Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween? Bah, humbug!

It's traditional that at this time of year I have a moan about Halloween and say how much I prefer Bonfire Night.

This time I have done it in my Calder's Comfort Farm column on the New Statesman website:

I’ve got no time for Trick or Treat. It’s just demanding money with menaces and, in the South of England at least, a recent import from America. Worse, paranoid modern parents insist on accompanying their children, trailing behind them with big soppy grins.

A Penny for the Guy was more my style: good, honest begging with a token creative effort thrown in. Children spent hours shivering on street corners before blowing themselves up with fireworks. That sort of thing builds character.

Will Lord Bonkers cost Obama the election?

It is entirely possible that Lord B. was granted honorary US citizenship by a grateful President at some point in the past, but it is a bit hard to blame it all on him.

Watch the video here.

House Points: Is Jack Straw the new Sarah Palin?

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

A moose in the lobby

Chris Huhne told us in his speech at the Bournemouth Conference that this government has introduced 3,600 new criminal offences since it came to power in 1997. "Labour’s new legislation takes the same amount of shelf space as 200 copies of War and Peace," he said. "And it is twice as heavy as John Prescott."

So it’s no surprise that a few of those offences have slipped through without anyone noticing. At Home Office questions on Monday the Labour MP David Drew raised the case of a friend and constituent who had been arrested at Kingsnorth climate camp for "aggressively picking up litter". Is it any wonder the Wombles are threatening to move to New York?

The work of reducing our liberties is now so great that Gordon Brown has been forced to split it between two cabinet ministers. While Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, was busy at the Commons dispatch box, Jack Straw, as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, was making a speech down the road at the Royal Society of Arts.

There he invented something called the ‘criminal justice lobby’ and announced that it has been running Britain’s prisons for the past decade. This of nonsense, of course, and not just because it is ministers who runs our prisons. Anyone who works with public sector professionals will know how quickly they come to endorse every new twist of government thinking. They know which side their bread is buttered.

But try telling that to Straw. According to him, the members of this lobby are obsessed with the needs of offenders when they should be worrying about the victims of crime - though he was notably short of practical proposals for helping those victims. More punishment was his recipe. Worse than that, they insist on using long words like "criminogenic".

Believing in left-wing conspiracies, vengeful, anti-intellectual. Does Jack Straw remind you of anyone?

It’s Sarah Palin, of course. If you gave Straw a beehive hairdo and he started wearing his glasses again, it would be impossible to tell them apart. You betcha!

"Now on 'Autumn Watch’ we are going over to Simon King who is with some moose in Blackburn" "Thank you, Bill, and the news here is that the moose are looking distinctly nervous."

Richard Grayson on televison

Richard Grayson, Lib Dem PPC for Hemel Hempstead and formerly Charles Kennedy's head honcho, will be appearing on television on Wednesday 5 November.

The Hemel Hempstead Gazette says:

Dr Richard Grayson, 39, will feature in My Family at War, which explores the family history of celebrities whose relatives fought in World War One.

The makers of tonight's episode, that focuses on TV presenter Eamonn Holmes, called on Dr Grayson for his detailed knowledge of the experiences of Catholic soldiers in Belfast.

The programme will be shown on BBC1 at 10.45 p.m. on Wednesday 5 November.

Cats for Obama again

Time to revisit this important campaign site.

Our illustration shows Miko and Kelly.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Revenge of the Telford penguins?

Remember the fiasco of the Telford penguins and the Tory-run council's policy of challenging any lone adults found in the town park in case they are paedophiles? Let me refresh your memory.

Anyway, Telford & Wrekin Council Watch points us to a story in the Telford Journal, which gives the intriguing latest chapter in this story:

Conservative Councillor Denis Allen was suddenly axed from his cabinet position this week as member for community services.

Last week it was revealed Councillor Allen was taking a month-long break from his role, prompting rumours that he had been suspended.

Telford & Wrekin, however, put out a statement saying Councillor Allen had been advised to take a “well deserved rest.”

And there's more:
now the leader of the Labour group, Keith Austin, says Councillor Allen had come under fire - and was under investigation - over the Telford Town Park paedophile fiasco.

He was the one who authorised routine stop-checks on single people walking in the park’s recreational areas, claimed Councillor Austin.

Britblog Roundup: A reminder

I shall be hosting the next Britblog Roundup this weekend.

If you have seen a posting on a British blog this week (including your own) that you think particularly fine, please send the link to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com by Sunday lunchtime.

The "Blog" of Unnecessary "Quotation Marks"

This "blog" records all those irritating "notices" that use "quotation marks" when they shouldn't.

Let Mark Kermode present Film 2008

Time to remember a suggestion of mine from this time last year:
I am watching Film 2007 and BBC's Jonathan Ross is dull, dull, dull.

The BBC has a broadcaster on film who would make it a more interesting programme overnight: Mark Kermode. He was on Newsnight Review with Matthew Sweet a couple of weeks ago. Both are infinitely more interesting on film than Ross is.

With Ross you always suspect a conflict of interest. If he gives big Hollywood names bad reviews, will they refuse to appear on his chat show next time round?

Popular TV star attacks Andrew Sachs

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

National Black Police Association: A case of mistaken identity

From the Guardian website:

Members of the National Black Police Association (NBPA) probably did not expect the keynote speaker at their annual conference to suggest the organisation might be guilty of racism.

But that's what happened when an invitation mix-up led to the wrong MP addressing the event.

Instead of the former shadow home secretary David Davis, his near namesake David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, was invited - and delivered a highly critical speech.

Anand wins the match

Viswanathan Anand won the world championship match against Vladimir Kramnik after the eleventh game was drawn today. Anand had White and switched to 1. e4; Kramnik played the sharp Najdorf Sicilian, but failed to generate much excitement and a draw was agreed in only 24 moves.

When I knew about opening theory, the mainline in this variation was 7. ... Be7, while 7. ... Qc7 had been played in the 1950s, the early days of this line, but soon disappeared. Fashion or was some dangerous new move found for White?

You can find the moves from today's game at Chessdom, but the annotation on Susan Polgar's blog are better.

The news reports say that Anand retained the world championship. The truth is rather more complicate that. Ever since Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short broke away from FIDE, the world chess governing body, to play their match, the title has been in dispute.

As Kramnik beat Kasparov in a match a few years ago, many thought he was morally the world champion. So it is probably fairer to say that Anand, by winning the titles, has emerged as the undisputed world champion.
It was rather a disappointing match, though, and 12 games is too few to decide the world title. It is like John Higgins and Ronnie O'Sullivan deciding the world snooker crown over a match of a dozen frames.

Iain Sinclair: Banned by Labour, invited by Lib Dems

In certain moods Iain Sinclair is my favourite writer of all, if only because he shares my taste for neglected places and arcane knowledge. The pretentious word for these enthusiasms is "psychogeography".

Sinclair has a new novel, Hackney, That Rose Red Empire, out and had been due to launch it at Stoke Newington public library in the borough.

Terence Blacker takes up the story in the Independent:

After the arrangement was made, an essay written by Sinclair appeared in the London Review of Books, the theme of which was that the Olympics – "this 2012 game-show rabies" as he put it – would have a disastrous effect on London. "The Millennium Dome fiasco was a low-rent rehearsal," Sinclair argued. "The holy grail for blue-sky thinkers was the sport-transcends-politics Olympiad, the five-hooped golden handcuffs, smoke rings behind which deals could be done for casinos and malls: with sponsorship, flag-waving and infinitely elastic budgets (any challenge an act of nay-saying treason)."

That parenthetical aside was prophetic. Stoke Newington Library rang Iain Sinclair to withdraw its invitation to him. The problem, they said, was that he had been critical of the Olympics. A spokesman for Hackney Council subsequently dug the local authority a little deeper into the mire. It would be inappropriate for a public library to host the launch for a book "expressing controversial or political opinions," he explained. The problem with that argument, apart from its sinister daftness, is that the book is three months away from publication has presumably not yet been read by the thought police of Hackney.

The problem for small Labour minds of Hackney must have been Sinclair's London Review of Books essay. As Blacker says:
suggested a high level of dodgy dealing in east London, with developers being given attractive deals if they put money into the financially hard-pressed Olympic project. As a result, the communities, small businesses and historic buildings were being destroyed. "Nothing slows the momentum, the Olympic imperative," Sinclair wrote.
Do read the whole thing for yourself.

This episode has a happy ending - and one that makes me proud to be a Liberal Democrat. Becasue Lib Dem run Islington has offered Sinclair the chance to launch his book in of their libraries instead.

The Islington Gazette quotes Cllr Ruth Polling, the borough's executive member in charge of libraries and culture, who has called the decision "deeply troubling": She says:
"There will never be censorship of this sort as long as the Lib-Dems run Islington. Banning an author from speaking because of his views about the Government's incompetence is monstrous. But what's worse is the Labour council's blanket statement that controversial opinions are no longer welcome in their libraries. Libraries should be a place for discourse and free thinking. I'm pleased to offer Islington's libraries for Mr Sinclair's book launch."

Newts from Shropshire

From the South Shropshire Journal:

On the site at Churchill Road, Church Stretton, where new affordable homes and a sheltered housing complex are going to be created, the start of work has been delayed while a colony of newts is moved.

Paul Sutton, director of development and technical services for the SSHA, said: “We are dealing with newts. There are newt protection fences around the site, and humane newt traps across the field.

“Ecologists are having to look at these traps on daily basis, and when newts are found in the traps they are moved into their new location, as agreed with English Nature.

“We have to keep going until we don’t find any more. Once that’s completed we can start on site.”

An old joke recycled

Jonathan Ross says he is leaving the BBC "without rancour".

That's funny, I thought he was taking Russell Brand with him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The BBC licence fee debate

My recent House Points column on the future of the BBC licence fee has given rise to a debate over at Liberal Democrat Voice.

Heresey Corner has a posting on the subject too.

Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross and the credit crunch

Writing for the Wealth Bulletin, Mike Foster draws some imaginative parallels between the excesses of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross and the excesses that led to the credit crunch:
On one level, the affair matters not a jot. But it also demonstrates the way in which people like Brand and Ross overreach themselves after enjoying the adulation of millions, and salaries to match.

The effect of this kind of leverage on animal spirits were also on display in the financial markets of 2007, when investors and financiers became masters of the universe, after using cheap debt to build business empires and boost their personal bottom line.

Clun Bridge

After having bored my mother for 20 years by telling her how wonderful Shropshire is, I took her there for a short holiday last week.

One of the places we visited was Clun in its lovely green valley. According to Malcolm Saville in The Secret of Grey Walls, there is an old saying that "those who go over Clun bridge come back sharper than they went". I can't vouch for that, but it is a Medieval packhorse bridge with refuges for pedestrians and still used by traffic today. The photograph above shows it and the BBC has a panoramic view of the scene.

There were a pleasingly motley collection of ducks and geese in the river. The white ducks had topknots, and what appeared to be exotic green ducks turned out on closer inspection to have a large part of mallard in them. There were also some hardy children paddling on the way home from primary school.

When in Clun you should also visit the castle (another panorama from the BBC), and John Osborne's grave is just up the road from the bridge.

What is your favourite blog post of the week?

Let me know and I'll include it in the next Britblog Roundup, which - thanks to a late change in the rota - will be hosted here on Liberal England.

All nominations to britblog [at] gmail [dot] com by Sunday lunchtime please.

And, yes, you can nominate something from your own blog.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Iain Dale: Bring back the nasty party

Anyone who wants to know how thin the veneer of reasonableness that David Cameron has applied to the Conservative Party is should read Iain Dale's latest piece for the Daily Telegraph.

You may recall the late 1990s as a time when the new Labour government could not be touched and the Tories were a rabble. Not Iain. He remembers it as something close to a Golden Age when Eric Forth and John Bercow "tormented the Labour benches".

How to bring those days back? Easy:
The Tories need to find modern day equivalents of David Evans, the former MP for Welwyn & Hatfield who died this week.
In case you have forgotten what Evans was like, here is an extract from his Independent obituary:

He routinely abused socialists, homosexuals and the work-shy, and he could be boorishly, almost grotesquely insensitive. Eight weeks before polling day in his unsuccessful campaign to retain Welwyn and Hatfield for the Conservative Party in 1997, he not only attacked his Labour opponent, Melanie Johnson, as a single woman with three bastard children who had never had a proper job, but chose to do so to an audience of sixth-formers during a current affairs lessons at his local Stanborough School.

The story made the early evening news on ITV and dominated the headlines the next morning. It overshadowed the Tories' pre-election offensive.

It was precisely because of people like Evans and Adrian Rogers, the Tory candidate who fought a campaign to "Stop the Pink Flag flying over Exeter" and described homosexuality as: “sterile, disease-ridden and God-forsaken”, that so many people were delighted to see the Conservatives lose in 1997.

That fact that even such an amiable Conservative as Iain Dale wants to go back to those days suggests that, though David Cameron has done wonders for the party's image so far, he will find it hard to keep his members in line much longer.

A website devoted to Traffic's Chis Wood

Last month I reported that Vulcan, the long-lost Solo album by Traffic's Chris Wood, was about to be released.

Now there is also a website devoted to his career:
Chris was a founder and member of Traffic from 1967 until 1974. One of the most popular and respected groups of the rock era, Traffic’s unique sound was the result of the distinctive talents and musical tastes of it’s members, which originally included Chris, Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason and Steve Winwood. 
Although Traffic was an immensely popular band in its day, Chris Wood was then, and remains today, an enigmatic figure, even to knowledgeable fans. Rarely giving interviews, Chris instead remained focused on the band, and making music – that was his calling, and his life. Now, after many years his family and friends are excited and pleased to reintroduce Chris and his special gifts to the world.
Best known as an instrumentalist, on flute and saxophone Chris created textures, colors and a range of moods that were unique in the rock music context. Behind the scenes he did much more than that, playing a crucial role in shaping Traffic’s music. This is the Chris Wood that the fans don’t really know. Band-mate and longtime friend, Jim Capaldi described him this way: 
“He was the keeper – kind of like the gate keeper – making sure that it (the music) never got too twee, too cute. He was always either saying something or putting his vibe in – playing ‘bloo-eeeh’ on the sax somewhere – just to kind of go ‘What the fuck is going on? It’s too neat!’ He always had that – which is the mark of geniuses. It is. It was that spirit, that vibration, when you were in somebody’s presence. It was brilliant, he was brilliant. He was the keeper of that.” 
Since his death in 1983, Chris’s spirit has continued in the hearts of his family, friends and fans, as well as in the recorded music of Traffic. But thankfully there is more to come. Recordings for his proposed solo album, Vulcan, will be released in 2008, and his biography – eight years in the making – is nearing completion.
So please come inside and meet Chris Wood…
You can hear and see him playing on Traffic's Freedom Rider.

Small earthquake in Shropshire

It's time for one of those "random news items from Shropshire (where he doesn’t live)," the New Statesman referred to.

From the Shropshire Star:

Residents in south Shropshire and Bridgnorth felt the earth move after a minor earth tremor struck in Herefordshire.

People sitting down for their Sunday dinner or settling in front of the TV reported feeling the tremor which happened at about 6pm yesterday.

The British Geological Survey said the earthquake, which registered 3.6 on the Richter Scale, emanated from Bromyard, in Herefordshire.

A note for aspiring journalists: a good quote lifts any story. In this case:

Hayley Rollins, 22, who lives in Hook Farm, Bridgnorth, said: “I was at home watching television when I heard the keys rattling in the door and felt a slight tremor.

“I didn’t think that much about it at the time and it was only when I heard about it on the news this morning that I realised what had happened.”

The Curse of House Points

My first House Points column of the new season appeared in Liberal Democrat News on Friday 17 October. In it I took aim at George Osborne:

He still gives the overwhelming impression of being a clever schoolboy. It is hard to get the idea that he was once David Cameron’s fag out of your head. He made "bloody good toast" and has now received his reward.

So Osborne is not a figure who commands respect in a crisis. Already Conservative voices are suggesting Kenneth Clarke would make a more credible chancellor if the party came to power.

Five days later Osborne was in deep trouble after it was alleged he was personally involved in discussions to channel a £50,000 donation from Russia's richest oligarch to the Conservative party.

Last Friday - 24 October - House Points questioned whether funding the BBC through a licence fee was going to be defensible for much longer. In passing, I took aim at Jonathan Ross and his £6m annual salary from the Corporation.

Today, three days later, Ross is in deep trouble over his and Russell Brand's telephone calls to Andrew Sachs.

I wonder whom I should write about this week?

Game 10: Kramnik wins at last

Vladimir Kramnik finally won a game today. He played g3 against Anand's Nimzo-Indian and made winning look surprisingly easy. See Chessdom for the moves.

Anand now leads 6-4 with two games to play. As Kramnik's comeback shows, 12 games is too few for a world championship match.

Calder's Comfort Farm: Oligarchs' yachts and Shropshire folklore

My latest column is up on the New Statesman website.

It contains my observations on the super-rich and their yachts:

As George Osborne has been brought to understand, gossiping about what you hear in the cabins of the powerful is Simply Not Done.

Being well brought up, you and I know this is just as true of what you hear on a narrow boat on the Shropshire Union. Good manners are good manners, whether you went to Eton, St Paul’s or the Jack Straw Memorial Reform School, Dungeness.

And on the origins of Shropshire folklore:

There is a lot more local folklore, if you like that sort of thing. My theory is that this region is so remote that the farm labourers did not like to send the bearded Victorians who collected it back to Oxford or Cambridge empty handed.

Thanks to them, you can read endless nonsense about figures like Wild Edric. He was a Saxon lord who led the resistance to the Normans, only to make peace with them in 1070. As punishment he and his followers were entombed alive beneath these very hills.

Britblog Roundup 193

Presented by A Very British Dude.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

George Osborne, Nat Rothschild and the headless Bullingdon Club member

Study the photograph carefully. There is a discussion of it on the Guardian news blog.

Anand vs Kramnik Game 9: A fighting draw

The latest game in the match has ended in an exciting draw. See Chessdom for the moves.

I liked Anand's position early in the middle game, mainly because I used to play the Queen's Gambit like that myself: sacrificing a queen's side pawn for space and the imitative elsewhere, without being quite sure how I was going to win it back.

Unfortunately for Anand, Kramnik proved a lot more resourceful than my Leicestershire League opponents used to. In fact he had the better of the game later on, but Anand managed to scramble a draw.

The score is now 6-3 to Anand, with three games left to play.

Shindig Goes to London

On 28 October last year I posted a performance of Rock El Casbah by Rachid Taha. So we have more or less reached the first anniversary of my Sunday music videos.

To mark the occasion, here is a selection of British artists from the 1960s recorded at the 1965 Richmond Jazz Festival for the American television programme Shindig.

I present: Eric Burdon, a 17-year-old Steve Winwood, Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll and Rod Stewart.


The New Statesman on Liberal England

Last week the New Statesman included a supplement on Politics and the Internet Age. In it the editor of the magazine's website offered a list of his 10 favourite political blogs and (hem, hem) Liberal England is one of them.

Ben writes:

Jonathan Calder holds his end up well in the competitive world of the blogosphere. A one-time speech writer for Paddy Ashdown and Liberal Democrat councillor, he’s also behind the comic creation that is Lord Bonkers – Liberal MP for Rutland South-West between 1906 and 1910.

Calder’s blog is an eclectic mix of musical choices, random news items from Shropshire (where he doesn’t live), and political news and views. It’s also a mine of information on Liberal Party history and characters.

If you like his blog, you’re sure to like his regular column on Calder’s Comfort Farm.

Of course, you may say he is biased because I also write a column for the New Statesman. Then again, maybe he asked me to write the column because he likes this blog?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Game 8: Anand and Kramnik draw again

The eighth game of the World Championship has ended in a draw, with Kramnik failing to make much of the advantage of having White. See the moves on Chessdom.

The score is now 5.5-2.5 to Anand, with four games to play. The match is being played in Bonn.

Jon Miller from How! was a cousin of Yehudi Menuhin

Sadly, it has taken Miller's death to bring the fact to light, but the obituaries agree he was a cousin of the violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

This wins Trivial Fact of the Day. It would win Trivial Fact of any Day.

Jon Miller? How!?

You are all so young. Television Heaven will reveal all.

Friday, October 24, 2008

House Points: Is the television licence fee doomed?

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

Paying for Auntie

It’s an awkward question that won’t go away. How can you justify financing the BBC through the licence fee in a multi-channel, multi-platform, multi-everything world? Increasing numbers of people rarely watch its programmes and the fee is the nearest thing we have to a poll tax. If the BBC has its way, it will cost us all £180 a year by 2013.

That question was posed again on Friday when Christopher Chope put forward his Broadcasting (Television Licence Fee Abolition) Bill. Granted, Chope is one of those Tories you suspect of wanting to see Fox News take over the world, but many MPs who opposed him implied that supporting the BBC means supporting the licence fee.

Labour’s John Grogan, chair of the all-party parliamentary BBC group, was lyrical about "Planet Earth". And it was a great series. But there is no reason to think it could not have been made if the corporation had been financed in a different way.

More than that, Grogan showed the same selective presentation of the facts that the BBC uses. When it puts up someone to defend the licence fee, it is always David Attenborough or Stephen Fry. You never hear from Jonathan Ross (whom they pay £6m a year) or Chris Moyles (a mere £630,000).

As those names emphasise, the BBC does many things that could be done equally well by commercial broadcasters. A few years ago it even took it into its head to develop a rival to Google. And maybe the BBC’s dominance of local radio crowds out true local initiative.

The BBC even goes out of its way to antagonise its liberal supporters. Those advertisements aimed at licence evaders, with their emphasis on "the database", are like something put out by the Public Control Department in a dystopian future. And anyone who has tried living without a television will know how relentless the pressure to buy a licence is.

Chope suggested the BBC should be financed out of general taxation, much as the Arts Council is. Those of us who support the corporation should be interested in this and other alternative models for paying for it. If we cling to the indefensible licence fee for much longer, we may damage the BBC fatally.

Latest news from Jersey

Another powerful posting from Stuart Syvret.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chris Huhne wins Quote of the Day

From David Ottewell's blog for the Manchester Evening News:
"Mr Woolas has taken up more positions on immigration than someone in training with the Kama Sutra."

Europe, farmers and waterlogged land

Earlier this month, in discussing a Shropshire Star article which described how the government had extended the period during which farmers can use heavy machinery on waterlogged soil to save crops from rotting in the field, I asked:
But why do farmers need government dispensation before they can use machinery in this way? Perhaps it is bad for the land to do it. But farmland has owners, so why can't we assume that they will not damage their asset unless they have good reason, such as saving a crop?
This question has now been raised in the Lords. Yesterday's Hansard records the following exchange:

Baroness Boothroyd asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many British farmers have been prosecuted under European Union rules for using a combine harvester on wet land.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): None, my Lords. Breaching cross-compliance would result not in a prosecution but normally in a reduction in payment. As part of the EU’s direct payment to farmers, member states must set cross-compliance conditions aimed at preventing soil damage through the inappropriate use of agricultural machinery. No farmers have been found in breach of the relevant English standard. To enable farmers to complete their harvest, my department granted a derogation.

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that there have been no prosecutions, but does not the Minister hold the view that British farmers are the best judges of whether or not to use heavy machinery on their wet fields? Surely they know better than Brussels bureaucrats how to protect their soil quality for future harvests. When can we expect this ludicrous EU rule to be abandoned so that British farmers can use their common sense?

And then other peers joined in to support the former speaker.

The Lib Dem peer Paul Tyler put his finger on part of the problem when he asked:

will the Minister confirm that other member states have negotiated a more complete and comprehensive derogation? What steps could our Government take to make this a much less rigorous and much more flexible system than the one that it seems is being imposed on British farmers at the moment?

But wouldn't it be better not to have to derogate from such legislation in the first place?

The Harborough Museum: Corsets and Iron Age treasure

Exciting news about my local museum from the Harborough Mail:

Work to revamp Harborough Museum to allow it to display one of the most significant Iron Age finds in Britain is to start next week (Oct 27).

The South East Leicestershire Treasure – a haul of more than 5,000 silver and gold coins and a silver-plated Roman helmet found in a field near Harborough seven years ago – is due to go on display in the museum from spring 2009 in a £934,000 project.

The museum will close on Monday to allow the improvement work to go ahead in preparation for its arrival.

I wrote about this haul of treasure last year.

Hitherto, the Harborough Museum has been best known for its collection of corsetry. The building in which it is housed, along with the district council offices and town library, used to be a factory owned by R. & W. H. Symington.

There aren't many people who can say they used to be members of a council that met in a converted corset factory.

Anand and Kramnik draw game 7

The latest game in the World Championship, a Slav with Anand playing White, ended in a draw after 36 moves. At one time Kramnik looked worse, but he held on easily enough.

You can find the annotated game at Chessdom. The match score now stands at 5-2 to Anand. There will be 12 games in total.

Stanley Baldwin speaks to the nation

Three weeks ago I posted a video of Ramsay MacDonald. So here is his colleague in the National government, Stanley Baldwin, also appealing for support at the 1931 general election.

Note how much more at home Baldwin is with the new medium of film. Note too that he grows several inches when mentioning "the Empire".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Liberator interviews the three Lib Dem presidential candidates

The next issue of Liberator poses the same six questions to all three Lib Dem presidential candidates:
  • What relevant experience will you bring to the presidency?
  • The presidency has three functions that do not necessarily sit well together – representing the party to the leadership, acting as a figurehead at functions, and chairing the Federal Executive. Which of these will you be best at, and which worst?
  • Will COG (the Chief Officers Group proposed by the Bones Commission) make the party run more smoothly or will it create a democratic deficit?
  • The party is in a poor financial state and its fund-raising activities have been neither transparent nor scandal-free. What will you do to improve the situation?
  • The next major election campaign will be the 2009 European election but the party is divided over strategy. Some argue that the party should campaign like it did in 2004 (i.e. focus on local target wards and not mention European issues). Others argue that the party should fight on a pro-European platform to avoid coming fourth behind UKIP again. They cannot both be right. Which strategy do you prefer?
  • “We can win everywhere.” Really?
That issue will be with subscribers in a week or so. But as a special service to party members making up their minds how to vote, we have posted the candidates' answers on the magazine's website today.

Osborne's grave

No, not George Osborne, though he does appear to be fighting for his political life.

I am talking about the playwright John Osborne. I was in Clun on Friday and found his grave and that of his wife in the churchyard.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lib Dem tax cuts would be fiscally neutral

The other day I wrote a posting asking whether the Liberal Democrats can still credibly promise tax cuts given the gravity of the global economic situation. There was a flurry of comments, but I was not near a computer while it happened and so could not take part in the debate.

That debate concerned the desirability or otherwise of Keynesian reflation. In fact, the proposed Lib Dem tax cuts would be paid for by spending cuts so they would be fiscally neutral. They would not affect the total level of spending in the economy.

This was news to Dianne Abbott on This Week a few weeks ago. She obviously thinks that Keynesian reflation means more public spending. But tax cuts that were not funded by a reduction in public spending might do the job just as well.

More alarmingly, it would also be news to our current chancellor. Last year he complained that Tory tax cuts would "take £21 billion out of the economy".

The great biofuels disaster

There is a good Financial Times article by Kevin Allison and Stephanie Kirchgaessner on the failure of biofuels to live up to what was their promoters claimed for them:
It may have helped keep gasoline prices lower in the world's wealthiest nation, but a growing band of influential critics say it has also contributed to higher food prices in the world's poorest countries. So far, the only sure beneficiaries from the ethanol promise have been the investors clever enough to get into the industry early and the corn farmers who have enjoyed a lucrative new market for their grain.

In short, the story of ethanol is a cautionary tale of the unintended and costly consequences that can arise when the interests of politicians and influential industries collide.
It is often asserted that environmentalists also supported biofuels, though it is hard to find any links that show them doing it. If they did, I suspect it was some years ago. Does anyone know?

More on the Snailbeach District Railways

As an antidote to some of the recent nonsense about this line - see in particular the comments on this posting - here is its genuine history. All the links can be found on the relevant page of the Shropshire Mines Trust website.

I present:
  • an article from The Railway Magazine (November & December 1944) by H. F. G. Dalston;
  • a short history of the line from the Colonel Stephens Railway Museum;
  • a survey of the line's locomotives from the Trust itself;
  • proof that the line has a chequered history.

World chess championship: Anand wins again

He won game 6 and now leads 4.5 - 1.5 in the 12-game match. Though to me it seems that Kramnik had the advantage in the early middle game today.

See the moves at Chess Vibes.

Incidentally, when I studied chess openings everyone played 4. e3 against the Nimzo-Indian. Now everyone plays 4. Qc2. Is it just fashion?

Bob Russell on the 11-plus

From Notebook in today's Guardian Education section:
The week that Comprehensive Future - which campaigns against the 11-plus - held its annual conference was the week that the Liberal MP for Colchester, Bob Russell, told the Education Journalist of the Year reception: "The best thing I ever did was to fail the 11-plus. I had four years at secondary modern school and had a fantastic time."
I can't help thinking Bob is a bit confused here. Surely the case against the 11-plus is that secondary moderns were awful? If they were as good as he implies, it is hard to feel too exercised about the exam.

Chess: Anand 3.5 Kramnik 1.5

Chess history is being made in Germany, as the world title appears to be on its way to India.

Viswanathan Anand leads the Russian Vladimir Kramnik by 3.5-1.5 in the 12-game match after winning the fifth game. Both Anand's victories have come with Black.

Full details and live coverage of the match can be found at Chess Vibes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Michael Howard and the Lydd UFO

The news that the captain of an Alitalia airliner reported a close encounter with a brown missile-shaped UFO over the Kent town of Lydd in 1991 reminds me of another incident.

As The Why Files reports the story:

Very early on the morning of 8th March, 1997, Sarah Hall, a journalist with the Folkestone Herald, was driving home when her attention was caught by a large triangular object hovering over the village of Burmarsh in Kent (U.K.).

Observing the object from about 300 yards, Sarah described it:

“It was just this huge triangular thing, which was a lot bigger than an aeroplane but there was no way I could have mistaken it for an aeroplane or anything like that. It had lights all around the outside and this disc attached to the back and a big light on the front.”

As Sarah stopped her car the object “literally shot off”.

The plot thickens:

Euro M.P. Mark Watts did try unsuccessfully to obtain further information relating to the Burmarsh incident and a year was almost to pass before the next major chapter in this story was to take place.

Jerry Anderson went to Waterstones book shop in Canterbury where Tim Good was giving a talk about his new book. Afterwards a man approached Jerry enquiring if he had investigated the Burmarsh Incident. The man went on to explain that he was a neighbour of Michael Howard’s and that he and his wife had been awoken in the early hours of 8th March 1997 by a commotion coming from the politician’s house.

He described how there were a lot of people running round and shouting and that they were under the impression that armed police guards were present. All of this was accompanied by a helicopter hovering overhead and a searchlight scanning the area.

This searchlight, however, was not scanning the ground but was pointing upwards scanning the skies.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying Michael Howard is an alien. But shouldn't he come forward and clear up the confusion once and for all?

The Jonathan Meades Collection

Thanks to Unmitigated England for drawing our attention to the publication of a collection of Meades' work for television:
As A.A.Gill wrote in The Sunday Times: "Brilliant - even at his worst he's funnier, cleverer and sharper than anyone else on TV."

Britblog Roundup 192

Can be found at Amused Cynicism.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Has the Shropshire Star driven Lembit Opik mad?

Before I went away I posted about a Shropshire Star story suggesting that
The Liberal Democrats’ unofficial campaign to stop Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik from becoming party president appears to have succeeded.
While I was away (in Shropshire, as it happens) Liberal Democrat Voice reprinted a press release from Lembit's presidential campaign issued a press release that began:


Lembit Öpik MP has hit out at the negative campaign allegedly being waged against him by asking the Liberal Democrat membership to ‘change up a gear towards Government’ by backing him for President.

The Shropshire Star story, when you read it in full, amounts to no more than the observation that only six Lib Dem MPs have endorsed Lembit's campaign. As his colleagues are presumably the people who know Lembit best, this may give us pause for thought. But the Star story offers no evidence of a concerted negative campaign against him, let alone a conspiracy.

Neither does Lembit's press release offer evidence for the conspiracy it alleges. Nor does a comment on the Lib Dem Voice posting by Lembit's "campaign spokesman" (and my old Liberator colleague) Richard Clein..

I think Lembit's campaign is struggling for two reasons, beyond the more effective campaign being fought by Ros Scott.

The first is that he has convinced himself that, because he lost to Simon Hughes in the same contest four years ago, it is his turn now. It happens that I endorsed and voted for Lembit in that contest, but the political situation has moved on and having been runner up four years ago is no entitlement to the party presidency today. It also smacks of the idea that the presidency is something to be divvied up between our MPs, and I do not agree with that view.

Lembit's other problem is that, having seen Charles Kennedy make it to the party leadership via the chat show circuit, he has set out to advance his career in a similar fashion. The trouble is that he has done it in such a ham-fisted fashion that he has put up the back of many Lib Dem members.

At least, he may have done so. As I said in reply to the Shropshire Star's claim that Ros is the favourite to win this election, none of us really know who is going to win.

Still, it is good to see my favourite newspaper making the political weather inside the Liberal Democrats.

The Who: The Kids are Alright

I've just got back from a few days away, so no pretentious analysis tonight. Just another great song from the sixties.

Enjoy a youthful Who miming in Hyde Park.

Friday, October 17, 2008

House Points: Boris, the Tories' great hairy Id

The first House Points - my weekly column for Liberal Democrat News - of the new Parliamentary season.

Conservative economics

If you want to know what the Conservatives really think, proceedings at Westminster are no help. At least they weren’t on Monday. Alistair Darling made a statement on the world economic situation and George Osborne, their shadow chancellor, was on his best behaviour.

"We continue to offer to work constructively with the Government on solving this financial crisis and on the Banking Bill," he said. And: "We will support today’s actions because, faced with the collapse of the banking system, the Government had no other option."

There wasn’t much else he could say, given the gravity of the problems we face. But Osborne’s problems go deeper than that. He still gives the overwhelming impression of being a clever schoolboy. 

It is hard to get the idea that he was once David Cameron’s fag out of your head. He made "bloody good toast" and has now received his reward.

So Osborne is not a figure who commands respect in a crisis. Already Conservative voices are suggesting Kenneth Clarke would make a more credible chancellor if the party came to power.

Certainly, Osborne’s formulation about "sharing the proceeds of growth" has nothing to do with economics. It is just a form of words designed to keep the Tory headbangers on board without alarming moderate voters.

And now there isn’t going to be any economic growth.

No, if you wanted to see the real Conservative Party - to see its great hairy Id - you had to be at its Conference last month. And you had to arrive early: many delegates failed to get in to Boris Johnson‘s speech. And this is what they missed:
"I say to the Labour government – you will not make this country or its capital more competitive by driving away talent. You cannot regulate your way out of a recession. You can certainly regulate your way into one. 
"No matter how much you may dislike the Masters of the Universe, my friends, there are plenty of other parts of the universe that would welcome them."
Thank you, Boris. Because that is the authentic voice of Conservatism: on the side of the filthy rich and invincibly ignorant of the havoc wreaked by their money-driven philosophy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I've voted 4 Ros

Like, it seems, most other Liberal Democrat bloggers, I have voted for Ros Scott in the election for the new party president.

Good luck, Ros.

Can the Lib Dems still promise tax cuts?

Ever since Make it Happen was passed by the Liberal Democrat Conference last month, Nick Clegg has been calling for tax cuts. But that document was drawn up in a very different economic climate, and we have to ask today whether calling for tax cuts is wise or credible.

The collapse of the banking system and increasing unemployment are going to put growing pressure on public finances. How are we going to be able to cut taxes in such circumstances? It is likely that, whichever party is in power, the government will have to increase taxes to balance the books.

At the very least, we need to identify those public spending cuts which will be popular and harm no one. I would like to know what they are. An obvious example would be scrapping identity cards and their accompanying database, but that money has already been tagged for extra spending on policing.

Tavish Scott backs Ros Scott

The new leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, Tavish Scott, is supporting Ros Scott (no relation) as the new party president.

Caron's Musings reported yesterday:

I thought today, as the ballot papers landed, would be a good time to give you another snippet from the Bloggers' Interview with Tavish.

When asked who he was backing for the Party Presidency, he smiled and said "I hope Ros wins."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Shropshire Star says "Stop Lembit" campaign has succeeded

When my favourite newspaper speaks, you have to listen:

The Liberal Democrats’ unofficial campaign to stop Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik from becoming party president appears to have succeeded, it was reported today.

Sources say Mr Opik has secured the support of only six of the Liberal Democrat MPs - less than a tenth of the total.

The view is that Mr Opik’s relationships with the weather forecaster Sian Lloyd and Gabriela Irimia, one half of the Cheeky Girls, have embarrassed the party, not least its leader, Nick Clegg.

One insider described Mr Opik as ‘a joker’.

Though the Star calls Ros Scott the favourite, the truth is that no one really knows. Lembit certainly has the higher profile, but I suspect the wider Lib Dem membership, like the wider public, now views him more as an irritant than as a lovable, cheeky chappie.

Anyway, we shall soon see.

Chris Huhne on Jacqui Smith's climbdown

My new friends at the New Statesman have just posted an article by Chris Huhne on the government's defeat over 42 days' detention for terrorist suspects:

In reality, the Counter Terrorism Bill was all about making Labour look tough on terrorism by reducing public debate to a number: those in favour of higher numbers are meant to be tougher than those in favour of lower ones. Our opposition will be thrown back in our face in the rhetorical aftermath of an atrocity. When parliament rejected 90 days, Kitty Ussher MP warned that opponents would be left with ‘blood on their hands.’ This time Jacqui Smith has accused us of ignoring ‘the terrorism threat, for fear of taking a tough but necessary decision.’

But this is nonsense, as history teaches us an entirely different lesson. Governments that go over the top by implementing disproportionate and repressive measures lose the sympathy and co-operation of the very groups they need to combat terrorism.

Now read Shami Chakrabarti on the same subject

Shami Chakrabarti celebrates the defeat of 42 days

Good stuff in the Guardian:

From Diane Abbott and Frank Dobson on the left to David Davis and Dominic Grieve on the right, democratic politicians came together to say "enough is enough". Let the misnamed, misguided "war on terror" that replaced law and ethics with permanent exceptionalism be over. Let a new anti-terror effort begin, based on the values that bind our society together and distinguish it from those where tyranny and terrorism are rife.

Make no mistake: their lordships were glorious – the cross-bench independents in particular. The home secretary's statement last night seemed to revive the discredited yah-boo of which party is really "serious" about public protection.

Lord West knew better than to try such nonsense in the Upper House where any suggestion that the likes of Lady Manningham Buller or Lord Dear might be soft on terror would be met with the derision it deserves.

Now read Chris Huhne on the same subject.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nick Clegg interviewed in Nouse

In my day Nouse was the University of York student newspaper. Now it appears to have evolved into a website.

Today it has posted an interview with Nick Clegg by Peter Campbell:
At home, Clegg feels the public has been let down. “We have a system that is not democratic, not transparent, over-centralised, and unfair. Our Government holds the purse strings in a more centralised fashion than any other country except Malta.” He pauses. “Now Malta, is the size of Croydon."

Alex Carlile and independence

I have an open mind on Liberal Democrats co-operating with the government.

Matthew Taylor's work on rural housing problems (which he writes about in the current Liberator) seems to have been worthwhile, whereas Shirley Williams's role advising Gordon Brown on nuclear disarmament has never been mentioned again.

But it is becoming increasingly hard to feel anything other than deeply worried about the way Alex Carlile is interpreting his role as the government's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

I say this in view of his contribution to the Lords debate on the proposed 42 days' detention for questioning of terrorist subjects. Simon Hoggart, from this monring's Guardian, sets the scene:
Lord Carlile stood up. The Earl of Onslow stood up. Lord Carlile sat down. Onslow sat down.

Then they both stood up. When more than one peer wants to speak, the others can indicate whom they prefer, by murmuring the name loudly, if you see what I mean.

"Carlile, Carlile, Carlile," they shouted diffidently, like a shy train guard on Lancaster station.

Finally Carlile got his way.
And as Hoggart says, he was all in favour of 42 days and poured scorn on his opponents. In particular, he described a newspaper advertisement from Liberty as "shameful" and told the House that Magna Carta is "sexist and racist" - you can read the whole speech in Hansard.

These are the sort of arguments you would expect from a brown-nosing Commons backbencher faced with an unarguable case. What they were doing coming from government's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation defeats me. Shouldn't he be above the fray to some extent rather than getting down and dirty with the government's greatest opponents?

The result of the vote - the government lost by 309 votes to 118 - makes it clear that only the payroll vote turned out. It is hard to see how Alex can justify joining them.

I would also be interested to know how he squares acting as a partisan for a Labour government with taking the Liberal Democrat whip.

General election on 6 November?

I don't want to alarm you, but Heresy Corner says:
The Evening Standard is reporting "feverish speculation" that Gordon Brown - egged on by "none other than his new comrade-in-arms Peter Mandelson" - is thinking of holding a snap general election on Nov 6th, cashing in his chips after single-handedly saving the world economy from meltdown.
It's true. The Evening Standard is.

Later. And so is the Financial Times.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Marmalade Skies

By one of those odd coincidences, yesterday a comment on this blog and a posting on the Traffic newsgroup both pointed me to the Marmalde Skies website:
Marmalade Skies is primarily dedicated to British psychedelia of the 1960s, featuring some of the groups and films that appeared during this wonderful period of time. However, on occasion MS will also feature Prog Rock, Folk-Rock, Glam-Rock and any other type of Rock that I fancy (Seaside Rock...Mmmm!) In addition, expect the odd geographical deviation, e.g Australasian Psych. All contributions are welcome. Thanks for your support. Hope you enjoy the trip.
Hours of fun

Movie Monday Blog Carnival

Another carnival can be found at Observations from Missy’s Window, with one of my postings included.

Calder's Comfort Farm: Labour private school heroes

Another of my columns is up on the New Statesman website:
I shall never understand the Labour view on education. You think they would be proud to have a minister who is the son of an immigrant and who spent the first 11 years of his life in care. But Andrew Adonis (born Andreas - his father was a Greek Cypriot) is a hate figure for many in the party.

Britblog Roundup 191

At Redemption Blues.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit

Sung by Grace Slick, who wrote the song and originally recorded it with her previous band The Great Society, this is a live recording from the 1969 Woodstock Festival. If you can remember it, you weren't there. Me, I was at primary school reading The Map That Came to Life.

The lyrics mark a fusion between LSD and Lewis Carroll:
When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
Remember what the dormouse said;
"Feed your head."
But then there was quite a crossover between classic children's literature and the 1960s counter-culture.
Steve Winwood said of Traffic's getting it together in the country period: "Camping out, cooking over an open fire: it was like William and the Outlaws." And Cotchford Farm in Sussex, where Brian Jones was found drowned in his own swimming pool, had once been the home of A. A. Milne and was the setting for the Winnie the Pooh stories.
According to Humphrey Carpenter's Secret Gardens, Philip Norman wrote as follows in his The Stones:
Knowing the Winnie the Pooh stories almost by heart, it gave him special delight to show [friends] the sundial - under which Milne's original manuscripts are reputedly buried - and the bridge over the little stream where Pooh and Christopher Robin invented the Poohsticks game. He felt proud to be the guardian of such a shrine.
The iconography of the 1960s was all about bobbies and red buses - perhaps the last time when we British found it possible to celebrate our own culture without irony. Maybe the flower children could play because the grown ups were still in charge.

Nick Clegg's Private Passions

You have seven days to listen to the Lib Dem leader's favourite pieces of classical music, as chosen for Private Passions on BBC Radio 3.

rhythmaning descibes it as "the upmarket version of Desert Island Discs". Nick chooses rather too much Chopin for my tastes.

A portrait of Snailbeach

Photo by Sabine J Hutchinson

It seems I am not the only blogger to be obsessed with this Shropshire village.

Mountainear writes:
What a fantastically strange place this is, especially on a dank autumnal day. Actually to call it dank is a tad untrue - we were blessed with clear blue skies which lit up leaves, hips and haws. Whatever. We're in a post-industrial landscape. The mines here produced, at the height of production, the largest quantity of lead in Europe but since their decline in the dying years of the 19th century the landscape has reclaimed its own.
Those lumps and bumps you see may be spoil heaps or a tumble-down settlement. The Shropshire Mines Trust has the industrial buildings and the mines themselves in its care and have worked to safe-guard this local history for future generations.
The village itself, clinging to the hillside, is a mix of old and new. Incongruous executive homes have been built as infill on plots here and there and they dwarf the little worker's cottages that remain. I never entirely escape the feeling that here the 'old ways' are just beneath the surface - maybe one day a year a mist rolls in and the past comes to life again.
Talking of Snailbeach, the website devoted to the supposed scheme to reopen the old mineral railway has disappeared, if only temporarily.

Welcome though it would be, many railway enthusiasts doubt whether this is a genuine scheme. Certainly, the number of obviously fake anonymous comments in support of it on this posting on Liberal England do nothing to increase one's confidence in it. Nor do the very odd personal e-mails I have received.

Vince Cable worship and other Sunday newspaper stories

Scotland on Sunday has an interview with Vince Cable, the Sunday Telegraph has a respectful profile and Suzanne Moore in the Mail on Sunday wants to know why he is not running the country:

Everyone likes him. He predicted this crisis but is not crowing about it. He is comprehensible, calm and human. Can’t we just get him to sort it all out?
Elsewhere, the Sunday Telegraph says that Tony Blair personally intervened to secure Formula One's exemption from the tobacco advertising ban just hours after meeting Bernie Ecclestone. Not a pretty straight kind of guy at all then.

And the Mail on Sunday says that Schillings is offering protection from public scrutiny to people who have profited from short-selling on the stock market.

Norman Baker says "Trying to hide doesn’t seem right." Schillings declined to comment.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A warning about Icelandic banks from March

The argument that local authorities could not possibly have known that keeping their reserves in Icelandic banks was risky is becoming harder and harder to defend.

Here is Simon Watkins writing on on 16 March 2008:

But the real horrors are in Iceland.

Credit insurance for debts at Iceland's biggest bank, Landsbanki, is priced at 610 points while that for Kaupthing is priced at a hair-raising 856. Given that these two have taken billions in UK retail deposits, it may be a sobering thought for savers to consider where they are putting their cash. These banks are now seen as the most unsafe in the developed world.

Of course, no one can be sure that disaster looms for anyone, but the figures on credit default swaps show clearly where investment professionals think the big risks are.

You have been warned.

An interesting question to ask is whether councils would ever have made such risky investments if they had not been under pressure from the Audit Commission to maximise returns.

Vince Cable backs Ros Scott

Everybody's favourite Liberal Democrat, Vince Cable, has come out in support of Ros Scott as the party's next President.

Watch his video on Ros's campaign website.

Thanks to Susan Gaszczak.

Charles West to fight Shrewsbury & Atcham for Lib Dems

Dr Charles West has been chosen as the Liberal Democrat PPC for the Shrewsbury & Atcham Constituency.

Better still, he has his own blog.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The League of Gentlemen returns

Or at least two of them do.

The BBC reports that Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have written and are to star in a new television comedy for BBC2:
Psychoville, which has been billed as a "dark character comedy mystery featuring the weird and the wonderful", will be broadcast next year.
The only worry is that Dawn French will also be in it. I do hope this is not a sign that the Gentlemen are joining the celebrity circus. But as long as they don't invite Stephen Fry and Phill Jupitus too I shall be watching.

Ludlow Town Council latest

In case you thought Britain most dysfunctional local authority had gone quiet, here is the Ludlow Advertiser:

Council tax payers in south Shropshire will have to pick up a £1,000 bill after a row over whether a member of Ludlow Town Council had resigned or not.

Following an investigation led by Veronica Calderbank, head of Scrutiny and Standards at South Shropshire District Council, it has been determined that Michael Bradley did not resign.

But in reaching the decision, it was necessary to take legal advice from Birmingham lawyers Eversheds – resulting in the bill for £1,000.

Matthew Oakeshott warned ministers about Iceland's banks

The BBC website says that the Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott and the Tory MP Michael Fallon both warned ministers about the dangers of investing in Iceland in July:
"Alarm bells were ringing all over about the Icelandic banks and the Treasury must have been blind and deaf not to hear them," said Lord Oakeshott.
Incidentally, does anyone know if Matthew is related to the Conservative politcal philosopher Michael Oakeshott?

The Map That Came to Life again

I love the internet.

A search turns up the Alphabet of Illustrators site, which has scans of the whole of The Map That Came to Life.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Did councils ignore warnings on Iceland banks?

From the Daily Telegraph:
Local government leaders have argued that councils could not have foreseen the risks involved in the Icelandic financial sector when they invested public money.

But The Daily Telegraph has established that some local government managers did act on warnings from international credit ratings agencies that the Icelandic banks were becoming less secure.

In February, Moody’s Investors Service cut its ratings on all the major Icelandic banks. Landsbanki’s long-term rating was downgraded “in light of the weaker credit environment.”

In May, Fitch, another agency, cut the ratings of Glitnir Bank and Kaupthing Bank. Standard & Poors said it had only rated one Icelandic bank, Glitnir, and had cut its rating from A- to BBB+ in April.

Martin Winn, a spokesman for the agency said: “We have been highlighting a growing risk about the Icelandic banking system since February 2007. The rating BBB+ is very high risk for a Western European bank.”

Those warnings were passed on to many local council financial managers, prompting some to stop investing in Iceland.

Dinner at Casa Clegg

Adam Sherwin writes in The Times:
Guests invited to Nick Clegg’s home for dinner find out pretty quickly whether or not they are in the good books of Miriam González Durántez, his Spanish wife.

“I love cooking,” declares the glamorous highflying lawyer, who is expecting the couple’s third child in the new year. “But I have a very emotional attitude towards it. If I like somebody I cook for them. But I find it very difficult to cook for people I don’t like ... as far as I’m concerned, they can have a takeaway!”

The Information Commissioner's enforcement notice on the Lib Dems

It all seems a long time ago, but Lex Ferenda provides a link to a PDF copy of the Information Commissioner's enforcement notice on the Liberal Democrats over the party's use of cold calling:

On 18 September 2008 the ICO received a copy of the script used. This confirmed our view that the message primarily promoted Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. The ICO noted that those called were asked to indicate which party they would support if a general election were held the next day, whether they were thinking of voting Liberal Democrat next time, and whether they were prepared to help the Liberal Democrats win in their area.

After carefully considering the actual script it is the Commissioner’s view that these automated calls were made for the purpose of promoting the Liberal Democrats and would, therefore, be in breach of the Regulations unless they were sent to those who had given consent.

I was very strict about the matter on the New Statesman website. As I say there, the party should now rediscover the themes of our Faceless Britain campaign.

Vince Cable to become Chancellor?

I don't believe a word of it, but The Mole, writing on First Post, seems sold on the idea:
What will Gordon Brown do if the bank bail-out doesn't work? One answer being put forward in Blairite circles yesterday is that the Prime Minister will dump his ultra-loyal Chancellor Alistair Darling - and bring in Vince Cable as a part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats. It may sound extraordinary, but the Mole heard it more than once yesterday.
The Lib Dem Treasury spokesman's stock at Westminster is sky-high. Like some biblical prophet, Cable has long been warning of the financial crisis that has now engulfed the British economy. He was, for instance, one of the first to come up with the idea of nationalising Northern Rock.
Would Brown do it? Those advancing the idea reckon that his current mantra that he will do "whatever it takes" is a political as well as an economic statement.

Credit crunch: It's not just the bankers to blame

So says John Gapper on the Financial Times site:
We home buyers and mortgage borrowers share the blame, whether we are American, British or Icelandic.
Hear him:

In the past, people used to rely on bankers to guard themselves from their own worst financial instincts. They might have wanted to borrow 100 per cent (or 125 per cent) of the value of a home without the need to demonstrate thrift and reliability by making a down-payment. But they were shown the door.

Without bankers saying "no", many people borrowed to the hilt, assuming that rising asset prices had eliminated all risk. Some confined themselves to buying bigger houses for themselves, while others bought second and third homes to rent them out while their capital appreciated.

We know why this occurred because we all lived through it, and financial bubbles are peculiarly intoxicating. When you are surrounded by people constantly talking about how much money they have made (on paper) by buying a house, you end up wanting to get a piece of the action and fearing being left behind.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Map That Came to Life

A month ago I wrote a posting bemoaning people's growing inability to read maps. The subject also featured in a Calder's Comfort Farm at the time, where I wrote:
England is a palimpsest of Medieval churches, abandoned mineral railways, ruinous Gothic institutions and follies built by mad aristocrats. But you won’t find them on your satnav.
While writing about maps I had at the back of my mind a book that was in the library at Fields End Primary School in Hemel Hempstead in the late 1960s. (Don't look for it; it's not there anymore. The school, I mean.)

That book was called The Map That Came to Life and today it is the subject of a posting of one of my favourite blogs: English Buildings. (I have shamelessly stolen the illustration from there.)

Philip Wilkinson, the owner of the blog, writes:
Written by H. J. Deverson and illustrated by Ronald Lampitt, The Map That Came to Life was first published in 1948, and was much reprinted. It describes how two children (and a dog) go on a walk across the English countryside with an Ordnance Survey map to guide them. Much of what they find on the way is marked on the map, whose symbols for roads, railways, telephone boxes, tumuli, and so on and on, turn to reality along the way. The reader, meanwhile, learns how to read a map, and how maps have much to teach us about the world around us.
Back in 2005, in line with this blog's undertone of radical nostalgia, I quoted a New Statesman article by Malcolm Clark. It described the world portrayed in the popular Ladybird books:
Those wide expanses of seashore and countryside on Planet Ladybird are seen as totally safe. There are no overprotective parents, no teachers dreading accidents or subsequent inquests, no lawyers waiting to sue when Peter stumbles during a jump over a stile. Nor are there any dirty white vans prowling along B-roads on the off chance. 
Public space was not thought to be dangerous then, and this is not just nostalgic idealisation. I grew up in a small town in the early 1970s. The vast public park really did have attendants. It also happened to have well-tended flowerbeds and a boating pond. These days, you have to train your dog to tiptoe over the syringes. The war memorial is covered in graffiti and there isn't a police station for ten miles. If you sent Peter and Jane there to fly a kite, you'd kit them out in bulletproof vests first.
Philip Wilkinson writes of The Map That Came to Life in a similar vein:
In some ways the world of The Map That Came to Life does not exist today. These two children set off on a walk across unfamiliar country with only their map for guidance. They talk to strangers – who give them fascinating nuggets of local information rather than luring them into dark corners. Their dog spends most of its time off its lead, rivers and lakes hold no terrors for them, and, of course, this being 1948, they are not much troubled by traffic. 
It’s different in other ways too. The villages through which they pass are well provided with the kind of facilities – shops, pubs, Post Offices, a forge – that we mourn the passing of today.
And talking of radical nostaligia, brings us neatly to a posting on Stumbling & Mumbling today. Chris Dillow writes from nearby Oakham:
I suspect a reverence for English traditions is more common on the Left than amongst the Conservative Party. Neil Clark’s tastes border on the reactionary; Francis Sedgemore is a Morrisman; you’ll struggle to find a Conservative voter at a meeting of CAMRA or at a Martin Carthy gig. And when Shuggy writes that “our culture seems incapable of expressing disapproval of something unless it can be shown that someone's rights have been violated” he is expressing a conservative view. 
Many leftists, then, have Tory sentiments. And many Conservatives do not; David Cameron's Desert Island Discs are not those of a conservative.
It's interesting how far an old children's book can take you.

Later. Now read the whole book.