Thursday, April 30, 2009

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood on BBC4

From the BBC website:

Reunion concert by Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood at New York's Madison Square Garden in 2008. The rock legends took the stage together for just three concerts in a highly anticipated collaboration, performing a string of hits that included Blind Faith's Presence of the Lord and Can't Find My Way Home, in addition to Clapton's classic After Midnight and Winwood's Dear Mr Fantasy.

Both Winwood and Clapton have long and prestigious musical careers, with countless honours and awards to their names. Their musical paths connected in 1969 with the formation of Blind Faith, a supergroup that pioneered the fusion of rock and blues into tremendous studio and stage success.

Despite critical and popular acclaim, the band was short-lived with only one album and a brief 1969 tour that debuted on July 12th at Madison Square Garden and ended on August 24th in Hawaii. Since that final show, Winwood and Clapton have remained friends but had only performed together a few times over the years for an occasional song at a charity event.

The programme is being shown at 21:00 on 4 May - that's Bank Holiday Monday - and lasts an hour.

Clun Green Man Festival

Photo by Sabine J Hutchinson

The Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser looks forward to the Bank Holiday weekend:

Once again, Clun will host The Green Man Festival, its traditional May Bank Holiday event celebrating the arrival of spring, with outstanding music, family entertainment and a marvellous craft fair in the shadow of Clun Castle.

Following its successful music programme of last year, Clun Memorial Hall is hosting two major bands: The Popes, supported by Luke Day, on Saturday and the evergreen Wurzels on Sunday, with local band the Whisky River Boys ...

On Sunday, from noon, there will be free entertainment for all the family in Clun Square, and the now-famous Frost Queen’s Street Fair will include return visits from the Rhythm Maker and Swords of Chivalry; theatre from Kaleidoscope Theatre Company; Clun Mummers and, of course, the Frost Queen and Green Man. With street entertainers, food stalls, jazz and more, it’s an unmissable day out ...

Monday, May 4, is Clun Green Man day, with the unique Battle on the Bridge ending the procession through the town, and the Green Man battling with the Frost Queen to herald the arrival of spring in the Clun Valley. Afterwards, visitors can browse dozens of stalls in the castle grounds, courtesy of English Heritage, buy local crafts, watch demonstrating artisans and be entertained by medieval sword fighting, maypole dancing and duck racing. Shropshire folk band Whalebone will play a free gig at the craft fair.

It all sounds great fun and I must go to it myself one day. If you want to know more, visit the Clun Green Man Festival website.

But it is not as traditional as all that. Because the festival is a modern invention: the book The Roots of Environmental Consciousness, edited by Stephen Hussey and Paul Richard Thompson, says it was first held in 1997.

One of the reasons I like Bishop's Castle and Clun is that they do not let their remote situation prevent their having a good time and bringing in visitors. And there is a well-known quip that all the oldest English traditions were invented in the last quarter of the 19th century.

Well, this is one that was invented in the last quarter of the 20th.

Only one family has benefited from Labour's mortgage rescue scheme

Good news from King's Lynn. Emma Whitford has used the government's mortgage rescue scheme to change to a shared-equity arrangement after she lost her job and started struggling to meet mortgage repayments.

The bad news is that research by Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat shadow housing minister, suggests that Emma's is the only household to have benefited under the scheme so far. It was announced back in September of last year and given huge publicity when it was launched in January.

As Sarah says:

“Tens of thousands of families will face the misery of repossession and homelessness this year but the Government’s scheme has helped just one household.

“This is an appalling failure by a Government that is more interested in headline-grabbing than in helping families through the economic crisis.”
You can find the the official figures in a document on a Department for Communities and Local Government website.

It is hard becoming increasingly hard not to see Gordon Brown as a deluded figure. His numerous announcements bear less and less resemblance to the life the rest of us live outside his bunker.

Chris Huhne to be Britain's next European Commissioner?

From yesterday's Evening Standard:

There's an intriguing rumour in European circles. It's that Downing Street has been considering whether Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs supremo, could be the UK's next European Commissioner.

It sounds implausible, but I am told it has been seriously discussed in Lib-Dem circles. Huhne, once a financial journalist, is also a former Euro MP.

There is no suggestion Huhne, 54, wants to quit the Commons, and his office tells me it knows nothing about the rumours. But observers point out he might not be entirely averse, having twice failed to win the party leadership — the second time in a bruising battle with Nick Clegg.

I don't believe a word of it, but that does not prevent me passing it on to you.

Lord Bonkers on the Gurkhas

Lord Bonkers wrote in 2004:

For many, I know, the highlight of the Bournemouth Conference was the arrival of the Gurkhas and their bagpipes. How proud I was, as Colonel-in-Chief of the Queen’s Own Rutland Highlanders, to march at their head!

Besides, it is high time these doughty fighters were restored to their place at the centre of British politics. I can recall the days when I could not make a speech without some fellow from the back of the hall shouting “What about the Gurkhas?”

Mind you, I never went quite as far as the more advanced Young Liberals of the 1960s, who wished to bring about Gurkhas’ control of industry.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

George Gently, Martin Shaw and Steve Winwood

The BBC's trailer for the news series of Inspector George Gently uses the introduction from "I'm a Man" by the Spencer Davis Group.

Before all the coffee chains set up store in Market Harborough, I was a regular customer of the first shop here to do frothy coffee. They used to play CDs and one of them was a sixties compilation that included this track.

I had always known the Spencer Davis Group's singles, but listening closely to that introduction was a revelation. It blows your socks off now. It must have sounded even more remarkable in 1967.

That set me off on the enthusiasm for the Spencer Davis Group and Steve Winwood that I have been inflicting on people ever since.

There is another reason why this trailer in interesting. Martin Shaw and Steve Winwood both attended Great Barr comprehensive school in Birmingham. Shaw is three years older, but there is a pleasing trivial connection between them.

According to Alan Clayson's biography of Winwood, Shaw was a protege of the school's head of drama Tom Knowles. Knowles also ran a lunchtime guitar club of which Winwood was an enthusiastic member.

Phil Willis and whistleblowing on higher education standards

Last November I questioned Phil Willis's approach, as chairman of the Commons innovation, universities, science and skills select committee, to its inquiry into claims that standards in higher education are falling. He called on critics of government policy to "put up or shut up" and challenged them "to come out from the woodwork".

A report in the Times Higher Education supplement suggests that he should have been more concerned for the welfare of the witnesses he called:
An academic at loggerheads with Manchester Metropolitan University after he blew the whistle on alleged grade inflation at the institution has claimed that he was scapegoated by being kicked off its academic board.
Walter Cairns was ejected from the board following a vote of no-confidence instigated by John Brooks, vice-chancellor of Manchester Met.
The move was made in the aftermath of Mr Cairns' submission to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee inquiry into higher education standards. It concerned a course he taught in which marks were bumped up across the board following an 85 per cent failure rate.
Mr Cairns told the panel of MPs that the changes had been made without his consent and despite an initial indication from the external examiner that his marking was appropriate.
As I said in November, it was hard to see why Phil was being so bullish in favour of Labour government policy. I asked:
Surely the role of a select committee chairman is to be impartial and to put those giving evidence at their ease?
It seems that Laurie Taylor's satirical column about the University of Poppleton. which also runs in the Times Higher Ed, was pretty much on the money:
Dumbing down
Janet Fluellen, our Director of Curriculum Development, has enthusiastically welcomed the news that a cross-party panel of MPs has asked academics to submit evidence of dumbing down in universities.
"We are so committed to this exercise," she told The Poppletonian, "that we have constituted a high-powered dumbing-down committee (myself and the vice-chancellor). Any Poppleton academic with evidence of slipping or falling standards should submit their claim to this committee together with their name, age, departmental affiliation, number of years in service, a recent passport-size photograph, a P45 and a small DNA sample."

Gordon Brown defeated over Gurkhas: Rejoice, rejoice

Let me join the rest of the Lib Dem blogosphere in celebrating the victory of the Lib Dem campaign all former Gurkhas to be allowed to live in the UK.

As the Guardian says:

Gordon Brown's authority suffered a blow today when MPs inflicted a surprise defeat on the government, voting to allow all retired Gurkhas to settle in the UK.

Twenty seven Labour MPs voted with the Liberal Democrats and the Tories to back a demand for all former Gurkhas to be allowed to live in the UK, not just those who retired after 1997 and a small proportion of the others.

Although ministers offered a series of minor concessions intended to satisfy the many Labour MPs who signed an amendment attacking government policy, MPs voted by a majority of 21 to back a Liberal Democrat demand for "an equal right of residence for all Gurkhas".

MPs backed the Lib Dem motion by 267 votes to 246.

Note too this video on the BBC website. Is it just me, or is there more than a hint of Mrs Thatcher about the magnificent Joanna Lumley?

Her father, Major Jimmy Lumley, was an officer witht the 3rd Battalion of the 6th Gurkha Rifles in Burma during Word War II.

Midsomer Murders body count

With ITV repeating an old episode of Midsomer Murders, this is a good time to share a recent discovery: the website Midsomer Murders body count.

As the Guardian article that put me on to it says:
Nettles's DCI Tom Barnaby was the least successful fictional detective in TV history, invariably discovering the killer only when every other suspect had already been knocked off.

Daily Mail columnist praises David Howarth

Allison Pearson, Daily Mail columnist and my former classmate, writes today:

My excellent MP, the LibDems' David Howarth, wrote a brilliant article in our local paper.

Alongside some photographs of various senior local government officials and NHS fat cats - all on ginormous salaries for four-day weeks - David posed a simple question: 'What is it they do? All I want to know is what do they actually do?'

Could this be the benchmark for David Cameron's Thrifty Britain?

All those Service Providers and Operative Strategy Target Enforcement Delivery Managers will be forced to answer the question: 'What do you actually do?' Then they can be suspended for six months and we'll see if anyone notices the difference.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Craig Murray's evidence on British complicity in torture

Craig Murray sends us to the Parliament website and the video of his appearance today before the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Later. Blairwatch points out that Craig's evidence is now on Youtube. The first part is below...

Cat of the Day: Fidel from Deal

Well done, Fidel. According to the BBC:

Fidel, an eight-year-old black cat, turns up at Deal library almost every day while his owners are at work.

He spends the day on his favourite blue chair, only leaving the building when he sees his owners arriving home.

As ever, Leicestershire led the way in library-loving cats. Remember Chloe from Markfield?

Polly Toynbee reveals the Labour view of education

Polly Toynbee writes in today's Guardian:
Conservative Brighton was a pioneer in holding a lottery in places for over-subscribed schools - which worked well. This bill should encourage all local authorities to do likewise.
To people like Toynbee, children are not individuals with unique talents, interests and abilities. They are an undifferentiated mass that can be assigned anywhere as long as it furthers the socialist ambition for geometric equality.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Direct trains from Rutland to London

East Midlands Trains have introduced a once-a-day service from Melton Mowbray and Oakham to London and back. Trains run through Corby and Kettering and pass over the mighty Welland Viaduct.

The Leicester Mercury quotes East Midlands Trains commercial director, David Horne, as saying:
"We're very excited to introduce the first direct service to London from Melton and Oakham in 40 years.It is a normal peak fare and the train runs at a time to suit the business traveller."
This enterprising move strengthens the impression that East Midlands Trains are making a better job of running things than their predecessors, Midland Mainline, who were looking at ways of reducing services last time the franchise came up.

We still have to suffer the forest of intimidating signs and unreasonable ticketing restrictions that are common to all privatised railways. But they are largely the fault of the Treasury for trying to squeeze so much out of the franchise holders and, through them, rail passengers.

Whether this service will lure a certain peer away from the Bonkers Hall Branch, which can be seen curving away through the undergrowth somewhere north of Market Harborough, remains to be seen.

The 20 firsts meme

When I started blogging memes were all the rage. They are not so common these days, so it is quite nostalgic to be tagged for this one by Iain Dale.

First Job
A Saturday job at a gents outfitters when I was in the sixth form. Soon transferred to the secondhand book trade, which was more me.

First Real Job
Working for Chess magazine in Sutton Coldfield after leaving university.

First Role in Politics
Secretary of York Liberal Students, 1979-81.

First Car
I have never owned a car, but I do have a licence so I am a real man.

First Record
The first single I bought, age 7, was Kites by Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, which is pretty damned cool. I am less proud of my first LP - Band on the Run by Wings.

First Football Match
Hemel Hempstead Town vs Harwich & Parkeston in the Athenian League, c. 1968.

First Concert
My first pop concert must have been a freshers event at York. I can remember The Pirates, Bram Tchaikovsky and Mike Absalom playing.

First Country Visited
Holland and Belgium on a primary school trip in 1970.

First TV Appearance
Apart from being in the audience for the wrestling on World of Sport, it was winning the BBC East Joint Account quiz with my Mum in 1978.

First Political Speech
At my first meeting of Harborough District Council in 1986.

First Girlfriend/Boyfriend
Pauline Walker, when I was 4. She had an impressive collection of Kenny Ball EPs.

First Encounter with a Famous Person
Singing on the stage with Danny La Rue in one of his pantomimes, aged about 8. (For some reason there were not many children in the audience to ask up.)

First Brush With Death
Trying to swallow a threepenny bit as a toddler.

First House/Flat Owned
The one I am in now in Little Bowden, Market Harborough.

First Film Seen at a Cinema
I think it was Snow White.

First Time on the Radio
Interviewed for Radio 4 at the 1984 Liberal Assembly in Bournemouth.

First Politician I Met
John Farr, who used to be Tory MP for Harborough, once toured our school without talking to anyone. So it must have been Richard Wainwright and David Alton when I arranged for them to speak at York.

First Book I Remember Reading
Ladybird Key Words 1a: Play With Us.

First Visit to the London Palladium
That is a pleasure I still have in store.

Iain also asked me to tag five more bloggers to complete this meme. So...
It is traditional for at least some of those tagged to ignore the meme.

Britblog Roundup 219

You can find "The Not the Budget Black Hole Edition" on The Wardman Wire.

A tribute to Jack Cardiff

Crying All the Way to the Chip Shop remembers Jack Cardiff, the great cinematographer and director who died last week.

See his IMDB entry for details of his extraordinary career. He appeared in his first film as a child actor in 1918.

The Zombies play Odessey and Oracle live

Lib Dem blogger Andrew Hickey has been to hear the Zombies play their classic album.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Manfred Mann: Semi-detached Suburban Mr James

I have chosen this partly because it is a great song, partly because it is very much of its period, partly because I think I remember it from the time (the autumn of 1966, when I would have been six years old) and partly because it is time I got to grips with Manfred Mann.

Rather like the Spencer Davis Group, perhaps following a jazz tradition, the band was named after its founder, but he was not its most celebrated member. At various times Manfred Mann included the vocalists Paul Jones and Mike d'Abo (singing here), and the musicians Tom McGuinness and Jack Bruce. (This earlier posting will lead you to a recording of Jones and McGuinness discussing the British blues scene of the 1960s.)

Manfred Mann himself is an interesting figure. According to Wikipedia, he was born Manfred Lubowitz in Johannesburg in 1940. He studied classical piano at university, played jazz piano in clubs and formed South Africa's first rock group.

In 1961, strongly opposed to Apartheid (he was banned from South Africa several times), he moved to London, started writing on jazz and adopted his new name.

His group enjoyed great chart success, but he eventually tired of the pop scene and started exploring other kinds of music. He reappeared in the 1970s with Manfred Mann's Earth Band, putting out some more very good singles in an age when they were in shorter supply.

Eastleigh Labour PPC resigns and backs Chris Huhne

Dan Clarke writes on Labourhome:

It is with great sadness that I have decided to resign as a Labour PPC and a Labour Party member. My period as a PPC has been difficult to say the least and I have spent much of it wrestling with internal problems in my CLP and attempting to defend government policies which, in my eyes, are becoming increasingly indefensible ...

Unfortunately, I no longer believe the Labour Party is committed to realising the dreams of people like me. The Labour Party's actions and policies today seem to be aimed more towards gaining petty advantages over opponents than towards achieving the ideals of its supporters. Brown's leadership is becoming a depiction of politics for its own sake.

He concludes:

I will leave the Labour Party and I am joining the Liberal Democrats. At the next election I will back Chris Huhne. Eastleigh is a two horse race, between Chris who has a proven record as a progressive politician and a hard worker for Eastleigh or Maria Hutchings, who - whatever her personal qualities - supports right wing reactionary policies on Europe, immigration and local issues.

I want to be a political activist who works for what is right. I have concluded that joining the Liberal Democrats will allow me to do this. Time and again, I have found myself thinking that Chris Huhne is right on issues as varied as Trident, Climate Change, the economy and civil liberties whilst the government is wrong on them.

Rather than standing against him, I will be voting for Chris at the next General Election.

A good end to what has turned out to be Chris Huhne week on Liberal England.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Two Labour peers face a year's suspension

From the Sunday Times:

Two Labour peers at the centre of the lords for hire scandal have been found guilty of misconduct by a sleaze inquiry and face suspension from parliament, according to senior House of Lords sources.

Senior peers have concluded that Lord Taylor of Blackburn and Lord Truscott have broken the code of conduct of members of the upper house.

The investigation began after undercover Sunday Times reporters posing as lobbyists found that the two peers were prepared to help to amend legislation in return for cash.

They could now be barred from parliament for up to a year and lose tax-free allowances of up to £335 a day.

Shropshire magistrate resigns in Twitter row

A story for our times from the Shropshire Star:

A leading Telford magistrate and former Oakengates mayor has quit the bench after being reported for posting details of cases he dealt with on the Twitter social networking site.

Professor Steve Molyneux, an expert in the uses of information technology and a magistrate for 16 years, told fellow Twitterers on one occasion how he sat “in the Gods passing sentence on the criminal fraternity”.

Nadine Dorries to sue Damian McBride

This should be fun.

Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, wrote on her blog this afternoon:

I have instructed and proceeded with legal action.

Obviously, I am not going to say anything at all at this stage, other than that.
Guido Fawkes speculates on the background.

Friday, April 24, 2009

House Points: Chris Huhne and Sky News

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

On the box

Tuesday lunchtime found me on the train to St Pancras to join a panel of bloggers interviewing Chris Huhne. My mobile rang. “I’m on the train,” I said.

It was Helen Duffett from Cowley Street. The line was bad, but she was saying something about Sky News, MPs’ expenses and the budget. Would I do it? Yes I said, without being sure what I had agreed to.

We assembled in Chris Huhne’s office in Portcullis House. He is the Lib Dem shadow home secretary, but the questions covered MPs’ expenses and the budget too.

What did Chris think of Gordon Brown’s announcement? He said Brown was aiming for the system they have in the European parliament where members are paid a daily subsistence rate but do not have to provide receipts. “We don’t want to see the Brussels gravy train arriving at Westminster,” Chris said.

This new system would not provide transparency. “It’s public money, and the public has a right to know how it is spent.”

Later at Cowley Street, George Crozier briefed me on Vince Cable’s proposals. “They’ll probably ask you what measure you would most like to see in the budget.”

Then Helen went with me to Millbank. I found myself broadcasting from a broom cupboard. A Labour blogger was elsewhere in the building. A Tory was at Sky HQ in Osterley.

The first question was on MPs’ expenses. I said Gordon Brown was aiming for the sort of system they have in the European parliament. “We don’t want to see the Brussels gravy train arriving at Westminster,” I said.

In reply to the second question I said that the new system would not provide transparency. “It’s public money, and the public has a right to know how it is spent.”

Then they asked me what measure I would most like to see in the budget.

I was ready to talk about Vince Cable’s call for a rise in allowances to take low earners out of income tax altogether. The Labour blogger had already talked about the cut in tax relief on high earners’ pension contributions we would use to pay for this. So I attacked Labour for not having done it sooner.

This television business: there’s nothing to it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ed Miliband and coal

Today's announcement about a new generation of coal-fired power stations reminds me of an old House Points column from October 2005:
Suddenly everyone is talking about coal. On Wednesday last week two of New Labour's brightest young things - Ed Balls and Edward Milliband - took part in a Westminster Hall debate on the future of the industry. So did Paddy Tipping, but he sounds like a practice favoured by unscrupulous Victorian mine owners.
Interesting that we were still calling Ed Miliband "Edward" in those days. And embarrassing that I couldn't spell "Miliband".

You can find the full debate in Hansard.

Thrill as Miliband Minor says:
coal has always been seen as part of the environmental problem that we face, but I believe that it has a chance to be seen as part of the solution.

John O'Grady (Real Bermondsey Labour) has died

John O'Grady, who stood against Peter Tatchell as the "Real Bermondsey Labour" candidate in the 1983 by-election died earlier this month, reports the South London Press.

Most of the anti-Tatchell smears in the campaign came from O'Grady - rather than from Simon Hughes, as is often claimed. Back in 2006 there was some discussion on this blog of the extent to which there was Liberal involvement in his campaign.

Why Eliza Carthy has never met a Tory voter

I was struck by something the folk musician Eliza Carthy said in today's Guardian. She was quoted in an article about the free folk festival in Trafalgar Square on Saturday as saying:
"Nobody likes a Tory mayor."
Presumably some people must like a Tory mayor or Boris would never have been elected.

What Carthy means, of course, is that no one in the circles in which she moves would dare admit to voting Conservative .

It reminds me of an interview with Martin Amis reprinted in Nick Cohen's recent collection Waiting for the Etonians:

A passage from the opening of his 1995 novel The Information presciently captured the conformism of middle-class liberal opinion long before it was arrayed against him. At the end of the long period of Tory rule, Richard, the wretched hero, is visiting the Holland Park mansion of Gwyn Barry, a literary rival who, unconscionably, has become an immense success. Richard’s envy is heightened when he walks into the study to find a sycophantic colour-supplement journalist seeking Gwyn’s opinions on the issues of the day.

Are you a Labour supporter, the interviewer asks Gwyn.


‘Of course.’

‘Of course.’

Of course, thought Richard, yeah of course. Gwyn was Labour. It was obvious. Obvious not from the ripply cornices 20 feet above their heads, not from the brass lamps or the military plumpness of the leather-topped desk. Obvious because Gwyn was what he was, a writer, in England, at the end of the 20th century. There was nothing else for such a person to be. Richard was Labour, equally obviously.

It often seemed to him, moving in the circles he moved in and reading what he read, that everyone in the land was Labour, except the Government.

Happy St George's Day

Flag St George LH

This would be a good day to enjoy Unmitigated England, English Buildings and Common Ground.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Budget: We're all doomed

You mark my words, whoever wins the next election we will be in for years of tax rises and spending cuts. No one believes the government forecast of 3.5 per cent growth next year; least of all government ministers themselves.

Look too for a sterling crisis and rising interest rates.

Orwell blogging prize winner announced

According to numerous tweets, the prize has gone to a blog called NightJack.

How shocking is it that I have never heard of it?

Commiserations to Alix Mortimer and Iain Dale.

Personally, I have considerable sympathy with the views of Stumbling and Mumbling on the way the prize was decided.

Maggie Clay

Michael Meadowcroft wrote an obituary of Maggie Clay in today's Guardian. In the 1970s and early 1980s, when I met her several times, Maggie was a city councillor in Leeds and worked for the Association of Liberal Councillors in Hebden Bridge. That was in the days when the ALC was certainly not approved of by the party hierarchy.

There was one thing about Maggie that I thought I remembered, but I did not blog about it in case I had got it wrong. However, Michael confirms that when she wanted a break from politics she open an organic food shop in my favourite Shropshire town,

By the time I started going to Bishop's Castle it had already closed, but I think I remember seeing her name above the empty shop.

Maggie was a member of Stockport MBC when she died suddenly earlier this month, aged only 61.

Chris Huhne: "Where did you get that ridiculous thing?"

And Millennium replied: "I won him in a raffle."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A day with Chris Huhne and Sky News

First thing this morning I went to see about making a will. As I tweeted at the time, it does not shorten your life - unless you get knocked down by a car on the way home from the solicitor's.

Whilst there I met another of the partners - an old friend who generally used to pip me to the coveted title of best chess player in Market Harborough. He told me that one of our team-mates from those days had recently died.

Then it was off to London to interview Chris Huhne. While I was on the train to St Pancras Helen Duffett rang me. Without being to hear her very well, I agreed to appear on Sky News that evening as a Lib Dem blogger.

I have just written up the day for Friday's House Points, but in essence I repeated Chris's answers on Sky News and it seemed to work well. Thanks also to George Crozier at Cowley Street for some expert briefing.

After it was over I had a coffee with Helen and her son by Westminster tube station. The shop was playing a Steve Winwood song and Vince Cable walked past.

What more could you ask?

2006 IPCC report criticised police for hiding identification numbers

I am writing this in the Liberal Democrat News office in Cowley Street, so let's be a party loyalist.

Chris Huhne has revealed that an Independent Police Complaints Commission report issued three years ago, after the protests against the Hunting Bill in 2004, criticised police for obscuring their identification numbers.

Chris says:

"Three years ago, the IPCC raised concerns that some officers were obscuring their identification numbers during the pro-hunting demonstrations.

"It is deeply disappointing that this problem raised its ugly head again during the most recent protests, particularly when we were given firm assurances that it would not.

"There have also been reports of this unacceptable tactic being used at the Heathrow and Kingsnorth demonstrations. It has got to stop. Senior officers must reassert discipline among those policing demonstrations."

Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival

Libby Purves writes about the event in the Daily Telegraph.

And Matt Buck will be there.

Former Tory MP endorses UKIP

Christopher Gill, who was Conservative MP for Ludlow between 1987 and 2001, has written to the Shropshire Star saying:
In future I shall most assuredly be voting for the UK Independence Party because it is the only moderate, non-sectarian party that is committed to getting us out of Europe while at the same time encouraging free trade and friendship with our continental neighbours.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Britblog Roundup 218

At Redemption Blues.

Remaking Reginald Perrin is wrong, wrong, wrong

Reggie Perrin - as The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin has been rechristened for the attention deficit generation - begins on Friday on BBC1.

This is wrong in so many ways.

The original series was very much of the 1970s, expressing the decade's dawning dissatisfaction with corporate culture and - like The Good Life - offered a way of escaping from it.

Leonard Rossiter was an incomparable actor, always on the verge of going over the top but never quite doing so. The early episodes of Rising Damp defy comic gravity by getting funnier as the years go by.

And when I was in the sixth form we conversed largely in lines from Fawlty Towers and Reginald Perrin.

The new Reggie, Martin Clunes, is bullish about the new series:

Still, as useless as he finds comparisons in general, Clunes is prepared to make one himself, between the old Perrin and his new one. “I think this one’s funnier,” he says. “There are more jokes. It’s quicker paced.

If you’re measuring comedy by quantity, instead of anything else… But yes, I don’t think it’s as ponderous and melancholic.”

But the melancholy of the original series, and of the David Nobbs novel on which it was based, was precisely what made it stand out. This is true of many great comedies. Someone once said, rightly, of One Foot in the Grave that, funny as it was, you had the feeling that something terrible might happen at any moment.

David Nobbs is involved with the new series, which gives it some credibility, but the original producer is not impressed.

John Howard Davies - who also produced Fawlty Towers, Steptoe and Son and The Good Life - told the Daily Telegraph:
"My initial reaction to this remake was the same as quite a lot of people: why? I don't like remakes of programmes anyway. It's unimaginative. It's much better to start afresh with a blank sheet of paper. I think Martin Clunes is wonderful and he may save the day, but I'm pessimistic. I probably won't watch it. Comedy is like wine - it improves with age. And Leonard Rossiter [itals] was [itals] Reggie Perrin. He was the catalyst for the show's success."
[The fawlty italics tag is in the original.]

And he agrees about the distinctive quality of the original:
"It wasn't funny ha ha, it was always a thoughtful piece, and I wouldn't like to see that taken away. What made it different from normal situation comedy was that it raised one or two interesting points for the middle-aged man."
For a glimpse of John Howard Davies as a child star now read about Oliver Twist.

Rudi Vis vs Damian McBride: There's only one way to settle this

Damian McBride's local Labour Party branch, the Finchley and Golders Green constituency, will vote next month on whether to oust him from the party, says the Guardian.

One local is particularly livid:

Rudi Vis, the Labour MP for Finchley and Golders Green, said McBride's actions were "scandalous, totally scandalous". He added: "Something like this is really important, especially when the government is not doing very well.

"He has done the Labour party an enormous disservice. I don't believe he is the sort of member we should have.

Before you accept Mr Vis as the arbiter of what is and is not scandalous, consider a recent report about his own conduct.

Here is The Times from a couple of weeks ago:

Rudi Vis, the north London MP who is stepping down at the next election, has used his parliamentary expenses to help buy a £520,000 home for his retirement near the Suffolk coast.

Vis, 68, has taken out a mortgage on his London home to pay for the country property. Interest payments on the loan are funded out of his parliamentary expenses.

Think it sounds dodgy? Don't worry. It's...

[all together now]

"within the rules".

Still, Vis vs McBride. There's only one way to settle this.

The Devil's Kitchen has noticed this story too.

Daily Telegraph obituary of J.G. Ballard

It begins:
Before the success of Empire of the Sun Ballard was known principally for darkly surreal novels such as The Crystal World (1966), which described a West African country undergoing an inexplicable process of petrifaction, and Crash (1973), in which he put forward the idea that modern society finds traffic accidents erotic. Despising the term science fiction, Ballard never used it, preferring to describe his work as "apocalyptic".

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nick Cohen on how the Blair/Brown years will be remembered

This is spot on:
If the typical beneficiary of the 1945 Labour government was the common man, who returned from war to be rewarded with the welfare state, and the typical beneficiary of the 1979 Conservative government was the aspiring man, who was freed to buy his home and start his business, the classic beneficiary of the 1997 Labour government must be the form-filling man, who was rewarded with a lavish salary for monitoring and chivvying others.

Mail on Sunday interview with Lenny Harper

The Mail on Sunday has an interview with the former Jersey policeman:

After Harper retired last August, a new team of detectives denounced their predecessors' concerns, skills and findings. Even the 65 children's teeth unearthed from the home's cellars were, the new men suggested, left for the tooth fairy.

Controversy still rages over the provenance and date of materials discovered at the site and police now say there were no murders. None of the three men - two of them former care workers - charged with abuse has yet been tried, and the Jersey authorities have portrayed the alleged victims as compensation-hungry criminals.

Graham Power, the head of States of Jersey Police, has been suspended, accused of illegal spending on the inquiry. Harper, his former deputy, has been ordered to return to the island for questioning about the alleged theft of documents. Two weeks ago, Stuart Syvret, Jersey's former health minister who raised the issue of abuse, was arrested under data protection laws, accused of leaking material to the media.

Thanks to John Hemming.

Eric Burdon and the Animals: Colored Rain

Today's song is taken from Eric Burdon and the Animals 1968 album Love Is. It is a cover of the Traffic song Coloured Rain from their album of the previous year, Mr Fantasy. It was the song that Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi wanted to release as the band's second single rather than "Hole in My Shoe", which they hated.

For my money Burdon is overacting here and I miss Winwood's Hammond organ from the original. But what is chiefly of interest is the extraordinary guitar solo.

Its player later wrote that it was:
"one of the longest guitar solos ever recorded until this point ... a 'soaring hymn to ecstasy' style solo that is so long that I find it impossible to play in a full trance state and still come out at the right place."
For this reason Zoot Money (who was playing keyboards for the Animals following the departure of Alan Price) had to count all 189 bars and signal to him when it was time to finish.

The guitarist also claimed that this solo earned him a "slightly legendary reputation".

And his name? Andy Summers, later to become famous as a member of The Police.

Wallace Lawler mentioned in first Red Riding novel

Last month I claimed in House Points:

If you watched Red Riding you will believe that life in the 1970s consisted of policemen beating people up in semi-darkness.
But I decided to give the novels a try yesterday and bought the first of the four, which is 1974.

And I think I am going to like it.

Because on page 16 David Peace writes:

I grabbed the reels, took a seat at a screen, and threaded through the microfilm.

July 1969.

I let the film fly by:

B Specials, Bernadette Devlin, Wallace Lawler, and In Place of Strife.

Wallace Lawler? He may be an obscure figure even for readers of this blog.

Wallace Lawler was the last Liberal MP in Birmingham before John Hemming. He won the Ladywood constituency at a by-election June 1969, but lost it at the general election the following year.

There are some interesting scraps about him on the net. I shall write them up one day.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sunday Times claims Ed Balls ran Labour's smears unit

From tomorrow's Sunday Times:
Ed Balls, the schools secretary, used Damian McBride, the disgraced spin doctor, to smear ministerial rivals and advance his own ambitions, a Downing Street whistleblower has claimed.
In an explosive new twist to the e-mail affair, a No 10 insider has revealed that Balls was the mastermind behind a “dark arts” operation by McBride to undermine colleagues.
He claims the education secretary is running a destabilising “shadow operation” inside Downing Street to clear his path for the party leadership if Labour loses the next election.
The insider said: “There is now an operation within an operation at No 10 and it answers to Ed Balls.”
Now see what the News of the World has to say.

I am enjoying this.

Jersey police wipe John Hemming's number from Stuart Syvret's phone

John Hemming points us to this bizarre story from Channel Television:

The politician arrested last week for allegedly breaking data protection laws says Jersey police have erased numbers from his mobile phone.

Officers held Senator Stuart Syvret at the police station for seven hours last Monday after arresting him at his home in Grouville.

Yesterday, they returned a number of documents that were seized in the arrest.

But, when he tried to recall the telephone number of the UK Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming, Senator Syvret found it had been deleted from his phone.

He said he believed police had deliberately erased it in order to "stop the political fallout" from his arrest.

"The police had this phone and its SIM card for six hours last Monday. They've obviously taken it out, copied the contents of the SIM card and certain key contact numbers, they've wiped," he said.

Channel TV also has a video on the story. In it Syvret claims that a number of journalists' numbers have been deleted too.

News of the World: Labour general secretary helped hatch Red Rag scheme

Tomorrow's News of the World claims:
A new email shows that Labour's General Secretary Ray Collins chaired a secret meeting to create the Red Rag website now ensnared in the Smeargate scandal.
The email's existence links the dirty tricks site to the very TOP of the Labour Party.
And it exposes the LIE, put out by Downing Street, and repeated by government ministers this week, that the smears were just a minor aberration cooked up by a couple of renegades acting alone-and which would never have seen light of day.
Two things are worth adding.

The first is that, according to a PR Week report I blogged last September, it was Collins who asked Draper to advise Labour on using the new media. And according to the News of the World:
Collins granted Draper a pass to Labour Party HQ in Westminster, and even allowed him a Labour Party email account.
The second is Draper's claim in a Guardian interview last Wednesday that he "honestly cannot remember whose idea it was to set up Red Rag".

If - and you may think this a big if - we believe Draper on this, that statement implies that the idea was discussed among a number of people in the Labour Party.

Government and food companies conspire to denigrate home cooking

Costigan Quist rightly complains about this ludicrous image from the government's "Change4Life" (do you see what they've done there?) anti-obesity campaign.

Personally, I find that cake pleasingly old fashioned. White icing, with a cherry on top. It's the sort of cake children scheme to win in the Beano and the Dandy.

When we worry about what children eat these days, we do not worry about home baking. We worry about things like crisps and fizzy drinks.

So why does this poster show a home-made cake?


One of the sponsors of the campaign is PepsiCo, who make Pepsi Cola and Walker's Crisps.

A.A. Gill on children's television

From a recent column of Gill's:

As far as I can tell, which isn’t very far, all children’s television is now policed by committees of single-parent lesbians, nursery assistants, social workers, outreach-policy face communicators and possibly Esther Rantzen.

Everything is made to inculcate simple, short messages about honesty, kindness, inclusivity, cosiness and sensible eating of organic, unprocessed food. The fun is merely there as a coating for the message; the entertainment quality is pretty remedial ...

Kids’ TV now isn’t about good and evil, it’s about constructing the image of a world where there is no evil at all, no sharp edges, nothing but cute lessons without blame, a bland conformity and lots of hugs. And what children learn, I suspect, is nothing at all.

I never watch it myself, but I am sure he is right.

Friday, April 17, 2009

House Points: A review of The Rotten State of Britain

With Parliament in recess there was time for a review of Eamonn Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain.

You may also be interested in Austin Mitchell's reaction after reading it:
“Suicide may be the only answer. Though I will bet the bloody Labour Party has prohibited that on health and safety grounds, and that they won't be able to cremate the body because crematoria aren't allowed to smoke any more.”

The Rotten State of Britain
Eamonn Butler
Gibson Square, 2009, £11.99

Eamonn Butler, the director of the Adam Smith Institute, was in Church House, Westminster, doing an interview for a Canadian TV station to promote this book. When he had finished he went outside with the camera crew to do some shots of him walking down the street.

After a couple of minutes a police car screeched to a halt, and two armoured officers got out to ask what they were doing.

Butler says it must have looked pretty obvious. The cameraman had a huge camera on a tripod and the interviewer was carrying a microphone like a shaggy dog.

But the police officer explained that, since they were on at least four different security cameras, he had to go through the procedure. Butler and the crew were obliged to provide identification and fill in forms. Name, address, date of birth, height...

All of which goes to prove the point Butler makes in this book. The Rotten State of Britain is a bit of a cuttings job, and its many claims are not referenced, but Butler succeeds in painting a clear and damning picture of the centralisation and loss of liberty we have suffered under 12 years of Labour government.

Among the facts unearthed in the book are that Britain has a quarter of the world’s CCTV cameras. And that in the year 2006/7 half of the 722,464 DNA samples collected by police came from children. One came from a seven-month-old girl.

Eamonn Butler combines this concern for liberty with a desire to make deep cuts in public spending. In doing so, he is a little unfair to Labour. True, the improvements gained from increased spending on education and health are disappointing, given the scale of that extra spending. But surely there has been some improvement?

But there is a challenge here for Liberal Democrats. We tend to be keen on the good things a strong state brings – like socialised health and education – and against the bad things, like surveillance and identity cards.

Being against nasty things and favour of nice ones is a natural instinct, but does not constitute a coherent political philosophy. We need to do some more thinking.

Nick Clegg cleans windows in Bristol

The Glasgow Herald reports:
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg rolled up his sleeves yesterday to clean windows at a hostel for the homeless.

The MP washed two windows at the five-storey Salvation Army-run block in Bristol to see how social enterprise company Aspire provides jobs for the long- term unemployed and homeless.
I'm not sure why this story made it into a Glasgow paper. Anyway, follow this link for a video of the event.

South Yorkshire Labour branch suspended for over a year

From the South Yorkshire Times:

An ENTIRE South Yorkshire Labour Party branch has been suspended for over a YEAR – after an astonishing in-house row between its members, the Times can reveal.

At one stage, detectives were even drafted into the investigate fraud allegations, amid claims and counter-claims of "bullying and harassment". But no-wrong-doing was found.

The wrangle has resulted in the branch's activities being suspended until 2010 – amid Labour Party fears that the electorate will turn its back on the branch at next year's elections.

Labour chiefs have ordered a news blackout on the affair. An internal investigation report said all concerned should be warned that "speaking with/assisting the press will not be tolerated".

North Dearne is in Jeff Ennis's Barnsley East and Mexborough constituency.

Thanks to The Lone Voice.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Police still harassing photographers

In last Friday's House Points I wrote about a debate called by the Tory MP John Randall to publicise the way that innocent photographers are harassed by the police:
Someone photographing decrepit properties in Uxbridge had inadvertently snapped a car containing community support officers parked on a double yellow line. One of them came over and said he must delete the photograph.

A 15-year-old in school uniform taking pictures at Wimbledon station as part of a GCSE project was stopped by community support officers and asked to sign forms under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. Andrew Pelling (the former Tory who now sits as an Independent) had been stopped and searched on suspicion of terrorism for taking pictures of roadworks near East Croydon station.
A report on the Guardian website shows it is still going on:
Like most visitors to London, Klaus Matzka and his teenage son Loris took several photographs of some of the city's sights, including the famous red double-decker buses. More unusually perhaps, they also took pictures of the Vauxhall bus station, which Matzka regards as "modern sculpture".

But the tourists have said they had to return home to Vienna without their holiday pictures after two policemen forced them to delete the photographs from their cameras in the name of preventing terrorism.

Matkza, a 69-year-old retired television cameraman with a taste for modern architecture, was told that photographing anything to do with transport was "strictly forbidden". The policemen also recorded the pair's details, including passport numbers and hotel addresses.
This report has its origin in a letter Herr Matzka had published in this morning's Guardian (scroll down to the bottom).

Hallaton bottle kicking

Unmitigated England has been to Hallaton for the bottle kicking and hare pie scrambling:
Easter Monday for centuries has seen local (and not so local) lads fall down the fields in a mass of thrashing arms and legs in order to put a bottle (in fact a small wooden keg) over a stream that runs in a deep cleft to the south of the village.

This is pagan rivalry, an annual contest of brute force between Hallaton and the neighbouring village of Medbourne, shrouded in ritual and very, very, tribal.

It starts with the cutting-up and distribution of a Hare Pie at the church gates, a blessing of be-ribboned bottles on the Butter Cross followed by a bagpiped parade headed-up by a man in green velvet with a Kit William's style hare on a pole. And a girl looking like an Ovaltine Dairy Maid who throws buns at the crowd from a wicker basket.

Even more beer is put away, and then everyone troops up Hare Pie Bank to where the 'kicking' begins.
Just an average day in Leicestershire.

Stilton exported to China

No, not the result of Lord Bonkers' latest trade mission but a true story from the Leicester Mercury:
Matthew O'Callaghan, chairman of Melton Mowbray Food Partnership, said the deal was significant in two ways.

He said: "First, it shows stilton is becoming much more popular abroad and, second, it shows how the Chinese economy is expanding.

"It is certainly the case that the Chinese are acquiring western tastes. Maybe Melton Mowbray pork pies will be next."

Craig Murray's tribute to Sir Clement Freud

Craig Murray remembers his predecessor as rector of Dundee University:
I was more than once the beneficiary of Freud's largesse as he took groups of apparently random students out for boozy meals. For the student charities' campaign he produced The Rector's Cookbook, a collection of recipes that could be cooked in one pan on a single gas ring - in those days a not unusual sole cooking facility for a Dundee student.
He did a promotional piece for STV in a student flat in Springfield, equipped with a fold-away gas ring that swung out from the wall. Halfway through his cooking demonstration the cooking ring collapsed, the pan clashed to the floor, spraying everyone with chilli, and a jet of yellow flame shot across the room, setting fire to the bedclothes.
Freud turned to the camera and said, in the slowest and most deadpan voice imaginable as the room blazed around him: "And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the perfect demonstration of the conditions which students have beed reduced to under the Labour government."

An account of Kendall House from 1980

I wrote the other day about the drugging of children at Kendall House, a children's home in Gravesend run by the Diocese of Rochester, between the 1960s and 1980s.

It turns out that the home was described in the book In Whose Best Interests? Unjust Treatment of Children in Courts and Institutions, which was written by, amongst others, Laurie Taylor and published in 1980.

No 2 Abuse has some extracts.

Clement Freud has died

Sir Clement Freud, who was Liberal MP for the Isle of Ely between 1973 and 1987, has died aged 84.

More in the Daily Telegraph.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

There was nearly a Hillsborough disaster in 1981

Early this evening Channel 4 mentioned in passing that there had been a previous serous incident at the Leppings Lane End at Hillsborough in 1981.

This was the first I had heard of it, but Pseuds' Corner and Home of the Frustrated Hack has an account of it. The incident took place before the FA Cup semi final between Spurs and Wolves:

in 1981 Spurs played Wolves in an FA Cup Semi Final at Hillsborough, and Spurs fans, like Liverpool fans eight years later, were allocated the now notorious Leppings Lane end.

Spurs fans, like Liverpool fans that went after them, felt that the ends were badly allocated. Leppings Lane was perceived to be the smaller end and should thus have been given to the team with the smaller travelling support. But this was probably just perception, and switching ends would sadly just have switched the suffering from one bunch of fans to another.

Spurs fans were sent through the concourses that led to the various pens behind the goal. And those directly behind the goal were the most popular. So just as pens 3 and 4 filled to dangerous levels in 1989, the same part of the ground filled dangerously quickly in 1981.

People were crushed not because of surging support or bad behaviour, but simply because the spaces between the large metal fences were too small. Indeed there was a feeling even before then, without benefit of hindsight, that the supposed capacity of Leppings Lane was overstated and unsafe.

Tragedy did not follow that day because, unlike in 1989, the police reacted in time.

Carry On producer Peter Rogers has died

Rogers, who died yesterday aged 95, produced all 30 Carry On films between 1958 and 1978.

From his Daily Telegraph obituary:
Most of the films were made in or near Pinewood Studios. "A tree is a tree anywhere," explained Rogers, "And it's only funny if someone falls out of it. It doesn't matter where it is. We went to Chobham for Carry On Cowboy, and sometimes as far as Windsor or Maidenhead."

Stuart Syvret threatens to take Jersey police chief to court

Channel Television has the lastest news and - rather impressively - three video reports.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Red Rag was registered to the House of Commons

The Times reports:

The website set up to smear Tory politicians about their health, family and sex lives was registered to the House of Commons, The Times has learnt. The site, The Red Rag, was to be used to spread slurs prepared in No 10 by Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s disgraced spin doctor.

The identity of its creators remains a mystery but Mr Brown’s official spokesman said yesterday that it was “not a matter for the Government”. A bogus applicant using the name “Ollie Cromwell” paid £8.99 to set up The Red Rag as a campaign blog. The buyer had to provide only a name, address, telephone number and e-mail to create the site on November 4 last year. The address given was the House of Commons, The Times has been told.

Amusingly, The Red Rag is still in place.

Market Harborough ghost makes the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail reports:

This is the spooky moment a ghostly white apparition was caught on camera as it eerily floated through the air.

What appears to be a glowing white orb can clearly be seen emerging from a fireplace in a hair salon that was once a courthouse - and where criminals used to be hanged in the cellar.

The property's current owner, hairdresser Harry Browns, 35, said his customers have been plagued by spooky apparitions for years.

It happens that I used to work in the building in the 1980s. In those days it formed part of the headquarters of Golden Wonder, connected to a modern block next door. I never came across anything spooky, though I have heard of someone who saw a lavatory flush all by itself.

Incidentally, I can find nothing on my shelves to support the claim that anyone was hanged in this building or even that it was ever a courthouse.

Wishful thinking from the Mail?

Britblog Roundup 217

Hurry over to Philobiblon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

President Obama and Sarah Palin bury the hatchet

Adam Curtis on ohdearism

This short film was broadcast as past of Charlie Brooker's Newswipe last week.

As Sarah Ditum writes:
It reprises several themes from Curtis’ previous documentaries about the problems inherent in using television journalism as a way of interpreting the world. Audiences and journalists have deserted the dissection of complex political and social issues because that’s, well, a bit dull – and embraced instead an emotive interpretation, championing innocent and heroic individuals in the face of monolithic and impersonal ‘systems’. 
By Curtis’s reckoning, this trope was born in the 1960s counterculture, came of age in the 80s with Live Aid, flourished in the 90s as a replacement for the east-vs-west certainties of the Cold War, and then foundered painfully on the complexities of the Rwandan genocide.

Chris Huhne answers readers' questions in the Independent

Read him on Ian Tomlinson, Jacqui Smith's expenses and Robert Maxwell.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Eurythmics: When the Day Goes Down

Back to the late 1980s when I was a district councillor and still bought my LPs on vinyl. One of the LPs I remember from those days is "We Too Are One" by the Eutythmics, and this is a live performance of my favourite song from it.

Because it comes from the David Letterman show, you have to suffer a couple of minutes of banter before you get to the song. You are allowed to skip to about 2:40 for the start of the song.

It is unusual to come across prominent artists singing in such simple circumstances, but this performance shows just how good Annie Lennox is. I always admired the Housemartins after hearing them sing "Caravan of Love" a capella for Mavis Nicholson.

Paul Heaton said he didn't like discussing his lyrics because "it's like having your work read out in class".

Derek Draper wins Improbable Book of the Week

Right now, who is the very last person you would turn to for advice on how to live your life? Derek Draper perhaps?

Which is why this award goes to Draper for his Life Support: A Survival Guide for the Modern Soul:

Psychotherapy helps thousands of people every day: they feel happier, achieve more success and enjoy better relationships. Prominent psychotherapist Derek Draper has chosen to share his tips and tools from the therapy room to help exactly those people.

In this groundbreaking book he explores 40 key issues that impact almost everyone's lives, uses examples drawn from real life to help you gain a better understanding of why things happen, and provides clear insights and advice that will help you think about life's challenges in new, more positive ways.

You really couldn't make it up.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The life of St Vincent de Cable

And so another week at Bonkers Hall draws to its close.


When word got around that the Reverend Hughes’s sermon today would take the form of a mediation upon the life of St Vincent de Cable, it became the hottest ticket in town. The queue began to form at St Asquith’s lych-gate yesterday evening and I did my best to make the time pass quickly for the would-be congregation by accompanying myself upon the banjolele whilst singing that old music hall standard, “So I Gave it a Whack With me Old Orchard Doughty”.

The Revd does not let us down and treats us to the complete story of my old friend “High Voltage” Cable: his humble birth in York, his feeding of Africa, his unfortunate “Glasgow Heresy”, his discovery of oil beneath the North Sea, his election for Twickenham, his dancing, his forecast of seven lean years to follow seven fat ones and his talks with the bees. (I expect that is where the expression “a buzz of conversation” comes from).

After that little lot, it is no surprise that the collection plate is positively overflowing and we shall be able to proceed with the restoration of the stained glass window depicting Mark Bonham-Carter’s victory in the Great Torrington by-election.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

The week so far

Thursday: Titter

Saturday: Po's booze hell

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Absolutely totally brilliant Damian": The McBride/Draper emails

The Sunday Times has details of those emails.

Emergency sitting of Jersey parliament called over Syvret arrest

From the Jersey Evening Post:

An emergency States sitting has been called in the wake of Senator Stuart Syvret’s arrest over data protection allegations.

Using an obscure and rarely enacted provision in the Standing Orders of the States, a group of seven Members have formally requisitioned an emergency sitting.

They say they want the States to consider the decisions taken by the police and Home Affairs Minister Ian Le Marquand in relation to the arrest and detention of Senator Syvret.

News of the World trails its story on McBride/Draper emails

Later. The full story is now on the News of the World website.

From the News of the World website earlier this evening:

Tomorrow the News of the World will reveal the sensational details in the shocking email smears sent by Gordon Brown's top aide.

The PM's spin-doctor, Damian McBride, and Derek Draper, who heads Labour's internet campaigning, outlined a dirty tricks war of highly personal stories about top Tories.

The plan was far more sophisticated than McBride or Draper have claimed and was close to completion.

Emails seen by the News of the World show McBride and Draper schemed to spread false malicious stories that:

  • Opposition leader David Cameron had an embarrassing illness
  • Shadow Chancellor George Osborne's wife was "emotionally fragile" just because she appeared upset at parties
  • A Tory MP used his position to get publicity for lover's business
  • Involved allegations about female Tory MP Nadine Dorries and another named MP.

In the emails, McBride says: "We've got to keep up the momentum."

Derek Draper: "a pipsqueak" and an "unwise young man"

This is a good day to remember the wise words of Anthony Howard.

And my own from last September:
A bit of free advice to Labour strategists: encourage Derek Draper to go back to California.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Po's booze hell


Ours has long been a party of powerful women. I think of John Stuart Mill’s muse and collaborator Harriet Taylor and, of course, the first Lady Bonkers (Harlequins and England); of Margot Asquith, Megan Lloyd George and Nancy Seear; and, to bring the list up to the minute, of Liz Lynne, Jo Swinson and Hazel Grove. Thus it was no surprise to me to when my fellow peer Ros Scott was elected as our President.

Yet her victory was by no means a walkover, for she had for an opponent none other than Lembit Öpik. The Member for Montgomery had cannily hit upon the idea of basing his campaign upon replicating the popularity that Po, the noted TellyTubby, enjoyed some years ago. (Po’s subsequent decline into a tabloid hell of drink and drugs need not concern us here, sad though it is.) Thus it was that Öpik rode the country upon his scooter, waving to Liberal Democrat members as he passed. In the event, this strategy fell a little short of success.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South-West 1906-10.

The week so far

Thursday: Titter

Friday, April 10, 2009

House Points: Police harrassment of photographers

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

The UK Press Gazette - which, sadly, is now a solely web-based publication - takes a more positive view of the outcome of John Randall's debate. We shall see.

Sipson Stasi

Because I own land there, I take a keen interest in the Middlesex village of Sipson. I was concerned last Thursday when John Randall, the Tory MP for Uxbridge, said police had used anti-terrorism laws to stop someone photographing its buildings.

Sipson is the village that will be destroyed if a third runway is built at Heathrow. And Greenpeace has bought a field there to sell off in small plots (hence my landholding), making it hard for the authorities to arrange compulsory purchase.

Randall was taking part in the Easter adjournment debate. In his speech he referred to a debate on photography in public places he had called in Westminster Hall the previous day. Then, stories of the harassment of innocent photographers had tumbled from Randall and the other MPs taking part.

Someone photographing decrepit properties in Uxbridge had inadvertently snapped a car containing community support officers parked on a double yellow line. One of them came over and said he must delete the photograph.

A 15-year-old in school uniform taking pictures at Wimbledon station as part of a GCSE project was stopped by community support officers and asked to sign forms under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. Andrew Pelling (the former Tory who now sits as an Independent) had been stopped and searched on suspicion of terrorism for taking pictures of roadworks near East Croydon station.

And who would dare take a camera to an event involving children these days?

The minister who replied was Shahid Malik. The Independent sketchwriter Simon Carr once said: “It's not that politicians lie, it's that they don't know if they are telling the truth.” He meant that ministers rarely know much about the events they discuss so authoritatively. They rely on advisers and civil servants to tell them what is going on out there.

Just before his time ran out, it began to dawn on Malik that the world he and his colleagues have built is nothing like he has been told. “Anecdotally,” he said “there seems to be a disconnect between what the Government intended and what might be happening on the ground.”

When they hear about that the whips will want to bury him under concrete at Sipson. To stop them, visit