Saturday, January 31, 2009

Captain Mainwaring as cultural hero

In recent days I have come across two examples using Captain Mainwaring from Dad's Army as an exemplar of the sort of traditional bank manager whose demise we now regret.

In the Guardian this morning Simon Hoggart wrote:
If we still had bank managers like Captain Mainwaring this crisis would never have happened. "No I won't lend you the money, you stupid boy. You would probably never pay me back."
I can't find this piece on the newspaper's website, but for some reason Apocalypse Times has a graphic of this part of the column.

And a few days ago Larry Elliott developed this idea more fully:

The classic banker of the old school was Arthur Lowe's Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army; a solid, pompous martinet who made sure his books balanced. His deputy Wilson was the posher, more rakish John Le Mesurier, who looked down on his superior. Le Mesurier was classic investment banker material but played second fiddle to Lowe's traditional high-street bank manager. The two strands of banking were then kept entirely separate.

In recent years, of course, retail banking and investment banking have become intertwined and the Dad's Army pecking order reversed: the investment bankers have been in control and have spread the new creed that good banking is all about financial innovation, taking risks and achieving the best possible deal for their owners.

The last episode of Dad's Army was filmed in 1977. That was 32 years ago (and also 32 years after the end of the war). I know that the series has hardly been off our screens since then, but it is still a tribute to the way that comedy enters the culture that references to Captain Mainwaring are still instantly understood.

Larry Elliott, incidentally, has a talent for drawing illuminating parallels with classic comedy series. Here he is in The Age of Insecurity (written with Dan Atkinson in 1998) on the Britain of the 1970s:

To middle-class eyes, to those people who founded the National Association for Freedom in 1975 and were convinced that Harold Wilson was a Communist, Fawlty Towers was the Britain of the 1970s: riven by conflict, indifferent to the needs of customers, held back by shoddy workmanship.

Interestingly, the only person who could make the hotel work was Basil's gorgon of a wife, Sybil. Like another woman coming to prominence in the mid-1970s, she was middle-aged, blonde, shrill, philistine and utterly ruthless.

The second Carnival on Modern Liberty

To be found at OurKingdom.

House Points: Nick Clegg on 20 years of Charter 88

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

Lest we forget

Is concern about accountability and democracy a luxury at a time of economic crisis? That was the question Nick Clegg asked the audience at Portcullis House, Westminster, on Tuesday night.

He was speaking at an event marking 20 years of the campaign group Charter 88. Now part of Unlock Democracy, Charter 88 was set up to campaign for constitutional and electoral reform. A book – Unlocking Democracy: 20 Years of Charter 88 – has also been produced for the anniversary.

Nick’s answer was clear: “An economic crisis is a political crisis as well.” He argued that this government’s mismanagement of the economy is directly related to our unreformed constitution. A winner-takes-all electoral system encourages a cycle of boom and bust and makes it too easy for the policy agenda to be captured by vested interests such as the City.

A more pluralist system would have forced the government to listen to a wider range of voices. Better still, it would have forced it to listen to Vince Cable.

Nick finished by emphasising the danger that our economic difficulties will encourage the rise of extremism. To prevent this we must reform our democracy. And to achieve that reform, he said, “politicians of different parties will need to come together at some point”.

There were two other speakers: Helena Kennedy from Labour and Ferdinand Mount from the Conservatives.

Kennedy spoke of the current scandal in the House of Lords – or “Erminegate” – and insisted that whether a reformed upper house is elected or appointed, its members must not owe their places to political patronage.

Mount was billed as offering a response to Nick Clegg, but had to apologise: he was unable to find anything to disagree with in the Lib Dem leader’s speech.

But then Mount is one of the most thoughtful Conservatives around. His book Mind the Gap, published in 2004, offers a better analysis of class in modern Britain, and a more indignant defence of the working class, than anything Labour has produced for years.

If there were more Tories like him, Liberal Democrats would feel far happier about the prospect of working with the Conservative Party. But we should not forget that its founders saw the need for Charter 88 when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Al-Qaeda: "It's time to talk to Lembit Opik"

The BBC quotes the Cambridge historian John Bew as saying:
"Perhaps there will be a time when negotiations are made public - and an end to the war may be spoken of - so that al-Qaeda can extend its belief that 'people are fundamentally rational' to Lembit Opik."
Actually, I have a lot of sympathy for Lembit's position. And if Private Eye's humour is as predictable as I think these days, this story will be in next week's issue.

Nick Clegg in Northampton: Just the ticket

Having plugged Nick's meeting in Northampton yesterday, I suppose I have to record what happened.

The leader of the national Liberal Democrat party was given an unfortunate welcome to Northampton during a visit yesterday, when he had an encounter with a traffic warden.
Local politicians were left red-faced after the people carrier they used to ferry party leader Nick Clegg around town was ticketed when it was parked in Dychurch Lane in the town centre.
But Mr Clegg said he would make sure the ticket was dealt with right away.

Tim Leunig on giving tenants the right to move

From Comment is Free:
Council and housing association tenants get little choice over where they live and are rarely able to move: many are in properties that do not suit their individual needs and preferences.
This can and should change. In a paper published today, The Right to Move, Policy Exchange argues that social tenants should have the right to move, the right to require their landlord to sell their current home and use the money to buy a place chosen by the tenant.
The new property would be owned by the landlord, and rented out as before. Tenants would be better off: they would get to live in a house of their choice.
The value of the landlord's portfolio does not change – only its location. Of course, if a Lambeth tenant moves to Croydon, Lambeth will need to subcontract the maintenance to Croydon, but this is hardly difficult.
My heart is certainly with Tim on this proposal. I can still recall the horror on the faces of the Tory councillors when we proposed allowing council tenants to choose which colour their front door was painted. Their view that "we do far too much for these people already" is reflected in some of the comments to Tim's article.

My only worry is giving one council the responsibility of maintaining a property that belong to another. Neither would have much incentive to see that the work was done promptly or properly. Children in the care system who are sent to live in another part of the country have often fared particularly badly for similar reasons.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Simon Titley: Against jargon

My Liberator colleague Simon Titley has an article on Lib Dem Voice anathematising jargon, buzzwords and cliches of all kinds.

One of those he identifies is:

• Young people’s jargon – Like, whatever.
There is a certain irritating sort of journalist - perhaps unfairly, Zoe Williams of the Guardian is the first name that springs to mind - who affects an adolescent offhandedness in his of her writing. They do not just use "like" and "whatever": words like "stuff" and "squillions" feature prominently too.

Having been to a conference on social media for work earlier this week, I am now in possession of the perfect phrase to describe these embarrassing attempts to get down with the kids.

It is "Dad at the disco" or "Dad on the dance floor".

I intend to use it frequently - until it becomes a piece of jargon, of course.

Government guidance on children and alcohol will make things worse

A consultation document launched by Ed Balls, Alan Johnson and the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, is expected to advise parents not to allow children to drink any alcohol before they are 15.

Donaldson was promoting this line on the Today Programme this morning but, as Costigan Quist points out:

He didn't seem to be able to point to any evidence that children being given the odd drink by parents in a controlled environment actually did any harm.

What would such evidence look like?

It might show that children allowed to try alcohol at a young age by parents, in a controlled way such as at meal times, were more likely to drink to excess as teenagers or adults; or perhaps that such children had more health parents as adults than their peers who were forbidden alcohol at home.

Liam Donaldson didn't even suggest that he had anything like that. The best he could point to was anecdote and being on the safe side, both of which may simply be wrong, as he must know.

Elsewhere, on the Off Licence News website to be precise, Donaldson is quoted as saying:
"This guidance aims to support parents, give them the confidence to set boundaries and to help them engage with young people about drinking and risks associated with it."
But how will issuing such guidance give parents confidence?

A significant feature of British society over recent years has been the collapse of parental confidence. And the principal cause of that collapse is surely the flow advice from experts - many of them state-sponsored - telling parents how to do their job.

Donaldson's today interviews are just the latest contribution to this. I recommend Frank Furedi's Paranoid Parenting for an analysis of the phenomenon.

Meanwhile, Liberal Revolution shouts:

parenting is a responsibility to be EARNT - and I think parents should prove it if their abilities are so poor that the child’s future is put at risk.

How is it possible to sack people who fail abysmally at their jobs when the bar is so low for the crucial job of being a parent.

After nearly 12 years of Labour government such a view is neither terribly Liberal and it is certainly not revolutionary.

Nick Clegg speaking in Northampton tonight

Should you find yourself at a loose end in Northampton this evening - and, let's face it, there is little else to do there - why not hear Nick Clegg speak?

He is on at the Guildhall, St Giles Square, starting at 6.45 p.m.

Full details at Flock Together

Paul Tyler: Lords reforms were recommended 10 years ago

Jim Packard writes on the Financial Times Westminster blog:

Lord Tyler, the excellent Lib Dem peer, tells me that he sat on a committee in 1999 (including various law Lords and others) which decided that there was an urgent need forstronger rules to suspend misbehaving Lords. Somewhere along the line it was kicked into the long grass.

“The committee sat for eighteen months,” he says with a sigh.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Trivial Fact of the Day features Heartbeat

There has been much discussion of Heartbeat today.

It has led me to discover the pleasing fact that its former star Bill Maynard was married for a while to the widow of the land and water speed record holder Donald Campbell.

Paul Tyler: Power, patronage and money

Writing on Lords of the Blog, a group blog for wearers of ermine, the Lib Dem peer Paul Tyler discusses the current scandal involving the upper house.

He concludes:
So roll on reform say I – yesterday I asked whatever happened to Gordon Brown’s “Constitutional Renewal” programme ….. and the Minister told me to be patient. The Times concludes “the Upper House is exactly the place that anyone should target if they wish to circumvent democracy with money.” None of us should have any patience with that.

I have bought some land at Heathrow

Having seen the graphic on Sara Bedford's blog last night and admired it, I have added the Greenpeace "I'm a plot owner" logo (and a link to their Heathrow campaign site) to Liberal England.

So far I have just sent Greenpeace an e-mail, but I suspect there will be money involved sooner or later.

As long as I am not next to Emma Thompson...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thomas Paine: Corsetmaker

From the Eastern Daily Press:

His words helped influence revolutions on both sides of the Atlantic and were quoted in Barack Obama's presidential inauguration speech last week.

But it was the handiwork of one of Norfolk's most famous sons that was celebrated at the weekend as an 18th century underwear day was staged in his honour.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Daniel Kawczynski: "The Speaker has let me down"

Daniel Kawczynski writes exclusively for Iain Dale's Diary.

£2000 stolen from police station

From the Leicester Mercury:

Police seized £2,000 from a suspect they were investigating – only for it to be stolen from the station where it was being stored.

The crime came to light as a result of a Freedom of Information Act inquiry by the Leicester Mercury. Nobody has been arrested.

Police said the theft showed the force was not "immune" to crime and said that storage procedures had been "reviewed".

They have refused to name the station concerned. However, the Mercury understands it was Hinckley Road station, in Leicester's West End.

Mark Thompson: Economical with the truth on the BBC and charity appeals

Talking to John Humphrys on the Today Programme this morning, Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, said that the corporation had declined to broadcast the videos produced by the Make Poverty History campaign. (You can find the statement at about 6.50 on this audio.)

Up to a point, Lord Thompson.

This Guardian report from last year gives a more reliable picture of what went on:

the BBC decided not to join other broadcasters in screening a make Poverty History campaign video and decided to give only its own Live 8 website address during the concert in July 2005.

However, concert presenter Jonathan Ross read out the campaign's address for people to sign up to near the end of the BBC1 coverage, adding: "If you want to do that, feel free. I'm not asking you to because we're the BBC and we're impartial."

Ofcom member Ian Hargreaves was quoted in the report as saying it was the "most shocking breach of impartiality on the BBC in recent years".

Not only that:

The Vicar of Dibley episode, screened on January 1 2005, included a Make Poverty History campaign video that lasted nearly a minute and a half.

Today's report said that nowhere in the episode was it pointed out that the writer Richard Curtis was himself spearheading the Make Poverty History campaign.

"The implication was that the cause was universal and uncontroversial, whereas the Make Poverty History website made clear that it had contentious political goals," the report added.

Not only that:
The report criticised the BBC for the amount of coverage it gave to the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005, which culminated with the Live 8 concerts and an Africa season of programmes.
And the Guardian piece does not even mention The Girl in the Cafe, which according to the Wikipedia entry on Richard Curtis:
The Girl in the Cafe was produced by the BBC and HBO as part of the Make Poverty History campaign's Live 8 efforts in 2005.
Maybe that is putting it a little too strongly, but Mark Thompson was quite wrong to present the BBC's treatment of Make Poverty History as an example of impartiality he is attempting to replicate over Gaza. If anything, it represented a colossal misjudgment from which he is now attempting to row the corporation back.

While writing this I watched the DEC appeal film about Gaza on Channel 4. It was certainly far less partisan than anything the BBC showed as part of Make Poverty History. The BBC should show it too.

Times website posts recording of Lord Taylor of Blackburn


And you should hear Craig Murray on the subject.

Britblog Roundup 206

To be found on the blog written by Mick Fealty for the Daily Telegraph.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The first Carnival on Modern Liberty

To be found at Liberal Conspiracy.

Neil Young: Sugar Mountain

My memories of the day are necessarily hazy, but back in the 1990s I attended the Phoenix Festival at at Long Marston Airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon. Thanks to the wonders of the net, I can tell you that it was on 19 July 1996.

Around that time a lot of people took Alanis Morissette very seriously. It wasn't until later that it became widely known that she used to be a child star - Canada's answer to Bonnie Langford - but when she opened her set that day by marching on to the stage blowing a mouth organ, she was obviously someone playing a rocker rather than the real thing. But you had to be careful whom you said that to in those days.

I wasn't too impressed with the Foo Fighters either: they were just loud. In fact, I wouldn't have been sorry if the foos had won.

But Dodgy - a band that was everywhere that summer but disappeared soon afterwards - were impossible to dislike (here is Good Enough from the festival) and of, course, the Manic Street Preachers were great (try Design for Life, again live from the day).

The band most of my companions had gone to see was Neil Young and Crazy Horse. They obviously appealed to a certain demographic - which is a way of saying that all the young people streamed away from the stage after Alanis Morissette had finished and it was possible to get embarrassingly near the front.

A review the next day said that a Crazy Horse guitar solo was like an oil tanker: it took 30 minutes to turn round. (See what I mean?) But my chief memory of their set is Neil Young singing "Sugar Mountain", accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar and harmonica.

Wikipedia quotes Joni Mitchell as saying:

In 1965 I was up in Canada, and there was a friend of mine up there who had just left a rock'n'roll band ... he had just newly turned 21, and that meant he was no longer allowed into his favorite hangout, which was kind of a teeny-bopper club and once you're over 21 you couldn't get in there anymore; so he was really feeling terrible because his girlfriends and everybody that he wanted to hang out with, his band could still go there, you know, but it's one of the things that drove him to become a folk singer was that he couldn't play in this club anymore.

But he was over the hill. So he wrote this song that was called "Oh to live on sugar mountain" which was a lament for his lost youth...

And I thought, God, you know, if we get to 21 and there's nothing after that, that's a pretty bleak future, so I wrote a song for him, and for myself just to give me some hope. It's called The Circle Game."

But I read "Sugar Mountain" differently. To me it is a unique thing: a pop song about the necessity of growing up.

I was going to show you a video of the young Young performing the song, but it has just disappeared from Youtube. So this one from another festival somewhere will have to do.

Sunday Times: Labour peers offer to change laws for cash

From today's Sunday Times:

Labour peers are prepared to accept fees of up to £120,000 a year to amend laws in the House of Lords on behalf of business clients, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

Four peers — including two former ministers — offered to help undercover reporters posing as lobbyists obtain an amendment in return for cash.

Two of the peers were secretly recorded telling the reporters they had previously secured changes to bills going through parliament to help their clients.

Lord Truscott, the former energy minister, said he had helped to ensure the Energy Bill was favourable to a client selling “smart” electricity meters. Lord Taylor of Blackburn claimed he had changed the law to help his client Experian, the credit check company.

The other peers mentioned in the report are Lord Moonie and Lord Snape.

As Iain Dale says, if this story is true it makes "cash for questions" look rather tame.

The newspaper quotes Norman Baker as saying:

"Legislators in the Commons and the Lords are there to pass legislation on behalf of the country, not to change the law in return for financial favours."

He also says he will be taking up the matter with the Lords authorities.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The oldest ever former MP died aged 102

This oldest MP thing is becoming an obsession. The other day Bert Hazell died aged 101, but Michael Crick reveals that one former MP made it to 102.

And he was a Liberal.

Theodore Cooke Taylor was born on 3 August 1850, was MP for Radcliffe cum Farnworth in Lancashire from 1900 to 1918, and died on 19 October 1952. So his exact age at death was 102 years and 67 days.

According to Wikipedia, when he turned 100 Taylor was still the managing director and chairman of J.T. & T. Taylor's. The company's employees enjoyed a day trip to Blackpool to celebrate his centenary. Commanet has a photograph of Taylor and his second wife taken in 1950.

I hope I look that good when I am 100.

Taylor continued to travel from his home at Grassington in Wharfedale to the mills in Batley until three weeks before his death at the age of 102.

And he was a good Liberal. It seems that in 1905 he published a book entitled Profit-sharing and Labour Co-partnership in the Woollen Trade.

Which probably makes him more radical than any current Liberal Democrat MP.

The police and Daniel Kawczynski

Michael Crick has more on the police visit to Daniel Kawczynski office. He writes:

The reaction to the story has been pretty unanimous - that Mr Kawczynski is a rather eccentric though amiable figure, and grossly over-reacted. (Some have used stronger and more abusive language).

I now wonder, however, whether the media, the Speaker and The Conservative Party have been unfair to him, and whether there were indeed quite important principles at stake. Worse than that, did the police abuse their position?

Crick reproduces in full statements by two youthful members of Kawczynski's staff who were present when the police arrived. Read them and judge for yourself whether the lofty defender of Otis Ferry has been traduced.

Iain Dale reports that Michael Martin has refused to meet Kawczynski. But surely that is precisely what the Speaker is paid to do, if only to put a fatherly arm around Kawczynski's shoulders and tell him to stop being such a fool.

Disasters Emergency Committee Gaza appeal

You can find the page for the DEC Gaza appeal on its website.

Meanwhile, says the Press Association:

The BBC has come under mounting pressure to screen an emergency appeal for Gaza, after ITV, Channel 4 and Five all announced they will show it.

Thousands of protesters joined a demonstration in London, while a string of politicians, including senior Government ministers, urged the BBC to reconsider its decision not to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal.

Carol Reed week on Channel 4

This week Channel 4 is showing four films by this great British director:
There is a good article on Carol Reed on Screen Online.

More oldest former MPs

Inspired by my recent posting, Iain Dale has been asking who the oldest surviving MPs for all the parties are.

So far the winners are:
  • Conservatives: James Allason (born 6 September 1912)
  • Labour: William Wilson (born 28 June 1913)
  • Liberal: George Mackie, as suggested in my original posting
  • Other parties: Ernest Millington (Common Wealth; born 15 February 1916)
I remember Allason being my MP when I was a small boy in Hertfordshire. He is the father of Rupert Allason, who also became a Tory MP but is better known as the writer Nigel West.

Later. There is an older living Labour MP: Ted Short, born 17 December 1912. Thanks to a comment on Michael Crick's blog for this.

Strike threat at the Shropshire Star

From Hold the Front Page:

Journalists in Shropshire are threatening to ballot for industrial action claiming managers are refusing to answer their questions about job cuts.

Midland News Association, publisher of the Shropshire Star and the Express and Star, is looking for 70 compulsory redundancies after a plan to cut 135 jobs by voluntary redundancy failed to get enough takers.

The National Union of Journalists chapel in Shropshire wants to know how many of those job losses will fall in its editorial department but says managers have so far failed to respond.

It says that if it doesn't get an answer by close of play on Monday - or if any NUJ member is given notice putting them at risk of redundancy - the chapel will trigger a ballot for industrial action.

The regional press was in crisis long before the credit crunch, but what shall I write about if the Star goes on strike?

Gaza: Does the BBC have a death wish?

Having outraged Daily Mail releases over Jonathan Ross, the BBC now seems determined to do the same for Guardian readers. Soon there will be no one left with the motivation to speak up for it.

The Independent reports:

Hundreds of protesters are expected to gather outside Broadcasting House in London today after the BBC defended its decision not to broadcast a public appeal to raise funds for Gaza.

The corporation said the decision was taken with other broadcasters not to show the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) crisis appeal because of impartiality concerns. There were also doubts about the delivery of aid in such a volatile situation, the BBC said.

Speaking on the radio this morning, Caroline Thomson, the BBC's "chief operating officer", waffled and was unable to give a reasoned defence of the corporation's position. In particular, she could not explain why the BBC was a better judge of whether aid can be delivered than the experienced charities who form the DEC.

But don't despair. As someone said at the time of Manuelgate, when faced with complaints the BBC has no middle position between arrogant dismissal and abject surrender. We are still at the first stage.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The oldest surviving former Liberal MP

The death of Bert Hazell the other day made we wonder who the oldest surviving Liberal MP is (leaving aside a certain peer from Rutland).

Having looked up the obvious candidates, my oldest three - in reverse order - is:
  • Emlyn Hooson (born 26 March 1925)
  • Clement Freud (born 24 April 1924)
  • George Mackie (born 10 July 1919)
Unless, of course, you know better.

Jeremy Thorpe, Eric Avebury and Cyril Smith are all younger than this trio, but there may be others I have forgotten. I was surprised to discover that Roderic Bowen had still been alive when he died a few years ago.

House Points: It's not the Ministry of Fun any more

My column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

No more fun

When the Department for National Heritage was established by John Major, its first secretary of state, David Mellor, was widely known as the “minister for fun”. Nowadays it is called the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and at its question time on Monday there was precious little fun is sight.

Which was a pity, because we could have done with some. Later that day Alistair Darling explained why he was giving billions more to the banks. Then we had a statement on the conflict in Gaza and debate on what I make the 194th crime and policing bill since 1997.

But under Labour fun is no laughing matter. So we heard from various MPs that it was “obscene” that Manchester City were proposing to spend £100m on a player. We heard that the Evening Standard was about to be taken over by a former KGB member. We heard that 39 pubs are closing every week.

If that didn’t make you feel bad enough, crippling increases in water rates are being imposed on sports clubs in the North West by United Utilities. If they are cricket clubs, they are also suffering from reduced bar takings and three bad summers, so few of them are now able to employ a professional.

And they needn’t look to the government for help: funding for community sport has gone down by £15m in the past three years.

Meanwhile, Stonehenge has been waiting for a new visitor centre almost since the last Chief Druid hung up his robes.

At least someone is happy. Last Wednesday Lembit Opik was granted his debate on Segways – or “self-balancing personal transporters”, as Hansard titled it.

He waxed lyrical about their technical ingenuity, their friendliness to the environment and how easy they are to use. Only Piers Morgan and George W. Bush are known to have had trouble with them – which rather makes his point.

I like to imagine a beaming Lembit riding his Segway along the byways of Montgomeryshire. Birds sing in the trees. Timid forest creatures look up from their grazing as he passes. A painted butterfly alights upon him for a moment.

If it weren’t for the prospect of the Earth being wiped out by a stray meteorite, life would be perfect.

Eric Pickles wants you to feel his love

Writing on Conservative Home, Tim Montgomerie reports that Eric Pickles, the new Tory chairman, is off on a tour of Conservative/Lib Dem marginals in the West Country.

He goes on:
this visit communicates two of the big themes that Eric Pickles wants to characterise his tenure at CCHQ: graft (he promises to match the sacrifice of volunteers) and a focus on the LibDems.

With opinion polls pointing towards a perhaps decisive increase in the Tory lead some party strategists are recommending a significant shift of battleground resources into unseating Liberal Democrat MPs. Eric Pickles is a big advocate of the lovebombing tactic.

Montgomerie explains:
After years of unsuccessfully trying to scare people from voting LibDem (because, for example, of their strong pro-Europeanism, their social permissiveness or 'soft' approach to crime), the Tories decided that it was better to flatter them and appear to agree with them on key issues.

The love-bombing strategy was partly a result of fears that negative campaigning against the LibDems risked reinforcing voters' perceptions of the Conservatives as mean-spirited rather than affecting voters' perceptions of the 'nice' LibDems.
But will the average Tory activist be able to keep this niceness towards the Lib Dems up for more than five minutes? That is not what they joined the party to do.

It is also worth pointing out the Labour Party is increasingly using scare tactics against us.

The shorter Simon Jenkins

Old is the new new.

Comedy and bad language

With Jonathan Ross returning to our screens this evening, it is time to remember the words of the Headmaster in Alan Bennett's Forty Years On:
"Mark my words, when a society has to resort to the lavatory for its humour, the writing is on the wall."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Another UFO over Market Harborough

From the Harborough Mail:
Is this amazing picture of an Unidentified Flying Object over Great Bowden proof that we are not alone in the universe? 
The photo, taken from the footbridge over the railway line at Great Bowden, appears to show a saucer-shaped object flying above the trees.
I don't know if the photograph constitutes proof that we are not alone in the universe. But I do know that the photographer was obviously standing with his back to the village of Great Bowden and facing towards Market Harborough. So whatever the object was, it was over the town.

Now read about our last UFO.

Hounslow Heath Airport

A comment on my recent posting on Croydon Airport rightly says that the first civil airport in Britain was Hounslow Heath.

I had heard of it but had assumed that it was another name for Heathrow. Not so, as Hidden London explains:
In 1919 Hounslow Heath became the site of the first civil airport in the country. The earliest commercial flight was from Bristol to Hounslow and the inaugural scheduled air service was from Hounslow to Paris. On 12 November the first flight to Australia left Hounslow, arriving 28 days later. Commercial aviation moved to Croydon in 1920 and the airport closed. Its buildings were destroyed by fire in 1929 but a plaque in Staines Road marks the site.

Iain Dale and Ann Widdecombe

One of the tweets (as the young people call them) on Iain Dale's Diary at the moment reads:

Forgot to mention: I'm hosting A Night With Ann Widdecombe at the BIC Pavilion in Bournemouth tomorrow night. Tickets available I think!

I can't help feeling that the promise of an evening without Ann Widdecombe would be a better selling point.

Why are there so many foxes in town?

Walking home on Sunday evening I came across two foxes fighting outside the Roman Catholic church. I don't know if they had fallen out over some point of doctrine, but I shouted at them to break it up.

I wouldn't mind, but this is Market Harborough - the spiritual home of fox hunting since Melton Mowbray became too expensive and too scandalous at the end of the 19th century.

Why do we see so many foxes in town these days? Is it that changes in refuse collection mean there are more bins outside houses to be scavenged. Or have changing farming practices made life harder for them in the countryside?

Whatever the reason, the is no doubt that they are far more common here than they used to be. In my anti-hunting days in the 1970s, you hardly saw a fox in Market Harborough at all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Shrewsbury MP claims police searched his Westminster office without warrant

From BBC News:

A Conservative MP has alleged that police entered his Commons office without a search warrant demanding to see constituency correspondence.

Daniel Kawczynski said he found the episode "disgraceful".

The Shrewsbury and Atcham MP said he had handed over a Shrewsbury-postmarked letter related to an inquiry over "white powder" sent to a minister.

But Scotland Yard said a Parliament-based police officer had entered the office "by appointment".

Mr Kawczynski said it was to his "eternal shame" that he had complied by handing over the letter.

The MP also said that the investigation related to a letter sent to Ed Balls. It contained a white powder that turned out to be flour.

Kawczynski has previously been in the news after accusing the BBC of anti-Polish racism and claiming that Otis Ferry was being held as a political prisoner.

Later. Spy Blog has the extract from Hansard where Kawczynski raised the matter today:

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am extremely shocked about what I am going to say. I was about to make my speech in the debate on savers when I received a note from my office saying that there was a police officer there, demanding to see correspondence.

The police were already present in my office and I went to see them after making my speech. They said that they were investigating an important case with regard to correspondence that had been sent to Ministers and wanted to see handwriting samples from people who had written to me. I am appalled that officers can behave in that way--entering a Member of Parliament's office, with no warrant, and demanding constituency correspondence.

To my great embarrassment and eternal shame, I was so weak that I handed over the letter from my constituent that they demanded. I will have to live with that, but I am extremely embarrassed about it. After everything that has happened to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), it is disgraceful that this is happening and I urge you to investigate.

Michael Crick said on Newsnight that the general view on the Tory benches was that Kawczynski had got rather overexcited about the matter. Either way, it is hard to demur from Spy Blog's verdict that he is a "prize idiot" for handing over the letter.

Lizard-in-broccoli taken as pet

The BBC Shropshire pages win Headline of the Day by acclamation.

And the story begins:

A four-inch lizard found in some broccoli from a supermarket has now become a family pet.

Paula Walsh and her partner Jez Allen, of Meole Brace, near Shrewsbury, found Tenko the gecko inside the vegetables from Tesco.

The family said they had become very attached to him after getting over the initial shock.

There will be an inquiry at the Shropshire Star. How were they scooped on this one?

Later. Now they have it.

Rutland's leading economic journalist

Chris Dillow is the man behind Stumbling and Mumbling, one of my favourite blogs.

He also writes a column for Investors Chronicle.

Nick Clegg: Join the euro to save the City and public finances

The Financial Times reports an interview with the Lib Dem leader:

Britain must prepare to ditch the pound and join the euro in order to salvage the public finances and prevent the “permanent decline” of the City, Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, said on Tuesday.

Predicting that debate over the euro could soon return with a vengeance, Mr Clegg argued that joining a “major reserve currency” would protect Britain from its “extremely dangerous” exposure to volatile global capital flows.

In an interview with the Financial Times, he said public opinion could “turn on its head” and swing against the pound as the “sheer brutality” of the crisis prompted the public to yearn for the stability offered by the eurozone.

In recent years Lib Dem support for the European project has had a distinct flavour of yearning for a better yesterday, which is the charge that was made against the SDP in the 1980s. So it is good to see Nick making a case for the euro that relates to today's headlines

My own preferred solution is for the euro to be made legal tender in Britain - I have seen shops in the more touristy areas of Scotland that already accept it - and to let the people decide that way.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Croydon: Airport into nature reserve

In view of current proposals at Heathrow, there is an irony to the later fortunes of London's first international airport. The London Borough of Sutton website says:

Before the First World, the site was known as Beddington Aerodrome and has been described as the "cradle of British civil aviation". The use of a site as an aerodrome generally prohibits any large obstacles and the Mere Bank was flattened as a result.

In 1915 the Royal Flying Corps took over the newly created Waddon Aerodrome and sent off fighter planes to combat the German Zeppelins. The first National Aircraft Factory was built here in 1918. In 1920, what was Waddon Aerodrome become the Customs Airport of London and then became Croydon Aerodrome.

Eight years later, after the closing of Plough Lane in 1926 and the erection of new buildings and even a hotel, the aerodrome changed name again to become "The Airport of London". During the late 1920's and the '30s, the site was the only international airport in London and ran regular routes to the Indian subcontinent and also to South Africa.

Charles Lindbergh arrived here from Brussels in the 'Spirit of St. Louis' to a crowd of 150,000 people after his solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1927 and Amy Johnson (a fisherman's daughter from Hull) left Croydon Airport on her flight to Australia in 1930. Their legends are still very much associated with the Downs, with the local primary school bearing the name of the aviatrix, whilst a local play-centre bears the moniker of 'The Lone Eagle' himself.

Over the next couple of decades, however, as aeroplanes were increasing in size and therefore the space required to accommodate them and the runways required for take-off and landing grew commensurately, the urban build around the aerodrome impinged upon the amount of space that could be utilised for extensions. 1946 saw the opening of Heathrow as London's primary airport and without the room to expand to accept the new jet liners, Croydon airport eventually closed at the end of 1959.

In 1993, the name for the main area of chalk grassland that thrived after the closure and demolition of the former Croydon Airport within the Sutton boundary was formally changed to that of Roundshaw Downs. It was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1994.

Mind you, there is more to the airport site than the nature reserve, and Diamond Geezer was not impressed when he visited:
The western part of Croydon Airport was redeveloped in the 1960s as the Roundshaw housing estate. It's a million miles away from international glamour, more a poor collection of concrete blocks and Wimpey Homes gathered round a Co-op supermarket. You wouldn't live here.
The Wikipedia entry for Croydon Airport says there were two other international airports in the South East of England that operated in the 1950s and have now been forgotten. They are Northolt (now known solely as an RAF base) and Blackbushe Airport in Hampshire.

The Stables, Hopesgate

The restaurant critic of the Shropshire Star has entered the maze of lanes west of the Shrewsbury to Bishop's Castle road and happened upon The Stables.

When I first knew this pub it was a little eccentric in its opening hours and if you intended to eat there it was a good idea to ring up to make sure they were doing food that evening. It is now in new hands and, judging by the Star's review, does very good food.

I was last there in July 2008. It was unseasonably cold and I was glad of the open fire.

And hello to Molly, the pub's Irish wolfhound, who gets a mention.

Calder's Comfort Farm: Heathrow, lightbulbs and Emma Thompson

My latest column for the New Statesman website is now in place:
A friend installed the new bulbs last year. Within days, he reports, Izal lavatory paper had appeared in his bathroom and corned beef in his fridge. He now lives in terror of meeting the landlord on the stairs and being asked to pay the rent he owes.
He wouldn’t mind, but he owns the house.

Announcing the Carnival on Modern Liberty

James Graham has the exciting news that Liberal Conspiracy - in association with Our Kingdom and Unlock Democracy - is launching a weekly Carnival on Modern Liberty.

Blog carnivals are collections of links to postings, on different blogs, that have a theme in common. Contributing to them is a good way of raising the profile of an issue or subject that interests you, meeting like-minded bloggers and bringing new visitors to your own blog.

I have hosted the mainly American Carnival of the Liberals here a couple of times and also contribute occasionally to carnivals on films and children's literature.

James explains that this new carnival is particularly interested in blog posting on:
  • ACTION: our favourite category! ideas and initiatives for raising awareness of civil liberty-related issues.
  • EVENTS: civil-liberty related events that you are either organising or would like to promote (you don’t need to wait until 28 February before holding a meetup, tweetup or even just a social to the pub or cinema - if it’s civil liberty related, publicise it here).
  • JEERS: reports of the latest assaults on liberties.
  • CHEERS: good news (we do get it occasionally!) and praise for the champions of liberty.
  • WHAT LIBERTY MEANS TO ME: think pieces about what liberty in a modern context actually means (once you’ve been all philosophical, do an action post to balance things out :)).
Read James's posting for further information, including details of how to nominate postings to appear in the carnival.

Incidentally, the comments on his posting, which give the impression that a significant proportion of the site's readers are not that concerned about liberty, confirm me in my sniffy view of Liberal Conspiracy. It is more Labour than Liberal.

Return to the Pork Pie Library

Last May the Leicester Mercury won an award from me for its headline:
Pork pie library may be closing
Now Unmitigated England has visited that library too.

He shares my view that the library - Southfields Library in Leicester -resembles a 1930s London Underground station and gives his memories of working there:
Here I not only rubber-stamped books, but also discovered playwright Joe Orton's old library ticket (with 'default' stamped on it), Len Deighton books and an old man coughing his lungs up in the reading room because he'd been gassed in the First World War. 
I also got to work the wartime siren on the roof for practice alerts (there was a nuclear attack warning device in the cellar), ate a bar of Bournville Chocolate with my morning coffee and read the very first copy of The Sun newspaper. 
All this for £7 a week and the chance to chat up the girl assistants on the evening shift.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Kenneth Clarke: What happens if Labour starts making pro-European noises?

Iain Dale describes his experience of arriving at the studio to appear on Simon Mayo's Radio Five Live programme, only to find himself confronted with Barry Legg:

I generally have a policy of not appearing on programmes with other Tories who I know are purely there to disagree with me, as it does not generally lead to a very edifying discussion. For those who have never heard of him, he was a Tory MP in the 1990s and before that was on Westminster City Council. He currently chairs the Bruges Group.

He was naturally against Ken Clarke having any role in the Tory Party whatsoever. Whatever question Simon Mayo asked him he always brought the subject back to Europe. It was like being in a timewarp ...

Legg had been invited onto the Mayo programme as a former Chief Executive of the Party, albeit for only a few weeks back in 2003. In some ways it was encouraging that they were reduced to choosing him, as it meant there were no leading figures prepared to put the anti-Ken argument over the airwaves. A few years ago, there would have been a queue at the studio door.

That is certainly an encouraging sign for the Conservative Party: it no longer gives the impression that it is more interested in theology than power, and the presence of Kenneth Clarke in the shadow cabinet will be popular with the wider public.

But what happens if the Labour government starts making gently pro-European noises? Clarke's opposite number, Peter Mandelson, will find have no problems with doing this either ideologically or tactically.

Will Clarke oppose him? If he doesn't, will rank and file opinion in the Conservative Party be outraged?

It will be fun finding out.

Bert Hazell has died aged 101

Thanks to Well-Behaved Orphan* (in a comment elsewhere on this blog) for alerting us to the news that Bert Hazell has died. Hazell was Labour MP for North Norfolk between 1964 and 1970 and, as he was 101 when he died, is believed to be the longest lived former MP in history.

His death was reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post, and there is more information about him via the links in a posting I wrote last year.

* Lord Bonkers writes: You can't beat a good education.

Graham Harvey condemns NFU stance on pesticides

From Comment is Free:
Instead of campaigning for the pesticide industry the NFU should set itself a new set of objectives. Why not start campaigning for healthier foods, a healthier countryside and a better future for family farms? That way the union might just about become relevant to the 21st century.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood: Little Wing

Last year, discussing Steve Winwood's Dear Mr Fantasy from Eric Clapton's second Crossroads guitar festival, I said that I have always been a little resistant to the Clapton mystique. I have since worked out why this is.

Although I post a lot of material from the 1960s here, the decade in which I formed my tastes and followed the charts was the 1970s. I can still identify most singles from the middle of the decade from their first few notes.

And in the 1970s Eric Clapton was issuing singles like "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Wonderful Tonight". These were not the sort of thing to inspire anybody. Having delved deeper into his archive recently, I have more respect for him.

In 1969 Clapton and Winwood were both members of the short-lived Blind Faith, which is generally regarded as the first "super group". More about them one day.

Here they are from February of last year playing in one of three rapturously received concerts they played at Madison Square Gardens in New York. As was said at the time, it was a novelty to see two former bandmates who so obviously enjoy playing with one another. Most group members from the Blind Faith era hate each other and have only got back together because they need the money.

"Little Wing" is a Jimi Hendrix song and Clapton sounds pretty wonderful playing it. In case it seems sacrilegious for anyone else to play a Hendrix song, it is worth pointing out that Steve Winwood played with him on "Voodoo Chile" from the Electric Ladyland album.

Later. Videos of this song keep disappearing from Youtube, but the latest one I have found has little audience noise.

Britblog Roundup 205

Fits snugly at Is There More to Life than Shoes?

Tony Hart and Vision On

It was sad to hear that Tony Hart has died. And particularly sad to hear Wilf Lunn in tears on the radio this morning.

But it has to be said.

Vision On was a pretty dull programme. It was hardly Animal Magic, let alone Blue Peter or Crackerjack.

Still, those who want to revive their memories of it - Pat Keysell and all - can do so on It's Prof Again.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Peter Oborne praises Lib Dem foreign policy

A quotation for your next Focus leaflet from this morning's Daily Mail:
Libdem leader Nick Clegg deserves undiluted praise for speaking out against the bloodthirsty invasion of Gaza and calling for sanctions to be imposed on Israel. Again and again - on Iraq, Lebanon and now Gaza - the LibDems speak out for a foreign policy of which Britain can be proud, while the other parties sit on their hands.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tributes to John Mortimer

John Mortimer, who has died at the age of 85, was one of my early heroes. In his regular appearances on Any Questions he personified a civilised approach to life that was rarely encountered in the Market Harborough of the 1970s.

On the BBC website his biographer Valerie Grove contributes a personal memoir. And, for the Guardian, Geoffrey Robertson suggests:
Rumpole helped the public – and the bar – to understand that the need to protect the liberty of the subject is the main justification for the profession, and certainly for its independence.
As ever, the best obituary is in the Daily Telegraph.

House Points: David Miliband goes bananas

My first Liberal Democrat News column of 2009.

Absent friends

You have to keep up in this game. A few months ago David Miliband was the great hope of the Labour Party. Respectful profiles appeared in all the newspapers. He issued carefully worded statements of support for Gordon Brown that fell just short of giving him support.

Then he was photographed holding a banana and it all fell apart. Too young, they said. Lightweight. A silly face.

Now the smart money is on to his brother Ed. He has the better intellect, doesn’t have a silly face (though he does have a silly voice) and, most importantly, he is not given to waving pieces of fruit.

So deep has been the eclipse of David Miliband that it was a surprise on Monday to find he is still foreign secretary. But there he was making a statement on Gaza.

Perhaps his words would have been more impressive coming from another figure. But when Miliband intoned:

“Peace benefits Israelis and Palestinians; war kills both. They are destined to live next door to each other. They can do so either as combatants or as neighbours.”
it sounded like platitudes from a boy with a banana.

It was hard to resist the impression that Miliband and the rest of the government are marking time as they wait for President Obama. If he adopts a more balanced foreign policy they will be relieved to go along with it. But for now they are not going to get out of step with America by condemning the Israelis.

As for the Tories, backbench interventions showed that many of them have bought into the Blair/Bush ‘War on Terror’ even more strongly than their Labour counterparts.

The most impressive intervention for the Liberal Democrats came from Ming Campbell:
“The Israeli Government persists in disproportionate military action, using F-15s, F-16s, Apache helicopters and tanks at a terrible cost to human life.”
Neither Michael Moore nor Ed Davey has waved a single banana, but they have found Ming’s a hard act to follow as Lib Dem shadow foreign secretary.

It may be that the real tragedy of Ming’s unsuccessful leadership of the party was that we lost an incomparably authoritative voice of foreign affairs when he took up the job.

Heathrow: If only they had listened to Sir Reginald Bennett

Here is Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett, as Hansard calls him, speaking in the Commons on 11 May 1951:
I am informed in another answer which I received today, that to build the aerodrome at Heathrow, 57 houses have had to be demolished. The further runways north of the Bath Road may involve the demolition of some 600 residential properties and a further 150 properties may have to be demolished for the final stage of development. That is, 800 houses have to go to make this one airport. I will not say any more about that. We need not be so sanguine about the housing situation as to view that with equanimity.

Another figure relevant to Heathrow Airport is this. The ground required for Heathrow alone is 4,600 acres. If that area, good land as it is, were sown with wheat, it would provide enough to keep 70,000 people of our population supplied with bread all the year round. If we have several aerodromes of this size there will be very little left of this island, and we have to weigh other interests against that of aviation. Surely the accumulation of these facts is very heavily against the infinite development of the concrete runway.
Sir Reginald Bennett was MP for Gosport and Fareham from 1950 to February 1974 and then for Fareham until 1979. According to his Daily Telegraph obituary, his publications included Why Executives Die Young and Psychological Disturbances of Young Married Life.

David Boyle on the government's Heathrow decision

Read him at The Real Blog:

This is a No Pasaran moment for the green movement, shared by an extraordinary cross-section of society who believe there has to be a limit to what we sacrifice on the altar of wrong-headed progress. That there has to be a limit to the appeasement of those corporate interests that believe with so little evidence that the decision will benefit London, the economy, the jobless or anything else. The destruction of whole villages, twelfth century churches, the peace of great swathes of London, the sight of elderly ladies bundled into police vans: it will change the way people think.

In short, they will not let it happen, and the resulting clash is going to be painful for both sides. But there comes a point in history where the powerful so misread the signs that they lose their power, and so it will prove.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Art matters because we are not worth it

Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?

asked Hamlet.

A subeditor at the Guardian does not agree. He or she headed an article by Charlotte Higgins:

All Britain deserves good art, but not just London exports

I am all in favour of good art and believe that much of it should originate outside London. But does any of us "deserve" good art? Isn't one of the reasons for supporting art the realisation that we are flawed human beings and the hope that it may make us better.

In other words we do not deserve art because we are good. We need it because we are bad.

Isn't the British constitution great?

Two short quotations from reports that went up on the Guardian website this afternoon.

On Heathrow:
Hoon insisted that a vote was not needed because the decision was "quasi-judicial". The government's decision was made in the interest of the country and not just Londoners, Hoon told McDonnell. "Heathrow is a national airport," he said.
On plans to exempt MPs' expense claims from freedom of information legislation:
Harriet Harman, the leader of the house, is to use a special parliamentary order that can become law within 24 hours after being debated by MPs and peers next week.
I get the impression that in Britain the government can short cut or dispense with democracy whenever it threatens to become inconvenient.

If MPs have any sense (and I grant you that a big if...) they will vote against this exemption of their expense claims. And Hoon is talking nonsense. Local councillors have a "quasi-judicial" role in planning matters, but they still take votes.

Otis Ferry out on bail

Having taken an interest in his case in the past, I had better record that Otis (son of Bryan) Ferry has been freed on bail after, in the words of the Cotswold Journal:
after he spent four months in jail while awaiting trial on charges of ‘nobbling’ witnesses set to testify in a case involving the alleged assault of a fox hunt monitor near Stow.
One of the conditions of bail is that he lives in Kensington. How the other half lives, eh?

Spelling Mistake of the Day

Iain Dale has John McDonnell MP mourning the "villages, homes, churches, schools and cemetaries" that will be lost if a third runway is built at Heathrow.

It is easy to remember how to spell "cemetery". Just think of the ghosts who come out and go "Eee!"

The Sun at Clun to close

The Shropshire Star reports that the Sun Inn at Clun is to close.

This is bad news because, as I argued in a recent House Points, the traditional pub was the bastion of the sensible drinking that we all want to see.

Greg Mulholland has long been campaigning to save pubs, and his analysis of their decline agrees with that of the commenters on the Star website: it is largely the fault of the companies that own the pubs.

It is also sad for me because the Sun is the first Shropshire pub I ever stayed in.

Later. The Sun appears to have opened and closed again since this posting was made.

Even later. And it has reopened again!

Patrick McGoohan

He will be best remembered for The Prisoner, and his Telegraph obituary reveals that he went to school in Leicestershire.

But let us not forget Hell Drivers either.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BBC says government will go ahead with third runway at Heathrow

The BBC is reporting this evening that the government will announce tomorrow that it has approved a third runway at Heathrow.

If this is true it will be an appalling decision. The South East is already horribly overdeveloped and this will just add to the problem. A better policy would be to invest in the railways and regional airports.

Meanwhile our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions consist of irritating trifles like putting up with light bulbs that don't come on at once and paying for paper bags.

Commons adjournment debate on mental health advocacy

On Monday Charles Walker, the Tory MP for Broxbourne, called a Commons adjournment debate on mental health advocacy. As I did not write about it in this week's House Points, let me plug it here instead:
The role of advocates is to stand and sit by that person and to ensure that they understand as far as possible their rights under the Mental Health Act 2007—their right to say no and to question the treatments and recommendations proposed by health care professionals and clinicians. That is a hugely important part of the Act.
You can find the full record in Hansard.

Liveblogging: Southend Utd vs Chelsea

First it was called off. Then it was back on. Or so the BBC said.

Chelsea's replay at Rootes Hall is live on ITV this evening, so I thought I would try a Liberal England first: liveblogging.

Because this game matters to Chelsea.

The team has problems. The only width comes from the full backs, but their incursions upfield can leave the centre backs exposed. The impenetrable defence of the Mourinho years is a distant memory.

The midfield is growing old together - Essien's reputation grows the longer he is out.

Up front we have two world class strikers. But if Drogba is picked Anelka sulks. And if Anelka is picked Drogba sulks.

And if they are both picked they both sulk.

What I know about Southend Untited:

  1. When I was little they had a player called Billy Best
  2. Chelsea legend David Webb used to manage them
  3. er
  4. That's about it
The Guardian liveblogger must be lost in the fog.

The BBC website says that Radio Five Live says that the fog is coming down again.

They also have the Chelsea team:

Cech, Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, A Cole, Ballack, Mikel, Lampard, J Cole, Anelka, Kalou.

Scolari was supposed to be leaving out any players he did not giving him their best. Unless Carvalho is dropped rather than injured there are no surprises here at all.

Mind you, he has dropped Deco. Drogba we knew about already.

The Southend team:

Mildenhall, Sankofa, Clarke, Barrett, Herd, Grant, Christophe, Moussa, Stanislas, Barnard, Revell. Subs: Francis, Walker, Freedman, Betsy, Joyce, O'Keefe.

And Carvalho is among the Chelsea subs. So maybe it is a snub from Big Phil.

The ITV theme music is "Abide With Me". Appropriate for a Chelsea fan.

And it doesn't look that foggy in Southend.

The game has kicked off.

A great run by Ashley Cole. Who wants their team's full backs to defend?

20:18Now Joe Cole breaks into the box. He chooses to shoot rather than square it for Anelka. I hope he does not sulk.

Nat King Cole heads over.

All Chelsea so far.

Alex tries a back pass from halfway and gives a corner away. Southend lick their lips.

Chelsea 0 Southend 1

The corner is cleared for another and Adam Barrett heads Southend in front.

Chelsea appeal for a penalty, but it's not handball. Well, you have to try something.

Then Mikel shoots wide.

Anelka heads wide. He should have got it closer.

The Guardian liveblog has woken up on a different page.

Southed goal under siege. But Chelsea lack the killer punch.

Bosingwa, the Chelsea right back, has a great left foot too. How many English full backs are two-fotted?

We still can't score though.

Peter Kenyon looks sick. So there is a bright side.

Southend are defending with 11 men and ceding the ball to Chelsea. So far we have lacked the class to cut through them.

Southend break, the referee plays advantage and Cech has to make a great save to prevent a second goal.

There are two balls on the pitch. An exciting new tactic by the Brazilian genius?

It's back to one ball, we get a corner but can't score.

Chelsea 1 Southend Utd 1

Confusion in the Southend defence. Ballack shoots. He scores.

And it's half time.

Objectively, Chelsea should score several more in the second half. But...

Just before the Chelsea equaliser went in I was looking at the subs to how Scolari can change things. They are:

Cudicini, Ivanovic, Carvalho, Di Santo, Belletti, Mancienne, Stoch.

That's three defenders, including two centre backs. Very odd, given that you don't want to change your centre backs if you can possibly avoid it.

Mind you, Andy Townsend blamed Alex for the Southend goal.

The second half has kicked off and Chelsea have made a change. Mikel is off and Beletti is on. One of his 40-yard screamers would be handy.

A succession of Chelsea corners and a penalty shout, but no second goal.

Cech comes out, fails to get the ball, but great defending from Alex saves him.

Southend are having more of the play in the second half. Perhaps equalising was the wrong idea? Anyway, Chelsea survive another corner.

Southend Utd 1 Chelsea 2

Joe Cole and Kalou combine to score a lovely goal. What were you worrying about? Put the kettle on.

And Joe Cole almost scores another (though Frank Lampard thinks he should have passed to him).

Former Chelsea player Anthony Grant fouls Joe Cole. He stays down.

Now he's up.

Chelsea remain on top, but you sense they are one set piece away from disaster.

One chap from Southend has been replaced by another chap from Southend.

Joe Cole is down again and now he has gone off.

Franco Di Santo comes on.

Southend Utd 1 Chelsea 3

Apparently Anelka is still on the pitch. In fact he has scored with a nicely placed shot inside the post.

Big Phil looks happy.

Chelsea take their 15th (count 'em) corner.

Southend bring on someone called Betsy.

Betsy falls over.

Southend Utd 1 Chelsea 4

Frank Lampard! And it wasn't even deflected.

And that's full time.

Chelsea won - as they should have. But they won with overlapping full backs and by passing the ball through a tiring opposition midfield. And they conceded a goal at a corner, so I doubt much has been learnt.

Bryan Magee: Philosophy on Youtube

I was over at my mother's house on the other side of Market Harborough at the weekend. The warehouse across the road is in the process of being demolished.

Seeing this reminded me of my posting about Karl Popper and Market Harborough. In it I recorded that the great populariser of Popper's thought in Britain, Bryan Magee, mentions this warehouse in his memoirs Growing Up in a War. He was evacuated to Harborough during the war and lived literally around the corner from where I lived as a teenager. I did not learn this until I had contributed the entry on Popper to the Dictionary of Liberal Thought.

All this is by way of a prelude to saying that if you search Youtube for "Bryan Magee" you will come across Magee's two television series on philosophy: Men of Ideas and The Great Philosophers. These both took the form of Magee interviewing a contemporary philosopher about the work of one of the greats. Many of the interviewees have since died, making this an invaluable archive.

These two series belong unashamedly to the era of talking heads television and are all the better for it. These days people think you have to offer ceaseless visual stimulation or the audience will turn over. But what could be more riveting than one great thinker talking about another?

Bill Newton Dunn opposes Pennbury eco-town

According to the Market Harborough Liberal Democrats website (and I should know because I posted the story there last night) Bill Newton Dunn MEP has come out against the proposed Pennbury eco-town:
"Only a few weeks ago, during a visit to Market Harborough, I placed on record my deep concerns regarding the proposed eco-town. The suggested site is inappropriate and its impact concerning, and the potential legacy for future generations is negative."
He is to write to Margaret Beckett, the housing minister, asking her to remove Pennbury from the shortlist of proposed eco-towns.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lib Dems announce membership of their privacy commission

Nick Clegg today announced the membership of the party’s Commission on Privacy. It will examine the use, abuse and retention of private data, and propose new safeguards to protect individual rights.

The members are:
  • David Heath MP (Chair)
  • Simon Davies
  • Shami Chakrabarti
  • Baroness Sue Miller
  • Henry Porter
  • Prof. Ross Anderson
  • Richard Rampton QC
  • Richard Allen
A very impressive list, particularly with the inclusion of Davies, Chakrabarti and Porter.

Further details on the party website.

Oz and James: All is forgiven

I had been planning to write a posting asking why the BBC thought that repeatedly listening to James May belch in the trailer would make us want to watch Oz and James Drink to Britain.

But I did watch it this evening and one of the tracks they used for background music was Trampoline by the Spencer Davis Group.

So that's all right then.

Did Alice's Meadow save Otmoor?

Writing this morning of Greenpeace's attempt to frustrate the building of a third runway at Heathrow by selling off numerous small plots of land to different owners, I said:
I do remember Friends of the Earth trying to use a similar tactic to prevent a road being built across Otmoor in Oxfordshire and getting nowhere.
It turns out that the motorway in question was an extension of the M40. And it was not built across Otmoor after all.

Was this due to Friends of the Earth's tactics? The Alice's Meadow website claims it was:

In order to construct the motorway, all the land along the route needed to be compulsorily purchased. In addition, the complete compulsory purchase procedure, (including valuation, identification of the landowner, service of compulsory purchase order, notice period etc; and all possible stages of appeal) needed to be followed for each individual plot of land.

With each appeal having the potential for being a re-run of the original enquiry (which it had already lost) this was intended to make the compulsory purchase of the 3,500 plots of Alice's Meadow a very unattractive prospect for the government.

To further frustrate the development, the purchasers of the campaign plots were encouraged to subdivide and sell on their land. This greatly increased the total number of plots, and therefore the difficulty in contacting and dealing with the landowners - many of whom lived abroad.

In December 1984, just over a year after Alice's Meadow was sold off, the government began it's U-turn, announcing that although the motorway was needed, the route would have to be looked at again. Just 11 months later, in November 1985, the government's preferred route was withdrawn, and a version of the objector's route, which had been recommended by the 1982/3 inquiry was adopted. The battle to save Otmoor had been won.

Whatever the truth of this, Alice's Meadow is now a valuable nature reserve. Read more about it in a Daily Telegraph article.

Greenpeace selling plots of land at Heathrow

The Times has news of a new tactic against the building of a third runway at Heathrow:

Greenpeace has bought a field the size of a football pitch and plans to invite protesters to dig networks of tunnels across it, similar to those built in the ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the Newbury bypass in 1996. The group also plans to divide the field into thousands of tiny plots, each with a separate owner. BAA, the airport's owner, would be forced to negotiate with each owner, lengthening the compulsory purchase process.
The Greenpeace website suggests that dividing up the land between numerous owners is not as easy as it sounds:

As legal owners of this plot we will take the opportunity to oppose airport expansion at every stage in the planning process. We're joined on the deeds by Oscar winning actress Emma Thompson, comedian Alistair McGowan and prospective Tory parliamentary candidate Zac Goldsmith. Along with Greenpeace UK, that's the maximum number of owners we can put on the deed, but you can sign up to add your name and stand beside us to resist all attempts of a compulsory purchase of the land.

You'll be joining beneficial owners who've already signed-up including local Labour MP John McDonnell, Tory frontbench spokeswoman Justine Greening, Lib Dem MP Susan Kramer, environmentalist George Monbiot and acclaimed climate scientist and Royal Society Research Fellow Dr Simon Lewis.

Whatever their intentions, I wish Greenpeace well with this. Though I do remember Friends of the Earth trying to use a similar tactic to prevent a road being built across Otmoor in Oxfordshire and getting nowhere.

St Mary in Arden, Market Harborough

Unmitigated England has a photograph of this little ruined church near Market Harborough railway station.

There is more about St Mary in Arden at Bowden Before the Conquest:
In his History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester John Nichols tells us that until about 1660 St Mary had a tower and spire, presumably of a similar style and scale to St Dionysius' church in Market Harborough. It appears that this was damaged in an earthquake in 1626 and it seems it finally collapsed in a severe storm in about 1658 and destroyed, or rendered unsalvageable, the rest of the medieval church. It remained in this state until about 1694 when it was rebuilt in its current form.

Arab parties banned from Israeli general election

The BBC reports:
Israel's election authorities have voted to ban two of the three main Arab political parties from running in next month's general elections.

The Central Election Committee (CEC)voted overwhelmingly to ban the United Arab List-Ta'al (UAL-Ta'al) and Balad, accusing them of supporting terrorism.

An MP for UAL-Ta'al said the move was racist and he would appeal against it.

Arabs make up about a fifth of Israel's population and hold seven of 120 seats in the Knesset, or parliament.
The Daily (Maybe) has more.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Craig Murray's new book available from his website as a PDF

On Friday I wrote about Craig Murray's new book The Catholic Orangemen of Togo and linked to a posting on his blog that gave details of how to buy a hard copy.

Craig has now made the book freely available from his website as a PDF too. More details on his blog again.

Britblog Roundup 204

Suzblog presents the not so chirpy edition.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Martha and the Muffins: Echo Beach

After a hard day delivering Liberal Alliance leaflets for some by-election candidate in the 1980s I would retire to the pub. In those days Echo Beach always seemed to be on the jukebox, but this is a live version recorded at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, in 1980.

Martha and the Muffins turn out to have been a Canadian band. And in the days when they recorded Echo Beach there were two members called Martha: Martha Johnson and Martha Ladly.

Hence, no doubt, the old Canadian proverb: "Too many Marthas and not enough Muffins."