from as far afield as Croydon, Königsberg, the Straits Settlements, Newfoundland and Bechuanaland; attentive footmen carry ones bags to ones Bentley; the Amy Johnson Bar dispenses pints of Smithson & Greaves Northern Bitter to all-comers. In short, it is everything a modern airport terminal should be. I hope the people at Heathrow will take notice.

Lunch at the Hall with Matthew Taylor -- so much more enjoyable now that he is able to take wine with his meal. I tell him all about his great-grandfather and the Harborough by-election of 1916. I am never to blow my own trumpet, as my readers will know, but I trust that I give a fair account of my part in getting the Liberal vote out in Cranoe, Glooston and Carlton Curlieu.
Later a caller arrives with tidings of a small girl who has won the North Wales Paraphrase T. H. Green Without Falling Asleep Award for the second time at the age of eight. Here we go again.

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

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lewis wind farm has greens in a whirl

I was pleased to hear that the Scottish Executive has refused planning permission for an enormous wind farm on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. As Mark Lynas writes in today's Guardian:
The Lewis wind farm's impact on the landscape would have been substantial - with 181 turbines each standing 140 metres tall, erected on massive concrete bases drilled into the fragile peat surface and connected by dozens of miles of new stone roads, this was unavoidable.
Once upon a time this insustrialisation of a remote and beautiful landscape was just the sort of thing the green movement existed to prevent. But Lynas does not see it that way:
the real-world result of defeating the wind farm is that the electricity that would have been generated cleanly from the wind will now be generated using conventional means - a mixture of coal and gas.
This in turn will worsen climate change, which will in the long run have a far more serious effect on fragile habitats such as Lewis' peat moors than any number of wind turbines, as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns shift.
My strong impression is that the green movement has backed itself into a corner. Having adopted the position that global warming is about to destroy Civilisation As We Know It, in order to gain as much publicity as possible, it now finds itself compelled to support projects like the Lewis wind farm.

Lynas says that the Lewis Wind Power consortium is "bitterly disappointed" by the Scottish Executive's decision. I bet it is. But then if I had applied to build a luxury hotel in the middle of Hyde Park I would also be bitterly disappointed if the application was turned down. That would not tell you anything about the worth of my scheme.

Lynas ends with the following paragraph:
As Sir Martin Doughty, chairman of Natural England, said in response to the SDC's Severn Barrage proposals: "We have some difficult choices to make if we are going to get serious about reducing the impact of climate change on the natural environment." And making these difficult choices means knowing what we value most, and how to protect it.
If I read this correctly, Lynas is arguing that, ultimately, we must be prepared to sacrifice the beauty and diversity of the natural world in order to make the planet more comfortable for the human race.

Isn't that precisely the opposite of what the green movement should be saying? Shouldn't it have a touch of mysticism about nature, or at least have a wider definition of human well-being than that embraced by conventional political parties?

Headline of the Day

Well done to the Littlehampton Gazette for:
Row erupts over Bognor regeneration poll

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jersey's cutlure of concealment

Patrick Muirhead writes of his time on Jersey under this title in tomorrow's Times:
I was briefly the anchorman of the nightly local ITV news in the Channel Islands, an experience etched in my memory as dismal, embarrassing and shaming. I was shackled from pursuing any punchy journalism in a laughably amateurish TV outfit for fear of upsetting the station's friends, outmanoeuvred by an ambitious co-host and unwelcome in an island where I was an outsider.
He is also very good on the incestuous nature of island life:
In an island of 90,000 souls, one is only removed from another by the smallest step of separation. The island's Chief Minister, Frank Walker, had a cameraman son at the TV channel where I worked; a senior politician's mistress was a TV reporter on the island. My co-host's home became a popular salon for politicians and decision-makers. In such an atmosphere of closeness, any meaningful challenge becomes impossible. “You rub people up the wrong way,” she said, primly dismissing my methods.

Launde Abbey

English Buildings is in Leicestershire again. This time it's Launde Abbey:

Launde Abbey was originally an Augustinian priory founded in the 12th century. Beautifully sited in this dip, it must have looked inviting with its church and group of stone buildings.

Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s minister who organized the survey of England’s monasteries that eventually led to the dissolution, certainly thought so. When the religious houses closed in the 1530s, of all the monasteries in England, Cromwell bagged Launde for himself. ‘Myself for Launde,’ he wrote in his journal.

Forgotten Relics of an Enterprising Age

Industrial archaeology buffs are in for a treat, as a local paper would put it.

Forgotten Relics of an Enterprising Age is a terrific site devoted to the remains of Britain's disused railways.

Happy St George's Day

Flag St George

The idea of celebrating our national saint's day is a new one for most of us English. I can remember the St George's Day parade being a big deal when I was in the Cubs, but beyond that I have never taken much notice of it.

That is changing, and I am rather pleased.

Billy Bragg had an ambivalent article on the subject in this morning's Guardian:
It is possible for St George's Day to become a celebration, but whether or not it can become a national day in the way the Americans have, I very much doubt; we just wouldn't feel comfortable with a day when we have all got to salute the flag. The belligerence within the English tradition is still a fresh memory and for some people the national flag is associated with football violence.
I don't want to see us saluting the flag either, if only because that would be so unenglish.

But I am puzzled by the claim that the English flag is associated with football violence. The use of the English flag rather than the Union Jack by England supporters largely dates from Euro 96, and there has been far less violence associated with the game since then.

And what is "the belligerence within the English tradition"? It was the British Empire, for instance, not the English Empire and it was largely run by the Scots.

In another Guardian article today Marcus Stafford from something called the England Society rightly points to the role of devolution for Scotland and Wales in raising English national consciousness. And he also makes the important point:

"The more St George is celebrated, the more the flag is taken away from the far right where it has been tainted."
Let's leave the final word to Richard Thompson:
The time has come for action
Leave your satisfaction
Can’t you hear St George’s tune
St George’s tune is calling on you
Freedom was your mother
Fight for one another
Leave the factory, leave the forge
Dance to the new St George
Flag from Webmaster Tools.

King Arthur came from Shropshire

Or so a spokesman for Shropshire Tourism told the Shropshire Star:
"If you think King Arthur’s home was the south west of England think again. Arthur’s spiritual home was Camelot - now known as Wroxeter Roman City near Shrewsbury.

“Guinevere was an Oswestry lass, being born at the Old Oswestry Hill Fort. The Holy Grail was actually found at Hawkstone Park, and Arthur’s final resting place is Baschurch.

“King Arthur’s crown jewels are believed to have been buried in Much Wenlock by Arthur’s heir Cynddylan and are still waiting to be discovered.”

Elvis Presley visited Britain in 1958

From the BBC:
Veteran rock star Tommy Steele has admitted he took Elvis Presley on a secret tour of London in 1958.

For more than 50 years, Presley fans have believed the only time he ever set foot in the UK was during a stop-over at Prestwick Airport in March 1960.

But theatre producer Bill Kenwright revealed Steele's secret on Radio 2.
Legend has it that the reason Elvis never toured was that his manager Colonel Tom Parker was not a US citizen (he was Dutch) and was afraid that he would not be able to get back into the country.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Andrew Aalders-Dunthorne to fight Suffolk Central and Ipswich North

Thanks to the East Anglian Daily Times for the news.

At least he will be first on the ballot paper, even if an aardvark stands for one of the minor parties.

Later. See Andrew's campaign here.

Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival

At the start of the month I wrote about the festival. If you want to see how it went, watch this video on the Shropshire Star site.

And Matt Buck was there too.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lembit Opik to marry his Cheeky Girl

The BBC reports:
Cheeky Girl singer Gabriela Irimia is to marry the Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, it has been reported.

The Montgomeryshire MP, 43, told Hello! magazine he had proposed last week in Rome and his girlfriend accepted.
Congratulations from all at Liberal England.

Trivial Fact of the Day

Thanks to Tim Worstall for pointing out that Olivia Newton-John's grandfather won the Nobel Prize of Physics.

Almost as good... her father was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park and also the officer who took Rudolf Hess into captivity.

It's all in Wikipedia.

Gordon Brown fails the Campbell-Bannerman test

In 1898 Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who went on to become the first Liberal prime minister of the 20th century, gave his definition of Liberalism. Note in particular the phrase I have put in bold type:
"I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life."
Gordon Brown's decision, in his last budget, to scrap the 10p tax band is a prime example of a policy that fails the Campbell-Bannerman test. Never mind rolling out benchmarked programmes in more and more areas of national life: just stop taxing the poor.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Congratulations Harry Hill

Harry Hill won two BAFTAs tonight - his TV Burp gained him both the Best Entertainment Programme and Best Entertainment Performance awards.

Harry Hill's TV Burp manages to laugh at popular television without ever insulting the audience for those programmes. It is a remarkable achievement.

But only one reward for Cranford? Those ladies in the bonnets were robbed.


English Buildings writes:
Hallaton is one of those villages whose upland location and rich variety of ironstone buildings help make eastern Leicestershire a little known delight.
You also get a photograph of the village's buttercross and information on its traditional Easter Monday bottle kicking and hare pie scrambling.

The village even has its own saint.

BritBlog Roundup 166

Tell Mr Eugenides I sent you.

Tim Buckley: Dolphins

Complete with an introduction by Whispering Bob Harris, this Sunday's video comes from the Old Grey Whistle Test and May 1974. Which means that it was recorded just over a year before Buckley's death.

He is described as follows by Richie Unterberger:
One of the great rock vocalists of the 1960s, Tim Buckley drew from folk, psychedelic rock, and progressive jazz to create a considerable body of adventurous work in his brief lifetime. His multi-octave range was capable of not just astonishing power, but great emotional expressiveness, swooping from sorrowful tenderness to anguished wailing. His restless quest for new territory worked against him commercially.
Buckley killed himself with a binge on drink and drugs aged only 28. He now enjoys an enormous and wholly justified reputation. You can read lots about him on this site.

By a tragic coincidence Tim Buckley's son Jeff - whom he hardly knew - also became a singer and drowned in a swimming accident aged 30. Jeff Buckley also had a remarkable voice: he was once described as sounding "like a choirboy singing from the rafters of a whorehouse". Try So Real.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Blow to Snailbeach railway reopening scheme

Sad news from the Shropshire Star: two of the men behind plans to reopen the Snailbeach District Railway have been killed in a road traffic accident in Switzerland.

The newspaper reports:

Dieter Bühler, 57, and Kurt Brugger, 41, both Swiss, were to start work next week on reopening the Snailbeach District Railway, once used by the county’s lead mining industry.

Their car was in a head-on smash with a lorry, as they started their journey to Shropshire. The lorry is said to have been on the wrong side of the road.
Bühler was the general manager of the railway and a director of the Snailbeach District Railways Company Ltd, and Brugger was the project civil engineer.

There is a website devoted to the reopening project and you can read the history of the line on the Colonel Stephens Railway Museum, from which I have borrowed this photograph.

Later. But now read this.

The Cheeky Girls and the Gay Dolphin

Relax. This is not about some juicy new scandal involving Lembit that you have missed.

Thursday's Daily Telegraph had an interview with the girls by Neil Tweedie, and he met them at the Mermaid Hotel in Rye.

This naturally attracted my interest, as the Mermaid is the model for the Gay Dolphin, a fictional Rye hotel which features in several of Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine stories. Though a careful reading of the stories suggests that while the building of the Gay Dolphin is modelled on the Mermaid, it occupies the position of the real-life Hope Anchor.

Follow the links for more on Malcolm Saville, the Mermaid and the Hope Anchor.

Friday, April 18, 2008

House Points: Why Labour scrapped the 10p tax band

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

Taxing times

David Blunkett has condemned the government's’s decision to scrap the 10 per cent income tax band and called on it to ease the impact on the low-paid. He has also accused the Treasury of getting its sums wrong when it told everyone that only a small number of people would be affected.

Estimates now suggest that anything up to five million low-paid workers will be hit. So how has a Labour government - a Labour government – got itself into this mess?

My researches suggest there are three reasons. The first is that the change allowed them to discomfort David Cameron during Gordon Brown’s last budget speech. Who can forget the grins on the government front bench as the chancellor announced that the basic rate of income tax was coming down to 20 per cent?

Remember too the jubilation behind him. I bet those Labour MPs now wish they had paid more attention to the way that tax cut was being funded.

The second reason is that Labour long ago gave up defending payments to adults, but they think the public will still support the welfare state if it is sold to them as ‘ending child poverty’. For everyone loves children. Even the Daily Mail loves children. At any rate, it loves very young children with fair hair. And if you don’t love children, maybe keeping their parents out of poverty will lessen the chance that, high on glue and SunnyD, they will twoc your new motor.

As for the childless poor, I am afraid they are just not appealing or dangerous enough.

And the third reason? There is no worse sin in Labour eyes than cynicism, and cynicism is the abiding sin of the older generation. We have heard so many promises before - and then seen them broken - that we find it difficult to take politicians at their own high estimation. In truth, there is little to be hoped of anyone born before Year Zero - 1994, that is, when Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party.

But the children! Brought up by Sure Start and enthused by the 2012 Olympics and the Millennium Dome, who knows what they could achieve?

So that is why millions of poor workers are now paying more in tax.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gwyneth Dunwoody has died

Iain Dale broke the news here. Now the BBC is reporting the news too.

There is a biography of Gwyneth Dunwoody on her own website. She was a voice of sanity on transport and, as a select committee chair, more than a match for most ministers.

Angela Smith wrestles with her conscience - and wins

It seems that Angela Smith is not going to resign as a PPS after all.

The Guardian reports:
Gordon Brown tonight scrambled to persuade a junior ministerial aide not to resign from the government over a decision to abolish the 10p tax rate.

Angela Smith, parliamentary private secretary to Yvette Cooper, the chief secretary to the Treasury, told friends she was unhappy about the abolition, which will leave some lower-paid single people and childless couples worse off.

A government source said the prime minister spoke to Smith in a transatlantic phone call during his US visit in an effort to get her to reconsider. "I don't think Angela quite realised what she was doing. I don't think she quite realised the severity of it," the source said.
I am sure we all wish Ms Smith the best of luck with her future career.

Will the Curse of Lembit strike down Ruth Reed?

Building Design - "The Architects' Website" - reports that there are three candidates for the 2009-10 Presidency of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

One of them may be in trouble, however, as the site reports that Ruth Reed "claims broad support from RIBA Council and Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik".

Visit her nascent campaign website and, sure enough, Lembit's is the first endorsement you come across:
I’ve known Ruth Reed for many years personally and professionally - especially when she was President of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales. In my view she brings two outstanding personal qualities to the role of RIBA President. Firstly, she has the proven ability to instigate a strategic focus, based on achieving specific outcomes. She’ll deliver a measurable improvement to the Government’s legislative approach towards architecture and design. Second she has demonstrated a knowledge and ability to lobby parliamentarians in a highly competent and persuasive fashion. I’ve seen her approach in action; it works, and that’s exactly what RIBA needs right now.
The other candidates are Paul Davis and Andrew Hanson. Get your money on before their odds shorten.

Junior government member resigns in protest over 10p tax rate

The BBC is reporting that Angela Smith, parliamentary private secretary to Yvette Cooper, and Labour MP for Sheffield Hillsborough, is to resign in protest at the abolition of the 10p tax rate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gareth Epps and his radical vision

My old Liberator colleague is planning wonderful things for Reading.

And he works hard.

How to cheat at chess reports:

A chess player from Iran, who cheated using his mobile phone to try and win a game, was chucked out of the Dubai Open Chess tournament.

M. Sadatnajafi, with an Elo rating of 2301, while playing against Chinese Grandmaster Li Chao, made his moves based on the text messages he received on his mobile phone ...

Sadatnajafi is alleged to have followed instructions from some top player in Iran while playing against Chao. This match was relayed live on the internet and his friend, closely following his moves on the web, guided Sadatnajafi accordingly.

These things used to be handled so much more subtly. Denis M's Chess Site repeats the story of Fischer vs Kovacevic, Zagreb 1970:

The story, according to Mike Fox and Richard James, in their The Even More Complete Chess Addict, is that Fischer has made his move, setting a trap in what is an objectively bad position, and has gone for a little walk while awaiting his opponent's move.

Viktor Korchnoi and Tigran Petrosian are watching the game see the trap and discuss the solution. Petrosian's wife is there too, and as her hubby is trailing Fischer in the standings, she actually walks over to Kovacevic and whispers the solution to him!

Kovacevic plays the right move and crushes Fischer, though the latter went on to win the tournament by a two point margin even so.

Dennis M does point out that the source of this anecdote is Viktor Korchnoi, who had a long-running feud with Petrosian, so it is possible that the story is bunk. But when the legend becomes fact...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Did the Lib Dem 4Rs Commision ever issue a report?

Back in June of 2006 I wrote a rather uncharitable post about the announcement of the Liberal Democrats' 4Rs Commission.

The relevant page of the party's website says that the Commission was due to produce:
a final report in Spring 2007 that will summarize its findings and outline the ideas they believe should be taken forward.
I have searched, but I cannot find any sign of that report on the party website or anywhere else. Does anyone know if it ever appeared? Or was the Commission quietly disbanded when Ming became leader?

Stumbling and Mumbling is moving to Rutland

My next post will, insha'Allah, be from Oakham

writes one of my favourite bloggers.

And with such profound thoughts as these, he should fit in well:

One of the mistakes vulgar libertarians make is to believe that it's only the state that restricts freedom, when in fact we can be enchained by our own past deeds and character.

This is not a question of improving the "work-life balance". The very phrase captures one of the evils of capitalism - that work and life are opposites.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Trevor Eve in Waking the Dead

It's a good week for TV crime fans: two episodes of Foyle's War in a row - though I fear these are the last two - and now a new series of Waking the Dead.

The Independent had an interview with Trevor Eve, the star of Waking the Dead, a couple of weeks ago. It is centred on his recent portrayal of Hughie Green, but covers his whole career.

And there is also a tribute site devoted to Shoestring, which was the series that made Eve famous.

BritBlog Roundup 165

Balances gracefully on the Wardman Wire.

Calder's Comfort Farm: The Olympic torch

My latest New Statesman column can be found on the magazine's website:
In their blue track suits and white baseball caps they resembled nothing so much as the race of fierce, war-like Smurfs that Saruman bred in the vaults beneath Isengard. (It’s a while since I read Lord of the Rings, but I think you will find I have got the essentials right.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Laibach: Across the Universe

I have the same problem with the Beatles as I do with Mozart. I can see that they are good, but for the life of me I cannot see why people think they are the greatest.

If asked to name my favourite band on the sixties, I would think of the Who, the Small Faces, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and, yes, the Spencer Davis Group before I mentioned the Beatles. But this cover version of "Across the Universe", sung by two women's voices, sounds rather wonderful.

Unless you are a fan of Slovenian experimental rock, I had better say a word about Laibach. They have courted controversy by using the imagery of totalitarian regimes to satirical effect - hence the military cadets in this video, I suppose.

Some have misunderstood Laibach's purpose, but translating Queen's "One Vision" into German and presenting it as a Nazi anthem surely tells us a lot about the questionable ethos of stadium rock.

And, incidentally, isn't a limp pun like "the Beatles" a crap name for a band?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

North Brother Island, New York

Did you know that there is an abandoned island in the middle of New York?

Nor did I until an article in The Architect's Newsletter. It deals with Christopher Payne's explorations of the North Brother Island in the East River and its abandoned institutional buildings:

While photographing sites for the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Payne first saw the island from afar. “I felt like I had found a lost city in a jungle, and yet here I was in New York City,” Payne said. His boat, he realized, was too big to get close to the island’s ruined dock. “Here was this lost world, a hundred feet away, that I couldn’t get to.”

On a second trip, he found its buildings—a hospital, power plant, boiler, morgue, housing, cistern, and other infrastructure—receding into the landscape. “It’s strange to look at old photos and see how it functioned, how clear it was, a modern, open campus,” he said. “It’s amazing how quickly Nature reclaims what’s Hers.”

See Christopher Payne's own website for more photographs.

Thanks to Progressive Reactionary.

TV Film of the Week: Millions Like Us

Made in 1943, Millions Like Us shows life on the home front during World War II and the contribution made by women to industrial production in particular. The action is centred on an aircraft factory where women from a wide variety of backgrounds learn the ropes under the steely eye of the foreman Eric Portman.

Patricia Roc marries an impossibly youthful Gordon Jackson, while there is a blossoming romance across the class barriers (tentative, because no one then knew what Britain would be like after the war) between Portman and Anne Crawford.

Add to this several appearances by Charters and Caldicott and a running gag about "the man from Market Harborough", and no admirer of the forties heyday of British film can fail to enjoy this one.

Millions Like Us is on at 1330 on Monday 14 April (Channel 4).

Friday, April 11, 2008

House Points: Anne Moffat says "bog off"

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

Labour's losing it

I know what’s wrong with the Labour Party these days. It’s called Anne Moffat and sits in the House of Commons for East Lothian.

Let me explain. Last Thursday Norman Baker was asking the government to support Lewes District Council's offer to make a financial contribution to keep local post offices open.

At which point Moffat piped up: "He's a horror - tell him to bog off!" If you don't believe me, look in Hansard.

We Lib Dems find Norman endearing. He is sound on everything from Tibet to the reopening of the Uckfield to Lewes railway line. I appreciate other parties may not like him so much, but it was his question that forced Peter Mandelson's second resignation from the cabinet. That should make Labour MPs warm to him.

But it has not worked with Anne Moffat. Leave aside her crude language: just look at her bizarre politics.

You get yourself elected as a Labour MP because you care about public services. Then your government begins a cull of post offices. Shouldn't you be speaking up against it?

Or maybe you are a realist. You recognise that, in a world of texting and e-mail, it is not possible to have a post office in every village and on every suburban high street. But then shouldn't you be in favour of local councils keeping them open?

It is easy to accuse people of sentimentality about sub post offices. We all say we want them, but how many of us actually use them? Let me tell you why they matter.

There was a shop around the corner from my mother's house. The old people from the nearby sheltered accommodation used to go there to collect their pensions and buy a few treats. Then the post office counter closed and the shop closed with it. Now those old people have nowhere to go.

The result for them has been diminished lives and poorer health. And we are all paying the cost of that.

With issues like post office closures and the abolition of the 10 per cent tax band, this government has clearly lost touch with its natural voters. As far as Labour is concerned, as Anne Moffat would put it, they can bog off.

Tai chi for cows

The Shropshire Star reports that dairymen, tanker drivers and herdsmen from across the county have been striking tai chi poses to increase milk yields.

That is all very well, but shouldn't they worry about stopping the cows falling down mine shafts first?

Still, you have to love the Star's headline for the story:
Moo-ves to improve milk yield

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An Olympic-standard hoofing for Tessa Jowell

It comes from Marina Hyde and can be found on the back page of this morning's Guardian sports section:

"I'm on the record repeatedly being very hard on China on its human rights record," she claimed. "Every time I have been to China I have raised human rights with the relevant ministers."

The minister is also on the record - on film, in fact - looking rather awkward as the tracksuited guards muscled in on Gordon Brown's photo opportunity. So she can hardly claim not to have had a clear view of any incident from her position in the dug-out. Yet despite this, you could not persuade her to utter a word against them in the aftermath.

Her appearance on the next morning's Today programme contrived to make her position even more ludicrously inconsistent. "Would it have been better if the torch had passed smiling crowds and cheering children?" she wondered aloud. "Yes, it would."

But of course it wouldn't. Even for an expert in double-think - Jowell recently joined a campaign to keep open a post office in her constituency, despite having voted in the Commons to shut it - this is a logical breakdown too far.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tim Beaumont has died

Sad news from Another Green World. Tim Beaumont the Liberal, and latterly Green, peer has died.

The blog gives a full biography of him:
Timothy Wentworth Beaumont, Baron Beaumont of Whitley (born 22 November 1928) is a politician in the United Kingdom. He is the only person to sit in the House of Lords as a member of the Green Party.

Beaumont's father, Michael Beaumont, was a Conservative Member of Parliament; his maternal grandfather was Liberal politician Joseph Albert Pease, 1st Baron Gainford. Timothy was educated at Eton College, Gordonstoun School, Christ Church, Oxford and Westcott House. He became an Anglican priest in Kowloon, Hong Kong 1957-59.

He was created a Liberal Life peer as Baron Beaumont of Whitley, of Child's Hill in Greater London in 1967. He was chair of the Liberal Party 1967-8 and President 1969-70. In 1973 he resigned his holy orders, but resumed them in 1984, becoming Vicar of All Souls, Kew in the Diocese of Southwark, now retired. He joined the Liberal Democrats but objected to their support for free trade and joined the Green Party in 1999.

Beaumont is a patron of transgender equality campaign group Press for Change.

He is married to Mary Rose Wauchope, with whom he has had two sons and two daughters named Hubert, Aleric, Atalanta, and Ariadne and has a total of ten grandchildren: Amelia, George, Richard, Felix, Michael, Oliver, Milo, Casper, Clio and Isabella.

In May 2006 Lord Beaumont put forth a bill to "draw up a plan to prohibit piped music and the showing of television programmes in the public areas of hospitals and on public transport; and to require the wearing of headphones by persons listening to music in the public areas of hospitals and on public transport."

He strongly supported the current Green Party system of having Principal Speakers rather than a leader, saying that "in 60 years in politics I have only known one good party leader".

Democracy reaches the Channel Islands

The BBC reports:
The UK Privy Council has approved proposed changes to the governing body of a Channel Island which still operates a feudal system of government.

Sark's ruling body, the Chief Pleas, breaches the European Convention of Human Rights because landowners have got a seat automatically for 450 years.

The Chief Pleas had already approved new reform laws to introduce a 28-member elected chamber.

The Privy Council decision means the modernisation can now go ahead.
Now for Jersey.

Brian Paddick's London Mayoral campaign website

Advert for Brian Paddick website

Advert for Brian Paddick website

Advert for Brian Paddick website

The Paddick campaign website has been comprehensively revamped, which is probably down to the influence of Jerome Armstrong.

You can download banners like these and also a small button for your sidebar.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Armed foreign police may patrol London during 2012 Olympics

The Evening Standard reports:

The Olympic flame fiasco has ignited a row over foreign security services helping to police the 2012 Olympics, the Evening Standard can reveal.

As alarm grew over the Chinese guards who accompanied the torch through London it emerged Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has approved a plan to hand over some of London's Olympic security to visiting countries.

Although a final decision has yet to be made,it is understood police officers from abroad accompanying their own teams may be allowed to carry guns.

It has not emerged since the torch fiasco at all. The story was reported by the BBC in June of last year and I pointed you to it at the time.

Still the Standard does quote Norman Baker later in the story:
Norman Baker, the Lib-Dem frontbencher and UK president of the Tibet Society, told the Standard: "The streets of London must be policed by the police of London, not by Chinese security forces.

When it comes to Tibet, the people of Britain want a strong moral stand. But it seems the Government is prepared to kowtow to the Chinese at every turn."

Mr Baker, who has held talks with the Dalai Lama at his refuge in northern India, added: "Gordon Brown seems more interested in trade deals with China than the fate of Tibet."
Norman Baker holding talks with the Dalai Lama? I'd love to have been a fly on that wall. Perhaps the two outstanding figures of their time together in one room.

Those Asquiths and Bonham Carters in full

To mark the centenary of Herbert Asquith’s accession as British prime minister, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has set up a page on him and his descendants.

But there is no mention of a character to whom Lord Bonkers often refers: Violent Bonham Carter, the East End gangster.

And his lordship also insists that the correct plural is Bonhams Carter - along the lines of courts martial, I suppose.

Thanks to Lib Dem Voice.

Farmer loses cows to mine shafts

When you see a headline like that you just know the story comes from Shropshire. Sure enough:
A Shropshire farmer says he has lost 15 cattle after they fell into mine shafts on his land and died.
Jim Roberts, who has farmed in Little Wenlock for 40 years, said he lost 12 heifers and three bulls when the ground opened up under their hoofs.
This one is from the BBC Shropshire pages rather than the Shropshire Star.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Paris protestors put out Olympic flame

From the BBC:
The Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay has been cut short following anti-Chinese protests along the route.

Security officials extinguished the torch at least three times due to the protests before it was carried on a bus to the relay's end point.
Courage mes braves.

BritBlog Roundup 164

Try Westminster Wisdom.

Trivial Connection of the Day

Recent readers will know of my admiration for Steve Winwood.

Long-standing readers may recall that I enjoyed the BBC series The Lost World of Friese-Greene and was pleased to discover a musician called Tim Friese-Green. I assumed he was a descendant of Claude Friese-Greene, whose early colour films of Britain were the subject of the BBC series.

It turns out that that Winwood and Friese-Green both played on the Talk Talk song "Happiness is Easy".

As I always say, if only I live long enough I shall have found enough trivial connections to make sense of the world.

Chris Huhne shows true leadership qualities

From the Southern Daily Echo:

Eastleigh MP Chris Huhne has said he stands by the result of the Lib Dem leadership election despite reports uncounted votes would have made him winner.

Mr Huhne, pictured above, lost the race to Nick Clegg by just 511 votes cast by more than 41,000 party members in one of the closest contests in political history.

It was claimed yesterday that he would have won had about 1,300 postal votes not got caught up in the Christmas post and missed the deadline.

Reports said an unofficial check of the late papers showed Mr Huhne had enough votes among them to hand him victory.

Chris has done well to knock the story on the head - it is tempting to say that he is showing the qualites of a true leader - but it is hard to avoid a little speculation.

Today Stephen Tall poured scorn on the idea that those uncounted papers might have brough Chris Huhne victory:

For sure, the gap between Nick and Chris was a wafer-thin 511. But for the result to have been overturned by ballot papers received after the closing date would mean that Chris would have had to have picked up 70% to Nick’s 30% of the final 1,300 ballot papers. Given how close both candidates were running throughout the contest, this stretches credulity.
I do not think it does stretch it that far. As I recall, it was clear that the momentum was with Chris Huhne during the latter stages of the leadership campaign. So much so that Jeremy Hargreaves, one of Nick Clegg's most enthusiastic supporters in the Lib Dem blogosphere, wrote this when the result was announced:
I am of course delighted that Nick Clegg has won the race to be our next Leader - obviously I’d rather it hadn’t been quite so close (if the contest had lasted another week, I think it’s pretty clear that Chris would have won it).
I remember being tempted at the time to post a comment on Jeremy's blog saying that we must hope the next general election campaign does not go on too long.

The truth, I suspect, is that no one would have mentioned those uncounted ballot papers if Nick had made a surer start to his leadership of the Liberal Democrats. If he can raise his game, we shall not hear of them again.

I don't suppose Nick wants my advice, but that won't stop me. May I suggest that he tries not to sack any more of his most effective front-bench spokesmen and avoids boasting about his sex life in future?

Lib Dem by-election candidate says he was assaulted

From the Lancashire Evening Post:

Police are investigating an alleged attack on an election candidate who claims he was punched while delivering leaflets.

Andrew Fowler, the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Charnock by-election on Penwortham Town Council, was canvassing on Wednesday.

The Lancashire Evening Post? Yes, despite its name Penwortham is not a Cornish fishing village but a town situated across the Ribble from Preston.

Even so, it is a surprise to see passions running so high in an election to what is effectively a parish council. May I recommend the Bonkers Patent Exploding Focus (for use in marginal wards)?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Paul Simon: The Obvious Child

This Sunday's video shows a performance given by Paul Simon at a concert given in Central Park, New York, on 15 August 1991 and attended by 750,000 people.

"The Obvious Child" is taken from the LP The Rhythm of the Saints, which was released in 1990, four years after the better known Graceland, and used South American musicians in the way the earlier LP had used South African musicians.

I suppose Simon's imposition of his Woody Allenesque Angst on Third World music ought to be ridiculous, but this sounds rather wonderful. The drummers are from the Brazilian group Olodum.

Graceland means a lot to me too - when I was defending my council seat in 1987 I put it on every night before I fell asleep. And there is something reassuring about an artist who has been around for as long as you can remember.

Spencer Davis Group at no. 54

"I'm a Man" is at 54 in the new UK singles chart - up from 70 last week. I don't normally like Jack Russels, but the one in the VW Polo ad deserves a lot of praise.

Now follow the link for a live performance from 1966.

Photograph of the Day: Enoch Powell on a pogo stick

Thanks to Statesman or Skatesman.

Lord Bonkers adds: It is a little known fact that Powell would often ride a pogo stick while delivering his speeches. The effect was rather like this:
As I look ahead, [boing] I am filled [boing] with foreboding. [boing] Like the Roman, [boing] I seem to see [boing] "the River Tiber [boing] foaming with much [boing] blood".

Congratulations to the Olympic protestors

The BBC headline says Scuffles mar Olympic torch relay, but that is nonsense. The protests are the only thing that has made the event possible to stomach.

So well done everybody. It would have been a national disgrace if the Olympic flame had been paraded through the streets of London without any protests against the Chinese regime.

Clegg on his GQ interview

From the BBC:

Asked if he regretted an interview in which he said he had slept with "no more than 30" women, he said he did not want to "add fuel to the fire".

He said it had become a distraction from issues he did care about.

That will be a "Yes", then.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Olympic torch

Who said this?
"Sporting chivalrous contest helps knit the bonds of peace between nations. Therefore may the Olympic flame never expire."
Adolf Hitler, that's who.

The Pork Pie News

From the Leicester Mercury:
It has taken 10 years, but pork pie campaigners look set to taste success in their fight to win protected status for the famous food.

The Melton Mowbray pork pie has passed its final hurdle and is now months away from a European Union ruling which would stop pies made outside the region from carrying the town's name.

That could mean the £50 million-a-year pork pie industry would be concentrated largely in Leicestershire.
I don't want to be churlish in the face of such unalloyed good news, but a couple of questions need to be asked:
  • Who are "pork pie campaigners" exactly? Do they form organised groups?
  • The report says the Melton Mowbray pork pie has "passed its final hurdle". But one does not pass a hurdle, one clears it. But this would conjour up a picture of a Melton Mowbray pork pie leaping over things. Time for a new metaphor?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Woodhead Tunnel: Civil servants know nothing about railways

David Ottewell's blog on the Manchester Evening News site quotes a reply by transport minister Rosie Winterton to a question from Labour MP Tony Lloyd. He was asking about possible new transpennine railway lines, but she said:
The need for additional passenger capacity can best be met through the provision of longer carriages and faster journey times on the Manchester to Leeds via Huddersfield route.
Should additional capacity be required across the Pennines at some future date, capacity enhancements on the three existing Victorian tunnels on the Woodhead route would be considered first.
Three Victorian tunnels at Woodhead? Which idiot wrote that reply for her?

As every schoolboy used to know, only two of the Woodhead tunnels are Victorian. The third was bored just after World War II, as part of the electrification of the route, and opened in 1954.

By the time I knew the route it was strictly for freight traffic, which principally consisted of Yorkshire coal being taken across the Pennines to Lancashire factories and power stations. It was possible to go to Penistone and see a constant stream of heavy trains being hauled double-headed by electric locomotives that ran on no other line in the country because later electrification projects used a different voltage from that used on the Woodhead route.

The route closed in 1981 - only 27 years after the electrification - a victim of the decline of heavy industry in Britain. Passenger trains between Manchester and Sheffield were diverted along it on some Sundays shortly before that closure, so if you were in the know you could travel over it. And it was well worth doing. The climb from Manchester up to Woodhead beside the reservoirs was a memorable piece of railway.

It is great to think that the Woodhead route - and the post World War II tunnel with it - might be reopened one day. But that is looking increasingly unlikely. The two old tunnels at Woodhead have long been used to carry National Grid cables, but it is now proposed to move them to the modern tunnel. If that happens, it is hard to see that Woodhead could ever be reopened.

There is more about the cables on the Save the Woodhead Tunnel site. The Woodhead Site will tell you all about the route, its operation and what is left of it today.

The photograph, which was taken in 1964, shows a train using the modern tunnel and the two abandoned Victorian bores beside it. It has been borrowed from the Subterranea Britannica site.

Clegg: Brown must pull out of Olympic ceremony

But seriously, Nick Clegg is doing a wonderful job.

With the Olympic torch arriving in London this weekend, he has written to Gordon Brown urging him to pull out of the ceremony because of China's human rights record.

You can find the full text of the letter on the party website.

Never mind the 30 women, what about the cacti?

In all the fuss over Nick Clegg's GQ interview, has the real story been overlooked? Never mind Nick's lovers, what about the poor cacti?

The Times has lengthy extracts from the interview:

PM Why did you abuse the cacti?

NC I drank too much and left the party with a guy I was at school with called Tom Brown [laughs]. I shouldn’t find that funny. We wandered around the garden and found two greenhouses, and decided to go inside.

PM With malicious intent?

NC No, no, no. It was an accident. One of us had a lighter and turned it on, and this place was jam-full of furry, fuzzy cacti, and the flame nicked one of them and up it went. The effect was a beautiful glowing halo of fire, and we obviously wanted to repeat it.

PM So it ceased to be an accidental abuse of cacti and became deliberate arson?

NC It didn’t feel like it, but I suppose it was.

PM How many did you set fire to?

NC Oh, maybe 20 or so.

PM It is now mass cacti arson.

NC On reflection, yes it was.

Pretty shocking stuff, I am sure you will agree. Time, perhaps, to recall Lord Bonkers' take on the subject:

The pride and joy of my gardener Meadowcroft is his collection of rare hairy cacti. He gathers them from the arid south of Rutland and tends them in the way that a particularly attentive she wolf looks after her whelps.

I well remember his fury when a young whipper-snapper from Westminster School burnt down the glasshouse where he keeps them. My first reaction was to hand the lad over to the Proper Authorities, but learning that he was some sort of nephew of my (how shall I put it?) old friend Moura Budberg, I relented and dealt with the matter myself. I informed the errant youth that he would work for Meadowcroft until he had made full and proper restitution for the loss of the aforementioned prickly crop.

Over the years Nick Clegg (for it was he) has had himself elected to the European Parliament and the Commons, but he still comes to the Hall regularly to do odd jobs. (What with compound interest and the strength of the Rutland pound, debts can take a long time to pay off.)

This afternoon Meadowcroft and I find Clegg perched on a garden seat writing a speech. “Never mind being a scholard,” says my favourite horticulturalist, belabouring him with a broom, “get out and sweep up they leaves.” “I think Clegg has just left his comfort zone,” I observe as he rushes out to work in the garden.

Shrewbury International Cartoon Festival

News reaches me of this event, which will be held at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery on 18-20 April.

More information can be found on the Festival website - from which this cartoon is taken.

House Points: Heathrow Terminal 5

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Flights of fancy

At Heathrow flights were cancelled, travellers were stranded, checking in was suspended and 19,000 bags were separated from their owners. The Sunday papers reported that Department for Transport inspectors had managed to bypass security checks on nine occasions during trials of Terminal 5’s new systems and that its alarm system was not working properly.

At Westminster, not surprisingly, there was an urgent question on all this. But where was the transport secretary?

Ruth Kelly - for it is she - was far away in Durham, launching Labour’s campaign for the North East council elections. Quite by coincidence, she also announced a £340m scheme to improve the A1 in North Yorkshire.

Or it may have been embarrassment that kept her away. She is on record as saying that the new Terminal 5 "exhausts superlatives." At its launch she said it "sends out a message that together we are working to make Heathrow a world-class airport again."

Though that was no more laughable than the claim by Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways, that the building is "an extremely sophisticated baggage system with a terminal built around it."

Whatever the reason for Kelly’s absence, it fell to Jim Fitzpatrick to answer the question, though he did his best to avoid mentioning security at all. And he emphasised that the Terminal 5 project, which Ruth Kelly was once so keen to be associated with, is a wholly private sector affair.

Not that this will necessarily get the government of the hook. In his best Private Fraser mode ("We‘re all doomed"), Vince Cable reminded Fitzpatrick that the British Airport Authority (Heathrow’s owner) has been bought by a Spanish building group that has been widely reported as having problems refinancing its debts.

Norman Baker spoke up for the railways, contrasting the fiasco at Heathrow with the success of the new St Pancras. And he is right: the queues for domestic flights are a condemnation of the way the rail network is run.

These days fares are so prohibitive that few people can just turn up first thing in the morning and buy a train ticket. You have to book in advance and, many people reason, in that case you may as well fly.

If you see Ruth Kelly, do tell her this.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Daily Mail has it in for Lembit Opik

Later. As Auberius points out in his comment below, this story comes from December 2006 but has mysteriously reappeared on the Mail's website with today's date. No wonder it seemed familiar.

There is nothing new about that. And probably nothing new about its story that the Lib Dem MP for Montgomery has lobbied for Gabriela and Monica Irimia (aka The Cheeky Girls) to be allowed to remain in Britain.

As the paper itself admits, his intervention "did not break any rules since he made clear his personal interest in the case".

Still, a period of silence on Mr Opik's part - or at least of concentration on the finer points of his housing brief - would be welcome.

At least my moral still holds good.

Are you Ken Livingstone's love child?

Increasing numbers of people are discovering that they were fathered by the Mayor of London.

If you:
  • have a dry sense of humour;
  • employ members of obscure Trotskyite groupuscules in responsible positions;
  • are fascinated by newts;
you may have been too.

If you suspect you are Ken Livingstone's love child, you should seek immediate professional help.

Boris Johnson is 43.

Bad news for Stoughton

From this evening's Leicester Mercury:

A controversial plan to build an eco-town on the outskirts of Leicester has been shortlisted by the Government.

Villagers protesting against the scheme say they will fight on to ensure the project, which will see up to 15,000 new homes being built between Stoughton and Great Glen, will not go ahead.

The announcement of 15 preferred towns from a list of 57 was made this morning. Housing minister Caroline Flint would only say which schemes had been chosen, not why they had been chosen.

The area's MP Edward Garnier said: 'She came across as a minister who has no idea about the local conditions. It is an idiotic decision.'

I have had a bad feeling about Stoughton ever since it was announced that the site was being considered. The pally relations between the Co-operative Wholesale Society and the Labour Party and the ignorance of London-based officials and politicians about the beauty of the eastern side of Leicestershire have made me fear the worse.

But the campaign against development at Stoughton goes on. See the CASCET (Campaign Against the Stoughton Co-op Eco Town) website.

Later. Emma Lee has a good posting on this too.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Sir Percy Harris

The Parliament website has a short biography of Sir Percy Harris, who was Matthew Taylor's great-grandfather:

Harris; Sir; Percy, Alfred (1876-1952); 1st baronet, politician

Sir Percy Harris was educated at Harrow and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He was called to the bar by the Middle Temple, but never practised. Instead, he was for some years engaged in the prosperous wholesale and manufacturing firm of Bing, Harris, which his father had founded in New Zealand. Harris first helped to look after the London office, then spent three years in New Zealand. His lifelong interest in that country found expression in his book 'New Zealand and its Politics' (1909).

Harris returned to England in 1903. From then on, his main interest was in politics, where he took his stand firmly on the Liberal side. In 1907 he was elected a Progressive (Liberal) member of the London County Council for South-West Bethnal Green. He played an important part in the work of the Council, becoming chief Progressive whip in 1912 and deputy chairman in 1915-16. His book 'London and its Government' (1913, rewritten 1931) was considered a standard work of its kind.

Harris entered Parliament at a by-election at Market Harborough in 1916. His main work in the short remainder of the wartime Parliament was as a member of the select committee on national expenditure. In the election which followed the armistice in 1918 he suffered for his loyalty to Asquith, and the refusal of the "coupon" by the coalition leaders was sufficient to ensure his defeat.

In 1922 Harris returned to Parliament as member for South-West Bethnal Green. He was created a baronet in 1932; was chief Liberal whip in 1935-45; and in 1940, on Winston Churchill's recommendation, was sworn of the Privy Council. Harris held Bethnal Green in six successive general elections; for years his constituency was the only Liberal seat in or within a hundred miles of London.

You can also find photographs of the old boy here and here.

Blogs from Zimbabwe

Yeserday I recommended the blog This is Zimbabwe.

The BBC Newsnight pages link to three more:

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Nick Clegg superstud

Women began queuing early in the morning when they heard that the new Lib Dem leader was in town.

Note the brilliance of our party's press operation: they arrange for news of Nick's embarrassing GQ interview to leak out on 1 April so that everyone will assume it is a spoof.