Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Times offered one million MP receipts for £300,000

From tomorrow's issue of The Times:

A businessman offered to sell the details of every expense claim made by MPs over the past five years to The Times for £300,000. Similar approaches have also been made to other national newspapers.

He said that scans of a million receipts claimed as part of MPs’ £24,000 second-home allowance had been “inadvertently” duplicated by the parliamentary authorities.

The businessman, whose company is based in the City, said that he was offering the politically sensitive information because he believed that it was in the public interest. When he made clear that he was expecting money, The Times turned down the offer.

When the Harrods lion cub met James Bond and Emma Peel

Forget MPs' expenses and the brouhaha in the Commons. The story everyone wants to read about (judging by Statcounter) is Christian the lion from Harrods.

So here are some more memories of his adventures in the Swinging Sixties, as recounted in the Evening Standard:
Christian proved boisterous, affectionate and playful and became a local celebrity. "A pregnant Mia Farrow came in and played with Christian," says Rendall. "She wasn't at all scared. Nor was Diana Rigg, but, hey, she's an Avenger!"

Unfortunately, their fellow Australian, 007 star George Lazenby, was too scared to come into the shop when he spotted Christian in the window. "I know, big butch George," sniffs Rendall.

The shorter George Monbiot

In order to save the countryside we must destroy it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Three journalists arrested at Commons reception hosted by Eric Pickles

STOP PRESS: Paul Waugh knows who was arrested.

Sky News reports:

Sky News political correspondent Jon Craig said Conservative sources had told him the two men and one woman were journalists.

"Police broke up what the Conservatives have told me was a domestic," he said.

"There are cells in the House of Commons and they could be held there for some time.

"My understanding is that these people are under arrest still.

Craig added that the Tory chairman was likely to be hugely embarrassed by the incident.

Pickles is the man who kept telling us that "the House of Commons runs like clockwork".

Later. The Northern Echo adds:

Police used CS spray to break up a fight in the Houses of Parliament tonight, sources said.

It is understood that guests of an official passholder began scuffling shortly after 9.15pm.

Police officers were unable to stop them fighting and one used their CS spray. According to reports, three people were arrested.

Eric Pickles defends his second home on Question Time

Here is Eric Pickles' legendary performance from Question Time last week. Note his assurance that the fact he sometimes has to be in Westminster for 9.30 entirely justifies his being bought a second home at public expense.

Bear in mind too that Pickles was promoted to leaven the Cameroons with some Northern common sense. He was meant to be rough, tough and gruff from somewhere like Brough (and to have eaten several cream puffs).

I fear that the way Pickles crashes and burns here is symptomatic of the way the entire political class is becoming distanced from the large majority of the people they are elected to serve.

Thanks to Lib Dem Voice.

Jacqui Smith's sleeping arrangements

The front page of today's Guardian tells us:
Smith, who employs her husband on a salary of £40,000 a year to run her office, was said to be "mortified" after she was forced to apologise for the claim. A close friend of Smith's said Timney would be "sleeping on the sofa for a while. To say she's angry with her husband is an understatement."
But a "close friend" of Smith's would know that she spends most evenings in her sister's spare bedroom in London. That means her husband is free to sleep wherever he chooses in the family's second home in Redditch.

Once you start telling lies, you need a good memory.

Britblog Roundup 215

The latest roundup is in place at Is there More to Life than Shoes?

Fred Titmus and Rutland

I picked up a secondhand copy of Fred Titmus's autobiography on Saturday. Fans of Half Man Half Biscuit will be disappointed to learn that it is not called Fuckin' 'Ell, it's Fred Titmus but the prosaic My Life in Cricket.

You can read a brief summary of his long career here - he won 53 Test caps over 19 years and played county cricket in five decades, between 1949 and 1982.

Beyond that he did not get on with Mike Brearley or Geoff Boycott and was evacuated to Rutland and Leicester as a little boy during World War II.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rolling Stones: Let's Spend the Night Together

It's the 1960s. London is swinging and lion cubs play in the King's Road.

Here are the Rolling Stones in 1967, with Brian Jones on piano. As one of the comments on Youtube says "Let's Spend the Night Together" makes "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" seem very tame. In fact, at least according to Wikipedia, the suggestive lyrics have on occasion got the Stones into trouble:
In one of the more famous examples of musical censorship, on The Ed Sullivan Show, the band was initially refused permission to perform the number. Sullivan himself told Jagger, "Either the song goes or you go". 
A compromise was reached to substitute the words "let's spend some time together" in place of "let's spend the night together"; Jagger agreed to change the lyrics but ostentatiously rolled his eyes at the TV camera whilst singing them. 
In April 2006, for their first-ever performance in China, authorities prohibited the group from performing the song due to its "suggestive lyrics".
Discussing the extraordinary flowering of British music in the 1960s once before, I mentioned that many prominent pop musicians of the decade had song in church choirs when they were young. Brian Jones is one of those I mentioned, but there is a better example in the Stones.

Unlike the Lib Dem peer Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Keith Richards did not, as is sometimes claimed, sing at the Queen's Coronation. But he remembered his boyhood like this in an Independent interview in 1995:
Did he remember being a choirboy? He bridles with pride. "Albert Hall, Festival Hall and once at Westminster Abbey singing in front of the Queen. Frankly, my career's gone downhill ever since."

Christian the lion cub from Harrods

I have just been watching a repeat of the documentary The Lion Cub from Harrods through the snow on Channel 5. You can view it on the station's website.

There is also a book on him: A Lion Called Christian. And the Youtube clip that made him famous again after 40 years is here (but turn the sound down).

Now read about Christian's famous friends.

Nigel Griffiths fails to silence the News of the World

Nigel Griffiths failed to get an injunction against the News of the World earlier today, with the result that the newspaper has another go at him this morning. In fact it does not seem to have much more dirt on him, so he would have done better to, er, keep his head down.

One fact does stand out in the News of the World report: Griffiths transferred 71 explicit photographs from his camera on to his laptop.

If Griffiths can do that, why aren't' MPs allowed to read Lembit Opik's columns?

Labour MP Harry Cohen claims a caravan on Mersea Island is his main residence

According to the Mail on Sunday:

Cohen has claimed every single penny of the maximum £104,701 in Commons expenses in the past five years for his £375,000 property in his Leyton and Wanstead constituency in East London, on the basis that it is his 'second home'.

Astonishingly, he says he has claimed the full second-home allowance since 1990.

It means he has pocketed a staggering £310,714 in total - believed to be the largest amount ever claimed by any MP.

Yet he declares on his Labour website that he and wife Ellen 'live' in Leyton and 'spend weekends at their static caravan' on Mersea Island, an unspoilt stretch of the East Anglian coast.

If his real main residence is the Leyton house, it means his Commons allowance has funded a holiday home completely unconnected with either his parliamentary or constituency duties.

More on Mersea Island here. And Musings from a Muddy Island is a good blog, though it has no connection with Harry Cohen.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Victorian ghost captured on Google Street View

And it's in Torchwood country too. More on the Daily Telegraph site.

Boringly, The Register proves that it is just a woman in fancy dress.

There's still time to win The Rotten State of Britain

The latest Liberal England quiz closes at 23:59 on Wednesday 1 April 2009. To win one of three copies of Eamonn Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain, just email me the answers to the following five questions:
  1. In which town was Adam Smith born?

  2. Which Scottish Football League team plays its home games there?

  3. Who was arrested outside the entrance to Downing Street on 18 June 2006 for carrying a placard saying: "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act"?

  4. What is the name of the proposed government database that will hold details of every child in England?

  5. Who was appointed to head the Better Hospital Food project in 2000? (Correct spelling please.)

Meanwhile at Lolcats

see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Friday, March 27, 2009

House Points: Joan Ruddock, Nigel Griffiths and the Met's Ironic Squad

Just after I had sent this off to Cowley Street, Liberal Democrat Voice posted Tony McNulty's attack on benefit thieves". There is a case for the Ironic Squad if ever there was one.

Henry Porter's Guardian piece is here, and the most ludicrous skirmish in the police's war on chalk was that with five-year-old Ryan Badland from Burnham-on-Sea.

Ironic times

Writing on the Guardian website, Henry Porter complained about the arrest of a 23-year-old student. Paul Saville was collared by four police officers after chalking "Liberty: the right to question. The right to ask: 'Are we free?"' on the pavement. He is now awaiting trial for criminal damage.

It is not an isolated case either. There have been several reports of children being threatened with legal action for doing t"hings like drawing hopscotch grids in the street.

Though it’s hard to avoid the thought that Saville is a little old for this sort of thing, the police reaction was ridiculous. Don’t they have more important business to attend to? And what is wrong with saying “Who do we think we are, sir? Jean-Jacques Rousseau?”

Porter complained that the police betrayed “a lack of irony”. But I’m not sure the police do irony. Certainly, it’s not something they test for in new recruits.

Still, maybe the Met should have an Ironic Squad. It could be called in if someone, say, fell from the roof and broke a leg while trying to break into the Health and Safety Executive.

And if there were such a squad, it would have lifted two MPs in the past few days.

The first is Joan Ruddock, the minister who blocked David Heath’s Fuel Poverty Bill on Friday. She complained it took an “absolutist position”.

I’m not sure what good side of fuel poverty she had in mind, but let’s not forget that Joan Ruddock began her political career as chair of the unilateralist Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s.

The other suspect for the Ironic Squad is Nigel Griffiths. Last November the Labour MP for Edinburgh South was annoyed the Tories had taken Labour by surprise and forced a debate on the pre-budget report. He began his point of order with “Is it in order for MPs to pile into chamber…” and was laughed at from all sides.

It now turns out from the News of the World that, in the same month, Griffiths used his office... Well, let’s just say his career would be looking a lot healthier if he had spent more time in the Commons chamber.

Oh, the irony!

The Boat That Rocked, Richard Curtis and Tony Benn

Richard Curtis has a new film out. The Boat That Rocked deals with the pirate radio stations of the 1960s.

I don't know much about it, but as The Boat That Rocked is a Richard Curtis film it will star Hugh Grant, an American woman and somebody with an obvious physical disability. There will be a race across London, followed by a happy ending.

An article in the Guardian gives the historical background to the film. The pirate radio stations were hated by government, and the minister who forced them to close was Labour's postmaster general Anthony Wedgwood Benn.

As the DJ Johnnie Walker says:
"He's morphed into everybody's favourite wise uncle ... But back then he was this wild-eyed, maniacal, fearsome, controlling character. If you see any footage of him being interviewed, he looks like he's on speed."
Does Richard Curtis show this in the film?

Of course not. Attacking Tony Benn would be social death in the circles Curtis moves in. So he tells the Guardian:
"When I tried to write a more Labour thing it didn't work," Curtis admits. "It didn't make sense in story terms, so I ended up moving back towards a more authoritarian figure with a moustache."
Still, the article does mention one of the more colourful Liberal candidates of the 1950s: Oliver Smedley. Read more his raid on Shivering Sands fort at The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The blogging news

The Guido vs Draper mudfight took place on The Politics Show today. I am in an internet cafe in Leicester and the video does not work for me, so I have not watched it yet. From the still, neither participant is an advertisement for blogging as a healthy lifestyle.

In connection with this contest, Draper has slammed Guido and Guido has slammed Draper.

Elsewhere, Mark Pack has got a new job and is leaving Cowley Street. Congratulations to him, but whatever shall we do, O Lord?

And congratulations to two denizens of my blogroll - Iain Dale and Alix Mortimer - on being shortlisted for the blogging category of the Orwell Prize.

This just in: Guido blinks.

Liberal England reveals censorship of MPs' web use at Westminster

At least I think this revelation is down to me.

The BBC reports:
MPs are prevented from surfing the internet for pornographic and other "inappropriate" material in their Commons offices.
And one of the pages deemed inappropriate by the authorities is the one on the Daily Sport site which archives Lembit Opik's columns for that organ. I suspect it is the accompanying funbags.

The BBC says this censorship was brought to his attention by fellow Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders.

And how did Adrian discover it?

Judging by his comments on the post, it was when he tried to access Lembit's columns after reading this blog.

Looking at pornographic websites would be less damaging than many of the things MPs do, but I suppose they should pay for their pleasures like the rest of us.

Back to the Pennsylvania juvenile justice scandal

Back in February I began to write about the scandal in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. There two judges have admitted taking money from the operators of private juvenile detention facilities in return for providing them with a stream of new inmates.

The first post is here and you can find them all here.

Pennlive.com explains another twist in the scandal: familes were charged for their children's imprisonment:

Overwhelmed parents, many of whom had no legal counsel, were given an assessment to pay for the room and board of their children while they were staying at the two detention centers run by PA Child Care and a related company, Western PA Child Care, that are under cloud.

The money was collected by the county, which then pays for juvenile detention services. As Robert Schwartz of the Juvenile Law Center said, families essentially helped finance the alleged corrupt system that was keeping their children locked up.

And the website goes on to say:
The ripple effects from the judges' decisions have had an enormous financial impact on families. Many were already on the edge of a steep cliff living paycheck to paycheck and quickly fell off it once they were required to make support payments.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Time to fire The Apprentice?

Welcome back to The Apprentice - the reality show where you wish they could all lose.

Nothing on television is real, so it is best not to take the show too seriously. But I stand by what I wrote last month:
the macho view of business propagated in popular television programmes like The Apprentice and Dragons' Den is harmful. Liberals should support the establishment of more cooperative forms of organisation - as indeed we used to do.
In that post I argued that macho management is harmful because it is irrational. There can be no learning from experience where people are to scared to admit to error or suggest that things could be improved.

There is also the point that it appears to produce monsters.

Here is the Guardian on Roger Jenkins, the £40m a year head of Barclays Capital Structured Capital Markets:

While Jenkins's work is the cause of much controversy, those who have worked closely with him are agreed on one matter: his management style can best be described as somewhat abrasive. There is talk of a climate of fear at SCM, where those who do not come up to scratch are dismissed.

One source who is very familiar with SCM's work describes how one hapless new employee made the mistake of going to Jenkins's office to introduce himself on his first morning. Jenkins bellowed at the man to "fuck off", and then shunned him for some time. "He hadn't realised that one doesn't go to Jenkins's office unless invited," says the source.

And here is the Times on Fred Goodwin:

Staff lived in terror of invoking the wrath of Goodwin and his colleagues. On one occasion, catering staff were sent an e-mail from senior managers warning that incorrect presentation of tea and biscuits was a disciplinary offence. Headed “Rogue Biscuits”, it railed about the mistaken inclusion of pink wafers in a biscuit selection for executives’ afternoon tea.

A worker who toppled off a ladder while cleaning windows in Goodwin’s office, breaking a small model aeroplane as he fell, received little sympathy from RBS high command. Despite his having written a note of apology to Goodwin, staff simply “went into panic mode” over how to fix the toy.

Can a system that allows such creatures to flourish really be good for us? And before you quote Adam Smith at me, remember that he also wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Still, as Norfolk Blogger says, The Apprentice is only an entertainment show.

The Great Liberal England Book Quiz: A reminder

Don't forget to enter my competition to win one of three copies of Eamonn Butler's The Rotten State of Britain.

The book has been reviewed by Stumbling and Mumbling:

The Rotten State of Britain aspires to be The State We’re In for the 00s. It’s not - and not just because it is a much easier read than Hutton’s tome.

Whereas his was a narrative about our economy and society, most of The Rotten State of Britain is a series of attacks upon New Labour’s failures, with chapters such as “spin“, “snoopers“ and “nannies“. Naturally, some of these hit their targets better than others. Butler is good on civil liberties and the absurdities of red tape. And I think he‘s wise to not pin the blame for the banking crisis (which he scarcely mentions) upon the government.

However, his whinges about “multicturalism” and “Winterval” suggest he’s overdosed on the Daily Mail.

Read Lembit Opik's Daily Sport columns online

Click the picture and enjoy.

Thanks to a tweet from James Graham.

Tony McNulty wins Quote of the Day

Thanks to Lib Dem Voice:
Tony McNulty, Minister of State of Employment and Welfare Reform, said: “Benefit thieves have to understand that they will not get away with it. Working together with local authorities and the police we have a range of powers to investigate and with the support of the public we bring benefit thieves to justice.”
Liberal England says: Give us our money back, Tone.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Heather Kidd wins Countryside Alliance Grassroots Award

Heather Kidd, Lib Dem PPC for Ludlow and the leader of the party group on South Shropshire District Council, has won the Countryside Alliance's Grassroots Award for local political campaigning.

The Countryside Alliance website quotes its chief executive Simon Hart:

“Cllr Kidd has been honoured for her extensive work locally and nationally for rural housing. She has worked for the Rural Housing Commission and on all recent national housing reviews. She has campaigned for bus services, local schools and has also led the local fight for Post Offices. Her energy and commitment to her community make her a worthy winner of this inaugural award.”
An example of Heather's work is South Shropshire District Council's small shop grant scheme, from which Stiperstones shop and post office has benefited.

The spread of high-visibility vests

Not long ago there was controversy over government plans to make offenders on community service orders wear high-visibility vests.

But, as Curly's Corner Shop points out, this requirement is rapidly being imposed upon anyone who works out of doors:

We had passed three “lollipop ladies”, two street cleaners, four delivery men, three window cleaners, one telephone repair man, and two satellite dish installers, all dressed in the uniform of HM Prison Great Britain and glumly wearing their yellow jackets.

Bloody hell, I thought, this must be what it’s like in an open prison, and woe betide anyone who dares to go without, and I wondered just how many years away is the regulation that states that ALL members of the public must wear a high visibility vest when venturing out of doors?

Ada Lovelace

Jennie Rigg and Alison Wheeler tell us that today is Ada Lovelace Day. Apparently, you are meant to mark it by drawing attention to a woman who has excelled in technology.

I am afraid that, unlike Jennie and Alison, I do not know enough about technology to do that. But I can tell you about Ada Lovelace.

Ada was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, but she never met her father, who died in Greece when she was seven. Perhaps wishing her daughter to be unlike her poetical father, her mother Lady Byron saw to it that Ada received tutoring in mathematics and music. And she had a remarkable aptitude for such subjects, producing a design for a flying machine when she was only 12.

Ada and Lady Byron moved in elite London society, and there she met Charles Babbage, Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge. Babbage had invented his Difference Engine, an early calculating machine.

Babbage made plans in 1834 for a new Analytical Engine, but his Parliamentary sponsors refused to support it because the Difference Engine was unfinished. Babbage found support abroad.

In 1842 the Italian mathematician Louis Menebrea published a work in French on the subject of the Analytical Engine. Babbage enlisted Ada to translate for it. During a nine-month period in 1842-3 she worked on the article and a set of notes that she appended to it. Those notes are the foundation of her reputation.

According to Women in Science:
Ada called herself "an Analyst (& Metaphysician)," and the combination was put to use in the Notes. She understood the plans for the device as well as Babbage but was better at articulating its promise. She rightly saw it as what we would call a general-purpose computer. It was suited for "developping [sic] and tabulating any function whatever. . . the engine [is] the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity." Her Notes anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music.
In 1835 Ada married William King. When King inherited a title in 1838, they became the Earl and Countess of Lovelace. They had three children.

Ada died of cancer in 1852 at the age of 37. She was buried beside the father she never knew in Hucknall church.

To be honest, most of this is cribbed from the Women in Science article, but I did come across Ada when writing about Newstead Abbey and the Robin Hood Line.

I suppose I have to record that the Babbage Pages accord her a less prominent role in the history of computing:
It is often suggested that Ada was the world's first programmer. This is nonsense: Babbage was, if programmer is the right term. After Babbage came a mathematical assistant of his, Babbage's eldest son, Herschel, and possibly Babbage's two younger sons. Ada was probably the fourth, fifth or six person to write the programmes. Moreover all she did was rework some calculations Babbage had carried out years earlier. Ada's calculations were student exercises. Ada Lovelace figures in the history of the Calculating Engines as Babbage's interpretress, his `fairy lady'. As such her achievement was remarkable.
But what do they know?

The 1970s Diet

One of my new favourite blogs is Crying All the Way to the Chip Shop.

Its writer londonlee, noting how much thinner people were in the 1970s despite the awful food we ate, suggests:
maybe the next slimming fad should be "The 1970s Diet": wake up in a freezing cold flat, walk five miles to work, stand on your feet in a factory all day, carry your shopping home from the supermarket, eat a pile of spam fritters, instant mash and processed peas for tea, have a big bowl of Angel Delight, smoke twenty Rothman's, and the weight will just fall off.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Database State: The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust report

This report has received a lot of press coverage today. You can find an executive summary and the whole report on the Trust's website.

I also recommend a post on Lib Dem Voice by James Graham.

Do too many baths cause eczema in children?

The BBC reports:

A paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine says eczema is thought to be a trigger for other allergic conditions.

GP records of over 9m patients were used by researchers to assess how many people have the inflammatory skin disorder.

It showed that by 2005, one in nine of the population had, at some point, been affected by eczema.

The highest rate was in boys aged between five and nine.

An Englishman's Castle, ceasing upon the report's suggestion that one explanation for the rise is increased frequency of bathing and use of soap and detergents, declares:
Poor bloody kids, boys between the age of five and nine should only have a brief passing acquaintance with soap and water, it is all part of the feminisation of childhood.
This blog is all in favour of traditional urchins. And I have long been struck by the way that childcare advice takes it as axiomatic that every child will have a bath every day.

Take the BBC's own parenting pages:
Routines help children feel secure and there'll be less need for conflict if they expect things to happen in a certain way or at a particular time. For example, they'll (eventually) know it's bedtime after they've had a bath and brushed their teeth.
When and why did this strange assumption become universal?

Ernest Millington and the Association of Former MPs

A recent discovery of mine is the website of the Association of Former Members of Parliament, which is hosted by ePolitix.

The plight of former MPs is not one to attract public sympathy, but they can have a hard time. In a Guardian article in 2004 Michael White quoted Joe Ashton:
"It's not like losing your job in a factory, when everyone loses their job and rallies round. You may be living in a rural area, no contacts, no way to keep in touch. You can be lonely and isolated, your kids may be slagged off at school or even taken out of private school if you're a Tory. If you claim benefit the local paper gets to hear about it."
And White went on to say:
When Labour was defeated in 1979, 38 ex-MPs had not found a job after a year. In 1997 it was the Tories' turn: 126 lost their seats. Familiar stories of depression and drink, debt and divorce, began circulating.
One of the purposes of the Association is to help people in this position.

Its website includes free PDF copies of its newsletter. The most recent of these - Spring 2009 - includes an article about Ernest Millington, the last former MP alive who was elected before the 1945 general election.

There is more about Millington on Wikipedia, and he published his memoirs, Was That Really Me?, a few years ago.

The article in the Association of Former MPs' website is written by Roy Roebuck, who Labour MP for Harrow East between 1966 and 1970 before being defeated by Hugh Dykes.

The Jam: And Your Bird Can Sing

Because I was so knackered last night my Sunday video has become a Monday video - or a Monday audio to be more exact.

It is time to continue my way circling of The Beatles with another cover version. A year ago it was Across the Universe by Laibach: tonight it is The Jam.

In fact, an authoritative comment on Youtube suggests that this is not by The Jam so much as by Paul Weller. This is a demo version with him playing all the instruments. It reminds you that his demo is the classic version of That's Entertainment.

Whoever is playing on it, it comes from The Jam CD Extras. And very good it sounds too.

Maybe one day I will listen to the original version by The Beatles.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Britblog Roundup 214

This week's selection of the best in British blogging is at Suz Blog.

Vince Cable interviewed by Dominic Lawson

It's not quite the Harborough Mail, but there is an interview with the Lib Dem shadow chancellor in the Sunday Times today:
Cable, in fact, seems a man hardly able to believe his luck, after long periods of professional struggle and personal pain: “Yes, a lot of good things have happened. It isn’t just the politics. I lost my wife and now found a lovely lady and I am very, very happy. Life’s worked out well. Some people are lucky. I’ve been very lucky.”

Sex, sleaze and scandal from the Sunday papers

News of the World: Top Labour MP in Commons Remembrance Day Romp Shock

(Makes this seem even funnier now.)

Mail on Sunday: Minister Claims £60,000 Expenses on Parents' Home Shock

Observer: RBS Directors Bullied [Liberal England says: Poor babies] to Stop Them Curbing "Sir" Fred Goodwin

Sunday Times: Minister in Charge of Stamping Out Corporate Tax Avoidance Used to Chair Business in Tax Haven

Independent: Naked Children Shown on Google Street View

Iain Dale tweets: Paper Review [for BBC News Channel] put back to 11.30. Yasmin [Alibhai-Brown] and I are not pleased. They're also trying to gag us on the Indy front page on Google Earth.

A quiet day then.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Win The Rotten State of Britain

Here is your chance to win a copy of Eamonn Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain.

Just email me the answers to the following five questions before 23:59 on Wednesday 1 April 2009:

  1. In which town was Adam Smith born?

  2. Which Scottish Football League team plays its home games there?

  3. Who was arrested outside the entrance to Downing Street on 18 June 2006 for carrying a placard saying: "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act"?

  4. What is the name of the proposed government database that will hold details of every child in England?

  5. Who was appointed to head the Better Hospital Food project in 2000? (Correct spelling please.)
There are three copies of the book to be won.

This quiz is not open to employees of the Bonkers Hall Estate, nor to current or former inmates of the Bonkers' Home for Well-Behaved Orphans.

Headline of the Day

The winner is

[X-Factor-esque pause]

The Daily Telegraph for:

Injured Judi Dench withdraws from Madame de Sade

The "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks still thrives

Enjoy it here.

I am reminded of an observation from David Cook's novel Second Best:
What did I suppose "good parents" were like? The woman mimed quotation marks by lifting both arms into the air and twiddling her fingers. This was something I would later notice social workers doing frequently.

Twitter feeds for British train operators

Those nice people at East Midlands Trains have directed me to this page.

Health select committee evaluates Sure Start

In the past I have reported doubts about the effectiveness of the government's Sure Start programme.

The recent Commons health select committee report on health inequalities looked at this question. Here are its conclusions:

137. The early years period was emphasised throughout our inquiry as a crucial focus for efforts to tackle health inequalities, and we commend the Government for taking positive steps to place early years at the heart of the health inequalities agenda through Sure Start. Many witnesses were very positive about the benefits of Sure Start. National evaluation shows that it has enjoyed some success, but it has yet to demonstrate significant improvements in health outcomes for either children or parents, achieving positive evaluation in only 5 out of 14 measures that were studied.

138. Moreover, there is concern that extending this policy, via Children's Centres, to all areas of the country, risks distracting from the original focus of deprived families who are most in need of support. We did not receive detailed evidence about the evolution of Sure Start programmes into Children's Centres, but again this is a policy change that has not been properly piloted or evaluated prior to its introduction. It is absolutely essential that early years interventions remain focused on those children living in the most deprived circumstances, and Children's Centres must be rigorously monitored on an ongoing basis.

How far Sure Star has been a success matters because for Labour commentators like Polly Toynbee Sure Start is just about the one incontestably good thing this government has done. And the Liberal Democrat reaction to it has been very much "us too".

My own view is that where such schemes work it is because of remarkable individuals and particular local circumstances. If you reduce them to bullet points on PowerPoint slides and try to implement them everywhere you will be sorely disappointed.

Sadly, that is the way of proceeding that the select committee seems to favour.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Corden and Horne

I did not watch Corden and Horne. Judging by the Guardian's digest of the reviews, I did not miss much.

But the reason I did not watch it is that I was sick to death of seeing the trailers for it. It seemed to be advertised every time a programme ended on BBC1.

If you see anything trailed that often, you will be put off it. I ignored the third series of Little Britain for just the same reason.

By promoting its own product so relentlessly the BBC weakens the case against it taking commercial advertising.

And if it is so hard to persuade anyone to watch BBC3, maybe the corporation should save money and shut the channel down?

Vince Cable interviewed by the Harborough Mail

The Harborough Mail website has a video of an interview with Vince Cable.

It was recorded during his visit to the town yesterday.

House Points: Ricky Tomlinson and the Youth Parliament

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Student politics

If you watched Red Riding you will believe that life in the 1970s consisted of policemen beating people up in semi-darkness. But there was more to it than that – strikes, for instance.

In 1972 a group of trade unionists from the building industry were prosecuted after flying picketing around Shrewsbury and Telford turned to violence. Their leaders – Des Warren and Eric Tomlinson – were jailed on conspiracy charges and became known as “The Shrewsbury Two”.

The affair was controversial in its day, but would be long forgotten if Eric Tomlinson had not turned into the actor Ricky Tomlinson. As it is, the case was mentioned in the Commons on Monday.

Jim Devine, Labour MP for Livingston, said 60 people had attended a demonstration the previous Thursday. He complained that when they tried to enter the Palace of Westminster they were told to take their “Shrewsbury Two” T-shirts off.

Mr Speaker, a shop steward himself in those days, saw no reason why this should have happened and undertook to investigate.

As well as looking back on Monday, the Commons looked forward. It voted to allow the United Kingdom Youth Parliament to use the chamber for a meeting during the summer recess.

As the Labour MP Michael Jabez Foster said:

“Of course it is a privilege to be in this place. Every one of us, as we enter this building, appreciates that it is a place of great history and great precedent ... It has that history, but that adds to the reasons why young people should be encouraged and have the opportunity to take part.”

Only 16 MPs voted against the idea. A little surprisingly, two of them were Liberal Democrats. (Since you ask: Bob Russell and Jeremy Browne.)

I don’t know why they voted that way, but there is the argument that young people should be too busy learning to drink, getting laid or writing ripostes to their ludicrous novelist mothers in the Daily Mail to get involved in politics.

And the worry must be that the members of the Youth Parliament will whisper, giggle, catcall, pass notes to one another, shout across the chamber, play to the camera, stand up and bellow ... In short, that they will behave just like existing MPs.

Craig Murray to give evidence on torture to select committee

Craig Murray writes on his blog:

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has agreed to hear my evidence on torture on Tuesday 28 April at 1.45pm. Many thanks to everyone who helped lobby for this.

I am delighted, as I have been trying for over four years to lay the truth about British torture policy before Parliament. I will testify that as British Ambassador I was told there is a very definite policy to accept intelligence from torture abroad, and that the policy was instituted and approved by Jack Straw when Foreign Secretary. I will tell them that as Ambassador I protested formally three times in writing to Jack Straw, and that the Foreign Office told me in reply to my protests that this was perfectly legal.

I will prove my evidence with documentation.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Vince Cable and Chris Huhne in Market Harborough

It's been a big day for Market Harborough Liberal Democrats.

During the day we had a visit from Vince Cable, who addressed a local business forum and visited the site of the proposed Pennbury eco-town as part of our campaign against its construction.

Then, because Vince had to return to London to take part in Question Time, Chris Huhne came to speak at our annual dinner at the Angel Hotel, Market Harborough. I was busy at work during the day but did attend the dinner.

All this and Bill Newton Dunn too.

3D pavement art

Many more examples from Julian Beever and Kurt Wenner at Impact Lab.

Never Again by Terence O'Neill

I have written a few times about the death of Dennis O'Neill in 1945 on a remote farm in Shropshire. It was a case that scandalised the country - dominating the newspapers even above coverage of the war - and led directly to the reforms of the 1948 Children Act.

A member of the O'Neill family recently left a comment on one of those posts telling me that Dennis's brother Terry, who was with Dennis when he died, has written the story of his life. It is on the website Authonomy - it seems you have to register to read the books there - under the title Never Again.

This book is important not just for its account of events at Bank Farm but also for the picture it paints of public childcare in the immediate post-war years. I shall write about it at greater length one day.

The blurb for the book runs:

Born into a dysfunctional family of eight children, Terence and two brothers were taken into care in 1940, judged to be in need of care and protection. They were moved from Newport to Herefordshire and for a few short years things went well.

In 1944 things changed when the boys were separated, Terence and Dennis were handed over to the Gough’s on a remote Shropshire farm. Six months later Dennis was found dead, killed by starvation and violence. Both boys had suffered punishments and hunger.

Terence was the main prosecution witness at the manslaughter trial of the Gough’s. The trial aroused world wide attention, and took preference over the war news in March 1945. This was followed by a public enquiry into the care system chaired by Sir Walter Monckton, K.C. M.G. and led to the Children Act of 1948. The trial caught the interest of Agatha Christie who it is said based The Mousetrap the world famous play on this tragedy.

Terence still has difficulty with his memories and the fact that similar tragedies are still happening. He tells of his struggle to cope with ordinary life after spending thirteen years being shunted about in the care system.

Coming soon: A chance to win The Rotten State of Britain

In 2007 Liberal England we gave you a chance to win a DVD of the film Taking Liberties.

Now those nice people at Gibson Square have sent me three copies of Eamonn Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain as prizes in a new quiz. The questions will be posted here in a couple of days.

Butler is head of the Adam Smith Institute and the organisation's website describes his book as follows:

Will Hutton's The State We're In famously shredded the record of the Thatcher-Major governments. Now Eamonn Butler shows how – after a decade of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – the state of Britain has become very much worse than it ought to be.

Corporate publishers rejected Butler's picture of Britain as too cataclysmic and not worth publishing. But now, as the country slides into its worst recession in 70 years, his book The Rotten State of Britain (Gibson Square Books) shows for the first time exactly why Britain is in a worse state than any of the major world economies, how its democracy has been undermined by stealth, and why today's politicians are incapable of finding honest solutions to the problems that they themselves have created.

As an economist and Westminster insider, Dr Butler initially thought New Labour seemed purposeful and businesslike. They promised a new, open kind of government to repair Britain.

Two years later, though, he had become completely disillusioned. New Labour’s words were not backed up by deeds. From his vantage point at the Adam Smith Institute, he started to gather the material that is the basis of this deeply-researched book.

Gordon Brown's obsessive focus on central targets, and his party's willingness to subvert the apparatus of the state for its own party advantage perverted the state over the course of a decade. By stealth a new form of centralized and authoritarian government has been created that is the worst in Britain’s recent history.

Dr Butler scrutinises all aspects of our society and examines the political system, the sleaze, the justice system, the draconian powers the police and public officials have been given under the New Labour government, the surveillance and nanny state, public service bureaucracy and spending, the economy and how we need checks and balances to restrain our political leaders and the unelected advisors who actually control our lives.

Tory and Labour Idiot of the Day

From the Welwyn & Hatfield Times:

A former councillor who branded Liberal Democrat policy as a bigger danger to children than a baby rapist has said sorry.

Sam Smith had caused uproar after posting comments on an internet forum run by Tory MP Grant Shapps

Yes, Smith is a former councillor. A former Labour councillor.

And this is not the first time Grant Shapps has had problems with a web forum.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

London Olympics will not inspire inactive people to take up sport

Professor Mike Weed, quoted in a Department of Health press release:
In particular, evidence suggests that elite sport rarely motivates physical activity take-up among non-participants and the least active.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The other day Spy Blog complained about the Metropolitan Police's new anti-terrorism campaign. It includes a poster with the wording: "A bomb won't go off here because weeks before a shopper reported someone studying the CCTV cameras."

As Spy Blog says:

There is no evidence that any Islamic extremist or Irish terrorists or Animal Rights extremists or neo-Nazi extremists, who have exploded, or tried to explode bombs, or set off incendiary devices, have been deterred from doing so by the presence of CCTV cameras. Some may have been tracked down partially through the help of CCTV footage, after their attacks or attempted attacks, but that is not what this poster is implying.

There is no evidence that any of them who have actually had access to any explosives, have ever been caught in the act of "terrorist reconnaissance" of CCTV cameras, neither by members of the public (which is what this poster misleadingly claims), nor by regular Police street patrols, nor even by any covert surveillance of known suspects.

Since you do not need any equipment to check out where public CCTV cameras are, just your eyes and your memory, it is unlikely that any real terrorism or criminal reconnaissance of CCTV camera systems will ever be detected in the way that this poster implies.

This poster is just Climate of Fear propaganda, and it will no doubt be used to justify the harassment of photographers taking photos, perfectly legally in public places, which have been infested with CCTV spy cameras, something for which there is plenty of evidence for.

Well said.

I wrote about my own modest experience of facing terrorism in the wake of the 7/7 bombings:
I lived in London for a couple of years in the 1980s, working for some of the time in the big department stores at the height of an IRA bombing campaign. When there was a bomb warning - and they were almost daily events - we each searched our own little part of the building and then carried on with business as usual.
So I appreciated an article by Jon Henley in today's Guardian.

He writes about the popularity of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster and ends the article as follows:
Dr Lesley Prince, who lectures in social psychology at Birmingham University, is blunter still. "It is a quiet, calm, authoritative, no-bullshit voice of reason," he says.

"It's not about British stiff upper lip, really. The point is that people have been sold a lie since the 1970s. They were promised the earth and now they're worried about everything - their jobs, their homes, their bank, their money, their pension. This is saying, look, somebody out there knows what's going on, and it'll be all right".
This article appealed to me for another reason. I used to work with Les Prince when he helped out with the design of The Psychologist magazine.

I don't remember where I was when Mrs Thatcher resigned, but I do remember seeing her emerge from the British Embassy in Paris and surprise John Sargeant after the result of the first ballot was announced.

I was staying with Les and his family on the first evening of a two-day housing conference at Edgbaston cricket ground - I was a councillor in those days.

Poster from Keep Calm and Carry On.

Public Sector Job Title of the Day

Durham County Council has a "Deprivation of Liberty Project Manager".

You may not be surprised to learn that the London Borough of Hackney has one too.

The joy of blogging

I wander into Market Harborough one Saturday morning, come across a charity sale, buy an obscure DVD starring James Robertson Justice and write about it. Now that posting comes up on the first page if you Google "James Robertson Justice".

Incidentally, I seem to be on an early James Robertson Justice kick at the moment. I picked up a video of the Ealing drama Against the Wind in a Leicester charity shop on Saturday.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mark Prisk - the Tories' fictional minister

From the BBC News site:

A Conservative MP has been criticised for his behaviour as shadow minister for Cornwall given that there is no equivalent government post.

Mark Prisk, MP for Hertford and Stortford, was accused of breaking parliamentary convention by undertaking case work outside his own constituency.

Lib Dem MP Matthew Taylor queried the practice of shadowing a "fictional" minister but Mr Prisk did not respond.

The Speaker said it was wrong for MPs to "interfere" in other constituencies.

Liberal England says: You stupid Prisk.

Accounts assistant charged with stealing £150,000 from Scottish Tories

From the Scotsman:

Janet Perrie is alleged to have stolen cheques from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party while working as an accounts assistant for the party in Princes Street, Edinburgh between July 2005 and October 2007.

It is alleged Perrie, 53, wrote the cheques to herself and presented them at banks around Edinburgh and Lothians with false signatures, pretending they were genuine.

Perrie denies the charges and remains on bail.

Guido Fawkes and Derek Draper to wrestle in mud

From the BBC Daily Politics blog:
They have had a go at each other online and now two rival bloggers will face each other for the first time in the Daily Politics studio. 
The Battle of the Blogs will see Guido Fawkes and Derek Draper go up against each other on our Thursday 26 March programme.
It may be fun, but I wonder if this sort of presentation of blogging will do much for its reputation with the wider public.

Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines) and Draper do have one thing in common: both have been taken apart on Newsnight by a senior political journalist.

Staines' encounter with Michael White is well known, but I have fond memories of Draper being taken apart by a headmasterly Anthony Howard too.

I can't find a video of it, but it is described in this 1998 article from the Independent:
One of the most stinging rebukes delivered to Draper did not come from the Left, but from the respected Labour biographer and former New Statesman editor, Anthony Howard. He appeared on Newsnight, wearing black tie, to impose the full weight of his Gaitskellite moral authority on the delinquent whom he called "a pipsqueak" and an "unwise young man".

Liberal Democrats in EastEnders

Norfolk Blogger takes the BBC to task and to pieces for its ridiculous treatment of a council by-election in EastEnders. It's top blogging.

I rarely watch the programme myself, but I imagine a more realistic coverage would go like this:

Lib Dem Canvasser: Hello, I'm calling from the Liberal Democrat Focus Team. We are going round to get people's views on what needs doing around here.

EastEnder: What's that s'posed to mean?

Lib Dem Canvasser: I see there are some potholes in the square. I'll make a note of that and ask the council to repair them.

EastEnder: I can't believe I'm 'earing this.

Lib Dem Canvasser: Is there anything else we can do for you?

EastEnder: Mind the stall!

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

When the US Army came to Ditton Priors

Newsnight has been talking about relations between the French and US military in Afghanistan. In the past these have been frosty, particularly when De Gaulle withdrew France from the NATO integrated military command and threw the Americans out of the country.

The other day the Daily Mail reported a well-known tale from this episode:

In 1966, upon being told that Charles de Gaulle had taken France out of NATO and that all U.S. troops must be evacuated from French soil, President Lyndon Johnson told Secretary of State Dean Rusk: 'Ask him about the cemeteries, Dean!'

So, at end of the meeting, Dean asked de Gaulle if his order to remove all U.S. troops from French soil also included the 60,000 plus soldiers buried in France from World War I and World War II. De Gaulle never answered.

The effects of the expulsion were felt in rural Shropshire.

In 1939, as war loomed, the Admiralty had constructed a vast armaments depot at Ditton Priors in the remote country behind Brown Clee. It lasted until 1965, and the following year it was reopened to house American forces who had left France. They stayed only until 1968.

Today the site of the depot is partly occupied by an industrial estate, but there are remains to explore. And if you approach the area from the country end - along the trackbed of the Cleobury Mortimer & Ditton Priors Light Railway - you are still met by a forest of minatory signs.

Ditton Priors, incidentally, is a strange place. My theory when walking is the more remote the place, the more certain you are of finding accommodation. In town a B&B proprietor will simply turn you away. In the country they feel more responsible and do not want you frightening the animals, so they volunteer to phone someone down the road who takes in walkers sometimes.

My theory did not work in Ditton Priors - this is some years ago now. The pub said it had accommodation, but no one answered when I knocked. Eventually, as it came on to rain, a pretty red-haired girl opened an upstairs window and told me they did not do it any more.

So I tried the only bed and breakfast place in the village. They said they were full and made no effort to find me a bed somewhere else in Ditton Priors. Instead, they suggested I should walk to Burwarton. "It's only a mile," they said, when I could see from the map that it was three.

Eventually I arrived at the Boyne Arms. The landlady said they did not do bed and breakfast, but eventually she took pity on me and gave me a bed for the night. In any case, a couple I met in the bar were all for driving me to Bridgnorth, where there is plenty of accommodation. (West Midlanders are the friendliest people I know.)

I once read that they were still persecuting witches in this part of Shropshire until relatively recently.

About 1978, I should imagine.

Photo borrowed from Subterranea Britannica.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back to child abuse and Jersey

In November of last year I complained that British newspapers had ignored the publication of the Howard League report on youth justice in Jersey:
It seems that if there are no cellars or shackles in the story the press does now want to know.
I also asked, back in March 2008, why so many children had been in care there.

So respect to Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy for returning to the subject in a Guardian article last Saturday:

The alarm had been raised in 1979, following the death of a two-year-old at the hands of a foster parent. Two years later, visiting social workers David Lambert and Elizabeth Wilkinson, concerned that none of the proposed improvements had been put in place, launched a full-blown inspection.

Their confidential report, taking a broader look at Jersey society, concluded that while the island was reinventing itself as a haunt for jetsetters, there was a neglected group afflicted by a "high incidence of marital breakdown, heavy drinking, alcoholism and psychiatric illness". These problems were exacerbated by a small island mentality that demanded everyone "conform to acceptable public standards".

Children rebelled in small ways: dropping litter, swearing, facing down the police, having parties on the beach. On Jersey, all of these "offences" were, according to Lambert and Wilkinson, often sufficient to get a child into serious trouble. And once children had come to the attention of the police, it was almost inevitable that they would enter Jersey's care home system.

Without any provision for children to be bailed, most were incarcerated on remand, placed alongside children taken from their families, often for such reasons as "giving the mother a break".

In this rural backwater, one in 10 children had been in care, a ratio far higher than on the mainland

That is an extraordinary figure which, on its own, suggests there is something very wrong with the childcare system on the island.

Yet more Tory logo fun

The original Tory logo generator no longer works, but Blackburn Labour Party have set up one of their own.

They also have printed their top 10 Tory logos. The one above (which would be more grammatical if one were allowed more characters) does not feature in it.

Britblog Roundup 213

It's on the blog Mick Fealty writes for the Daily Telegraph.

As the late Ron Pickering used to say: "Ooh, it's enormous!"

Unmitigated England visits Bonkers Hall

He calls it Nevill Holt, but I think we all know what he means.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Elvis Costello: Radio Radio

With Youtube threatening to block UK access to its music videos, it is time to stop following tangents like Matt Monro and Carla Bruni. Back to serious music.

This grainy video of a live performance captures Elvis in his two-minute-single period, psychotic bank clerk period, when he was rumoured to be the only artist whose sales fell after he appeared on Top of the Pops. (For something more sophisticated try Man Out of Time or the recent When I was Cruel.)

Back in 1978 Elvis certainly was cruel. It his music and that of The Jam that reminds me most of my university years. Is it just me, or is the reputation of The Clash higher now than it was at the time?

Later. The original video disappeared, so here is a similar one.

Market Harborough: The 14th best place to live in Britain

Ros Scott and Mark Valladares are full of the fact that a Halifax survey has found that Mid Suffolk has the best quality of life in rural Britain.

Well, I'll have them know that the same survey found that Market Harborough is the best place to live outside the south east of England (the Leicester Mercury obviously interprets that concept broadly).

At which point I could go all provincial and point out that some of us like living here because it is not in the south east.

The eighth Carnvial on Modern Liberty

To be found at Amused Cynicism.

Baby P, Child M and anonymity

Congratulations to the Mail on Sunday for printing details of the serious case review into Baby P's death. Haringey Council has refused to publish it, and Ed Balls has supported its decision on the grounds that doing so might deter people from investigating into similar cases in future.

These grounds sounds spurious. Social services staff are always telling us how professional they are, yet this argument is predicated on the assumption that they will not behave professionally when things go wrong. And if we adopt Ed Balls' logic then we will never publish the results of any inquiry into anything.

The re-emergence of this case has made me think about the increasing tendency to keep children's identities secret. Like a number of bloggers, I started giving Baby P the dignity of real name - Peter - when discussing the case and the sky did not fall.

Is it for the child's sake? Not always.

Last week Chicken Yoghurt discussed the case of Child M:

Child M and his family are facing deportation to Iran, where it is likely that his mother, sister and brother will be imprisoned and risk the death penalty if they are made to return. The family also spent 52 days in Yarl’s Wood immigration centre over the summer of 2008. This experience affected the whole family detrimentally. Child M suffered from violent nightmares, ringworm and his hair started to fall out.
If you were fighting a campaign to help Child M and his family stay in Britain, the first things you would want to publicise would be his name and a photograph. But it appears that the law prevents campaigners from doing this. So anonymity is certainly not in Child M's interests here. Rather, it looks calculated to protect the interests of the government.

And it could soon get worse.

Just before Christmas many journalists welcomed Jack Straw's decision to open up the family court system to journalists - see the UK Press Gazette report, for instance. But they missed the small print.

For, as the Independent on Sunday's Matthew Bell revealed:
as of April, because of a change in legislation being introduced by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary ... it will ... be illegal for any children currently in care to speak out, even if they feel they are being maltreated.
Clearly, we need to question whose interests the anonymity of children involved in legal proceedings serves. It is not always those of the children themselves.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

From Jimmy Edwards to Jimi Hendrix

No career better displays the contrast between the counterculture of the 1960s and the era that preceded it than that of a child actor called John Mitchell.

He appeared in the Muir and Norden comedy series Whack-O! between 1956 and 1960, playing a schoolboy called Wendover. It was a role he reprised in the 1960 film of the series called Bottoms Up.

He was given that name so that the headmaster, played by the show's star Jimmy Edwards, could get a laugh by saying "Bend over, Wendover."

You see, in 1960 it was not just thought right that small boys should be caned: the practice was thought to have a humorous side too.

Whirligig TV describes Whack-O! thus:

Starred 'Professor' Jimmy Edwards as the conniving, cane-thrashing, horse-betting (and often drunken) Headmaster of Chiselbury School ('For the Sons of Gentlefolk') with his assistants Mr. Oliver Pettigrew, the science master, played by Arthur Howard who was also his long suffering assistant headmaster ... a twittering, hand-wringing bag of nerves. Mr. Halliforth was played by Edwin Apps. Also appearing was Gordon Phillott as Mr. Dinwiddie who was very ancient and deaf.

The headmaster was always dreaming up schemes to make money for his beer fund and thwacking young boys on the behind with his faithful old cane.

before helpfully directing us to a Youtube clip of the opening titles and a glimpse of Jimmy Edwards.

The series being written by Muir and Norden, no doubt there was more to it than the flagellation. I have read that Chiselbury's motto was "They Shall Not Pass," and the BBC Comedy website is quite complimentary:
Watching the series now is a little painful in one respect - we're too sensitive to find canings amusing - but it's right on the money in other ways, mainly because finding over privileged kids vile hasn't gone out of fashion.

And Jimmy Edwards was a fascinating figure. He served in the RAF during World War II, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was shot down at Arnhem in 1944 and needed plastic surgery for his injuries. He disguised the scars with a huge handlebar moustache that became his trademark.

He became a popular performer on radio and television and in the theatre. In the 1970s he was outed as gay, which badly affected his career. He died in Australia in 1988, at the age of 68, from an AIDS- related illness. (Later: But see the comments.)

Six years after Bottoms Up was released, Jimi Hendrix was brought to Britain by Chas Chandler. He helped Hendrix put together a new band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with the bass player Noel Redding and the drummer Mitch Mitchell. Here they are playing on the show Happening for Lulu.

As The Rock Hall says:

Jimi Hendrix expanded the range and vocabulary of the electric guitar into areas no musician had ever ventured before. Many would claim him to be the greatest guitarist ever to pick up the instrument. At the very least his creative drive, technical ability and painterly application of such effects as wah-wah and distortion forever transformed the sound of rock and roll.

Hendrix helped usher in the age of psychedelia with his 1967 debut, Are You Experienced?, and the impact of his brief but meteoric career on popular music continues to be felt.

And Mitch Mitchell played with Jimi Hendrix up until the guitarist died in 1970.

What, I hear you ask, is the connection with Jimmy Edwards?

The drummer Mitch Mitchell is the same person as the child actor John Mitchell who played Wendover in Whack-O! and Bottoms Up.

This fact is confirmed by Mitch Mitchell's obituary in the Independent - he died in November of last year, though the entry for John Mitchell on IMDB seems to have got mixed up with a later actor of the same name.

So had the counterculture vanquished the world where the beating of schoolboys was thought funny?

Not entirely. The year after Hendrix died, the slightly renamed Whacko! reappeared on BBC1. It was shot in colour and used revised scripts from the original series, but ran for only one season of 13 episodes (shown on Saturday after Grandstand, if I recall rightly.)

Today it is hard to say whether the world of Jimmy Edwards or of Jimi Hendrix is the more lost to us.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ed Balls may yet be saved

In today's Guardian Martin Kettle dissects the absurdity of Ed Balls' politics:

Faced with Lord Laming's report on Baby P, does one laugh or cry? The man who delivered a bureaucratic blizzard of 108 recommendations after Victoria ClimbiƩ's death and helped overload a system that failed Baby P was surely not the right man to think of 58 more.

But the reaction of Ed Balls, who appointed him, is even more bizarre. From his desk in Whitehall, the secretary for children, schools and families decrees that all social service directors must be sent off for retraining, as if they were disgraced Chinese officials sent back to the fields during the cultural revolution while Chairman Balls, who would certainly look good in the jacket and cap, acts the role of Mao Zedong.

This is Labour's centralist impulse at work on an almost demented scale.

And he looks like Piers Fletcher-Dervish too.

Yet Ed Balls has a heart and may yet be redeemed. For, asked about his childhood reading by the Wakefield Express a couple of years ago, he remembered:
a great series of kids' detective books by Malcolm Saville called the Lone Pine Adventures, which were all set in the Shropshire hills.