Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mark Oaten on his future plans

Mark Oaten has left a comment on following press reports that he may resign and force a by-election in Winchester before the next election.

I am not sure it tells us much about the chances of this happening, but it does come straight from the horse's mouth.

Mark writes:

I have never responded to blog sites before but i came accross this today- imagine what it is like to have 242 messages all about what you may do next- imagine what it is like to have the same old jokes and rubbish written about my private life. Yes i screwed up but if only you knew how wrong all the blogs and internet interprtaion was- it is amazing how people just run to a conclussion and then it becomes the truth within a few days. But you all hate me so much that there is little point trying to explain you will just add more hurtfull remarks.

i have not issued any statement to the press re job

i have ofcourse been planning for after the election- tricky as it could have been last november- imagine trying to get a new job but not sure when you will be free ?
i guess that these various meetings and chats are impossable to keep private and that it why it is in the press

it does me no good to have it all in the papers and i would like to just get on with being a mp and at the sametime prepare for the future.

i can say haveing read the 242 message- not a single one is close to the mark

i have kept martin tod, chris rennard, nick clegg and the tory candidate steve brine in the picture about all of this and done my best to be open about the future but its not easy given the amount of hate towards me and the desire some people have to cause trouble. Thankfuly people in winchester remain so nice and positive despite my mistakes- i wish the lib dem bloggers and others would show the same forgivness.

A little piece of Liberal history for £5

In a Stamford bookshop today (though not the one that stuffs owls) I bought a copy of a one-volume edition of The Autobiography of Margot Asquith edited by Mark Bonham Carter. He was the son of Margot's stepdaughter Violet.

The book is inscribed:

For my own darling Ilona with all the love in the world from the author's son


April 1967

Which means that Puff must be the film director Anthony "Puffin" Asquith, who died the following year.

Sign of the Day

Seen in a shop in Stamford:

Retail Licensed TAXIDERMISTS
Specializing In Owls

Friday, May 30, 2008

House Points: The Durham NUM, gypsies and Alistair Carmichael's dad

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

Everyone writes satire nowadays and no one reports what is said in debates at Westminster. So maybe serious is the new funny?

A Westminster week

MPs are away for the Whitsun recess, so there is time to look at what was going on in Westminster’s backwaters last week.

In Thursday’s Commons adjournment debate Kevan Jones, the Labour MP for North Durham, used Parliamentary privilege to continue his campaign against the leadership of the Durham Miners’ Association - as the Durham Branch of the National Union of Mineworkers is now known.

He voiced concerns about the Association’s deduction of a percentage of the compensation won by former miners, the salaries paid to its president and general secretary, and their practice of holding some funds in an offshore account.

When Jones turned his attention to Lindisfarne, members must have feared he was about to allege drunkenness and fornication among the monks. But he turned out to be supporting calls for the famous gospels to be returned to the North East.

One the same day there was a Westminster Hall debate on gypsies and travellers, with the Lib Dems Andrew George and Lembit Opik to the fore. There was an impressive degree of agreement across the parties, with the view emerging that it is no use the authorities taking stronger and stronger action against illegal settlements when the law makes it so hard for travellers to settle legally.

As Lembit said:
Travellers … should be brought in to the community so that they have to pay council tax and everything that goes with it? They will then end up feeling that they are stakeholders in society.
Finally, again in Westminster Hall, this time on Wednesday during a debate on industrial relations in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Alistair Carmichael revealed:
It is ... a matter of some family pride that my father was for many years a member of the auxiliary coastguard, which is now a volunteer coastguard, on Islay. He was an active and leading participant in many rescue operations off Islay and several cliff rescues throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
As dynastic politics appears to be coming back into fashion, perhaps Alistair should make more of this. His father seems to have done more good than most politicians’ relations.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jonathan Meades has a YouTube channel devoted to him

Tonight's Magnetic North was a classic. A prolonged joke about eating beavers long before the watershed and while he described a battle in the Middle Ages we were shown pictures of small boys fighting with plastic swords, solemnly labelled "Reconstruction".

No doubt it will turn up soon at the MeadesShrine.

A doomed attempt to silence Tony Greaves

From the Burnley Citizen:
Health chiefs considered taking legal action over allegations of bad management in Liberal Democrat election leaflets, it has been revealed.

Acting chief executive of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust Gary Graham sent a letter to Pendle councillor Tony Greaves, branding the attacks "unacceptable" and "libellous".
But our Lord is not having any of it:
"This is clearly a clumsy attempt to shut us up and close down our campaign. But I am afraid that the weight of evidence is now so great that the case is overwhelming - they have to bring back a proper hospital to Burnley."
An appreciateive crowd sings:
He's Greaves, he's Greaves,
He's Tony, Tony Greaves.
He wears beard and sandals
And reveals NHS scandals,
He's Tony, Tony Greaves.

Mark Oaten to force Winchester by-election?

The Times reports:

David Cameron is preparing to avenge an historic by-election defeat after the Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten confirmed that he was considering leaving Parliament before the next general election.

Mr Oaten, 44, told The Times yesterday that he was talking to potential employers and could leave his Winchester constituency before the expected poll in 2010.
I am not sure that Mark Oaten's historic victory with a majority of 21,556 was a by-election. Wasn't it a rerun of the general election contest?

Anyway, The Times later says:
Contacted yesterday over rumours that he was preparing to depart, Mr Oaten confirmed that he had had meetings in America with a potential employer and said that he had been honest with his colleagues about the possibility that he might leave before the general election.

“There are lots of conversations going on, some involving stuff abroad, some on stuff in this country. I hope that I can leave at the general election but I have been frank about the fact that it might be before that,” he said.
We shall wait to see if anything comes of this before getting too excited or insulting Mr Oaten. Perhaps he just wants to be in the papers again?

Boris to serve just one term as Mayor?

The Daily Pundit has an intriguing piece of speculation about Boris Johnson's career plans:
Rumours are rife that Boris Johnson isn't a happy chappy after being forced by the Tory leadership to give up his plum Westminster seat of Henley. 'One term' Boris was quick to react to the edict issued by David Cameron last month by swiftly announcing that he would be returning to his old job at the Telegraph as a columnist on a reputed £250,000 a year.

I'm reliably informed the next bombshell for the Tory leadership won't be Johnson's rumoured return to the BBC's Have I Got News For You as a guest presenter - it's expected to be the newly elected mayor's announcement that he will only serve one term.
In my only appearance on Blogger TV I suggested that the Tory high command might see the London contest as a convenient way of easing BoJo out of the Commons. Maybe I was right?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Name of the Day

Well done Julian Swift-Hook, a Lib Dem councillor in Newbury.

Looking back at Britain's first party political websites

PoliticalWire looks back at British political parties' first attempts to use the net to communicate with supporters and voters:

Not knowing how to leverage this new medium, the big political parties put little thought, or effort into their brand new websites. And as a result they ended up with stale and underutilized communications channels at best, and at worst a collection of badly designed, sorry looking pages.
The graphic above shows the Liberal Democrat website from 1996.

Thanks to Dizzy Thinks.

I was at school with Allison Pearson of the Daily Mail

That is the sort of discovery you don't make every day.

The current Private Eye, under the headline "Porkies and Yorkies", has an article about the row between Pearson and the Duchess of York. At one point it refers to her as "the Daily Mail's Allison Pearson (née Allison Lobbett)".

Allison Lobbett? That is a distinctive and familiar name.

Pearson's Wikipedia entry confirms, that like all good people, she was born in 1960. And a UK Press Gazette page confirms that she attended Market Harborough Upper School - or the Robert Smyth School as it is now known.

When I knew Allison Lobbett she was a pleasant person. No doubt she still is, but it is a shame to see she is now doing what is required of a star Daily Mail female columnist - attacking other women for their appearance.

Pork pie library may be closing

The Leicester Mercury effortlessly captures Headline of the Day.

Despite what you might think, the library in question has nothing to do with the celebrated Leicestershire foodstuff. But it is a striking modernist building, very like some of the stations built for London Transport in the 1930s.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Labour must "excavate its liberal treasure"

Later: You can now read the full article on Prospect's website.

This morning's Guardian had a story promoting an article in the June issue of Prospect. It is by Philip Collins, a former Blair speechwriter, and Richard Reeves, an academic who recently published a book on John Stuart Mill.

That article is now on the Prospect website, but unfortunately it is only available to the magazine's subscribers. So it looks as though I shall have to buy a copy.

Because the Guardian article suggests its analysis of Labour current problems is spot on:
He (sic) takes a swipe at Brown and his allies who place their faith in the "benign" power of the central state. "Ed Balls [the schools secretary] wants a national play strategy. Such gestures remind us that Labour's faith in central government draws from the deep, poisoned well of its Fabian tradition.

"Labour has been in thrall to the Fabian branch of its history for decades, even as its purchase on the world has loosened ... Labour's future, after three terms, looks bleak. The only hope for the party is to excavate its liberal treasure."

Cat of the Day

From The Times:

A loss-making Japanese rail company has found the perfect mascot to bring back business - Tama the tortoiseshell cat.

All the nine-year-old cat does is sit by the entrance of Kishi station in a railway uniform cap and pose for photos for the tourists. Tama has done such a good job of raising revenue for the Kishikawa train line that she was recently promoted to “super-station-master”.

The Wakayama Electric Railway Co said: “She is the perfect station master. She never complains, even though passengers touch her all over. She has patience and charisma.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has lunch at the Crown Inn, Wentnor

Important news from the Shropshire Star.

Calder's Comfort Farm: Kenneth Horne and lead mining

My latest column can be found on the New Statesman website:

Kenneth Horne’s father Silvester was MP for Ipswich between 1910 and 1914. A contemporary said of him:

"He understands better than any speaker of his years … how to quicken slow blood, kindle light in dull eyes, and bring the flood-tide of enthusiasm sweeping into all creeks and inlets of the spirit."

I can’t remember the last time a politician filled my creeks and inlets.

Romania: The Curse of Lembit to strike again?

Bad news for Romanian football fans.

Super Dan Petrescu writes: Bugger.

Every school has at least one bad teacher, says minister

Only one?

In all Labour's keenness to raise the school leaving age to 18 and get half of young people into universities, I have never heard anyone ask whether there are enough good teachers around to make it possible.

Good teachers are immensely valuable things. And like a lot of valuable things, they tend to be rare.

Lorely Burt on "impending disaster for Shirley"

Relax. She's not talking about Baroness Williams.

She means a locale of Solihull.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Forget "Life After People", read Richard Jefferies

This evening Channel Four is showing a programme called Life After People. It asks:
What would happen to planet Earth if the human race were to suddenly disappear forever? Would ecosystems thrive? What remnants of our industrialised world would survive? What would crumble fastest?
From the ruins of ancient civilisations to present-day cities devastated by natural disasters, history gives us some clues to these questions.
All very interesting even if it does reflect the anti-human strain you sometimes find in Green thinking. In Women in Love D. H. Lawrence was happy for his alter ego to imagine "a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up".

My reason for writing this post is to put in a word for Richard Jefferies, the nineteenth-century writer I wrote my Masters dissertation about. In his After London from 1885 - which has some claim to be the first English science fiction novel - he imagined the collapse of civilisation after some unnamed cataclysmic event:
The old men say their fathers told them that soon after the fields were left to themselves a change began to be visible. It became green everywhere in the first spring, after London ended, so that all the country looked alike.
The meadows were green, and so was the rising wheat which had been sown, but which neither had nor would receive any further care. Such arable fields as had not been sown, but where the last stubble had been ploughed up, were overrun with couch-grass, and where the short stubble had not been ploughed, the weeds hid it. So that there was no place which was not more or less green; the footpaths were the greenest of all, for such is the nature of grass where it has once been trodden on, and by-and-by, as the summer came on, the former roads were thinly covered with the grass that had spread out from the margin.
In the autumn, as the meadows were not mown, the grass withered as it stood, falling this way and that, as the wind had blown it; the seeds dropped, and the bennets became a greyish-white, or, where the docks and sorrel were thick, a brownish-red. The wheat, after it had ripened, there being no one to reap it, also remained standing, and was eaten by clouds of sparrows, rooks, and pigeons, which flocked to it and were undisturbed, feasting at their pleasure.
Note the extraordinary attention to detail from a writer who really understood nature and agriculture.

In all honesty this is the best writing in the book, apart perhaps from an extraordinary visionary section where the hero visits the site of the long abandoned London - it is as though Cobbett's Great Wen has burst.

But I have to plug my man Jefferies now and then.

David Howarth on the end of New Labour

There is a characteristically incisive article by David Howarth (Lib Dem MP for Cambridge) on the Guardian's Comment is Free site:
This is not the end of New Labour, but its culmination. It is the logical consequence of the driving principles of the New Labour project.

Alistair Carmichael's father the coastguard

I don't know if I will get the chance to use this in House Points, but I thought I would park the link here before I forgot where I saw it.

Alistair Carmichael speaking in Westminster Hall last Wednesday:
It is ... a matter of some family pride that my father was for many years a member of the auxiliary coastguard, which is now a volunteer coastguard, on Islay. He was an active and leading participant in many rescue operations off Islay and several cliff rescues throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Peter Black makes Spassky sweat

Peter Black reports the result of his game against former world chess champion Boris Spassky:
I actually lasted 23 moves before resigning in a lost position. It was fun.

Very creditable. In 1970 - playing on top board in the USSR vs Rest of the World match - Spassky beat the Danish grandmaster Bent Larsen in 17 moves.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Rare Bird: Sympathy

Another song - like Say It Aint So, Joe - that I heard once years ago and rediscovered when they invented the Internet.

Rare Bird were a band from the late sixties and early seventies with big hair and a sound driven by Hammond organ. This was their only UK hit single, reaching no. 27 in 1970. According to one website Graham Field, who wrote "Sympathy", called it “a sad little song … inspired by a tramp who cleaned my car by mistake”.

Read more about Rare Bird.

BritBlog Roundup 171

The Bank Holiday edition can be found on Suz Blog.

Nick Robinson and the importance of correct punctuation

Something else wrong on the internet, though this one is an interesting point of language.

Nick Robinson has omitted a hyphen on his blog and said the complete opposite of what he means as a result.

What he says:
As MPs take a whitsun break, I'm taking a few days to recover from Manchester United's night of glory in Moscow and late night by electioneering in Crewe.
What he meant:

As MPs take a whitsun break, I'm taking a few days to recover from Manchester United's night of glory in Moscow and late night by-electioneering in Crewe.
Thanks to H. E. Elsom for the link to the cartoon.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Chelsea: Avram Grant sacked, Jose Mourinho to return?

Avram Grant has been sacked as manager of Chelsea. Getting to the final of the Champions League clearly was not enough. Though how far Grant was really in charge of the team was never clear to the outside observer.

So who will take his place?

The BBC report mentions Frank Rijkaard, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Brian Laudrup and Roberto Mancini. But maybe there is another candidate.

This morning's Sun says:

Jose Mourinho has been rebuilding his relationship with Roman Abramovich.

Former Chelsea manager Mourinho and the club owner have shared cosy chats at least three times in the last six weeks.

The news comes just 24 hours after the Special One’s successor, Avram Grant, was summoned to Stamford Bridge for crunch talks with chief executive Peter Kenyon.

So will the Special One return?

According to the Sun:

One senior official has confirmed the prospect of Mourinho returning HAS been discussed.

But it is more realistic the ex-Porto chief will go back to Chelsea after the NEXT manager has served his term.

I do not think we have seen the last of Jose. And hasn't life been dull without him?

Now read about Avram Grant's family and the Holocaust.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Secret Shropshire

How can I resist a website like this?

This website will help you discover Shropshire's secrets. It will allow you to explore the county's local history, natural environment and archaeological treasures..

The site includes over 10,000 images from all over the county, as well as almost 300,000 records about plants and dragonflies.
The photograph here (taken by John Mason) shows the spoil heaps from the lead mines at Snailbeach before they were landscaped in the 1990s.

House Points: Education and The Wind in the Willows

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

Good edukation

There was a telling moment at children, schools and families questions on Monday. Jim Cunningham, the Labour MP for Coventry South, asked what steps the Government has recently taken to raise standards in schools.

The minister, Jim Knight, replied with a dizzying list of government initiatives: personalised learning, progression, Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer, Every Child Counts, tutors, curriculum changes, academies, new 14 to 19 diplomas, raising the participation age, workforce reforms, continued investment and much else besides.

There was so much detail and it was delivered at such a pace that it resembled Ratty’s description of the contents of his picnic basket in the opening chapter of The Wind in the Willows. Remember the passage?
"There's cold chicken inside it," replied the Rat briefly;
"coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater -"
But Cunningham did not throw up his little pink hands like Mole and cry ecstatically: "O stop, stop … This is too much!"

Instead he pointedly asked: "I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but will he now answer my question about whether he has any further plans to raise standards in schools?"

In reply Cunningham started on the list again, wavered and then decided it was safer to attack the Conservatives.

Perhaps this is a sign that initiative fatigue has reached the more sensible Labour back-benchers too. This government’s extra spending on schools has been welcome, but it has been accompanied by an extraordinary desire to dictate what happens in every classroom in the country.

So much so that Labour back-benchers now think it appropriate to seek ministerial praise for individual teachers and pupils. Anne Snelgrove told the House about Kerry, Charlene and Dylan from Oaktree primary school, and sought congratulations for Celia Messenger, the tutor in charge of reading recovery.

And we can’t leave Monday’s question time without paying tribute to the Tory Patrick McLoughlin. He asked: "How many children in English primary schools does the Minister think is failing?"

George W. Bush once asked "Is our children learning?" But let’s leave the last word with Kenneth Grahame:
The clever men at Oxford,
Know all there is to be knowed.
But they none of them know, one half as much,
As intelligent Mr. Toad!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lib Dems (just about) take control of Derby

Paul Linford has the story.

The educational background of Guardian journalists

The current Private Eye has an item listing a number of prominent Guardian journalists who went to fee-paying schools. I had meant to reproduce it here, but my copy of Lord Gnome's organ is now being recycled by Harborough District Council.

Fortunately, Guido Fawkes has reprinted the story, though without crediting Private Eye.

There's nothing wrong with going to a public school and having left-wing views, of course, but it is interesting to know things like this.

Labour did not have to call the Crewe by-election for months

Given the probablity of a heavy defeat for Labour later this evening, it is worth recalling that they could have waited for months before moving the writ for the by-election.

So anxious were they to have the contest quickly that they called if before Gwyneth Dunwoody's funeral. I doubt that will seem such a clever move in a few hours' time.

The website that thinks Tamsin Dunwoody is a Lib Dem

When the Henley by-election is called, a lot of people searching for news of it will find ThameNews.Net. That website - "the first port of call for ALL THINGS THAME!" - had better raise its game quickly.

Take this news report:
Boris's Lib Dem apponent goes to Crewe to give support

The Liberal Democrat's Parliamentary Candidate for the Henley constituency that includes Thame, has travelled to Crewe to support Tamsin Dunwoody, his party's candidate in today's by-election.

Stephen Kearney is the Liberal Democrat candidate for the expected Henley by-election...
Oh dear:
  1. Stephen Kearney can hardly be Boris's apponent - or even Boris's opponent - because the by-election will be called when Boris resigns as MP for Henley.
  2. Tamsin Dunwoody, as any fule kno, is the Labour candidate in Crewe and Nantwich.
Still, apart from that...
Later. The posting has been corrected, at least in part. Well done.

Ludlow Town Council back to its best

Ludlow Town Council has been quiet of late. No fist-fights or dogs at its meetings.

But the Shropshire Star suggests that it is returning to its old ways:
Mayor-making in Ludlow was disrupted as one councillor branded another a liar and threatened court action before leaving without seeing the ceremony.

Councillor Nick Galtress ... made the accusations towards deputy mayor-elect Derek Davies at yesterday’s robing ceremony in the town’s Assembly Rooms.

After Jim Newbold was chosen as mayor, and before Councillor Davies could be approved as his deputy, Councillor Galtress asked to address the meeting and made his claim.

In a statement to the Shropshire Star, he said he had reported Councillor Davies to the council’s monitoring officer and was taking legal advice over the alleged “lies”. Councillor Davies said following the meeting: “We’ll see how it goes.”

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Frank Furedi on Labour's campaign in Crewe

From an article on Spiked:
New Labour’s ‘anti-toff’ crusade in Crewe and Nantwich is only a caricature of old-fashioned class politics. Traditional class politics was not simply about targeting the rich – it was also about providing an alternative vision of the world, where what your family did for a living need not determine your destiny. This class-based politics promoted and argued for a real and positive vision of the future. The current anti-toff campaign, by contrast, simply encourages resentment towards the better-off.

It is actually about targeting those who are different or who are outsiders. So it is perhaps not surprising that New Labour activists have not only targeted toffs in Crewe and Nantwich but have also tried to foster local chauvinism against Polish immigrants in a scare campaign about ‘uncontrolled’ migration. In this sense, far from being in any way progressive, the anti-toff campaigning has much in common with current attempts by populist politicians to politicise antipathy against immigrants and outsiders.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Doctor Who: Is that it?

I realise I am taking my life in my hands - this is the Lib Dem blogosphere - but I have not been impressed by the recent series of Doctor Who.

My problem is not so much the content as the format. When I was young the show was broadcast in four-past series. It would just be getting exciting, a Dalek would appear in the doorway and then there would be that wonderful music and you would have to wait a whole week before you found out what happened next.

These days the whole thing has to be over in 45 minutes. So last Saturday's episode involving Agatha Christie had all sorts of interesting possibilities - as a whodunit, science fiction or a period drama - but the limited time did not allow any of these to be developed properly.

Incidentally, I found the idea of Christie worrying about how she would be remembered a little odd. She enjoyed enormous success in her lifetime and I suspect she was well aware that she was not writing great literature.

I wonder what the change from multi-part stories to single episodes tells us about society today.

Is it that the television audience is now so fragmented that you will never get them back the next week if you do not give them the whole show at one sitting? Or do we have an attention-deficit society where no one can bear to wait for anything any more?

The QI vision of education

Dare to Know points us to an article from last week's Sunday Times by Tom Hodgkinson, the editor of The Idler.

It quotes the prescription for education of John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, the authors of the QI books. I can take or leave the QI television programme, but this strikes me as spot on:

One: play not work

Schools should be resource centres, not prisons. Teachers should be returned to their original roles as facilitators, not bureaucrats or drillmasters. The more “work” resembles play – telling stories, making things – the more interested kids will become.

Two: follow the chain of curiosity

Ask a kid what he wants to learn, and he’s unlikely to say: “a broad-based curriculum that offers the core skills”. Real learning is obsessive. It happens through watching, listening and practising something that really interests you. Encourage children to follow their own curiosity right to the end of the chain, and they will acquire the skills they need to get there.

Three: you decide

The QI School isn’t compulsory and there are no exams: only projects or goals you set yourself with the teacher acting as a mentor. This could be making a film or building a chair. From age seven onwards, our core subjects might be: philosophy, storytelling, music, technology, nature and games.

Four: no theory without practice

If you’re lost in wonder looking at, say, a lettuce, you will want to have a go at growing it, too.

Five: you never leave

There is no reason why school has to stop dead at 17 or 18. The QI school would be the ultimate “lifelong learning” venue – a mini-university where skills and knowledge would be pooled and young and old could indulge their curiosity.

Boulton & Co. talks up Lib Dem campaign in Crewe

Writing from Crewe on the Sky News Boulton & Co. blog, Niall Paterson says:
The surprise for me was the confidence of the Lib Dems. They feel that there's been a real move to their candidate in the past couple of days, and insist they'll be challenging the Tories for the seat.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Is this blog breaking electoral law?

Someone claiming to be Paul Thorogood, the candidate of the Cut Tax on Petrol and Diesel Party in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, has just left a comment on this blog promoting his candidacy.

Should I:
  1. delete it?
  2. list all the other candidates?
  3. charge him for the advertising?

Boris Johnson: The good and the bad

Paul Walter of Liberal Burblings has a couple of postings on the new Mayor of London.

The first concerns Boris Johnson's call for new legislation preventing the Mayor of London from serving more than two terms.

This seems to me entirely sensible. In a perfect world all local councillors would be limited to two terms. When you are elected you fully intend to represent the people in the council chamber. Unless you are very careful, after a few years you find yourself representing the council officers in your ward.

The trouble that all parties have finding council candidates means that this will never happen, but it is certainly possible when it comes to the Mayor of London. I suspect that a widespread feeling that he had outstayed his welcome was one of the reasons for Ken Livingstone's defeat this time.

I cannot agree with Paul that it is a "bizarre" time for Boris Johnson to make this call. I can think of no better time for him to make it than when he has just been elected for the first time.

Paul's second story concerns Boris's intention to continue writing his Daily Telegraph column while serving as Mayor.

Why is he doing it? Because the Telegraph is paying him £250,000 a year to do it, that's why. As Eddie Murphy replied when asked why he had made one turkey: "The door opened and four men walked in carrying a large cheque."

But this decision also shows Boris's weakness - an unwillingness to choose between being a politician and being a journalist. This unresolved dilemma has held his career back until now. It looked as though his victory in London had resolved it for him. But apparently not.

In many ways Boris Johnson reminds me of Alan Clark. Although most of the publicity for his diaries concerned the drunkenness and womanising, behind that they were rather a sad document. Clark feared he had left it too late in life to take himself seriously and have a substantial political career.

As things turned out, he had. Alan Clark was never a cabinet minister and Boris should beware of meeting the same fate.

I suspect the 10-year-old Boris wanted to be prime minister and editor of The Times - as well as opening the batting for England and being an astronaut. No doubt this was endearing, even if he did resemble a Midwich cuckoo "run to seed".

But an ability to make choices and accept their consequences is part of being an adult. And it is time Boris grew up.

Tea with Lord Bonkers

The Daily Telegraph's Mandrake was intrigued by this:

The Lib Dems have hit upon a novel way of getting party members to head for Crewe and Nantwich to campaign for Thursday's by-election: they're offering them the chance to have "a cuppa" with one of their big guns.

Each day until polling day, a name will be drawn from those who have signed in at the local campaign and the lucky winner will take tea with a Lib Dem "name" such as Simon Hughes, Vince Cable, and, on polling day, the party leader Nick Clegg himself.

As ever, Lord Bonkers was there first.

The last time there was an autumn Lib Dem Conference in Harrogate Liberator magazine raffled the chance to take tea with Lord Bonkers at Betty's. The winner was the fragant Virginia Morck.

Lord B still speaks of her.

BritBlog Roundup 170

Put together by A Very British Dude.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Karen Gillard chosen to fight South East Cornwall

Or so the Plymouth Herald says.

This is a Lib Dem seat, currently held by Colin Breed.

Fairport Convention: Sir Patrick Spens

Today's video comes from a concert given by Fairport Convention at Maidstone in 1970. One genius, Sandy Denny, had already left the band but another, Richard Thompson, is still in place.

Like all good folk songs, this one involves drowned sailors. It is sung by Dave Swarbrick.

Fairport Convention are still going strong, though these days everything about them seems a little beery and the lead vocals are in the charge of Simon Nicol, whose nasal folk voice can become irritating after a while.

Still, every year I get invited to go to the Cropredy Festival with friends and one day I will get there.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Now Michael Gove wants to tell teachers what to wear

The year began with Michael Gove telling us that a Tory government would encourage state schools to introduce the blazer as a key element of their dress code. The Daily Mail reported that they would not be forced to do so, but Ofsted inspectors would mark schools which have blazers as the "gold standard".

Now Mr Gove has turned his attention to what teachers wear. Wednesday's issue of The Times reported:

Schools will be expected to smarten up their appearance under a Tory government. Out will go jeans and trainers, untucked baggy shirts, crop tops and biker leathers.

This time, however, it is not the pupils who will be under the spotlight, it is the teachers.

Michael Gove, the Shadow Schools minister, today said that the Conservatives would give full backing to schools that introduced smart dress codes for staff in order to boost their standing among pupils, parents and the wider community.
No doubt this is meant to appeal to Tory voters who like tradition, but in reality there is little tradition of teachers dressing smartly. The traditional dress for teachers was the academic gown, which was designed precisely to distance education from the world where a good business suit matters. Less grand teachers wore a tweed jacket with leather patches and a worried expression.

Whatever you think of this, it emphasises that there is little prospect of a Tory government interfering any less in our lives than the current one does.

Coventry and its cathedrals

Yesterday I was in Coventry looking at its cathedral - or cathedrals. Basil Spence's modern cathedral is actually the third that the city's has had.

The first, which will be familiar to Time Team viewers, was the Norman St Mary's, which was also a Benedictine monastery and for that reason did not survive the Dissolution. The page I have linked to will show you what remains today.

Coventry's second cathedral was St Michael's, built in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. It only became a cathedral in 1918, with the creation of the Coventry Diocese.

Sadly, this building is best known for its near destruction in the German Blitz on the city. As a site devoted to the Coventry air raids tells it, St Michael's:
was hit by so many incendiaries that the four fire watchers could not put them out fast enough. Many began to puncture the lead roof and fall onto the wooden ceiling below. Once there they were very difficult to reach and smother. Eventually, due to the large number of incendiaries and the lack of sand, it became obvious that only the fire brigade could now fight the flames. The local fire fighters were already bravely fighting hundreds of fires and could not attend. When fire fighters finally arrived all the way from Solihull, the water supply failed and nothing more could be done.
Basil Spence's design was the only one of those considered for the post-War rebuilding of the cathedral that Incorporated the remains of the old St Michael's. And this was his master stroke - to move from those ruins to the reborn cathedral is an intensely moving experience.

They stand today much as you see them in the photograph above, where Churchill is visiting Coventry after the bombing. I happened to walk past as someone from the cathedral staff was showing a school party around those ruins and heard him say how hard it is too keep them standing as they do. Without continuous attention they would have collapsed long ago.

Inside, with its light and space and use of modern materials, the third Coventry cathedral reminds me of the post-War primary schools in Hertfordshire where my education began. But the new Coventry's glory is its fittings. There is Jacob Epstein's sculpture of St Michael and the Devil outside - I have written about Epstein before, after visiting the new Walsall art gallery.

Inside, as well as John Hutton's great west window, you will find a tapestry designed by Graham Sutherland and stained glass by John Piper. I find this era of British art - still figurative and conscious of tradition, but chastened by two wars - very appealing. It is fitting that Britten's War Requiem should have had its first performance in the new Coventry cathedral.

What the Luftwaffe began, the post-War planners finished. Even so, there remain in the streets immediately around the cathedral a few remains of Medieval Coventry. Particularly notable is Holy Trinity and its "Doom painting" - a mural of the Last Judgement dating from the 1430s. It is a sign of Coventry's wealth that two such fine Medieval churches as St Michael's and Holy Trinity should stand almost side by stand.

Some of the older buildings in this quarter of Coventry are built with pink stone. One of them has a window jettied out over the street. The underside of that window is stained black - a reminder of the firestorm caused by German bombing on the night of 14 November 1940.

Friday, May 16, 2008

House Points: Cameron's Conservatives are so like New Labour

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

Lookalikes United

What would a Conservative government look like? Depressingly, the evidence suggests it would look remarkably like the one we have now.

Boris Johnson’s first act as Mayor was to ban people from drinking alcohol on trains and buses. It is fine to turn up drunk at a station or bus stop – he would have to scrap the whole night bus network if he was going to challenge that – but you can’t have a can of beer open after work. Worthy of New Labour at its finest.

Then Boris floated the idea of Saturday "respect" schools. These would employ a "magnificently untrendy bootcamp style of discipline" and make children march and learn their manners. Just the sort of nonsense Alastair Campbell used to throw the Daily Mail to keep it sweet.

New Labour cliches were also spouted from the Tory benches during Monday’s debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Iain Duncan Smith wanted to keep the provision of an earlier Act that clinics must take into account "the need for a father" when considering applicants for IVF treatment.

"I am aware of no gay couple who have been refused treatment," said Duncan Smith. Yet he wanted to keep that wording (the new bill talks of "the need for supportive parenting") as – wait for it – "a signal".

The official Conservative line came from Andrew Lansley. He wanted the bill to refer to "the need for supportive parenting and a father or a male role model". There has been no more cherished figure in the New Labour years than the role model, but how could such a law possibly be enforced?

What exactly is "a male role model"? Are all males role models? Or do you have to be heterosexual? Play rugby? Smoke a pipe? Doctors have enough on their hands without being forced to ponder questions like that.

Tolstoy wrote that "Happy families are all alike". But old beardie was wrong: happy families take all sorts of different forms. The idea that government can prescribe what they should look like is nonsense from the wilder shores of Guardian commentary.

If the Conservative Party is taking that view on, it will soon be impossible to tell it and Labour apart.

Jonathan Meades: Magnetic North

If, like me, you were out tonight and had to miss the Meadster, do not despair.

Magnetic North is available for the next six days on BBC iPlayer. And there is always Youtube.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

55th Congress of Liberal International opens in Belfast

The BBC reports that members of around 100 Liberal parties from across the world are gathering for the conference in Belfast.

And it quotes Alliance leader David Ford:
"Getting the chance to host this congress is a massive boost for Belfast.

"This is the first time that Northern Ireland has ever hosted the prestigious Liberal International Congress. This gives us the chance of a lifetime to showcase Northern Ireland to powerbrokers from across the globe.

"The Alliance Party's global links within Liberal International are extremely important, and I only wish all other parties in Northern Ireland took such a broad world-view."

And there is more on the Liberal International website:
Speaking in Belfast, as preparations for the Congress near completion, Lord Alderdice said:

'There is of course profound symbolism in holding the LI Congress in the Europa Hotel. It was once the most bombed hotel in the world, but became the setting for US President Bill Clinton, and leading politicians from Britain and Ireland to set Northern Ireland on the road to peace and economic prosperity.

Overblown Claim of the Week

The winner is Peter Dowd, leader of the Labour group on Sefton District Council.

According to the Bootle Times, at last Thursday’s full council meeting he:
accused the Lib Dems of creating “apartheid” after one leaflet attacked a candidate for coming from Bootle.

Peter Thurnham RIP

The Manchester Evening News reports the death of a former Lib Dem MP:
A colourful politician who defected from John Major's Conservative government to join the Liberal Democrats has died.

Peter Thurnham represented the Bolton North East constituency from 1983 to 1997.

He made headlines after leaving the Tories to join the Lib Dems in October 1996, towards the end of the Major government, over its refusal to hold inquiries into allegations of sleaze.

He did not contest his Bolton seat at the 1997 general election and was succeeded by Labour's David Crausby, who remains the constituency's MP. Mr Thurnham died at his home in Bentham, near Lancaster, on Saturday after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 69.

John Harris on Labour's campaign in Crewe

John Harris writes in this morning's Guardian:

Essential Labour strategy is clear enough: not to concentrate on anything progressive or inspiring but to run instead on a mixture of the Dunwoody bloodline, utterly witless class warfare, and the politics of fear.

One wonders what the more shrill aspects of the party's campaign will do for Crewe's community relations - but there again, it's doubtful that such thoughts are troubling many Labour high-ups. Misanthropic nastiness, after all, seems to be a central plank of the government's fightback.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

ConservativeHome gets nervous about Henley

A posting on ConservativeHome comes to our attention:

The LibDems are already gearing up. They've started a lively website, opened a campaign HQ and they plan to select their candidate on Monday.

The party is understandably focused on the Crewe campaign - as are we - but let's not delay for long. We don't want the LibDems building up a head of steam.

Read the comments too - the usual selection of the good, the mad and the ugly.

Laughton, Gumley and Saddington

I have just found a blog posting with some lovely pictures of the countryside to the west of Market Harborough, where I live.

Stephen Kearney chosen as Lib Dem candidate for Henley by-election

From the national party website:

Henley Liberal Democrats have selected Stephen Kearney to be their candidate for the expected Henley by-election.

Stephen Kearney, 49, is Chief Executive of an international development charity that works in Africa and the UK.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Guido Fawkes on the Lib Dem Crewe campaign

An intersting observation from the pointy-bearded one:
The LibDems are not repeating the mistake they made in the Mayorals. They attacked Boris when the public was moving towards the Tories. This election they are going with the popular flow and attacking Labour. Their advertising says "Send a Message to Gordon Brown". They might take some votes from disillusioned Labour voters who can't bring themselves to vote Tory.

Murder of an Aston Villa footballer

On Sunday I mentioned that as a boy Steve Winwood sang in the choir (and illicitly played the organ after choir practice) at St John the Evangelist, Perry Barr.

A visit to the church's website reveals that the churchyard contains "the grave of Aston Villa's Tommy Ball aged 24 murdered by a deranged Police officer in 1924". (This is on the site's History page.)


If you want to know more, this scrappy page from the Northern Echo site is the best place to go:

Settled in Birmingham, he'd married Beatrice Richards - daughter of a well-known pork butcher, pie maker and lard refiner - and swiftly became Villa's first choice centre-half.

England honours were confidently forecast.

Ball's arrival could hardly have been better timed, for Frank Barson - a somewhat abrasive character with the perhaps unique distinction of being sent off in his own testimonial - had been transferred to Manchester United.

Tom and Beattie lived in Brick Kiln Cottages, one of an isolated pair in Perry Barr. George Stagg, their 45- year-old landlord - a former Birmingham policeman who'd been wounded and gassed in the war - occupied the other half.

Stagg shot him in the late evening of Armistice Day 1923, the day after Villa's 1-0 win at Notts County had moved them up to a challenging third in the old first division.

And if you want to know even more you could try to find a copy of Paul Lester's book Murder of Tommy Ball: An Aston Villa Tragedy.

Warren Bradley re-elected as leader of Liverpool City Council

Liverpool Confidential offers a colourful account of proceedings yesterday evening.

I hope this story is true:

Once upon a time, the Lib Dems used to meet, like the other parties, at Millennium House. Then somebody realised spies has infiltrated their inner sanctum. Surely this was a job for James Bond 007?

But it turned out that because of a hyper sensitive, state-of-the-art hearing loop installed in the Lib Dem meeting rooms, hard-of-hearing opposition members, wandering around outside, could pick up the secret deliberations on their digital hearing aids.

And so it was that the action was moved, unfolding at the Town Hall, Monday night.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Boris Johnson about to resign as MP for Henley tells us that a Dear Henley letter from Boris Johnson has just been posted on the Henley Standard website.

In it Mayor BoJo writes:

I am writing this from ex-Mayor Livingstone’s eyrie in City Hall, and it is time for Henley to find itself a new MP.

It will be a huge wrench for me. I want to thank you all for putting up with me for what has been the seven happiest and most productive years of my professional life.

So it looks as though a Henley by-election is imminent.

Headline of the Day

From the BBC:
PM's car did not cause jet crash

Gordon Brown praises the Shropshire Star

Whatever his other failings, our prime minister knows a good newspaper when he sees one:

"Local newspapers are right at the heart of Britain’s local communities, examining the issues which matter, seeking out local people’s views, and representing their interests.

That is why the readers of local newspapers such as the Shropshire Star see them as such honest, responsible and accurate sources of news."

Shropshire Liberal Democrats have a blog

And you can find it here.

Is Boris Johnson the new Roderick Spode?

My latest New Statesman column (Calder's Comfort Farm) is up on the magazine's website:
Then Boris arrived for the ceremony without suitable clothing, so he had to get married in John Biffen’s trousers. Though, to be fair, John Biffen was not wearing them at the time.

BritBlog Roundup 169

This week's Roundup can be found over at Redemption Blues.

As usual, the Chameleon shames the rest of us by the amount of work she puts into writing it up.

Brian Paddick's election diary

A must read in The Mail on Sunday:

Initially there was very little money, even less strategy and a great deal of frustration as I realised the media – and to some extent the public – cared only about the two high-profile candidates, Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone.

I struggled through a nine-month campaign in which the third force in British politics, for reasons beyond our control, became daily more like the third farce.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pelicans in the news

Is this the start of a worrying trend? The BBC website carries two apparently unrelated reports.

In Florida:

A woman required 20 stitches to her face after a pelican crashed into her in the sea off Florida, apparently diving for fish.

The bird, which died in Thursday's collision, ripped a gash in Debbie Shoemaker's face as she bathed near the city of St Petersburg.

The city fire chief said he had never heard of a diving pelican hit a person.

In London:

Families and tourists in a London park were left shocked when a pelican picked up and swallowed a pigeon.

The unusual wildlife spectacle in St James's Park was caught on camera by photographer Cathal McNaughton.

He said the Eastern White pelican had the unfortunate pigeon in its beak for more than 20 minutes before swallowing it whole.

An RSPB spokesman said: "It is almost unheard of for a pelican to eat a bird. Their diet should be strictly fish."

Hmm. Pelcians seems to be doing a lot of unprecedented things all of a sudden.

Watch the skies!

Spencer Davis Group: Georgia On My Mind

With tomorrow being Steve Winwood's 60th birthday, I have an excuse for returning to this blog's favourite band.

This performance comes from the same Finnish TV concert as the version of "I'm a Man" featured here a few weeks ago. Which means it comes from 1967 when Winwood was 18 and about to leave the group to form Traffic.

Winwood's homage to Ray Charles is extraordinary. And it raises the question of why it was that in the early 1960s a generation of white middle-class boys found such affinity with the Black American music of the blues.

I read somewhere that Pete Townshend attributed it to the fact that we were all so depressed after World War II and the austerity years. My own theory is twofold.

The first is that this generation had fathers who played jazz. This was true of Jimmy Page and his fellow skiffle players and also of the Winwood brothers, whose father was a semi-professional musician. So they grew up in households that were steeped in Black music.

The second is the influence of the church. Religion was a greater presence in middle-class life in those days, which gave British boys a musical education that was closer to the American South than anything they will experience today. Steve Winwood sang in his parish church choir for years as a boy, as did Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. (Rod Argent of The Zombies was even a chorister at St Albans Abbey.)

Chris Welch writes in his biography of Steve Winwood:
Just like so many of the original black soul artists, Steve's earliest singing experiences were on sanctified ground. When the church organist had finished playing, taken his cassock off and got on his bicycle to go home, Steve and Muff used to stay in church with a couple of other friends, switch on the pump and get the organ going.
With Steve pedalling furiously he sang out "What I'd Say", his voice echoing to the rafters of St John's, Perry Barr.
It is all a long way from Simon Cowell and a far better musical education than anyone is likely to get today.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Moura Budberg documentary on BBC4

I was wondering why people have been landing on this blog over the past couple of days after searching for "Moura Budberg".

The answer is that there was a documentary about her in BBC4's Storyville series. In it Dimitri Collingridge attempted to uncover the truth about her life. Moura is his great, great aunt, just as she is Nick Clegg's.

You can watch the documentary via the BBC website for the next few days.

It comes to much the same conclusion that I did in my New Statesman piece. While Moura undoubtedly had connections in the intelligence world, the idea of her as a spy was largely the stuff of legend - and she helped to write that legend herself.

House Points: Round the Horne and Liberalism

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

I have written about the Hornes and the Paddicks before on this blog.

Horney problems

The Bank Holiday weekend gave Westminster time to reflect on last week’s elections. Will Boris Johnson’s victory in London prove a mixed blessing for David Cameron? Has the Tories’ success in the North been overhyped? Once again they failed to win a single seat in Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle or Hull.

And, closer to home… Why, when the Liberal Democrats are such strong supporters of proportional representation, do we do so badly whenever it is used? And why, presented with the opportunity, did more Londoners not give the Brian Paddick their first preference and opt for Boris or Ken with their second?

My impression is that we have become extremely proficient at flooding individual wards or constituencies with workers and squeezing third-party votes during those campaigns. But are we as good at winning people’s support for a Liberal agenda between elections or across a whole city?

One consolation from the London campaign was the revelation that Brian is a relation - second cousin once removed, to be precise - of the Round the Horne star Hugh Paddick.

Round the Horne was the cult radio comedy of the 1960s. In it the urbane Kenneth Horne proved, long before Humphrey Lyttelton, that you can get away with the most outrageous innuendo on the BBC so long as you have impeccable Establishment style and connections. Hugh Paddick is best remembered for playing Julian to Kenneth Williams’s Sandy in the show.

But a connection between Round the Horne and Liberalism should not be such a surprise, because Kenneth Horne’s father was a Liberal MP. Silvester Horne, who sat for Ipswich between 1910 and 1914, was a Congregationalist minister and a celebrated orator and preacher.

Kenneth was a little boy when his father died. When in adult life he described Winston Churchill to a friend as a great orator, that friend replied: "Yes, but then you never heard your father speak, did you?"

Some would conclude that the son who revelled in the smut of Round the Horne can have had little in common with his clergyman father. But Kenneth Horne was not without a puritan streak too. He once said: "I am all for censorship. If ever I see a double entendre I whip it out."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Great tits and Jan's cock

Norfolk Blogger has quite rightly awarded Headline of the Week to the BBC for its:

Great tits cope well with warming
Malcolm Redfellow's World Service also notes this story and goes on to inform us that the RSPB has banished the word "cock" from its website. This leads him to reminisce:

Long years ago, Malcolm worked alongside a lovely, if slightly too-innocent-for-her-own-good teacher. She insisted on using Ian Serraillier's 1956 great story, The Silver Sword, as a class reader. (It may subsequently have been edited or re-written: it certainly seems to have gained a new title, Escape from Warsaw). The problem was that one of the characters has a pet chicken, and this (as Malcolm painfully remembers) provokes the immortal line:

"Jan placed his cock on the table."

As soon as the set of books was removed from the stock-cupboard, Malcolm, would take great care monitoring the class's progress in reading the story. He fully appreciated that he would be summoned to suppress the minor riot when the psychological moment arrived.

Steve Galloway stands down as City of York Council leader

The Yorkshire Evening Press reports

Steve Galloway is resigning as leader of City of York Council, after five years in charge.

The Liberal Democrat chief, who has been a councillor for 35 years and party leader for the past nine, said he had enjoyed his time in the top job, but it was time to hand over to somebody younger.

I mention this because Steve was a Liberal councillor when I was a student in York nearly 30 years ago. In those days the idea that the Liberals might one day run the city would have seemed pretty fanciful. Steve's career is a reminder of how far we have come.

Steve was also the Liberal candidate for the York constituency at three general elections, but in the Alliance years the seat was allocated to the SDP and fought by someone called Vince Cable. I wonder what happened to him?

John Stuart Mill's tomb

On an Overgrown Path (from whom I have borrowed the photograph) writes:
He is buried alongside his wife in the cemetery of St Veran on the outskirts of Avignon and his tomb, seen in my photos, is marked 'En hommage à John Stuart Mill Défenseur des Femmes'. The plaque has been added by Centre d'Hébergement et de Réinsertion Sociale "Stuart Mill", a refuge for women victims of violence in Paris.
That blog also has another photograph showing the plaque in greater detail.

Cats for Obama

With supporters like Leo from Antioch, CA, how can he lose?

Thanks to Paula Keavney.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Local election results point to more Lib Dem MPs in Sheffield

The Sheffield Star has been looking at the local election results in the city last week and calculating what they could mean at the next general election.

The Star can reveal further misery for Labour, which once counted Sheffield as one of its heartlands:

  • Heeley MP and junior Foreign Office minister Meg Munn would lose an 11,000 majority and crash to a narrow defeat by the Lib Dems.
  • Hillsborough MP Angela Smith, who is standing in the new Penistone and Stocksbridge seat, would come third, with the Lib Dems winning the seat and the Tories, who see the constituency as a potential target, second.
  • Labour's comfortable 7,000 majority in Sheffield Central would be wiped out and the party would only just beat the Lib Dems. Lib Dems could take seat by securing a handful of extra votes.
  • Only Brightside MP David Blunkett and Clive Betts, who represents Attercliffe, would be safe - but with reduced majorities.
  • Conservatives would fail to make any inroads into Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's hold on Hallam.
Just a bit of fun, as Peter Snow used to say, but very encouraging all the same.

Stephen Pound in "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush"

Welcome to the second and probably last in our series of postings on Labour MPs in British films of the 1960s. (The first was about Hazel Blears in A Taste of Honey.)

In February 2003 the Daily Mirror reported:

Steve Pound has revealed that he had a showbiz career in the late 60s before he became a Labour MP. He appeared in a movie called Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, shot in glamorous Stevenage.

"I appear twice in this film," brags Pound. "Once at the then Stevenage Locarno where I am seen in the crowd watching the Spencer Davis Group, and latterly as a nimble bus driver - with the sun glinting on my flowing auburn locks, a fag in my mouth and a copy of Labour Weekly sticking out of my back pocket."

Yes, the film features this blog's favourite band. It is even better than that. The film was made just as Steve Winwood was leaving Spencer Davis and setting up Traffic and both groups are featured on the soundtrack.

There are several clips from Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush on Youtube. It is even possible that Pound features in this one, which shows teenagers dancing to a post-Winwood Spencer Davis Group.

You can also enjoy the opening titles, a scene with Barry Evans and Adrienne Posta and (not from the film) this clip of Traffic playing the theme song.

There is a sad postscript to the film. The star of the film Barry Evans, who was brought up in children's homes, went on to appear in a couple of television sitcoms, but his career never really flourished. He was found dead in unexplained circumstances at his bungalow here in Leicestershire in 1997 and an open verdict was recorded by the coroner. There is a little more about his death in his Wikipedia entry.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Lib Dems look set to run Derby

The Derby Evening Telegraph reports:

The Liberal Democrats were tonight on the verge of controlling Derby City Council after the Tories said no to any power-sharing agreement.

The decision was made at a group meeting of the Conservatives in the city.

The only way Labour could have held on to control of the city was if the Conservatives had agreed to work with them in exchange for seats on the cabinet as they have for the past two years.

Hazel Blears in "A Taste of Honey"?

This blog loves British films and trivial facts. And one of its favourite trivial facts is that Hazel Blears appeared in A Taste of Honey as a little girl.

At the time of Labour's deputy leadership election she reminisced to the Daily Mail:

"The director wanted a couple of street urchins in the film and saw me and my brother playing in the street, asked me mum if we could be in the film and, being the proud working-class woman that she is, she made absolutely sure we had our Sunday best clothes on and were all scrubbed up.

"So, if you ever see A Taste Of Honey, right at the beginning, then you'll see two of the best-dressed urchins that you're ever likely to see.

"You can see me in the opening credits. I'm wearing a tartan skirt and am bouncing a ball.

I have not seen the film, but this interview suggests that this photograph from Britmovie shows a five-year-old Hazel Blears with the film's star Rita Tushingham.

And then there's Stephen Pound in Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush...

The BBC's election night coverage

Heresy Corner presents a video of Jeremy Vine's excruciating Wild West skit and then adds:

Either those responsible were actually drunk at the time, or they assumed that most of the audience would be. But this was local election coverage. Most normal people don't sit up most of the night waiting to hear whether Reading has moved to No Overall Control. Those who do have the obsessive interest in politics required to tune in to this sort of show want to know facts, put into context by basic, easy-to-follow maps and graphs.

Far from helping to explain anything, this skit served only to confuse matters. I think the message had something to do with Lib Dem poll numbers, but it's hard to tell exactly what. It reminds me of one of Humph's convoluted metaphors designed to illustrate the concept behind One Song to the Tune of Another.

"It might help to think of the Lib Dem leader as a Wild West gunslinger and the percentage share of the vote as old cans hanging from strings in an old-style saloon. Nick Clegg's task is to use his gun - that is, his campaign team - to "hit", that is, reach, the "tin cans", or the target number of votes. But, I hear you ask, what do a lot of empty beer cans rattling around in a bar have to do with the Liberal Democrats? In the studio we've got Charles Kennedy."

BBC website calls Crewe and Nantwich "a safe Labour seat"

I quote:

A Belfast beauty Queen is set to fight a by-election in a bid to "glamorise" the House of Commons.

Gemma Garrett, who is the current Miss Great Britain, is standing in the safe Labour seat of Crewe and Nantwich.

We shall see.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Richard Holme has died

Richard Holme - Lord Holme of Cheltenham - has died aged 71. It was widely known within the party that he had been ill with cancer for some time.

There are full obituaries on the Daily Telegraph and Guardian sites of this prominent Liberal and Lib Dem adviser, who was able to move from David Steel's side to Paddy Ashdown's without breaking step. He narrowly failed to win the Cheltenham seat on several occasions.

Anyone joining the Liberator Collective in the 1980s was required to regard Richard Holme as a hate figure, but he was always charming when I came across him.

Peter Black vs Boris Spassky

They called Fischer vs Spassky the "Match of the Century" - until now.

Lib Dem AM Peter Black is taking on former world chess champion Boris Spassky at Booth's bookshop in Hay-on-Wye on 25 May. Spassky is giving a simultaneous display, playing 20 opponents at once.

I once drew with Nigel Short in such circumstances, though he was only 14 at the time.

The display is being put on for charity, and Peter is supporting Childline. If you visit Peter Black's blog you will find details on how to sponsor him.

Are there any other Lib Dem chess playing parliamentarians out there? Evan Harris used to be a pretty hot player as a junior.

New Routemaster buses: I was there before Boris

From my essay in Liberalism: Something to Shout About, which was published at the 2006 Liberal Democrat Conference:

[Public] order is best seen as a by-product of people going about their ordinary business rather than the result of enforcement action by the authorities.

Perhaps the next Lib Dem London Mayoral candidate should campaign for a new generation of Routemaster buses and promise to employ conductors on them.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Brian Paddick and Hugh Paddick are related

I thought this piece of trivia might prove too good to be true. But this page on Graham Taylor-Paddick's website shows that Brian Paddick is the second cousin once removed of the Round the Horne star Hugh Paddick (far left in the photo).

I found it via Brian Paddick's Wikipedia entry.

Now read about Kenneth Horne's father, who was a Liberal MP. Or if you are young, read about Round the Horne.

BritBlog Roundup 168: Is Boris good enough?

This week's nominations were dominated by the local elections, and the London Mayoral election in particular. So with thanks to NewsBiscuit for the photograph, let's get on with it.

Those elections in full

First a mention for the three bloggers who were featured on the BBC election coverage: Luke Akehurst, Iain Dale and Alix Mortimer. They all did a much better job than Jeremy Vine or David bloody Dimbleby.

And also a mention to Andy D'Agorne for recognising that the elections did not just take place in London. He went to Sheffield and saw strange goings on involving postal votes and taxis.

So to London. Susanne Lamido (that's Susanne with an 's') attended the count at City Hall, and The Daily (Maybe) has all the results.

"One of the ten cleverest men men in Britain" is worried that Londoners did not understand the electoral system, so I suppose we should be too. Pandemian has some ideas for making voting more exciting. And Burning Our Money gives reasons why you should have voted early and often.

So how will Mayor BoJo do?

Guido Fawkes declares the official liberation of London, whereas Rachel in North London fears the city has elected a celebrity buffoon.

Croydonian speculates on Boris's first 100 days. The more cynical Diamond Geezer has produced a newsletter for him so that he can get some ideas. And Barkingside 21 detects a climate of change in London - as well as leading me to the picture above.

Cruella-Blog has collected a range of reactions to Boris's victory. Other reactions to the elections - in London and further afield - come from Elle Seymour and Ben Brogan. More reaction still comes from Liam Mac Uaid (Respect), Dave's Part (Old Labour) and A Blog from the Back Room (New Labour).

Oh, and there was a Camden Borough by-election in Highgate on Thursday. It was won by the Greens, but comment comes from the Labour-supporting Theo's Blog and Belsize Liberal Democrats.


Phew! We'll give politics a rest and look at more interesting things for a while.

Other things have been going on this week. Charlotte's Web has been writing. In the Aquarium has been potting and Mother of the Bride has been hatching, matching and dispatching.

Meanwhile Feminist Philosophers has been to the Fem 08 conference in Sheffield - this week's place to be if you are not in London.

Elsewhere Amused Cynicism explains why people go anti-science, Around My Kitchen Table writes of extreme sports and adrenaline rush deprivation and Bag's Rants invites you to find the man in the coffee beans.

It tells you something important about the right and left of your brain, apparently.


Ruscombe Green worries about the bees and the bats, while How Can I Recycle This? has ideas for old washing machine drums.

Back in London, Northwest 6 reports on the restoration of some green space in West Hampstead.


Random Acts of Reality has received his first letter of thanks as an ambulance man.

NHS Blog Doctor detects "a little sleight of hand from those dear ladies at the Kent Midwifery Practice".


The nominator admits that it is not British, but Jewcy is written by Mike Godwin of Godwin's Law fame - the first person to mention Hitler in a discussion thread has lost the argument. Here he marks the law's 18th birthday. "If Godwin's Law had been a child, this year it would be old enough to vote."

And Freeborn John looks at why some people have such laudatory Wikipedia entries.


To finish off, we go back to a few political postings that did not concern Thursday's elections.

Gaian Economics urges the establishment of a "housing entitlement day".

Freeborn John has a second nomination, this one looking at government plans to force people learning to drive to use an approved driving instructor.

And Burning our Money turns up again too, looking at Gordon Brown's plans for a Great Leap Forward.

Finally, Blood and Treasure has found the perfect word to describe the prime minister.


Thanks for all the nominations this week. If I have missed any out or the link does not work, please let me know.

Next week's Roundup will be at Redemption Blues. And you can find the rota for future weeks here.

As ever, please send your nominations to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com.